Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A week in the Early Church

San felipe

A return to Her earliest times has been a recurring theme throughout the history of the Church, who periodically realizes that deviations have crept into Her life and in whom a desire wells up to regain Her initial purity, authenticity and simplicity. This does not have to mean a traditionalism or a denial of the Holy Spirit's action in the present, and can instead be a push forward and the legitimate wish to embody Tertullian’s epithet of Christians: "See how they love one another," which echoes Jesus’ own words: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).

While I have always thought of the above as a parallel to what Kuhn refers to as paradigm shifts in the development of science, this last week has shown me that the Early Church is alive and well today too. The week spent with my überbestie PM, attending masses at the church of San Felipe de Neri in Old Town Albuquerque has been an experience of participating in the life of a Church, who is family and community and among whom Jesus walks today. I am careful not to call it a journey back in time, since this community was very much tuned into the present, and I'd say it was more like a journey into the future by the Early Church of the apostles and their followers instead.

What made the profound nature of this community come to the fore was a tragic event early last week, when one of the parishioners arrived before mass in great distress. From what I could gather it may have been her husband's death or the loss of another loved one that made her suffer. What happened next moved me very deeply: One by one almost all the other parishioners approached her, embraced her, kissed and hugged her and exchanged a couple of words of consolation with her. Among the first was the wife of a married deacon, whom I saw read the Gospel the previous Sunday, who not only went to console the grieving parishioner, but who then proceeded to pass by several others - stroking their backs, greeting them, smiling at them. The deacon too approached her and made sure that the parish priest knew about the death and prayed for the deceased during the Eucharistic prayer.

The next day saw a similar scene, of the whole parish gathering around Her suffering member, enveloping her with warmth and love.

I felt a tremendous sense of intimacy among the parishioners, the kind of which I have never seen in a parish. Yet, there was no sense of exclusivity and I felt like a part of the family instead of the stranger who I objectively was.

To avoid giving the sense that the above is a rose-tinted, lyrical view of last week's events, let me be clear: I did not think this parish was perfect. There was plenty to be critical of: some of the sermons, some of the readers' theatrics, some of the off-key singing (including my own :), the esthetics of the church building and more besides.

None of that mattered though as this was as close to experiencing the Mystical Body of Christ as I ever have in a parish context. Being filled with an acute sense of the sacred is the dominant memory I'll take away with me, as is the determination to strive towards building relationships like the ones I saw last week in Albuquerque in my own parish.