|6/2/2016 9:00:00 AM|
|Bishop Scharfenberger noted that he was in Orlando, Fla., last week, and experienced the heat and the growing crowds -- and he was also impressed by the attendance at a 7:30 a.m. Mass in Manassas, Va., last Sunday, where he was baptizing his great-niece. "Amazing to see so many young families at that hour," he remarked.|
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGERThe Memorial Day weekend just past is the traditional harbinger of the summer season. We've barely noticed spring, and already hints of the hot and slow-going days of summer are upon us.
All of us seek oases of relief and cool refreshment as the weather heats up. We naturally gravitate to wide-open, quieter spaces (or wish we could!) and, if there are no other options, we try to at least find a little shade.
Strategizing to avoid crowds and assemblies -- especially where air-conditioning is lacking or less than adequate -- is understandable and necessary, especially when real health issues are a concern. Yet it is not always the aging or infirm who are less likely to be up and about.
Some relatively healthy and much younger folk seem to feel the imminent arrival of the summer solstice is good enough reason to take a vacation from Sunday Mass until things "cool down" and "get back to normal." It's as if the practice of our faith were seasonal, more or less -- an academic exercise, following the school calendar or the heart of the baseball season!
In my youth, deep in the 1950s and '60s, not one church was air-conditioned. Movie theaters and some supermarkets were about the only cool havens where one could escape the sizzling New York City sidewalks for a while. Beaches were always possible for those who had cars (many families did not), but almost everyone on four wheels had the same inspiration, so, even with an early start, the crowded commute back would as often throw hot water on memories of ocean breezes.
Today, there are more options. Summer Sundays produce many an early riser, even among those less likely throughout the year to get it together much before noon, or before the last Sunday Mass. It is questionable that a beach, a mall or a ballpark is a very adequate substitute, however, for an hour of soul-sustaining worship.
For one thing, you'll still find plenty of people at those destinations and, typically, hordes of smog-inducing traffic coming and going. For those in the know from experience, high season at Disney World might be the ultimate "daymare" for the cost of "getting away" -- maybe one reason why many Floridian churches report increased attendance during the summer.
By contrast, in our climes, it is possible to take a short hike or, in some cases, even a walk to a church and, if planned right, arrive on time. How green is that? Oh, and to leave with less of a load lifted from purse or wallet! Parish leadership is generally sensitive (we would expect) to the desire of their congregations for a prayerfully-paced Mass with a short but focused message.
Since we are human beings, our needs for refreshment and nourishment are deeper than what feeds and hydrates our bodies. We also need spiritual food and drink every day. Prayer, scripture and the sacraments are the fountains of life, which sustain our souls - and, in a remarkable way, our bodies and minds as well. They give us a recess with access to Jesus, the master of space and time, without taking up much of either.
We have heard about "heat rage" and, in many cases, actually witnessed it in person. When our bodies are uncomfortable, when the weather is too hot and humid, it obviously affects one's emotional state. It is much more likely that we can become irritated by things that we ordinarily cope with much better when unaffected by the physical discomforts of the summer season.
At the same time, dealing with the natural elements can be so much more difficult when our souls are not at rest. Body and spirit are deeply intermeshed in human beings.
It makes perfect sense, then, to draw as much spiritual refreshment as possible from the wellsprings of grace throughout the summer, when so many may be tempted to do just the opposite. Coming to the waters of eternal life, Jesus Himself, in the ways He has chosen to come to us -- prayer, Mass and Scripture -- is as vital in the summer months as throughout the rest of the year.
Jesus does not take up a lot of space! He tells us to come to Him if we are weary and find life burdensome, and He will give us refreshment and peace. When everything around us seems to be heavy, hot and oppressive, Jesus wants to lighten our load.
At the very least, whatever other plans we may have during the weeks of summer, it makes sense to keep our focus spiritually and mentally on the true source of all peace and life: Jesus.
Remembering to begin and end each day with a prayer, putting everything in His hands, is a good basic practice. Praying before and after meals -- even openly at McDonald's -- and before and after any excursions is also a good habit to cultivate.
Most importantly, however, keeping a regular practice of attending Mass on Sunday or on Saturday evening, preferably with family and friends, is a sure way to keep from getting lost in the tangle of summer's many distractions, not all of which are going to make our lives as easy as they might promise.
Only Jesus is that peace of which He is not only the promise, but also the guaranty!
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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