On Monday, one of the Catholic patients at the Rehab Institute was talking to me about different churches throughout Chicagoland and recommended that I check out Saint Sabina at 78th and Racine. He said to go to the 11:15AM, bring ear plugs, to be thankful for the little hand fans they put in each pew, and be prepared to be there for 3 or 4 hours.
I didn't need the fan, I'm glad I didn't bring ear plugs - though my ears were slightly overwhelmed afterwards, and I looked at the time as I got back in my truck afterwards: 3:05.
It was easy to get to, just a coupla mile straight shot off I-94. The neighborhood was relatively run down, up to about a block around the church, where things were in a little better shape. I walked in 20 minutes early to a lot of hustle and bustle of people getting situated and lot of various ministers preparing. Today happened to be their long-anticipated Youth Mass, so there were tons of red shirts everywhere, the active youth. On the far wall, in the center, was a huge painting of two large hands extending from the sky and presenting a black guy in a white gown with his own hands outstretched, with one of those all-peaceful smiles. The electric-neon red lettering hanging from the ceiling right over the middle of the sanctuary very simply reminded us who this was: "Jesus".
I was continually amazed through the entire Mass, and very happy to be there. I can't even begin to do it justice with my description here. Of the probably 500 people there, I'd guess I was one of only 20 people not of African descent. They truly celebrated their heritage, yet were very welcoming. One of the youth girls sang a beautiful solo in Spanish, it being obviously her first language, and then repeating it in English.
I knew that the pastor was white, from skimming the website before I went, and was kind've curious about how he would factor into the mix. The program for the afternoon mentioned that he was the celebrant but that others would be preaching, and he'd be accompanied by a black deacon. You know the typical imagery we're given of gospel music and televised praise & worship services, where the pastor/cantor kinda leads the congregation with repeated questions, repeated "JEsus.... JEsus...", "Can I get an AMEN!", etc... and there is a lot of passion injected into his words, etc... Well, during the opening procession, and towards the end of it, I heard someone taking this role, with a microphone, but couldn't really see initially who it was. To be absolutely honest, the person sounded black, if that's a PC thing for me to say. Just based on all the emotion and intensity and ways of wording things. So you can imagine my surprise when I see that it was the pastor. As white as this guy physically was, you could immediately tell that he was black. His heart was truly with and a part of his parish. At one point in the Mass, when all the youth who would soon be leaving for college were up there being prayed over, he was trying to encourage them and telling them how so many people they will encounter will be trying to discourage them... the part that clinched his "blackness" was when he used the word nigger in a story of someone's struggles. You could really tell he had the heart of his parish.
I really felt free to worship there. I know a portion of that freedom was because I knew fewer people so my self-consciousness was decreased, but my freedom also came from the combination of 1) myself being comfortable with praise and worship, charismatic worship sessions, and 2) being able to trust (to some degree) the theological soundness of this since it was a Catholic Mass. What I mean by "trust" is that I was able to open myself more fully to worship, to be led to worship, without having to second-guess quite so much of the direction. And this was confirmed at the end, when I could look back on it all and truly agree with it all.
The post title comes from one of the 2 young adults that were invited to preach after the gospel. They both gave very powerful, well thought out words of wisdom. This one came from Ramona. Christian went before her, and he took us through 3 points to work on: 1) You have to know yourself as God knows you, first and foremost, rather than how others know you. 2) You have to seek a close, intimate relationship with God, pursuing utter obedience to His guidance. 3) You have to be consistent. It has to be every day, not just Sunday. That's a brief summary of his, and as he concluded I realized he had just rephrased our life mission as suggested by the Catholic Catechism, to 1) know, 2) love, and 3) serve the Lord.