Imagine, if you will, that you are a pretty good ten-year-old boy. You've been an altar server for a year or so, and you are a reasonably bright and alert kid. And yet, as with so many ten-year-old boys, there is something of a gap between what you would be capable of if your life depended on it, and what you feel like you're capable of, when lots of people are always telling you what to do and you're trying pretty hard, but you're tired, and you haven't had anything to eat for over an hour, and besides, imagine if you had rocket feet. Whoa, rocket feet. Awesome.
And then imagine that, even though you more or less understand that it's a privilege to participate in any way in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, you suddenly realize that you've been put on the schedule for Sunday, even though you just went to Mass on Saturday, and so everyone else will be at home playing Mario Kart and eating toast and scrambled eggs, and you'll be at Mass, again.
It is at this point when you may tell your mother that you don't want to be an altar server anymore. You honestly enjoy serving once a week, and it was thrilling, if confusing, at first. But there are just too many people telling you to do different things, and no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to please everybody.
It's really hard to be reverent when you're basically spending the hour just trying not to screw up too visibly. This is what my son told me (except for the part about rocket feet. I intuited that part).
And I told my son something I tell everybody, all the time, when they run into something confusing or disheartening about the way the Catholic Church is run: Honey, what did you expect? This is what it looks like when you have a universal church, a church that lets everyone in -- a church that wants everyone to come in. And that includes sticklers, ad libbers, scowlers, memo-missers, chiders, and the generally clueless. I guarantee you, it's just as chaotic and nutty behind the scenes at St. Peter's as it is in the sacristy of your typical shoestring parish.
But it can be frustrating, never knowing what to do, and never seeming to do it right, no matter how hard you try -- to the point where you might just say, "I don't want to do this anymore." I don't want to be a part of this. You can do it without me; I'm going to go back to my seat. This is what my son told me.
I told him that his main job is to do his best and to be reverent, and as long as he does that, then he is truly serving God. I told him that he doesn't have to feel happy about it, but that he should try to be willing.
He doesn't have to be an altar boy anymore if he really doesn't want to. But, I told him, the decision to serve or not to serve, in general? This is what our lives come down to. Do we want to be on the side of the angels? Then we say, "Serviam -- I will serve."
Sometimes this looks like making a courageous stand, whether we're risking our livelihoods or our actual lives. And some days, it just means knowing that it's your husband's turn to get up with the kids, but you struggle up out of bed anyway before the alarm goes off, because you love that man and he needs some extra sleep. Or you turn off the interesting program on the car radio when the kids are begging for a story. Or you give some irritating secretary the benefit of the doubt: maybe she's not deliberately making your day harder. Maybe she's trying her best. These are your opprotunities to serve. What will you say?
Whatever your life presents to you, don't doubt it for a minute: you have a chance to serve at the altar. Sometimes the altar is visible, and your service comes with pomp and solemn ritual and beautiful vestments; but more often, it comes with aggravation, confusion, disorder and itchy robes.
And even more often, it comes with no ceremony at all -- just the day in, day out bumbling ritual of our daily lives. The altar is there, waiting for your sacrifice.