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BY TIM DRAKE
than 11 million people nationwide sat in theaters watching a bombastic Hollywood amusement attack the Catholic faith, our family
of seven participated in a quiet experience that testified to its truth. Our
“screening” took place in a different kind of theater — one I might call the
“theater of life.”
As part of a sesquicentennial
celebration, a local Catholic college here invited families to come and enjoy on-campus
concerts, food and fun. While there, we decided to stop in to the adjoining
monastery to visit an aging priest friend. I had been there alone on several
occasions, but the priest had never met my family.
Father Paul seemed genuinely
excited to have visitors. He wondered whether we might be able to stay for
Saturday evening Mass and a meal. In a rare moment of spontaneity — with kid
chaos an ever-present threat, the Drake family prefers things mapped out ahead
of time — we agreed.
We followed the elderly priest,
dressed in a T-shirt and pushing his walker, to a chapel on the monastery’s
third floor. There we found a dozen or so retired and infirm priests and
brothers in silent pre-Mass prayer. One of the priests, we would later find
out, was 106. Another was 99; a third, 86. Lack of seating forced us to sit
apart from one another. Mary sat with the two youngest on one side. Our three
oldest sat a row ahead of me, and I was situated in the last row between two
As the Liturgy of the Word started,
I sensed not only that we were celebrating Mass, but that were part of
something truly special — something that few others are privy to on a regular
basis, if ever.
“Lord, use this opportunity to
reveal what it is that you want to reveal to me,” I silently prayed.
At the Liturgy of the Eucharist,
all of the priests, each wearing a stole, uttered the words of consecration.
Most, too weak to walk, stand or kneel, prayed around us from their chairs and
There, in that moment, whatever
might have separated these men — worldviews, philosophies, styles, ideologies,
devotions, hobbies — was gone. At this moment they were all one in Christ. United. Concelebrating.
During the Our Father, my eyes
welled up and my voice cracked. I was unable to continue the prayer audibly.
During Communion, as the priest brought Jesus in the Eucharist to each of the
aging priests, I glanced over at my wife. She, too, was crying.
The words from Psalm 109, verse 4,
came to mind: “Thou art a priest forever.”
Even if they no longer have their
parishes, their schools or their hospital chaplaincies, priests never cease to
be priests. Nor is the badge removed when they are aging, unable to walk, ill
or dying. Even death cannot take the priestly mark away from a priest’s soul.
“We haven’t had a death all year,”
Father Paul gleefully remarked afterwards, as we shared dinner with him. For
any one of the priests, I thought, that Mass could very well have been their
last. Well, their last Mass on earth, anyway. Something far more glorious
awaits each of them in heaven.
I wonder if anyone left The Da Vinci Code
that opening weekend feeling as full of faith, hope and love as the Drakes did
after that very special Mass.
Tim Drake writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.