A Hint of Something Better in this Vale of Tears

If we allow ourselves the time to spend time with God and our neighbor, we will enter into the beginnings of experiencing Heaven.

G.G. Kilburne, “The Picnic”, ca. 1900
G.G. Kilburne, “The Picnic”, ca. 1900 (photo: Public Domain)

The band played a medley of Spanish, jazz and church hymns with bongos, guitars and two synthesizers, creating a fuller sound than one would expect. Under the tent, the parishioners fanned themselves with bulletins and sipped free lemonade, water and snow cones, and watched as their children slipped in and out of chairs and out into the heat to play volleyball, get their faces painted, or pet the baby kangaroo and rabbits one vendor brought for the picnic.

Hot dogs and hamburgers ran out first, but the people kept coming, and soon the Filipino, French-African and Spanish food ran thin as well. Only popcorn and cake remained in abundance for the next hour, but still the people came to the tent. They came for the multilingual Mass, to celebrate Father's twenty-fifth year as a priest, to eat well, and to play all afternoon the first week of June.

There was soccer and Simon Says, a piñata and a cakewalk, nail painting and two clowns who made balloon animals for everyone. Two fourth graders proudly showed off their skills at painting my nails, and a woman my age with Down Syndrome told my manicure looked “Whack.”

I watched as two sister sisters dressed in full white habit, with rosaries four sets of mysteries long lassoed along their hips, did the chacha to the beat — one holding a sprite in one hand, and both sporting smiles wider than the sun. Even with the noise and the gnats, one could look around and see, everyone was here. Everyone belonged. This little time on this day, was a hint of not Heaven but Purgatory, because we didn't know everyone, we didn't know everyone's story — we only knew we were all welcome. In Heaven, we would know them all, by name, by face, and by story. All our stories would be about how Christ came for us, and broke into our hearts, into our lives, and made them whole. They would all be wonderful stories, the kind you love hearing over and over again. They would be the types of stories that never grow old. 

James Joyce once said of the Catholic Church, “Here comes everybody” — and it is true, we're supposed to be Universal. We do not often even get the moments like this, when all of us are coming to one place to waste time with each other, spooled out sunny Sunday time on an unscripted activity, when we might discover the people around us, and the joyful, luminous and glorious mysteries of their lives, and the crosses they carry. Yet these moments exist, and they prove we are just a wafer-thin piece of bread (but not bread) away from becoming the true community we were always called to be.

When we come to adoration, it is the same thing. We may come and simply sit and listen, or we may wander about in our thoughts, hoping to figure out what to do. But if we allow ourselves the time to be, to waste time with God, we will enter into the beginnings of experiencing Heaven.