Once upon a time I had lots of ideas about how things should be, especially when it came to the behavior of people in Church.
Then God helped me mess everything up.
. . .
Judas was the first one to leave Mass early at the Last Supper. Let us not follow in his footsteps.
Funny joke, right?
Sure, as long as we do not allow it to influence how we see others in church.
I have never paid much attention to people who leave Mass early. Thankfully it often happens when they have left the pew already to receive communion, so it is not at all disruptive.
Nevertheless, I remember sitting in the pew agreeing with a visiting priest who vehemently exclaimed that people should never leave Mass early, and that to do so was a sign of not believing in the Real Presence. He said that he did not want to see anyone leaving Mass early unless he could see blood (pun apparently unintended).
Fast forward a few years. As my husband and I headed to church, I told him that I might need to leave early. Perhaps I should have stayed home, but I had surgery scheduled for that week. Thanks to cyclical timing, I knew that I would be in too much pain to go to Mass as usual during the week and it was important to me to receive both absolution and the Eucharist before the surgery.
I got through Mass with a bit of half-kneeling, but there was still enough movement to exacerbate the pain. And so when the time came for announcements I whispered to my husband that I needed to leave as soon as possible. After the final blessing we darted toward the back of the church as the celebrant stood as usual to wait for the first verse of the recessional hymn.
An usher whom I had never seen before stopped me before I got out the door. As an usher whom I recognized stood by, the unknown usher reprimanded us for leaving early. I paused to listen to him, wanting to give him a withering look, but I suspect that he saw in my face the look of one who simply did not care, rather than eyes glazed over in pain. I resumed my way out the door though, as soon as he warned us that we were “going to miss the final blessing.”
In some sweet irony, the faithful usher had himself somehow managed to miss the final blessing, in his efforts to keep others participating in Mass according to his standards.
It does not really matter whether or not I had technically stayed for all of Mass. What mattered was that I did what I could.
We never know whether the person who appears to casually disrespect Mass has done all that she can do. What we do know is that we are not God, and that Mass, of all places, should be a space where we allow God to judge.
Thankfully I am me. Thankfully I knew that the random usher was acting out of his own views in that moment, rather than faithfully representing the parish.
But I had never seen that man before. What if it had been my first Sunday returning back to the Church? What if?