Altar serving at a funeral Mass recently left me with quite a few takeaways. All funerals are sad in nature to some extent, but this one was particularly moving given that there were only ten people present. Four of the mourners were parishioners who showed up out of devotion or simply happened to be present at the time. The other six were not family members and were not Catholic, indicated by their clear unfamiliarity with a church setting.
I remember thinking in between my prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased how strange the whole Mass must have been to those six individuals. They walked into a church, an environment that can make just about anyone uneasy, and were attending a service for a man they could barely call a friend. I can only imagine how peculiar the sights and smells must have been to them- the formalized structure of the prayers, the young men in what appeared to be black dresses with white garments donned over them, the statues and detailed stained-glass windows depicting the saints. Yes, it is safe to say that the whole experience was a recipe for puzzlement straight out of the cookbook- a new environment mixed with a half measure of guardedness and finished off with just a pinch of curiosity.
I remember thinking to myself that the Mass could have been the only encounter that those people will ever have with Christ and his Church. What kind of an impression did it have on them? What kind of thoughts went through their mind as father elevated our Creator before their very eyes? Did what we partook in draw them closer to our Lord? Did anything lead them away from the Truth?
I think that having this perspective, reminding yourself as a person of faith that your encounter with someone might be the closest that another person ever comes to Christ, is the key to being a faithful Christian. Did not Christ himself treat people with love and compassion in every encounter? He too is fully human. He too was tired and frustrated, yet he chose to approach them with all that he had.
Perhaps the best way in which we as Christians can prepare ourselves for these encounters is by having something to say. I do not mean that we should have a set of rehearsed lines carried around on an index card in our pockets, but rather that this is a matter of voicing from our hearts and minds to another person whom we encounter what it means to be a disciple of Christ and exactly why it is the only thing worth giving all for. This then should be seen as our call.
Seeing God in another is difficult in our world. Society labels people by race, religion, orientation, social class (but ironically preaches individuality) and in so doing creates divisions. Pornography and the lull of a capitalist society make people out to be objects, and the undesirable are cast aside. The challenge is certainly daunting. Yet, seeing Christ in others is a choice, much like faith, to respond. Regardless of our perspective, each person that we encounter is made Imago Dei, in the image of God. Let us not forget this. It seems beneficial in the midst of a difficult situation to reach a point of awareness and in so doing to find a way to remind yourself that the person you are engaging, all persons in fact, are counting on you to be Christ in their midst- whether they realize it or not.
Owen Duckett is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and is a member of the Class of 2019.