There’s a woman I often used to see at church. She has blue eyes, curly white hair, and a pale pink cardigan that’s her favorite to wear in the springtime. I don’t know her name, but I know where she sits at Mass: in the fifth row back on the left side of our church, or as many in my parish call it, the “Mary side.” (Some say it’s called that because every church puts their Mary statues on the left. Others say it’s because Mary sits on the right hand of her Son.) This is also where I sit when I go to Mass, near the woman in the pink sweater.
At least that’s where she and I used to sit, pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, I’ve seen her only once. It was early on in quarantine and I was on a walk in the neighborhood. She was speed-walking and the mask made it difficult to place her. Only when she spoke did I recognize my pew neighbor from St. Bernadette’s Church. “I thought of you last week when there was no Simple Supper!” she exclaimed.
I smiled, but couldn’t form a reply before she zoomed away. What a funny thing to say, I thought. Until then, Simple Supper — a meatless potluck hosted by parish groups I’m a part of — was the bane of my Lenten existence. Every Friday during Lent, Simple Supper meant wrestling with crooked tables in the shabby church basement. It meant running home to throw together a dish because somebody who signed up to bring one forgot. It meant clock-watching, begging for the minute to come when I could clean up, because some parishioners liked to linger before finally heading home. Simple Supper was my display of penance and I wore it shamelessly, my “Lenten work of service that fulfills a parish need.”
It wasn’t until I ran into my pew neighbor from church that I saw how Simple Supper not only met a need, but revealed one in me. Sometime and somehow before the pandemic hit, I had let participating in the life of my church — be it serving in ministries or even going to Mass — morph into just another thing on an endless to-do list. After thinking about how the lady in the pink sweater knew me best from the Simple Suppers I served, I began to look at my to-do list in a new light. I realized that the things that bring people in community (like the Simple Suppers) are far from being a to-do; they are a need, a way to connect my life and the life of my family with the community and life of my church.
Being together as a community is a physical need just as much as it is a spiritual one. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, after all, is something that only happens in community: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.” (Acts 2:1) When my parish gathers as a community, I see moments filled with goodness and beauty, quiet moments that are filled with what must be what we are referring to when we say things like “fruits of the Spirit.” I’ve seen these fruits in my parish when we’ve been together and worked the ground from which they can grow. I’ve seen it in the faithfulness of the elderly gentleman in a three-piece suit who attends Mass every year on his deceased wife’s birthday. In the peace of neighbors who disagree but make small talk during community coffee. In the kindness of the lady whose name I don’t know but thought of me when there was no Simple Supper. The goodness of life is given and received when we come together. Moreover, it is celebrated.
My daughter’s birthday rolls around right about the time of Pentecost, and this year we are going to celebrate both. While changing ordinances and vaccinations for our friends and family can’t guarantee what the celebrations will look like, we are committed to having only one thing on our to-do list: showing up. We’re going to go to Mass and we will sit wherever we can find a seat, be it “Mary side” or not. My daughter is going to accept that invitation to our parish’s youth group outdoor Pentecost party. There will be a huge bonfire, and she is planning on staying long enough to make new friends and chat with old ones. I’m going to say yes to being a volunteer parent for the party. This time around, I won’t watch the clock or beg for the minute to come when I can pack up and go home. If it doesn’t cramp my daughter’s style too much, I might linger a while. I’ll enjoy what I hope to be a warm breeze surrounding us by the bonfire, take in the people around me, and be filled.