When I gaze out across the pews at daily Mass, I see a collection of people with gray hair, thinning hair, no hair. Grandparents, widows, widowers, retirees, geezers. Some use canes or walkers, others struggle to knee and stand. There are a few middle-agers and an occasional young person.
They have one thing in common. The Eucharist sustains them, so they keep coming back. They realize another thing. The Person who resides in that tabernacle is their hope in a troubled world—not technology, science, sports, politics, celebrities or world leaders.
Most Catholics might look at the empty church and panic—as I do occasionally—and say, “We have to bring young people back before it’s too late!”
I also look out and wonder: How is it that the most important event in salvation history is taking place right before my eyes, and there’s only a few privileged individuals to witness it? It’s more important than a presidential election, the Nobel Prize ceremonies, the lunar landing, the discovery of America, the World Series, the Super Bowl. And yet there’s only a handful to celebrate this event—the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Young people can learn from these faithfully devout seniors.
There’s Anne, estimated age 93, whose joints bother her, so she doesn’t stand for the entire Gospel, although she doesn’t seem to have a problem kneeling. She’s there every morning and then goes to the Senior Center for a program that she leads.
She’s of the most joyful and exuberant people you’ll ever meet, although whenever I crack a joke, I don’t think she can hear me. Or maybe my jokes aren’t all that good. She smiles anyway and that makes my day.
Then, there’s Lucia, estimated age 94, who walks to church every day. She never misses an opportunity to tell me about her childhood in northern Italy near the Dolomites, and her long and wonderful marriage to her late husband. Together they traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America. This brief time in the morning is the most important part of her day.
Many of these seniors kneel in prayer a long time before Mass begins, and they stay to pray the rosary. They’re always there for Eucharistic adoration.
I’m convinced people like them are holding the world together with their prayers. People like them will be the ones that Jesus honors with the heavenly MVP awards someday. They’ll be at the front of the line to be recognized for what they did to spread the Gospel through small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness, devotion, service and sacrifice.
They’re the ones who went out into the vineyard and labored, often anonymously, to harvest souls that might have otherwise been lost. I’m also convinced the countless rosaries, novenas, candles and Communions of these prayer warriors will do more to bring God’s Kingdom on Earth than all the political movements, causes and committees we read about every day.
So it would be wise for young people—the so-called Nones—to learn a lesson from their elders. Sit in front of the tabernacle and look for the answers. Make the Eucharist the center of your existence because it is only through the Eucharist that you’ll be able to do great things. But always remember: You won’t be doing them. It will be Christ doing them through you, so don’t be eager to take the credit. Yes, you can learn a lot from your elders.
A man I know who was ordained to the permanent diaconate last year told me the greatest power of example in his life, the person who inspired his vocation, was his grandfather in Puerto Rico. Every afternoon, promptly at 3 pm, the old man would retreat to his room to pray during the Hour of Divine Mercy.
Can you imagine the number of souls that fellow saved by his faithful perseverance in prayer? I’d bet Jesus gave him an MVP award too. It’s amazing the profound inspiration one person can have who lets the Holy Spirit work through him or her.
Look out at the pews during daily Mass, and you will see the people holding this troubled and decadent world together. Are you worried about the world? Then it’s time to join them. (Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)