I’m in Atchison, Kansas at the moment, sitting in my daughter’s living room after the 3-day drive from California. Flying back in a few hours.
It has been an interesting trip. The most interesting part of all concerns a chalice.
We took off from Concord Saturday afternoon right after the Winter Spectacular at Diablo Valley School, and muscled our way to Barstow that night. Next morning being Sunday, I’d checked out Masses along the route. We wouldn’t get out of Barstow until after 10:00 if we went to Mass there, so I checked times in Needles (about 2 1/2 hours out) and Kingman (about 3 hours 15 minutes out). Mass was at 8:00 in Needles and 9:00 in Kingman.
We got up at 5:35 A.M. and took off, thinking we could make Mass in Kingman. Teresa, bless her heart, drives the speed limit. But it was my turn behind the wheel, and miles of open desert tend to bring out the lead foot in me. We made Mass in Needles with 2 minutes to spare.
Needles is a town of about 5,000 on I-40 near the Colorado River in the middle of the Mojave Desert – the middle of nowhere. St. Ann’s is a pretty little church with lots of statues and pictures inside. When we entered, the priest was engaged in some sort of catechesis with the congregation. Considering the size of the town, the early hour and the availability of a later Mass that day, the turnout was pretty good.
The priest is a gregarious sort with a devotion to teaching the faith – he interjected explanations and expansions into the Mass up until the Offertory, after which he stuck mostly to the script. There were no accompanying musicians available, so he would just launch into songs which the congregation would just pick up and carry. He sang the Canon and the Commons – the congregation hung right with him. It was beautiful.
After Mass and the announcements, he walked to the front and explained that Exposition would follow the Mass. Then he told a story while the adult altar servers collected one of the chalices that had been used at Mass and brought it to him:
When he had been assigned to St. Ann’s 7 and half years ago, he had discovered in a box several unused chalices, evidently left by priests previously assigned there. Each chalice represented some priest’s vocation. He had them refinished and put them back to use. But that was not enough. So, as a parish devotion, he had begun to send one of these chalices, in a sturdy purple drawstring bag, home with a family for the week, along with a laminated prayer card with a prayer for vocations. He wanted his flock to hold in their hands for one week this symbol of vocations, and pray that one of their own would hear God’s calling to the priesthood.
As he finished talking, he walked down the aisle, exchanged a few words with some of his parishioners (I imagine he knew them all by sight, at least) and then walked straight to me.
“Where are you from?”
“Concord, in the Bay Area.”
“You are traveling?”
“How long will you be in town?”
“About 10 more minutes.”
“If you are traveling, you can afford to mail this back. Mail it by Thursday.”
And he handed me the chalice. This chalice:
He then returned to the front of the church and processed out to Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.
I was in shock. I waited for him to come back, and tried to tell him: my oldest son was discerning a vocation, and went on a pro-life cross country walk, and was hit by a car and killed. I think I got that much out before I began weeping uncontrollably for a minute or two. He tried to comfort me, telling me not to connect the possible vocation of my son with his death (I don’t) nor to blame God (I don’t). But his mere interest was, in fact, comforting, as was my daughter’s hand on my shoulder.
So I have taken out the chalice from my backpack (my only luggage) and said the brief prayer in a cheap motel in Tucumcari and in a room in the Benedictine guesthouse in Atchison. Tonight, I’ll fly it home with me, and say the prayer again. On Thursday, I will FedEx it back to St. Ann’s.
Please pray for vocations. Thanks.