We arrived to the Sunday evening campus mass earlier than usual so that I could briefly meet with one of my writing students. After my meeting with the student, the huz and I still had plenty of time before mass. The hallway outside of the chapel was mostly empty, and we decided to go in and sit down in the mostly empty sanctuary.
I closed my eyes, tried to empty my mind of the busy things that invaded my thoughts, and talked to God a bit about my continued mixed feelings about His call on our lives and the upsetting of the apple cart that we continued to sense even three months into the adventure. With Thanksgiving weekend approaching, we have travel plans that include family in one part of the state and friends in another state – our former home. In July, I spent a weekend with and Excel spreadsheet and websites such Travelocity and Expedia searching for the best ticket prices. Our kids fly into one airport and out of another thanks to our attempt to provide all four of us with a touch of something that means home.
Home is not yet Bismarck, ND, for our whole family. I will admit that Bismarck is growing on me quite a bit. I think that my huz would say the same, but I hesitate to speak for him. God worked out the details for a house that is beyond what I could have hoped given the current housing market in North Dakota’s booming economy. We are thankful for the existing friendships that we had before our arrival, and many new friendships grow as we meet people through our various roles. Everyone is very welcoming on the University of Mary campus, in our new church, and in our neighborhood.
Clicks on the cement floor of the chapel and rustling of people around me blend with my thoughts as others enter the chapel for mass. As it gets closer to the start of the service, these sounds interrupt my thoughts more and more. I opened my eyes and turned my head to see the sanctuary that had filled nearly to capacity around me. My breath still catches at the sight of students and others on their knees on the cement floor (no kneelers) with eyes closed as they prepare for the service. On Monday, I joined several of those in attendance in a hustle and bustle of a college campus as we raced from class or to eat lunch at the cafeteria. In that silent moment in the chapel on Sunday evening, though, we were quiet, calm, and hopeful.
The organ interrupted all of our contemplations and prayers with the lead in to “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” The service bulletin informed us that Sunday was known in the liturgical calendar as “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” I grew up attending Mendenhall Presbyterian Church in East Grand Forks, ND, so I am no stranger to the repetitive liturgical cycle. I think someone was pretty clued in tot he fact that we humans need repetition. We forget things that someone told us only moments ago. As media bombards us with more and more information, there is less and less information in our head. The liturgical calendars helps us annually celebrate and remember the same basic truths that we celebrated and remembered last year.
Throughout the service, we sing, we pray, we hear Scripture read, and we sing some more. Each time I have attended the campus mass since moving to Bismarck in August, I have been impressed by the singing of that particular week’s Psalm. The leader teaches the congregations the first verse of the Psalm, and then he or she sings other parts of the Psalm while the organ holds the chord. The congregation joins again as the leader signals us to do so.
This week, we sang Psalm 23. We repeatedly sang, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” It reminded me that God watches over me, He cares for me, and that He plans for me here in Bismarck. Nowhere else in Bismarck can remind me of why we moved as much as attending Sunday evening mass on campus. All around me are students who – without anyone pushing them to attend mass or taking attendance – freely attend mass…some of them daily.
When I ponder this, though, I am reminded that we were not called to minister to the students who attend mass with me. They have a lot ministry for them here already: daily masses, a priest as a chaplain, missionaries from the Catholic faith who provide Bible studies for them, and the sisters who live right down the hill from the very chapel in which I sit for mass. My huz’s role is complicated and complex as he helps to bring a similar spiritual life experience to the non-Catholic Christian students, faculty, and staff on campus.
Last night, Campus Ministries (one of my huz’s departments) hosted a “Students and Sisters” Thanksgiving meal. The sisters provided the place; campus ministry staff provided the food. Fun was had by all. Prior to the meal, I had a conversation with a sister who is edging toward retirement. She told me of her past roles on campus and her current passions. As we talked, she shared with me that she will not call Protestants by that name; rather, she refers to non-Catholics as those from other denominations. I was so moved by her heart for the non-Catholic students on campus and the encouragement that she provided me through that conversation.
Monsignor James Shea, president of University of Mary and a personal friend from our college days, presided over the mass on Sunday and gave the homily. He appeared burdened by the message as he gave it. He stressed over and over again that Christ, King of the Universe, desires to be the ruler of hearts, minds, and lives. Choosing to follow Christ’s call on our lives will not be easy, but it will bring order and purpose to our lives.
Following God’s call on our lives to Bismarck, ND, was not easy. Staying in Minneapolis with our friends who had become family to minister together would have been the easy choice. It might have even felt really good. But coming to Bismarck was in answer to a clear call to something unique and unusual. There is a need here, and God chose my huz – well, both of us it often seems – to help with that need. God has provided order and purpose to our lives in this call. It is not easy, and my eyes still often leak. Something this unique and unusual would not be easy. But it is good.