[author’s note: from the time of our deployment to Iraq.]
September 5, 2010
I’m not good with resisting temptation. On a recent Sunday in Iraq I went to a small room near our headquarters early in the morning to offer Mass for anyone from the night shift that wished to go. As I walked into the room I noticed a guard seated at another door peering out the barely opened exit with rifle in hand. Now this was unusual as there had never been a guard in that room looking for trouble outside the door. My assistant had set up the Mass altar in its usual place, only about five feet from where the guard sat. The sentry was so intent he didn’t seem to notice as I completed the set up for Mass. A few moments later a female Catholic officer walked in to join me in the Eucharist.
Mass began in the usual way with the Sign of the Cross and the guard immediately stood up and faced me. I stopped what I was doing and he said, “I hope I’m not disturbing you Sir.” I replied that no, we’re having Mass and he could take his seat again and watch out the door. In fact, I told him I’d feel a whole lot better if he did watch outside (I didn’t know, maybe the enemy was planning a raid to capture a priest and one parishioner). During the first part of the Mass the sentry was very uncomfortable looking out a door with a Catholic Service going on behind him. He would glance furtively back toward me and the other officer every few seconds. He was not Catholic, so he really didn’t understand what was going on. It was at that point that I gave in to temptation.
I announced loudly and distinctly, “It is at this point of the Mass that we take off our clothes and dance the hokey pokey.” The guard turned around and stared at me with big round eyes, he stood from his chair and got out of the room quick as his feet would allow. The Mass participant asked, “What did you say Father?” I apologized and explained to her that I had accidentally read from part of the Lutheran Service. She seemed OK with that error and the Mass continued. (Now don’t try going out to buy every Lutheran worship book you can find, it’s not in there either, I just made the line up to check the reaction of the guard. I was contrite immediately after the event but couldn’t find the sentry so I could apologize. And people ask why I go to confession so much.)
I wonder what our reaction will be before God when He reveals to us the true size of our own crosses. Will we be surprised that they are so small? Will we give in to temptation and argue with God saying “You must have made a mistake; I know my cross is much bigger than everyone else’s.” Or, perhaps, we’ll thank God that our crosses are small and we had the opportunity to help others with their crosses.