Forty-five minutes. I can do a lot in 45 minutes.
I can walk or jog around the UP Oval. I can watch an episode of Glee. I can sing 12 songs on the videoke machine. I can bake lasagna. I can lose myself on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I can read a few chapters from a good book. I can get a foot spa.
The mass I attended yesterday ended 45 minutes later than usual, but instead of focusing on the blessing and grace present, I was mentally ticking away the clock and things I could have done with the "lost" time.
It was the weekly Sunday mass at our parish, which also happened to be a Charismatic mass. The priest led us in the renewal of our baptismal promises and blessed us all with holy water at the start of the mass. Then, after communion, Fr. Brian encouraged us to approach the altar if we wanted to offer ourselves to God and to receive a special, personal blessing.
Usually, altar calls would yield a few willing souls who would stand up in front and be prayed over. To Fr. Brian's and the congregation's surprise, almost everyone in church lined up while the choir was singing the song meant for our reflection. Fr. Brian said, "Bear with me, I will approach you all and pray for you."
In hindsight, it must have been the Nazareno season. Filipinos celebrated the annual observance of what had simply been known as the Fiesta of the Nazareno last Saturday, with over two million people flocking just to see and touch the image of the Black Nazarene.
It could have been the start of the new year and the desire to receive a prayer, a blessing, a new "baptism", that led people to the altar. It could have been the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts and minds of my brothers and sisters in the parish.
Whatever the reason, I was not immediately grateful for the long wait to be prayed over. Fr. Brian could have said a generic blessing for everyone and whisked holy water on us all. But no. He prayed over each one, and when my turn came, I understood what it was about. I looked at Fr. Brian's smiling face and tired eyes, and received the prayer. When he placed his hands on my head and prayed for me, specifically, I felt like I was being blessed, like my sins were being washed away, like God was getting me started for a new mission for the year.
I regretted all the impatient thoughts that ran in my head while waiting for Fr. Brian to get to my end of the line. While the choir was singing "STILL" by Hillsong, I was restless. I was thinking of the lettuce I wanted to buy to go with our steak for family lunch. I was tempted to get the baskets of offerings and to start counting the money donations so I could slip away quietly and quickly to cook the steak. I felt the heaviness of my bag and regretted all the unnecessary things I put in there. I wanted to sit down as my legs grew tired of standing and waiting.
Waiting. We all know I am not good with that.
Fr. Brian thanked us all for our patience and I felt all the more that God was smiling down on me. After mass, I expected Fr. Brian to be exhausted and regretful of his decision to offer to pray for people. Instead, he was exuberant and rejuvenated. He said that they (the MGL fathers who were in charge of our parish) had always wanted to do that - to offer individual prayers. He was very happy that a lot of people responded to the altar call.
My heart was put in its proper place. I realized that God wanted to bless me, and I must have been a sight, thinking of all the things I had planned to do "after mass". Half the people had left the church by the time mass had ended, but those of us who waited were in for more blessings. It was not for God's benefit that we were asked to stay. It was for our own personal time of prayer and reflection. It was for us to be prayed over and to be baptized, just as Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, which was the Gospel for that day.
I am a latecomer in terms of spending an hour with Jesus in the blessed sacrament. It is something I want to do more often, if not regularly, starting this year. The experience of waiting in line was not empty waiting at all; it was waiting with Jesus, and waiting for Jesus. I am glad that God took away my blindness to His grace.
I am readier to face the challenges and to embrace the triumphs of the year. Thank you, Lord.