Dramatic exits

Short version of this post: To all the people who attended the 9 am mass today at the parish, I’m doing ok. A little woozy, but ok. Please don’t worry. As for those who attended the other masses, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before I leave on my vacation, but I will definitely be back here I transfer to my new assignment.

Long version of this poist: I woke up at 5 am with a sore stomach, like I was really hungry. Except that I had been at an Italian-style wedding reception the night before, so I had definitely eaten enough. I tried to get back to sleep but it wasn’t working out too well. Eventually I got up and had my breakfast as usual, still with the sore stomach, but then I started to feel worse. Shortly before the 9 am mass I told my pastor my situation, and he offered to take my place (despite him still being on vacation), which was very kind, but I said that I could at least do the homily — after all, all you have to do is pop in and pop out, right?

Except that sometimes circumstances take over that determine when you have to “pop out”. As mass began I couldn’t even stand during the Gloria or Gospel, and then I got a third of the way through my homily and I knew I was not going to make it. I paused for a second, looked at the people, and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t continue.” (It was actually kind of dramatic — again I apologize to the people if I made anyone worry.) I made it back to the rectory, and I haven’t left yet. Tired, headachy, fever, and yes, sick to the stomach.

Now I want to turn this into a teachable moment for anyone who reads this. One thing a little odd about this situation, at least for me, is that I did not make it to Sunday mass today. Now I have the same Sunday obligation to attend mass as anyone else, but I don’t plan on going to confession regarding this moment. In fact, I don’t need to — and neither does anyone else if they miss Sunday mass with a legitimate reason. I know this might sound obvious to some, but as a priest I have heard confessions a few times where a person confessed missing mass because they were sick. After a bit of inquiry, I learn that they really *were* sick, and I reassure them that it was not a sin. They feel better, but it makes me think that there are probably many others out there who haven’t received that one-on-one information and are carrying around some guilt. Please be assured that God understands.

There is a basic principle in moral theology that states that while a negative law (i.e. one that commands a person to NOT do something, e.g. “thou shalt not commit adultery”) binds very strictly, a positive law (i.e. a commandment that obliges someone to DO something) can only bind if the circumstances actually allow the commandment to be fulfilled. In Latin this is phrased ad impossibilem nihil tenetur, or “in the case of the impossible, nothing binds”. I like to translate it as “if you just can’t do it, you just can’t do it”. And in my case today, I just could not do it — it was that simple.

Of course, it is always good to try and do something to show our sincerity to the Lord, that we are not trying to take advantage of our circumstances to “get away” with breaking a commandment. So today, instead of mass, I’m going to offer all of this up (including my writing of this blog post). Yes, I’ll sit on my sofa watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns (kind of like my junk food television), and sip water and camomile tea, but also (to the extent I can) I’ll pray. Who knows, maybe it’ll reduce my purgatory a little bit. :-)