He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts.
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on his part.
The union of your spirits here has caused him to remain.
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name
There is love. – Noel Paul Stookey
There was a time during the 1970s when the above lyrics, from a song written in 1971 by the Paul in the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary, were sung at nearly every wedding in every church in the United States of America.
The song, which the songwriter attributes to divine inspiration, uses some of my favorite words from the gospels. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus told his friends, “For where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them.”
St. Paul – never one to let anyone have the last word, apparently even Jesus – confirmed this when he explained to the sinning Corinthians in his first letter to those folks that if you gather in the name of Jesus, you can fight evil.
I reminded myself of this fact at Mass yesterday, as I listened – or tried to – the priest’s Pentacost homily. I say tried to because I was faced with a few obstacles. First, the priest who celebrated our Mass was visiting from another parish. He is originally from India, and though his English is perfect, his accent is strong. That would be bad enough, except that he also speaks especially softly. Second, there was a poor, frenzied single father with three small children sitting directly behind us. He was trying his best; there was a lot of shushing going on. But have you ever tried to keep a toddler quiet when he or she is supposed to be quiet? So I wasn’t mad at Daddy or the children, but it made it even harder to hear the priest. And, of course, there was the poor acolyte who passed out, literally crashing to the floor, white as the Holy Ghost himself. She was okay and was revived by her mother who quickly came to her rescue.
These distractions were okay, however, because it gave me time to think about being in church for Mass. In particular, I wondered if there was any grace to be gained from attending a church service in which you can’t really participate for any number of reasons. Of course, if you’re Catholic, the Mass is really a celebration of the Eucharist, so that’s the primary reason why attendance is important. But for me, it goes beyond that. For me, gathering with a whole group of people – some friends, some slightly familiar faces, some strangers — is an important part of prayer. Where two or more are gathered in his name, he is there right alongside of us, sitting with us, listening and responding to our group prayers.
Everyone’s spiritual needs are different. For some, God can be found in nature. For others, praying is easiest when driving alone in a car. Still others find their peace with God when sitting alone in a quiet church, their nostrils filled with the smell of leftover incense and listening to the sounds of quiet prayers coming from an old woman sitting in the back of the church.
I see God in nature and I often pray while I’m driving to or from a destination. The silence of a church is a perfect place to talk to God and listen for his response.
But for me, I need – and that word isn’t too strong – to gather with others every week and celebrate being a part of God’s family. I need to hear the familiar words of the Mass and the prayer responses. I need to greet others in the peace of Christ. I need to feel part of a church community. I believe that is why following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles were absolutely desperate to gather together — whether in secret or in the open — in Jesus’ name. They remembered Jesus’ word about the importance of community.
I need to gather with two or three or more to feel the presence of God among us. There is love.
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