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No Way Home

by Jonathan Peeris

Waiting for Christmas Midnight Mass to commence, 2021

I chose this title not just because it is the title of the new Spider-Man movie, which is in my opinion one of the best superhero movies ever but also because, in many ways, Peter Parker’s journey mirrors my own.

Without spoiling the movie, essentially Peter is trying to return to some sense of normalcy after his identity is discovered. He longs to return ‘home’ to a reality that no longer exists. And when he finally finds a way to do so, it comes with great sacrifices.

For all of us who are entering almost a third year living with this pandemic, we are all yearning for a return to our ‘normal’. We want to go back to a reality that sadly no longer exists. As a choir member since I was a teenager, singing and Mass have always been intrinsically linked. Not being allowed to sing for Mass has been a major factor in me choosing to watch Mass where I am able to sing from the comfort of my home.

But upon reflection, I realise that I have made the mistake of making the Mass about me, and what I want, and not about Jesus. And we hear similar reasons from many who have chosen not to return to physical Mass offering reasons such as ‘I prefer the sermons from the Bishop’, ‘The SMOTA Mass has better songs’, ‘I watch the Mass from Canada every week.’

We have reduced the Eucharist to something which we can customise for ourselves.

Fortunately, with the easing of restrictions, we have been granted permission to sing for Mass. However, with the added condition of paying for an ART test before every Mass we sing for, it doesn’t look like we will be able to do this every week.

We were blessed to sing for Christmas Midnight Mass and just being back with my friends, doing what we love, was the best Christmas gift. It was also the first Mass that SVDP opened up for larger numbers allowing 220 people to attend.

And while it was nice to see more people back, it made me think about singing for Christmas Midnight Mass in 2019 and how packed the church was with people in the foyer and even standing at the back. Will that ever be a reality again?

Sadly, in the weeks following Christmas, our parish has struggled to fill the expanded capacity seats. Frequently there is nobody sitting in the foyer and barely 180 of the 220 seats have been taken up. Our wardens have even encountered resistance from parishioners who don’t want to sit five to a pew even though the rules now allow that. Will we ever be able to ‘pack’ the church again?

Perhaps for those with young children, there is a certain pressure not to bring your children for Mass. That’s something I can empathise with as I’ve seen my sister struggle with the same decision herself.

Masses during ‘old normal’ in 2016

Firstly, bringing a 3 year old toddler and an energetic 5 year old to Mass requires immense amounts of energy and patience to begin with. Added to that is the fact that most times they may be the only children attending Mass. In a non-crowded church, even the slightest noise feels amplified.

And then there is the idea that young children won’t receive anything from Mass. Should they be taking up a precious spot from an adult? But Jesus himself told us in Matthew, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’

In the end, my sister and I realised that we did not want their earliest memories of Jesus to be on a screen. So we have started bringing them back for Mass once a month and will now increase to fortnightly.

Personally, I love seeing and hearing the noise of children at Mass. I have attended Mass in Australia and Europe in lovely but empty Cathedrals and I would not trade that for the noise of children. Thankfully, the priests of our parish feel the same way.

The seniors are another group that may decide not to return and for good reason. When it comes to COVID, they are in the high risk group and it is perfectly understandable that they may stay away. Yet, I have noticed many of them bravely start to return to Mass. I spoke to 77 year old, Paul Tan, about his decision to attend Mass in person instead of watching it online.

He is fully aware of the risks but he says ‘If you’re physically and mentally fit and fully vaccinated, there is no excuse not to come. It’s more important that our faith is kept alive and not buried in this pandemic.’ So in a way, ‘No Way Home’ is a misnomer. There is a way back to church but it takes courage and commitment. The commitment of parents to make the extra effort to bring their children to Mass. The courage of a senior citizen to come and spend time with Jesus despite the pandemic.

“In church I am fully immersed in the celebration of the Eucharist and am able to receive Holy Communion. Being physically present in the assembly makes me feel spiritually and socially connected and I leave always with a feeling of peace and joy,” he shares.

Like Peter Parker, the way home lies before us but it will take sacrifices. The sacrifice of making God a priority and meeting Him on HIS time; not when it is convenient for us. The sacrifice of not sleeping in and of getting dressed up to see the King of Kings and not just roll out of bed in our pyjamas and log on to YouTube.

Perhaps it is not about waiting for things to go back to a previous reality. It is about making the best out of the one we’ve got. See you in church!