When I was a child, my mother and father would bundle my brother and me into our unairconditioned car, and we would drive for days to a favorite vacation spot in upstate New Hampshire.
My father gave talks at a conference during most of the days, and that left the rest of us to explore the mountainous area that always held surprises (mostly good, although there was the occasional startling forest creature).
But no matter how far afield we individually went, each Sunday, we would attend Mass together at a very old, worn, wooden church just on the edge of a nearby town.
With plain, smooth pews and lightly painted walls, the little church had all the warmth of a quaint meeting hall, but even so, it seemed quite exotic: It wasn’t a Catholic church, but one that we visitors and a priest from a farther city could “borrow” during the summer.
As Mass began on those Sundays full of drowsy vacation and the pine-scented breezes, I remember thinking of the others who used the same space for their services. There must be differences, I imagined. But, even so, we looked and prayed at the same place, our songs eventually seeping into the wood beams and walls — together.
Afterward, as we spilled out into the sunshine, others arrived to worship in the little church. I recall no sense of stranger among them, but I do remember smiles, nods — all the things that go along with friends meeting, greeting and moving on quite comfortably.
The experience of Mass in a “borrowed” church taught me many things.
It was a kind of springboard for my awareness of the universality of our faith. Mass is Mass, whether you are at your home parish or on vacation far away (and no matter the language — one of my most memorable Masses was in Dutch in St. Peter’s).
It also reminded me each summer of the union we have in Christ, in our faith, that transcends this or that physical demarcation. How often we compare our parish to “the other one,” or draw boundaries when there should be none! Vacation away with Mass elsewhere can be a kind of inoculation against this tendency when we come home.
Beyond my own faith, too, the experience of worshipping in the all-purpose church introduced me to a broader Christian hospitality, based on our love for Christ and respect for personal, sacred time to worship, pray and find fellowship. And it has stayed with me.
Whether meeting by chance at an airport chapel or passing by one another, on our way in or out of the door of a multipurpose church, amid the uncertainties and sometimes trouble of travel, the camaraderie with other believers, even if they don’t worship as I do, has been one of the “traveling mercies” for which I am grateful.
Each time I read about the early church and how in those first days, people of faith opened their homes to others, or when I meet a chaplain who has brought the Mass to the proverbial battlefield or sickbed, I think about how wonderfully versatile our faith can be when we are open and dedicated.
Vacation? There’s bound to be a church, even a “borrowed” one somewhere close, and at least one Mass on Sunday to attend, enjoy, remember.
Between destinations? An airport chapel or other common place of prayer can be a haven, especially if there have been snags in the itinerary and tempers are short.
And those encounters, however brief, with people of different denominations?
A summertime opportunity to build subtle, spirit-filled bridges, as we come and go — from our house to theirs.
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