So we were going to have a Mass before our March for Life, and it was going to be at UIS, and we had 1700+ people registered to come. Last week I told the story up to the point where God seemed to be providing an altar and ambo for the Mass – actually the same one that JPII had used when he came to St. Louis! – but I had no good way to get it up here to Springfield.
I asked around if anybody had someone that fit the bill. Coworkers, brother priests, Legion of Valor members, Knights of Columbus … Does anyone know someone, or know someone who knows someone, that would be willing to do it for us?? I sent out a battery of messages and joined Fr. Vahling in the gym to take out my worries on the squat rack. I was convinced already that only God could figure all of it out, and wondrously at the same time, somewhere deep in my heart was the further conviction that God had big plans and wasn’t going to let mere logistical impossibilities get in the way.
As it turned out (coincidence?), the following day I would be seeing all of the priests of the diocese. Maybe someone would know someone? Fr. Arisman pointed me towards Fr. Goekner. Fr. Goekner pointed me towards Fr. Bergbower. Fr. Bergbower mentioned he already had a portable altar that might be big enough … but then said “Have you talked with John Hopkins?” I hadn’t even heard of the guy, but turns out he owns a truck-repair company, and he is a good Catholic, and he goes to daily Mass at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis! Fr. Bergbower texted him while we were eating our salads and before we had even gotten our meat and potatoes he had a response. It was an all-caps “LET’S DO IT!!!” (I do think there were three exclamation points. There certainly were in my memory of the moment). He would be returning from vacation on Sunday, would pick up the altar on Monday, and drop it off that afternoon at the auditorium with 12 hours to spare.
Amazing, providential, assistance came through at every turn. The four-week heads-up that our insurance needed to cover exterior collaborators came together in 24 hours. Meetings on Monday became unnecessary or were covered by other people giving time to hash out all the necessary details. Staff were on hand at the University to get everything moved in, and properly situated, when the altar showed up early Monday afternoon. Fr. Isaacson at St. Katherine Drexel had a glorious set of six candlesticks (and candles, and followers) for either side of the altar. None of the additional servers that I was expecting from high schools ended up showing, yet somehow between the pontifical servers and a few other guys who decided to help out, we had exactly 19 servers, one for each of the 19 places that we would have priests and bishops distribute Holy Communion.
Don’t get the wrong impression! Some crises were only solved at the last second. This was definitely like the Manna in the desert: God providing precisely what was necessary in the moment. The printer broke at the CPC and we only had 1950 programs. Then it turned out we only had 1900 seats anyway. 45 minutes before buses began arriving for the Mass, UIS asked us to count everyone who came through the door … and limit entries to 1750 people (we had 1800+ registrants by this point!) Dozens of members of the curia helped count programs and distribute them to groups, and when the time for Mass came there were still seats available. T-1 minute, we were still eight patens short to carry up to all the balconies Holy Communion. (Fr. Thompson had an emergency hospital call and could not come, along with the four patens we were borrowing from him for the Mass, and Fr. Arisman hadn’t yet arrived with his four either.) Yet by the time Mass had started, Fr. Arisman was there (with his four), and we were able to put into service one of the ciboriums we had off to the side giving us just enough to get by.
Two anecdotes remain. As bishop finished greeting all the groups from around the state during his homily, a starling fluttered down from the ceiling … and landed on one of the candles. Somehow the candle didn’t topple, or go out, and bishop happily used it as a reminder for all of us of the Holy Spirit’s presence there with all of us. And, in case I still doubted God was working through it all, a woman came up to me during the March afterwards (during which, I might mention, it did not rain as expected) and simply thanked me for the immense Peace that she experienced during the Mass. Now, if you’ve ever been at a Mass with thousands of people, and in an auditorium, you know that peace is not the obvious experience. Yet it was for her, and for many others, and I take that as a final testimony that God was working behind every detail.
– Fr. Dominic saw not only God’s providence in it all, but also his continued need to grow in trust in God. Every day the Lord wants to prove His Love for us; do we expect Him to?