Sunday 1 April 2012
By Shawn van der Linden, Director of Pastoral Support Services (CatholicLIFE), CanberraKairos Catholic Journal, Volume 23, issue 5
One of my most profound experiences of the Mass happened during one of the most difficult times of my life.
February marked the 20th anniversary of the sudden death of my mother in a car accident. Mum was driving my eight-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister home after swimming lessons at the local pool. An elderly driver did not notice two sets of red lights and hit the driver's side of Mum's car. Thankfully my brother and sister were not injured. However, the impact caused fatal injuries to my Mum and she died at the scene.
The trauma of this loss for my family was extreme. We were a fairly standard Catholic family with five children. The week before the accident I had left home for the first time and moved to Canberra. I will never forget the rush to the airport, the drive from Tullamarine to my family home and then falling into the embrace of my family. We were finally together, but we were completely shattered by the trauma.
The next few weeks were filled with so many tears as we tried to grapple with the enormity of our loss. It was one of those unique human experiences where everything gets stripped back, and all those things in life that once seemed so important, suddenly reveal themselves as so pathetically insignificant. Similarly, those things that we had taken for granted, suddenly arose as the foundation of life, and the source of genuine healing and restoration.
The funeral had not yet taken place but, like every other Sunday, it was time to go to Mass. It had only been a few days since the accident and we were a deeply hurting family as we made our way to Mass at our parish of St Francis de Sales in East Ringwood. While this Mass was probably the most uncomfortable and difficult I had ever experienced, looking back now I can see how during it, and also during the many other Masses we attended in that terrible year, something was happening at a very deep level in our family.
Our parish was in many ways quite simple and fragile. However, it was able to support our grieving family in such a powerful way at that first Mass, at the funeral and in the year that followed. The experience was one of knowing and seeing these people each week at Mass, to suddenly encountering a living, breathing community, which was so much more than the sum of the people in it. There was also something deeply spiritual about the Mass that brought healing to our family.
As we participated in the Mass as an act of faith in the midst of our pain and grief, we were in a mysterious way tipped over into the reality of what we were doing and saying at the Mass. Rather than death, trauma and despair being the final meaning of Mum's death, the Mass gently, and over time, tipped us into the reality of life and love beyond the pain of death. So 20 years after this experience, I am now taking my own young family to Mass each Sunday.
Even though I often seem to spend most of the Mass chasing after my younger children, I am confident that something is happening at a deep level in the life of my family. It is a place of healing and life for my family, even if most of the time we cannot see or feel that happening.
This article was first printed in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn's family newsletter, Your Family, Your Faith, www.familyfaith.org.au
Photo: Shawn Van der Linden and his family. Photo supplied by Shawn van der Linden