I keep coming back to this issue of 30-second choices. My thoughts on the matter began in a blog I wrote back in January. 30-second choices change the world. One such 30-second choice, may be as simple as whether or not to use the restroom, but it will have an affect, even fifty years from now.
This is what I mean.
In the year 1957, my there was a young German man by the name of Volker Langbein who was given simple instructions from his parents. “Find an American GI (soldier) and invite him to have Christmas dinner with us.”
His path could have taken him in any direction. A misstep in another direction, a distraction by a young lady walking by, or even a choice to use the restroom could have altered his path by 30 seconds, and the man he invited to dinner would have been completely different.
Of course the man he invited had the same forces working on him. A different choice that day, made in less than thirty seconds, could have made him 30 seconds late for this chance meeting.
The chance meeting led to my father being invited to have Christmas dinner with Volker and his family fifty years ago. They became friends who remained in contact with each other their entire lives, though living on other sides of the world. Of course, if that 30-second chance meeting hadn’t happened, I would not have been so confused at Mass today.
That is to say, because of the relationship between my father and Volker, I’m staying with Volker Langbein and his wife Heidi, here in Germany. Volker brought me to Mass today at Jesuitenkirche in Mannheim, which is where the confusion took place.
I was confused because sometimes it isn’t easy to tell the differences between Catholics and Protestants.
A friend of mine who reads these blogs once told me the definition that her father gave her when she asked the question, “What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?”
He said, “Protestants eat cake after they pray.”
She was therefore confused when she came to St. Ignatius Parish in Chicago, and we had doughnuts after Mass. Where we Catholic or Protestant?
At Jesuitenkirche. Even on a weekday Mass (albeit for the May 1, Labor day holiday in Germany which is a public, not religious holiday) every possible moment of the Mass was sung with organ accompaniment, always preceded by an elaborate introduction, the likes of which I usually only hear in the United States at Protestant (Episcopal) churches.
Of course there was also the fact that they “passed” the basket at the offertory, which again is often considered a Protestant feature of churches in America.
Of course, the whole Mass was in German, which only means that they thought they were right about everything.
I leaned over to Volker and said, “Where am I? A Catholic or Protestant Mass?”
“Catholic. It is the Jesuit Church.”
Which is another issue. To many in the Church, it may have meant that I was at neither a Catholic nor a Protestant Mass.
The church itself is beautiful. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view the pictorial I made of the church by clicking here. You will note some pictures I took of how the old church used to look. The church was bombed in World War II, and what you seen now is the restoration. Of special note is the way the Jesuits represented their mission to the world, with murals around the great dome that indicate the people of the four continents (known at the time) to which the Jesuits had the mission of Evangelization. This church is simply known as “Jesuit church” but formally is dedicated to St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier.
Coming back to my experience of being at Mass, I was extremely thankful for the day. I had finalized my schedule for the remainder of my European stay, and reunited with a very good friend of my father.
I conclude, only by asking all of us to be careful of those 30-second choices that we make everyday. Some of them will have consequences that will change the future 50 years from now, and beyond. If in those thirty seconds, you demonstrate an act of hospitality in the same way that Volker did when he randomly invited my father to Christmas dinner, you may find that the act of hospitality may bear fruit for the rest of your life.