Throughout my years in the seminary, the faculty continually told my fellow seminarians and I that we would find ourselves doing many things as priests that we never thought we ever would do. On the evening of 18 November, that warning proved true.
As many of you will know, that weekend was the beginning of - I believe - deer hunting season, with shotguns, that is. Or something like that. A hunter I am not, nor do I ever intend to be. However, as you can imagine, there are a great many hunters who are members of the parish. While I was on the Kairos retreat one of the students asked if I would come and celebrate Mass for the hunters at his family's "deer camp".
At the time I told him that I would have to first check with the pastor and that, if he gave his permission, it would be difficult to do because it was the same weekend as the Bishop's Pastoral Visitation. I did not at the time agree to come, although I did give two conditions for my possible visit:
1. Wherever I would celebrate Mass could not be freezing, and
2. I did not want to see any pieces of dead deerThese conditions were agreeable to the young man who flatly told me: "If you don't come to us for Mass, Father, we aren't going to Mass." (Or something very near that.)
He placed me in a bit of a quandry and so I seriously began to consider his request. My gut reaction was, "Not a chance," but the more I thought about it the better the idea seemed.
I recalled the Servant of God Pope John Paul II's words in his Ecclesia de eucharistia:
When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it. I remember the parish church of Niegowić, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter's Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world. I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.I thought also of those many early missionary priests to North America who were "circuit riders," taking themselves to wherever the people were, rather than making the people come to them.
The more I considered these examples the more I knew that I simply must go. And so go I did.
I left the dinner and presentation with the Bishop a bit before it ended (I explained the situation to him earlier that day and he thanked me for my generous service) and arrived at the deer camp about 9:30 p.m. and celebrated the Eucharist for some fifty hunters. I visited with them for about an hour after the Mass and returned to the rectory for a short night of sleep. It was a marvelous experience!
Truth be told, it was a Mass that I was greatly looking forward to celebrating throughout the day. It was a great joy and blessing! The hunters told me that if I could have arrived earlier there may well have been over one hundred people for Mass. I certainly think I will try to make this an annual event!