THE CENTER AISLE
By Tony Lopresti
Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Church
My name is Tony Lopresti and I’ve been a lector since I started high school. The section at the beginning of a Catholic Mass is called The Liturgy of the Word. During that part of the Mass, a lector proclaims the readings of the day drawn from the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures.
A lector often carries the book of the Mass in the opening procession. In the church I’ve attended for the last several decades, that procession begins in the sacristy, which is the preparation room for the priest and the various ministers. The procession continues down a side aisle to the back of the church and then up the center aisle toward the sanctuary and the altar.
Every time I carry the book of readings up the center aisle toward the altar, I remember that one day, in a funeral procession, my remains would be escorted up that very same aisle. I try each time to take in everything: the sound of the music, the cantor and the choir; each dark brown oak pew and the congregants in them - what color clothes they are wearing, how old they are, if there are any babies or children; the flowers and candles surrounding the altar; the altar itself and the tabernacle and the crucifix behind it. I try to breathe in the aromas of perfumes and colognes, and of left-over incense. I try to feel the floor beneath my feet, to marvel at the forest of dark wooden beams above my head, and to notice the fractured light streaming through the stained-glass windows.
The center aisle.
Two weeks before I began writing this, my father-in-law died. But he wouldn’t have a final trip up the center aisle in his church. Like his wife before him, he had arranged to donate his body to a major medical school in his area for research. So, there would be no funeral. But there would be a memorial Mass and a life celebration after a few weeks.
During that time, I helped my wife and brother-in-law sort through their father’s belongings. I went through every pocket of every shirt, every pair of pants, every suit. It seems he was pretty meticulous about emptying his pockets, except for handkerchiefs. I found only one crumpled twenty-dollar bill and two quarters.
And the stacks of papers and boxes of memorabilia. Family heirlooms and historical documents. Photos. Vinyl records, VHS video tapes and eight-millimeter movies. Highlights of family moments, his career, his interests. “Wow! Look at this!” “Aww, I remember that time…” “What is this?” “Why did he ever want to keep these?” The memories and remnants of a life well-lived.
With each shirt I folded, or pair of pants I rehung, or memorable photo I found, I imagined how loved ones one day will do this with my belongings. All of the things that I had thought were valuable or memorable or worth keeping. All the things I had thought would be important for future generations. And, of course, all of the things I had totally forgotten about or had never gotten around to throwing away.
None of those things matter. None of those things define a life. None of those things will influence future generations.
What matters is how we have or have not loved. How we have touched other souls. What defines future generations are the fleeting moments when we smiled reassuringly at a child or spouse, offered a comforting touch to a family member or friend. Or when we have failed to do those things and left a chill in the air where a warm glow could have been.
Those moments form emotional and behavioral patterns that reverberate thunderously upon successive generations. We put our stamp on the future by what we have done or by what we have failed to do. They are the genetic markers of our souls.
In that way I am sure that we live long beyond our deaths, that we open and close hearts for generations upon generations. In that way we are remembered - in the emotional foundations that we have laid for all of our descendants.
All of our things in closets and boxes might bring back fleeting memories for a few. All of our love, or lack of love, will form all the new people who follow us for centuries after our journey up the center aisle.
When the time comes, may we all rest in peace. Amen.