What were the odds, I ask you...what were the odds?
Sometimes you can hear God laughing if you listen closely enough. Just now, I was looking ahead to the readings for this Sunday - and I was reminded of an incident which took place in 1998. That year, our hometown team the San Diego Padres, were National League Champions and were facing the New York Yankees American League Champions in the World Series Baseball Championship. The Yankees franchise has been to "the big show" many times, but this was only the Padres second trip in club history.
As luck would have it, a game was to be played right when I was due to be lector for Sunday 5:15 Mass. Much as I love baseball (and having had full season tickets at the time for some 25+ years at that point) I stuck to my Sunday schedule and didn't try and get someone to pinch hit for me. It was an "away" game - or else I would have bribed someone to fill in for me, having gotten tickets for the home games. The game was due to start at 5 - and the organist was also wishing there was some wonderful but impossible way we could be two places at once.
The priest who always does that Mass, Msgr. S., is and was noted for having rather long sermons. [Those university professors always give you "the whole nine yards" - to a prof. used to lecturing college students for 50 minutes a pop, 23-24 minutes is "short."] The organist mentioned to me that for this "special occasion" she was going to multitask. As no one but her and her husband would be in the choir loft that night, she had intended to listen to the radio broadcast of the game just before Mass and then "multitask" during Father's sermon. Ain't modern technology and those little ear thingies grand? [When you've assisted at the same priest's Mass for over (then) 20 years, you may have, oh, on occasion, heard the same sermon now and again...albeit with a new twist here and there. So neither one of us felt too guilty.]
Since I was going to be busy setting out everything for Mass, I wouldn't have the luxury the organist was going to in hearing the 1st 20 minutes of the game. I hastily suggested that perhaps, after I entered the church in procession, after the opening hymn - if there was any score, for the organist to please hold up "right hand" and extend #of fingers for any runs our home team had scored and "left hand" mitt fingers (or fist for duck egg) for the Yankee's runs. Then arms up or arms down for "top or bottom half of inning" -- followed by fingers held up to tell which inning we were in. (If this sounds complicated it wasn't, particularly.)
Well, we had processed in, and from my position at the side of the sanctuary I discretely glanced up at the organist and was distressed to see that the home team was already down by more than 3 runs, and it was only in the bottom of the 2nd! We had decided, that perhaps discretion was the better part of valor, and did not let the good Father in on what we were doing. What he didn't know, wouldn't hurt us. [The pope could have been in the choir loft too, but Father being Father, there was no way the organist would have been spotted giving these signals with Father's less-than-perfect vision. The pope himself could have given the signals, Father still wouldn't have seen him, truth be told.]
This particular Sunday, I hadn't bothered to quickly scan the readings as was my normal wont. Years ago the then pastor and I decided I did MUCH better at the readings if in my case I only briefly skimmed them for any odd place names. I've always read very well on cold reading, but as I also tend to speak fast, I have to "rein it in" for proper pacing in a Mass setting and if I am "too recently familiar" then I'd be tempted to go faster than one ought. But THIS particular Sunday I didn't even have time for the quick scan and just set out the lectionary, open to the right place, but unscanned by me.
I've set up this long winded exposition, so that you can fully appreciate my mirth when I looked down to read:
In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.
Moses, therefore, said to Joshua,
Pick out certain men,
and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle.
I will be standing on top of the hill
with the staff of God in my hand."
So Joshua did as Moses told him:
he engaged Amalek in battle
after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur.
As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight,
but when he let his hands rest,
Amalek had the better of the fight.
Moses’hands, however, grew tired;
so they put a rock in place for him to sit on.
Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands,
one on one side and one on the other,
so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people
with the edge of the sword."
I can only thank God Almighty that it was only years of experience in the art of "public composure" and my ability to get classmates to break up in class while remaining angelic faced were the only things that got me through that reading.
At the end of Mass, after we bowed, and I turned to precede the good Father out, I whispered "Yankees X(#), Padres Y(#)" -- he gave me a quizzical "how in heck do you know" look, and after he was back in the sacristy the organist and I let him in on the secret. He laughed too.
And if you're at the 5:15 Mass this Sunday in Old Town in San Diego, there just might be a small hint of a smile playing on my lips after that first reading. It will be our little secret.