Bell, Facebook and Candle

Bell, Facebook, and Candle is one of my concession to the modern age.  That God can work powerfully even through the mundane fads of modern technology presents no mystery.  I attempt to portray the allure of Eucharistic Adoration – an ancient practice that is undergoing a robust revival in the United States, especially among the young.  The Apostles took the teachings of Jesus as recorded in chapter six of John’s gospel quite literally and so the Church has historically taken advantage of the fact that the Real Presence of Our Lord resides in the consecrated elements (Bread and Wine) of the Eucharist.  In this story the plot twist is also tied to the Seal of Confession, that sacred vow a priest takes that binds him to Confessional confidentiality, even to the point of death.

“This is Ann Landers’ fault”, mused Airman 1st Class Jimbo Hines.  Not that he knew two figs about who Ann Landers is – or was, but among the many maternal echoes reverberating in his brain, According to Ann Landers, the best place to meet a nice girl is in church, was one of the most frequent.
He twitched nervously in the back pew, as congregants filtered in, each pausing to dip their hand in the little saucer of holy water before tapping out the sign of the cross.   He made a mental note to Google “Sign of the Cross” when he got back to the barracks.  Today marked the second time in his 22 years he had attended a Catholic service.  The first was four years ago.  Both visits were hormonally induced.
It was in his senior year that he had fallen in love with the lovely Sarah Dwyer, devout Catholic extraordinaire.  The prerequisite to a first date was attendance at Sunday Mass, which, reasoned Jimbo at the time, probably ruled out any attempts at second base.  His knowledge of Roman Catholicism was apocryphal.  His mother, a fallen away Holiness Pentecostal, retained enough knowledge of the Christian phenomenon to assure him that there was a special place in hell for “those idol-worshipping papists”.  So much for letting your girl meet the Mum!  While he was alarmed at the number and garishness of statues during that first visit, the closest thing to idolatry he observed was the rapturous look on Sarah’s face when she returned from the wafer receiving line.  She called it the “Blessed Sacrament”.  Whatever it was, it turned the most beautiful girl he had ever met into something short of angelic.  He made a second mental note to also Google “Blessed Sacrament”.  So…., it had come to this.  The mind-numbing rhythm of enlisted life had driven him into a Church! 
The acolyte had lit the candles, the two-man choir had finished their warm-ups and the priest was in the wings getting ready to begin the service.  Maybe Ann Landers had not been to church for awhile, or maybe the rules did not apply to base chapels, but among the faithful (mostly enlisted) none of the four females in attendance rated better than 4.5 on Jimbo’s ‘Chick Hotness’ scale.  Fortunately he had taken an aisle seat.  He could discretely slip out while everyone was standing for the opening hymn.  Time to spring the fifteen bucks for the Introductory Special!
As fate (or Providence) would have it, Jimbo’s evasive exit turn put him on a collision course with a comely latecomer.  Dressed in fatigues and breathing heavily, she was obviously coming straight from a duty assignment.  Her deep green eyes registered surprise, wonder, and a vivacity that was quite enamoring to one in Jimbo’s situation.  Thanks be to Ann!
“I am so sorry…” stammered Jimbo nervously.
“No”, whispered the young woman, “It’s my fault.  I should have been paying more attention.  I was in a rush.  I didn’t want to be late.  My bad!”
Sarah Fox (according to her name badge) then smiled sweetly and proceeded to find her place.  Jimbo gazed longingly at the graceful figure in Camos as she genuflected before composing herself to join in the singing.  Jimbo quietly reclaimed his back row observation post in order to study this prospective soul-mate.  Definitely a 9.5 initial rating, with upward potential!
He maneuvered through the unfamiliar sequences of the Mass.  Stand up, sit down, pray-pray-pray.
        From his experience with the first Sarah, he was especially attentive to the ‘Blessed Sacrament’ event.  He noticed that most congregants received the host in the hand.  A few took it directly on the tongue.  Even fewer did a full double knee genuflection and took it on the tongue, as did the new Sarah.
After reception, she very reverently, almost glowingly, returned to her pew. 
9.6….9.7….9.8….Jimbo was aware that something unearthly was happening here.  Déjà vu all over again?  The signature theme from The Twilight Zone was ‘doo-doo-dooing’ in his head as he retreated backward from the chapel.  I have to meet this girl he resolved.  This is a job for Carl the Geek!  This time he snuck out the back door in earnest.
Carl the Geek was the unit’s resident computer nerd.  When not eating, sleeping, or otherwise engaged in assigned duties he could be found glued to the monitor of his ever present laptop.  That he would be available on a Sunday morning was a no-brainer.
“Carl, my man.  What can you tell me about Airman 1st Class Sarah Fox…and I do mean fox.
Carl was a man of very few words.  After a flurry of keystrokes he replied, “Is that Sara with an ‘H’?”
Jimbo scanned his brain for the image of the name tag.  “Let’s go with the ‘H’”.  More keystrokes.
“Fox with an ‘E’ at the end?  How many ‘X’s?”
“F – O – X.  Like the animal.  What do you mean, how many ‘X’s?”
Carl nodded toward an arresting photo of a ‘Sarah Foxxx’ that took up most of the screen.  “Probably not her real name…but she looks like quite the animal!”
Jimbo gave him a good flick on the back of the head.  “Hey, genius, let’s stick with S – A –R – A – H    F – O –X.  OK?”
Carl resumed his keystrokes as screens and lists flew by. And then he suddenly stopped.
“Hmm.  Looks like a Sarah Fox in this vicinity just opened up a Facebook account …yesterday.  No picture, no friends yet, has Roman Catholic listed under Organizations.  That’s about it.  Doesn’t look like she knows squat about Facebook, though.  This page is totally primitive.”
“Yes!” exclaimed Jimbo, giving two thumbs up to the sky.  “Somebody up there likes me!”
“Paul Newman, 1957, Biography of Rocky Marciano, won 2 Academy Awards”, was Carl’s response.
“Say what?”
“The movie, Somebody Up There Likes Me.  Just thinking out loud.”
Another flick to the back of the head.  “How about thinking out loud about a way for me to meet this lady.”
Carl reflected.  “Do you have a Facebook account?”
“Nah, I don’t have time for that stuff.” 
Another flurry of keystrokes.    Several minutes later, Carl announced, “Well, my friend, you DO now.  Welcome to the 21st Century and the wonderful world of Social Networking.  Let me show you how to ‘become a friend’ of Sarah Fox.”
It was fortunate for Jimbo that his job in the storehouse could have been performed by a Chimpanzee on Demerol, as his mind was otherwise occupied.  Carl had explained that there was a very good possibility that Sarah Fox would simply ignore his request ‘to become a friend’.  After all, a good-looking girl like her was definitely stalker-bait, so he had to be very careful with his opening move.  He had labored for hours on an introductory statement, jockeying between charming, witty, and reverent.  Since none of the above were part of his stock in trade, he settled on ‘short, sweet and honest’.  (Two out of three ain’t bad!).

I was intrigued and inspired by your presence following the Eucharistic Celebration at the Sunday Mass we both attended.  I would very much like to see you again.  Jimbo Hines.

He had even checked Google for technical correctness.  The article on ‘Real Presence’ was kind of scary.  Fantastic, but if true, it explained a lot about the two Sarahs.  He only wondered about the rest of the congregation – no one else seemed to be experiencing mini-ecstasy at the Mass.  But then, to be fair, his attention had been narrowly focused.
After dinner he wandered to the base library, retreated to an available Computer station and followed the logon instructions from the cheat sheet provided by Carl.
His profile page magically appeared.  Nearly as Spartan as Sarah’s, Carl had posted a carefully framed digital photo showing his best side in dress uniform.  Underneath the photo was the caption Soul Searcher.  Carl had insisted on linking himself as a friend, so the Geekman also stared out stoically from his favorite photo, dressed in full Jedi Knight regalia.
To his surprise, there was a response attached to the friend confirmation….I would love to meet with you.  How about Wednesday at noon?  Same place you last saw me. 
The heaviness of the day evaporated in one big POOF!  As Jimbo studied the brief message over and over, he tried to fathom deeper meaning from the terse response.  Why “the Same Place”, as opposed to “the Base Chapel” OR why not some more socially comfortable location like the Canteen, or a quiet restaurant?  Perhaps Ms. Fox was trying to weed out any potential random creeps who may have stumbled upon her site.  After all, ONLY he would know the location of “the Same Place”.  And what place could be safer for a blind date audition, as this surely was (at least from the perspective of Sarah Fox).  Fair enough. It’s a date.  Wednesday at noon.   Be There Or Be Square.
To his surprise, the Chapel at noon was not the quiet and secluded place he anticipated for a first meeting.  Several worshippers were already gathered when he arrived.  A sign at the door read “Eucharistic Adoration: 12:00 – 4:00”.  The Wikipedia article mentioned this.  Devout Catholic believers spent time reverencing one of the exposed hosts.  The monstrance on the altar, surrounded by lit candles was not unlike the one pictured in the article.  There was an eerie atmosphere of calm, peace, and …… Presence, similar to the one he experienced when gazing at the post-communal Sarah, but without the hormonal distraction.  He took his seat at the back pew and waited.  People came and went.  The lunch hour passed quickly, but still no Sarah. 
Something must have come up, thought Jimbo, or perhaps she got cold feetI guess I will have to logon again tonight and find out what happened. 
Later that evening, Jimbo studied his query before committing with the ENTER key.

I waited the entire noon hour, but you weren’t there.  I still hope we can meet sometime.  Jimbo.

He sat there for several moments staring at the screen.  I am an incurable romantic … who needs to get out more.  His melancholic reverie was broken by the response displaying itself on the screen.
But I was there. Maybe you didn’t recognize me.  We’ll have to try again. Love you.
Dazed, Jimbo seriously wondered if he were trapped in one of the parallel universes about which Carl often rambled.  He quickly logged off.  I gotta get some air!
Parallel universe or not, the tiny hairs on the back of Jimbo’s neck stood at attention as he walked past the checkout desk.
“Sarah?  Is that you?”
The petite airman glanced at Jimbo, straining for recognition.
“Do I know you?”
“We met at Mass on Sunday….sort of.”
Sudden awareness lit up her eyes and flushed her cheeks.  “Of course, I nearly knocked you over.  But how did you know my name?”
“Name tag…you were in uniform.”  Jimbo extended a hand.  “Jimbo Hines.  Glad to meet you, Sarah.  May I interest you in a cup of coffee? ”
Sarah performed a quick mental inventory as she took in the nervous boy in front of her (a shy looking serviceman who went to church on Sundays), glanced at her watch, and smiled back. 
“Why not, I have a long night of study ahead of me.  A break would be nice.”
Jimbo related his enigmatic saga. Sarah patiently listened, her demeanor telegraphing only bewilderment.  When he finished, she studied her hands and cleared her throat. 
“Jimbo, I don’t know what to say.  I’m very flattered by the attention and effort, but I assure you, those messages were not from me.  I don’t even have a Facebook account.  I use ‘LinkedIn’ – it’s much more professional.”  She detected a wounded look.  “….NOT that there is anything wrong with Facebook.”
“I don’t understand either.  If not you, then where did those messages come from?”  Jimbo looked pained and vulnerable.  Sarah melted.  She was a sucker for lost puppies and kittens.
“Jimbo, I have an idea.  Look, I have my laptop here in my backpack.  I have a built-in Wi-Fi.  Let’s take a look at your page and see if we can figure out what’s going on.”
Sarah booted up and navigated immediately to Facebook.  Carl would have been impressed.
“Here, Jimbo, log on and let’s take a look.  Sometimes an objective eye is helpful in figuring these things out.”
Again, consulting his cheat sheet, Jimbo obliged.  Sarah stifled a laugh when she saw the full figured photo of Carl ‘SkyWalker’. 
“Wow, that is sooo Seventies…I’m sorry, he is obviously your friend…I could never get into all that Sci-Fi Fantasy stuff.”
“No problem.  Carl sort of grows on you once you get to know him.   There…on that middle panel…those are the messages and replies.”
Sarah assumed a studious look.  When she cradled her chin in her fist, Jimbo noticed the slender diamond ring.  What a bonehead!  She’s engaged you idiot!
“So, when is the wedding?”
Sarah glanced at the ring and blushed nicely.  “I was hoping you would notice.  In about two-and-a-half weeks, when Robert finishes his tour in Iraq.  I think you two would get along well.  He’s real down-to-earth but is also deeply spiritual.  After we finish, if you give me your address I’ll make sure you get an invitation.”
“You think I’m Deeply Spiritual?  But we’ve only just met!”
“Jimbo…you were cruising for girls in a church, for crying out loud.  Getting off on watching someone go to Communion!  That is so very sweet….and spiritual.  And, by the way, that’s where Robert and I met…in church, at Adoration, just like the one you attended today.”
“Have you ever heard of Ann Landers?”
Sarah paused and searched the distant wall for an answer. 
“I think my mother quotes her.  She always used to tell me that ‘according to Ann Landers, the best place to meet a nice man is in church’.  I guess she was right.  But we digress…I have a theory about these messages.” 
Sarah held his two hands in an embarrassingly motherly fashion and sternly looked into his eyes.
“Jimbo, you were irresistibly drawn to that service.  You were looking for Love…with a capital ‘L’.  Am I close here?”
Jimbo felt a vaguely familiar tingle, but it had nothing to do with the woman holding his hands. 
“I don’t know…go on.”
“Jimbo, look at what you wrote.  I was intrigued and inspired by your presence following the Eucharistic Celebration at the Sunday Mass….  I would very much like to see you again.   You mistakenly thought you were intrigued and inspired by me.   Or rather, by something you thought was happening to me.”
“OK, so far I follow.  Keep going.”
“In fact, Jimbo, you were actually responding to the One with whom I was communing.  You do know that God IS Love, don’t you?”
“I remember hearing that somewhere, sometime….so you think I’m looking for God?”
“I sure hope so!  No girl is ever going to fill the big old ache your heart is dragging around.  But the cool thing is…God ALSO wants to fill that void.  He WANTS to love you.  Look at the first response.”
Jimbo read it aloud.  “I would love to meet with you.  How about Wednesday at noon?  Same place you last saw me.”
 Everything suddenly went grainy black and white.  A spotlight was shining on Rod Serling who was standing in an open space on the canteen floor.  Smoke was curling from the cigarette in his crossed hands as he intoned…Consider if you will the plight of one Jimbo Hines, a lonely airman whose maiden excursion into the realm of Social Networking linked him to a connection  buried deep behind the firewalls of…..The Twilight Zone….
He shook off the image, and Technicolor reality resolved back in.  “So you’re saying God is talking to me on the Internet….through Facebook!?”
“Hey, even the Pope twitters!  I’m no theologian, but it looks to me like God is trying to get your attention.  If you seek, He WILL find you.  No matter how He has to do it.  So, you show up, you experience His Presence - your word, by the way.  That was the peace and calm you described.  You just didn’t recognize HIM.  But, according to the reply, HE WAS THERE.  It sounds like He wants you to keep going.   If that truly is the case, you probably would do better with direct communication – what we call ‘prayer’.   St. Augustine says that prayer is ‘The exercise of desire’.  You have the DESIRE.  Now you need to exercise it.   I don’t think you should count on much more from the Facebook phenomenon.  It’s time to take some direct action.”
With a tired smile, Jimbo ceremoniously ripped up his cheat sheet instructions.  “You talked me into it.  It was Carl’s idea anyway.“
Sarah glanced at her watch and did a double-take.  “Omigosh…I can’t believe we have been here for almost an hour.  But hey, I really enjoyed talking to you Jimbo.  Let’s get together again, to see how things are progressing.  I think this meeting was providential. “
Jimbo extended a hand, which was met with a sisterly hug.  It had been quite an evening.
Sarah had been right about a number of things.  He started attending daily Adoration and began learning to pray to a God who might actually be there.  It was kind of like finding out that there really WAS a Santa Claus after all!  He had even picked up a copy of Catholicism for Dummies.  And he and Robert did get along very well.  The three new friends met weekly to ‘track progress’, an informal event that continued even after the wedding.  Robert enthusiastically agreed to sponsor Jimbo as a catechumen when he expressed a desire to enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).
At the introductory session, Fr. Gerry, the rector of the off-base Catholic parish, invited each participant to share the spiritual journey that led them to the class.  When Jimbo’s turn came, he recounted the strange story of how God spoke to him over the internet.
Fr. Gerry registered a look of startled bemusement, but limited his response to “Jimbo, sometimes God works in strange and mysterious ways!”  The sacred Seal of Confession prevented any further commentary.
For you see, on the very night of the first confrontation between Jimbo and Sarah in the library, Fr. Gerry was engaged in a more sacramental confrontation with a teary-eyed Sarah Dwyer Fox.
“Brian and I had a BIG argument.  It was the first serious disagreement in our marriage.  It sent me into an emotional tailspin.”  The young wife dabbed her eyes with an overworked hanky.
“Trust me, Sarah, this stuff happens.  It’s part of any normal marriage.  But I’m guessing there is more.”
“Oh, Fr. Gerry, I’m just so ashamed!  You won’t believe what I did.”
“Try me…I’ve been doing this confession thing for a while, Sarah.”
“Well….Sarah the Drama Queen starts entertaining all sorts of dreamy escapist fantasies.  Like, maybe this argument is just the beginning, and things are only going to get worse…annulment or divorce….I was feeling so alone.”
“And…” the priest prodded.
“I started thinking about this boy I dated in High School.  We really liked each other a lot, you know.  I thought maybe, he might be ‘The One’, you know.  Anyway, we broke up over religion – he just couldn’t grasp my Catholicism.  I had to make a choice between my Faith and my Heart.  Faith won.  The last time we met, to formally break up, he told me he was enlisting in the Air Force.  I heard he was stationed at the local base, but I haven’t seen or heard from him since.  I suspect that was his way of dealing…to run away.”
“Do you feel guilty or responsible for him?”
Sarah paused and reflected.  “Not really.  It was the right decision for both of us.  I don’t think it would have worked out…my faith is too important to me.  And that’s why I feel so ashamed.  In my Blue Funk, I started fantasizing about that relationship working out.  I had this perverse desire to re-connect.  I even went so far as to open a Facebook account in hopes that he might contact me.”
“Does he know that you are married?”
“I don’t know...but then, he must have, because I used my new last name ‘Fox’ for the listing.”
“So…he contacted you?”
Sarah’s eyes became big blue saucers.  “Father, now this is what really messed me up.  The VERY NEXT day I get this cryptic ‘friend’ request from him…very spiritual in nature.  In my twisted frame of mind, I was thinking, maybe this is a sign from God!”
“So what did you do?”
Sarah turned crimson, studying her hand-rung hanky.  “I suggested a rendezvous…at the restaurant where we had our break up meeting, years before.”
Fr. Gerry paused, looked up, and breathed a prayer for wisdom.  “Did he show up?”
“I’m not sure.  I didn’t see him, but he messaged back that he was there.  Deep down inside, I think he spotted me and realized that it was inappropriate, and so he left without acknowledging me.  He said he still wanted to meet me, but maybe he was trying to let me down easy.  He probably felt sorry for this psychotic housewife and her romantic delusions!”
“And then what happened?”
“I probably should have just let the whole thing die there…but I didn’t.  I messaged back that we should still try to meet.”  Here she started shaking her head.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!  I closed with ‘Love you’.”
Fr. Gerry exhaled slowly.  “So where do things stand now?”
“Oh, Father, I would do anything to retract that last message.  As soon as I posted it, I realized it was wrong and I immediately shut down the account.  I guess the upside is that I suddenly realized how stupid it was to let my emotions get so screwed up.  There is NO WAY this could have been from God.  Brian is a good man – a godly man.  We made a covenant before God.  I know we can work this out, it’s probably nothing, really.  So that’s why I am here, to confess my sinful weakness.”
Fr. Gerry placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. 
“Sarah, God works in strange and mysterious ways.  It’s good that you realize the truth.  I’m sure you will be much more equipped to deal with this sort of thing after this experience.  You were protected from any serious damage to your marriage and now you are the wiser.  For your penance, spend at least one half hour before the Blessed Sacrament.  Now, say a good Act of Contrition and Our Lord will absolve you of your sins.”