I stopped going to Sunday Mass

Author: Joe Bellon '52

My recent chemotherapy for leukemia dropped my germ immunity to near zero. I was advised by my doctor that I would have to isolate myself from visitors and that I should not go to restaurants or church until my immunity was built up to a safe level — and that it might take weeks for that to happen.

For this reason I absented my self from Sunday Mass for several weeks. For the first couple of weeks, I was comforted on Sunday mornings by leisurely reading the newspapers, enjoying a prolonged breakfast and glancing at the excellent Sunday morning television programs, such as CBS’s “Sunday Morning” and CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

At first I did not feel the loss of Sunday Mass. However, during the third week I realized something was wrong. I was missing something I loved. I also realized the danger of being seduced into a habit of skipping Mass, and I dreaded the idea. Still, there was that doctor’s embargo on visiting crowded places.

By the fourth week, my sense of loss grew sharply. The press was touting a serious flu epidemic, and my doctor reiterated that it would not be wise to return to Mass too soon. But I decided I simply had to risk it – I could not bear being away.

My absence from Sunday Mass had created a sense of isolation from my church community. Gone from my life was news about the parish, which I received from announcements at Mass and in the Sunday Church Bulletin. No more friendly handshakes with Father Pat Whitney, my pastor, or Sister Peggy Tully, minister of Adult Faith Formation. And no more chats in the parking lot with parish friends, some of whom were praying for my good health. This church camaraderie was something I had taken for granted but now realized it was an important part of my Sunday church experience.

Most of all, what I dearly missed was the Mass itself. The scriptural readings and the Gospel bring me closer to the historical and theological roots of my church. They have formed me over the many years of participation and have become part of my life. Even though my Mass attendance is routine, it is not stagnant. I believe each Mass challenges me to grow my faith by discovering new and deeper meanings in the scripture.

Before I was away, I felt intellectually moved by the consecration. After all, I was witnessing a real miracle when the wine and bread are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. To me this was the essential and most dramatic part of the Mass — experiencing a miracle is no small matter. Upon my return to church, however, I also found myself also moved emotionally at the consecration. All of a sudden I realized that this miracle is why I came back to Sunday Mass and why I will never leave my Catholic faith.

My sense of coming home was made even more intense at Communion. What a joy it was to again place the Eucharist in my mouth and to be so close to Jesus. I cherished the moment with fresh joy.

When I receive the Eucharist, I sometimes think of the disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and begged him not to leave. After being in Jesus’s real presence they knew how terribly they would miss him when he left them. Because of my illness and this four-week absence from Sunday Mass, I came to better understand the disciples’ sense of impending loss. When I finally resumed going to Sunday Mass, I experienced the joy of coming home, to Jesus in the house of the Lord.

Joe Bellon, now retired, was a vice president for CBS and later president of his own company, Bellon Enterprises. In both capacities he specialized in developing television and news programming for domestic and international multimedia exhibition. He was also a literary agent for various CBS News correspondents. A long-time resident of Port Washington, New York, Joe was active for many years in various ministries at his local church where he was also a trustee for five years. He has two children and two grandchildren who are Domers.