My “Wow’ Spiritual Moments

            We have all experienced various religious moments that have enriched our lives, some better than others.  There is always an element of subjectivity in any experience, no matter how objective we might think that we are.  What makes some experiences more special than others?  The perfect moment occurs when there is a unique combination of familiar routine elements with an unfamiliar aspect when everything clicks.  This is my story about my “wow” moment?  What are yours?

            I was born the son of Irish American immigrants in New York City, during the first half of the twentieth century.  My dominant Irish Catholic culture really revolved around New York as the center of the world. However, my first vivid religious memory was receiving my first communion at Sacred Heart Church in Carteret, New Jersey. The Mass was in Latin and the sermon was in Slovak because this Catholic Church was near where we lived. 

            As children, we prayed the rosary together after supper. Prayer life was simple with a prayer at meals and a private evening prayer.  As I became an altar boy, I was delighted that I was able to understand and say the weekly Latin Mass Confiteor with its Latin mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Confession was a time for reflection about my behavior. Benediction was a big deal with its Tantum ergo.  High School led to various retreats with the concept of mediation added to my prayer life. Reading and thinking about religion became important.

            As a collegiate, I lived and studied in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I began to realize that I had a very narrow Irish American East Coast New Jersey point of view. Post graduate studies in Ireland, Belgium, and Germany led me to question the cultural concept of this universal Latin Church. There was unity but there certainly was plenty of diversity. 

            For a while, meditation became an obsession in my personal religious and spiritual life.   I would sometimes forget my surroundings completely in a centering mediation. My studies in theology, philosophy, and history opened up a way of thinking about reality and this diverse world. Living with people from Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Brazil, and Germany made me aware of my own particular American way of looking at Catholicism.

            My favorite spiritual moments include singing the Salve Regina at a Marian shrine with that haunting Salve. Seeing my first concelebrated Mass made me realize that this is not a private religious exercise. Hearing a guitar singer belt out Here Comes the Sun made me realize that contemporary music was just as important as the wonderful Agnus Dei. Being present at a Mass where all the participants were choral directors, all singing, was unique. Listening to a celebrant chant the complete Eucharistic liturgy was interesting.  Being the only light-skinned Celtic at an all-black Baptist service made me understand what a minority is. Seeing and hearing monks chant the Liturgy of the Hours does not happen every day, but it does for them.

As they lowered my thirty-one year old brother Johnny into his grave, listening to the bugle sound Taps made me break down. Being at an early morning quiet Sunday Mass, the day after my daughter was born, opened up a world of unlimited possibilities.  Receiving the Communion cup from the extraordinary minister many years later, my daughter, was also a “wow” moment. Watching a neighbor on one occasion, and my son-in-law on another occasion, get confirmed at the Easter Vigil service brought a tear to my eye. 

            All of us have had our own little “wow” moments. How do we create them for others? There needs to be a structure or a routine familiarity with that little added difference.  You are never sure when it will happen, but you have to be open to the possibility of it happening.  We have to be actively involved in our faith experiences.  I was blessed to journey from a Slovak language parish to contemporary liturgies.  I was privileged to study history, philosophy, and theology in various venues.  I was honored to share some of my knowledge in different teachings positions. 

Eugene Finnegan,

Reflection questions:

Where and when were your “wow” moments?
 What setting, circumstance, or routine made you stop to reflect?
 Where have you found your special spiritual religious moments?

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