When I began to really understand what was happening at mass, I didn’t understand why people all around me weren’t weeping joyfully. Why people weren’t silent and reverent the entire time. Why the air in the church isn’t thick and important. Why did it seem like nothing important was happening? I don’t know the answer. If I had to guess I’d say maybe some people don’t know what’s happening. Maybe others are having an off day. Maybe some have gotten complacent. And, maybe, most importantly, I am not the judge of what other people have going on in their heart and soul in mass. Maybe on the inside they are bursting with love and joy and worship and on the outside they are trying to keep their 2 year old from disturbing the entire congregation.
There came a time in my life that I could not deny Christ’s real, true presence in the Eucharist. I literally felt something deep in my gut any time I was around the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. I initially thought that the tug I felt in my stomach was because of my realization that Christ was in the room with me. I knew that I was in front of Jesus and so maybe my brain made my stomach feel butterflies. I didn’t know the reason. But I did know that when you come to know that Christ is really, truly present in the Eucharist, you no longer find mass boring. It’s impossible. I also found myself longing to spend time with Him in prayer, adoration and mass.
One day, I was out running an errand and I decided to stop at local church and say a quick prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I had been to this church before for mass, but I had no idea where the chapel was. I was lugging Dane and walking around the church trying to find the chapel when all of a sudden –out of nowhere– I got that familiar feeling deep in my gut, and I knew He must be close. I turned the corner and there was the door! That was such an awesome moment in my journey towards belief. I don’t always feel that feeling and maybe one day I won’t feel it at all, and that’ll be ok because Christ is really present in the Eucharist no matter how I do or don’t feel about it. With or without my gut feeling.
I went to a Woman’s Group meeting recently. I try to go to this meeting monthly. The meeting is at 7PM, and that’s pretty late in my house with my kids. I didn’t want to go, so I knew that meant that I needed to. (Funny how that works, eh?) I fed my family, took a shower, put on a t-shirt and headed to the church for the meeting with wet hair, not a lick of makeup and sweatpants. Oh well. I figured it was better that I go looking a mess than not go at all.
Generally when I go to these meetings I know several of the 20 or so people there. This time, none of my friends were at the meeting. I walked in and sat down. I smiled at the two ladies whom I’ve seen every morning for several weeks at daily mass. They didn’t smile back. I sat down in the circle alone. I immediately began judging them. “Wow, that’s really nice. This meeting is supposed to be about sisterhood, and the women I go to mass with can’t even return a smile.” And then I caught myself. I don’t know their hearts. Maybe they were daydreaming when I smiled and said hi. Maybe they don’t recognize me with wet hair and no makeup. Who knows.
Remember when I told y’all about that awesome experience I had in confession when the priest went on and on about how terrible my sins were? One of the things he talked to me about was how terrible gossip and judging is. He said that when you gossip about someone you are taking away their right to a good reputation. Whether the thing you are discussing is true or not does not matter. You are claiming to know their heart and their intentions and since you cannot possibly know either (because you aren’t God) you shouldn’t speak about others in that way. I remember hearing something about how when you judge others you don’t have the opportunity to love them.
Anyway, so there I am sitting all alone in the circle and judging the other women who aren’t saying hi or trying to make me feel welcomed all the while (and here’s the kicker) I’m not saying hi to anyone or trying to make anyone else who might be alone feel welcomed. The beam in my eye was SO BIG that I was having a hard time seeing.
A woman gave a short talk about how, in her day, there was a reverence for the Blessed Sacrament that we are missing today. She talked about how important modesty was and she shared a little of her personal story. It was such a great talk. I really benefited from alot of it, and, yet, some of it made me uncomfortable, which made me look within myself and wonder why. She mentioned that she thought it was incredibly disrespectful seeing someone in yoga pants in adoration and how terrible it is to see people in mass in shorts or who had just come from ball games or in halter tops and short skirts. She mentioned how loud the noise is in mass. My heart sank.
I’ve been the person driving by the church and feeling an undeniable tug to stop in for a few minutes and spend some time with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. The problem is, summer in Louisiana is hot and I have two kids who I have to lug around and chase after and, so, I frequently wear shorts. Would I wear shorts to mass on Sunday? No. But, I figure if the Holy Spirit is leading me somewhere I didn’t expect to be, who am I to say “but, umm, I have shorts on and people might think that’s irreverent.” Because, that would be the reason I didn’t stop. Not because Christ would be offended. I mean, I don’t know if He would be offended or not. I know that God is omnipotent and so he sees me when I’m walking around Wal-Mart in shorts. I know that, out of respect, I wouldn’t get dressed to spend time with Him and put on a swimsuit. But, when I have no plans to head to church and something pulls me to Him and I’m wearing shorts– the ONLY reason I stop myself is because of others. Because of what others might think. Because of what my sister or brother in Christ might think. That’s terrible. Really. That’s my pride. That’s my wanting to be well thought of.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I don’t know if I should pass up the Church because of the shorts or if I should go in despite them. I truly don’t know.
I just know that you and I DON’T know, we can’t. We don’t know if the woman in yoga pants in adoration has been taking care of her sick kids all day and her mom offered to watch the kids for 5 minutes while she runs to the church. Maybe she’s spent all week wiping up snot and she doesn’t have any clean formal clothes. Maybe the woman in a halter top in mass recently came back to the Church and she doesn’t know that what she is wearing is disrespectful. Maybe the woman wearing too tight clothing just had a baby and has no time or money to run to the store to find something that will fit her. Maybe the family that looks like they’re wearing ball game clothes is wearing ball game clothes because they had a game and today is the only day they can attend mass. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe the guy wearing shorts doesn’t care that it’s disrespectful. Maybe. Maybe the woman wearing a short skirt likes getting attention from guys and she’s using church as her own personal dating show. Maybe. Maybe. That’s the point: maybe. We don’t know. You and I don’t know. We can only do our best. We can only love and set a good example. We can only lovingly correct those with whom we have a relationship. Because, trust me, nothing will get the woman in the halter top going like a perfect stranger commenting on how inappropriately she is dressed.
It’s not our job. It’s just not. I am wrong about alot. And maybe I’m wrong about this, and if I am, I hope someone corrects me. Maybe my secular “to each his own” attitude is creeping into my spirituality. I don’t know. I know that I want to learn. I want to serve Christ in the best way I can. And, if that means that you need to tell me I’m doing things wrong, then do it! I welcome it! But, not everyone is there, y’all. We don’t know where people are on their journey. We don’t know. We can’t.
I’ve been in morning mass with Elaina sitting quietly next to me and Dane yelling randomly and squirming. We’re all in a small, cramped chapel. I sweat. I try to get him to sit still and to be quiet, but he’s 15 months old and he doesn’t understand. I’ve kneeled in prayer, while Father is blessing the bread with tears streaming down my face because I’m torn: I want, so badly that I cannot verbalize it, to be exactly where I am and yet I worry that I’m selfishly disturbing my neighbor. I’ve had sweet older ladies make a point to come to me after mass and express how wonderful it is that I bring my kids to mass. I’ve had someone tell me how great of a job I’m doing and how they know it isn’t easy. I’ve had the priest tell me (after my apologizing for the noise) not to worry that it just means new life in the Church. I’ve had older gentlemen comment on how Dane will be a great choir member with that loud, beautiful “singing” voice. And, yet, I wonder. I wonder how many people sitting in the front are rolling their eyes wishing that woman who is sitting there clueless letting her kids “do whatever they want” would shut up her kids. I wonder.
You don’t know someone’s heart. You can’t. Pray for them. Pray for yourself. Love.