A place of hope

October 13, 2007 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

Something about going to church on Sundays has changed for me recently. I’m not sure when it started, but around a couple months ago I began to feel overwhelmed with emotion almost every time I go to Mass. Lately I feel so incredibly grateful to be in such a place, so touched by the beauty of what is happening before me, that I not infrequently find myself wiping a tear from the corner of my eye. Unlike other times that I’ve been moved to tears at the beauty of the Mass, these days I feel joy at every part of it — from the moment we walk into the parking lot until well after we drive out. It’s not just the consecration or being able to receive communion (though that is part of it) — but the very concept of being here in this place, with these other people, seems beautiful.

This is a strange development since, as longtime readers know, my path to conversion has been largely a dry experience, based more on what I believed intellectually than what I felt emotionally. And for quite a few weeks I could not figure out why I was suddenly so on fire about being at church. I was thinking about this last Sunday, even as I wrestled to keep my one-year-old from toppling chairs in the cry room, and I think I finally figured out what it is that so overwhelms me about what I’m seeing. As I watched and listened to the now-familiar rituals of the Mass, I noticed the the serious, loving intensity with which our priest does his job; I saw people cross themselves in prayer every now and then, even when it wasn’t part of the ritual; I heard the deacon speak of people in great need, and every voice in the building echo his words, “the Lord hear our prayers”; I saw hundreds of people, almost everyone in the building, stand up out of respect for hearing the words of the Gospel; on the way out I walked past people who remained kneeling at their pews, whispering quietly to God.

It was all so amazing to me. Now that I’ve grown in my faith enough to really understand what’s going on at Mass on Sundays — not just what happens at the consecration but what is happening with the people in attendance — I realize what an utterly unlikely event this is. A huge room full of hundreds of people, all of whom checked cynicism at the door when they walked in. Every person in this place, by simply being here, was exposing themselves to the vulnerability of having hope. I realize that, in my life in the secular world, I’d never seen anything like it. Sometimes I can hardly believe the beauty of what I’m seeing. “Look at ALL THESE people!” I’ll think as I walk up the sidewalk to the building. “Nobody is making them be here! It’s early! And yet, here they are. Hundreds of people streaming through the doors, and this is only one service at one church.”

I can count on my hands the number of times I went to church with friends as a child (even then I completely ignored anything that happened), and I certainly never went as an adult. So, in many ways, attending Sunday services is still a very new experience for me. And I’m just so struck, so touched and overwhelmed, to look around and realize that every single person here is here because they have hope. I’m not sure that I ever realized that gathering so many humans together in that state of mind was even possible. Sure, some may have difficulty with their beleifs; some may occasionally be rude or act in un-Christian ways (ahem, me); some may just be there out of habit, mostly going through the motions; some may even feel like they’ve lost faith; yet every single person there has within them at least some small spark of hope, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

Realizing that, it wasn’t so surprising that I so frequently get choked up. Because that is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

8 Comments

  1. lyrl

    This post really resonated with me, because I had such a similar experience at the New Year’s service at my synagogue last month – tearing eyes (and I have never in my life before teared up at a religious event!) and I felt such a connection to the service that I actually kissed my prayer book after touching the Torah with it! (seeing congregants kissing a symbol of God’s connection to humans really freaked me out when I first started going to services three years ago – although going to a Catholic mass and seeing the priest kiss the alter reassured me it wasn’t a strictly Jewish type of act, I still only touched the Torah with my prayerbook and didn’t kiss anything)

    I would not explain my feelings the same way Jen does (I’ve expressed my belief that hope is not tied to the existence of God in previous comments), but that such unexpectedly powerful feelings should happen while worshipping God must mean something important.

  2. Letum

    Beautiful post Jennifer. You are beginning to realize that the Faith involves not only the intellect or the emotions, but both together, along with our whole will, heart, and strength. God is not merely an abstract philosophical concept or theory, but rather, He is an objective, living reality completely independent of us by essence, but also completely in love with us.

    We must never let God become just another theory we hold about existence. After all, what wife considers her husband a hypothesis? Reason and logic bring us to the gate of heaven, but faith is the key that lets us in.

    Faith may begin either in the emotions or in the intellect, but it must eventually incorporate all our being. Human nature was fragmented after the fall, and now we are at war with ourselves. Christ integrates us into a whole person and heals the enmity between the flesh and the spirit.

  3. Faithful Catholic

    Jen,

    Another wonderful post! You are a very talented writer and I so enjoy reading about your journey. I cannot describe the feeling I get, as an old Catholic who so often has taken the beauty of our faith for granted, when I read your heartfelt words expressing the new joy you’ve discovered.
    I remember wondering as a child why my parents tortured their children every week by putting us all through our paces to get to Mass on time and in good order. We went to 7:30am Mass every Sunday.
    I was way too old before I realized how much hope they had to have, how strong their faith, in order to put themselves through that getting-all-the-kids-ready-for-Mass ritual.
    Everyday I thank God for their efforts and their example. Where would I be without them? I honestly don’t know.
    I’m so happy you’ve found your home.
    Pax et bonum

  4. Alli

    “This post really resonated with me…”

    Me too. I’ve started going to Latin Masses when I can, and every time I walk into the tiny little church I feel like crying for joy. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

    –First time commenter, but I’ve been reading for about a month now. Hello!

  5. chelsea

    Jennifer,
    Thanks for stopping by my website! I hope you will not be a stranger. I will be coming by yours more frequently also, especially after this post. It is so beautiful and just what I needed to see today. I will be linking to it on another website I write on: http://www.pathtoholiness.com
    Peace,
    Chelsea

  6. Laurel

    This is a wonderful post, Jennifer, showing how God has creeped from your head to your heart. I remember when I first converted, even in the beginning, I didn’t feel anything differently….and then one night at adoration, I realized that I was sitting IN HIS PRESENCE, and that changed my view of Mass forever. However, I still have those days when the world clouds in and distracts me, so it was nice to be reminded of how we should be feeling EVERY week. I think what strikes me most is knowing that I’m part of this world wide family, and that all around the globe others are coming to Jesus each week as a community…as they have since HE told them to do so. I’ll be linking to this one on my blog!

  7. Cow Bike Rider

    It seems to take time for us “non cradle Catholics” to get beyond that period of analyzing the Mass. For the first few months, I was so concerned about what I was/was not doing, that I felt disconnected. And in that disconnect everything remains intellectual.

    Thank you for a beautiful post, and for sharing how it feels to be part of something so true, and so real.

  8. Abigail

    I just started singing again in choir after a two year break. Singing the psalm instead of just reading them (while holding a wiggling toddler) made me tear up. Mass is so powerful.

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