We went to Mass this weekend, as usual. I realized as I was getting ready to go that I’ve been to Mass every single weekend since we entered the Church at Easter — even when I was exhausted, even when I wasn’t feeling well, even five days after our third baby in three years was born. More strikingly, I realized that I almost always look forward to it. Of all the things that have changed in my life since becoming Catholic, this is one of the biggest.
As a child, I never once went to church with my parents. Occasionally I’d tag along with a friend if I’d spent the night at her house, but I can count on my hands the number of times I even did that. The concept of weekends as fun free time was firmly entrenched in my mind. So when I first started to think that Christianity might be true, the idea of regularly going to church was unappealing.
I finally took that painful first step of scheduling my weekends around attending church service. I didn’t understand why going out to a church was necessary, why getting together with some Christian friends and talking about God wouldn’t suffice, but figured that I was probably just missing something and kept going anyway. And as we started going to Sunday services more regularly, I found myself longing for something, but I didn’t know what it was. Part of it was that I hoped to find a community of likeminded people since I didn’t know many other Christians, but there was something else as well. There was something deeper I desired but couldn’t quite articulate.
Sometimes I found it, even though I didn’t even know what “it” was. When I would go to a service where the pastor gave a stirring sermon, when Bible verses were read that miraculously addressed the exact issues I was struggling with, when I met people who glowed with love and friendliness, I felt it. It was something very subtle yet very powerful. Unfortunately, however, those experiences were hit or miss.
Eventually I came to understand that going to church is not about me and what I get out of it, so I resolved to go regularly out of respect and obedience. The yearning for that mysterious “it” was still there all the while. Sometimes I experienced it, oftentimes I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t usually look forward to Sunday mornings, joking once with my husband that I was at my least Christ-like when we were getting everyone ready to go to church. Sometimes I didn’t go at all; in most cases it was because I was legitimately not feeling well, though I’d secretly be relieved that I could stay home. But on the days that I went to church and I experienced “it”, I’d wish I could go every day.
So when I had that realization this weekend that I actually go to church every Sunday now, even when I don’t really feel up to it, and that I actually look forward to it, I realized that something big has changed. But what? What is different these days?
When I figured out the answer to that question it all came together: I now look forward to going to church every Sunday because I’ve found “it.” That mysterious something that my heart desired from the beginning of my efforts at churchgoing, is now there every time. And I finally realized what “it” is: communion with God.
I believe that those various experiences at church that were so powerful, so difficult to describe, were experiences of God himself. Something from outside of the material world was present on those occasions — I couldn’t prove it on paper, but I knew it in my heart. I’d experienced the transforming power of contact with God himself.
Thinking of this, it was immediately clear where this recent love of going to church came from: the Catholic Mass is not hit or miss. I can now experience “it”, communion with God, every Sunday. Even if the pastor’s homily is lackluster or the music is bad or the Bible readings are confusing or the people aren’t friendly, by receiving the Eucharist I still commune with God. Every time.
Honestly, I didn’t expect this to happen. The idea of God making himself truly present in what appears to be bread and wine has always been kind of overwhelming to me. Though I came to believe the claim of the real presence, it’s not something I ever understood on an intellectual level, so in the months leading up to Easter Vigil I didn’t spend much time thinking about what receiving Holy Communion would be like. And, when I first tasted the consecrated Host on my tongue, it wasn’t any sort of thunder-and-lightning moment (as I wrote about here).
But yesterday, as I thought back over the past few months, wondering why I so suddenly began to approach the doors of our church not just with a sense of duty and obedience but with feelings of joy and undeserved privilege and honor, I realized that it was because of the Eucharist. It was with great gratitude that I realized that I will now always be able to experience “it” for the rest of my life — no matter where I am in the world, no matter what the circumstances, if I can find a Catholic church I am guaranteed that amazing, mysterious experience I always so desperately wanted: communion with God.