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.
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