I was having one of those weeks… you know the ones, just the idea of your to do list makes you break out in a cold sweat. Breathing gets more difficult. Waves of anxiety hit you as your blood pressure creeps up with each passing day of Summer. “A month of Sundays” one friend very aptly commented. Yes. That Sunday night feeling that started somewhere in 4th grade because you hadn’t yet started your homework for Monday and America’s Funniest Home Videos was just ending… Ah, the end of summer is nigh!
I managed to wake up early enough to make my 5:30AM Cycling class, but not willing enough. It then occurred to me that being awake at this hour meant I could make it to Confession at my local parish. So I threw on something resembling an outfit (and a little mascara, because who knows, Mr. Right could be in the Confession line. NOTE TO SELF: Finish St. Anne Novena.)
One of the remarkable things about the 6:20AM Mass is the large number who show up (apparently before 6:00AM) to pray the rosary… high schoolers, the elderly, other adults. It was a beautiful sight to behold through my sleepy haze. The woman in front of me in line for Confession told me the priest had not arrived yet. This did not bother me, I was very willing to wait… one of the greatest joys of working at a Church is going to Confession at a different Church.
Oddly what did bother me was the length of time this woman spent in the Confessional… I have been well trained by my priest friends to make my Confessions very time efficient in order to help with long lines “Kind and number! Kind and number!” they used to gently remind. I try not to notice how long someone is in the Confessional for fear I will have to add additional time to my Confession for improper curiosity, judgment, or impatience. When she emerged she was visibly upset, tissues in hand, and continuing to weep. She walked to her pew, got on her knees, and prayed.
My week got better.
Sunday morning rolled around and I went to an 8AM Mass… which is unusual for me, and again, I witnessed someone else in great pain. Following communion a woman sitting two pews in front of me began to sob quietly after returning to her pew. Her husband was searching for a handkerchief and placing a comforting arm around her. It reminded me of the woman leaving the Confessional, but even more so, it reminded me of the point of the sacraments. To encounter God.
So often we go through the motions of the Mass, and even of Confession… we have made little preparation and/or are very distracted once we managed to drag ourselves there. We sit like zombies, hoping on some level that the clouds will part and God will give us some great revelation or answer or hint “Katie, buy a lottery ticket today” but sometimes not even hoping for that. Sometimes we sit and make our mental to do lists for the week, or arrive just to check the obligation off of our checklist. Often we pray: fix this, bless that, give me this, take away that, and for the unborn… but we do not engage.
Engagement scares us. If I open myself up to what is happening… to this great sacrifice, to this incredible mind-blowing reality that God is becoming Present before me, to the weight and enormity of His mercy, His love, His particular, individual, unique, unrepeatable relationship with me… I may have to change. I may have to be inconvenienced. I may not get everything I want in the order, size, and specifications that I want it. I may have to end relationships. I may have to reopen doors that I closed. I may have to try harder.
So we zone out.
I don’t know why either of those women were crying during the sacraments they received this week… but they were on to something. They were opening themselves up to something. They were there to engage. Were they angry? Were they sad? Ashamed? Confused? Fearful? Free? Sick? In Pain? Were they even Catholic? Were those tears of Joy? Relief? I don’t know… but the why is not as important as the WHERE. They brought those emotions into Church. Into the Confessional. Into the Sanctuary. Into the place where grace pours out… they came to receive. They were awake, not asleep. They were alive, not zombies. They knew where they needed to be… and they made it over the river and through the woods to their Father’s house.
I’ve been praying for these women since I witnessed their tears.
I think I will be praying for them for a while. And they will never know.
It makes me wonder… there have been many times where I’ve cried and cried in Church, were witnesses praying for me? The death of my best friend, the cancer diagnosis for my grandmother, the end of relationships, the end of particular seasons of life… and today. Seeing the beauty and vulnerability of these women coming to the Father when they clearly had no where else to go brought me to tears. Tears of sorrow for the pain in this world. Tears of sorrow for the beautiful children of God that so desperately want to see His face. Tears of sorrow for those that do not know Him… who have no home to run to… and tears of conviction and sorrow for having been so asleep so many Sundays.
You loved on this earth with the Heart of a Man.
You experienced loss, betrayal, sorrow, death.
You experienced joy, friendship, life, love.
Remind us to come home to you.
Gently nudge us back to your arms.
If we don’t take the hint, push us a little harder.
Hard enough to wake us up.