It began with going to my friend’s funeral service. During one of her jaunts to the Mayo clinic, she’d planned her inter-faith memorial to the Nth detail. I went to be with her family, to miss her, to weep, to remember and to pray. But while we sang, wept and prayed, I kept getting pulled out of the experience because it was in a Catholic church but every once in a while, it would gong non-Catholic.
I fretted that it was my small minded heart. We’d sing and I’d be there, and then there would be things which simply weren’t Catholic, which within the church with a priest officiating, left me flat. This was like my friend though, exactly like my friend, for she had fallen away from her faith, choosing the seasoning of the Church over the whole meal. I worried that my soul was somehow shriveled because the disconnect kept bapping me in the head. Part of my grief was steeped in that knowledge, part of my hope was she now was fully whole, fully healed, and that this hard life that she had lived with deep desire and deep love had opened her to a greater life with Christ.
I loved my friend, and I promised her I would go to mass for her because part of my grief observed for her required that I go.
I’d picked today. Monday would be ideal, as my son did not have school, so I would not be hamstrung by a schedule about where I needed to be. We’d go to Saint John’s which had a cry room so I could be there with all three of my littles, Gina (4), Paul (3) and Anna Maria (1). Because I’d be safe in the sound proof room with the speaker, I hadn’t packed my stroller. This was an easy walk from the parking lot to the church to the back room for an unobstructed view where the kids could look at their books or play quietly. Such was my plan. I briefly toyed in my head with also receiving reconciliation, yes this would work. Perhaps I could even finish the rosary and go to adoration to receive an indulgence for my friend. A gift from her uber Catholic friend, what I could give back.
We made it on time with time to spare only to find once I’d unloaded that Mondays are the only days that this church does not hold a 9 o’clock. At this moment, turning back might have been wiser, but I had mass tunnel vision. I wanted to go, for my friend, for me. Alright, more for me. So reloaded in the van, I drove to our home parish. I love our home church but it is not modern. There is no cry room. There is a barrier in the back such that sound is sort of muted but if you find the sweet spot, it is amplified. You peek out towards the altar from the middle and side aisles, but I figured, it’s my home, it’s the 9, they’ve eaten, this won’t be too hard.
Stop laughing. No really.
On Monday, it is free grocery day so the parking lot was full and the only van sized spot on the opposite end of the parking lot. Crunching my daughter into my chest with one arm and sporting a death grip on my son with the other, I am verbal chirping at my 4 year old to hold her brother’s hand. We braved the seemingly longer than I ever remembered parking lot. I admit, I kept hoping I’d spy a friend who would take pity on me and help out. It didn’t happen.
Despite having arrived before mass, we walked in and they were already at the first reading. Walking to the back with three squirmy littles, I told myself this would still be okay. In the back, the three dispersed instantly, with no one wanting to have exclusive mommy time at the expense of surrendering freedom. I kept offering to hold them and they kept squirming and making louder noises than I would have thought possible. Finally getting them shushed, it was time for the Gospel.
Then the homily came. My 4 and 3 year old had decided it was laughing time. They were giggling simply being in each other’s company. I kept shushing but they thought that was hilarious too. A woman came back to me and gently said, “Some of us want to hear the homily.” Message received. They were getting a bit loud.
I scooped up Paul and Anna and got Gina to follow and we now went into the entrance area, flanked by the doors to the outside and the heavy wooden doors to the inside of the church. I kept my foot in the door. Anna and Paul and Gina continued their laughing fest at my feet, rolling on my coat and theirs, pulling up on my pant leg while I strained to muffle their noise and still hear snips of what Fr. was saying. The reading had been about King David showing forbearance when he was cursed non stop by another, accepting the rebukes of this soul that others wanted to behead, as penance. Humility. Humility. Humility. The gospel was about Christ expelling the demons that were legion into the herd of swine.
The priest talked about recognizing the nature of how possession takes place, temptation, obsession, possession. He spoke of the soul needing grace, seeking it and how the demons that are seek to distort, destroy, pollute, warp everything, even our best impulses. I chaffed at being stuck with my foot in the door. I’d come and I wanted to hear, I wanted more than a sliver of the mass and giggling children were now keeping me stuck. Honestly, it was a grave pain, I felt stupid and mad and irritated and agitated and wanting to go back in and have my children be awesome or have people recognize that it was okay if they weren’t awesome, my brain spun everywhere until it stopped. I wanted pity, I wanted help. I wanted a break. I wanted to leave. I wanted to feel free to stay. Here I was at a Catholic mass not being able to be at the Catholic mass because my children were distracting others from prayer, while I was trying to go to mass because I’d been distracted from prayer while seeking to pray for my friend. The irony was not lost on me.
The theme of this year for me is “Be still and know I am here.” “Why am I here?” my brain kept asking. “Why is it so important for me to be here? It’s so hard.” My daughter and son had started another game, this time it was knock on the doors and run to the other side, and giggle loud. It felt so wrong to be telling them “SSSHUSSSHHH” when we were already almost out of the church building itself, with me keeping us in the confines of this little room, inbetween the outside world and the mass itself. Struggling with all three in the back to hear a sliver of the mass felt like a spiritual battle of the first order…even though they were absolutely happy as I told them to be quiet. It wasn’t like hell, it was …like purgatory. Purgatory.
My friend and I were both struggling souls. She’d left the door open for a sliver of the Catholic church to be in her service; I was at the mass, foot in the door, getting a sliver of the mass. Irony. Irony. Irony. God’s kind of humor. Hers too. “If I’m ever a saint, my icon will be me at the back of the church, some of my children acting like barnacles on my ankles, foot in the door.” My brain said and the pain, the ache of it, left.
I’d been tempted to leave. I’d been pushed away from prayer. There it was, my own complaint echoed to me, so I could see something of the shriveled nature of my soul. I’d even been irritated at the woman for observing that my children were a distraction. It was nearly the same complaint I’d made about the non-Catholic elements of the memorial service. Why I’d been kept from my plan is the same reason all of us get to struggle when things run amok, my plan would not have worked, my plan would have allowed me to stay comfortable living within the confines of my own soul’s comfort.
So to sum up, we scrambled up to communion, I did make it to reconciliation, and as soon as I left, a friend (who is the former DRE) spied me and said, “Let me help you to your car.” she then added, “Are you nuts? Taking all three of these guys to a daily mass?”
I had to laugh. “It beats purgatory.”
Copyright 2012 Sherry Antonetti