I can point to the pew I sat in the first time I went to Mass at St. Mary’s in College Station. It was my first week as a freshman at Texas A&M. I had only been to Mass a few times before in my life. A Christmas with my grandmother as a small child, once with a boyfriend in high school. I wasn’t Catholic, but I was awed by the words. I listened to the prayers, the readings, the hymns.
I wondered why no one had ever told me how much the Catholic Church liked Jesus (from my experience, I had always thought the Baptists had won that competition). The Mass just couldn’t stop talking about Him.
I didn’t mind not knowing the responses. A friend provided me with a missal, and I followed along – slowly learning the words, gradually becoming familiar with the hymns. And all these people around me! How lucky they were! They had been here all along…. Then, my friend told me about RCIA, and there wasn’t even one moment of consideration. Of course I’d be there! Step aside, here I come.
Later, after being welcomed into the Church with open arms, I found myself becoming a little more aware of my surroundings. Those praying near me… how did they do it? What was their method? Did they go to daily Mass, too? As I got more involved at St. Mary’s, I knew which fellow students were ‘active’ and those who weren’t. I could spot their heads in the pews around me. Ah, those were the serious ones.
As time went on, I found myself increasingly aware of those sitting next to me in the pews. I really wanted to be sure that everyone was doing everything ‘correctly’. Should they be wearing that? Why did she take her purse up to communion with her… is she planning on leaving? Man, he smells like cigarette smoke. Really? A Starbucks cup tucked under the pew? And the guy staring out the window instead of singing… what’s his problem?
And so, I ventured into the voluntary role of “Spiritual Mass Babysitter”. Keeping tabs. Take a look at my face, I’ll keep you in line.
Becoming a wife and a parent gave everything another perspective. A ‘grown-up’ now, in this university parish. Distraction became the height of irritation. Did these kids around me know how very precious these few minutes of stillness were to me? Didn’t they realize that someone would have to go to the bathroom any second now? They really owe me some quiet here. Oh, and other babies crying? Really? I take my babies out when they so much as squeak. My desperation crept into every moment, eroding away any sense of prayer or reverence.
I had gone from, in the span of 12 years or so, a 17 year old girl with eyes wide open, full of awe, to a critical, righteous woman who was more worried about the state of everyone else’s soul (and wardrobe, parenting skills and mental acuity) than her own.
From a state of pure innocence and wonder to a griping, cold arrogance.
Hand wide open to a fist.
… and time passed …
Something changed in me.
Because now, for some reason, everything is different.
I don’t know exactly why, but I can tell you how. I opened my eyes.
After communion. Yes, I open my eyes.
You see, from my pew, I watch approximately 500 souls walk past me each Sunday, on their way to receive our Savior in communion. Gone are the days when I used to wonder why her skirt was so short, or if he bothered to brush his hair before walking out the door, or if they’re really taking all of this seriously. That is not my job. By some grace of God, I now just see His people. The souls who, for reasons only He knows, are here with me under this roof.
And, just like I know how hard it is to get myself to go to the gym some days, I now know how hard it is for some people to walk in those doors. Because life is more disparate than ever. Because sometimes it’s easier to not think. Because sometimes the fight seems just too hard.
And I am so glad they have come.
The woman with her two autistic sons. The body builder with a huge crucifix tattooed on his arm. The beautiful college girl with sad eyes. The frat boy who is challenged almost every minute to balance his life with his faith. The widow who musters every bit of determination to come to Mass without her beloved husband.
So, I take this moment to apologize. A huge virtual, cosmic apology for my great arrogance. For my assumptions, for my criticisms, even though I know you never knew they were there.
Man, life is hard.
My friends, the Church needs you!
And we need Jesus.
And I see souls instead of bodies.