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Faith Formation Mass

Mass, How I’ve Missed You

Mass How I've Missed You

I went to Mass for the first time in three months recently. Masks were on, every other pew was strategically roped off, parishioners obediently sat six feet apart. Meanwhile, hymnal boxes sat empty, holy water had been replaced with hand sanitizer, and not one paper bulletin could be found. 

I prayed quietly for a few minutes before I noticed the elderly lady two rows in front of me looking around to make sure no one saw her lower her mask to gasp for fresh air. Key West is not the place you want to be sitting with something covering your face for an hour in sweltering heat and humidity. I felt her pain.

Even with the church being only a quarter of the way full, it was eerily silent. No hushed salutations from one family to the next or chatter from fidgety children as one might expect on a typical Sunday morning. In fact, there were no small children present at all, including my own. 

After several prolonged moments of silently observing the sterile basilica, bells began to toll. It was time to begin. The organist welcomed in the masked lectors and altar servers, followed by the priest from the side of the sanctuary. She belted out approximately one verse of the opening hymn before my vision blurred with hot tears. It had been too long. 

There’s a lot to be learned from a global pandemic that leaves the whole world cooped up for months on end. Along with so many things, one revelation became abundantly clear: Mass is underappreciated.

The Church is a People, Not a Building.

When the quarantine began, my friends on social media bemoaned not being able to worship together. I shared in their heartache. Coming together as a community to praise, give thanks, and petition the Lord at the start of each week is vital for believers. It’s as necessary as taking a shower in the morning or doing the dishes in the evening. 

Not being able to do these things in a particularly tense period only makes the uncertainty of current events all the scarier.

Like all things that people take for granted, I didn’t realize how good it was to be able to go to church until I no longer could. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had been lulled into a drunken state of complacency over the past thirty years. One in which being able to bear witness to my faith every Sunday in the safety of my parish walls had left me spoiled and lazy. 

If there was one silver lining to be found in being forced to spend Sundays at home, though, it was getting the opportunity to pause and consider the heart of what we as Christians truly believe. We don’t congregate for social purposes. We don’t do it for entertainment or investment opportunities or personal gain. We do it to maintain a relationship with God. And you don’t need a building to do that.

By taking the only way I knew how to worship away, the pandemic left me with no choice but to be more intentional with how I was going to keep Sunday holy, or abandon it altogether. The decision was clear, but not easy.

How would I worship Christ without a priest holding my hand every step of the way? What would motivate me to sing loudly, pray earnestly, or dress for the Lord when my neighbors weren’t there to bear witness to it? 

Social distancing had presented a big, shiny mirror up to my heart and the reflection staring back at me wasn’t always pretty. 

We are Physical Beings. Our Worship Should Be, Too.

The quarantine had proven that I didn’t need a building to worship God, but it sure does help. 

Gathering my family together to pray the rosary, watch Mass online, or read the Bible was fruitful in so many ways. Striving to deliberately keep Sundays sacred is beautiful, but it made me miss the concrete reminders of my faith that I can only find in a church all the more.

It brought to mind the time a friend who’d fallen away from the Church questioned why Catholic churches insist on being so ornate. 

“Are the elaborate stain-glassed windows, gold chalices, and expensive statues really necessary? Wouldn’t God be happier with people worshipping in a simple building and using the extra money to help someone instead?” His question was sincere, but misguided.

What he didn’t realize was that all of those “extra” things help far more people on a weekly basis than the money used to buy them would’ve been able to had they been spent on food or clothing for the needy. Those beautiful, elaborate decorations not only bring glory to God, but they help remind countless people of him constantly when they are in his presence. Each statue, window, symbol, and image draw people’s short attention spans back to the reason they came to church in the first place: Jesus. 

Are these elements essential to encounter the Risen Lord? No. Are they beneficial? Absolutely.

Mass engages all five of the senses; that’s not a coincidence. Humans are physical beings as much as we are spiritual. It’s as necessary as ever that we worship as such.

Celebrating Christ in the living room had been nice, but I needed more. I want to smell the incense, taste the bread and wine, see the beautiful images that lift my mind to heaven. I need to feel my neighbor’s hand at the sign of peace, hear the uplifting music, and kneel in adoration before the Eucharist. None of these things are accidental. It’s the way God intended worship to be: spiritual and physical.

These are experiences that we simply cannot have alone in our living rooms day in and day out. They can only be found in Mass.

If that’s not essential, what is?

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Devon Wattam Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Home Is Where the Church Is

We are moving…again. This is my husband’s and my third cross-country move in six years as a married couple, fourth if you count me moving in once we were married, and our first with kids. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in temporary military housing on a base in the Keys as we wait for our new house to be ready in a few weeks. After being on the road for a month, taking our time to visit with friends and family along the way, it feels good to be at our final destination, and a beautiful one at that. But I’d be lying if I said I love the transition from one “home” to the next. 

Having to find new grocery stores and doctors’ offices, favorite breakfast spots and parks, making new friends and play groups is not something I particularly enjoy, especially with the memory of all the familiar places, faces, and routines still fresh in my brain from our last home. 

The transition process is exciting, but disorienting; necessary, but isolating. And each time we experience it, I spend a lot of time doing some inward reflection. Where does my stability come from? Where can I find peace when all things familiar are suddenly gone? Where is HOME? 

The answer is always the same. Home is where the Church is.

We went to Mass at our new parish the first Sunday after we moved here and I was taken aback by the hodgepodge of people who filled the charming basilica. Tourists and locals, children and elderly, people of all different ethnicities and social status—the church was completely packed. It was uplifting to witness a full melting pot of people from so many different walks of life joining together to sing and worship in humble adoration for an hour. 

I was reminded of James Joyce who wrote that Catholicism means “here comes everybody!” It was obvious that the church was home to all of us, even those who had never been there before. 

Eventually, my family and I will replace all of our old steadfast staples with new ones. I’ll get to know the hairdresser here as much as my last one, our new neighbors will fill the void that our previous ones left behind, and comfortable routines will be established. In a year’s time, we’ll feel as content here as we did in any of the other locations we’ve lived in the past. 

Time has a funny way of making the foreign become the familiar, but the truth is familiarity isn’t what brings us peace. Only Christ can do that.

When I’m lonely or tired, homesick or overwhelmed by so many changes, I know exactly where to go to find consolation: the Church. There Christ will be waiting for me in the tabernacle, just as He was in California and Virginia and everywhere else before those places. 

Our last stop before we got into Florida was to the Gulf Coast to visit family. On our last day there, we had breakfast at a diner. I met two older gentlemen there who asked where we were headed. “Key West!?” they said. “Well, y’all have a good time, but don’t forget where home is.” 

Trust me, I won’t.

 

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Current Events Elle Stone Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Broken Windows: A Response to the Sexual Abuse Scandal

A Small Lantern in a Storm

My heart has been broken.  My mother, the Church, feels as if she’s being ripped apart.  Anger, shame, confusion, disgust, sadness. It’s overwhelming.  And what makes it worse is we keep on being slammed in the face.  Over and over and over again.  I feel like I was just reeling from the last series of these scandals.  Is this really the new norm for our church? It’s so painful to consider.

This past Sunday at Mass, I was given a beautiful insight.  Not an answer to all the hurt, not by far, but something like a small lantern in a storm: a little light to guide me amid all of this darkness.  I offer it to you, sisters, hoping it might bring some courage as we work to remain a people of hope.

Catechesis of Distraction

I have a childlike wonder for beautiful churches.  Vaulted ceilings; enormous stained glass windows; painted dominions, virtues, and powers set aflight across the altar panel.  I was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, and nothing could quite initiate a craving for beauty quite like the Cathedral of St. Paul.  My husband refers to that catedral as “Catholic Disneyland,” or rather, what Disney would build if tasked with a house of God.  I’ve never found a church that satisfies my hunger like the Cathedral of St. Paul (although I’ve never travelled to Europe, so I still have much to see).

My vocation, wife to an incredible husband who named the Navy his profession, stole me away from that stunning testament to the grandeur of God.  To be honest, not all of the parishes we’ve encountered have been exemplars of beauty (and that’s putting it nicely).  I hate to “parish shop,” but with an attention span as short as mine, I prefer to find myself gazing up at the spiritual art gilding the rafters, rather than critiquing a strange design of the sanctuary space.  (As a bit of a disclaimer, this is all personal preference, and as my husband likes to remind me, it’s the Mass that’s important, not the trimmings).

In all of our moves (I’ve moved four times in a year and a half), I’ve been exposed me to a series of parishes I refer to lovingly as my “coastal churches.”  The Navy puts you right on the coast (obviously), and I have a fondness for the little churches you find right on the beach, or close to it.  They’re little havens for tourists, and nine times out of ten you’ll find a little “St. Mary Star of the Sea” (or some variation), standing sentry like a lighthouse on the water.

Toppled Steeples, Fallen Walls

You wouldn’t expect it, seeing one of these innocent and precious little churches for the first time, but I’ve found that invariably each of these parishes carries an incredible story.  Each and every coastal church that I’ve encountered carries with it a hurricane story.  Tales of flooding, toppled steeples, fallen walls.

Tales of broken windows.

I’ve seen so many historical pictures of how these churches used to look, with beautiful, bold, reverent stained glass windows.  I’ve heard stories of such windows which would gleam, covering the congregation in technicolor during the 9am mass.  Windows special ordered from Tiffany’s, whose greens were emeralds.  Can you imagine, emeralds in the stained glass?

And then it was Hugo.  Camille. Katrina. Harvey.  The waters surged. The winds blew.  Homes were abandoned. Churches were left behind in search of higher ground. And the windows shattered.

I think of our beautiful Church.  That is to say, I think of the beautiful Body of Christ.  I think of the food pantries with which I’ve served.  I think of the college ministry which changed my life and set my heart on fire for the faith.  I think of schools I’ve worked for which are striving to form children’s minds and souls. I think of a boisterous, laughing mother of seven who still found time to serve youth ministry.  I think of a little old widower who volunteered his every hour to his parish. I think of a lector who could barely walk, who struggled to the lecturn to proclaim the Word of God, who gave his every step and his voice to God.  I think of a hardworking young adult professional who gave his two hours of free time a week to train altar servers.  I think of priests and seminarians that I’ve had the blessing to call some of my dearest friends.  I think of sisters who have called me out when my head was up my…well, not where it should of been.

I think of our beautiful Body of Christ, fitted together like a magnificent stained glass window, shining it’s colored light upon the world.  And I think of the hurricanes that have come through, the scandals that have shattered it.

How to Rebuild?

Now, what’s most interesting for me about these coastal churches is how they’ve decided to rebuild after hurricanes.  I’ve seen so many example. One parish did not rebuild, and now stands in ruins. One parish we attended replaced once glorious windows with a simple, less expensive (but less beautiful) design.  One parish raised money and replaced the windows exactly as they were, with an unclear answer as to what they would do if another hurricane struck. One parish simply covered their windows with plaster, leaving an ugly off-white as the first jarring sight.

One parish, however, amazed me.  They were completely wiped out. Not just the windows, the whole church.  The built a strong frame of concrete, able to withstand the force of a hurricane.  And within this strong frame they placed beautiful, inspiring and spiritually-uplifting stained glass windows.  They designed it such that, when (not if) a hurricane came through, they could remove the windows, stowing them in safety until the hurricane had passed.  Once the storm had passed, they could return the windows to their proper place.

Our Time to Rebuild

Sisters, hurricanes in our church are, unfortunately, not an “if.”  It breaks my heart to say so. The Body of Christ both shines with the divinity of our savior, but also bleeds with the vulnerability of our human nature.  We have suffered the effects of this particular hurricane that has gone on for too long.  Every heart is broken, every window is shattered.

The destruction is all about us, and what will we do?  Will we abandon our Church, refuse to rebuild, and like the church left in ruins?  Will we build in fear, leaving us with something only half as good, like the church with the simple windows?  Will we build only what we knew before, and leave ourselves open to the same vulnerabilities, like the church that simply replaced the old windows?  Will we repair, but in doing so shut out the light, like the church whose windows are covered in plaster?

Or will we rebuild something stronger, something safer, but still beautiful?  Will we build something which responds to the reality of sin and human weakness?  And at the same time, will we build something that is still beautiful, which still proclaims the reality of the Good News to the world, and still works to serve all peoples?

I know which path I will strive towards.  I know it will require effort, vigilance, humility, and courage.  I pray to the Holy Spirit that He might guide and sanctify me in this task.  Will you join me, sister?

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Devon Wattam Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Testimonials

I see Him, and He sees me.

 

One of my earliest childhood memories involves my grandparents taking me to a church very early in the morning. So early, I remember thinking it was still night and the world must all be sleeping. We found our way into a small chapel that I recall little about except the warmth of its glow in the blackness of night. I was confused as to what we were doing there, but I was happy being with them all the same. Years later, I realized that my grandparents had taken me to their weekly adoration appointment, at 4AM.

That memory has stayed with me over the course of my life, and while the details of it are now a blur, the feeling it gave me then revisits me now when I feel the pull on my heart from our Lord to make it back to Him.

I have gone to adoration in many churches over the years—some big and ornate, others small and barren. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find Holy Hour or perpetual adoration at every place the Navy has brought us, even in the smallest of towns. My memory of each duty station is colored with what church I would run to to find solace paired with what intention was weighing on me at the time: anxiety, family issues, illness, marriage problems, forgiveness, loneliness. The list could go on.

But no matter where I found myself or what burden brought me there, the motive was always the same. Jesus was there. In the flesh. Looking at me.

One time in college, I was in a particularly confusing state that left me riddled with anxiety and restlessness. I ran to my parents’ house, flopped down on the couch, and turned on EWTN. I needed clarity. Mother Angelica was on, whom I love and reminds me so much of my grandmother. She was talking about going to Holy Hour even when you don’t feel like it. You might have a headache, be tired, and have an ingrown toenail, as was her case, and the last thing you can think of is what to say to Jesus, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is being with Him, along with your imperfections, and even when you have nothing to say. She said: “I see Him, and He sees me. That’s enough.” I’ve carried that with me ever since.

I started making time for weekly adoration from then on. Wednesday nights at 9pm in a small, simple chapel right down the road from my college. The lights were dimmed, the incense rose, and there sat Jesus, week after week waiting for me to lay it all out to him, and so I did. My favorite part of those weekly dates happened at the very end, when it was time to say “goodbye” until the next week. As Father raised the gold monstrance to bless us one last time, the Divine Praises were sung in a way I had never heard before or since, in such a powerful, joyful, holy way that it gave me chills then and still does thinking of it now. Once again, the Lord had provided a light in the darkness of my life and my restlessness began to fade.

Since then, weekly adoration has not always been practical. I get so busy and distracted with my children, husband, and own life that Holy Hour is often not made a priority, but it never fails. In the midst of the busyness of life, Jesus will knock on my heart and whisper, “It’s time. Come sit with Me for a while.” And I will. And even though there will always be a laundry list of things I feel like I need to tell Him or ask Him to do for me, it usually ends with me simply whispering back, “I see You, and You see me.” That’s enough.

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Ink Slingers Stephanie

A ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ for Us All

I spent four dreamy years in college studying literature. There are a few texts that I still think about once in a while and even fewer that I reread on occasion. One example is Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” If you have not read it, here are the very basics. Spoiler alert: while it’s not a very climactic story, this will take away any element of surprise for you.

A deaf old man drinks too much as he sits alone in a Spanish cafe in the early morning hours. A young waiter and an older waiter serve him and talk amongst themselves about the old man’s sad life and recent suicide attempt. The young man is impatient, very unsympathetic, and only worries about hurrying home to his wife. The older waiter, though, understands the old man’s desire to stay at the cafe. It is clear that he knows something about loneliness from personal experience. He senses that he is in need of a clean, quiet, and well-lighted place. When the cafe finally does close, the young waiter heads home. The older waiter walks to a bodega and continues to talk to himself about the merits of a quiet place offering light to drown out the night. His thoughts turn to “nada,” which means “nothing” in Spanish. He goes so far as to recite a version of the Our Father and the beginning of the Hail Mary inserting the word ‘nada’ throughout (“Our nada who art in nada…”) and so on. After he has one drink, he starts for home knowing he will finally have his sleep when daylight comes. He concludes he must have insomnia and assures himself that lots of other people must have it too. The end.

This is loneliness, my friends. It is loneliness, depression, and separateness. It can be a blank, non-living sort of existence. One would be hard-pressed to find a single person who cannot relate to these feelings even a little bit. Whether it is situational or chronic, most know the sting of loneliness and despair, or even the urge to run from the day. And perhaps out of instinct, we search. Think about all the opportunities, substances, environments or people we turn to as a defense. Much of the time, these do not keep us unafraid of the day for very long.

I felt called to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament for a couple of years. I assumed it would take lots of discipline and motivation to get me out of the house each week. That’s why I put it off for so long. But once I finally stated that I wished to attend and my husband gave me the thumbs up, I went. It only took a few weeks before I felt so excited about Thursday evenings. As more time passed, I started to feel the kind of eager anticipation that one might before date night. (Still need to make a date night with my husband a reality!) I’m beginning to grasp the meaning of falling in love with Christ. 

Weekly I look forward to having a place to go to. It is quiet, peaceful, and I am not in hiding. I know that I am in the presence of the Source. The time I spend away from the chapel or church is an exercise of faith to understand that I am ever in His presence. That is my struggle. So, what a treat it is to get to sit in a physical room with His physical body before my eyes. After months of doing my best to reserve that special hour for the Lord, Hemingway’s story came to mind. 

We get weary and frustrated. Even if we are not often alone, we know loneliness. Disappointment and struggle are not in short supply in the world. Sometimes there is a nothingness which somehow weighs us down. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, knows all this and provides the solace Himself. He gave us everything we need in this world as we look toward the next. He became man and lived and died solely for our eternal salvation. Before the Son’s earthly mission was complete, He miraculously offered His body and blood so we would never have to live without Him. We now have the physical spaces available to us in chapels and churches. We have the physical presence in the Eucharist, exposed or in the tabernacle. When we live in communion, we are never alone. It is impossible. There is never ‘nada’ preying upon us. After we receive the Body of Christ, we leave the church (small “c”) but we take Him with us. We are even commissioned with bringing Christ to others so that they also find peace against ‘nada’ through us. Talk about unconditional love.

Hemingway’s story is profound in its brevity. In few words, he displays the universality of human suffering in this passing world. But now, about 12 years after I was introduced to the story, I read it with a deep sense of gratitude instead of gloom. I cannot help but reflect on the generosity and wisdom of God for giving His Son and the Church to His children. We can rely on Christ’s humanity, trusting that He fully understands our despair the way our closest friends or family can. We can also rely on His divinity as our Savior, as we ourselves become tabernacles housing the Word made flesh.

The physical “clean, well-lighted place” is for most of us within driving distance, practically at any time on any day. When we participate in the sacraments, we hold within us the very peace which we seek. Perhaps this is what the interior life is and what the saints always recognize and cultivate. If we seek and keep Him in the ways He provided, then we never have to be outside of that “clean, well-lighted place.”