Last month, near mid-December in the middle of my work day, I ran to daily Mass. It wasn’t for exercise, and it wasn’t because I was a few minutes late – although I was as I frequently am – and it wasn’t because the desert sky was pouring rain and I had no umbrella, although it was and I did not.
Rather, I ran because I could not wait to get there. Could. Not. Wait. It was such an unusual feeling that I noted it as I jumped over one puddle and landed in the next, thinking to myself, “Do you see this? You’re running to Mass!” Considering that I’d left a Sunday Mass at the offertory in mid-November (so ham-handed the liturgy, so awful the homily, so off-key the music I simply could take no more), this running to church needed to be noted.
I was out of breath when I slipped in the side door, arriving just as the priest concluded the opening prayer and the congregation sat in unison to listen to the first reading. I didn’t care that I was late, didn’t care that I was breathless, didn’t try to hide in one of the back pews with my sloshy shoes. I went where I was pulled, which was the third pew, as close as I could get without making a total scene. When I sat down, I felt ridiculously joyful, which, as I’ve written before, is an exceedingly rare feeling for me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to church even when I’ve been frustrated, angry or upset with The Church. I honed my beginning journalism skills in the Catholic press and got my start in column writing with commentary on (and, sometimes critique of) the Catholic Church. And for years – both in childhood and as a young adult – I found great comfort and solace in the practice of my faith. In mid-adulthood, I enjoyed deep intellectual stimulation from the study of Catholic theology and history.
But nearly a decade ago the solace was ever-so-slowly replaced by a deep, gaping hole. This was more than doubts about the Big Questions and more than irritation with the hierarchy. It was more than a side-effect of what has been described positively as “an extra dose of sensitivity to life’s brutality” and by negatively as “high-strung” or “anxious.” It was, my late spiritual director said, a dark night of the soul. Perhaps tellingly (or perhaps not) my secular Jewish shrink called it the same thing.
These dark nights are not pleasant places to reside, but the only way out of them – like so many of life’s brutal parts – is through. And so I kept on the journey, surviving mostly on the faith of others like someone harvesting a Wi-Fi connection off a neighbor. I kept going to Mass, kept reading James Martin and the Bible and because I’m an Advent girl, started praying the Liturgy of the Hours during my bus commute when Advent started.
My new job is downtown, just a couple blocks from the Cathedral where there is a noon Mass each day. I went once, then again, and pretty soon I was going a few times a week. It was a perfect break at just the right time.
I’ve always preferred daily Mass to Sunday; its quieter, simpler, stripped-down liturgy draws me in. Daily Mass at a downtown cathedral is especially nice because of the mix of people attending: men and women with Seriously Important Jobs sharing pews and prayers with the homeless and mentally ill, all of them there out of desire, not the obligation attached to Sunday.
So maybe just giving God an extra place to reach me is all it took, or maybe the Liturgy of the Hours on the bus fertilized the soil of my soul, but whatever the reason, a shard of heavenly glass began slicing through the cloak of black draped over my faith and that day I ran to Mass, light broke through. It was like an inhaler being given to an asthmatic.
When I received communion, I responded with the appropriate, “Amen,” but then, gratitude jumping out of my mouth before I could clamp my lips against it, I also said “Thank you.” Nonplussed, the priest responded with, “Sure,” which made me smile all the way back to my pew.
And then Mass ended, and I walked back to my office in the rain, and life and work went on its busy way. But underneath I felt something I haven’t for a long time, something that seemed a lot like peace. And all I can do fall to my knees in thanksgiving.