Wednesday, April 7, 2010


    I didn't go to Mass every Sunday this year, largely because of work. I stayed home, grading papers or reading books in preparation for my preliminary exams. I felt guilty for not going, but I was always on a deadline and had to get the work done sooner rather than later.
    I know several Catholics who don't go to Mass at all or only go twice a year, on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. But I think it's important to attend church every Sunday and on holy days of obligation. In college, I did a project on Islam for my theology class. I interviewed several Muslim students. One girl said something which really impressed me: "It's not just a religion; it's a way of life." It made me think of how they incorporated their beliefs into their lives and devoted themselves to those beliefs.
   So I've started going to church regularly again. I went to Mass for Easter, and the church was packed, unlike on regular Sundays.
   When I go to Mass I get fidgety. Suddenly my nose starts running and I keep sniffling. I blow my nose with a Kleenex, but worry that people near me might think my hands are germy now and won't want to shake hands when we say peace to each other. Then I keep feeling the urge to cough, and when I do I worry about my germy hands again. Once I kept coughing and a woman wouldn't shake hands when we said peace to each other. She just gave me a look that was decidely un-Christian. On another occasion, I coughed and a woman gave me a cough drop. Now I bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer with me.
   But I still feel fidgety. I feel like everyone behind me is staring at the wrinkles on my pants because I didn't have time to iron that morning. My side suddenly itches but I don't want to keep scratching myself and look weird as a result. The itching subsides when I feel guilty for thinking too much about how other people see me and not paying enough attention to the Mass itself.
    I look up at the priest giving the homily. I wonder if it bothers him when he looks out at the congregation and sees people sneaking in fifteen, thirty, or even forty minutes late. People are on time for movies and baseball games but not for Mass. I wonder if it bothers him when someone's cell phone starts ringing and keeps ringing for several moments, because apparently the cell phone's owner has gone temporarily deaf.
    Often little kids will break away from their parents and go running up and down the aisles. The parents bring them back to their pews, but a minute later the kids start running off again. I wonder if that bothers the priest too or if he just doesn't get easily irritated like I do.
    I keep thinking about all the work that I have to do. I distract myself by focusing on the prayers and the songs. Sometimes I wish the cantor wouldn't sing all five or six verses of each song. One of my pet peeves is that people will often stand up to go up and receive Communion when there are still several rows of people ahead of them. Then I feel pressured to stand. Maybe they're afraid that there won't be any more Communion hosts left when they get up there. Maybe they just don't want to kneel anymore. Or maybe they're planning to leave early, right after Communion. I know that bothers the priests. I think about how much work they put into organizing each Mass, and how it must affect them when people don't stay the whole time.
    I come back to my pew after receiving Communion and the couple who were sitting next to me have already reached the pew, because they didn't stop to take a sip of the wine. The woman is already kneeling, so I nudge her husband politely to get her to stand up so that I can make my way to my seat. But he just looks at me and shrugs and they both refuse to move. Hmm. I'm not sure that's what Jesus would do. I walk around the pew to get to my seat.
    Mass ends and I walk out with everyone else. Some people hold their church bulletins close to their chests, as if they're letting everyone know that they just went to church. I go home and go back to work, but I resolve to focus more on the Mass than on myself and other people next time. But I'll still bring hand sanitizer, just in case.

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