On Sunday morning, I wanted to attend Mass with Peggy, Libby and Katy; my mom decided to join us, as well. We packed up our things and left them with the concierge at the hotel, and headed up the hill to the nearest Catholic church, which was...St. Mary's. This is a beautiful edifice, made of white stone; it is light and bright inside, with glorious paintings around the altar that reminded me of the pre-Raphaelites, stained glass windows and mosaics. It's an art-major's pleasure to worship there.
We followed the Cunninghams into the church and sat down in a pew. Since we don't know the liturgy, they helped us to follow along, and I watched what they did, knelt when they knelt, etc.
As I got settled in and began to look around, I saw a wonderful variety of people in the church, and then, my eyes rested on two white statues to the right and left of the altar: the Virgin Mary on the right side, and Jesus on the left. Looking at the figure of Mary made tears come to my eyes. I have a new appreciation for her and her sacrifices since Katie's passing, for Mary's faithfulness, and her willingness to stand at the foot of the cross, witnessing her son's dying and his death. Mary understands me. I am so thankful for her image and her example in Christianity.
The Catholic religion is filled with wisdom -- almost genius -- in my opinion. We can discuss its politics, sins of individuals, the weight of hierarchy, traditions that we disagree with, but I am going to tell you what I think: I'm starting to think that the Catholic church may be a microcosm of God's work in humanity. They have all of this great tradition, fabulous prayers, teachers, gifts (and some dark stuff, as well), and they don't throw anything out. It all stays together throughout time, and it seems as if keeping it together makes everyone evolve as they work with it. In other words, even if a Catholic disagrees with something, or with his fellow Catholic, he doesn't get to run from it. He gets to work it out within himself, within the Church. Isn't that the way the world works, too?
So my heart was opened by seeing Mary's image up in the front of the church. Then the readings began, and the prayers; they were beautiful. One of the loveliest things, for me, was the tiny old priest who was assisted by a middle-aged priest, and some altar-children. Another example of not throwing anything away, but bringing in the new to stand with, and to learn from, the old. The old gentleman was bent over with age, and his steps weren't steady, but he wasn't replaced; he was assisted. This is a great example of the value placed on wisdom, service and experience.
I can't recall when I started to cry, but I know that I soaked at least 4 tissues, silently, during the service. When the choir sang, it was a sublime experience. Their voices blended beautifully, and the words were moving. During the Eucharist, I chose to stay in my place, as I wouldn't have been allowed to take it (I'm not Catholic) and crying had made me feel unsteady. As the members of the congregation took their seats after receiving the Eucharist, we all knelt in prayer. I felt completely empty and open, weeping in the sorrow of missing my girl, love for God, humility and the beauty of the gift of prayer in community. I prayed, "What more do You want from me? What more can I offer? I am open..." And I heard the choir singing words to the effect of "with this bread (the Eucharist), make me bread for the world." Ah.
It was a gift and a comfort to experience this with Libby, Katy and Peggy, who love their church, and whose faith is a beautiful thing, to me. I am so thankful for this opportunity to share the weekend and a faith-journey with them.