As I stood before my closet looking through my clothes, trying different things on and throwing them on the floor I became flustered. Nothing I am pulling from my hangers is working. What am I even doing anyway? It is all a bad idea.
I look over at my boyfriend, sprawled out half naked beneath my covers and sigh. The second I get there I should run for confessional or pray in hopes of forgiveness: I've been sinning for a long time now where the Catholic Church is concerned.
I am a fraud.
So what the hell am I doing at this point worrying about what is appropriate to where to Sunday mass? I've already landed myself on the naughty list. You know, if Santa were Catholic and guarded the gates of Heaven, or whatever. This is ridiculous. I don't even know what falls under Catholicism anyway.
The last mass I attended was Christmas morning in Philadelphia with my family. I only recite half of the prayers, and I never sing along with the songs. I only participate in communion because I think the bread tastes good, and I didn't even know Lent started a few weeks ago, nor did I give anything up. I am still eating chicken on Fridays.
I am one hundred percent a fraud.
And I am going to attend 11 am mass this Sunday morning. Alone. It is kind of an experiment, for one of my creative writing courses this semester. I'm not thrilled.
“Ugh!” I threw another outfit to the floor, letting it land atop the three other dresses I picked up and tossed away. All I want to do is wear jeans, and though I knew that'd be okay back home because no one adheres to tradition anymore, I didn't know if it'd be appropriate here. I'm attending mass in Arizona, in a church I had to Google because I don't know many Catholics, and I definitely don't know any churches. It took three tries before I found one I might be comfortable with.
Though, when I really thought about it, the issue isn't my lack of knowledge, or the fact I have no idea what I am doing. My issue is that, despite it all, I know I want to go. I try to claim I hate the idea, that I am only doing it to be a good writer, to try something new for an assignment for class, to broaden my horizons. But that isn't the truth, and that is what's making me such a fraud.
Finally, I pull a flower sun dress from the hanger and hold it against me. This will do. I throw a cardigan on top to cover my exposed shoulders and add my over-worn white flats. Looks like I'm really doing this. After shooing my boyfriend out of my apartment I run to my car and speed out of my complex. I have the tendency to always be late, and that is not just a generalization, it's the pure truth. I'm late for everything all the time. I don't like waiting, so I make sure I never give myself the chance. This time I really didn't want to be late though, so I race to the Church, park quickly, and luckily, walk in with the crowd of families doing the same thing as me. And with ten minutes to spare.
Looking around me at all the families rushing in the Church, desperately searching for seats along the pews I had to laugh. Clearly, I didn't have to worry about what to wear. Children are wearing flip flops, parents are in sandals, teenagers are wearing jeans and men are in shorts. I assume the emphasis is more on attendance than on outfit selection, and in this day and age, that makes sense. I couldn't help but giggle when I saw three women sitting next to each other in the pew all wearing some form of coral pink pants and skirts. Spring is here ladies and gentleman, because you definitely wouldn't see those colors in winter.
But after I giggled I thought about what it was I even found funny. Here I was in a community of people, shaking hands with strangers and saying “nice to meet you” and I was going to laugh at a person's clothing? It was immature of me and automatically I felt myself hush and sit up straighter, the way you would when your mother catches you, well, laughing at someone at church.
Again I ask the question, what am I doing here?
The church is enormous, very modern with paved white walls and few stain-glass windows. I found myself surprised at the absence of color and history on the walls. This isn't a cathedral; it is just a simple place of worship. It is contemporary and instead of it feeling less traditional, it actually feels more welcoming. It is like the walls are accepting me for being there today, and not for judging me for being gone in the past.
The priest walked out, donning deep purple robes and spoke to the room in a powerful voice. “Welcome, all of you, on this fine Sunday. Let us take a moment and meet the people around us, let's say hi, and introduce ourselves to the community that surrounds you.”
I shook hands with the woman besides me who also came alone, and a little girl, about ten or so, on my left who seemed very shy. I smiled at her and then placed my focus back on the priest. He was a good Father to be before such a large crowd. He seemed so joyous and pleasant and watching him made me smile.
Without realizing it, being here today was making me feel at peace. I could feel myself relaxing as mass went on, as I watched the “three virgins” dressed all in white dance upon the stage in graceful patterns to a calm song. As everyone chanted the prayers together as one. As a reading from John was read, which tells the story of a blind beggar man who Jesus healed by spitting in mud and rubbing it over the blind man's eyes giving him the gift of sight. “I was blind, and now I see” recited a young boy who re-enacted the scene, telling the story of his healing in front of the church, mic in his hands. It was such an innovative mass, it was showy and modern and I loved the feeling that washed over me as I sat, and stood, and knelt within the church.
As the Father blessed the holy bread and wine, reciting the same speech I've heard, without fail, every mass I've ever attended, I looked to my left, towards the door. Standing against the wall, glowing beneath a single beam of light, a girl about four years old in a beautiful cream dress, with her golden hair in a bun atop her head and a bow tied around it in decoration swung back and forth silently, her hands holding out her dress to the sides so it poofed out and she danced their alone, illuminated by the light. Without warning my mouth fell open and I smiled in surprise. She was beautiful and if there were ever an image so angelic to be found within the church that day, it were this one. I felt a pull of emotion, if God was going to show himself to a disbeliever like me, he knew exactly how to do so. And he did. She ran off to her parents, and I turned back to the people rising from their seats and getting their communion. I didn't want to admit it, but as I looked back to the empty lighted wall the young child just danced, my nose stung and my contacts blurred. I knew right then, this was what I needed from today.
Rising from my kneeling position, and slowly walking towards the front of the church to accept my communion I shook my head to myself and glanced around at everyone. I wonder how often this community of people gathers together and if they still notice the wonders and awes of the place like an outsider, such as me, does. Do they feel at peace when they walk in the room and find their seat? Or is church just a check off their to-do list for the day in ways of keeping the guilt off?
I held out my palms, left over right, and accepted the body of Jesus in my hands. I hoped the lady handing me the holy bread couldn't see the note I made myself with blue ink in my hand. The stale bread broke into three as I closed my mouth around it, and then melted atop my tongue. This was the part of church I enjoyed the most, for two reasons. One, it meant mass was coming to an end. And two, I loved the bread — if it was sold in stores I'd buy heaps of it. I can't get over the way in melts in your mouth and the cardboard taste, that for whatever reason, I love.
I crossed myself in blessing and then moved towards the woman holding the wine: the blood of Christ. I was the very last member of the mass, in my section, to accept communion, so I allowed myself to take my time. Not once in my life, not even during first communion, nor during confirmation, have I ever had a taste of the Blood of Christ. I never felt comfortable and I remember turning to my mom, tugging on her hand and asking, “I don't have to drink the Blood do I? Everyone's mouths are on it.” She laughed and assured me it was okay and I didn't have to if I didn't want to. I never felt like I was betraying Jesus, and I never felt like I was missing out. Not an ounce of curiosity of what the wine tasted like, or if it even was wine, bubbled within me. Except today. I knew if any day were to be a day I tasted Jesus, then this were it. I stood before the woman and she blessed the cup, handing it to me. I took it, and since I was last, I had to tilt the goblet far back in order to reach the last drop. The second the liquid hit my tongue my only thought was shock. I never actually believed it was really wine in there, I always thought it was juice. I crossed myself again, though I think I miss-stepped; skipping one of the “Holy Spirits”, but unable to ever know I rushed back to my seat hoping no one watched me along the way. I was afraid they'd see right through me and know I was a fraud.
Yet, as that thought rushed through my mind again I knew it was no longer true. After it popped up, I immediately shut it out, knowing that it didn't matter what anyone thought, because I didn't feel like a fraud anymore. I came to a place I usually find myself rejecting over and over, repeating the same excuses, without ever really knowing why I rejected it so much. The last song of the day played, speaking the goodbyes that didn't need to be said, and I realized what I knew from the moment I decided to come.
I was meant to be there that day. I know that I won't return again for a long time. I know I will still have questions in the faith, and in my faith, and I know there is no right or wrong answer in this world of religion. What I know now though, is I feel the peace and I feel the welcome of a community, of a world I still don't understand — and I know that is alright. I don't need to have every question answered. I don't need to feel guilty for not attending every mass, or even, for not wanting to go.
I don't need to do anything.
I choose to feel blessed; blessed that I allowed myself this moment, and opened myself to this world; blessed to know that it will be there when I'm ready for it, and it won't disown me, even if I choose to walk away.
It's what I choose that matters. And today I chose this.
© 2011 Katie McCoach
All rights reserved.
This is a travel writing piece with certain specifications (had to go alone, involve food, and uncertainty)