Meanderings from Mass

Meanderings from Mass March 6, 2018
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Mass is hard for me.

When I was a teenager, my father forced us to go to daily Mass for about two years. I know this doesn’t sound that bad, but when you couple this with his particular brand of religious domestic violence and my crippling scrupulosity, it was toxic. I would sit in the pew for a half hour, debating with myself whether or not I could receive communion. As soon as I’d convince myself I should receive, my doubts, fears, and panic would attack me, convincing me of the opposite. The idea that somehow I’d committed a mortal sin was an all-consuming spiritual OCD.

If I skipped receiving Communion too many days in a row (because not receiving was psychologically easier than playing the ping-pong guilt game), my father would interrogate me as to why and chastise me that if I needed Confession, I’d better go. I remember one summer where I went to confession more than once a week.

I’d find any excuse I could to avoid Mass. I’d hop in the shower right before my family got in the car. I’d claim I was sick, had a headache, anything. My father’s rage was a better price to pay than sitting in Mass again.

During this time, I began to excoriate my thumb. My elder brother hated this new habit of mine; he called it the “Franken-Thumb.” When I’d start picking, he would grab my hand in his and hold it. I knew his reaction was out of love, but it caused me more anxiety and humiliation each time he did it. It’s a coping mechanism for anxiety, I learned about a year ago from one of my psych major friends. Over the past 8 years, I haven’t been able to break this habit. When I am in a tense situation, I still pick at the skin of now both thumbs, and forefingers, too. At Mass I typically excoriate them till they bleed. (I’ve always hated the Sign of Peace for that reason).

Finding ways to love

At 23, Mass is still hard for me. I go because I crave the Eucharist, but the rest of Mass often just seems like a PTSD death trap. If it doesn’t cause flashbacks, then it’s anger, and it’s always excoriation.

So I’ve found some ways to cope. I seek out Churches that don’t look like the Traditionalist paradises that my father so loved, with high altars and incense (even though I love both). I find Churches that are a bit darker, with hidden alcoves, empty choir lofts, or pillars to sit behind, so that the claustrophobia of so many other souls doesn’t become too smothering.

I bring a book (usually a spiritual memoir by Jessica Mesman Griffith) and a journal and pen. I try to remember my fidget cube or silly putty, to circumvent the excoriation. And then I sit and read, ignoring the rubrics that command me to stand and kneel and “be attentive” until the Consecration, when I put my book down and adore my Lord.

Seeking Peace

I explained my method to a priest in Confession once, a few months ago, waiting for him to chastise me. I told him I feared it was a sin, to distract myself from Mass this way. But, it was the only way I could manage to attend, I said. Otherwise I’d probably just stay home.

He shocked me, this priest, by telling me he thought it was beautiful. I’d found a way to honor my obligation out of my love for God, despite the suffering and the hardship. He compared it to going to an art museum, and spending the whole visit staring at one art piece, examining its beauty and its depth, treasuring it.

So, I continue my method, when I can. Often, when I’m not reading, I’m writing—processing grief or anger at my past, or reflecting on a snippet I caught from the readings or the homily. I’ll be posting these reflections here; I hope reading them helps you find some peace. Writing them maintains mine.

 

Image Credit:

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRmecHdS7lzi0AMDgh5ye1Rr0KtWvPh1dsXTfifkB32a5c0QD5v


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Stephanos Pedrano

    Marie, “spiritual OCD” exists, and is called scruples. There are helpful books on this.

  • Marie Kopp

    Thanks Father! I would like to read one on this. A friend recommended “Understanding Scrupulosity” by Fr. Santa. Any other suggestions?

  • Mary

    This is very beautiful and true. Playing with rings and jewelry is another sneaky way to not pick, as is getting a manicure you can flake off and peel off instead of peeling your cuticles.

  • Heather

    I think that is the one that I browsed through a while back, and it looked very helpful. I had met a lady returning to the Church after a while in a rather spiritual-warfare focused Pentecostal denomination who suffered from clinical anxiety and OCD and it spilled over into her spiritual life as scrupulosity as well. (A spiritual warfare focused Pentecostal denomination was pretty much the EXACT opposite of what she needed for her spiritual and mental health!) Thankfully she had already found a good confessor who was able to help her.

  • Anna Smith

    Dear Marie, I completely relate. I’m a 25 year old cradle Catholic who has wrestled with OCD and scrupulosity since I was six. It comes and goes in waves of intensity though and I have undergone some serious healing from it. There is SO much hope! And this particular burden has allowed me to empathize and understand so many other friends and family members who struggle with other mental afflictions. It is a suffering that has allowed me to love. The verse that holds me to Christ despite my mental struggles is “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If you have religious OCD than that sounds like heresy…Isn’t it suppose to be torture? Haha…it is not! I have a few resources that have helped me navigate this path that I’d be happy to share! You are in my thoughts and prayers because it really is so hard.

  • This is so beautiful. I thank God that He kept your desire for Him alive even though you were under such horrible attack. Thank you for writing this. God bless.

  • Jim Sheridan

    Anything written by Drs. Anna Terrewe and Conrad Baars have been TREMENDOUSLY helpful for me in scrupulosity. In fact, not just their writings, but Dr. Baars’ set of .mp3 meditations have helped me tremendously. Best $35 I’ve ever spent https://baarsinstitute.com/product/affirmation-and-psychological-incarnation/

  • Nica

    Sorry, but I didn’t come to the essay ’til now (my ISP has been wonky). Like Marie, as a child I was extremely scrupulous; I had to be the “perfect” kid both at home & for the nuns in my parochial school in the 1960s. Marie’s situation overall sounds harsher than mine ever was, but the habit she developed because of it reached out to grab my attention:

    During this time, I began to excoriate my thumb. My elder brother hated this new habit of mine; he called it the “Franken-Thumb.” When I’d start picking, he would grab my hand in his and hold it. I knew his reaction was out of love, but it caused me more anxiety and humiliation each time he did it. It’s a coping mechanism for anxiety, I learned about a year ago from one of my psych major friends. Over the past 8 years, I haven’t been able to break this habit.

    This same habit — biting or picking at bleeding & raw skin around my thumbnails all the time — haunted my childhood. I can’t say when it disappeared, but it did … eventually, quietly. Oh, a bit of OCD arises around it now & then, but never badly so. So if Marie is reading this, I say: “This too shall pass.” I’m not so confidant in scrupulosity’s expulsion, however!

  • Marie Kopp

    Nica,
    Thank you for your words. I’m reading them! Yes, I hope it will go away. The scruples have passed for me, mostly. Sometimes they still rear up, loud and angry, but mostly I ignore them. I’m sorry you’ve been through this, too. It’s awful. But I hope hearing someone else’s story who “gets it” helps some. Hang in there and just know, more than anything, Christ in the Eucharist thirst for you to receive him. Trust in his Mercy, and go.

  • Geoff Edevane

    The Safe Space Cannot Hold.