Maybe it stems from that independent American spirit that still grips a large part of my soul. Or perhaps it comes from many years of reflexively pushing back at anything Catholic – or, in this case, Mary. Maybe it’s tiredness. Then again, it might be plain laziness. But when I realized that Church attendance today was obligatory – even though I happily make my way over to daily Mass almost every other day – my first and visceral reaction was “No!” It didn’t help that today was the first day of my vacation.
I knew that I would be irritated by the sudden surge of participants who don’t typically make it in on days other than Sunday. I knew that there would be more people prone to talking loudly, more people squeezing in next to me, more people sneezing and coughing. Hey, don’t you know that this is my place? This is where, with a handful of regulars, I can come and go in peace and in silence. I don’t want to share any of that, especially since I’m compelled to be here against my will.
But I made it. Later than usual. But I was there. I sat there trying to wrap my head around the Assumption of Mary – is this scriptural? Am I in danger of becoming a heretic because my understanding of – okay, my belief in – the Assumption is not yet fully grounded? Others have today written on the meaning of this day better than I can, so I’ll leave it to them to explain.
But I can tell you that today’s service made a difference. Maybe it was the much older woman who sat in the pew in front of me. Clearly gripped by arthritis – she was constantly comforting her left hand with her right throughout the Mass – she nevertheless was fully engaged, fully joyful. The smile that radiated from deep within her as we offered each other the sign of peace was sincere, and peaceful, and calming. I knew that there was a lesson waiting somewhere in there for me.
In fact, we were reminded that faith is always love in action. “Faith without love is dead,” just as much as faith without works is dead. If you have no love you have no faith. If you have no love, you have nothing truly worth counting on.
We were implored to look to Mary, not as a mediator for there is only one, but as the “wings which give flight to our prayers.” That’s an image that I had never thought of before. Simply beautiful.
So, as I sat there, my complaints, my irritations, my stresses finally began to drain. I found them replaced by a peaceful reassurance. And I found that I was able to surrender into the moment. Finally.
In the end, I realized that I had also gained a slightly better understanding of the words that kept coming to mind as I sat there and thought about the meaning of this day: “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.”