This morning, I set my wood floor for prayer. Red floor pillow, Blessed Virgin devotional candle, my blue Rosary. I took my seat, calmed my breath, lit my candle and said, wait. I need to go to the cathedral. Just up the street a few blocks sits a breathtaking cathedral in the Spanish colonial style. Okay, check Mass times. I’ll miss both morning services, which was fine; I just wanted to be in the sanctuary with my own quiet prayers letting my fingers nibble away at the Rosary. I have missed going to Mass. Many personal conflicts about my relationship with this ancient organization keep me at arm’s length. My own. And it breaks my heart. God speaks to me through the art and music, the ritual, the stations, and the people. But I have strong feelings about certain things.
Nevertheless, I yearned for a silent communion to settle in my bones as thickly as frankincense settles into every pew and tapestry.
The exterior door was open but the sanctuary door was not. I peeked through the crack in the tall, heavy doors to see if I would be interrupting what appeared to be Mass. But I arrived safely between the listed times, I knew. So then, the back and forth with myself. It seems like he’s well into the Homily. Do I go in? Is that rude? But it would be nice to catch the last half of Mass…should I? I mean, Jesus would say, come on in! As my not so helpful two sides are rationalizing with each other, I hear the priest say Rose. He is talking about the scent and he is also talking about a name. That’s my cue. I quietly enter, bless myself with Holy Water, kneel, and take my place in the very last back pew. My heartbeat settles.
Perhaps two sentences in, he makes his thesis clear – the ways in which God speaks to us through the senses. I have to smile. Of course. And so I listen to what seems like the most profound Homily I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience in some time. What luck! I’m boldly paraphrasing what the priest delivered, but essentially, he suggested God speaks to us through our senses in mediums that make sense for us as individuals and feel particularly drawn to, such as the following: art, literature, music, architecture; in relationship with people and ourselves; and in God’s presence.
He spoke of a time when there was an invitation for fellow priests to pray with the Nativity. (I can’t remember if this was his extended invitation to other priests, it might have been). As the story went, three priests prayed with different members of the Holy Family; one with infant Jesus, one with Mary, and one with Joseph. The experience was intended for each priest to “be” with that Holy Family member. He shared the intimations of the priest who prayed with Mary, who felt a deep shame, an unworthiness to be in Her presence. Who was he to have such an experience? By the end of his prayers with Her, however, he felt the heavy residue of shame lift. He said he felt her hold his hand.
The priest paused at this. He asked the congregation to consider these feelings of shame and unworthiness and how much of our time we spend in this dark, airless place. How it really feels in the body. This is not our seat in Grace. This is not our dwelling place. This is not our natural state. And then he moved on.
As he did, I realized this Homily was running really long with no sign of Eucharist in sight. I looked at the backs of all the heads in front of me. Where are the women? Did I find my way into a special men’s prayer retreat? Should I be here? And then the priest continued, “When you were dreaming of becoming a priest.”
Then my two sides really tried to hash things out. Should I be here? Yes, you absolutely should be here. Am I being disrespectful by sitting in on something special for priests? You are special to God. What if there’s Eucharist? Do I partake? Should I raise my hand and ask permission? Are you seriously going to ask permission to receive the blood and body of Christ?
Yes, you absolutely should be here.
As so I sat and listened to the rest of this long, beautiful Homily and resisted every temptation to take notes. I was supposed to just “be” here.
Eventually, the priest invited what appeared to be 60 or so priests to take some contemplative time and walk the cathedral and her grounds. See the art, the architecture, the statuary, the grounds and consider what they were drawn to. Consider why and notice how God speaks to them. I felt a gladness in my heart that they should receive this transcendental invitation.
And so I pulled out my Rosary from my fanny pack and began my communion with Mary, at last. When finished, I quietly put my Rosary back in its velvet box, back in my fanny pack, zipped it shut as quietly as possible, kneeled as I exited my pew, and left quietly. I wish I could say I felt peaceful but I felt as though I had something large to digest; my stomach ached and I felt tired.
As I descended the massive stone staircase leading to the cathedral, I saw a few priests walking the grounds. The one whose face I actually noticed, though, belonged to a young man lying on his back on the warm stone with his hands clasped behind his head as though he was enjoying a day at the beach. He was looking heavenward, like a child, smiling.
Yes, you should be here.