Recently, I've been ever more aware how close someone can be to coming into the fullness of the faith or to leaving the Church. I've come to understand how frail the human heart is and how our mission here on earth is to love without reservation, while being very careful in our speech and actions. We are called to grow in sensitivity, not to grow a thicker skin. Today, I am blessed to share this space with Leslie McCaddon, who gives us all something to ponder before we go to Mass this weekend. Leslie will continue to share her sweet heart with us at her new blog, A Whole Hearted Catholic. Do go visit her there. Be blessed!
Almost as soon as I converted to Catholicism the devil went to work to keep me away from the Eucharist. I wasn’t really tempted to break any commandment, except for the first one. For the first year I was officially Catholic, I was literally paralyzed with fear to go to Mass.
It started with becoming conscious of the older woman sitting behind me sighing loudly because my baby’s happy noises were disturbing her. Then, there was the time a couple shook their heads and literally rolled their eyes because on my way back from receiving the Eucharist I missed our pew and had to back-track. Again, loud sighs. I started to worry about everything from my worthiness to ever receive the Eucharist to what to wear on Sunday morning. As a mother of two young children at the time (and one more on the way) I often found myself in tears when I realized we didn’t have “church shoes” that fit or that my only dress that fit over my newly showing pregnant body was rather wrinkled and we needed to leave for Mass 5 minutes ago.
The devil used my weaknesses. He knew that I was self-conscious about my disorganization and ADHD. He knew I wanted desperately to “fit in” and made sure I was acutely aware of every way that I didn’t. And, I was practically holding the door wide open for him.
I remember trying to express my fears and frustrations to a devoutly Catholic friend. She was concerned. How could I let anything keep me away from Jesus? “Just come to Mass!” she insisted. She was compassionate, but she couldn’t understand my anxiety. We were speaking in two different languages—I wanted her to tell me how to be the sort of person who had our “Sunday best” laying out the night before and she kept answering with “The Eucharist”. Sure, yes, “I know” I would say. But, I didn’t know how much I was misunderstanding. Not just her, but everything.
“You have forgotten” the visiting priest said to me during my first teary confession—a full year since coming into the Church. “You have forgotten that He loves you. God loves you. Very much”. His Kenyan accent and warmth washed over me like warm honey and the first cracks of light started to break into my confused and frightened heart. I don’t remember everything the priest said in that confessional, but I know I walked out knowing I had been missing so much. I had been missing the heart of my new found faith. And now that I was beginning to feel it again, I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. Adoration was going on in the chapel next door. Up until that evening, I had never really understood this devotion—yes, I knew that was Jesus, but it still seemed “odd” for a bunch of people to be kneeling down in front of a circle of “bread”. That night was different. I was a changed person coming out of that confessional and when I walked into the chapel I felt filled with light. I felt literally knocked to my knees by the love filling the room and I knelt down, my whole body and heart, to adore the source of such powerful love.
Over the next few months I came to understand a little more just how much God desires my family to share in the Lamb’s Supper each week. He bids us, begs us, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
I was comforted by our Lord’s encouragement to “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
When the temptation presents itself to put off participating in the Mass until I do the laundry or go shopping (and have rested and cooperative children) I am blessed with the vision of Jesus teaching on a hilltop—men, women and children coming and going at different times. I see wealthy people and peasants, those dressed in gold and those wearing little more than a potato sack. Jesus just continues to teach. He doesn’t notice what people are wearing or who arrives late or comes early—though I am sure he knows and he knows all the reasons they do these things as well. He just continues to teach and offer himself to everyone who has answered his call to come and listen. For some, answering that call includes long journeys (both literal and figurative). For others it is as natural as waking up each morning. He calls us all. Right where we are. And he loves us.
I am still a work in progress and I pray many times a day to be more organized and productive—to fulfill my vocation as wife and mother in the way in which He desires. I still desire to have reverently clothed children sitting quietly in their pews on Sunday morning, though I feel eons away from that reality. I know I am on a long journey towards perfection and I now understand more fully that I am never meant to make that journey alone. God gave us his Son. He gives Him to us at each Mass in the Eucharist. He gives us His Church. He gives us one another to love and encourage each other along our individual paths toward Heaven. He does not want us to be afraid. Nor does he want us to make others fear they are not good enough to come to him. He calls us all.
When I hear a mother fretting over bringing her young child to Mass, or having the right clothes to wear or knowing the right times to kneel and stand I feel so much love and compassion for her. Still, the best encouragement I received is the only encouragement I know to give. “Just come”, I say to her. We are all coming together to adore and receive Love itself. God’s light is too blinding to even notice our neighbor’s noise and clothes. We are all so blessed they closed their hearts to the evil-one’s temptation to stay away, and instead answered our Lord’s call to come.
"Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you - for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart...don't listen to the demon, laugh at him, and go without fear to receive the Jesus of peace and love..." - St. Therese the Little Flower