I am a young mother of two kids under the age of three. Going to Mass used to be a deeply spiritual experience that I looked forward to not only on Sundays, but several times a week. Now I'm happy to find a couple minutes here or there during Mass where I can really pay attention. Before I was a mother, I thought, when I am a stay at home mom, I will make a point of taking my kids to daily Mass. While I did do this until my first born was about 18 months, things started to go down hill for my spiritual highs at Mass. Keeping my rambunctious boy still and quiet was such a challenge that the I spent most of the time in the back of church running after him as he ran from one end of the foyer to the other behind the glass doors of the church. Thankfully I was able to at least listen to what was going on, and I tried to stay tuned in as much as possible, but let’s face it- it not the same. This too will pass, people kept saying to my husband and I. Then we had our second child. As she is starting to walk, we are facing the same struggles- now times two! Keeping them both quiet and somewhat still has become such a chore, that the unthinkable snuck its way into my heart just this last week. I committed the sin of apathy toward the most holy sacrifice of the Mass and I felt terrible about it.
It happened when most of the East coast was missing Mass because they just couldn’t get out of their snowy driveways. We even got a dispensation from our Bishop to stay at home. As I looked out my window that Sunday at the mounds of snow in my driveway, I said to myself, “there’s no way we are going to be able to go to Church today.” Let me just say that the only time I have ever skipped Mass in all my life was when I was about 10 years old and I was camping with my cousins who thought that camping was a good excuse to skip Mass. My parents were appalled when they found out and it never happened again.
So there I was looking out my window at what may be the first time I had ever deliberately skipped Mass, and I was feeling happy about it. GASP! Stop right there, I said to myself. This feeling cannot be happening to me. I love, love, LOVE Mass and I’ve always felt there was nothing worth doing more than participating in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. What has happened to me?! I am a terrible sinner!
Just to ‘prove’ that I was not as bad as my thoughts made me seem, I got outside started shoveling. I spent an hour shoveling about a quarter of the way out of our driveway, and then I went outside later to shovel again. All the way, I was thinking: if there is a will, there is a way, and by golly, I will PROVE there there is a will! (even though I wasn't so sure of it). If my thoughts are far from God, at least my actions aren’t. And I kept shoveling. Somehow I thought I could ‘prove’ to God I really wanted to be there. When I could not shovel any more, I looked at what I had done, and couldn’t believe my progress. We would be able to make it to Mass after all.
At Mass that Sunday, I tried not to think about how much I had wanted to stay at home, but the guilty feelings kept coming back to make me feel worse about myself. I was very grateful I was able to make it to Mass, and the kids ended up being really good. There was a single woman sitting in the pew ahead of us. She had two bags full of devotionals and I could tell, she was one of those uber pious types. I thought, boy, she must be a holy woman and it’s probably because she doesn’t have any kids to distract her! But then as I watched her participate in Mass with almost an over exaggeration, I wandered if she was just like me after all—making up for whatever faults she had by ‘proving’ to God that she was really holy. She probably was very holy, but my point is that we are all sinners- the uber pious, the struggling parents, the infrequent mass goers, - even the saints were sinners. But none of that matters because God meets us wherever we are on our spiritual journey. He greets us on every level with wide-open arms of love and mercy. And our response to God’s love and Mercy is what matters- not how many sins we have committed.
I am also reminded of the time one of my friends who is a very faithful Catholic admitted to me that she wasn't feeling any spiritual highs and finding herself not wanting to pray, go to Mass, etc. She confessed her feelings to a priest friend and he gave her this great analogy of a deer (I can't remember it though!) anyway, it was about how if we keep on going and keep on showing God that we want to love him with our actions, even if our hearts aren't always there, that we will eventually find our way back to him, more captivated than before. I admit, I was a little shocked to hear my friend confess this, but now I see what she means. Just as Jesus says, he came not for the righteous, but for the sinners. No amount of shoveling can get me to heaven. I can never be "worthy" of heaven by something that I do, but continuing on even when I don't feel like it is important. and remembering to sit back and accept God's love and mercy even when I don't deserve it is probably even more important.