It was shortly after 6 o’clock on Sunday evening. I was walking home along 34th Street and suddenly I realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. My mind was on repeat: thank you…thank you…thank you. Gratitude in every breath and every tear.
I had just emerged from St. Francis of Assisi parish in midtown Manhattan where I had attended the evening Mass. Something inside me that had been dormant for a long time was coming back to life. Infused with the vibrancy of the celebration, I was also weak with gratefulness. For the second time in two weeks, I felt connected to God through the Mass again.
Feeling a sense of dryness at Mass isn’t usually something Catholics admit to. Boredom, yes, but not dryness. And especially not those who are discerning a vocation to religious life. But I will admit here and now that I have been experiencing dryness, and at times even despair, at Mass for the past few years. It has been more painful that I can describe. When I moved to Toronto to become a candidate with the IBVM, I left behind an active life in parish ministry where I had felt such a strong sense of connection and satisfaction. I had been involved in nearly everything at the parish at one time or another and I had loved the liturgies, the community, and going to Mass.
Adapting to celebrating Mass in a much smaller community, and in much more quiet way, has been hard. My love for the community has always lured me to Mass with them but I haven’t often felt that same sense of joy from our celebrations. And when I went to the Philippines, the dryness often turned to despair. The church culture was different, I frequently couldn’t understand the homilies because they were in Taglish (a confusing mixture of English and Tagalog), and I struggled to concentrate in the heat (a recurring theme of my experience there) and in the early morning hour that we went to Mass.
Not only did I grieve for the long-departed feeling of loving going to Mass, I actually began to dread going. The dread turned into disconnection. In the end, I went out of obedience, not out of love for the Mass. I just went through the motions.
When I returned to Toronto and moved to Loretto College, I prayed that things would change. I began going to Mass at the neighbouring parish and forced myself to pay attention during the homilies. It sort of worked. I began to feel a fondness, at least, for the parish, but I still didn’t feel much of a desire to go to Mass.
Now I am in New York, I am a stranger in this city, and for no reason at all, I have been to Mass in two different parishes and felt so loved, connected, and energized. I first went to Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola parish, wanting to check out what the Jesuits were up to. The moment I walked into the parish I felt something. I could feel the spirit of the community. I was there for the Family Mass and I watched as families entered the church, the kids clutching bike helmets (a few even carrying lacrosse sticks), people greeting each other and laughing. Then the Mass began. The music was lively and reverent and so beautiful. The presider knew his congregation and engaged with them (and was also hilarious). I felt part of the parish and I didn’t even know anyone. After the Mass ended, I texted friends to tell them all about the experience.
The same thing happened this past Sunday. I walked into St. Francis of Assisi parish and immediately felt at home. The church was packed. People were chatting and greeting one another. The person I sat next to welcomed me. I was drawn in to the Mass through the music, the readings, the homily, and the people. In the Eucharist, I found my best friend waiting to greet me, the Good Shepherd who has been out looking for his sheep.
I came to New York for one reason: an internship at our UN NGO. It has truly been a gift and yet I am discovering that God is giving me so many other gifts while I am here.