A cup of steaming coffee sat on my bedside table this morning, gently coaxing me awake with its steaming tendrils of aroma and warmth, but I couldn’t quite come out of sleep’s fog. My brain knew it needed to swing my feet out from under my covers but my limbs refused to budge and although I knew we wouldn’t make it to our customary mass at the base chapel, I just couldn’t leave the comfort and warmth of my bed.
My husband and I are creatures of habit and although there’s a late mass, we like to attend the early one. We’ve been attending mass within our base community for years now and we have loved it but we’ve also just transferred and so have very few connections yet to the church in our new location. No one would miss us this Sunday. I no longer occupy a place in the choir and very few people know my name.
I got up, justified my truancy by claiming tiredness and sore muscles from moving things from the basement to the third floor yesterday, and slowly went about my day.
But at some point I remembered that today is the Feast of the Holy Family. And, as they do everyday, my thoughts turned to my daughter-in-law, who is about to give birth to our third grandchild.
Enter the Catholic guilt phenomena. Growing up there was no such thing as missing church on Sunday, not unless sickness was going keep you in bed the entire day. It was a doctrine not to be argued with or questioned. And on this day, for these reasons, I needed to be there. Yes, it’s possible to pray at home and yes, a physical building is just a place, but in my heart I know that the act of praying among people makes a difference to me. And I had a very special intention to pray for on this Sunday when we focus on The Holy Family. I had a young woman whom I love very much to pray for….that this baby, this third baby, is born safely and stays in her mother’s arms without spending a week in a NICU like her brothers did.
By this time masses at the base chapel were over but I had heard there was a 5 p.m. mass at a nearby church out in the community. Although it was late in the day my husband grabbed the keys and we headed there.
I had forgotten what it was like to walk into a church built exclusively for Catholic worship. You see, our military chapels are nondenominational and although we do our best to personalize them, they’re a bit sterile. They must be easily converted from religion to religion with curtains that can be drawn to hide statues and crosses that can be taken down and moved. But this church, this church was dominated by a cross of huge proportions and by statues that were three times life size. It was a church filled with families that have worshipped together for generations. I knew none of them but I was enveloped, much the same way those tendrils of steaming coffee had enveloped me earlier in the morning.
The pianist and singer, one and the same, was an extremely talented young woman who added a dimension of holiness to the service that’s hard to describe. Her voice had the ability to transport. From the very first notes she played I knew that although I had originally been motivated by guilt, I was now there because my heart and soul needed to have me sitting in that pew, in that particular church.
I’ve been missing the lights of Christmas this year. We’re in a new town and have been preoccupied with unpacking and other things and haven’t sought them out but tonight, after that beautiful service, this is what we found as we drove home, just down the street from the church. I was mesmerized and enchanted.
This was my “god wink” this evening. Something tells me we may have found our new church.