We’d just returned from our annual week on Cape Cod – a noisy week of belly laughs and lazy afternoons floating in mid-tide as the flats stretch out to where they fade into the horizon. There were family tennis competitions and late evening board games and, of course, emergency trips for ice cream.
Just as our vacation began, however, a stomach bug kept me home from Sunday Mass. The rest of the family headed out without me, returning with doughnuts that I couldn’t eat. Fortunately I recuperated in time to enjoy the rest of vacation, but by the following weekend when we returned to Connecticut, nearly two weeks had elapsed since I’d received the Eucharist. I was starving for it, longing for it, aching for it.
You probably think I’m going to tell you that it was glorious when I finally made it to Mass that Sunday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t glorious at all.
My skirt was uncomfortable. My bug bites itched. I was distracted, looking all around as my mind bounced off the walls and ceiling and floor – anywhere except the altar where Jesus was making himself present to me. So much for a glorious reunion.
A few days later I attended weekday Mass, and again I was distracted and sleepy and inattentive. The Sunday after that, I paid more attention to the new altar servers, who wandered around cluelessly, than I paid to the homily and prayers.
What was wrong? Why didn’t I feel close to God the way I had in the past? Whatever the problem was, I was sure it was my fault. It’s not as if God had moved.
I’m still not sure if I did anything wrong but I know I did one thing right: I did not give up. I kept going to Mass on Sundays with my family, and I kept dragging myself to weekday Mass whenever possible. I also continued my practice of spending one evening a week in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Even if I couldn’t pay attention, I could still show up. Some days that was all I had to offer to God.
It was a hard time. It seemed like God was a million miles away and I had no idea how to reach him. Fortunately, he knew how to reach me. It happened on a random morning when I filled in as a substitute lector at Mass. The readings were about the Eucharist (why does that not surprise me?). There was nothing different in how I prepared myself that day and yet the words jumped off the page. The homily seemed to be written just for me, with personal touches that no one but God could have known. I couldn’t take my eyes off the altar during the consecration, couldn’t tear my heart away from prayer after Communion. It was electric. I didn’t want to leave.
And so I knelt there, so close to the tabernacle that I could almost touch it, as my heart overflowed with joy. I know God had been with me all along, but there are times when knowledge alone isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to feel his touch.
Maybe it’s like being in love – sometimes you feel it intensely with fireworks and heart palpitations, and other times there is a benign dullness to the daily routine.
I guess that’s how it is with God. We cling to the sure knowledge of God’s love, even when he seems far away. We also enjoy those special times when we feel enveloped by his tender embrace. Theoretically, our faith doesn’t depend on feelings, but the truth is that we’re made of flesh and blood so it’s not enough to just grit our teeth and go to Mass. I’m sure God understands.
And so I plod along, sometimes feeling God’s tender warmth and sometimes not feeling anything at all. But I continue to show up, even when it’s the only thing I have to offer.