Every once in a while--in fact, more often that I would like--I end up tearing up in Mass.
I hate that.
One of the hallmarks of life in my family-of-birth was stoicism, sometimes to extreme. I remember my father, whose arthritis was so bad he had no hip joints left at all, hauling bales of hay and cords of wood in the damp, miserable cold of a North Carolina mountain winter with never a whisper of complaint. And I saw him cry exactly one in my life, and that at my wedding. I realize, at least intellectually, that that kind of emotional control is not such a good thing, but it’s the fabric of my raising. Unbidden tears are not my cup of tea. My husband and kids would point out that in my case, it's also an illusion, but it's a fantasy I happen to cherish.
That fantasy, as one of my friends points out, is exactly why God chooses to touch me in that way.
After all, why should I not be overwhelmed at Mass, at what is happening and what it means? It would appear that I am in good company. It is said that St. Thomas Aquinas once broke down in tears as he celebrated mass, unable to continue, because the full import of what he was doing suddenly struck him. St. John Vianney regularly wept as he celebrated. Even us laymen are prone to outbreaks of tears--Steve Ray points out (with quavering voice) that he’s become a real crybaby since becoming Catholic. One of the catechumens last year wept joyfully as she received Christ in the Eucharist for the first time.
It seems I am in good company. It also seems that God may be trying to tell me something beyond the touching of my heart in the midst of Mass.
After all, I am a modern woman, used to controlling my life, and a product of western intellectualism, used to explaining and rationalizing everything. The default drive of my religious thinking is just that--thinking. Looking at ways to act and things to do to bring myself closer to God my Father. It’s not a bad approach, really, it’s just not the only one. It isn’t even the main one.
Paul doesn’t talk about uncircumcised minds, after all. He talks about uncircumcised hearts--not only the place of feeling but the place of being. God knows, even if I don’t always, that the seat of change must be in that carefully cordoned off place where I clutch at the straws of control. He knows that until I am moved out of the most private part of myself, I can’t really let Him in.
So tears it is because, that’s the mark of joyous reunion built into the very DNA of humankind. There’s a video of a fourth grade girl whose father arrives unexpectedly from Iraq making the cyber-rounds. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMJDdqOHVe4). She’s looking expectantly at toward the door where a “visitor” is supposed to arrive. As her dad walks in her eyes widen, and she instinctively touches her heart. Then her face crumples in tears, and she ends up, crying (silently) in her father’s arms. As the video closes it looks like they’ll never let go of each other.
Listen carefully, though and you hear her dad say “Where’s my daughter?” just as she begins to realize who is there. Then “Come here,” as she starts to make her way to him, already crying.
It’s an image worth remembering, words worth keeping in mind. In the Mass, God is asking me “Where’s my daughter?” and inviting me into His arms. Not a bad reason for tears, I suppose--though I still ask, please God, let’s not make a habit of such displays....
On the other hand, a friend brought me back a lovely Irish linen handkerchief that sits on the table in the family oratory. Perhaps it’s time I brought it along to church.
Just in case....