“Shall we now begin the Mass.”
The words that I had loved hearing over the last several years now felt like an invitation to the tears that were always a struggle to keep locked in. As our priest listed the intentions of the Mass, I listened intently, keeping my emotions in check and offering a silent prayer of my own for each intention.
Then he voiced the last intention on his list and as I processed his words, the thing I had been desperately trying to avoid happened so quickly I could not stop it. My heart hardened. It felt as though I was literally experiencing a change to the basic nature of my heart. It was turning to stone. Cold and hard.
Nearly six months prior to this particular moment, I gave birth to my second child – a little girl. A beautiful, healthy, perfect, full-term baby. A dead baby.
For reasons unknown to my limited human mind, God had called our sweet baby girl home before I had even had the opportunity to meet her and my life had been forever altered. My faith, being at the very core of my life, had been altered as well. There had never been a moment that I questioned my faith or doubted my belief in God but there had been a fracture in my relationship with Him. I knew that He was there but I could no longer feel His presence. We were no longer united, as we once had been, and regardless of how clearly I understood that it was not He who had moved, but I, I could not seem to realign myself with Him. I repeatedly tried and I repeatedly failed.
Therefore, when the priest spoke aloud the intention for a safe delivery of our newest parishioner, a precious baby girl who would be delivered the following day and that the mother would see the fruit of her labors, my heart hardened. Holding my two-year-old son’s hand, I was acutely aware of the absence of the six-month-old I should have been holding and vividly recalled the “fruit of my labors” as I imagined the tiny white casket that had been in that very church six months prior. It seemed as though my prayers for the safety of my own child and for the fruit of my labors had fallen on the deaf ears of God and it had become nearly impossible for me to pray.
At one time, prayer seemed to happen naturally for me throughout the day, simply rising from my thoughts to heaven and straight into God’s loving hands; but it was now a grand struggle to which I felt as though I accomplished no more than flinging a few disoriented thoughts to the ceiling before they tumbled back down to the floor at my feet and left me feeling completely, overwhelmingly alone.
With a mind full of distraction, I half-listened to the homily and contemplated the next step in my faith. With my hardened heart, I quickly came to the decision that this would be the last Mass I would attend. The longer I considered my decision as the Mass continued in the background of my thoughts, the more satisfaction I felt. What I was seeking in that moment of emotional turmoil was peace, and though I knew the decision I made would never bring me peace, it brought me control and control can be truly satisfying. Control was just what I felt I needed.
As I knelt mindlessly for the consecration, my thoughts still far away, a loud sound suddenly broke through the distraction in my mind. The bells.
A wonderful seminarian had once explained to me that the bells during Mass were telling us, “Jesus is here! Jesus is here!”, as they rang and that familiar proclamation pulled my mind back to the Mass.
My last Mass.
And just as quickly as my heart had hardened, it melted again. Jesus was there! Nothing short of His actual presence – body, blood, soul, and divinity – could have melted the heart that was as hard as mine had been.
Needless to say, that was not my last Mass.