Meeting at Mass

I can count on Elsie to be in the fifth pew, toward the aisle. Her white hair and purple pea coat are just as much a fixture at St. Pat’s as the gold Celtic cross. And though she is frail, her smile is bright.

In the front pew to the far right, the handsome couple is watching their daughter serve at the altar. Her red curls as a toddler have softened into a wavy strawberry blond. In a white robe, she is the picture of grace.

The middle-aged mom lectors despite her raspy, damaged voice. She could have chosen another role, but she wants to proclaim the word of God.

There is the blond widower who sings in the choir, who, some Sundays, even claps.

The kid a few pews behind me shouts out every song, blissfully unaware of his volume, boyishly confident.

Our state representative, who fields calls and letters from constituents all week, comes on Sunday to absorb their silent prayers.

A TV meteorologist, who gets it right and sometimes wrong, bows his head in deference to the incalculable Creator.

There is Paul, whose mental disability hasn’t impeded his rhythm, bursting with pride to play the drums.

The teen who became a mom brings her toddler every Sunday. The grandparents sit with them, enraptured by the unplanned blessing.

And in the last pew, the older parents bring raw grief for their son, killed in a snowmobiling accident. The dad can’t bear to make eye contact when I tell him, “Peace be with you.” I repeat the prayer in my head as he tearfully hugs his wife.

Inside our church walls, it is all there — the circle of life, overlapping and intersecting: infertility and pregnancy, funeral and baptism, tragedy and triumph.

They keep coming. In spite of it all. Because of it all.

I don’t take that lightly.

More than ever, these flesh-and-blood communities mean something, especially to us young adults, so inclined to turn inward and live our lives online. We can blog and tweet, post and poke, but there is nothing like showing up.

Messages in an inbox, comments on a blog, visitors to a website — they are nothing like bodies in a pew.

Our presence carries immeasurable information: heads bowed in prayer; voices thrown in song; wallets, opened; hands, held. You never know who may be inspired by the simple fact that you showed up. You never know what private gesture will take on new meaning in that public space.

In his last encyclical, Pope John Paul II reflected on the “unifying power of participation in the banquet of the Eucharist,” which counters the “seeds of disunity,” fostering community and building up the church.

Our celebration of the Sabbath, our coming together, is at “the very core of the Christian mystery,” he wrote.

That’s why I keep going: I want to kneel in the core of that mystery.

I decided to make my commitment official, so I finally registered at my parish — as an adult member, not just the daughter of members. Pam, the administrative assistant, sent me a lovely welcoming letter.

“We tend to forget our oneness and our need for one another,” she wrote. “Yet our heritage is founded on the fact that God calls us to work together in establishing His Kingdom.”

It’s an honor being part of that mission, sitting among these people who restore and renew each other in untold ways.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at christina@readchristina.com

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