On Easter I walked to church through drizzling rain. The bright parade of people, young and old, walked in ever-tightening lines into the church, all wearing their Sunday best, of course. As the minutes prior to the start of the Catholic Mass crept by, standing room inside gave way to standing in the rain.
My father made sure we showed up early because, “Every one shows up on Easter Sunday, even guys who don’t go to church anymore, like you.”
Ouch, but very true. As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t miss the Sunday services that became so routine over a childhood spent in catholic parochial school, as an altar boy, and later as a student at a Jesuit high school. But Easter somehow has a way of quadrupling the eternal Catholic guilt until even a guy like me has to show up.In the pews my family sat squished against eachother. Though we were happy to have a seat, we soon started the ritual standing, sitting and kneeling that accompany the Mass. Squirm, fidget, squirm. Just like old times. After about three nanoseconds of canned response to the prayers (I had memorized most of the service by the fourth grade), my eyes wandered over the crowd.
Three rows up were the cutest little sisters, each cradled in a parent’s arms, making adorable faces at two cute little old ladies in the row behind. One row up was a gentleman who was giving an interesting interpretation on the musical choices for the day. His singing was strong and surprisingly melodious, but he would abruptly stop singing when he forgot the words and start just as abruptly when they came back to him. He also didn’t seem to worry that he wasn’t keeping pace with the rest of us. I found myself hoping that his wife’s hearing aid was shut off. Standing in the aisle next to us was an older fellow with an absolutely stellar suit, a three-piece vested affair with a twist: from the top of his collar to the bottom of his pant cuffs it was navy blue and green plaid. Couldn’t help but think he ordered a kilt and instead got that suit.
The mass droned on enthusiastically, drowning out the creaks and pops of limbs of the poor saps in the back after excessive standing and twitching. Babies did their best to drown out the priest during his sermon, and the altar girls (that’s changed since I was a kid) rang the eucharist bell with reckless abandon.
I looked around at the end of the service and saw a lot of tired people, their shoulders and their fine clothes all seeming to sag. Tired kids were now sound asleep on shoulders, older folks sat back against the pews and young people started looking towards the door. As we filed out you could almost hear the relief.
Outside on the steps of the church, however, it was different. The mood was energized in a way that I must have missed as a young man. There was a level of peace and community that had been injected into the individuals who had squeezed into the beautiful but small box of a church an hour prior. The time we had spent (or endured) together had filled up a spiritual reservoir drained during the work week for so many of the followers.
Celebrating Easter with my family, and the community of faithful, reminded me of the importance of faith, family and ritual in our everyday lives. Whether the community is a Jewish synagogue holding Passover, a Catholic church celebrating Easter or the Grand Mosque in Mecca where a million Muslims drop to their knees in worship, the strength and beauty in these shared rituals shows how much we all strive, together, to reach our ideal selves.
All in all, it was good to be back in church.