Sometimes it's the lyrics of a particularly moving hymn that make me cry, or the stirring music combined with the unequaled beauty of a Catholic church's interior. Sometimes it's just that in those particular surroundings, I feel closer to God, and that nearness hits me just so and goes right to my core--to my very soul. And I am left feeling vulnerable and unworthy of His love, and yet profoundly loved by Him.
I've talked before about how seeing my sons dressed in tuxes, standing on the altar in the role of groomsmen at one another's weddings, reduces me to tears. But even when there isn't something particularly noteworthy going on, such as the singularly wonderful experience of witnessing one of my boys exchanging vows with his soul mate, I can be moved just by the sight of any or all of my sons. Anywhere, anytime. And looking at them in church, during the Mass--watch out! There will be tears, and hankies, and nose-blowing. It's almost guaranteed.
This past Sunday, my husband and I went to the 11:00 a.m. Mass with our baby, who is finally home for a few weeks after spending most of the summer off doing Army stuff. (He's an Army ROTC cadet, about to begin his senior year at the University of Notre Dame.) After we got seated, he was asked to help out with the collection when the time came.
So I happened to look at him, as he strode to the front of the church carrying the long-handled basket, dressed nicely in khakis and a blue and white-striped button-down shirt, and looking very much like a grown man on the verge of flying away from the nest for good (like his brothers have already done). He was still sporting his short, Army-regulation haircut, and his normally pale Irish skin was tanner than usual, after weeks spent training outdoors at Fort Knox. He's a tall, broad-shouldered lad, and he carries himself like an officer and a gentleman, with his shoulders back and his head held high. "So handsome!" I thought (without a speck of bias, of course). "And how did he ever get so old?"
Just looking at this vision of calm, responsible, Faith-filled manhood, I started to choke up and my eyes got watery. My mini-pack of Kleenex came out of my purse. But then it got worse.
I started to think about how this boy of ours had lived his whole life in this town, and how before too long, he would be living who-knows-where. How he'd signed on to be an altar server when he was about nine, and then had served every single 9:00 a.m. Sunday Mass at this church, from 8th grade through his high school years (unless we were out of town), taking his role as head altar server very seriously. How he often used to ask us on Friday nights if we could give him a ride to church the next day, so that he could go to Confession. People were always asking him--and us--if he was considering becoming a priest. He isn't; but the strength of his faith has been an inspiration to his father and me, ever since he was just a little guy.
So many thoughts converged in my brain at once, so many emotions: the way the years have flown since he was a dinosaur-obsessed little boy; the humbleness I feel because God chose me to be his mother; the gratefulness I feel for having been blessed with not just one exceptional son, but five; the sadness I'll feel when he no longer has college breaks and summer vacations, and he can only get back home when work allows; the realization of the huge privilege, but also the huge and sometimes terrifying responsibility, of raising the five souls that God entrusted to our care; the fear I feel when I remember that because they are human, they will die someday--but the hope that when they do, they will go straight back to their Father in Heaven and become saints; and finally, just the enormity of it all--of motherhood, of human love, of God's unfathomable love for each and every soul He has created...
It was truly all I could do to keep my shoulders from shaking, and from literally "boo-hoo"-ing, right then and there. And all that emotion was caused by simply sitting in a pew, watching my youngest son pass the collection basket at Sunday Mass.
God is everywhere, I know that; but when the Body and Blood of Our Lord are right nearby, He feels closer than ever. And boy, I sure felt Him all around me this past Sunday. I pray that I continue to feel His loving presence during the coming year, as my baby gets ready to spread those wings of his and fly.