Thursday, March 14, 2013

What I Learned From the Catholics: Peace

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.  To see the others, click on the "What I Learned" label. 

(No, Elizabeth Esther, this is not the "How I Came Back Home to Catholicism" post you were hoping for).

There is a part of every Catholic mass I have ever been to in which the priest tells people to offer each other the sign of peace, and we shake hands, and say to each other "peace be with you".  I remember when I was a child, I always liked when nobody was sitting at the middle aisle end of "our" pew, so that I could scoot over and shake Father Butler's hand as he walked down, offering peace.

Today, a new pope was chosen, and I had a conversation with Elizabeth Esther about all these unknown Catholics coming out of the woodwork and mentioned my own baptism and confirmation, and commented that when I'd regularly attended Catholic mass at the last college where I worked, it was often the most peaceful time of my week.

While the room in which we met was used for other events, such as our weekly morning chapel services, the weekly nightly praise and worship service, music recitals, and at times campus-wide meetings, on those Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m., it was different.

It was quiet.

It was dark, yet with a soft glow from the lights.

Although it was always dark in this recital hall, at night, during mass, it seemed to fit better than during the day.

It was always a small gathering, maybe 10-15 people total, but there was a camaraderie and welcoming spirit.  Some were Catholics since birth, others were converts to Catholicism.  Some were not Catholic at all.  Some were young college freshmen, others were professors nearing retirement.  We would talk quietly a little, before mass began, and then I would sink back into my seat and recite the words, that though long-forgotten, would always come to my mind and lips, as they were tucked away in the recesses of my brain from years of saying them week after week as I was growing up.

Each time I went to mass, I didn't have to think.  I didn't have to be in charge (as I was for chapel services).  I could just relax.  And be.

It helped, I am sure, that mass was on Thursday nights and I didn't work on Fridays, and so for me, it was a way to end the week and start the weekend, a way of grasping a moment in time that didn't belong to either my work life or my family life.  It was a time of solitude, silence, peace.

While I love my current church, most (all?) Protestant churches are oriented towards developing relationships with each other through socializing before and after church and through programs.  While this can be a great thing, what is often lacking is private time alone to focus on God.  My church has a small room that is set aside as a "prayer closet", and the other night, I spent almost an hour in there, doing my final day of meditation for my "Celebration of Discipline" experiment.  Just as Catholic mass brings me peace, so did this.  We all need time alone, in solitude, to focus on God, yet we often do not make time for that.

We fight about theology so much and so often, that we forget that we can actually take some very good things from denominations different than our own, and peace is what I personally get most out of Catholic mass.

How about you?  What brings you peace?  Have you ever found it in an unexpected place?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. --John 14:27

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