On Paradox and Yearning
by Ashley Hemingway
It’s been nearly 7 weeks since the last public Mass in our diocese (St. Augustine), and in most of the rest of the United States. Since then, we’ve seen the Church stretched and challenged to find temporary ways to meet the needs of a flock in crisis. I’ve seen neighborhood Eucharistic processions, socially-distanced confessions and drive-by adoration. I’ve also seen countless priests, some (by their own admission) light-years outside of their comfort zones, jumping into the world of social media ministry and live-streamed Masses. And I’m so incredibly grateful to them for allowing us the chance to be connected, even just through our screens, to our parish homes.
But I have a confession to make: I am not very good at TV Mass. I cry each time. I do my best to “enter in” — I’ve tried to be dressed in church clothes, sit in chairs rather than on the couch, stand, sit and kneel as appropriate, and etc. I’ve read all the mommy blogs about TV Mass with a toddler (some kids are painting pretend stained glass windows to make the space seem more prayerful. Mine is running around in a diaper asking why we aren’t watching Moana. Comparison really is the thief of joy!). I’ve tried to take this opportunity to check out Mass in gorgeous cathedrals — I just miss my own sweet humble parish all the more. To others, it’s a time of great consolation and prayer in the midst of all this chaos, and I love that about it so much. Heck, I work for the Church and spend not a small amount of time these days brainstorming ways to be more accessible to the people. So, I feel like a bit of a failure when I try to enter into one of those ways, and to me it just feels empty.
And perhaps it should feel a bit empty. The Lord, in all His wisdom, made us body and soul, and our bodies are how we interact with the visible world. We are a bodily people, and our faith reflects that — it’s why Jesus became flesh at the Incarnation, gives us Himself in the Eucharist, says we must eat of His body and drink of His blood. Sacraments are conduits of grace to our physical bodies, so, of course we miss them when they’re not accessible. We know that Jesus is with us in the Eucharist body, blood, soul and divinity, and we long for Him, yearn for Him, pine for Him when we are far away, as a spouse longs for their beloved. We know that something is missing, and it feels like a piece of ourselves.
I think perhaps therein lies the grace in TV Mass — not in trying to make it “feel the same,” because it shouldn’t, but in leaning into the yearning, with its heartbreak and loneliness. Purification of desires is a good thing. So, I feel the remorse of the times I’ve taken Jesus for granted before, shifting in the pew thinking about how my dress is uncomfortable or it’s too warm in here or I don’t like the hymns today. I make an act of spiritual communion that isn’t dry or formal, but is a scream, a cry, a wail. I acknowledge and I speak the rawness that I feel, as best as I can. Lord, I stand before You with my fists clenched so tightly around my comforts that I’m afraid I won’t be able to open them long enough to receive Your grace. I’ve never realized how much I needed you before this moment. I know I asked for purification, for holiness, but I didn’t know it would look like this. So please, whatever it is You’re doing, just hold my hand through it now.
The apostles have been my constant companions through this crisis, gently reorienting me away from the headlines and back into the Gospels each time I go astray. I think about them in the three days between Jesus’s crucifixion and His resurrection — it must have felt like an eternity to them. Not only did they have their whole world pulled out from under their feet — plans upended, community scattered, futures uncertain — but they were very used to being with the real, reassuring, physical presence of Jesus, and they must have missed him terribly. I used to read through the Gospels and think to myself they had all these hints. Jesus had been telling them, teaching them, preparing them for this moment. And they still don’t see! Tsk, tsk. And now here I am. I’ve known Jesus’s promises for a long time. I know earthly comfort isn’t one of them. I know Heaven is the prize. I know Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as our advocate and guide. But I just miss Him terribly. In my “Holy Saturday” moment, I know more than the apostles did in theirs about Resurrection and Heaven and Hope. But I still don’t see. Tsk, tsk.
And yet — Jesus gave them grace. Made Peter, awash in his denials, the head of the Church. Allowed Thomas, filled with hesitancy, to feel His wounds. Taught John so well the meaning of His suffering that when he saw the cross he called it glory. He will give me grace too, in this moment of trial, if I just ask for it; take my tiny, trembling fiat (it’s more “ok fine,” than “fiat” right now, if I’m being honest) and magnify it; meet me where I am if I cannot go to Him. Saints are made in times like these, not because of their circumstances, but because of their choices. So in the absence of all that we’re used to, let us choose to lean into yearning, and beg the Lord to use it to make us holy.