“You are supposed to pay attention in Mass!” Allie admonishes me. At eight years old, she is very aware of “the rules.” As an active child who would always rather be outside playing than inside doing anything else, she has heard this from me many times.
I was sharing with Allie the highlights of my little adventure. My husband and I spent the weekend out of town at a bed and breakfast that backed up to a nature preserve. It was a wonderful chance to slow down the fast-paced and always busy life that we lead. During our trip we participated with researchers capturing, assessing, banding and releasing hummingbirds. We ate homemade pie, enjoyed perfect weather, hiked in beautiful forest surroundings. I was even able to enjoy sitting on the balcony, wrapped in a blanket (always a treat when you live in the desert) with my coffee and a good book to read. Ahhhhh. What a weekend!
But the highlight for me was Mass. On Sunday morning we sat at breakfast with the other guests making polite conversation. Many were discussing their plans for the day, most of which included hiking, bird watching or some other activity that took advantage of this beautiful place. A group of women, who met in nursing school and now live in different parts of the country, were visiting each other here at this B&B. One of them turned to me and asked, “What are you guys going to do today?”
“I am going to Mass this morning”, I said. Truth be told, I too loved the area and wanted to spend as much time enjoying it as possible. It would have been much easier to make an excuse that we are out of town, that there is such limited time here, that the other couple traveling with us isn’t going, so we should not abandon them while we go to Mass. There were lots of possibilities for talking myself into not going. But my mother taught me that rarely is the easy thing to do the best or the right thing to do.
The truth of it is that I could not imagine being amongst such beauty and not stopping to thank God for all of creation, a creation entrusted to us. And I need my communion with the Lord. Seriously, I need it. It transforms me.
The nearest city to us was Sierra Vista, a small town of 43,000 in the southeastern desert of Arizona. Sierra Vista is Spanish for mountain range view and the city sits at the base of the Huachuca Mountains. The city was founded in 1901 and the first business to open was a saloon and a house of ill repute. It’s an 8 minute drive to church in Sierra Vista, and the terrain changes from forest back to desert as we drive out of the canyon. Finally we arrive at Our Lady of the Mountains, a beautiful little Spanish architected church.
I was not prepared for what we found as we entered. Oh, it was a normal Catholic church. Pews, kneelers, statues, greeters saying “Good Morning”, the baptism font at the entrance, statues of our Christian heroes. But the altar… no not the altar, behind the altar. It took my breath away.
Behind the altar, the wall had been replaced by a large, wall-sized picture window that framed the Huachuca Mountains. A small garden and statue was placed in the yard directly outside. The crucifix behind the altar was absolutely stunning, as it too was made of glass, revealing the beauty outside. I walked up to the front (my husband has said he is surprised I don’t try to sit at the altar) and found a seat in the second row.
And Mass began.
Butterflies danced. Birds soared. The plants swayed in the gentle breeze. Colorful dragonflies and hummingbirds flitted amongst the flowers. The seemingly motionless clouds hung heavy in the blue sky and I noticed they subtly changed to a condensation-filled gray.
I was overcome with emotion. The beauty unfolding gloriously in front of me as we worshiped and sang praise to our Lord was stunning. It was as if all of creation was worshiping alongside those of us in Mass.
Beauty is a gift from God. In worshiping God, I admire the beautiful churches, the beautiful art and music made to give glory and Honor to our Creator. But here in this place, man could not outdo the beauty that the Lord himself has made. And rather than put up a wall, they built a window. And I am so grateful.
As we turn to offer each other the sign of Peace, I find our nurses sitting behind me in Mass. We smile knowingly to each other, excited for this beautiful and unexpected grace given to us today in Mass.
Too soon the weekend is over. Driving home I am struck by the thought that in this sleepy little desert town, founded on ill-repute, God is doing amazing things. How great is our God!
When Allie asks me what we did this weekend, I excitedly tell her that I went to Mass in a beautiful church with a window behind the altar where I could see the mountains and nature during Mass. “Butterflies danced,” I tell her. “Birds soared. The plants swayed in the gentle breeze. Colorful dragonflies and hummingbirds flitted amongst the flowers. The seemingly motionless clouds hung heavy in the blue sky and I noticed they subtly changed to a condensation-filled gray. “
“You are supposed to pay attention in Mass!” she admonishes me. “Not be distracted!”
“Yes baby,” I answer. “I was distracted, but I was distracted toward God, not away from God.
How about you? Have you ever been distracted toward God during Mass? I would love to hear about it! Share your story in the comments.