I’ve missed Mass more times in the last year and a half then I have the entire 30 years that I’ve been Catholic. I went to Mass when I was tired, sick, depressed, and when I had a little kid who wouldn’t sit still or always had to urgently go to the bathroom during the epiclesis. I LOVED Mass, even when I would have rather slept in then to get out of bed. But I did because it was important to me because I loved God, I wanted to go be with Him. And I wanted to fix my hair, prettify myself with some make-up and put on pretty clothes to honor God in some little way by my the care I took for His sake. Since my head injury I’ve occasionally resorted to attending Mass undercover and surprisingly, no one laughed or pointed at me.
So it’s been a pretty wacky year and a half for me to miss so much Mass. All because of my head injury with the resultant post-concussion syndrome/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. It’s taken earplugs that often don’t block enough of the volume coming from the speakers, and nowhere to sit to avoid them. Lights are bright and can hurt by eyes. Every sound and movement around me is a painful distraction that I can’t ignore. Sometimes it’s felt like a stick being poked into my brain and that I’m going to cry. Or make a rude comment.
Now I understand the old ladies who give dirty looks to loud children acting up in Mass. I’ve had moments when the sound is so sudden I can’t help but turn my head, and I’m afraid some glances I’ve given may have lacked charity. And when a crying child isn’t removed from the sanctuary, I nearly have to leave myself. It takes such willpower to sit still, ignore or pray for the child, and withhold dirty looks and critical judgements.
Undercover to Avoid Overload
Anxiety, fatigue, pain and neurological overload makes me want to stay home on a bad day. Add in the fact that I’d been too tired to wash my hair for way too many days and I was embarrassed to go. I texted my friend to ask if I could go to Mass with a baseball cap and sunglasses, cause I was ready to stay home. But no, she texted back and told me that God would rather have me show up at Mass in baseball cap and sunglasses than stay home and not get the graces. So…I went begrudgingly.
This was me pasting on a fake smile and taking a selfie with Our Lady to prove I had pushed through the obstacles, made it to Mass, and sat through the entire time, thanks to the earplugs, sunglasses, and even the hat that kept down the glare. I’m not proud of it. It’s humbling and embarrassing, but it’s been my reality.
No Where to Hide
I seriously went like this into Mass and then realized there were no dark corners in this Church, it’s always all lit up and people are super-friendly. Yikes! I didn’t want to be noticed or have to pretend to be normal to interact more than the minimum. So I sat in the far back and with sunglasses so people wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes, my earplugs so the music wouldn’t feel like sticks poking into my brain, and then cap to hide my dirty hair. And the added bonus of anonymity. This was one of my worst days. My daughter was with her dad, so it would have been easy for me to stay home without her being deprived of Mass.
Confession Anxiety, but Not from the Sin Part
Once we drove to over for confession. It had been a couple of months and it was past time for me and my daughter to go. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot and I saw the many cars arriving and so many people already filling up the Church for the soon-to-follow Mass, we had to ditch.
I couldn’t face the crowd. The thought of it made me feel like I couldn’t breath. The thought of going inside overwhelmed my and I felt like I would start crying. So I apologized to me daughter, looped around out of the parking lot, and went to bed in my dark quiet room.
Thank You, Lord for Earplug-Free Days
It’s exciting that I’m able to listen to music while I’m driving. It’s exciting to participate in Mass without earplugs and sitting where I can make a quick exit if the earplugs don’t block enough sound. There are still times and places that overwhelm me and I have to leave or ask if there’s a quiet room to wait in. I still carry earplugs “just in case.”
What I’ve learned is that I took for granted so many things that are pure gift from God. There are others like me and worse. Others who can’t enjoy beautiful music, or listen to the sound of the waves. Being able to appreciate the variety of sounds God created is a gift from Him. We need to be grateful to God and thank him for these “little things.” When we lose something, it is a joy to find it again. It’s a reminder that God has showered us with gifts. It’s nice to appreciate these gifts, to thank him, to praise the beauty of the gifts.
So, whatever it takes to get to Mass – sunglasses, earplugs, a cane, arriving late or leaving early – God understands that at some points that is the “all” of what we can offer him. It is our praise and our glorifying him in those small sacrifices which at moments require huge courage.
God is good. He is mercy. Even if we have to go to Mass “undercover.”