My trip to Texas is a week old now — practically prehistoric, the way life seems to fly past at break-neck speed. But I haven’t yet completed the mining of that treasure. I haven’t, for example, revealed that my very favorite part of the trip was a walk to St. Mary’s church in Downtown San Antonio the Sunday morning of our return.
Going to church while on vacation can take extraordinary effort. Often, attendance depends on others. A traveler must weigh inconvenience to those around him or her, possible schedule conflicts, time constraints, etc., against the benefits. I faced all of these obstacles while in San Antonio, but I was determined, come Sunday, to get to Mass.
There’s something about going to Mass while on vacation that I find profoundly comforting. It’s a lure toward home, really, a draw toward the divine in the midst of unfamiliarity. I’ve experienced it many times before, so when Sunday rolled around last week and I realized we had several hours to kill, I began to envision an imaginary path before me lit up with glowing arrows floating with the words, “Go here. This way to Jesus.” How could I resist?
In all honesty, it would not have been possible if not for the kind concierge at the Tropicano. It was he who took time to find the closest Catholic church to the hotel and the initiative to consult Mapquest for the quickest route. He also checked the weather and warned it could be rainy, but when I awoke Sunday morning, the skies were clear, sun shining.
And so I started off, compelled by a force that is hard for me to explain well in words. So many moments of the conference were exciting, but that morning, I walked with an extra amount of zeal. I knew that despite all of the cool things that had happened in the preceding days, I needed the quiet, the time to just sit, to contemplate not just my career but my life — the soul part of it, the part that matters most in the end.
St. Mary’s sits smack-dab in the middle of the city businesses that align the sidewalks downtown. You’ll find no sprawling parking lot in any direction of the chuch. Instead, you’ll be strolling along looking at other store fronts when suddenly it will appear, looming large and inviting.
And so it was that I found myself there, sitting in a side pew not far from a lit-up statue of Mary holding her dying son. I don’t know if it was that statue, or the wrinkled lady wearing the scarf leaning on a cane in front of me, or the two children with the big brown eyes who walked in with their tatooed daddy, or the beautiful songs that lilted downward from the choir loft, but within a few minutes of my arrival, I began weeping. I began and I couldn’t stop. And the thing is, there wasn’t anything horrifying going on in my life. But as I sat there, it was as if I were Mary holding a dying Jesus, and I could feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wept out every sadness that came at me, quietly, occasionally dabbing my eyes with my travel-size tissues. My emotions were so engulfing, in fact, that I couldn’t sing. Usually, one of my favorite parts of Mass is when I am able to take part in the music, but this time, I was unable to join in for more than a few measures before the feelings would return and take over.
It wasn’t all sadness. There was something in this weeping that was marked with a deep-seated joy and peace. I wasn’t necessarily crying for myself, either, but for others. Gratitude was also a part of it — mainly for my faith, I think. I was very aware in the moment, the week of September 11, that despite feeling the weight of the world as Mary had, I also held the gift of faith in my soul. It is like the filthy gem miner who discovers a diamond. All is dirty in every direction, but that shining diamond sparkles nevertheless.
I practically skipped out of Mass, so happy to have experienced that unusual hour of accepting the weight of the world while also acknowledging the gift of it. And it was only then, and not a moment before, that I knew my trip was complete. I had come with great expectations and I had not been disappointed.
Time with my relatives, sight-seeing and the conference itself provided the box, ribbon and tissue paper of the gift, but the gift was a Sunday-morning visit with God.
In what ways have you experienced the Divine while far away from home?