“Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord.” - Dn. 13:23
A few months ago I felt like an unwelcome intruder at Mass for the first time. With an aisle seat staked out, we settled in for our usual Mass routine of keeping a toddler entertained, yet relatively quiet. Sometime during the readings a woman sat next to us and immediately became bothered by our son. Even though she had chosen to sit next to us, she leaned over and asked us to leave twice.
Although I knew he had every right to be there, I could no longer take her glares and rude comments. I spent the second half of Mass in the alcove by the men’s bathroom. I was five months pregnant (and holding a thirty pound toddler) with tears streaming down my face as she sat in her now spacious pew in peace and quiet.
My instinct was to leave: to say, maybe she is right and we do not belong here. Then I looked out and saw a mom with three of her five grown children. I remembered when her five kids were young (including a set of triplet boys). I doubt these twenty-somethings would be showing up to Mass with their mom on a random Sunday if she had not spent years doing exactly what we were struggling to do. As I seethed in anger and hurt, I knew that other woman was wrong.
In today’s reading from Daniel, Susanna is faced with an impossible scenario. Two elders blackmail her and ultimately Susanna decides she would rather do what is right before God even if it means she will die. She is spared when Daniel is moved to say something in her defense that causes the elders to be questioned more thoroughly. For Susanna, the most important test was who she was before God.
When we went back to our pew to receive Communion and get our things, the women who had been sitting behind us and witnessed the whole exchange leaned forward and patted me on the back. They reassured me that I was doing the right thing and not to worry.
There was no great act of injustice that Sunday, but I felt a sense of loneliness in the Church that I had never felt before. I thought of all the people who might have experienced this and (rightly so) wanted to walk away. For me it was also a powerful experience of the communion of faith. I felt support from the “Daniels” behind me and reassurance by the witness of that other family with grown kids.
Sometimes in Lent, uncomfortable experiences can shed light on deeper truths. As painful as that weekend was, there was something real and sacred that I experienced in that loneliness and subsequent consolation.
Lord, are you inviting me into the discomfort today in some way? If so, help me not to run from it.