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My husband is taking classes so that he can join the Catholic Church….and boy, am I learning new things! For instance, only nuns who live in cloisters can rightly be called “nuns;” all the rest (you know, the ones you actually meet on the street, who teach your children and tend to the sick) are “sisters” or “women religious.” I have never heard this differentiation in my life.

And the practice of holding hands with one’s pew-mates during the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer during Mass? According to my husband’s teacher, this is “not an official part of Mass.” In fact, she doesn’t know why anyone still does it. I could tell her why: Community.

Church services are a celebration of Christian community. Otherwise, why not hold our own private services each week? The body of Christ is comprised of all of us who believe, and we — like it or not — are human beings. And human beings are tactile creatures.

I just happened to glance out my window. A car just pulled into my neighbor’s driveway. A man got out. Upon seeing my neighbor, the two men embraced. That’s what friends do. Why? Because, as Mary Gordon once wrote, “Flesh is lovable.” Or, as Finn, protagonist of the show “Adventure Time” (yes, I watch cartoons!), would say, “Hugging helps.”

When we get together to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, touching ought to be involved. Yes, of course, there is the Sign of Peace, a moment to connect with one’s neighbors, but to me, that’s not enough. Holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer shows solidarity of faith — here’s what we believe, and look how we are proud to demonstrate it! I think that’s what Jesus would have wanted from his prayer, both remembrance and affirmation, all in one.

Some people blame the post-Vatican II years for bringing too much sloppy emotion into the Church, too much Counterculture kumbaya-ing, too much hand-holding. But they forget that this was a reaction to centuries of icy cold rigidity: the priest facing away from the people, the Mass said in Latin rather than the language of the people. There was a remove between God’s people and God’s word. Vatican II brought down that wall. One can hardly be blamed for rejoicing.

As times have grown more serious (the ‘60s and ’70 may have been politically tumultuous but they were also rather silly — fluorescent pink hot pants and fringed leather vests, anyone?), a good deal of the touchy-feeliness of the post-Vatican II Mass has been toned down. But I, for one, would hate to see it dissipate entirely.

I belong to a parish community. These people are my friends. We share a faith, a home, a belief system. Why shouldn’t we embrace at every opportunity?

So if you ever happen to be seated next to me at Mass and I extend my hand to you, I hope you’ll take it. It may not be de rigeur, but love never is. Love is a choice.

Last Saturday night, as my husband and I drove to church, a thought occurred to me. I am this person now. But in an hour, I will be someone else. That’s how transformational a regular religious practice such as going to Mass (or service, or whatever you call that particular hour in your particular religious sect) can be. It isn’t for everyone. (I’m assuming. Otherwise churches would be a lot more crowded, the way they are on Easter or Christmas.) But maybe it should be.

There are a million reasons to attend Mass: to spend an hour with God, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, to be a part of a like-minded community, to regularly nudge or reawaken one’s faith…I suppose the list is as varied as the individuals filling the pews. And even if none of those reasons strikes you as relevant, there’s one that should. Go to church, if for no other reason, than to sacramentally experience life.

There are posters, Pinterest pins and slogans everywhere that say things like, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!” Or “Life is either a grand adventure or it is nothing!” People seem fond of these slogans. We like to celebrate life; hence our affection for birthdays. But how do we live this notion on a daily basis?

Going to church regularly is one way to celebrate life. You are there with people who share your faith and, hopefully, your beliefs and morals. The ritual of Mass (or service) is soothing, yet allows for contemplation and new insights. And if you tune in, really tune in, it can be an hour unlike any other in your week: It can be an hour that you really feel, really experience. It can be life-changing.

Maybe we all need to slow down for one hour a week (or more) and not let life just happen to us. Maybe we need to remember that life can be lived intentionally, as it is when one chooses a regular religious practice like going to Mass. Oh sure, it might not be all hearts and flowers. The pastor might say something you disagree with. You might see someone there with whom you have difficulty. But good or bad, the experience can change you if you let it. All you have to do is let it.

One hour a week to transform your life, to change your thinking, to fall in love again with the greatest love you will ever know. It’s worth it.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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