Last Saturday I was sitting in a Catholic Mass in Naples, Florida. This is probably the only time in my life when I will be able to say that. My husband’s company paid for one guest to accompany employees to a convention, and luckily he picked me. Having been born and raised in Utah, I am not very acquainted with the world. The humidity of Florida clung to my skin, the foliage was jaw-dropping, and the people I met were fascinating. We were the only Mormons at the event, and some of the glances I received made me feel like I should have been under glass in a museum with a plaque that reads “Peculiar” (without the “in a good way” subtitle).
We linked up with two other couples, one Catholic and the other non-denominational Christian (sounds like the beginning of a good joke). Neither of them drank alcohol, so it was easy for us to sit together at meals. We got a lot of ribbing about being “dry,” though I think many times our table laughed louder than the tipsy ones.
There was a Catholic church within walking distance of the hotel, and our friends decided to attend Mass on Saturday afternoon. We knew we would miss our church services on Sunday because we would be traveling all day, and we thought it might be nice to do something worshipful, so we asked if we could tag along. We had visited the church earlier in the week and admired its stained-glass windows and quietness (we also stopped in at a United Church of Christ which had a rockin’ jazz combo rehearsing for an evening concert).
At the Mass, the chapel was so crowded that our husbands stood in the aisles along with many others. My friend flipped the pages in the missal, finding the text of the service so I could follow along. It was the first Sunday of Lent, and I learned about how this is a season of sacrifice in preparation for Easter. I managed to catch on to most of the hymns and sang “The Lord’s Prayer” with some degree of confidence. I sat while my friend knelt and remained quiet during the Nicene Creed. After the Communion service, she wiped the tears from her face. “I always cry when I feel close to God,” she later said.
On the way back to the hotel, we asked each other a few timid questions. We were equally ignorant of each other’s faiths. I did not know that they had their own Bible, and they did not know that we read the Bible at all. She asked if we believe in Jesus, and I fumbled as I tried to express all I feel in just a few sentences. “Do you believe He is coming again?” she said. “Oh, yes!” I replied. We were standing in the hotel lobby by then, and it was noisy and busy—difficult to talk. We separated to our rooms to get ready for the evening’s activities. I was left wishing we could have continued.
They used the word “holy” a lot that week—they want their children to be holy, their neighbor is a holy man, etc. Perhaps this is a Catholic thing; I’m not sure. LDS vernacular uses different words—words like righteous, reverent, humble. I like the concept of being holy, mostly because it leaves no doubt about its source. I can be righteous without God, reverent without God, and humble without God, but I cannot be holy without God. Holiness is bestowed by Him through grace. I think about holy ground and how the dirt did nothing of itself to become so titled. Granted, we are more than dirt, and we do bear a responsibility to cultivate attributes like righteousness, reverence, and humility. Yet we are also told that we are as the dust of the earth1, even less than that at times.2 Perhaps I might hope to be as the dust of holy ground.
We are also told to stand in holy places.3 I thought of this as I sat in the empty church, gazing at the windows and the candles and the stations of the Cross. I thought that perhaps I could create a holy place of my own, a quiet place where I might pray and think and just be still.4
I am not as holy as my Catholic friends. I want to wipe away tears after taking the sacrament and feel the joy of being close to God. Like them, I want to pray openly, speak boldly, and be completely unashamed.5 And most of all, I want to never take for granted the light and knowledge I have—my testimony of the Restoration and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The knowledge of the holy is understanding.” I hope I am beginning to understand.
1. Mormon 9:17
2. Hel. 12:7-8, Mosiah 2:25
3. D&C 45:32
4. Psalm 46:10
5. Romans 1:16