The sun smiles down on this beautiful morning. Around a hundred cars are lined up, trying to squeeze their way into the parking lot. The church is magnificent, standing tall and merciless in the sea of people it beckons to their front doors. Statues of various saints, like St. John and the Virgin Mary, watch the crowd with an unrelenting gaze.
The worshippers move in hoards toward the great brown doors that open and lure them to redemption. The families dressed in their Sunday's best move inside with noses turned up, towards the very God they came to praise. Each member takes a step inside, pricks their finger in the holy water, touches their forehead, heart, then left shoulder and right shoulder -the sign of the cross. Some kiss the finger for luck, some wipe it off on their slacks. They all move to find a seat on the rows and rows of pews.
The congregation is heard murmuring, a hum reverberating through the high ceilings. Phrases like "I haven't seen the Smith's here in awhile" or "They were married outside of the church" bounce off the walls, and into the assembly, drowning out the teachings of the holy place they have stepped into.
Bells start to sing loudly and the people take their seats as quickly as they had said their prayers the night before. The clergy slowly come in, with robes adorned with gold and silver. Their trail of incense envelops the room as they take their place at the head of the crowd. The church is eerily quiet except for a baby crying in the back, the mother quickly scolds it, and scoops it up as she quietly accepts her excuse to leave the room.
The mass commences, traditions over hundreds of years are seen through this practice. The people stand, they sit, they stand, they kneel, they stand, and they sit. The words "And with your spirit" bellow through the building, the hundreds of people's voices blend into one. The sun sprinkles colors of blue, red, green, and yellow from the stained glass windows onto the congregation. God is here today.
The priest continues the sermon, while children start to squirm. A little boy tugs at his collar, he's not used to the formal attire is mother forced him into. He looks around the room and stares pleadingly at his playmate a few rows of pews away. His mother grabs his hand and he looks back to the priest, listening to words with meanings he does not yet understand. I sit here watching him, I do not understand it either. I used to, but not anymore. I used to sit pretty, listening with pious intent. Now, I sit watching. Watching the people go by, moved more by who's not here than being here.
I do not belong here anymore. I stick out, the worshippers can smell the sinful thoughts radiating from me. I steal glances from the room, from nosey neighbors and asinine acquaintances. They burn into the back of my neck. Do they know I have sinned? Do they know I have not repented for this sin? Yet, the worst gaze of all comes from within. The guilt weighs down my steps and it pulls on my shoulders. Should I regain my place with God? Or should I live in sin, the way I was born into? I pray, I pray, and I pray. Guide me, I ask -no I plead, with eyes and hands pressed hard together. I open my eyes while a white light blinds me, bringing me back to this Earth.
When they adjust, the Eucharist is now being given, the flesh and blood of Christ. I cannot take it without a confession first. People stand and walk towards the altar, quietly with their devout faces smug. I sit back and watch. Not everyone stands, the few still sitting bow their heads, drowning in embarrassment. I look behind me, towards the great brown doors that once promised me a place inside.
Is redemption really worth my soul? I stand and walk away from the mass, I silently crack the huge exit open. I pause for a moment and look hard at the holy water beside me, I see my reflection. I slip a finger in and make the signing of the cross. I step outside and leave to find a place where I can belong to.