A few weeks ago I was reading a book about the Catholic Mass and came across a section discussing “ah-ha!” moments. In more formal words, those are the moments during the Mass or in your spiritual life when you can really say, “I get this!” Sadly, for most, this may be a rare occurrence. You may go to Mass, listen to the readings attentively and participate fully, but not feel that spark of complete joy or understanding. It can be discouraging and a complete turn-off from attending Mass, even possibly leading one to close her heart and mind to having one of those “ah-ha” moments. Vicious cycle, I know.
Personally, I’ve been blessed with two of these “ah-ha” moments, both occurring over the past year and a half. The first was in November 2009 at the gathering of all Catholic gatherings: NCYC. For those of you who don’t know what this is, Google it — or YouTube it for some fun videos of teens praising God. For those of you who know of it but have never attended, I’m truly sorry for your loss. And for those of you who have attended, you’ll understand when I say words cannot fully describe the experience. As a teenager, one of the hardest parts about being excited about your faith is worrying about how your peers will react to the fact. So, when you get thrown into a stadium with over 20,000 other Catholic high-schoolers just as excited as you, that “ah-ha” spark, that flame comes alive and you never want to come down from that high. After leaving that weekend, I didn’t think any moment in my life would even come close to making me feel so at peace, so comfortable, and so inflamed with my faith. I’m glad I was wrong.
About a month ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit Rome — not only the heart of Italy, but a city that contains Vatican City, the heart of the Catholic Church. The day we visited the Vatican I was like a kid at Christmas (Yes, jumping up and down in glee was involved). I could go on for days about everything we saw in the Museo Vaticano (hopefully you can figure out what that means), including the Sistine Chapel, but that’s not where this story is going. So, I’ll skip ahead to the main attraction: St. Peter’s Basilica.
Allow me to first comment on the sheer size: it’s really big. Stepping inside and looking up at the vaulted ceiling, I had never felt so small, or so empowered. So I wandered around with my friend, doing the tourist thing and taking countless pictures until we came upon something strange: a man guarding a room closed off by curtains next to a sign saying “for private prayer only” in various languages. I was intrigued and felt slightly pulled, so I left my camera with my friend and slipped through the curtains. The noise from all the tourists immediately fell away. I found a spot on an empty pew, knelt, and just started to talk with God. And at some point during my prayer, I just started to cry. Words literally cannot describe the type of peace and certainty I felt while in that room for less than 10 minutes. All I can say is that it went far beyond an “ah-ha” moment.
I have been blown away by these two very different spiritual moments — one involving 20,000 other people in a loud and interactive setting, and the other in silent prayer. I realize that NCYC can’t occur every weekend and that a trip to the Vatican isn’t exactly close for most, but I think it proves that God can touch you in any setting at any time if you just keep your heart and mind open to having these moments. Whenever I felt discouraged in my faith this past 18 months or so, I pulled out those memories from November; I know I’ll do that in the future with those from St. Peter’s. And I truly hope and pray that all of you have had an “ah-ha” moment to remember in times of doubt, because they are indescribably powerful.
If any of you feel comfortable enough to share your moment too, I’d love to hear them!
Your Sister in Christ,