I confess to being an atheist. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
For several years, that didn't stop me from driving my wife 50 miles from our home in Arlington so she could attend Sunday Mass at a church in Baltimore.
During the hour that my wife attended Mass once a month at Baltimore’s St. Jude Shrine, I would head to a nearby hotel cafe for hot chocolate and a bagel. I didn’t mind driving my wife to Baltimore because the St. Jude Shrine made her feel so welcome and strengthened her faith in God.
Lately, I have been dealing with a painful medical condition. Numerous tests have come back negative, and several physicians don’t know what’s wrong.
With that uncertainty and fear confronting us, I have started joining my wife at Mass on the last Sunday of each month, despite my atheistic leanings. What attending Mass involves, she said, is asking St. Jude, the patron saint of the hopeless, to give us solace in our struggles. For my particular situation, that means hoping that the doctors continue to find nothing seriously wrong with me, and that someday soon I’ll wake up, and the pain will have disappeared as mysteriously as it started.
I figured even if I don’t believe in divine intervention, why not sit in a pew for an hour? By accompanying my wife to Mass, maybe I can help her deal with the stress in her life, including hearing me complain (excessively) about my pain.
I do miss the delicious hot chocolate and bagel at that hotel cafe. But that’s been superseded by the excellent singer at the Mass, whose spectacular soprano voice makes the hymns resonate spiritually even for a nonbeliever.
I particularly enjoy the melody of one song. But it had me confused. From where we were sitting, far away in the back row, I misheard what I thought she was singing: “Obama.” My wife laughed and explained that the hymn was using the word “Hosanna.”
One morning at Mass, I got a rude awakening when an usher accidentally smacked me in the forehead with the collection basket for financial contributions. I assume it was accidental and not deliberate, for how could he know I was a nonbelieving sinner? I suggested to my wife that maybe my bodily pain was God cursing me for being a heathen, but she quickly disabused me of that notion. God is there even for those who don’t pray to a higher power, she said.
My favorite part of Mass is when the parishioners greet those around them with a smile and a handshake, offering peace to each other. This warms even my skeptical heart.
My friends, who are fellow atheists or agnostics, ask if, by attending Mass, I’m betraying my own nonreligious nonbeliefs. I tell them, no, I’m not about to convert to a religion. But sitting in Mass doesn’t hurt anybody. It might even make you feel a little better. Believers have an advantage over nonbelievers; simply asking a higher power for help gives people more purpose in life.
Even without sharing in my wife’s faith, those monthly drives and quiet hours in Mass at her side make going the extra mile to church in Baltimore worthwhile.
Eric Green, a retired government employee who lives in Arlington, spends his time writing freelance articles and practicing the piano.