A few months ago, while in St. Louis to help care for my Papa who was dying, we attended Mass at a church we hadn’t been to before. Like our kids, we love visiting different churches whenever we are out of town.
I realized belatedly that I had left my black veil back home in Cincinnati. I ran back to the parking lot, grabbing my silver one that had fallen to the floor of the van. I hurriedly put it on my head as we walked in, making our way through the small crowd of servers, lectors, ministers and the priest, who were already assembling at the door to make their entrance.
The entrance hymn began just as we settled breathlessly into our pew. That’s when I noticed that my veil had this distinctly weird smell, which I can only describe as a curious blend of petroleum and vomit. Since we don’t transport gas, and none of the kids as far as I know has ever been sick in the van, I spent a few torturous minutes wondering where the smell could possibly have come from. Coming up with a blank, I soon turned my attention to the fact that… oh no, I stink! What if other people could smell me? They probably could smell me! They’re smelling me right now! They must think I’m disgusting!
Should I just take it off and spare them the suffering? Should I take it off and spare MYSELF and my spouse the suffering? If I don’t take it off, would it be distracting to them? But if I take it off, would the act of taking it off be even more distracting? Would it appear like I regretted wearing a veil, or that I’m not ambivalent about it? What message would I be sending?
Sigh. The travails of an overthinker.
I share all this to make this point: rectitude of intention is not a one-time thing, even when it comes to veiling. I know people who agonized for years over the decision to veil. I agonized over it too, until our eldest daughter took the decision out of my hands and simply started veiling herself. Without knowing it, she made it easier for me to finally take that leap of faith.
Why did I start veiling? Because I wanted to honor God. Because I wanted to be more reverent in the presence of The Real Presence. Because I wanted a tangible reminder to myself of WHO I am in front of.
Along the way, I discovered benefits: veiling helped me to focus, to keep my eyes forward so I wasn’t distracted easily by what was going on around me. After all, I come to Mass and adoration for Him, not for anyone else.
But having made that initial decision to veil doesn’t mean that purity of intention is now a given. On that Sunday morning, I found myself torn between sincere reverence — which I had started to take for granted — and the outward show of piety. There was no easy answer: I had no way of knowing what would and would not distract other people; I could only guess. Should I have been worrying about what people were thinking? No, but it was still hard. I realized that a clean heart was something that needed renewing and recommitting to. Like everything else, I need to pray for it every time; I cannot assume that I now have it “together”.
In the end, I decided, after spending way too many minutes overthinking it, that my original intent needed to remain. I veil because I am in the presence of my Father and my Savior. HE is the only consideration I need to think of: not myself, my own comfort, or the comfort/discomfort of others. I need to leave those concerns behind, leave them to the Holy Spirit to sort out as He sees fit, and turn my eyes and my attention, and yes, my nose — literal and figurative — to the Presence that eclipses all others.
I am happy to report that the smell stopped bothering me from that second. Giving it all to God did make a difference. I hope that if anyone did smell my stinky veil, it didn’t turn them off but gave them the courage to try wearing one anyway. Regardless, that day was a reminder that the Mass isn’t about me. Adoration isn’t about me. And veiling isn’t about me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,Psalm 51:10
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Originally posted at …and these Thy gifts…