“No one ought to consider himself a true servant of God who is not tried by many temptations and trials. Temptations overcome are a sort of betrothal ring God gives the soul.” – St. Francis of Assisi
Going through rough patches, it becomes easy to descend into a lazy prayer life, if prayer doesn’t halt altogether. In one such recent trough of emotional health, I caught myself heading in that direction. I missed daily mass.
A few years ago, the priest in my hometown parish asked that parishioners no longer hold hands during the “Our Father.” He said that it was too distracting, and caused us to think about our neighbors rather than God. In Matthew Lickona’s book, Swimming with Scapulars, he goes on a similar rant about the topic of hand-holding during Mass. I got rid of the book shortly after finishing it, so while I can’t quote it, I remember his distress fairly well. Like the priest in my hometown parish, he felt that hand-holding during the “Our Father” was distracting: what if the person beside you doesn’t want to hold hands? Should you or shouldn’t you hold hands with someone you don’t know? If their hand is clammy or cold or sweaty, or warm and soft, you risk spending your spiritual energy being focused on that sensation and not the words of the prayer.
To which my response is, “Huh?”
I’ve been going to Church alone for most of my young adult life, so I know what the awkward moment before the Our Father is like, when there’s question about whether the strangers on either side of me will take my hand. Usually they don’t (Matthew Lickona should go to my Church!); sometimes they do; and either way, it doesn’t really matter. Because it’s a moment — only a moment — before the prayer begins, and that moment is forgotten as soon as the prayer does begin, whether I’m holding someone’s hand or not.
I understand that not everyone has the same comfort level when it comes to physical contact, and I respect anyone’s need to “keep their hands to themselves” during the Mass, whether it’s for “The Our Father” or the sharing of Peace. What I don’t understand is this idea that there is a hard and fast line between God and neighbor, as if to think of one is to exclude the other. Isn’t this the opposite of what we’re asked to do as Christians? Aren’t we called to think of our neighbor as Jesus, and as such, as God?
When hand-holding began during the Our Father some time ago (I don’t remember when it started and I don’t know why it started, but I do know that it wasn’t commonly practiced when I was a child), I thought it brought a new level of beauty to the Mass. Because while our words unite us, too often we can feel like loners. For me, that moment of clasped hands while we say the same words is the moment when I truly feel part of the Body of Christ. What’s so distracting about that?