A Happy Catholic Introvert
I have just made a remarkable discovery, aided and abetted by Susan Cain’s marvelous book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World Which Cannot Stop Talking.
Here’s my surprise: I always thought I was an extrovert. I am basically at ease in social situations, don’t have trouble initiating conversations (since I got a small tattoo, I have found that a great way to begin talking to others), have been elected to leadership positions numerous times, ad nauseum. But — I really do not like working in groups. It is not my strength. I am far better and more productive working on my own (I am a writer, after all), taking long walks with the dog and thinking about things like Original Sin and the Big Bang. When meetings or lectures go on too long, I tell people, “I think my pajamas are calling my name,” so I can slip out to go home, put on my fuzzy pajamas, and open a beloved book.
Being a member of a high profile writers group, full of strong personalities and talented women, I find that after about a half hour of talk, my batteries are used up. I can almost feel my inner self running down like a motor sputtering without gas. It reminds me in so many ways that our world, in particular our culture, is not constructed for introverts like myself who find too much talk overwhelming, who recharge their batteries through silence and meditation, and who prefer “environments that are not over-stimulating” (Susan Cain, page 12).
When I attend the Protestant church that I love with my husband, one that does astonishing work in the name of social justice, I find I am exhausted at the end of the service. So much hand shaking! So many interactions! Such enthusiast, cheery goodwill! I have to go home and take a nap to recover.
So, as a result of finally framing my personality with the comfortable term, introvert (which does not mean shy; it simply refers to how we refresh ourselves and where we get our energy), I see how perfectly Catholicism matches my inner self and life.
In other words — enter church, do not talk to anyone for a while, kneel in silence, and pray. I can feel the vessel that is my inner self being filled with light and peace in this necessary solitude, in this moment of silent grace. I heave a sigh of relief.
Yes, we exchange greetings with our neighbors — all well and good, we are a community of believers after all — but it is mercifully brief. Then the ritual of the liturgy takes over, and I feel as if I have boarded a train taking me to a fine destination, with nothing to distract me in my focus on God and how He is present in the mass, and with no sidebar conversations to scatter my thoughts. Standing and saying the responses doesn’t even feel like talking. It feels more as if I opened my mouth and a river flowed out. We kneel, we rise — we say familiar words — and none of this plucks away at the haven that is my inner life in God.
Even making the sign of the cross on my eyes, my mouth and my heart is a way of reminding myself that the words of God will now be imprinted on my eyes, tucked under my tongue, and seated in my heart. In the quiet moments later on I can take those words out, think about them, pray on them, and feel again that astonishing certainty of being in the right place at the right time.
Of course, not every mass is completely fabulous. Who could possibly live up to that expectation? But I have found the right companion for my inner life, and it is not endless socializing and talk. It is not clapping hands while we sing. It is resting in silence in a beautiful church with a soaring ceiling, which mirrors the spaciousness I feel within when I kneel and sit in the pew. I am home. This is where I am meant to be — a happy, not shy, Catholic introvert.