Whenever politicians, bureaucrats or boards want more tax dollars, the common (and successful ploy) is to say: “We need it for the children,” or “It’s for the sake of the children,” or “How can we deny an opportunity for the next generation?” And, like I wrote…it is very successful…though too often proven to be rooted in emotional response rather than a reasoned response. However, when I require that the WHOLE FAMILY attend Mass for the sake of the children…everything turned upside down. One would think I am asking to destroy the next generation…rather than to save it. And, this is the very point Jesus teaches us in this week’s Gospel: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
What is it about the Mass that is such a problem? Or, better said, Why go to Mass? This is a question so many more Catholics who do not go are asking. Some experience a dissonance between church teachings and their choices (birth control, divorce and remarriage, sexual mores, etc.); others say church seems irrelevant to daily life (citing church scandals or remember being made not to feel welcome). Some say that they have little time for church: ‘with two working parents’, ‘kids in organized sports’, ‘caring for elderly parents’ (and many, many more). They feel a need for time to themselves. Some say Mass is boring, feel let down when they don’t get the euphoria some claim after worship at an entertaining, non-denominational church. (Matthew Kelly’s The Dynamic Catholic and CD’s does a good job exposing these ideas…and how to cast off the temptations the devil uses to distract us.)
While at first understandable, upon closer examination a good number of these are poor excuses. Worship is not so much looking at how church relates to our lives but how we relate to God. The purpose of our worship is a gradual, steady transformation…all of us hearing God’s Word and receiving the Eucharist…being slowly, steadily fashioned into other Christs. It’s not all about expecting good feelings inside after Mass or getting winning numbers for the lottery from the hymn-board!
When I hear somebody say: “I’m too busy to go to church, I work three jobs, etc.” it might be better paraphrased as: “I have better, other things to do.” They sound a bit like the rich young man, invited to follow Jesus…sadly walking away when invited to be a follower because he had too many things and other things to do. Disappointed, Jesus looked at him with love! Our worship requires engagement and participation. It takes some effort. It is a commitment.
We need to do a better job of attracting and truly understanding those who care to criticize, but need also to invite a certain self-criticism that recognizes ‘reasons’ for the poor excuses they often are. Worship is not about me and God; it is first about God, then about the best me. I can be because of God. We come not to get something out of it; but, to let Jesus put His love into us (a love that goes far beyond a good feeling, that produces goodness in living, doing justice, walking humbly, loving tenderly as God has planned).