Friday, April 15, 2016
Going to Church
A week ago I was telling an acquaintance that I would need to miss my daughters' soccer games on Saturday, because my sons and I had a friend's confirmation Mass to attend at which my eldest son would altar serve. I told her a lot of children were being confirmed, so there was little chance we could catch any part of the games. (Our parish has a Vietnamese and Spanish Mass, so there were a great many children from our diverse community being confirmed and receiving Holy Communion.)
This acquaintance responded in typical fashion and tone about how long the Mass would be.
Indeed, it was a long Mass. My mind wandered several times, and I had to call it home repeatedly. I swallowed a yawn very clumsily a couple times, because I had gone to bed too late the night before.
But I was happy to be there. Children were fully entering our Christian community, receiving Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist.
That was a special Mass, but I have heard people complain that even Sunday Mass is too long, and I wonder if they have ever been to a worship service where our Protestant brothers and sisters spend at least two, sometimes three or more hours at church.
Catholics believe - I believe - that it is a grave sin as a Christian not to go to church on Sunday just because you don't feel like it. It is breaking one of the 10 commandments: remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Yet, going to church just to take role call - I'm here, God! I showed up, punch my card and let me get out of here as soon as possible! - is not being present in the right spirit, open to grace and revelation and mercy. As the gospel singer Keith Green pointed out: "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going to MacDonald's makes you a hamburger!"
Keith Green defined a Christian in childlike, simple terms: someone who is bananas for Jesus!
I'm bananas for Jesus. I don't think I show it half the time, but I am bananas for Him. Why?
_I recognize that there is such a thing as sin. It wreaks havoc in our world, because we wish to remain blind to it.
_I believe and profess with my whole heart that Jesus died for our sins.
_I recognize that I am, in fact, a big and habitual sinner. Just like the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her hair, I have been forgiven much and so I love much. And more every day.
Why am I happy to be at church, to go to Mass?
Because it's really very little for God to ask of us after all He has offered to us through His Son. Yes, we give Him thanks for His great glory - of which our lives are a crucial part. If we believe that the very stars pull their strength from him, that he is above, beneath, behind and ahead of every living thing, I want to show up on the day assigned for our rest, for family, friends and leisure - Sabbath being made for man, and not man for Sabbath - and thank Him profusely for it all. I want to be as close to Him as I can get, at the very least once a week.
Even our beloved God-man Jesus Christ told his mother and foster father when he was twelve years old, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And how often in the Gospels does it describe Him preaching in the temple area?
So I guess that's it, really. For me, a common sinner, a church is like a lighthouse, pulling me across the tumultuous sea of every day strife and the noise of my own mind toward God. And though I feel very near Him sometimes even in my own front yard or comfy recliner, church is His house, and I want to be in my Father's house.