If We Understood the Mass

If We Understood the Mass

“I don’t think God would send someone who loves Him and follows Him to Hell.”

A conversation about exorcisms somehow veered into a free-for-all rapid fire of questions.  As I’ve said before, though, if my students ask questions about the faith and they are interested, I have a difficult time telling them no.

“I don’t believe the Church teaches that,” I told the student.

“But if I don’t go to church on Sunday, the Church says that is a mortal sin.  I don’t believe that if I love God and He loves me that He would send me to Hell for missing one Mass on Sunday.”

Understandably, this is a question I hear quite often.  My students find it difficult to accept that missing Mass is a grave sin.  They aren’t skipping it maliciously, I believe, and so I get where they are coming from with their confusion.  Usually, it is out of laziness or boredom or busyness.

So I did what I generally do–I tried my best to explain why the Church teaches what she does.

“I think if we understood what the Mass was, then we wouldn’t ask this question.  God is asking us to go to Mass to encounter Him and receive Him.  He is offering His very self to us out of love.  And if we love Him, I don’t think we would say that we aren’t able to come for one hour once a week.  The bare minimum in having a relationship with the Lord is this one hour.  We couldn’t say no to encountering the Lord and letting Him live in us if we truly loved Him.”

The answer seemed to touch a chord and we moved on to other questions.

Students are prone to question why we have to go to Mass and adults are more prone to critique the Mass itself.   Continue reading “If We Understood the Mass”

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Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

“Honey, I love you, really, I do.  But being married to you is a burden.”

My students were asked to imagine that a husband came home and said this to his wife.  Already, there was a bit of disdain in their eyes for the husband.

“Oh, I am?  How am I so burdensome?”
“Well, I love you, but sometimes I want to do things and I can’t because of you.”
“Like what?”
“There are a lot of attractive and smart women I run into at work and I can’t date any of them.  Sometimes I want to just catch a plane and fly to Florida for a week, but I would have to tell you first and you might want to come.  You are interesting and wonderful and I love you, but sometimes marriage is restrictive.”

Each time I told this to my students, it worked.  They did not think highly of the husband and were, rightfully so, annoyed with his list of burdens.

Wow, they gasp, he is the worst.

But aren’t these things true?  I asked my students.  He isn’t allowed to date other women, is he?

No, they reply.

Shouldn’t he talk to his wife about flying off to Florida for a week before he does it?

Yes, they say.

So what is wrong about what he is saying?  Why shouldn’t he say these things when they are true?

After very little discussion, because it seems so obvious, they tell me that he has the wrong perspective.  He isn’t focusing on his relationship with his wife, but simply all the things he cannot do because of his relationship with her.

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI

You are correct, I tell them, the husband focuses only on the restrictions of this relationship instead of the love he has for her.

But isn’t this sometimes what we do with God? Continue reading “Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

For me, the first activity of every new school year involves helping facilitate a leadership day for seniors.  They listen to a variety of talks, attend Mass, eat pizza, and write a senior prayer.  Unlike previous years, this year I was responsible for guiding the twenty-five or so students in constructing this prayer.

At the beginning, we brainstormed how we wanted to address God.  Then, we made a list of what would make up the bulk of our prayer: thanksgiving, petition, adoration, etc.  Finally, the part that took the longest was organizing these ideas and deciding which ones were closest to their hearts.

When you are dealing with twenty-five individuals, it takes a while to figure out what is most important.  During this time of discussion, they were attempting to narrow down what matters to them specifically as a class.

Then, this brief exchange happened and it struck me as pretty important.

One student said, “Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”  And while I knew what the person meant, I replied, “Actually, the prayer is about God.” Continue reading ““Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.””

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

Spoiler: If you haven’t read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and don’t want to know anything about it that might take away from your initial experience, please be aware this post might not be for you.  I discuss elements of the story, but I don’t give it all away.

I recently finished reading The Shack and I found it to be, as a whole, a beautiful story of how God desires to enter into our most painful situations and transform them by His presence.  The way Young depicts the interactions within the Trinity caused me to stop and consider more deeply the perfect communion found within God Himself.  In fact, as soon as I finished The Shack, I picked up Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The ‘One Thing’ is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.  After reading about the communion of the Trinity in intimate detail, I was filled with a desire to learn more about our Trinitarian God.

The general story line of The Shack is about a man named Mack who has experienced great suffering and loss.  He receives a note from God asking him to come to an old shack to spend the weekend with Him.  When Mack does this, he enters into an incredible encounter with the living God and grows in an understanding of each person of the Trinity.

The main aspects of Young’s story I found to be edifying.  It was simply some of the side details or conversations that made me wonder if he was critiquing Christianity as a whole or specifically Catholicism.  Or, at least, his perception of what the Catholic Church teaches or is.  There are a handful of elements that struck me as a direct rebuke of Catholicism.  The two I want to focus on are ritual and institution.

There is a beautiful section where God involves Mack in “devotions” after a shared meal.  Rather than producing a Bible to read from, Mack is surprised when Jesus reaches across the table, takes the Father’s hands, and speaking honest, loving words of adoration.  It reinforces the reality that devotion is entering into a loving relationship with God, not something that is merely rote or filled with words.  After another meal, Mack expects the same thing to happen.

“What about devotion?” asked Mack.
“Nothing is a ritual, Mack,” said Papa…

What is so wrong with something being a ritual?  There are a couple other places where ritual is portrayed as unsavory and in conflict with God’s desires.  I could agree with this if ritual meant that something was insincere or done merely out of habit.  However, that is not what a ritual has to be.  Sometimes rituals are the best way to enter into something that is far above us.  Like the Mass or marriage, we follow a religious ritual because we are connected to something bigger than just ourselves.

The Catholic Church is known for saying the same Mass over and over and over again.  My students will sometimes question why they need to go to Mass each week when it is simply the same thing they heard the previous week.  But if we understand the sacrifice of the Holy Mass as it actually is–the priest in persona Christi re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the cross at Calvary–then we would realize that nothing else would be a fitting memorial.

Yes, it is a ritual.  But Jesus also said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Why reinvent the wheel every Sunday when Jesus has given us His very self and asks us to share in this sacrificial meal?  More than new praise and worship songs (which I appreciate in a specific context), the Mass prayed throughout the ages unites us to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a bad type of ritual, but rather a ritual that unites Christians across space and time. Continue reading “The Shack: A Catholic Critique”

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

I know sacraments aren’t a contest, but how many have you participated in or witnessed in a one week time period?

After I go to confession within the next couple days, I will be at five sacraments.  Five out of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  That is a record for me, although I can’t tell you what the previous record actually was.

Last Friday, I went to ordinations for six priests for my diocese.  On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a couple friends.  Yesterday, I became a godmother for the youngest daughter of a couple with whom I am friends.  Interwoven over this week were several Masses and soon I will go to confession to bring the grand total of sacraments to five this week.

One of the beautiful aspects of the sacraments is how tangible they are for us physical creatures.  As I stood behind the mother at the baptism, I watched the priest sign the child with an aromatic cross of chrism.  She was claimed for Christ in a physical way so as to show the spiritual reality.  The water poured over her head, reveals the spiritual cleansing that is taking place even though we cannot see it happen.  Long after the scent of chrism has vanished, her soul will still be marked with an indelible seal, proclaiming her as a new creation in Christ.

At ordinations, I watched the bishop trace the hands of the men with chrism, consecrating their hands and lives to the eternal High Priest.  Beyond the chrism, there was the laying on of hands by the bishop and all their brother priests.  Placing their folded hands within the bishop’s hands, they promise obedience to the bishop and to his successors.  Called to conform their lives to the cross, they prostrate themselves before the altar of the Lord, the place where they will daily offer up the sacrifices of the People of God and make present the sacrifice of Jesus.   Continue reading “Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”

Captivated By a Baby

Captivated By a Baby

He is only five, but he seemed fixated by the scene unfolding before him.  A mother of a newborn baby girl was gently unzipping the covering, unfastening the safety restraints, and then cradling the baby in her arms.  My nephew is five years old, but he watched this all attentively.  It was at Christmas morning Mass and so I could not help but be struck by the fact that the attention was focused on a baby.

My nephew didn’t say anything as he watched this all unfold and I doubt he reflected on it later.  But it seemed fitting to me that such close attention was being paid to one in the same position that Christ Himself was in nearly two thousand years ago.  A baby, small and frail, cradled in the arms of a mother.

Jesus, though God, was fully human.  The arrivals of shepherds and wise men were most likely events by which He was unconcerned.  At birth, babies can typically see the 8-10 inches between their faces and their parents’ faces but not further.  So as Mary and Joseph are pondering the shepherds that came to kneel before their son, He is simply gazing into the face of His mother.   Continue reading “Captivated By a Baby”

Intimately Universal

Intimately Universal

There is a coziness found in daily Mass.  Slipping into a pew on a weekday morning, I like to think I am a member of an intimate family.  It isn’t terribly early, but it feels like it is.  The elderly are out in typical force, holding up the Church with their prayers and sacrifices.  But there are also some younger people present: a couple moms with babies or children and a smattering of us who fall in the in-between, not very young or very old. Continue reading “Intimately Universal”

Ordinary

Ordinary

“What do your parents do?”
“My dad is a retired firefighter and now drives people at a retirement home.  My mom stayed home with us when we were young and now works as a receptionist at a clinic.”
“Hmm.  I thought it would be something different…I thought your dad would be a politician or something.”
“Nope.  My dad is pretty ordinary.”

Some of the people at the table laugh and one says that the next time he sees my dad, he will tell him that I said he is ordinary.

“What did they do to teach the faith?  Did you go to daily Mass?”
“No.  We prayed the rosary sometimes and usually prayers at night.  My parents just talked about the faith very openly and we always went to Mass on Sunday.  My parents are pretty ordinary.  They just did what they were supposed to: they were our primary educators in the faith.Continue reading “Ordinary”

Nothing Wasted

Nothing Wasted

“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”

At Mass yesterday, this verse from John’s Gospel struck me.  I heard it that morning when a group of students and faculty gathered in the chapel to open the day with prayer. Once again, it stood out to me during Mass.

Nothing will be wasted.

What a beautiful promise the Lord makes to us in that one verse.  He was speaking of the bread that had been multiplied to feed the hungry who had come together to hear Him preach.  If He says this about bread, how much more would He say it about my life? Continue reading “Nothing Wasted”