Dear Parish Family,
After last Sunday’s homily, I had a number of requests to summarize the suggestions about our participation at the celebration of holy Mass, in which I had specific recommendations for parents. First of all, you can listen to the whole homily on our new website, thanks to Jeromy Alexander who has begun to post my Sunday homilies.
Here is the cliff notes version without my commentary on “secretary of defense,” Tim Howard:
How many of us sometimes feel like going to Mass is a burden or an obligation to God I just need to fulfill? Here is the Savior of the world wanting to help us carry the crosses of our life by giving us the sacrifice of himself at Mass, and we’re wondering about whether or not he’ll finish doing that in an hour.
Now, I don’t exclude myself from having that mentality sometimes. As a priest, I celebrate the Eucharist every single day, so maybe you can imagine how, even for a priest who absolutely loves celebrating Mass, it can sometimes feel like a burdensome obligation. But when I am tempted to feel that way, that’s my wake-up call to realize I’ve got it all backwards.
We can be tempted to think that going to church on Sunday is something that we do for God, but sisters and brothers, it’s the other way around! The holy sacrifice of the Mass is something that God does for us! He gives us the sacrifice of his very own body and blood in the Eucharist. In the Liturgy of the Word, he teaches us, as we learn from him who is meek and humble of heart.
So, will you come to him not only with the physical presence of your body by showing up, but just as important, will you dial in with your spirit and receive the sustenance and the rest for which your soul yearns?
Allow me to make some concrete suggestions on how to really dial in at Mass and open ourselves up to that rest Jesus desires for us to receive.
Suggestion #1 – Relax!
Part of the reason why the Lord commands us to keep Sunday holy unto him is because he wants us to put the craziness of life aside for a little while and rest in him. Jesus wants us to be able to come to him after a long work week and maybe even a hectic Saturday filled with family activities, shopping, and working around the house, to put all that aside and say, “Lord, I just give all of my worries, struggles and concerns to you at this Mass. Let me just receive the rest that only you can give.”
Now, you might say, “Father, that’s a lot easier said than done when you don’t have three kids to keep still and quiet.” That’s a very good point. We may need a more positive way of looking at children’s presence at Mass. I saw a pew card that gave this advice to parents. Here are three points I took from it:
1. “Relax! God put the wiggle in children; don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house…. Let them know they are at home in this house of worship.
2. “Sit toward the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what’s going on at the altar. They tire of seeing the backs of other’s heads.”
3. “If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but please come back. As Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me.’”
Here at our parish, the right transcept (wing) is both close to the front and close to the cry room. So it’s a great place to sit for families with young children because, when our children sometimes become a distraction to other people’s worship, then it’s an easy escape. But please come back! The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a sign of new life.
Suggestion #2 – Get in the Zone!
What do I mean by getting into the zone? We often use the phrase for when an athlete is totally focused, as if he or she were in their own world. Well, at Mass, we have the opportunity join the hosts of heaven and enter into God’s world who wants to be in union with us here on earth. But in order to recognize and enter into this divine presence, we need to quiet our souls. Sometimes our minds are just racing with all kinds of things and preoccupied with worldly concerns and the crosses that we have been carrying. Particularly at the beginning of Mass, we need to take a few deep breaths where we inhale the good stuff and exhale the bad stuff.
One thing that is very important for getting into the zone is to be sure and utilize the built-in moments of silence at Mass. What do we at the beginning of every Mass during the penitential rite? We call to mind our sins, which is exhaling the bad stuff, and then we receive the Lord’s mercy, which is breathing in the good stuff. Then, there are those few seconds of silence after the priest says, “Let us pray.” The Church put that pause in there to do just that, to pray silently and enter into God’s presence. Then, after a span of a few deep breaths, the priest says or chants the prayer that unites all of our personal silent prayer into one prayer to God.
There is also a period of silence after the homily and silence after the communion song. Those aren’t there for us to think, “Hey, what’s going on? How come there’s nothing happening? I’ve got a tee time to get to. Chop-chop.” No, those moments of silence are there on purpose for us to “get in the zone” with God.
Suggestion #3 – Mean What You Say!
Mean what you say to God at Mass! We all have our responses at Mass. Because of our familiarity with them, we can sometimes recite our parts without intention, without really directing them to God. But when we mean the words we speak, when we desire in our hearts what the Mass responses expresses, that’s when we open ourselves up to the consoling Spirit of God working in us. So, let every word you say at Mass, from the opening “And with your spirit” to the final “Thanks be to God,” be an expression of praise, of relief, and of gratitude for the fact that, as St. Paul says, “all things work for the good of those who love God.”
So, take up our Lord on his promise when he says, “I will give you rest.” Jesus doesn’t want to add to our burdens; he wants to lighten them. “Come to me all you labor and are burdened…and you will find rest for your souls.”
Yours in Christ,