What I miss if I miss Mass

There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Comeback,” in which George is insulted at work and comes up with what he thinks is a clever retort, but only after the moment has passed and he is his car driving somewhere else. I had one of those situations a few days ago. Not that I was insulted or had a great one liner I could have delivered, but I missed what might have been a good opportunity to share my faith in a small way.

While traveling out of state, I was visiting with some rather distant relatives whom I will probably not see again for a very long time, if at all. One was joking about how he never misses Mass, and that he always mentions this when he encounters a priest. The priests are sometimes perplexed, as they never see him at Mass, so they ask what parish he attends. He doesn’t answer, but simply repeats, “I never miss Mass.”

If you haven’t figured it out already, the joke was that he almost never goes to Mass, but that he doesn’t miss going, either.

While on a plane back to Southern California, it occurred to me that perhaps missed an opportunity to share my own feelings toward the Mass. Because, truthfully, I love going to Mass.

This wasn’t always the case. For a long time I went to Mass primarily out of a sense of obligation. I hoped that it would somehow make a difference; that somehow I’d absorb grace through osmosis or something even if my mind wandered the entire time.

This changed one day when my parish had a mandatory, one-day retreat for parents of teens entering the Confirmation program. The Confirmation director deserves some credit for hutzpah, as there must have been at least a few parents who were annoyed at being told they HAD to attend a religious event, as if anyone had the right to suggest that they might have room to grow in their faith. Then, at the retreat, we were asked to consider our own spiritual lives and whether we were serving as good role models in the faith for our teens, or whether there was more we could do in our own relationship with God.

The director suggested we avoid viewing Mass attendance as a chore, using such phrases as, “We have to go to Mass now.” Instead, she suggested that we try to see it as an opportunity to draw closer to God and experience renewal. After all, God didn’t give us the Mass for His own benefit, but for ours. This resonated with me. My spiritual life had grown pretty dry and I knew I needed something more.

When I went to Mass the next day, I decided to spend a few moments in prayer before it began. I asked God to open my mind and my heart to whatever He might want me to hear that day, and to help me be mentally present during the Mass. The priest’s homily that day could have been written me. He spoke of the need to be one person rather than trying to be two — one who attends Mass and another who disregards God’s will throughout the remainder of the week.

The next week, I said the same prayer. Once again, the priest (a different one this time) gave a homily that could have been written just for me. I continued to say this prayer before every Mass, and soon found that I NEVER left Mass without gaining something. Sometimes it wasn’t the homily, but maybe a particular reading, or even one of the short prayers the priest says during various points within the Mass that I used to completely ignore. Sometimes it was just feeling the presence of Jesus.

Two years later, I still begin Mass this way. I also spend a few moments reflecting on the preceding week — how well I followed God’s will, and where I might have done better — and on the challenges in the week to come. I offer prayers for others in need, and I thank God for all of the gifts in my life. Sometimes I run out of words, so I say just say, “Jesus, you know what I need. I trust in you.” And I will just sit and know that he is with me.

This weekly ritual has not only impacted my experience within the Mass, but it has allowed the Mass to impact my life more fully. I am very much still a work in progress and I don’t have the answers, but I do find myself turning to God on a regular basis, asking for His help, and even allowing Him to push me to reach out to others, become more engaged with my family and community and take on new challenges.

Would it have made any difference if I’d spoken up during the conversation I described? I wouldn’t necessarily have needed to give a lecture — a simple, “Actually, I love going to Mass,” might have piqued someone’s curiosity and pushed the conversation in a new direction. Or, maybe I’d have gotten some funny looks. Who knows? In the Parable of the Sower, seeds are scattered everywhere. Some take root, and some don’t. I can only hope if I should find myself in a similar situation again, I will have the presence of mind and the courage to share my own experiences in my faith.

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