As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thank You For Coming

I attended Ash Wednesday Mass this year at the church where I often attend Sunday Mass. In our diocese like many other attendance is dwindling.  And yet on Ash Wednesday, the church was packed.  It almost reduced me to tears to be surrounded by so many people, many I knew and many I didn't.  It made me question why this particular Mass would be a priority to so many people, many who (presumably) do not attend regularly throughout the year.  I get it with Christmas and Easter, those Masses feel good.  They are a celebration, a tradition people keep up with their families.  We feel good when we leave, like we've done the right thing.  But on Ash Wednesday it's all about our sinfulness.  And here I was sitting in a church full of people who all came to hear that they are sinners, to remember that they are dust, and unto dust they shall return.  It was beautiful, and made me feel a connection to all of them, that there is this universal recognition that we need more than ourselves in order to overcome our desire to sin.  We need God - and these people know it.  These people, many of whom do not come to Sunday Mass but still take up lenten sacrifices, these people I walk beside in my daily life and think to be so distant from me, they really are not.  I felt one with the human family in that moment, in a way I could not explain.  These people touched me, lifted my soul, and I was so blessed by that one Mass that they chose to attend.

Not long after I saw this article making the rounds on the Internet, and it completely reduced that experience for me.  When did we as Catholics start condemning people for attending Mass?  When did we make Mass attendance into a joke, thinking not about the deep conversion of heart and the falling in love that should accompany a committed desire to be there week after week, but reducing it simply to a game of numbers?  When did a packed church at Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, cease to be a comfort and become an opportunity for us to say, "where are you every other Sunday of the year?" I realize of course that was probably not the intention of the author, who seemingly wrote a light-hearted piece about Mass attendance, and who no doubt does want Mass to be a more welcoming environment for people to want to come back to.  But seeing it shared along with comments like, "yeah, I was wondering who all these people were when I walked into Mass on Ash Wednesday?" made it seem a little much.  Who they are are brothers and sisters in Christ, who made the choice to come to Mass and celebrate with us.  When we wonder why they don't attend week after week, we should look first at ourselves.  So often lately I find myself asking the question, "why is it that I don't live in a way that makes people want to turn to Christ?" 

Pope Francis reminds us that "It is about assuming missionary dynamism in order to reach everyone, putting first those who feel distant and the most vulnerable and forgotten people. It means opening the doors and letting Jesus go forth. Many times we keep Jesus closed inside the parishes with us, and we do not go out and we do not let Him leave! Open the doors so He can go out, at least Him! It is about a Church which “goes forth”: a Church which always goes forth."  Of course in the going forth we want to bring people back - we want them to be there week after week.  But it's not a gimmick - we are not a more successful church simply because we have more people in the pews (if that were the case, Church bingos would be the standard of evangelization!)  It's not about making ourselves feel better that we attend every week - it's about sharing the person of Jesus with each that we meet, and seeing Him in each person we meet.  Because you know what?  That Ash Wednesday, surrounded by people who attend faithfully with me week after week and seeing the holes in attendance filled up with many who do not, it was the people who made the choice to show up not out of habit, but out of a sincere desire of heart who ministered most to me.  It's possible I took it this way because I in fact attended with someone I know does not go to church every Sunday, but to whom the tradition of Lent still means something that I saw it this way. I saw his devotion, which looked very different on the outside and yet, rounded out the devotion of those of us who do make a regular commitment to the faith, and it lifted me up.  It helped me see that though sometimes it feels a world apart, really we are all the same.  We have the same desires on our heart for redemption, and Jesus offers the same to each of us, whether we are in the pews week after week or a little more sporadic.

May I never look down on anyone whose devotion looks different than my own, and instead live in a way that radiates the love of Christ to everyone.  When my pride tempts me to ask, "why didn't you come?" help me instead to see my role in the greater family of God - and maybe the more appropriate question to myself should be,  "why didn't you see a love that burned so bright within me that you desired to follow me?"  

"We often use salt to keep those wounds open in one way or another. Let our charity not be sentimental.  Let us treat people with integrity and let us listen, listen and pray.  It is only through listening and prayer that we will understand the hurt of the other, that you will understand my hurt and I will understand yours.  Let us treat each person with deep integrity and respect and let us console, for through us flows the love of God the Father, the grace of the Son, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit."  (Catherine Doherty)

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