Sunday, April 5, 2015

Top Ten Reasons Not to Come to Mass Only at Easter

At Christmas and Easter we’re very happy to welcome many visitors to the parish—both family members from out of town and others who live in the area but don’t come regularly to church.

Some years we even have a visitor or two who’s never been to Mass before. The other day I heard about someone like that: at Easter she went to church for the first time, encouraged by her Catholic boyfriend.

Everything seemed a bit strange, but the friend was very helpful and explained whatever he could. When the priest came up and kissed the altar, the visitor asked “what’s that mean?” and her friend explained that the altar was a symbol of Christ and of his sacrifice.

When the priest made the sign of the cross, she asked again “what’s that mean?” The boyfriend said that the priest was blessing himself in the names of the persons of the Holy Trinity.

Everything went smoothly until the homily, when the priest took off his watch and put it on the pulpit.

“What’s that mean?” the newcomer asked.

“Nothing whatsoever,” came the reply.

Well, now that you know how things work, I thought it might be useful this Easter to say a few words to those who aren’t usually with us on Sundays—not so much to those visiting us from other parishes or churches, but to the Catholics who come to Mass only occasionally, particularly Christmas and Easter.

Thinking about those folks, I came up with a Top Ten list—not a funny one, like David Letterman does on TV, but one I hope will give us all some food for thought.

So here we go: Top Ten Reasons to Come to Mass Every Sunday

Number Ten: Joining us each week helps you follow the story. Catholics who come at Christmas and don’t return until Easter go from Jesus in the manger to Jesus risen from the dead, with nothing in between. It’s like joining a book club and missing three-quarters of the meetings. In our first reading this morning, St. Peter gives a very short version of the Gospel, but even his condensed story covers more ground than the birth and Resurrection. Over the course of the year, our Sunday liturgies present the whole plan of salvation in an organized way.

Number Nine: It’s easier to come to Mass all of the time than some of the time. That may sound surprising, but it’s true. I’m speaking to those Catholics who really do want to come to Mass, but who find all kinds of things interfere. If you have to make a fresh decision to come to Mass each week, it’s a weekly conflict; but if you decide once for all to come every Sunday, you’ve avoided a lot of angst.

Number Eight: Only by attending regularly do you connect with the community. We’re not, to be sure, the only community in town, but we’re serious about it, we support those who need help, we pray for those who need prayer, and if you give us a chance we’re pretty good at welcoming people and making them feel included.

Community matters more than you might think. A recent book called “Being Mortal” says something very important about community. The author, a doctor, writes that “The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society.” Loyalty, the book suggests, is built on something bigger than ourselves and provides ultimate meaning to our lives.

Number Seven: Sunday Mass may be your best chance to pray. For some of us, even a short daily prayer time is hard to manage. But an hour in church can be a time of spiritual rest and recreation. I can’t say that’s my own experience for me—I’m up here on the altar, and I have to keep my mind on a number of things, but many parishioners, especially the busy younger ones, have told me about the relief they get from spending this one hour with God.

In our second reading today, St. Paul says “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Nowhere better to do that than at Mass, where heaven and earth come pretty close together.

Number Six: This may be your best opportunity to let go and let God. We all carry around many worries and concerns, and sometimes we need a place to park them. A psychologist once told me that worry is the most useless form of human behavior. It achieves nothing, but it costs plenty. Prayer, properly understood, is an exercise in surrender and trust. You can bring your worries to Mass, and leave them on the altar. And on top of that, we help you pray for your needs—remembering the intentions of one another is an important part of what we do when we celebrate the Eucharist as a parish. We pray especially for the sick and the recently deceased, keeping a list of their names up to date as you come in to the church each week.

Speaking of prayer, Sunday Mass is an excellent place to count your blessings. One of the psalms asks “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” and gives the answer “The cup of salvation I will rise; I will call on the Lord’s name.” For the Christian, the cup of salvation is the chalice we raise at Mass, and the Eucharist is the best of all thanksgiving prayers.

Number Five: Worry’s not the only thing you can leave behind as you walk out of Mass: you can leave some of your sins behind, too. While a sacramental confession is the way Catholics become free of grave sin, at every Mass we pray for forgiveness of our lesser sins and failings. And we do it together—again, praying with and for one another.

Sunday Mass can also be a weekly moment of accountability as we prepare ourselves for the worthy reception of Holy Communion.

Number Four: If you’re concerned that the church is full of hypocrites, coming to Mass reassures you that there’s always room for one more! Years ago I read a Protestant church leader say that belonging to anything meant accepting its inevitable shortcomings. To learn to accept the weaknesses of others we need to hang in when disagreements arise and work them out.

Number Three: Hearing the message of Christ proclaimed each week helps us meet the challenges of our lives. When I was born, almost all Canadians agreed on the basic rules of the good life. Now they don’t. If you want timeless wisdom about the choices you make, and you’ve forgotten what Sister Elfreda taught you in grade school, it’s time for a refresher course. Fifty-two Sunday Masses covers a lot of solid Christian teaching in a year.

Number Two: Coming to Mass each Sunday can make you feel loved—and I don’t mean by the usher, friendly as he or she might be. The Eucharist is Christ’s way of staying close to those he loves until he returns to earth at the end of time. The Eucharist is a sign of his love, and while our own feelings will fluctuate, at least some of the time our experience in church should make us deeply aware of God’s intimate love and care for us—expressed by the gift of his Body and Blood.

Number One: The top reason for coming to Mass each and every Sunday is that Christ is risen from the dead! The mystery we celebrate today—the feast that has drawn some of you here, perhaps for the first time since Christmas—is what we celebrate every Sunday.

Every Friday is a little Lent, and every Sunday a kind of Easter. The flowers and the music may not be quite so glorious, but each week we rejoice that Christ has risen, reliving the wonder of the Resurrection and experiencing its power to change our lives.

There’s my top ten—I could go to twenty, but my seeing my watch in front of me does mean something!

Come back and join us next week.

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