Going to church

My wife and I are going on a trip this week. As I was reviewing our itinerary, I was reminded that we chose a later return flight next Sunday so that we would have time to attend Mass. It took a little jockeying to make hotel checkout, Mass times and flight schedules all coordinate, but at the time it seemed like: a) no big deal; and b) something that simply had to be done. (Going to Mass Saturday night is not an option in this case.)

So, what’s the big deal? It occurred to me that it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have made the flight reservations without a thought about church. Had there been time, I might have gone, but then, I might not have gone either. Church attendance was based more on convenience than necessity.

There’s not much doubt about what God wants. He calls us to remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy. Observing the Sabbath is one of the most ancient parts of our faith, going back thousands of years. But our desire for worldly things calls us constantly to treat it like any other day; or like some sort of bonus day, good for getting in a little bit more work or a little bit more shopping. The most important things all too often get the least consideration when we are making our plans.

Our God is a quiet god. He doesn’t demand our attention. He doesn’t strike us down with bolts of lightning. He waits patiently for us to come to Him; sending us encouragements and guidance. But He doesn’t shout. God whispers.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that small, quiet voice is the most important one in my life. That voice always guides me in the right direction and helps steer my habits toward life and away from death. And it’s really not that hard a life to live. The reality is that it’s a much better, much more joy-filled life than my old “Give it to me, give it all to me, and give it all to me right now!” lifestyle.

But I still need to listen carefully for that gentle voice. In order to hear it, I have to quiet the world, or at least find a quiet place in the world. I have to slow down. And I have to go to church on Sunday.


Another Holy Week begins

Last Friday, I attended two funerals. Two men I have worked with passed away. They were not young, but they left this earth short of a full life’s ride, and their passings were sad occasions. The two men did not know one another. They lived several hours apart. One of them was a former boss I liked while the other had served on a nonprofit board with me. They were two good men who did good things in their lives and now will be missed by the rest of us.

Being a couple of hours apart meant I had plenty of alone time in my car to think before and between the two funerals. As a result, by the end of the day Friday, I was pretty sad. And then came Saturday evening’s Palm Sunday gospel, which tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus rode into town to the cheers of the crowd, only to find himself arrested right after the Passover Holiday dinner. Needless to say, this was not my singing and dancing weekend.

In an uncomfortable way, though, I have to say I appreciate God’s timing. I can sit and mope about how mean our ancestors were to Jesus and how sad we should be that he was killed. But I can only do that if I ignore that which I know comes next. In less than seven days, we will be singing the “Gloria” at mass again, because Jesus showed us that death is the beginning, not the end.

In the same way, I can miss my friends Mike and Jerry. I can be sad that they were ill and didn’t live as many years with us as we would have liked. I will not be able to hear their wit and their wisdom any more. But just as I am confident that Jesus overcame death, I am confident that both Jerry and Mike did too. And that they are now enjoying the real life, the eternal life, and the life without tears, illness and pain.

Holy Week is a sober, somber week for me. I can easily get pulled into a sad place, thinking about the suffering of Christ. But Holy Week always ends the same way. We are not meant to remain sad, and we do not have to fear death. We know how this story ends, and it is a terrific ending.

I miss you, Jerry and Mike. But I will see you again soon. Because Jesus went there before you and has shown us the Way.

Don’t say it, PRAY it

Catholic confession time!.How many of you are willing to admit that sometimes Mass is boring? Come on; be honest with me. There have been times when the Priest’s message seems to be about as meaningful as the hum of an electric dryer and your own responses about as automatic as the recording that says, “Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options…” Many of us, particularly those of us who were born and raised in the Faith, get so used to what we hear in church that we could repeat it in our sleep. (In fact, there has been a Sunday morning or two when we have nodded off.)

My own personal struggle is tied to the King-James-ization of the prayers. I’m like one of Pavlov’s famous trained dogs. I may not salivate when I hear a dinner bell (well, yes I do, but that’s another story), but I get woozy whenever I hear words that were not written for 21st century ears. When I hear the words “thee,” “thy” or “thou” my lights go out. It’s an automatic response. What’s a sleepy, undisciplined, yet earnest Catholic to do?

Try this: don’t SAY the prayers, PRAY the prayers. Have a conversation with You Know Who. When it’s time for the Our Father, lift up your hands, close your eyes and picture God standing in front of you. And then TALK to him. TELL him that his name is “hallowed,” that you believe his wonderful kingdom is coming and that you accept his will for you and for all of creation. ASK him to provide you with the bread you need to get through today. Apologize and ASK FORGIVENESS for pulling that cute girl’s hair in third grade and fudging your taxes last year, and assure him that you FORGIVE that little girl for sticking her tongue out at you and you forgive the IRS for, well, being the IRS. ASK your Abba to keep you out of mischief. And then say AMEN! like you really mean it.

It’s reality that many parts of the Mass cannot be ad libbed. We need to use the same words to keep from sounding like a pet shop at feeding time. But whether those words have meaning to us individually is up to us individually. We are praying together as a community, but we are also speaking to God personally and directly. In every part of the mass, regardless of whether it’s the Priest, the Lector, the Cantor, the Choir or yourself, God is always part of the conversation; He’s either speaking or listening. Use the words of the Mass to talk with Him.

It’s a Holy conversation between Ye and He.