When someone says something unfavorable about someone I love, I experience it intensely. I’m Sicilian.
And so it is with the Church. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve found that I need a great deal of God’s help when I hear people complain about her. It feels like someone is insulting my Nanna’s cooking. It’s personal.
Recently, I’ve heard several people voice dissatisfaction in their efforts to find a Sunday Mass for their family.
“We love the music, but the homilies are boring.”
“The priest talks too long.”
“I go to Church to be filled up, and we don’t get much out of it.”
“My kids can’t understand the priest, his accent is too thick.”
When I hear these things, I have to hold myself back from pulling a Dick Butkus and reacting with a gritty defensive move. But I’ve learned the hard way that these situations are best met with God’s helpful guidance rather than my emotion.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was voicing similar dismay.
I was once a person who went to Mass with an empty spiritual tank, like I was pulling into the King Sooper’s gas station expecting to be filled up, eager to move on to the next errand as though Mass was just another commodity to purchase on my shopping list.
I was once a person who assumed the priest should have a black belt in everything from managing the finances of the parish to being a good confessor to topping off each week by delivering a rock-solid, super-sonic homily on Sunday.
I was once a person who thought that I deserved a homily tailor-made to my preferences, including a personable delivery complete with aisle visits and a five minute time limit.
I was this person until God’s grace helped me to see the underlying issue at the root of my dissatisfaction.
He showed me that I wasn’t dissatisfied during Mass because of what I wasn’t getting. I was dissatisfied at Mass because I didn’t fully appreciate what I was getting.
I was receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ, soul and divinity, yet I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of it. I didn’t appreciate it because I wasn’t sure if I actually believed in the Real Presence. But once God helped me see that he really is present in the Eucharist, the Mass stopped being about me, and started being about him.
The shift didn’t happen for me by the flip of an intellectual switch. It happened through rigorous prayer over time in adoration. Someone close to me suggested that I kneel before Jesus and tell him about the doubts I was having. She suggested that I ask him to show me his Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. He did, and what a blessing it was.
Do I want to hear a good homily from a dynamic homilist at Mass and have an enjoyable experience for my family? Of course. But if it doesn’t play out the way I want it to, it no longer ruins the Church experience for me, because just a few minutes later I get to receive Christ, and just a few minutes earlier I’ve listened to God’s word.
One thing that makes Catholic worship distinct is that it has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We have Scripture readings in the first, and we receive Christ in the second. To fully enter into both parts requires action on my part: active listening to God’s word, and a disposition of gratitude for his sacrifice.
When I doubted the Real Presence, I lost focus on the main attractions—the Word and the Eucharist—and became distracted by my own wants. I couldn’t be an active participant in either part of the Mass; I couldn’t fully experience the sacred liturgy.
But this struggle was a blessing. Because of it, I understand today that no homily, musical arrangement, or form of “worshiptainment” can ever trump the gift of being able to receive Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. It just doesn’t get more real than that.