A Christ-Centered and Eucharistic Life
It happens to almost all of us at some point: The Mass, the centerpiece of our Catholic life, gets stale, difficult, and (dare I say it?) boring. You go, you believe, you try, but, man, it's more an experience of going through the motions than the source of summit of our Christian life you know it to be.
The English essayist and convert to Catholicism, G.K. Chesterton once quipped, "The Mass is very long and tiresome... unless one loves God." These words of G.K. Chesterton cut right to the heart of the question and the problem: Do I really love God in all of this? Does the Mass invite me more deeply into that love? Is my life a preparation and thanksgiving for my encounter with the living God in the Eucharist at Mass?
Like most activities we do regularly, the Mass, as powerful and beautiful as it is, can lose its shine and importance in our lives unless we make intentional efforts to go deeper, ask more questions, and strive after greatness and holiness.
To be clear, because of the power of Christ in the Eucharist, one moment in Mass can change everything in our lives. One glimpse of the Blessed Sacrament, the smallest portion on our tongue (received in a state of grace) changes (and can change) our lives forever. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: 'Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.'" (CCC 1327). In other words, our life is Eucharistic.
Therefore, to get the most out of Mass my life Monday through Saturday should in some way be oriented toward the Eucharistic Mystery. This first (of four) post is an effort to help develop the kind of life and virtues necessary for a meaningful and consistent encounter with Our Lord in the Eucharist and in the community at the Sunday Mass.
A prime example of what this life should like is St. Francis de Sales. When St. Francis de Sales prepared for ordination to the priesthood, he had a simple request of God -- he wanted his life to be preparation and thanksgiving for the Eucharist. It's simple, but it gets our Christian life just right. We are made for communion, we are called to greatness, we receive God Himself in the Eucharist.
Firstly, for the Eucharist (i.e. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made physically and totally present on the altar) to mean something important on Sunday, Jesus has to be important each day of the week. This starts, not with grand or heroic acts, but with a relationship, with a conversation, on our knees, walking down the street, in prayer.
There is an old saying, "You can't love what you don't know." For us as Catholics, how can we love God in the Eucharist, when we do not know him in our daily lives, when we do not see Him in our friends and family, when we do not speak with Him daily?
There is, however, quite an easy remedy to this lack of personal relationship and knowledge of God: Invite Him into your life. Spend 15 minutes (1% of your day) quietly reflection and meditating upon Scripture. Ask Him for help as you walk to a test. Give Him thanks when you see His loving face or feel His loving touch. Hold hands with His Mother by praying a Rosary or carrying one in your pocket. The possibilities are endless. I'm not going to say it doesn't matter how you pray (for it does in some sense), but don't worry about being a little reckless, a little informal, or maybe even quite unsure of yourself. The point is, Pray!
Secondly, just any meaningful relationship is not simply intellectual or social, you must serve God, especially in the poor, the downtrodden, the needy. Now, I am not asking you to be the next Mother Teresa. Rather, you have myriad opportunities to serve others, just as you have myriad opportunities to pray. In your classes, you can be kind and considerate; you can even sit next to and chat with the nervous loner. In your apartment/dorm/fraternity/sorority you can clean up messes you didn't make. On a more consistent note, you can join a service group. Our lives are not our own. We are called to serve one another and in giving we become and receive more than we ever could on our own.
Make Catholic Friends
Lastly, we need friends in our journey of faith. When I was in college, I had two friends who always invited me to Mass. They held me accountable. When they both graduated a year before me, my system of support disappeared. Mass just wasn't the same when I wasn't going with friends. So, I stopped going for a couple of weeks. Then, out of nowhere, some other friends called me out; they told me they missed seeing me at Mass and joining me afterward for dinner. Just as quickly as my system of support disappeared, it reappeared in the form of new friends. I was part of a community that cared for me, a community that supported me, a community that held me to the highest standard.
Short story even longer, friends are a necessary part of the Catholic life. At Mass, we may go to Communion alone, but we always do so and act as a part of the entire Body of Christ. When the guy on my left and the girl on my right know me and love me, my place is with them and my joy is their joy. I see myself at Mass, in the congregation as a vibrant, necessary piece which makes the community a better place.
In the end, Sunday Mass is a part of a life of prayer, service, and community. When the other parts are strong Monday through Saturday, Mass on Sunday is no longer a chore or a bore, but a place where I not only encounter and consume the Living God, but a place where I matter, where everything comes together, and where a little slice of heaven is made present on Earth.
Next week: What to do before Mass.