Over the past three years, the number of students actively engaged in our ministry has increased dramatically. This is the first in a four part series to help people understand who we know our student parishioners to be, how we go about our mission of evangelizing and building up disciples among them, and our success stories.
In this part , I am sharing our general understanding of who our student parishioners are and where they are in their faith journeys. It is deliberately simple so as to provide a clear starting point for the creation and execution of our vision and a basis for how we allocate resources.
Who are Hoosier Catholics?
The unengaged are the largest group of Hoosier Catholics, comprising around 80% of the Catholics on campus. Simply put, they are not very interested in being an active member of the Catholic Church. They come to Mass sporadically, if at all. Faith and good works remain, for many, an important part of their lives, but its not really connected to their being Catholic. Their primary point of contact to St. Paul’s are friends who are engaged or committed.
The curious are interested in taking the next step in their Catholic faith (or joining the Church), but they are unsure how to take such a step or if they are ready to take it. They have big and difficult questions to ask and are starting to find answers in the Catholic Church. They may join a service group on their own but they need to be asked to attend Mass, a retreat or a small group. They have started to build Catholic relationships with the engaged and committed. They comprise about 10% of Hoosier Catholics.
The engaged intentionally practice their Catholic faith. They take the initiative to attend Mass, a weekly small group, or a retreat. They still have unanswered questions but they have found a home in the Church and are starting to put their faith into action in every aspect of their lives. Daily prayer, regular Confession, regular service and a few intentional Catholic friendships are hallmarks of this group. They comprise about 7% of Hoosier Catholics.
The committed define their lives through their identity in Christ and their Catholic faith. They pray daily, lead small groups, staff retreats, come to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration. They have a heart for service and evangelization and a desire to accompany others in their faith journeys. They comprise about 3% of Hoosier Catholics.
A horse is never mentioned in any of the accounts of St. Paul's conversion. A light? Yes. Falling to the ground? You bet. Hearing a voice? "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:5)
Yet, in so many artistic portrayals of St. Paul's conversion, there is a horse with Paul either dramatically falling from it or already pressed against the ground.
Though technically a diversion from the Scriptural accounts, these images in paint illustrate vividly what Our Blessed Lord does when He comes to each of us: He knocks us down from our preconceptions, our prejudices, our sins, our anger/frustration/sadness/name the emotion so He can pull us up made new in His image and likeness, living in the Truth, and ready to share Him with all we encounter.
Easier said then done, right? This is why we must return to the Scriptural narrative. In his letter to the Galatians (cf. Galatians 1), St. Paul recounts how after his conversion he spent three years in Damascus preaching and praying, and building up the community before he set out on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The journey from Saul to Paul the Apostle did not happen immediately. It, like every true conversion, started with a profound, personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, again like every other conversion, it required time, prayer, authentic friendships, and a loving, supportive community before it blossomed into its fullness.
Each of us is called to go from Saul to Paul. Jesus is seeking you zealously. Even if you are from Him, He lovingly awaits the moment He will pour His boundless grace and mercy into your heart. When He does shine His light upon us -- whether it be in the waters of Baptism, in the Sacrament of Confession, in a humble, loving reception of Him in the Eucharist , in the chapel, or, like St. Paul, on our own road to Damascus, whatever that might be -- He won't abandon us. In fact, as He summoned Ananias to Saul, He will put holy, virtuous friends in our lives, He will welcome us into His community, the Church, He will challenge us to work on our hearts, to build meaningful, Christ-centered friendships, to change vices into virtue, to fall madly in love with Him. Then, He will set us loose.
If Jesus hasn't knocked you to the ground with His love yet, He will. Maybe it's time to attend Hoosier Awakening. Maybe it's time to get back to Confession. Maybe it's time to join or go back to a small group Bible study.
Seek God who is seeking you. Persevere. Keep the faith. Christ comes with power then, little by little, He sets about the hard yet wonderful task of making us saints. Then, Someday, each of us, by God's grace, can and will say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
"It's going to more than a quarter mile from the entrance to the altar."
That was my introduction to what Mass with 17,000 Catholic university students from all over the country (and even the world) would be like at SEEK2019, presented by FOCUS.
The scale of a conference like SEEK -- 17,000+ people, 90+ students from my own campus, 500 priests, thousands of Confessions -- is both remarkable and nearly incomprehensible. At a time when we are constantly being told young people have no time for or interest in God and witnessing so many departures from the faith (especially the Catholic Church), FOCUS continues to grow and our ministry to IU students has increased almost exponentially the last few years. Moreover, the sheer scale of SEEK witnesses to the thirst every soul, even those confused, ashamed, and scared, have for God and His Church.
At this year's conference, the tagline was "Encounter Something More." For every attendee, this line had limitless meaning. Encounter something more in the Eucharist... in your campus community ... in God... in Confession... in a conversion of heart and mind... the list goes on.
Therein lies the beauty of the conference and our Catholic faith: God, in His infinitude, has something for each of us uniquely. There is a love, a unique act of love, and it is me. For each of us, no matter where we have been or what we have done, God loves you, embraces you as His beloved, and calls you to more.
On a practical level, this means our response to God's love is as simple and individual as His love is for us. My encounter with something more leads me to more -- one more, in fact. As impressive as the 17,000 is, the Church started with 12. The 12 encountered something more in Christ Jesus then went about sharing it with others, often one at a time.
In Acts 8, Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch along the side of the road reading from the prophet Isaiah. He sits with him, explains to him how all that was prophesied was realized in Jesus Christ, baptizes him, then sends him on his way. That one man went home and converted a nation.
During SEEK, I was truly impressed how, especially at all of the keynote talks, the importance of one-on-one, personal ministry and authentic friendship is the foundation of all we do in mission. We are sent by a person, Jesus Christ, to a person, whoever that may be. It reminds me (as so many things in ministry do) of the priest who told me years ago, "I became a priest to help one person." To college me, it seemed pathetic. To Dominican priest and campus minister me, it seems incredibly ambitious and perfect.
Christ invites us everyday in the Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer, in our every day lives to encounter something more and to share it in an intimate, personal way; just as He has shared Himself with me.
I don't know how SEEK2019 will impact our ministry and our campus. I do know, though, so many of our students have, in fact, encountered more, have done so in a community ready to walk with them, and now have the opportunity to take the next step.
For the one, it was all worth it.
Thanksgiving dinner is the best of times. Thanksgiving dinner is the worst times.
For many, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is the meal they look forward to for months. The turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, it goes on and it's all good. For others, Thanksgiving dinner is the one time of the year they have to sit with all of their family members, listen to their unpopular or uncouth political positions.
The purpose of Thanksgiving, as you know, is not the meal or the conversation -- good or difficult as those may be -- it is to give thanks for the myriad ways God has blessed our lives. As Catholics, we believe Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Word, came into this world, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for us and our salvation. Therefore, our lives should be one of thanks, one of gratitude. Jesus opened the doors of Heaven for me. I need to thank Him for that.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: "Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.
As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (2637-2638)
In other words, giving thanks is our default disposition. It is what we do every time we go to Mass. It is what we do every time we pray. It is who we are and what we are called to do.
Thanksgiving in practice (just like Thanksgiving with your crazy relatives) is and can be quite difficult. How can we give thanks for suffering/pain/loss/sin/you name it. There is so much going on in the world for which we should not give thanks, right? In one way, no, of course not. We should never be grateful for someone else's or our own's suffering or evil. We should never wish or inflict suffering.
At the same time, in faith, with Christ, even the greatest sin or worst suffering can be an opportunity for grace, conversion, and new life in Christ. For this, we should be immensely grateful.
When I was a senior in college, I was at my darkest and deepest point of sin. In a six month period, Christ went from the center of my life to a blurred image on the fringes. During Lent, I went to Confession at the campus penance service solely because I had helped organize it and felt obliged. In that Confession, the Lord shown His merciful and loving face upon me. Though I regret all of the sin that led me to that point, I am grateful for the power of God's mercy and the opportunity to have experienced it so powerfully.
Aside from the moments of transcendent grace, a disposition of thanksgiving is vital in our following after Christ. In times of real doubt, sin, or frustration, a simple reflection upon how God is blessing you and your life can be the difference between frustration and despair. In the Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola, before delving into the struggles or sins of the day, he encourages us at the end of each day first to recognize God's presence and give thanks for God's blessings throughout. This helps us put our struggles in context. Yes, it can be hard, but God never abandons us.
In times of success, give thanks. In times of struggle, give thanks. In every time and place, give thanks. Thanksgiving is who you are and what you do.
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The first step is usually the hardest, especially when it doesn't make the most sense.
When asked what is the first step in changing a bad habit/developing a good habit, growing closer to God, serving the poor, doing anything as a Christian, my response is always the same: "Prayer."
A human body cannot survive without oxygen. A human soul cannot survive let alone prosper without prayer.
God made us for relationship. He made us for Himself. At its very core, prayer is relationship, communication, time with God. Because of this, no moment of prayer is ever wasted because in prayer we are inviting the maker of the universe, the master builder, into our hearts, our lives, our innermost being. God never enters a heart without changing it, even in ways imperceptible, for the better.
St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” As a Carmelite nun, we shouldn't be surprised to hear this from her. However, it might surprise you St. Teresa said this because, when she entered the convent, she was shocked to find nuns going through the motions and placing little interest in prayer.
Even when someone has committed his or her life to prayer (like a monk or nun), prayer is hard because prayer is always a choice. It's so easy to find anything and everything to do except pray. We make excuses: "I'm too busy," "My prayer is my homework/service/friendships/etc," "I don't know how to pray."
Therefore, we must have a determined determination to never give up prayer. Here are some helpful tips:
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
We heard these words in Sunday's Gospel. Hearing them, the blind Bartimaeus rises to his feet, cries out to the Lord all the more, receives his sight, and follows after Him. If only it were so easy, to cry out once for Jesus and to have everything make sense forever.
Yet, courage (or as it is also know, fortitude) is one of the most misunderstood virtues. Far from being a willingness to do something brave or simply overcoming fear, courage is "the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause." (CCC 1808)
In other words, courage consists of being afraid/scared/sad, knowing full well the next step will hurt, conquering the fear, and choosing to do it anyway because it is good. For something to be courageous, one must choose the good with full awareness of the costs.
One of my favorite examples of courage in literature is The Lord of the Rings. At a certain point, Samwise Gamgee, the faithful companion and aid to Frodo Baggins, finds himself alone in a most desperate way. To go forward is to embrace almost certain death. To go home is to enjoy the finer things at least once more of which he had grown accustomed. In his moment of struggle, in the moment of truth, he sings:
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
he trees may bud, the waters run,
he merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
Faced with certain struggle, suffering, and pain, Samwise Gamgee chooses to keep going because it is the right thing to do, because there is good on the other side, even if only a glimmer. This is what courage looks like: knowing the costs, but prioritizing the good at the end over the struggle and difficult along the way.
As a college student, it takes a great deal of courage to fulfill even the basic expectations of Christianity -- Sunday Mass and service to God and neighbor. On the IU campus, you are much more likely to find someone who opposes the Church or traditional Christian beliefs and practices than you are likely to find someone who holds them, let alone espouses them.
Courage, real fortitude, however, is never satisfied with the least, the basics. Courage always pushes us to more because it is the better thing to do.
For instance, it takes courage to come to Mass. It takes more to say "Hello" to a stranger, more to learn her name, even more to sit with her at the Sunday supper and learn her story, more to invite her to a small group, more to follow up with her later in the week, more to prioritize your relationship with her over time with your friends, more to teach her how to pray, more to challenger her to greater service of those in need, more, more, more.
This is overwhelming. We'd all be tempted like Sam to sit down, to cry, to bemoan the struggle, and to remember and prioritize the good. Because our God is the God of more, of "Yes", of the Cross. The more we know the costs, the more we know our God, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the struggle, the greater the friendships, the greater the reward.
In the Gospel, blind Bartimaeus risked ridicule, shame, derision to cry out to Jesus. When challenged, he cried out all the more. Jesus heard. Jesus answered his prayer. Given the chance to do anything with his fully restored sight, Bartimaeus again took courage and followed faithfully after Christ.
What is your heart's greatest desire? How can you build deeper friendships or heal broken ones? How can you better build up God's kingdom here and now?
Sit with someone new at Mass or the Sunday Supper. Invite a friend to join your small group. Ask your small group leader to go with you to Confession. Join a service group.
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
It's not easy to be a Catholic. It's hard enough when there isn't a new scandal in the news. It's frankly nigh near impossible even with your best efforts and attitude. Yet, the reality is we are made for greatness, made for friendship and union with God, made for Love.
Over the course of my ministry, I have identified four types of Catholic college students. This list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, I hope this list will challenge each of you to assess honestly where you are in your walk with the Lord and to make the necessary steps to move forward.
The four types of Catholic you meet in college are: 1) the None, 2) the earnest skeptic, 3) the hesitant believer, and 4) the missionary disciple.
When asked, the None will tell you, often politely, they believe in nothing, follow no particular religion, or, if they are particularly kind, they are a former Catholic. It's not unusual for the None to have attended a Catholic grade school and/or high school. The None might or might not recognize a higher power; they are much more likely to see their lives as fine just the way they are. They don't have animus toward the Church, God, or even the believer. They just don't see a compelling reason to care. The idea of conversion, universal truth, the natural law are nice ideas, but it's more important you do you. Lastly, the None knows enough about the Church to disagree, but doesn't really care enough to explore any ideas that might conflict with his or her worldview. For the None, a common phrase is "You do you," or "Because I can" or "As long as nobody gets hurt."
The Earnest Skeptic
At 3 am after a few beers, the earnest skeptic is ready to talk about God. When invited to join a small group Bible study, go to Mass, or attend a retreat, the Earnest Skeptic will express an initial desire and might even sign up... then never show or always have a convenient, plausible excuse or do a complete reversal and ridicule you for having a faith. Though this person desires to change and recognizes a hunger and thirst deep in his soul, the Earnest Skeptic usually prioritizes the now over the good or the eternal. In other words, whatever is possible now is more important than anything better that could come along. If ever you get the chance to talk with an earnest skeptic about faith, they will engage thoughtfully while expressing real doubt about anything universal, anything that would challenge someone else's deeply held convictions. Consequently, though they were raised Catholic, the earnest skeptic hold most major claims of the Church suspect.
The Hesitant Believer
Every Sunday, the Hesitant Believer is in the pews. The Hesitant Believer, when asked, will identify as Catholic with a qualifier like "but I'm not that serious." In a difficult time, the Hesitant Believer might pray, but otherwise prayer is, at best, irregular or nonexistent. The Hesitant Believer shows up to a small group Bible study, but doesn't say much. The Hesitant Believer might even lead a small group or be in discipleship, but feels completely unworthy. Moreover, the Hesitant Believer can point to moments of profound grace and blessing, but the Hesitant Believer regularly struggles to understand or believe why God would continue to love them because of regular and/or recent struggles with serious sin and brokenness. The Hesitant Believer is struggling, but deeply desires more. When called into mission, into discipleship, into greatness, the Hesitant Believer moves, but each at their own pace.
The Missionary Disciple
The two telltale signs of a missionary disciple on a college campus are (1) honesty about imperfection and the need for God's grace and (2) a life of prayer -- the absolute priority of Divine Intimacy. Just as importantly, they are normal. They are in the dorms, members of a fraternity or sorority, at the games, up late at night with friends. The Missionary Disciple strives to make everything in their lives meaningful, intentional, other-oriented from prayer to conversations to study groups. The Missionary Disciple walks with others because of love. The Missionary Disciple desires to be in your life at a cost and with no gain for themselves because you are worth it. The Missionary Disciple sees everything -- from sin, to moments of extraordinary grace -- as an opportunity for conversion, for grace, for redemption, for becoming the saint you were created to be.
This list was not meant to be exhaustive. There are many types of college students, after all. My purpose in composing and sharing this reflection is to both challenge and affirm. Challenge you to more, to greatness, to becoming a missionary disciple. Affirm you in God's love; no matter where you are, you are loved beyond measure by Your Heavenly Father, you are His beloved son or daughter.
To be clear, my goal is to form each of you into a missionary disciple for the building up of the Kingdom of God here on campus. Your work and my work are not, however, complete here on campus. You are called to go out from this pace as a missionary disciple to another parish, city, state after graduation to continue in your vocation to change the world.
Let's get to work.
It's hard to pay attention at Mass. On the spiritual side, you have the hymns and prayers. On the more earthly side, you have crying babies and long (and sometimes, but only sometimes, boring) homilies. Sometimes it's hot. Other times it's cold. And somebody or something smells.
Even if those factors aren't present, the Mass is such a step outside of our usual daily lives it can be jarring. In what other place and time do we sing, pray, stand, kneel, and eat together? Moreover, our use of modern technology makes long periods without notifications or opportunities to mindlessly scroll through social media almost unbearable. Oh, and I forgot to mention the million things running through your head all pop up at once when you finally have a few moments of quiet and prayer.
It's no wonder we struggle at Mass to pay attention but, as I mentioned last week in the build up to Mass and the week before about our daily life, our preparation for Mass helps the actual experience. Once in the doors, however, there are some helpful tips to get more out of Mass.
When I make my daily holy hour, I always have a particular intention for whom I offer the hour. Now, I'll pray for a lot of other things and people during the hour, but there is always one particular person for whom I pray during the hour. This helps me when my mind starts to wonder to draw myself back, to stay focused, and, during especially difficult hours, to know I at least got something out of my prayer.
For instance, the past few months, I've prayed often for my two new nephews. When I start to get a little distracted, I think of Glenn or Liam, how cute they are, how much of a blessing they are, how beautiful it is to see the joy they bring my siblings and their spouses, all of that. No matter where my mind wonders, that intention draws me back to the reason for being in the chapel.
To get more out of Mass, have and keep your spiritual offering, your special intention at the forefront of your mind from the moment you step into church until the moment you leave. Mass can get a little stale at times, but when your attendance is for someone or something, the power and importance becomes so much stronger.
My first job was as a middle school teacher. It was great preparation for religious life because I became so comfortable with silence that year. For example, I'd ask, "Who is the President of the United States?" and the room was completely quiet. Oftentimes, at weddings and funerals, the same thing happens when I say, "The Lord be with you."
Conversations of any substance require two people listening and responding. Thinking, talking, listening, a back-and-forth.
To get more out of Mass, say the responses and prayers. The Mass is, in many ways, a dialogue between the priest and the people, as well as, and more importantly, between God and you. God speaks to you and wants to hear back.
The oft quoted line is "He who sings; prays twice." I don't really like this phrase, as it is used, because it seems a somewhat deceptive way to convince people to sing. However, in the Scriptural and liturgical tradition of the Church, song plays an important and pivotal role in worship of God. As Pope Paul VI notes, "Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it."
To get more out of Mass, sing. Sing the hymns, the Psalms, and encourage your priest to sing the prayers. We are worshiping the Living and Loving God, God who deigned to dwell with us. If that is not worthy of song (even bad singing) I don't know what is.
I am usually the first to argue many contemporary Masses use too many minister. Whether they be acolytes or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. In fact, I once attended a Mass with no more than 50 people. There were 15 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. However, there are many ways to serve the community during Mass both within the Liturgy itself as a lector, in the choir, as an acolyte, or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and in the pews as an usher or simply helping those around you. For instance, you can read at Mass or you can help the family with a few young kids by offering to hold a bag (or even a child when mom or dad's hands are full). The Eucharist always pushes us outward toward God and neighbor.
To get more out of Mass, serve other during Mass; use the gifts Our Good Lord has given you to build up the community and yourself.
How we prepare for something tells us so much about the value we place on a particular task or event. When I was a middle school teacher, I scripted the entire first week of classes before the first day of school. Everything from the example sentences I would use in English class to the jokes I would make in Religion class were there.
That job and those students were incredibly important to me so I prepared for months. As prepared as I thought I was for the job, I quickly learned I was barely one step ahead of the students. However, my willingness to come each day prepared -- to know the material and even to anticipate possible questions -- made it increasingly fruitful and fun.
The same mindset applies to our participation at Mass. When we come prepared to pray, to encounter the Lord, we get something out of it. On the other hand, when we come without any preparation, it shouldn't be a surprise we get so little out of it.
At 8:55 pm every Sunday, there are never more than 50 people in St. Paul's. By 9:05 pm, there are usually around 200. There have even been Sunday night Masses when I start up the aisle and discover the congregation has doubled by the time I reach the altar.
It is one of my great joys as a priest to serve the Mass and I am grateful for each and every person who comes to Mass on a campus where it has almost negative social value. I also realize people are coming from chapter, meetings, you name it. But, I have to ask: Can you really get that much out of Mass when you come running in at the last minute each week?
Last week, I covered some basics on how our daily life enhances our participation at Mass. This week, the focus is our immediate preparation for Mass which starts -- believe it or not -- the moment we leave Mass the preceding Sunday. In no particular order, here we go.
Read the Readings
Every college student has been there: attending a lecture when you have done none of the reading for that day's class. Even if you are paying attention, it might take the entire class for you to form your own ideas and opinions on the readings, but, by then, it's too late to contribute. At Mass, we move so quickly from readings to homily it is almost impossible to take in what the Word is saying to us unless you come prepared.
Moreover, for many people, the homily is one of the most important elements of the Mass. In its essence, the homily is a reflection upon the Word of God we have just heard. If the Mass itself is the first time you have encountered the readings for that Sunday, you are probably still trying to make sense of the first reading by the time of the homily.
To get more out of Mass, spend time reading and meditating upon the Scriptures for the upcoming homily earlier in the week. Then, on Sunday before you head to Mass, read them once more. Come into Church ready to go even deeper into the Word.
Dress the Part
We tend to get dressed up for important occasions. When you see a friend in formal business attire walking around campus, you can most likely assume she has a presentation or an interview. In other words, she has something important. Otherwise, why get so dressed up?
Before I go any further, it's important to state I would rather someone come to Mass under dressed than to skip Mass altogether. However, to get more out of Mass, dress the part.
We believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Word, physically and literally is made present on the altar during Mass. We encounter him in His Word and in His Sacrament. He feeds us His flesh and His Blood. We are going to the most important Supper we will ever attend each time we step foot in Church.
To get more out of Mass, dress the part. It's called "Sunday Best" for a reason. At an interview, you dress up to show the interviewer you are serious about the job. At Mass, you dress nicely to show Our Blessed Lord how much He means in your life.
Fast before Mass
It's Church law for each of us to fast from food for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. (Water and medicine are exceptions.) We do this to prepare our hearts and our physical bodies for the reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.
A few years ago, I spent the summer in Vietnam teaching English to the Dominican Friars there. A big adjustment for me was the diet. I had never really eaten much rice before going to Vietnam and dairy was almost completely absent from their diet. When I returned to the US, my parents offered to take me anywhere for dinner. I chose Italian. I had a huge portion of pasta and plenty of cheese. It was one of the best meals of of my life. Why? I had to wait for it. By denying myself cheese and pasta for three months, my experience of cheese and pasta was amplified.
To get more out of Mass, deny yourself (for an hour or more) food and drink so when you eat the True Food and drink the True Drink of the Eucharist your soul's eternal hunger and thirst will be satisfied.
Arrive Early. Prepare a Spiritual Offering.
In the early Church, the offertory consisted of bread and wine (obviously) as well as the gifts of the people. Farmers offered the first fruits of their harvest. Milk and honey were often offered too. The people gave what they produced for the life of the Church. They offered the very best of what God had given to them back to God.
These offerings also symbolized the spiritual offerings of the people of God. The farmer's first fruits were also a sign of his offering of prayers for his family and friends. The sacrifice of the Mass was joined by the sacrifice of the people.
Today, this is very much still the case. All of our prayers, all of our offerings are united with the priest's and with the Church's on the altar. When the priest offers up the bread and wine, he is offering to God all of our prayers and our needs.
To get more out of Mass, arrive 10-15 minutes before Mass. Silently prepare yourself for what the Lord is about to do in your life and in this Church. Prepare and offer to God your spiritual offering for the Mass. Unite your prayers for your sick family member or a friend in need to those of your brothers and sisters and to the perfect offering of Jesus Christ on the altar.
Invite and Encounter
No one is truly alone at Mass. Sadly, so many people go to Mass and sit alone. Even worse, too many Catholics alone at Mass are left alone, never greeted, rarely invited into an authentic friendship with someone more connected.
To get more out of Mass, invite a friend to go with you and prepare to encounter someone new. Whether you are already socially involved or are one of those who flies solo, make a commitment each week to greet someone new; to invite an acquaintance out to lunch or coffee; to sit with someone you've never met before and get to know his or her story.
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.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.