My wife and I drove up a few weeks ago when he first went into the hospital, and I stayed with him when he went back home. I don’t know anyone else in his town, and that’s partly a blessing. Because no one knows who I am, I don’t have to listen to people trying to be comforting. Some will just say “I’m so sorry” or “I’m praying for him,” and that’s great. Others say the pious thing and explain your friend’s suffering to you, and that’s not great at all.
I’m not comforted when someone looks me in the eyes and puts his hand on my arm and says “God loves him more than we do” or “God has a purpose for this” or “Lay your burdens at the feet of Our Lady,” or any one of the dozens of such slogans available to the would-be comforter. I try to smile, because the fellow may mean well, but inside I’m thinking “I know that, thanks for nothing, now go away.” I may be cranky, but I still don’t like being “ministered to” with platitudes.
But the Mass
But the Mass, the Mass makes me feel better. Every Mass, at whatever time, of whatever degree of formality, with whatever quality of homily. The celebration makes me happy. Not just happier than when I walked into the church, which would not take much, but happy.
Here are some reasons. There’s the obvious one that you can receive the Lord Himself in the Eucharist. It’s a food and a medicine, as the Church says. That’s not just a metaphor. The Eucharist does feed and heal. That’s huge by itself.
Also, going to Mass tells me that no matter what I’m dealing with, Jesus is there for me. Just walking into the church before Mass, something clicks on. I feel like Jesus is saying from the Tabernacle, “Hey, I’m over here,” and that when I kneel to pray, he says, “I’m glad to see you. What’s up?”
Because Jesus is there, the church becomes a safe place, the place you’re always welcome. It gives me the same kind of pleasure and reassurance I get when I come home from a long trip and hear my wife call from the couch in the front room, “I’m in here,” and the dog comes unglued with joy, and our high school senior grunts his hello while making himself his seventh meal of the day. The world rights itself, at least for a bit.
Then there’s the simple fact that Mass is being celebrated in this place at all. The faithfulness and sacrifice of millions of people stretching back to the Apostles brought the Church to this country and spread it everywhere. The sacrifices of hundreds or thousands just in this place, most of them poor, led to Mass being available to me every day in a church nearby.
The faithful have spread the Church so far that even at 9:00 on a weekday morning, a priest and about forty people, ten of them bussed in from the nursing home, can celebrate the Mass in a newish church in a small New England town. That group includes the visitor (me) who’s only in town because he’s helping a friend. That’s a gift that also makes me happy.
Leaven and Light
And then there are the lines of people walking up front to receive the Sacrament. This always moves me, especially if I’m close enough to hear the minister saying “The Body of Christ … The Body of Christ … The Body of Christ.” I’ve never seen a single one of these people in my life, but they’re all here doing the same thing as me. We’re on the same team, in the same family. We’re all getting the same gift from the same Father.
I get the same feeling when everyone’s leaving afterward. We’re all going out into the world to do whatever we’re doing, having prayed and worshipped, with the Son of God inside us. God is sending us out into the world as leaven or as light, to do something for Him and for people He loves. That’s also a gift that makes me happy.
There are other reasons, which I can’t yet suss out. It’s a more complex experience than it seems, going to Mass. I have learned that when life hits me hard, the Mass makes me happy.
For Further Reading
David Mills’s Thank God for Life, Even When It Feels LIke a Gift You Didn’t Want
John Cavadini’s Five Thoughts on Loving the Church
Marina Olson’s Mass and Community
Geoffrey Gneuhs’s St. Therese de Lisieux, part of his “Dorothy Day’s Spiritual Sources” series