I Don’t Need to go to Mass

It seems that we hear this comment more and more often.  Sadly the people claiming they don’t need to go to mass call themselves “Catholics”.  What they don’t realize is that they’re harming their own souls and they’re harming the Church they claim to belong to.  “OK, deacon, I can see how they might be hurting their souls, but how are they hurting the Church?”

Let’s start with the fallacy of their reasoning.  The Ten Commandments tell us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  For the Hebrew people for whom this commandment was intended, that meant much more than our current Christian practices.  For them the Sabbath began at sundown the night before and ended at sundown of the Sabbath itself.  For the Jews that meant no work of any kind and a lot of time spent in the synagogue.  Our measly one hour mass on your choice of days (Saturday or Sunday) seems rather pitiful by comparison.  But, for now, that’s what the Church asks of us.

“But who died and left the Church in charge of my life?”  Simple:  Jesus died and left the Church in charge.  He said to Peter, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.”  Then He said to Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”  Some critics will say that Jesus was speaking only to the twelve and that this authority doesn’t apply to today’s church.

Well, take a look at what the eleven remaining Apostles did after Judas’ and Jesus’ death.  They were alone and afraid.  They were hiding out because their lives were in danger.  Yet they took time to appoint another Apostle to take Jesus’ place.  Clearly they had the authority to do that and they felt that it was an urgent need.  There had to be twelve.  It was the beginning of Apostolic succession.  New Apostles (bishops) are appointed and ordained by existing bishops.

I wrote this just the other day, “If you don’t believe everything Jesus said then He’s a liar and you can’t believe anything He said.”  I’d add to that that if you don’t believe everything He said, then you shouldn’t call yourself a Catholic.  Doing so makes you a liar because you don’t believe what Catholics believe.  You can paint white stripes on a black horse but it doesn’t make him a zebra, even if he says he is.

Here’s another thing that these so-called Catholics overlook.  Jesus left us with the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus’ very body and blood.  There’s only one place you can get it (with a few exceptions like hospitals and prisons) and that’s at mass.  You must attend mass to put yourself in the proper frame of mind to receive the gift of Jesus Christ both in the Word and in the Eucharist.  If you don’t see the value of that, or if, God forbid, you don’t believe He’s really there, then there is a serious gap in your Catholic education.

Here’s the thing.  If Jesus came back.  If He made appearances on television and invited you to come to Him, what would you do?  If you knew that He was going to show up at a local stadium and save everyone in attendance wouldn’t you put on your best clothes and go to that stadium hours early to be sure you got in.  Even if He was going to be 100 or 200 miles away, wouldn’t you make the trip?

Yet He does show up every Sunday in your local parish church.  You don’t have to drive 200 miles.  You don’t have to get there hours early.  You don’t even have to dress up (though that would be nice).  Jesus has made this salvation thing so easy it’s not out of the reach of anyone.  Yet 70% of the people who call themselves “Catholic” can’t be bothered to show up at His house for one hour once a week.

I want to go to heaven.  I want you to go to heaven.  I want everybody to go to heaven.  Jesus has given us this gift.  Does it really seem like such a burden to show up at His house once a week and say “thank you”?

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments.  In fact, for several years I used them myself.  “I don’t need to go to church.”  “I can talk to God anywhere I am.”  “Why do I have to go to a special building?”  You can’t kid me because I’ve been there.  Besides, you don’t have to kid me.  I’m not the one who’s going to be there at the final judgment looking you in the eye and asking “Where were you?”  Fortunately for me, I woke up before it was too late.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir here.  I doubt that anyone who reads this blog isn’t a regular church-goer.  But the statistics tell us that someone you love who has stopped going to mass.  You can give them a great gift by encouraging them to come back to the Church.  Feel free to share this post with them.  Maybe if they won’t listen to you, they’ll listen to a third party.  Whatever we do, it’s vital that we reach the ones we love before it’s too late.

Now to the second question, “How are these nominal (name only) Catholics hurting the Church?”  That’s simple.  Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do, He led by example.  Non-Catholics, especially those who have an axe to grind with the Church, look at everyone who calls themselves Catholic trying to catch us doing something wrong.  When people who don’t go to mass, people who say abortion is ok, people who constantly criticize the Church claim to be members it gives our enemies the ammunition they need to attack the Church.

You’ve heard the statistics.  “Most Catholics don’t support the Church’s position on ___________________ (fill in the blank).”  If that’s true then the Church must be wrong.  The trouble is that pollsters ask respondents to self-identify their religious affiliation.  If they phrased the question differently, asking if the person was a regular mass attendee the results would be much different.  Sadly, many of these former Catholics have a problem with the Church.  To tell an interviewer that they belong to the Church but disagree with its teachings may be their little act of defiance.

Bottom line, from a former nominal Catholic, nothing can substitute for attending mass and receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Thats where Jesus is and that’s where we should be.

See you in Church!

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Follow Up

musialYesterday I posted a homily about being a great Catholic.  Yesterday Saint Louis, and all of America, lost one of the greatest;  Stanley Frank Musial.  Stan was a man, no he was The Man, who used the gifts that God gave him and never was willing to accept the praise that he received.  Everyone who knew him says he was a humble man, a considerate man, and a man of faith.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan tells us that one of Stan’s greatest thrill in his amazing life was being able to meet his fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II.

I never had the privilege of meeting The Man but I know people who did and the reaction is always the same.  He was a great human being. He carried a box of autographed memorabilia in the trunk of his car which he handed out freely to anyone he met.

I was blessed to see him play on television and in person.  He was my hero.  In fact, when I was a kid I used to play baseball in the back yard with my neighbor, Freddy Vincent.  He was always Kenny Boyer and I was Stan.  I even batted left-handed, and I can’t do anything left-handed.  Of course, I wasn’t very good batting right-handed either.  You might wonder why I always got to be Stan.  That’s easy.  It was my yard and my ball.  Freddy’s yard wasn’t big enough to play even two-player baseball.

Our city, and much of Major League Baseball will be in mourning for quite a while.  We share a great loss.  But Jesus’ baseball team has just gotten a huge boost.  The only question is whether he’ll play first base or in the outfield.  One thing is for sure, his beloved wife of 70+ years, Lillian Musial,  will be in the stands cheering him on.

RIP, Stan the Man.

Here’s an interesting footnote.  Last night the Saint Louis Blues opened their shortened season at home.  There were a lot of baseball people at the game, in town for the Cardinals winter fan event.  Musial wore number 6.  The Blues beat the Red Wings 6-0.  Coincidence?  What do you think?

perfect warrior

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Thou Shall Not Kill

If you pick up a newspaper or turn on the news on television, you can’t help but be a little dismayed; a little frustrated.  The problems in the world, and here in the United States, seem to be so big and complicated that they can never be fixed.  How do you deal with TRILLIONS of dollars of debt?  How do you resolve the problems in the middle east that were going on even before Jesus walked the earth?  How do you stop crazy people from shooting school children?  What’s an individual like you or me supposed to do?

 

I think we start by doing what Father Paul suggested last week.  You and I have to become great Catholics.  As Matthew Kelly says in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, we have to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.  But the $64,000 question is what does that mean?  What are you and I supposed to do?

 

Here’s what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean trying to be a copy of someone else.  We’re surrounded by great saints in our church.  It’s good to study them for inspiration.  But we can’t BE them.

 

All the way in the back are Saint Louis IX and Saint Wenceslas.  They were kings.  I hate to burst your bubble or shatter your dreams, but I can almost guarantee that none of us is ever going to be a king, or queen.

 

Some of our saints were martyrs, including our patron, Saint John Nepomuk.  Martyrdom is kind of an express lane to heaven but chances are that none of us is going to be murdered for the faith.

 

Saint Albert and Saint Ludmilla were also martyrs.  Agnes of Bohemia helped establish the Poor Clares.  Every one of these saints has a story and none of us will ever be them.  If we try, we’ll just be a poor imitation.  It’s very seldom that we recognize the SECOND person to do anything.

 

OK, that’s what it DOESN’T mean but the question is still on the table.  What DOES it mean.   Maybe the answer’s in today’s readings.

The first reading is from the latter part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.”  How does this passage apply to us today?

Further on he says, “no more shall people call you ‘forsaken’ or your land ‘desolate, but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’.  Most of us are old enough to remember when the United States was the moral leader of the entire world.  It wasn’t that long ago.  We were “one nation under God” with liberty and justice for all.  Our ancestors, including the people who built the church you’re sitting in today, made dangerous, treacherous, trips across the ocean to come to America.  They didn’t come here for the food.  They came here because this was a place where they could live and prosper.  I wonder what they would think of their new home today?

“I will not be silent…..I will not be quiet.”

 

In the second reading Saint Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth.  The Corinthian community was bitterly divided.  They were divided on the economy, on whether or not they had to follow Jewish dietary laws, even whether women should cover their heads while they prayed.  Like the United States today, there was no middle ground.  Everybody was fighting with everybody.

 

The biggest issue for the Corinthians was about using spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your faith.”  “My mighty deeds are greater than your gift of prophesy.”  “My gift of discernment is greater than your gift of speaking in tongues.”  And on and on.

 

What Paul is telling them (and us) is that every gift from God is equal in His eyes. After all, He’s the one who gave them to us.  And He gave them to us for a reason.  If you have the gift of healing, that’s great.  Use it!  But just because you’ve received this gift from God doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  If you’re a prophet, then prophesy.  It’s a great gift, but that’s what it is; a gift.  The prophet is no more or less important than the speaker of tongues.  Stop being divisive!  Work together! “One and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.”

 

Last, but definitely not least we have the famous Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana.  It’s His first miracle.  It’s a good lesson in humility for all of us sons and daughters.  Jesus wasn’t ready to enter public life.  “My hour has not yet come”, He says.  So, why does He perform the miracle.  Because his mother told him to.  He was the Son of God, the third person of the Trinity.  He was there when the world began.  But like any obedient son, He listened to His mother.  What does Mary say to the servers?  “Do whatever He tells you.”  Exactly what she says to us.

 

So, there’s our answer.  Be the best Catholic you can be.  Don’t try to be some kind of “super Catholic”, just be the best you can be with the gifts that God has given you.  He gave us our gifts for a reason.  Use them.

 

Don’t be silent.  Don’t be quiet.  Build up the kingdom one person at a time.  It may seem like an insurmountable task but remember that there were TWELVE Apostles.  Today there are over a billion Christians.  The Apostles had no television.  They had no Internet.  Just twelve guys traveling around the Middle East telling Jesus’ story.  And look at what they accomplished.  I don’t know if the Apostles were so successful because of the works that they did, or if it was because of their prayer.  I suspect it was a combination of the two.  They didn’t do anything that you and I can’t do.

 

Use your gifts, whatever they are.  Paul tells us that every gift is equal in the eyes of God.  Whatever you do, don’t be envious of someone else’s gifts.  We’re all better at some things than at others.

 

Finally, “Do whatever He tells you.”  That’s what’s wrong with the world today.  Too many people, including so-called Christians, have forgotten what He told us and continues to tell us.  There’s a great debate right now about guns.  Should we have them?  Shouldn’t we have them?  Are there some kinds of guns that nobody should have?  By way of full disclosure, I belong to the NRA.  I enjoy going to the range once-in-a-while to blow holes in paper targets.  I actually find it relaxing.  But I don’t hunt.  I don’t see the enjoyment in killing other creatures for fun.  I don’t care if you do.  In fact I applaud you for helping control the animal population.  If you kill an animal for food, there’s no problem with that.  If God didn’t intend for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them taste good. Hunting’s just not my thing.

 

But, I also believe in a God who told us “Thou shall not kill.”  If we all believed that, then it wouldn’t matter if nobody had a gun or if everybody had a gun.  With very few exceptions it’s NEVER OK to take a human life.

 

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic Roe vs. Wade decision. More than one million unborn children are killed in the United States every year.  There are no guns involved; just medical tools.  By comparison, there are about 16,000 homicides each year, about 11,000 involving a gun.  If you do the math, that means that for every person shot to death in our country, 91 unborn children are killed before they have a chance to draw their first breath.  Maybe we need to teach people to value EVERY human life before we attempt to solve one particular form of murder.  Do you really think it’s just a coincidence that most of our national problems have come about since we made abortion the law of the land?

 

There are nine other commandments that, if we all followed them, this would be a much better world.  That’s where we have to begin.  We have to live the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the Beatitudes ourselves.  Then either by word or by example, we need to pass those values on to others.

 

Our greatest mission in life should be to take others with us to heaven.  The government isn’t going to do it.  The Church has to do it and the Church is you and me.  If just twelve men could grow the Church in spite of huge opposition, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same today.  There are more than twelve of us here today.  We have to remember that anything is possible with God.  If we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a better world, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling.  We owe it to them and we owe it to our ancestors who built this church for us.

Epiphany

Epiphany!  The dictionary defines it as a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  That’s definitely what we have today.  The Magi came from a far land to worship the newborn king, the Baby Jesus.  A star led them to Bethlehem and to the manger where Jesus lay.

Every year we put up the crib before Christmas.  Then we symbolically place the figure of the baby in the manger on Christmas Eve.  Today we complete the picture with the arrival of the figures of the three kings.  There’s one more week of the Christmas season which ends with the baptism of Jesus.  Next Sunday we’ll take it all down.

There’s a ton of symbolism in the way we celebrate the birth of Christ. We spend four weeks getting ready for Him to come.  Then we have the glorious celebration of His birth on December 25.  On the following Sunday we commemorate the Holy Family.

This one’s a little strange.  All of a sudden Jesus is twelve years old.  He’s separated from Mary and Joseph and they look for Him for three days.  When they finally found Him He said the words that must have broken Joseph’s heart, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”  The lesson we learn is that apparently Mary and Joseph still weren’t quite sure what to make of this

“Son of God”.  If they did, wouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?  Where else did they look for three days?  But I digress.

Getting back to our Liturgical calendar, on January 1 we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Jesus is a baby again. Sometimes this is called the feast of the circumcision, because that’s how the day’s Gospel ends.  But the emphasis here should be on Mary.  “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.  Imagine how overwhelmed this young girl must have been.

That brings us to today, the Epiphany; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  Seeing a tiny newborn lying in a feeding trough for animals, about as simple and homely an experience as anyone is likely to have, the Magi suddenly, intuitively perceive the reality of what they’re seeing; the Son of God.

We know that the shepherds have seen the child but these men aren’t shepherds.  They’re not even Jews!  They’re powerful kings from a foreign land and they’ve been called by God, led by a star, to be witnesses to the birth of the Messiah.  The Gospel ends with them departing for their own country to deliver the good news of what they’ve seen.

Here’s the thing.  Jesus wasn’t sent just for the Jews.  Paul tells us in the second reading that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.”  He may have been the Messiah that the Jewish people had been waiting for but He was our Messiah too.

You and I can have an epiphany just like the Magi did.  Jesus reveals Himself to us in many ways, usually in ways that we’ll miss if we’re not paying attention.  Someone says or does something that touches your heart.  You pick up a book and something in its pages seems to speak just to you.  Maybe you see a small child or a homeless person and you feel the need to do something.

The other day there was a dog on Telegraph Road.  He must have been hurt because he was running back and forth from one side of the street to the other.  There was a major traffic jam because everyone stopped not wanting to hurt it.  I thought at the time that there was still goodness in the world.  So many people were willing to be late for work rather than take a chance on hitting someone’s pet.

Your epiphany may come in church.  It may come at work.  It may come while you’re driving your car.  You never know.  We have to be paying attention.

Next Sunday we’ll take down the Christmas decorations and return to Ordinary Time.  But even in the taking down there’s symbolism.  The trees and the lights and the manger may be gone, but Jesus remains with us.  We just have to look a little harder to see Him.  Finding Him in the ordinary things of our daily lives is our Epiphany.

This ends my homily but I was listening to Cardinal Dolan’s homily for Sunday and he made an interesting point.  The Magi  were looking for an adult king.  Imagine how surprised they were to find an infant!  You can listen to the Cardinal’s homily here.