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Faith Formation Mass

Mass, How I’ve Missed You

Mass How I've Missed You

I went to Mass for the first time in three months recently. Masks were on, every other pew was strategically roped off, parishioners obediently sat six feet apart. Meanwhile, hymnal boxes sat empty, holy water had been replaced with hand sanitizer, and not one paper bulletin could be found. 

I prayed quietly for a few minutes before I noticed the elderly lady two rows in front of me looking around to make sure no one saw her lower her mask to gasp for fresh air. Key West is not the place you want to be sitting with something covering your face for an hour in sweltering heat and humidity. I felt her pain.

Even with the church being only a quarter of the way full, it was eerily silent. No hushed salutations from one family to the next or chatter from fidgety children as one might expect on a typical Sunday morning. In fact, there were no small children present at all, including my own. 

After several prolonged moments of silently observing the sterile basilica, bells began to toll. It was time to begin. The organist welcomed in the masked lectors and altar servers, followed by the priest from the side of the sanctuary. She belted out approximately one verse of the opening hymn before my vision blurred with hot tears. It had been too long. 

There’s a lot to be learned from a global pandemic that leaves the whole world cooped up for months on end. Along with so many things, one revelation became abundantly clear: Mass is underappreciated.

The Church is a People, Not a Building.

When the quarantine began, my friends on social media bemoaned not being able to worship together. I shared in their heartache. Coming together as a community to praise, give thanks, and petition the Lord at the start of each week is vital for believers. It’s as necessary as taking a shower in the morning or doing the dishes in the evening. 

Not being able to do these things in a particularly tense period only makes the uncertainty of current events all the scarier.

Like all things that people take for granted, I didn’t realize how good it was to be able to go to church until I no longer could. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had been lulled into a drunken state of complacency over the past thirty years. One in which being able to bear witness to my faith every Sunday in the safety of my parish walls had left me spoiled and lazy. 

If there was one silver lining to be found in being forced to spend Sundays at home, though, it was getting the opportunity to pause and consider the heart of what we as Christians truly believe. We don’t congregate for social purposes. We don’t do it for entertainment or investment opportunities or personal gain. We do it to maintain a relationship with God. And you don’t need a building to do that.

By taking the only way I knew how to worship away, the pandemic left me with no choice but to be more intentional with how I was going to keep Sunday holy, or abandon it altogether. The decision was clear, but not easy.

How would I worship Christ without a priest holding my hand every step of the way? What would motivate me to sing loudly, pray earnestly, or dress for the Lord when my neighbors weren’t there to bear witness to it? 

Social distancing had presented a big, shiny mirror up to my heart and the reflection staring back at me wasn’t always pretty. 

We are Physical Beings. Our Worship Should Be, Too.

The quarantine had proven that I didn’t need a building to worship God, but it sure does help. 

Gathering my family together to pray the rosary, watch Mass online, or read the Bible was fruitful in so many ways. Striving to deliberately keep Sundays sacred is beautiful, but it made me miss the concrete reminders of my faith that I can only find in a church all the more.

It brought to mind the time a friend who’d fallen away from the Church questioned why Catholic churches insist on being so ornate. 

“Are the elaborate stain-glassed windows, gold chalices, and expensive statues really necessary? Wouldn’t God be happier with people worshipping in a simple building and using the extra money to help someone instead?” His question was sincere, but misguided.

What he didn’t realize was that all of those “extra” things help far more people on a weekly basis than the money used to buy them would’ve been able to had they been spent on food or clothing for the needy. Those beautiful, elaborate decorations not only bring glory to God, but they help remind countless people of him constantly when they are in his presence. Each statue, window, symbol, and image draw people’s short attention spans back to the reason they came to church in the first place: Jesus. 

Are these elements essential to encounter the Risen Lord? No. Are they beneficial? Absolutely.

Mass engages all five of the senses; that’s not a coincidence. Humans are physical beings as much as we are spiritual. It’s as necessary as ever that we worship as such.

Celebrating Christ in the living room had been nice, but I needed more. I want to smell the incense, taste the bread and wine, see the beautiful images that lift my mind to heaven. I need to feel my neighbor’s hand at the sign of peace, hear the uplifting music, and kneel in adoration before the Eucharist. None of these things are accidental. It’s the way God intended worship to be: spiritual and physical.

These are experiences that we simply cannot have alone in our living rooms day in and day out. They can only be found in Mass.

If that’s not essential, what is?

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Tread Softly, Pray Fiercely

Tread Softly Pray Fiercely

The past several months of this year have been exceptionally hard to watch, as friends and family seem to quickly and easily tear each other apart. Assassinations of character, name-calling, ad hominum attacks, and vitriol seem to be spewed with nary a thought of a backward glance. All across social media, the push to speak first, think after seems to be prevalent, and the share buttons seem to promote use of simply sharing what best suits our own narrative, rather than considering the point of view of friends who may not hold that same viewpoint.

We all seem to be in a rush to drown out the other person, without taking the time to not just hear the words of the other person, but to slow down and identify the true intent behind that person’s beliefs. Social media, of late, is simply a tool being used to air grievances, ills, snarkiness, and ugliness.

There used to be an unspoken social norm that said, whenever engaging in public discourse with someone outside your home, “Never discuss money, politics, sex, or religion.” Yet, in today’s world, it seems as though we have all waded into a hotbed of discussion, with no preparation in understanding the best way forward in a debate is to listen to the opponent’s argument – both spoken, and unspoken.

And, our relationships are suffering because of our inability to listen… to truly hear each other.

Left and right we are witnessing our friends and family on social media tout their message, while lambasting those who do not agree.

This lack of voice has left many feeling downtrodden, depressed, and silenced.

This is precisely where the devil wants us.

Matthew 7:19-20 reminds us, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.”

The uncomfortable question to ask ourselves is not where we stand on any given issue; rather, the question to ask is are our actions – spoken and unspoken, in real life or on social media – bearing good fruit?

What are these fruits? The list of bad fruit, or “works of the flesh,” is found in Galatians 5:19-21 and include, “… hatreds… jealously… outbursts of fury… dissensions, factions..” and more.

Yet, the good fruits, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is a time and a place to correct someone for their sins. After all, we are given the task as Catholics to perform Spiritual Works of Mercy, in addition to the Corporal Works of Mercy, which include admonishing sinners and instructing the ignorant.

However, many of us have forgotten the other Catholic Spiritual Works of Mercy: Bear patiently those who wrong us, forgive offences, and comfort the afflicted.

In an effort to prove our way is the best and most correct, we find ourselves speaking over, and forgetting the patience, the forgiveness, and the comfort to which we are called to share.

As faithful Christians, we are reminded blatantly in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

Going back to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, the guidance in 1 Corinthians is sound, but is also sometimes a hard pill to swallow.

How do we extend love to others, when we are interested in getting our own viewpoint heard, or even convince others of our approach to situations?

Quite simply:

We tread softly, gently and silently.

We assess the situation.

We determine which battle we want to choose to fight and champion.

We remember the adage that God gave us one mouth to speak, and two ears to listen, and we employ that saying as we approach the situation.

We employ the cardinal virtue of prudence, which challenges us to, “discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1806).

We recognize the bad fruit trying to sway our country toward further division, hatred, and violence. Satan operates under darkness, and in secrecy, to create division.

We call out the prince of darkness, not by casting blame at each other and hurling accusations at them, but by recognizing his sleight of hand in the strife.

We call to mind one of the last words of Christ, as He hung on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Finally, we pray… fiercely.

We ask God for prudence, but we also ask Him for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and for the ability to speak less and listen more.

We ask God for both the willingness to hear the spoken word of our opponent, and the grace to see beyond the spoken word to understand the unspoken, and perhaps even subconscious, motivation behind the words.

We pray, not just for the other person, but for humility to acknowledge when our own viewpoint may be both difficult to hear, and also at times, completely incorrect.

Simply put, as we continue to wade the waters of instant gratification on social media, and swim these waters of division in this world, we tread softly, but pray fiercely.

– AnnAliese Harry

We listen to the words spoken but listen harder to the underlying motivations and experiences of the other person.

We speak firmly, but with patience.

We love each other.

We pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

As we continue to move forward, let each of us visit, and re-visit, the uncomfortable question at hand – are our actions, both in real life and on social media, bearing good fruit?

Are we living with our collective and individual sight set on our eternal home?

Are we ready to squirm a little by taking accountability of our own actions, in an effort to live in a manner which is ultimately pleasing to God?

Are we being agents of love?