As I wrote a couple of months back, as of this summer I am assigned to a new parish, St. James in Duluth. Being new here, I am still getting used to the space, and one challenge is that there are two main entrances to the church. One is through the gathering space, and the other is off the back of the church. So before Mass starts I greet the people who come through the gathering space, and at the end of the Mass I go to the back of the church and greet those people. It is not ideal, but at least I get to see most everyone at least once.
Inevitably when a young family with little children comes into the gathering space before Mass, they will let the little kids down to walk in on their own, and the same thing always happens: the three- or four-year-old takes off running into the church. I always think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was that excited to come to Mass?”
Something that almost always goes unnoticed when listening to the Gospels at Mass is that the sacred authors often write one sentence to set the stage when the scene changes. We might call them the “conjunctions” of the Gospel stories. We don’t notice them because they are not meant to be noticed, but sometimes they still have a message for us. One such important “conjunction” is in the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, “At the time: So many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another under foot” (Luke 12:1).
This “conjunction” reminds me of those little tots running into Mass, because even if they do not really know what they are doing, they are showing excitement for Jesus, not unlike what Luke portrays. I really do rue the idea that we are so complacent about the Eucharist that we generally cannot conceive such excitement for him, and yet the same Jesus Christ who was walking the dusty roads of Palestine 2,000 years ago is one and the same person in the tabernacle.
One of my often repeated lines is that you cannot determine the spirituality of a parish by what happens on the weekend, but rather what happens on the weekday. What I mean by this is that a parish’s spiritual health is determined by how many members of that parish go to daily Mass.
That might be news to many readers, but it is so true. One of my primary objectives as priest and pastor is to encourage and build up weekday Mass participation, because my job is to get my parishioners to heaven, and the spiritual value of receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is truly unparalleled. We will not know the true value of daily Communion until we are face to face with God.
If we could see with our eyes what is happening at Mass, every single one of our parishes would be packed, and this world would be a different place. St. Padre Pio said it best, when he said, “It would be easier for the earth to exist without the sun, than without the sacrifice of the Mass.”
If you are reading this column it means that you are a most likely candidate to become a weekday Mass-goer. I encourage you to find out the weekday Mass schedule of your parish, and even if you cannot go every day, at least try once or twice a week at first.
These Masses are generally pretty brief, and you cannot possibly start your day off better than by receiving Christ in the Eucharist. And once you get into the habit, you will come to wonder why you did not start doing it years before. I promise you will notice the difference in your life very soon after you start the practice.
“At that time: So many people were crowding together (to see Jesus) that they were trampling one another under foot.” We don’t have to do that, but it would be great if we had that enthusiasm to be with Jesus today like they were back then. My encouragement to you as readers is to start going to weekday Mass and strengthen the spiritual health of your own parish.