July 21, 2017

Simcha Fisher: Hey faithful Catholics, why are YOU here?

PHOTO: Arend, cc 2.0

Last week’s post brought about a serious misunderstanding that I’d like to clear up.

I imagined being a “Christmas and Easter” Catholic, who only attends Mass under duress or out of custom, and challenged these folks to think about why all the “regulars” keep turning up. It is not, as occasional visitors might imagine, because they are happy and contented and fully satisfied with their faith.

In among the parishioners who shuffle into the pews out of habit or for superficial reasons, there are the faithful who do not enjoy being there. They are angry at the church, angry at their fellow Catholics, angry at their priests, angry at God. They are grieving, or confused, or they feel empty inside.  Some of them disagree strongly with the Church about very important issues.

But they keep coming back.

And the only reason is, as I said, because Jesus is there. He is present during the Mass in a way that He is not present anywhere else on earth, anywhere else in human experience. Even doubtful, angry, grieving, confused, resentful people know that, and feel it, and this alone is what keeps them coming back. When they do not receive Him, they feel the loss terribly.

This reality, this miraculous presence of the divine, stands as a persistent invitation to all people. All people. You are hungry: I will feed you.

And now for the part I wanted to clear up. One commenter said,

So that’s your Easter message? Come to Mass and eat. Never mind about confession or the fact that since you haven’t been to Mass in a year, you’re probably taking the Eucharist unworthily. Let’s not let good catechesis get in the way of making you feel better …

[Fisher] is stating that even if you haven’t been to Mass for a few years, it’s ok to receive communion, just come on up! If it’s her intent to have Christmas and Easter Catholics come on a regular basis, that’s great! But encouraging them to receive the Eucharist outside of a state of grace is wrong. It’s harmful to the person receiving, and it’s just bad catechesis.

Here is my response:

No, that’s not what I’m saying, which is why I mentioned people who come “even if they’re not properly disposed to receive the Sacrament.” But I should have been more clear. Yes, it is necessary to be in a state of grace before we receive the Eucharist. If we know we have committed a mortal sin and have not yet been to confession, then we ought to stay in the pew and ask the Holy Spirit to come to us; but we should not get in line to receive, not yet.

(Sidenote: I don’t think you can be sure that any of the fictional people I described are definitely in a state of mortal sin. Even the nun headed to the pro-choice rally may be so poorly catechised that she truly doesn’t know that it’s wrong to publicly support abortion. For a sin to be mortal, it must be a serious matter, you must freely choose to do it, and you must know it’s a serious matter.)

But here’s something that even well-catechised Catholics sometimes forget: The rules the Church gives us are to help us grow in love for Christ. That is their prime function. That is the entire reason the Church exists: To help us come closer to God, and to enter into a true relationship with Him.

And so let me introduce you to two more fictional Catholics.

One was baptised as a baby, but never learned a thing about the Faith. Like all of her friends, she lives with her boyfriend, gets high most nights, and shoplifts when she feels restless. She passed by a church with open doors and found herself pulled in like an iron filing to a magnet. She hung in the back, staring at the tabernacle for a good ten minutes, and then drifted out again. That was a few months ago, and she can’t stop thinking about it, and she can’t shake the new, uncomfortable idea that there’s something wrong with her life. Dreading the mockery of her friends, she’s working up her courage to go back to that church and find out more.

Another goes to daily Mass and spends the entire hour doggedly reciting the prayers her mother told her she must say if she wants to keep out of Hell. Any time she opens her eyes, it’s to catalogue how inappropriately the other women are dressed, and to calculate how likely it is that they’re not in a state of grace. She hates and fears God. She has no idea that she hates and fears God. She never actually thinks about Him.

Who has a better shot of reaching heaven?

You think I’m going to say the first woman does. In fact, I have no idea. It’s not my job to form an opinion about other people’s chances of salvation. Both women desperately need mercy; both women desperately need Christ. All women, and all men, and all children need Christ. And boy oh boy, He does not need us! But for some reason He wants us, desperately. Every single one of us. No one is beyond His mercy; no one is excluded from His desire.

There is a great need for better catechesis, as the commenter rightly said. Too many Catholics consider themselves sinless, and they belly or creep up to the altar without thinking twice about why they are there, or about who they are about to receive, and why. If this is you, then I implore you to look hard at your soul and unburden yourself in the confessional before the feast.

This plea goes for sinners whose souls are heavy with old-fashioned sins of the flesh, and also for sinners whose souls are heavy with the even older sins of pride and presumption. It’s the same message for everyone. You need Christ. Christ wants you. He wants to feed you. So go to Him, let Him get you cleaned up, and then run to eat.

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