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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Simcha Fisher: Walking into a church (and walking up to Christmas)

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A woman prays prior to a Mass for young adults Dec. 7, 2016, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

We’re slowly working our way through (okay, we temporarily lost the book, but I’ll find it soon) The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You.

And you know, he is absolutely right: No one ever taught me most of this stuff. It’s not just theology — what the Eucharist is, what the prayers mean, and so on. It’s very practical things like what to do when you’re distracted by other thoughts when you walk into the church. Which you probably are more often than not. What to do?

We may think, or even have been told, that it’s our job to sternly shunt these distracting thoughts away so we can focus on Jesus, who is the one we are there to see. But this is not the way, says Dubriel.

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He says:

“[t]here is a point in every Mass at which we can bring our desires to God. But because many of us do not see the connection, we miss it. There is also a time to hear what the Word of God has to say about our desires. It is not necessary to ignore these desire that weigh upon our hearts, but to bring them to God in the context of what God is saying to us during the Mass.”

He reminds us of the people in the Gospel who literally came face-to-face with Jesus, but wasted the opportunity, because they were focused on someone or something else. It’s not a problem to have these concerns, Dubriel says. The mistake is when we do not bring them to God, even though we are in the presence of God.

‘Whatever it is that we are worried about during Mass, we should avail ourselves of the Lord’s Presence … We should not deny our hearts’ desires, but we should bring them to God and allow Him to reveal what is we truly desire,” he says.

So if you find your mind wandering at Mass, rather than trying to forcibly redirect your attention to God and God alone, Dubriel has a more useful and meaningful suggestion:

“[t]ake a moment to focus on what has your attention. Is there something God might be asking you to pay attention to in your life? Does it refer to an area of your life that you are keeping from God? Present God with your heart’s desires and ask Him for the wisdom to understand what they mean.”

This strikes me as not only wise and humane, but also very much in keeping with the busy season of Advent, when there is very often a disconnect between the things we find ourselves doing — including the things we really must do — and the things we feel we ought to be doing. It’s very common to spend the entire month of December feeling both overburdened with responsibilities, and also guilty for running around busily and not focusing on What Really Matters.

What if we simply offered our burdens, and our busy-ness, and our guilt, to God?  It occurs to me that Mary and Joseph must have done this very thing. The baby Jesus, after all, was born on the day that was appointed, whether they were ready or not (and they clearly weren’t, or else they would have had somewhere better than a manger to lay him in).

When you walk into a church, you bring what you have with you, and you don’t try to pretend you’re not carrying your baggage. You don’t hide it or shuffle it off to the side or act like it’s not there. Instead, you bring it to God and ask him what to do with it.

When you walk (or scramble, or shuffle, or sprint) up to Christmas day, you bring what you have with you. Your busy-ness, your failures, your grief, your disappointment, your guilt, and also your triumphs, your satisfactions, your little comforts. What you have, that is what you bring. You don’t hide it or shuffle it off to the side or act like it’s not there. You bring it to the Christ child and quietly ask him what to do with it. He’s very young still, but he has some ideas just the same, and he has been waiting for you to ask.


Simcha Fisher: What to do at Mass


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