The following is the text of an essay that I wrote in The Evangelist this week. In a rare moment of non-self promotion, I had not put it on the blog on Thursday when it was published. I decided to put it up today in light of today’s Gospel from Mark.
In the two days since this was published, I have gotten a fair amount of feedback about the essay. That feedback has been largely complimentary. Yet more than one person asked me if I thought it was OK for people to receive communion after a long absence from church and likely no visit to confession.
This is a fair enough question and I am very clear about what the rules are. I do have a Catechism and a Canon Law book steps away from my desk.
Truth be told, when I returned to church in 1990, I did go to confession before I went to communion. That is another story for another day. That said, I know many people who have not gone to confession first – that is their conscience, their matter with God and their confessor, should they ultimately go – who have ended up returning to the Church.
As a child, I recall going to Church, not every single Saturday, but on many Saturdays, and facing the crowd. It was 1966, but we were in a small mission parish with only one priest, so the lines were long! You just sat down next to Mom, got out that rosary and waited your turn. And when you pushed the velvet curtain aside, you headed straight up to the altar rail to say those 5 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys – no rushing that! You had plenty of company to your right and left.
Not so these days, so who goes to confession where and when is again, another matter.
I grow long winded and perhaps pedantic, so let me move on.
Today’s Gospel is a story about Jesus eating with all the wrong kinds of people and how he was judged for that action.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
How can Jesus eat with the sinners (all of us, by the way, but you knew that) if they don’t come to the table? I am not suggesting – even remotely – that we scoff at the rules and make our own. I am saying that when you cast out the net to fish for men and women, you don’t stand on the deck of the boat shooing the less desirable fish away. You pull the whole thing up and you see what happens.
Here is the essay. What do you think? (Not about the essay, about the matter?)
NOTE: Yes, anyone who reads The Evangelist probably goes to church. My point in having the essay published was so that maybe someone would pass it along to others or to just consider the point of view of a Christmas only mass visitor. Please feel free to re-post, share on Facebook, Twitter or wherever. You just never know!
It happens every year: Christmas comes and you find yourself in church. Being Catholic, it all comes back to you, although you found some verbal surprises this year. However, the songs are the same and the church is packed and the feeling is actually pretty good, once you give yourself over to it.
It seems nice, but not something that you’d actually want to do every week. The reasons vary from person to person and range from the mundane – you “just don’t have time” – to the more high-minded, finding “the whole thing filled with hypocrisy.” (Of course, no other part of your life feels like that, right?)
If you are as old as me, you were taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I lived in fear of this as a kid – but then again, we never missed Mass, so it was not a problem. It’s hard to understand eternal damnation for missing Mass against the backdrop of things like the sexual abuse scandal and various Church positions on topics important to you.
I would say that if one attends Mass simply out of fear of hell, that is a pity. I would hope that people would actually want to be there – but, hey, that’s just me.
Anyway, you were at Mass and it was time for communion. You hesitated, but everyone else seemed to be in line. Perhaps you felt nervous or strangely hopeful, like something good was about to happen. Did your mind rush back to when you made your First Communion as you extended your hands?
What did it feel like when you placed the Body of Christ in your mouth? Did you just make sure, like in so many other intimate moments, that you did not let yourself think or feel anything?
No matter what, you received a gift. Christ the Lord, whose birth we were celebrating, came to be in that ordinary manger found in your heart. You may not have been expecting Him; that’s OK. He just wanted to let you know He is here for you.
This is a gift. You can’t return it.
I was away, too – for 20 years. When I came back, I did not want to. It was completely unintentional on my part and I was extremely conflicted about the whole thing.
The first time I went back to communion, I was overwhelmed. I knew Jesus; I even loved Jesus; but I was noncommittal.
Jesus knew better. With a nervous stomach and a guilty conscience, I stayed – and soon found out that I had so little to worry about.
No one yelled at me. I was not scolded. All of my concerns were met with compassion and understanding.
I did not accept everything at first; it took a long time. But I kept coming back. I still struggle with some things and likely always will.
I hope that you had a nice Christmas this year and that of all the gifts you got, you realize that this one cries out to be re-gifted. That’s what I’m doing and it is my hope and desire that you come back and one day re-gift this to others.
If you felt anything when you were in church this Christmas, I hope you will see that as a gift and consider coming back. The gifts here are always in stock – and the only return we look forward to is you.