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A Beacon Of Light… Afraid To Return To Mass

January 24, 2023 Frontpage No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn.)

  • + + “I’m afraid to return to Mass in person. And it’s not because of COVID” (America Magazine, June-July Issue, 2022).
    This is the title of an article that appeared in America Magazine’s new nationwide marketing campaign entitled: “Own your faith.” Its purpose it to offer a place where Catholics can present essays and questions and voice concerns that they have regarding the Catholic faith and the world.
    America Magazine presents the experience of Valerie Schultz, a freelance writer for The Bakersfield Californian, who shares the reason why she no longer goes to Church.
    Schultz, like so many others, states that her “life changed” when one of her children came out of the closet revealing a struggle with being a transgender. In addition, the fallout of the clergy sexual abuse crisis had also caused her husband to “leave” the Catholic Church to become an Episcopalian. In a sense, for her, the safety that was felt surrounding her faith was compromised and everything seemed to crumble.
    In the article, Shultz makes the following statement: “I think of my Catholicism now as a fragile little bird that I keep sheltered in the nest of my heart.” In the end, Shultz and so many other Catholics have used the circumstances of the pandemic as a means to satisfy their already personal dislike of the Church and her authority over them.
    The scenario presented by America Magazine has sadly infiltrated so many lives of the faithful since the pandemic. In 2020, amid the pandemic, the Church was presented with a great opportunity to re-evangelize the faithful on the importance of participation in Sunday Mass.
    Unfortunately, so many in the United States Church hierarchy succumbed to the pressures of the government and gave up on the faithful. During a time when the Church was needed more than ever, the very men with the authority to uphold the Church and her teachings tossed all that aside. The widespread blanket dispensations did more to hurt the faithful then protect them. It actually gave many the excuse they needed to stop going to Church. This was the case with Mrs. Schultz in the article from America Magazine.
    What should have happened during 2020? The Church’s hierarchy should have fought the government mandates as a violation of separation of church and state. We should never have impeded the faithful from the right they have in participating and receiving the Eucharist. Some thought that if the faithful had to refrain from receiving the Eucharist, then there would develop more of a yearning for our Eucharistic Lord. In theory, this would be correct, but that implies there has been adequate catechesis of the faithful with regard to the Eucharist.
    Sadly, we are seeing the result of quite the opposite. The implied desire of the faithful “yearning” for the Eucharist has not happened as was thought. Instead, the dispensational approach had the opposite effect, and many used it as an excuse to just not come back.
    The problem here, as I see it, is a lack of catechesis on why we go to Mass in the first place. What happens during our participation at Mass? In essence, we encounter and participate in a “divine reality” that forever changes us. This idea of being changed is not something new. In fact, the Prophet Ezekiel reminded the people of what happens when they enter the Temple:
    “But when the people of the land shall go in before the Lord in the solemn feasts, he that goeth in by the north gate to adore, shall go out by the way of the south gate: and he that; goeth in by the way of the south gate, shall go out by the way of the north gate: He shall not return by the way of the gate whereby he came in, but shall go out at that over against it” (Ezek. 46:9, Douay-Rheims, Bible). The Prophet Ezekiel explains, even from ancient times, the importance of what happens when we enter the “temple.” We enter through one gate and leave by another. Thus, it is impossible to go back from the gate we entered. Thus, entering the Temple and our participation causes a change.
    If the Lord used the prophets to proclaim the need to be “in the Temple,” then, it must be because this is essentially necessary in our journey of faith. In ancient times, the Temple was the place where the Israelites and others, encountered the living God. This encounter caused an internal metamorphosis.
    Similarly when we participate in Sunday Mass, we also encounter the living God in the person of Jesus Christ. This encounter, like that of the Temple, also transforms us. Every encounter with our Lord, Jesus Christ, causes an internal transformation that potentially impacts our external reality of life. This is precisely why we are given the instruction at the end of Mass to go and live what we have received.

Laziness In Some Of The Faithful

So, hearing of the many people who have stopped going to Mass since the pandemic, is sad because they have denied themselves of the encounter with the Lord. In the parish I minister in, we have seen a 30 percent decline in the number of those who have returned to Mass. And of those I have spoken to, asking why they have not returned, it’s because the live-streaming of Mass has caused laziness in some of the faithful. We need to stop live-streaming and get people back to Mass. By giving them an excuse, we are hindering their encounter with Christ.
So many of those who no longer attend Mass have become confused “sheep of the fold.” We must never be afraid to go after the lost sheep. In the Gospels, Jesus tells His disciples the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the need to go in search of them and bring them home. Well, we need to do the same thing! Our search is not one of going after the sheep who have left us, it is actually going after the sheep we have pushed away.
Sometimes, we fail to recognize that our actions as a Church have broader consequences. And sometimes when we recognize this, it’s too late because the damage has already been done.
In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, John the Baptist points out who Christ is and recognizes Him as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” He exclaims that Jesus is the one to whom we are to seek. We need to open our eyes of faith and look for Jesus. We need to return to the “Temple,” to the place where we are physically in His presence in order that we might be transformed.

Strong And Firm In Their Faith

We live in a world that justifies everything, so as to make the bad good and the good nonexistent. This attitude, sadly, oftentimes flows over into the way we live our faith. Justification erodes the Truth of our faith and causes us to become weak. We need to seek Truth! Seeking this Truth comes from our participation in the Sacred Liturgy. Not virtually, but by our active and physical participation in the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
In the end, God doesn’t want lukewarm children of faith, who make excuses for themselves. He wants children who are strong and firm in their faith. Such firmness of faith comes from the frequent participation in the Eucharist where we meet Christ. On the Day of Judgment, there will be no opportunity to offer excuses as to why we lapsed in living our faith.
When we stand before the throne of God, we must like John the Baptist exclaim: “Behold the Lamb of God!” Then, in turn, we long to hear the loving response from our Lord: “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of time.”

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