My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Anticipating the celebration of Christmas, a TV reporter from NewsChannel 20 interviewed me at the Cathedral before Mass on the Sunday before Christmas. The reporter started out by citing recent polls that showed a decline in weekly Mass attendance and wanted to know if we were doing anything special to get people to come to Mass for Christmas. I replied, “Getting people to church for Christmas is not a challenge. The challenge is getting them to come back on a regular basis every week.” Indeed, we had overflow crowds in the Cathedral Atrium for the 4 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass, and the Cathedral was nearly full for Midnight Mass.
I added that I was hopeful because there are signs that people have not abandoned their faith entirely. People who do not go to church regularly often say that they are spiritual, but not religious, meaning that they are not atheists, but even though they believe in God, they just do not go to church on a regular basis. If that describes you, then this reflection is meant especially for you. In talking to you directly about this, my intention is not to berate you, or to chastise you, or to make you feel guilty. My hope is to encourage you with a warm invitation to become a regular part of our worshipping community on a weekly basis. As Pope St. John Paul II used to say, the church does not impose, but proposes.
So why should you come to Mass every week?
First and foremost, being a Christian is about a relationship, namely, our relationship with Jesus as Our Lord and Savior. That means that Jesus loves us and cares deeply about us. In return, he asks us to love him and care deeply about him as well. Most of us have no problem with that.
But think about this some more. If you have a loving relationship with someone, that relationship needs to be nurtured on a regular basis. For example, think of a person you love very much, such as your spouse, your Mom or Dad, your children, or a close friend. Now, what if you said to that person, “I love you very much. It was nice visiting with you today. I’ll see you again same time and same place — a year from now!” Perhaps some married couples would welcome that! Most people, however, would recognize that it would be hard to sustain a deep, loving relationship if you only see your loved one once or twice a year. So why would anyone think that our loving relationship with God would be any different? God’s love for us will never diminish, but our love for God will grow cool if we do not express it frequently and fill our hearts with his love on a regular basis.
That leads to the next reason why we should go to Mass every Sunday: to receive Our Lord into our hearts in holy Communion. Of course, that will mean something only to those who believe that holy Communion is not just a symbolic reminder of the Last Supper but is actually the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the reason why weekly Mass attendance hovers nationally at about 30 percent of Catholics is because polls indicate that almost 70 percent of self-identified Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the consecration at Mass. At the Last Supper, Jesus was quite clear, as described in the Gospel of St. Matthew, who wrote, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to His disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28). If we truly believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, how could we not want to receive Christ into our hearts as often as possible?
The next reason why we should go to church every week is because we need each other to remain spiritually strong. Christ did not come to us as some sort of personal philosopher with wise sayings for us to follow like Confucius, but Jesus established his church as a community of believers built on the solid rock of St. Peter and his successors, despite their human weaknesses, and sent his Holy Spirit to guide them. People are social beings, and we crave the support of others to strengthen us in our work as well as in play. Without this support, our energies wane. People accomplish so much more when they work together rather than as isolated individuals. Sports teams constantly talk about teamwork in order to succeed. Imagine how impoverished society would be without Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic Charities. Yet all of these efforts to improve the human race and lessen human suffering are made possible because people of faith banded together to work cohesively to accomplish a common goal.
Most important, we should come to church and receive holy Communion every week because we need to do so for our eternal salvation. Again, Jesus was clear, as recorded in the Gospel of St. John: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56).
It is customary to make New Year’s resolutions, but odds are that most people have already forgotten or abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by now. That being the case, I warmly invite you, in fact I plead with you: Please make a new and real New Year’s resolution that you will keep, namely, a firm promise to come to Mass every week. That will benefit you infinitely more than anything else I could possibly imagine! If you already come to Mass every week, then please pass this invitation on to someone you know who is not coming to Sunday Mass, with you own warm words of encouragement.
May God give us this grace. Amen.