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A Lazy Man’s Spirituality Print E-mail
By Rick Becker   
Sunday, 20 October 2013
 

My high school choir director couldn’t have been more emphatic. “Whatever you do, whatever happens, no matter whatever else you do wrong,” he told us before we left for Europe, “don’t lose your passport!”

Needless to say, I did.

I made it through four countries without a hitch, stashing my passport in my hotel room after check-in, and retrieving it before departure. When we hit Brighton, England, however, I got a bit too clever. I hid my passport so well that I couldn’t find it several days later before leaving for London. As a result, I spent a whole day at the U.S. Embassy filling out forms and being grilled by officials while my compatriots toured Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Bummer.

On the plus side, however, I got to hang out at the U.S. Embassy, and being in that physical space – on American turf within a foreign country – was unexpectedly solemn and comforting. There, I was home, although not home. There I was safe and could get the help I needed to continue my journey home.

I have similar feelings when I go to Mass every day. It’s like I’m slipping into God’s embassy for a respite from the jarring and disorienting journey of my daily jumble of life.

Hilaire Belloc touched on this in The Path to Rome, where he listed four reasons that daily Mass was a source of “continual comfort” to him – four reasons that James Schall, S. J., has described as being “as profound as any seen in theological literature since.”

For example, Belloc includes the simple fact that daily Mass compels you to regularly set aside thirty minutes to be quiet and “recollected” – no small thing these days. Also, when you give yourself over to liturgical ritual, it can “relieve the mind. . . of responsibility and initiative. . .during the time it lasts,” a gift in itself, but also an exercise in humility. Most significant for Belloc was that daily Mass attendance was an ancient tradition: “Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit. . .we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy.”

But my favorite of Belloc’s four reasons is his third – Mass as an escape and a refuge:

That the surroundings incline you to good and reasonable thoughts. . . .Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.
Note that he wrote that the surroundings themselves incline you thus, and that the “time spent at Mass” is itself the repose, regardless of your attentiveness or even interior disposition. In other words, taking all his four causes together, Belloc is suggesting that the mere act of getting to Mass has value, even infinite value.

Chaplain saying wartime Mass, 1861 (Matthew Brady) 

This is vitally important, especially to a slug like me. I am not always properly disposed or attentive at Mass – a truism that might be lost on those who don’t make Mass a daily priority. Those of us who do make it a priority know that it’s certainly not because we’re particularly holy, or anywhere close to it. In fact, the opposite is the case: We know we’re lousy sinners, and we want to be holy. Getting to daily Mass is just the lazy man’s approach to the matter.

Lazy man’s approach because, as Belloc was suggesting, all you have to do is show up to accrue some benefit. I even confessed this once – that my practice of going to Mass every day seemed like spiritual sloth because it was just too easy. Shouldn’t I be doing more than that? My confessor laughed and pointed out the pride in my question. “Just being at Mass is of infinite value, regardless of your state of mind. . . .After all, it’s Jesus that’s doing all the work. You just have to get yourself in the pew.”

Romano Guardini wrote about this in his Meditations Before Mass: Primarily it is He who acts; in our ‘remembering,’ it is Christ Himself who stirs.” However, Guardini also warned against the possibility of a “veritable crisis of boredom and weariness”: 

When the Mass threatens to become a habit for someone who goes regularly during the week, it is certainly advisable for him to attend less frequently, perhaps only on Sundays for a while, substituting visits in the quiet church or Bible reading.

Gulp. Is that me? I’m frequently distracted at daily Mass, or even so fatigued that I fall asleep. Yet, even then, isn’t there greater value in getting to Mass than simply making a visit or reading my Bible? If I make it inside the door, I’ll be present for the immersion in mystery and miracle that takes place there. Isn’t that preferable to virtually everything else?

My confessor and Belloc would argue in the affirmative I think, and perhaps even the Holy Father. In his recently published interview, Pope Francis used a memorable medical metaphor:

I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.

What a terrific image of daily Mass! When I get my sorry self into the pew for Mass every day – despite the distractions and fatigue, and regardless of how attentive or disposed I am – I’m a wounded warrior that needs first aid before returning to the battle. Yes, I need to strengthen my prayer life outside of Mass, and, yes, I need to say my Rosary and find time for spiritual reading.

But for the moment – a spiritual expatriate in need of assistance, a limping combatant requiring balm – just being there is enough. And I’ll be back again tomorrow.

 
Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He lives with his family in South Bend, Indiana.
 
 
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Comments (9)Add Comment
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written by irenaus, October 20, 2013
Yes! I have felt this way for years! I go to daily Mass because I am too lazy to get up in the morning, find a quiet place in my house, figure out some scripture to read and meditate without falling asleep or going back to bed. If I can get my sorry self to a church for Mass, God does the rest! It is less likely that I will fall asleep in church than in my home, largely because the ritual involves so much movement! God bless those hard pews and torturous kneelers! Would I ever come up with such a plan of daily prayer on my own?
In my teaching of religion to teens I tell them that in the Eucharist God meets us half-way, well, way more than half way. Let's say God about 95% and me about 5%. I compare this to the scene in the Prodigal Son story where the son comes to his senses and begins the journey back home. It is the decision to begin that journey, putting the first foot on the road to home, that is everything. The Father, in his crazy love for the son, rushes all the rest of the way down the road to greet his son, put the ring on his finger and kill the fatted calf. This is the way I feel every time I get my sorry self into the pew for daily Mass. I am the lazy one and God does all the work.
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written by Peggy, October 20, 2013
What you say about mass being our home is true. Your experience at a US embassy struck a chord, too---I am the daughter of a Foreign Service Officer who became a Foreign Service Officer and then married one, and so much of my life has been spent abroad. When I was leaving for my first assignment, my mother said, "if you find yourself getting homesick, go to church. No matter where you are in the world, the Church is home". She was right. Strange languages made no difference. Neither did local peculiarities---I have belonged to parish churches that were caves, baroque splendors, flimsy corrugated tin shelters and even part of a secret underground. When my children left for college, I gave them the same advice that my mother had given me.
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written by Dean stroud, October 20, 2013
Well said. It gives me reason to go I to the Church even when "I do not feel like it." I will try to go more often. This holds for confession too.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 20, 2013
Mr. Becker, for the most part this is very true. But I want to say that despite your confessor and Belloc arguing that daily attendance at Mass is "preferable to virtually everything else," Guardini is actually correct. Man's sinful wiles can corrupt even attendance at Mass, even daily attendance. So if attending daily Mass has become a mere chore, something to cross off the day's to-do list, Guardini's advice is very important.

Let us recall that there have been very serious sinners and heretics who attended daily Mass for years. If approached with a heart disinclined to obey God in his Roman Catholic Church, even the Sacraments can be misused in a sinful manner. Stultitia often motivates human action.

Of course, this is not how most faithful at daily Mass experience their time spent with the Lord. Thanks be to God! But Mr. Becker, I do think you move too quickly to meliorate Guardini's point. It should be thoughtfully pondered.
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written by David, October 20, 2013
If there is not a Mass near you or at a time you can make it, find an Adoration Chapel, or a Tabernacle.
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written by Thomas J. Hennigan, October 20, 2013
When Belloc and Guardini wrote the "old" rite was still in force. These days the Mass has been enriched with a greater abundance of Scripture readings, plus the feasts of saints are always interesting as a little reading about their lives can help us enter more deeply into the communion of the saints. Besides, the liturgical prayers are full of deep wisdom which comes mainly from the Scritpures. One only has to be attentive to what is going on and try to participate actively, as both Pope Pius X and Vatican II recommend. Maybe the architecture of the Church can also help us lift up our minds and hearts to the Lord. The assembled faithful make the Church real and present and it is in communion wth the whole local Church under the bishop and the whole communion of the local Churches under the Pope. Besides, I recommend a careful reading of the Book of the Apocalypse which is a heavenly liturgy which is reflected in the earthly one at each Mass. WE may not know who the others who participate in the Mass with us, but that is not the main point. Rather all are called, convoked (that is the meaning of the word Church in Greek) and all have the same faith, so there is a lot more in common with them than not. Plus any Catholic should feel at home in any Catholic Church in any part of the world.
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written by Sir Mark, October 20, 2013
But, Avery, the same can be said of my daily prayer. Should I take a break from prayer just because it has become a "habit"? Oh, how my sinful self would love to follow that advice!
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written by Jack,CT, October 20, 2013
Rick,
Just happened to read your "Bio"
I usually do not as I do not find any
relevence and want to avoid predjdice,
HOWEVER:I have never met a nurse that
was not "Spiritual" even if despite
themselves!

I worked as a Nurse educator for the
last years of my career and found it
very rewarding.

I recall learning more from the inner
city students than I ever was able
to "Give".

I guess the pint I try to make is we all
benifit just by "Showing up" as you say!

I come from a large Irish catholic family
8 of us growing up and dad was a Korean
war vet.I remember what a teacher he was
despite lacking all the degrees and
creds...people loved him!

I remember his wake had "Bus Loads" of
people he helped just by showing" Up!

Thanks for a great piece and bringing
back some beatiful memorys for me-
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written by Joseph Wood, October 20, 2013
Very nice piece. But, I'm sorry, being holed up regaining a passport (a tool of the modern state that would have been unknown in Belloc's day) in a hideously ill- designed building marring an otherwise decent quarter, where I have spent time and even gone for a passport, is not a comforting alternative to Brompton Oratory, St James Spanish Place, St Patrick Soho, Farm Street, Tyburn Abbey, the British Museum, the V&A, the Old Cheshire Cheese Pub or other Johnsonian sites, etc, etc. Good job trying, but no. Being an expat American in Europe even at the heights of anger about America in living but fading memory was wonderful, but the London embassy was never the place to be. Might as well go to one of the many McDonald's. Daily Mass or any London street is better. Keep up the good writing.

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