In the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, we hear the account of the two disciples of St. John the Baptist who begin to follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks the question: “What do you seek?” (John 1:38) Another translation reads: “What are you looking for?” It was this question of Jesus that arose in my heart as I watched the first episode of the Presence study on FORMED that we are doing as a parish this Lent. It is a question that the Lord invites us to consider especially when it comes to our going to Mass.
If you pause to consider that question for yourself, what is it that you seek when you come to Mass? For some of us, we desire to hear a good homily. We want to be fed by the Word of God and an explanation of it that helps us to see how it applies to our lives. Others come to Mass to seek the peace their hearts long for, especially as they face the challenges and sufferings of everyday life. Others seek reverence where the prayers and music of the Mass raise us to the heights of Heaven, where we journey each time we go to Mass. Other seek the joy of being with others to worship God, finding in the Mass a family gathered together, giving some hope and light to a life that is otherwise lonely and empty feeling.
As a priest who celebrates Mass every day, I have noticed a shift in what I seek when I celebrate Mass. As a younger priest, I was much more focused on trying to get the homily just right, such that it would encourage, inspire, and challenge the congregation. If I felt a homily was a little flat or off the mark, I would let it discourage me, as though I had somehow let the people down. But as I matured a little, I began to realize how I was drawn to something deeper than preaching when celebrating Mass. I found that I sought to enter more into the mystery of the Mass, the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer, and the remarkable gift of being chosen by God to bring Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist. With that primary focus, I was able not to get so caught up in the quality of the preaching, but I could rejoice in the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus coming to be among us, and becoming our food.
With all of that said, I am not saying I do not take preaching seriously, but I understand better how it must be at the service of preparing our hearts to more fully embrace the gift of the Eucharist at each Mass, for this gift will surpass even the greatest homily ever preached. We have many options for places to go to Mass, and we are often drawn to those places or those priests which resonate with our preferences, but we must never forget that the greatest gift is always the Eucharist, God with us, sharing His very life with us. When that is our primary focus, even if we did not like the homily, even if we did not like the music, or whatever thing we may have found lacking (and believe me, we are good at finding things that are lacking with Mass), one thing is NEVER lacking at any Mass, and that is the fact that God becomes present and feed us, His children, with His very being, body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we can grasp this and make this the one thing above all others that we seek at Mass, we will never walk away from Mass being disappointed. For even if all of those other elements of our experience at Mass disappoint us, God giving Himself to us will never disappoint us.
If you have not watched Episode 1 of Presence yet, please do so, and go ahead and watch Episode 2, taking special note of the weekly question on the bottom right of this page.