Subscribe via RSS Feed

Like I Mean It

December 30, AD 2011 10 Comments

I know a non-Catholic who has been exposed to the Catholic faith pretty heavily for years, but who still has no interest in becoming a Catholic. When asked why he answers, “Because Catholic worship is so boring. It looks like there is no feeling, they are just going through the motions.”

The typical response to this would be an explanation of the liturgy, and how worship is an action of faith and will, feelings are secondary and accidental. This would be a true response, but let’s take a look at it from another angle for a second. Truth be told, most of the times when I go to Sunday Mass, if I pay attention to the people around me it doesn’t often look as if they are especially interested in what they are doing. Hardly anyone sings, the responses are mumbled, someone is picking his fingernails over there, someone else is playing peek-a-boo with the toddler in the seat in front of her. Before and after Mass the church often sounds like a meeting hall, to the irritation of those who have the desire to pray, but lack the focus to ignore the noise. Then, when I look at myself (because, after all, what am I doing watching everyone else) I find I am doing all of those things (except playing peek-a-boo.)

Granted that I am not a charismatic, and don’t very much value emotional thrills, yet still I can’t help but think that if we stopped and thought, really thought what we were doing, it ought to make a difference in how we act at Mass. I should be worshipping like I mean it. That difference ought to be noticeable. I think of the worship of cloistered nuns or even the discipline of Buddhist monks. I doubt anyone watching Zen monks meditating (which is not even worship) would be inclined to doubt the sincerity, whatever their thoughts about the theology of it.

But then, this is really only a part of the question. If you are a person that God Himself invites to His table, if you are the person who has received Jesus in the Eucharist, that really ought to mean something for the rest of your life. And yet so many of us act as if we were just killing time at Mass, and only really come alive outside the church. Instead it should be the other way around. The protestant who comes to Mass might not recognize the depth and passion of a beautiful liturgy, and almost certainly will not recognize the Sacramental reality that takes place regardless of how beautiful or how sloppy the liturgy is. It is quite fair for them to complain about a “Lack of feeling” at Mass, but the witness of the rest of our lives should be an answer to them. Worship does not end when we leave church. The hidden interior joy we receive at Mass (sometimes whether we know it or not) should slowly bubble its way to the surface over the course of the day and the week, until it overflows in a good life, lived with excellence and fun and style. We should live every day as if Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.


Because as it turns out, He did.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Ryan Kraeger is a cradle Catholic homeschool graduate, currently serving as an Army Special Forces Medical Sergeant, stationed on the West Coast. He enjoys reading, thinking, and conversation, the making and eating of gourmet pizza, shooting and martial arts, and the occasional dark beer. His website is The Man Who Would Be Knight and he blogs at[/author_info] [/author]

Filed in: Columnists

About the Author:

Ryan Kraeger is a cradle Catholic homeschool graduate, who has served in the Army as a Combat Engineer and as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant. He now lives with his wife Kathleen and daughter Evelyn near Tacoma, WA and plans on going to school to become a Physician’s Assistant. He enjoys reading, thinking, and conversation, the making and eating of gourmet pizza, shooting and martial arts, and the occasional dark beer. His website is The Man Who Would Be Knight.

  • Bonnie Engstrom

    “We should live every day as if Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.
    Because as it turns out, He did.”

    Love it.
    I know I am guilty of this, too. (spacing out, being distracted, chatting, being annoyed at long homilies) It’s why I so appreciate a beautiful, holy church. If I am distracted and start looking around it’s good for me to see St. Joseph looking back at me as if he’s saying, “Seriously, Bonnie? You known better. Pray.”

  • Camille

    Totally agree with Bonnie’s comment that being surrounded by a beautiful, holy Church helps in making the worship more holy. With two kids 5 and under, I am often distracted, but when I see the crucifix, a statue of Mary or another Saint, I am reminded to focus on the task at hand.

    I would argue however, that while Protestant services are more emotional and people seem more “into it”, they also often resemble concerts or motivational speakers. It is much more easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of an event that is specifically choreographed to tap into that part of you. The Mass seems much deeper. It is both an emotional event (if you really think about what you are doing) and a discipline (memorization of prayers, understanding of the different prayers and motions, knowledge of the sacramental aspects, etc.)

  • Sorry, the entire premise of the article is wrong.

    Your friend would not become Catholic even if he encountered joyous and exhilarating ecstasies of worship that filled his every subjective need.

    He might become a rock fan, or a prosperity gospel adherent, or a pagan.

    But not a Catholic.

    One becomes a Catholic because one is persuaded completely that the Catholic Church is True.

    If one has not persuaded one’s friend of this, then all the rest is irrelevant.

    If one has persuaded one’s friend of this, then all that is left is the supernatural movement of grace which will allow your friend to move beyond his intellectual assent to the assent of Faith.

    Once this is done, he can be baptized, and will- please God!- never again raise such a silly and irrelevant objection.

    He will cease to look for subjective emotional thrills up the leg, and begin to look for a shattering encounter with the Thrice Holy God.

    Prayers for his conversion will be offered in my rosary today.

  • Actually, the premise of the article has nothing to do with why he isn’t a Catholic. It is simply an opportunity to see things the way he does, and learn from it. The fact is, he has a valid point: Many Catholics do not act as if they really understand what they are doing at Mass, either in church or out of church. That is the substance of his observation which I can accept and learn from. He is, of course, quite wrong about Catholic worship, but Catholic worship is not what this post is about. Rather it is about our proper response to the sacramental reality of the Mass. The article is not about him, it is about me.

  • Jennifer

    Great commentary here–it ties in with a quote from Benedict XVI that’s been floating about Facebook lately (the one about applause at Mass, I can’t find a link now, of course…), as well as a conversation some friends and I have been having about rationality and feelings.

    The balance that’s hard to strike is one between the human “feeling” of awe, and the rational “knowing” of awesomeness. It’s really hard to hang on to the latter if you’re going through a dry spell and are bereft of the former. Boring Mass, or disrupted Mass, or even just plan terrible Mass are all killers of the feeling of goodwill, peace, enjoyment, love, and sometimes even belief. The feeling isn’t what’s real, though. The knowing of the love of Christ and the Truth of his Church is what’s real. Feelings aren’t bad, but they mislead if you base all your relationship with God upon them.

  • Ez

    I have two young children- one girl that’s 4years and another that is 9months.

    Being taught in an Opus Dei school, my religious upbringing, taught me to show great reverence during mass. To concentrate, to talk to God, to stay back and pray, and find a deep connection every time I went to church.

    I maintained this reverence when I left school, and found myself attending “regular” mass, where the music was abit more modern and the mass felt more “casual”.

    Now being a mum, my WHOLE approach to mass is very different. I find myself trying to keep my 4year old engaged in the mass, and comforting my 9 month old when she gets restless, or watching her as she gets curious. To an outsider, I may look like I’m not concentrating or “putting my heart into it”, so to speak.

    But, I came to realize that God welcomes ALL to his home- his church. In whatever state, mood, position in life you are. Whether you have restless kids, or are elderly and unable to genuflect. Whether you are a burdened Catholic barely hanging onto your faith, or a deeply devout one that stays genuflected after the Eucharist till the priest says “go in peace”.

    So although I understand the point of this article, and appreciate it’s intention, I cant help but find it quite close minded in understanding the diverse scope of people that attend mass. They are as diverse as the world is diverse, and filled with people of all walks and stages in life, mentally, emotionally, physically and most important spiritually.

    God is encompassing and opens his arm to all- the somberly devout, aswell as the “disruptive” toddler, aswell as the bored teenager, or the unenthused parishioner.

    Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Therefore don’t assume their love of the mass to be any less than your love, because you stand up and exclaim to the heavens the responses or belt out the hymns.

    Didn’t Jesus scold the hypocrites that showed outward signs of devotion but had empty hearts….

  • Scott

    While I completely agree with your article, I’m a bit disappointed that you strayed off topic at the very end. YES, “the witness of the rest of our lives should be an answer” and “Worship does not end when we leave church.” I’m not disputing that in the least and wholeheartedly agree. But I think more needs to be stressed about the real effectivity of the Mass “whether we know it or not.” Sure, I’d love it if the sanctuary wasn’t a social hall immediately before and immediately after Mass, but those who ARE praying and reflecting and gazing in adoration at the crucifix are setting a good example. They may not be any more holy than any of the rest of us, but they get the fact that Mass is an individual act of worship in conjunction with the actions of the priest in persona Christe. The more an individual, any individual, is able to participate in that, the better for them, and the better for those around them.

    Really, I do love your article, and I’d like to see more about Mass itself, because yes, we ought to live as Christians in our daily lives, but we’ll never be able to if we don’t obtain graces available to us by participation in Mass.

  • Jacqueline F. Lyons

    I’m old enough to have gone through all the stages reflected above, and would like to share some thoughts that probably won’t be ‘acceptable.’ First – I’m thrilled to find a toddler in front of me, and equally thrilled to ‘play peek-a-boo’ if he/she is so inclined. Why? Jesus wanted the children to come to Him and they’ll be a lot more drawn to come if they find ‘His’ celebration to be pleasant and welcoming toward them.
    Next, I recall having a good singing voice and the ability to pray and participate in clear, projected tones. This is no longer the case, but guess what – Jesus doesn’t care! He takes me as I am, with whatever form of worship I am able to offer.
    I’ve been to Protestant worship services, and for the most part, yes, they are aimed at making one ‘feel good,’ with many gifted speakers on spiritual or secular subjects. Fantastic, trained choirs entertain you, and perhaps even inspire you – and you can find those qualities at any good concert.
    I used to miss the real artistic beauty and uplifting atmosphere of Churches that were filled with religious objects that drew out nostalgic and ‘holy’ feelings in me — but even that has faded- I can see His Holy light in any spot where His body and blood is being offered up for us.
    Am I distracted by noise and activity before and after Masses — I confess I am, but am working on that (in me) – because those ‘social’ folks are reaching out to each other, in His House – and down deep, I think that pleases Him as much as my ‘mumbled’ prayers.
    The one thing I am convinced of is that as long as we’re human, styles and forms of worshiping will keep changing, much to the chagrin of our ‘human’ judgments and habits. Someone will always be suggesting that they’ve ‘got it right’ and implying that others ‘have it wrong.’ Thank GOD- and I do thank Him – He is bigger than all that and will make good come from all of it —– it’s so good to know that God is God, and I don’t have to be!

  • Deacon Dennis, SFO

    yes – I am present to the Lord and He present to me in the action of the Mass, but He is present to me & and I to Him in my interaction with those around me both at Mass (even in those distractions, of which I am one to others, I am sure) and beyond into the rest of the week.

    The author hit on it, kind of, when he said at the end “We should live every day as if Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Because as it turns out, He did.”

    Yes he did, and he manifests Himself, not only in the elements of the Bread and Wine and the actions of the Mass, but in the joys, pains and sufferings, blandness and disinterest, of those around me, to give me the impetus to share that joy, ease that pain & suffering, give spice to that blandness and to spark interest in them.

    I think of the old Russian fable of Jacob the Cobbler who was given an insight in a dream that the Lord would visit Him personally sometime during the next day. He had several of his neighbors come to him with different needs during the next day, which he grudgingly took care of – to one some food, to another his deceased wife’s shawl to ward off the cold, to another a pair of unclaimed shoes to keep his feet warm and dry, etc., but quickly got them on their way because the Lord was going to visit him and he wanted to be alone with the Lord when He came. At the end of the day the Lord had not come and Jacob fell asleep. In his dream that night the Lord came to him and Jacob bitterly remonstrated with Him that He did not keep His promise. The Lord replied that He had indeed come to him, not as he had expected, but in the different guises of his neighbors in need.

  • enness

    I had to laugh at the part about picking fingernails. Yes, I’m guilty, but it’s usually an outward sign that my brain is picking at something too. I’ll take it into account, though. 🙂