At the school where I am newly assigned to teach, the chapel is at the far end of the elementary school wing. And yet on the first day of school, I witnessed a new high school teacher — himself an alum — during his 10-minute break, walking the full length of the large building to visit the chapel. Upon reflection, I realized that I had noticed more than one teacher visiting the chapel during the busy first day of school. In the next few days, I also noticed many high school students visiting the chapel — unaccompanied by a teacher — at the beginning of their lunch breaks and between classes.
While I personally had also visited my school’s chapel in high school, I was by far the exception. But here were at least 10 to 15 high school students voluntarily beginning their lunch break there.
What drew the teachers to the chapel, despite the distance, in the midst of their hectic teaching schedules? What drew the high schoolers, despite any possible contrary social pressure or even despite an understandable teenage desire to eat lunch first?
I believe that these teachers and students know that there is a Person waiting for them in that chapel, and that Person is the Son of God hidden in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not out of a sense of duty — as was initially the case for me in high school — that these teachers and students visit Him, but out of love. The beloved Son of the Father, their Savior and their Friend, waits for them in the silence of that chapel, and their hearts, like mine now, long to be with Him.
Why do you go to Sunday Mass? Is it out of a sense of duty — because you were raised that way, because your parents would want you to go, because your spouse wants it? Or is it perhaps simply out of habit — because you grew up Catholic and you have just always done it this way? Or is it perhaps because you have heard that it is a sin to miss Sunday Mass, and you do not want to go to hell?
But what if we changed our approach? What if we saw Mass no longer as an obligation but as a profound gift — a gift that we would be willing to go far distances to attain, a gift worthy of any sacrifice! What if we went to Mass out of love and desire for the Beloved who longs to feed us with Himself! In fact, we can only long for Him because He has first longed for us.
Even — perhaps especially — those of us who willingly attend Mass regularly outside of Sundays can begin taking it for granted. How easy it can be to be swept away by the distractions of our wandering imaginations. How easy simply to fall into the routine and to lose sight of our first love.
Throughout the history of the Church, countless saints have risked their lives to attend Mass. For them, the Mass was not simply a family tradition or an obligation or a routine; it was their very life! It was the thing without which they could not live, because it was here that they encountered and received Christ Himself, the Son of the living God.
Let us ask Him to increase in us a greater love, appreciation, and gratitude for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May we long for Him in the Eucharist more than for life itself. Only then will our lives feel worth living.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.