AS the priest came out for Mass, he looked around with a happy grin and dancing eyes.
He was clearly a people person and seemed pleased to pray with people as one of them.
He was an example of the Bible teaching that ‘the Sabbath was made for human beings rather than human beings made for the Sabbath.’
He told us about a recent Sunday Mass.
The Gospel reading was a favourite of his and he had carefully prepared a homily.
Things were going well until a big guy in the second row started to snore, causing him to swallow his tongue and wake up with a start.
This happened several times and the interest of the congregation was shifting from the homily to the snorer.
The priest signalled to the acolyte and whispered, “Go down and wake that guy up.”
The acolyte took a close look at the big, broad shouldered guy and shook his head, “No, Father, you put him to sleep, you wake him up.”
As the priest told it about himself it was an acceptable story although I’m not too sure if it was exaggerated.
However it made certain we would stay alert and it got us united as a happy congregation to listen to the homily which is an important aspect of the liturgy.
I had been at the Church 20 years before and was saddened to note that the congregation had diminished and there were empty seats.
I started to feel despondent about this when quite a clear thought forced its way into my mind.
“Hey, empty seats are not the problem. It is when you have empty people in the seats that you have a problem and that is well on the way to being remedied. It would be better for you to note the positive changes in the congregation although it has shrunk.”
And I was impressed; from the babes in arms, to the children solemnly receiving a blessing at the Eucharist, to the young people, to parents, right up to the elderly, shuffling their way up to Communion.
The sign of peace was a joyous occasion and although the singing may not have made the Songs of Praise TV program, all were joining in to the best of their ability.
It was a Christian community, united in worship, giving joyful praise to the Lord. It is what Jesus meant when he said at the last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”
The ‘this’ referred to the atmosphere of friendship, unity, acceptance and love of those present just as much as the words of consecration.
Although some congregations have dropped in number, the quality is better than ever.
Having a Church based on love, freedom and commitment is gradually taking effect. This is quite different from the Church of my youth.
The bottom line for attendance at Mass is to develop a loving relationship with God.
But to love one has to be free so you cannot force or bully or con people into loving God.
Threats of hell-fire, loss of Church membership, sanctions, name-calling, are all self-defeating and although they may produce short term results, they hinder a free relationship with God.
In the long term they do more damage than good.
In former times fear of eternal damnation and hell-fire was often used to motivate people, but today a renewed theology has modified this teaching, so that it is more in tune with the compassionate Jesus of the Gospel.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)
By Br John Venard FMS