The Mass is the Way to Holiness
Who wants to be a saint?
Everyone is called to be holy. Not just priests, bishops, and deacons, but everyone. From Pope Francis to the newest baby baptized we are all called to be holy.
So what is holiness? Is it someone who walks around with a sad expression, always frowning, and disapproving of any fun? Not on your life.
So, if not that, what is holiness? One hint is from the Scripture. In the Epistle of John we learn that God is love.
In the modern world we misuse the word “love.” We use it to mean “like,” “desire.” or “enjoy.” Scripture uses it to mean having a relationship, having a deep commitment. So when Jesus says the most important commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, this means that you are supposed to have a deep committed relationship with God and everyone else.
That part may seem easy. Who doesn’t want to love God and everyone else? It gets much more difficult when we are asked to love that crazy fool that cut us off on the freeway, or that girl that stole our boyfriend, or that coach that cut our kid from the team. Then love of God and neighbor become much more difficult.
Where we learn how to be holy, which means truly loving, is at Mass. I always get a little crazy when someone says “I don’t get anything from Mass; it is boring. But I am soooo moved by Adoration.” Adoration is like an appetizer before a wonderful banquet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with appetizers. If you could see me you would know that appetizers are my friend. But they aren’t the whole meal. The Mass is the whole meal.
Other people will say that going to Mass every Sunday makes it boring. Let me ask you this: does your heart beating every second and taking a breath every second grow boring? If you think so, try not breathing or not having your heart beat every second. On second thought, don’t do that. I want you to live.
St. Therese of Lisieux, the saint of the Little Way, said “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” So in every day life we have tremendous opportunities to draw closer to God. All of us, including me, miss those chances.
The Mass gives us a chance to really hone in on opportunities to glorify God. One very basic way is through Christ present in the assembly. Look to your left and to your right. Look in front and behind you. There is Christ. Wherever two or more gather in His Name there Christ is.
I really get a sense of Christ at the sign of peace in Lifeteen Masses. There is such joy and happiness in greeting your friends. That is the same joy and happiness Christ has in you. If you want it, that joy and happiness can be present at any Mass, no matter how bad your day is, or no matter how sad you are. Christ is here and loves you.
How can you stay bored? If your favorite actor or sports hero were there, would you be bored? Well. you have the Master of the universe right there, delighting in you.
Christ is present in the Scripture readings. Every Sunday we get to hear from the Old and New Testaments, and from one of the four Gospels. I must admit that sometimes these readings hit me with more power then at other times. That has always been because of my lack of attention. We hear wonderful stories that can enthrall us. We have wonderful inspiring stories that can challenge us to be better people and wonderful stories that can be an invitation to prayer. All we have to do is listen.
A way of helping us to listen is to read the readings before Mass. At my parish we have at the beginning of every month an insert that talks about the readings for every Sunday in the month. If you really want to understand the readings, I encourage you to take a Scripture class if you can find one. That would be a great help to understanding what the Scriptures mean and how you can make them a part of your life.
Most significantly, Christ is present in the Eucharist. When the priest raises the host and says this is my Body and raises the wine and says this is my blood we believe that it is really the body and blood of Christ. Now there have been books written on how this works, and I am not going to get into that here. There have also been books written on the benefits of the Real Presence. I want to emphasize that the Real Presence gives strength for the journey.
Here is what I mean. Sunday is the beginning of the week. So at the beginning of the week we desperately need strength for the journey. How we make it through that week has a lot to do with our food. If we have good food we will be strong. If we have junk food we will be weak. We have the best food possible: the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God made man. He comes to our life and stays with us through the joys and the sadness, the ups and the downs, the goods and the bad of all of our weeks here on earth.
How wonderful that the Master of the universe cares enough to walk with us. And you think Mass is boring? Pulease!
At my parish, at the end of Mass, Deacon Dan says, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your lives,”
So, you use Mass as a school on how to be holy, and then you go out and be holy in your actions. It is like high school or college or trade school; you learn something, and then apply it to the real world. The Mass doesn’t teach you to be a mathematician, or a lawyer. It teaches you how to be holy. One thing it teaches you is how to be more spiritual and nearer to God.
Mass encourages you to pray between Masses. The prayer can be the rosary, charismatic prayer, reading the Bible, or being still and in the presence of God. Maybe it is buying a Laetare CD and listening to praise and worship music. Or, here’s a thought, maybe becoming a lector and sharing the Scripture with your friends. That is tough, but I know you can do it. I hope that you pray in a way that you are close to God from Sunday evening to the next Sunday at 5PM. Prayer will help you love God with your whole heart.
Good works will help you love your fellow human. Good works can be done in a variety of ways. Sometimes good works are big things, like being a missionary to Africa, or helping to build houses in Honduras, or participating in a prison ministry here at home. All of these are good things.
Sometimes good works are much more modest. They may consist of saying “hello” to someone you don’t like. They may involve sitting at lunch with a new kid, or one of the unpopular kids. Some good works might be very modest, but may be extremely important for someone.
So the question is what to do? Well, always pray for understanding. Father Mychal Judge wrote a wonderful prayer for understanding what God wants us to do. Father Mychal was the first person killed at the twin towers on 9-11. He was killed while ministering to dying policemen and firemen. Here is his prayer:
“Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way.”
So if you want to be holy, go to Mass, and use the Mass to inspire you to have a good prayer life and do good works for your fellow humans.
—Father Mike Van Cleve
Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.