Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daily Bread

Is it even worth it?

I couldn't help but ask myself the question.

It was a Friday morning and I was sitting in my car, exhausted and frustrated after going to the 9:00 Mass with my two little companions.

It had been a gargantuan task to get all three of us ready on time.  Mary had found a toy that kept her quietly playing independently and it was all I could do to get her to leave her bedroom.  (Normally I would rejoice that she was playing, alone and content.)  In the end, I agreed to let her bring her tin pail and shovel to Mass.  Well, that turned out to be the wrong concession to make.  Tin pails make a lot of noise.

We sloshed through the cold and snow, across the parking lot and into church.  

Per usual, we arrived just before the Gospel.  So much for the first reading and Psalm...not that I can really give them my full attention anyway.

The remainder of the Mass was passed by simultaneously nursing Peter and holding Mary on my lap...not always successfully.  And cringing every time I heard Mary's tin pail clanking against the pew in an unacceptably loud manner.

No time for a thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion, as Peter was absolutely spent and needed to take a nap NOW, indicated of course by loud wailing.  He would have nothing to do with the pacifier, so--beckoning Mary to follow me down the aisle, pail and shovel in hand--we made a hasty exit.  At least Mary and I genuflected on our way out of the pew.  Well, I think we did at least.

And thus I sat in the driver's seat, Mary clanking away with her pail and shovel, Peter crying.  We were going to a friend's house and of course I forgot the directions in my haste to get to Mass on time--an effort, as I explained, that was somewhat futile, since we were late anyway.  

So I started driving, hoping I would remember the way.  And I started praying.  

Lord, I think you really want us to be at Mass.  I'm really trying to make that happen.  But this is just so hard.  Should I really be doing it?  Is it even worth it?

My mind started ticking off all the reasons for not going.  Dragging the children out early in the morning--usually a very cold, sometimes snowy morning.  Asking too much of a toddler to sit through Mass every day.  Interrupting a potential nap for Peter.  Always arriving late.  Not being able to hear the readings.  Distracted so much I can barely pray.  No time to even make a thanksgiving after receiving the Eucharist.  Causing too much noise for other people at Mass.

Maybe, I started to ponder, it's just better to stay home and use my effort and energy to be more charitable and patient.  What good is Mass if it just makes me stressed and feels like a huge hurdle to jump through every day?

And then, in my mind, I felt an answer to my questions.  There were no words spoken, but instead I received an inspiration.

Jesus was happy that we were at Mass that morning.  Mary, Peter, and I being present at that Mass brought God great joy.

God wanted us there--clanking pail and all.  Let the children come to me.  Their noise is a joyful noise to Him.  In fact, in my heart, I could almost see an image of Christ smiling, from the altar, at us.

I realized that Mary and Peter were the only children at that Mass.  They are almost always the only children there.  

Going to Mass isn't about me and how it makes me feel.  Certainly, it is helpful and inspiring to have a peaceful, prayerful, contemplative Mass where you can truly enter into the mystery of the sacrifice.  It's great when you leave the church with warm, fuzzy feelings.  

Yet, I have to remind myself, Mass is primarily about God.  It's not mainly how I feel afterward or how well I can pray.  It's about what I am giving.  I'm giving God my time.  I am giving Him my physical presence.  My attendance at daily Mass is telling God, each day, You matter to me...I want to be with You...I want to worship You.  

In return, God gives me something of unsurpassable value: Himself.

My favorite college professor, a theologian, once related to our class how, if not for the Eucharist, he wouldn't bother going to daily Mass.  He could always read the daily Scripture passages on his own.  But it was the fact of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist that brought him to Mass, every day. 

Jesus gives me Himself at Mass and the overflowing grace that accompanies that gift is not affected by my trying to nurse Peter or asking Mary for the tenth time to please be more quiet.  

As my job as a mother has become more challenging with two children, one of whom is a full-fledged toddler, I recognize that I need the Eucharist.  Daily.  As much as possible.  

Yes, of course, it's easier just to stay at home and keep the children in pajamas until 10 AM.  But, in truth, my job of parenting these children is harder when I'm spiritually operating on empty.  

A person trying to run a marathon cannot do so if he or she were to eat only once a week.  The individual's body would be too fatigued and exhausted to maintain the needed stamina and physical excursion demanded of such a task.  

Well, raising children with the goal of helping them reach heaven is much harder than any marathon.  I know that, for myself, the Eucharist just once a week doesn't cut it: my soul hungers for more.

As I pondered all of this, I reminded myself that, if God truly wants us to attend daily Mass, He will provide the grace to do so.  Then, suddenly, as though giving me a confirmation, Peter stopped crying and fell asleep.  Mary quietly and contentedly was looking out the car window.  And I found our friend's house without a single wrong turn or misdirection.

After discussing the topic with my very wise husband, I came to see there are ways I can make daily Mass more manageable.  We created a "Mass bag" for Mary with special books she can only look at during Mass (these books being, of course, on topics of the Faith).  Needless to say, the pail and shovel stay at home from now on.  I recognize that we need to get up a little earlier in the morning.  Five minutes can make a big difference!

And I pray.  This morning as I got out of bed, I prayed: "God, I want to make it to Mass.  But You're going to have to help me."

We got there.  Three minutes early.

Of course, there are days when we can't do it.  When we had some -12 degree mornings, I couldn't justify bringing out the children.  The same thing happened when we had colds.  One must use reason.  I also know that if I have another major commitment that morning (such as a doctor's appointment), it might be too much trying to squeeze in Mass as well.  Prudence is required.

No one is ever obligated to attend daily Mass.  Some weeks, we only make it a couple of days and, if we miss Mass, I simply make a spiritual communion instead.  But if we can make it to morning Mass, I try to go because, well, love isn't about obligations.

It has been seven years now since I began attending daily Mass.  When Mary was first born, I was tempted to stop and just go on Sunday when I had Chris there to help me.  With Chris's encouragement, however, I persevered and, in time, it became a great deal easier.  I hope that it will get easier in time with two children as well.

As we go out the door on our way to Mass, I tell Mary, "Hurry up!  We're going to go see Jesus!"  I know, in my heart, as challenging as it may be, this regular time at Mass is shaping and growing her faith, especially her faith in the Real Presence.

Because if Jesus really, truly is present in the Eucharist--body, blood, soul, and divinity--why wouldn't we try to do everything we can to be there to see Him and to receive Him, as often as possible?

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