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Top Ten Reasons for Going to Mass

by Jim Auer

Which of these phrases describes your usual approach to Sunday Mass?

1) You're totally turned off to Mass and almost never go.
2) You go now and then, usually for some reason other than really wanting to worship (e.g., parental threats).
3) You go fairly regularly, and it's a vague, average experience.
4) You go regularly and usually enjoy it.
5) You really enjoy it and wouldn't even think of missing Mass without an extremely good reason.

Wherever you are—between one and five—you may occasionally find yourself looking for further reasons for going to Mass, with or without your parents' urging.

They're not all mega-spiritual motivations. But this author and the population at large don't live in a mega-spiritual universe, it seems. So these are incentives that function in the arena in which most of us live.

10. The Big Idea

Challenge yourself to find One Genuinely Worthwhile Idea.

Maybe the homiIy and some of the prayers leave you feeling like a stranger in a foreign culture. That's going to happen in many of life's situations, including Mass. But even a ton of apparently dull, common pebbles has at least one that's worth a second look. The same is true of ideas.

Challenge yourself to find at least one idea within the Mass that makes sense and seems possible, practical, intriguing, mysterious, interesting, cool or worth thinking about in relation to your life in some way. There are many places to look and listen: in the Scripture readings, the responsorial psalm, the homily, the hymns, the eucharistic prayer and liturgical actions or gestures.

The one genuinely worthwhile idea won't jump out and nail you with a hymnal; it takes persistent, active attention. But it is considerably more fun than passing the time with dull daydreaming.

When you find what you are looking for—an idea that can help steer your life—it gives you and God something concrete to talk about, and that provides the answer to what many people say they wish would happen at Mass: "If I could just get something out of it."

9. Home Improvement

An hour's investment can result in a week's worth of better relationships at home. It's no secret that, in some households, attending Mass is anything from an outright battle to a silent tension between parents and teens. Accepting—rather than resisting or battling—parents' requests to attend Mass stands an excellent chance of smoothing relationships for far longer than the brief amount of time spent in church.

Besides, it's fun to shock people in a good way. Imagine the impact when a parent says, 'We'll have to go to Mass at nine tomorrow instead of later, or we won't be able to leave for the reunion in time," and this statement is met with an upbeat, cheerful "O.K." (If Mom comes running with the thermometer, pretend you can't imagine why she's worried and say, "Mom, I'm fine! Do I look pale or something?")

Imagine the impact if a parent has become alienated from the Church for whatever reason but sees his or her teenager going to Mass for the fifth or sixth Sunday in a row.

"I think it's great, but what brought this on?" the parent might ask.

"I don't know—I just want to go, that's all."

The parent is probably thinking: Wow—I've got a really great kid.

8. Time-Space Travel

You can reach across time and space to help those you care about. Most of us know people we would like to contact and help in some way, but we can't take action at the moment because something stands in the way. Perhaps the person has died, lives in a different city or just isn't tuned in to the fact that we want to help.

Distances and barriers like these disappear at Mass, which is far more than a prayer meeting. When Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist, the entire Body of Christ is present. That includes grandparents who have died, relatives and friends who live far away and people you don't even know. This invisible cosmic reality is called the communion of saints. The priest speaks of it during the eucharistic prayer.

During the prayer, bring to mind anyone and everyone you would like to make contact with and help or support in some way. They're all there in the Body of Christ, brought together in Jesus at the eucharistic table. Send a message. Tuck in a request for God to help, heal, guide and support those people who are important to you.

You won't hear bumps on the pew, see lights flicker or hear ghostly voices. But, unless you simply don't believe in the Body of Christ, you'll know that you succeeded in getting through.

7. Rebel With A Cause

It's a great way to be alternative/counter-cultural. In some youth circles, not going to Mass (or at least complaining heavily about it) is almost written on the membership card. You're supposed to be just like your peers and think just like them: Church is dumb; it's so boring. It's part of the expected, "normal" behavior of teens.

If you really think that way, have a high-level conversation about it. Don't just complain to your parents or friends—talk to God. Actually put your thoughts and feelings into words; God can handle that without growling, scowling and getting disgusted. Reserve a chunk of time for doing this, including plenty of time for listening.

But what if you don't agree that church is a waste of time? What if you think that it's at least O.K.? If you pretend to agree with peers' negative opinions about attending Mass just to live up to their expectations and retain your "coolness" rating, you have caved in to peer pressure. Be unique—it's fun.

6. Take the Stand

You can feel good about actually doing some of those noble-sounding phrases the religion books talk about. If you've been in religious education for more than a year or so, you've read or heard phrases like "witnessing" and "being a missionary" and "spreading the gospel." They sound very official, correct, noble and sometimes far away from real life. Maybe you wonder or doubt if you ever really do that or if you even can do that.

Of course you can. Celebrating Mass is an important way to do just that. Your presence in church (unless, of course, you're slouched against the back wall of the church rolling your eyes) is a sign to others that you consider your faith important. That's what we call Christian witnessing or spreading the gospel.

5. Gabbing With God

You get to tell God all kinds of great stuff and feel pretty good about it. Most of the words of the Mass address God. Since someone else, usually the priest, is actually saying them out loud, it's easy to let them roll over and off you like water drops in a shower. But when you do that, you come away with the feeling that you went there to talk to somebody (God) but didn't really do so. That reinforces the feeling that going to Mass was a waste.

It takes effort, but if you tune in to the words, especially those of the eucharistic prayer, you can make them your own. Actually say them in your mind to God as you hear them. Mean them yourself, as you say them along with the rest of the community.

Maybe the words aren't exactly the way you'd talk, the way you'd express the same ideas. You can still believe in the ideas. In fact, if you're a Christian believer at all, you do believe the ideas. Knowing that this time you really did voice honor and praise to God—as we all say we should—is a good feeling.

4. Better Dates

It's a great place for the start of a date. You have to be a deeply romantic person to carry this out. O.K., you at least have to be dating someone. Go to Mass with him or her.

This idea most often gets two very different reactions: 1) "You have to be kidding—should we drive there in a space shuttle while we're at it?" or 2) "That's not so weird—I know people who do that."

It isn't strange at all for many teens and young adults to begin a date by going to Mass. In some parishes, it's actually common. If you're both Mass-attending people, why not go together? The idea is strange only if we believe the falsehood that God and our social/dating life have nothing to do with one another.

Faith can be fun to share. It's also rewarding because you're sharing something that runs deeper than most topics. Going to Mass together is one of the best ways to get the feeling that you are building and strengthening a relationship, not simply skimming its surface. Knowing that your relationship is grounded in God who is relationships and who created them is a good feeling.

3. Come As You Are

If you feel that you're not worthy and won't be missed, think of some of the other people who hung out with Jesus. Sometimes we think that people who actually knew Jesus had it easy. For instance, all the shepherds had to do was show up in Bethlehem. They didn't have to change their behavior or even their clothes.

There's no need to envy the shepherds; the privilege of visiting Jesus didn't end with them. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we also meet the real Jesus. Like the shepherds, all we have to do is bring ourselves.

Did the shepherds fully understand everything about Jesus? Did they have time to get rid of all their faults and turn into award-winning role models of believers? Definitely not.

In fact, shepherds at the time of Jesus were not always the simple, gentle, religious people we think them to be when we see a manger scene. But, obviously, they were welcome (in fact, they were specifically invited!) anyway.

The same is true for us. Sometimes we think Mass is for those who A) understand their faith just about perfectly and have no problems with it, and B) hold a really great, glittering Christian track record. We need to remember the shepherds and bring ourselves, faults and all, to meet Jesus at Mass.

2. Cosmic Connection

Mass brings you into a world- and life-wide web, linking everything to Jesus and turning it to gold. Even when Mass goes well, we tend to leave it and enter an "ordinary, regular" world where things are just things, many of them a little boring, many of them not working out right. Even though we'd like to believe otherwise, we tend to feel that God is perhaps pleased and interested in the prayers we say, but that the rest of our lives are pretty much dead space as far God is concerned.

At the presentation of gifts at Mass, when two or three people bring the bread and wine up the aisle to the priest at the altar, you have the chance to dye the coming week a beautiful spiritual color. Put your week-to-come among the gifts to be transformed into Jesus and offered to our Creator. You're a baptized Christian; you have the right and the power to do so.

What does that mean? It means that everything that happens in your life other than sin is now part of the great cosmic connection we have with our God through Jesus. No matter how ordinary life sometimes looks and seems on the outside, it isn't ordinary at all.

1. He Said So

It's what Jesus asked us to do. In the Bible, Jesus' apostle Paul writes: "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

We owe Jesus everything, and he asked us to celebrate Mass. In the end, it is just that simple.

When our community, the Church, stresses gathering at Mass for worship, it is doing what Paul did long ago in the passage from First Corinthians above: handing on the final request of our Savior.

In the end, going to Mass is not a law that some old people made up. It's a "deathbed" request from the person who died so that we might live. He certainly didn't intend it to be boring. If we're bored, there's something that needs fixing. But ignoring the request of our Savior and simply staying away from Mass won't fix anything.

Which one of these top 10 reasons (or any others you might add) is the best? It's the one which makes Mass most meaningful to you and brings you closest to Jesus. Jesus welcomes you to the Eucharist for any reason.

A final bit of good news is that the more effort you put into your presence at Mass, the more reasons for being there you'll discover.

Jim Auer has written on 12 other topics for Youth Update. A veteran teacher, he formerly authored the Leader's Guides which accompany Youth Update.

Robert Gorgol (17), Matt Lindeman (16), Suzi Lyons (16), John McCoy (18), Nick Rojowski (15) and Christie Sego (15) met at Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, Indiana, to review and critique this issue. Joe Connelly, parish youth minister, and his assistant John Boucher, also sat in on the session.

 

Q.

If we're not supposed to cave in to people who tell us Mass isn't worth the time, why should they cave in to us when we tell them it is?

A.

Nobody should "cave in" either way. That suggests surrendering to disapproval and pessimistic pressure (as in "Mass isn't worth the time"). When you tell people that Mass is worth the time, you do so best by calmly giving your personal, heartfelt reasons—not by being pushy and putting them down for not attending. There's no guarateed "right" way to persuade someone to come to Mass. But one possibility is to find something or someone that both you and your friend care about—such as another friend who's having some problems. You might say, "______ is going through a hard time. Would you please come to Mass with me so we could pray for him (or her) together?"

Q.

Since dates are supposed to be fun, is it really appropriate to bring a date to church?

A.

No laughter, please, but there are many ways of having fun on a date. Sharing anything that's good and meaningful to each of you can be fun. That includes anything from the noisy physical rush of a roller coaster to the quiet enjoyment of a sunset, and it can certainly include worshiping together. If you want evidence, go to Mass sometime on a college campus. You'll find lots of dating couples there together.

Q.

If Jesus didn't really mind what other people wore, why do I feel that other people care so much and criticize our teen clothes, thinking we aren't being respectful enough?

A.

Why you're at Mass and what's in your heart when you come there are certainly more important to Jesus than what you're wearing. What is considered proper or respectful (by the majority of people) can vary greatly from one parish to another. If your clothes are not insulting to the occasion, let others' disapproval be their problem. And if it still matters to you, remember that an adult who sees a young person obviously and enthusiastically participating in worship is a lot less likely to be concerned about what that young person is wearing!

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