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7/27/2017 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Excuses for not going to church
BY MATTHEW HOULE


(Editor's note: This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under "specials" at www.evangelist.org.)

Over the years, I have met many mothers who raised their children to be good Catholics, brought them to church every weekend and taught them about the faith, but now their children do not attend Mass or participate in the life of the Church.

This is heartbreaking to these mothers. I see the pain in their faces.

I am pleased that I do not hear them make excuses, but simply pray, like St. Monica, that their children will return to faith and communion with God. They do not say, "Well, as long as s/he is happy." Absent communion with the Lord, happiness is fleeting, superficial and ultimately meaningless.

I am amazed at the excuses people come up with for not participating in their faith and not attending Mass and being in communion with God, the Church (the body of Christ) and the communion of saints. We are full of excuses!

Excuses are what we use to rationalize the irrational and justify the unjustifiable. They are escape hatches that make it easier to run away, avoid responsibilities and escape what God's love requires (conversion) and inspires.

God loves us always, but we do not experience it fully if we persist in sin. I used to tell the high school students I taught, "If you want to do what you know is wrong, there will always be an excuse available. The mark of a strong and righteous person is overcoming the excuses and doing what is right anyway."

There was recently a meme making its way around social media that took the excuses for not going to church and applied them to not going to sporting events:

•  "Every time I go [to a sporting event], they asked me for money;"

•  "My parents took me to too many games when I was younger;"

•  "I don't want to take my children to [sporting events] because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like the best."

When placed in a novel context, they emerge as the excuses they always were. No one would say, "I will never go to a basketball game because, at one game, they played music that I didn't like;" or, "I will never go out to eat because, at one restaurant I went to, people didn't seem welcoming enough."

There will always be frustrating and annoying things, but none of them are valid reasons for not going to Mass and participating in our faith.

As a seminarian, I have been to many parishes. We are assigned to parishes over the summer and during the academic year. I am impressed by the devotion and reverence for the Eucharist that I have seen. I have seen many kneel or genuflect before receiving communion or simply approach and receive the Blessed Sacrament with great reverence.

At All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater, there is great silence as people kneel during the consecration. At St. Mary's in Albany, people kneel at the communion rail. At my summer assignment, Holy Trinity parish in Hudson/Germantown, one thing that really stood out was that so many people bow to the Blessed Sacrament before presenting themselves to receive it.

Some people respect the Eucharist by not receiving it if, because of sin or circumstance, they are not in full communion with the Church. Their desire to receive communion is a desire for Christ, but sometimes preparation is needed: for example, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, or completing the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process to come into full communion with the Church.

The Eucharist is central to a priest's life and must be central to a seminarian's life, as well. This is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, fully present to us in the Eucharist. This is God's gift of Himself to us.

That is why it pains and even angers me when I hear someone say, "I just don't get anything out of going to Mass." We are receiving God into our very being. He is giving us Himself! What we do not always get is a feeling, a rush of emotion or entertainment. But, thank God that He is not just emotions and feelings. That will not fulfill us. God is inviting us to something much deeper: Himself.

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)





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