I am a reluctant church-goer. Even now, after all I’ve learned and come to believe about the nature of God, it is sometimes still a massive act of will to drag myself out of bed Sunday morning, and get my sorry self to Mass. Add the daunting prospect of clothing six children and finding matching shoes for all of them- all of them!- and that, my friends, is a recipe for defeat.
When I was cobbling together my own DIY New Age spirituality, things were simple. There was no church other than what I said was a church, and so Sunday mornings were spent sleeping in. It wasn’t until God started leading me back down the path of Christianity that the church issue reared its head once again.
As a petulant teenager, I was dragged to our Presbyterian church by my mom, in a dance familiar to every mother of adolescents, no matter what religious creed. I didn’t want to go, because I didn’t know why I should go. It was part arrogance, part human nature; we were designed to worship God with our intellect as well as our soul- if the “why should I go to church?” isn’t logically answered, we recoil from the experience.
So, as an adult, once again inching my way toward Christianity, I kept asking myself why bother going to church? I lived in Mississippi at the time, and as any Southerner can tell you, church culture is a VERY BIG DEAL. “I don’t go to church because I don’t wanna” is not exactly something you can say to your neighbors. Not unless you want to become their pet project and suffer the full force of their spiritual search and rescue efforts.
I didn’t want the full court press of my well-meaning neighbors, but I was curious about why they were so keen on getting me to church. What was the source of this mysterious ambition that got them up out of their Sunday morning beds and into a hard pew for a couple of their hard earned weekend hours?
It didn’t make sense to me. Some people would talk about the spectacular “music ministry” at their church, which is a different way of saying their church had a Christian rock concert every Sunday. But as far as I was concerned, I could rock out to KLOVE in the privacy of my own car and belt out worship music with a sincerity I never could in public.
Other people would heap praises on their pastor and the newest “sermon series” that was going on, but thanks to YouTube, I’ve got a wealth of rousing reverends at my fingertips and on my schedule. Shoot, I could even listen in bed!
Reason after reason that I was given for church attendance fell flat. There was nothing that was a big enough payoff to get my lazy self out of bed and into a brick-and-mortar building. As far as I could see, the church experience with its music ministries and sermon series and fellowship groups was nothing more than an extension of the Church of Me, and I’d hoped to find something deeper in Christianity.
And then I came across the scandalous, weird, deeply shocking and utterly Catholic concept of the Eucharist. The teaching that Jesus was really serious when He told us to eat of His Body and drink of His Blood and that Catholics took Him at His word was so profoundly, unflinchingly bold that it took my breath away. Certainly it couldn’t be true, God Himself couldn’t possibly humiliate Himself by dwelling among us as a fragile wafer and wine. It couldn’t be true, but at least it was, for the very first time, a valid reason for going to church.
Not for me, of course! That would be absurd. But for those Catholics, those oddballs who believed the Lord of the Universe was there, waiting for them, at Mass; well, for those people church suddenly made sense. It was the one place in the whole wide world where they could have a physical encounter with the Divine, and if that wasn’t reason enough to get out of bed on a Sunday, then you weren’t really looking to meet Him anyway.
But I was looking for God. I’d been desperately searching for Him for decades, and suddenly, here were people claiming to offer a face-to-face meeting. The Eucharist. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read everything I could about it. I was floored when I realized that from the beginning of the Church, the faithful understood the Real Presence to be true. That worship flowed from and through this Eucharist- the “source and summit” of the Christian faith.
You can guess the rest of the story. Once I had a concrete reason for church attendance, it wasn’t long until I joined the one place that could grant me access to it. And that reason has been enough for me ever since- no matter how bad the music or dull the homily or hard the seats or soft the bed. I think about how Christ Himself is waiting for me in that Tabernacle, offering Himself to me, and my heart softens and I want to go and worship Him- even if it means overcoming my selfish, lazy nature and tracking down matching shoes for six children to do so.