But I’m comfortable, God!

It’s 1:30 PM on a Friday when my wife and I return home to a house without electricity. We joked about having to “rough it” and go without basic “necessities” like an electric dishwasher, stove, and A/C. Of course, our comments were made tongue in cheek, but there was an underlying feeling of annoyance, as often occurs when things like this happen. Sitting out on the porch some 8 hours later, I am reminded of just how addicted we have become as a society to comfort (mea culpa). As I watched the neighbors across the street gather and discuss the latest series of unfortunate events, I feel the urge to run across the street and bemoan the injustice of it all with them. To describe all of this as pathetic is to put it lightly. Never remiss to teach me a lesson, however, God calls to my mind how this situation, one of a lack of physical comfort and entertainment, often bleeds into our spiritual lives. No matter what denominational affiliation you identify under as a Christian, we all want our relationship with God and the church to be entertaining and to conform to what we identify as comfortable.

How do I know that spiritual comfort is what we crave? I happen to suffer from the same vice as many of you: I want church to conform to my desires. This reality was made particularly manifest in my life as a young evangelical Protestant in search of the latest Christian fad de jour. Raised in a fairly traditional, fundamentalist Baptist church (for which I am very grateful), I began to feel the urge to spread my evangelistic wings through participation in a new church-launch in my hometown. The concept was modeled after a mega-church in Atlanta and its appeal was to the “unchurched” in our area. No tie or uncomfortable dress shirts required, simply show up. The messages were simple, and they were meant to reach lives with the life-giving news of Jesus Christ. From the sermons and music all the way down to the venue (a center dedicated to a local music legend), the desire was to put a fresh face on what it meant to be “the church.” Let me pause by saying how thankful I am to this movement for many things, principally for its demonstration of the transformative love of Christ. My point is not to ridicule, but to point out something that this evangelical outreach, like many others, highlights about human nature: we crave that which we consider familiar and comfortable.

Catholics are not exempt from this by any means. Complaints about boring homilies, long liturgies, and unnecessary “rules” all form a part of our day to day experience. Indeed, I have also been guilty of unfairly critiquing a homily or two as I mentally formulated what Father “should have said” or how he “should have presented” x, y, or z. If we are not careful our attention can quickly be diverted onto ourselves and what we would like to see or hear at mass. The reality is, however, that no matter how bored or uncomfortable we may become, as Catholics we are called to look outside ourselves to the person of Christ. As I have written before, the height of the Catholic mass is not the homily and it doesn’t even find its apex in the synchronized voices of the faithful; the heart of each and every mass is the Eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper). Unlike my experience in the Baptist and nondenominational churches I grew up in, consuming the Lord’s body and blood is not something that can be relegated to once a week or even once a quarter, but it is the very heart and soul of every single mass that happens daily throughout the world.

It was, and is, the reality that the Eucharist is at the center of the Catholic mass that shifted how I thought about going to church. As a Protestant, I would often decide where I went to church not only by the orthodoxy of what was taught, but by the charisma of the pastor, the receptivity of the congregation, the type and quality of the music, and so on. Though we may be tempted as Catholics to hold our individual parishes to such standards, they should all come secondary to the reality that the Lord makes himself present to us in the consecrated host of Holy Communion. No doubt, what is taught at mass is important and we must not turn a deaf ear to off base, unorthodox teaching, but what we cannot do is confuse true error with our own desire to be entertained. In other words, we must be diligent not to let our passions trick us into thinking that the boring homily I heard last Sunday is reason enough for me not to go back to that particular parish. This is something that I have had to face when attending more “contemporary” services even within Catholic parishes. Though the tempo might not be to my liking, or what I consider to be reverent, I have to die to myself again. Preferences are fine, but we must not let them cloud our judgment or govern when and where we attend mass.

To my Protestant brothers and sisters, I urge you to take up the claims of the Catholic Church and encounter the fulfillment of Christian worship in the Eucharist. To Catholics I say return to your first love and spend time with our Lord. It is my opinion that, whether we realize it or not, as Christians we are all in search of the Eucharist. We all seek that one constant around which our relationship with Christ centers. The Lord of the universe condescends to meet us where we are no matter what circumstance we may find ourselves in. Whether or not the homily was boring, the music was lacking, or the lady next to me said hello, Jesus Christ comes to meet and feed us with his body. The Eucharist should make us want to abandon all of our comforts in exchange for the gift of new life which we receive through it. To God be the glory. 

Peace be with you!

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