Actually this blog started in my head last night as I sat in Mass. Often many of my Sunday blogs start that way. Maybe it started before that though. I think it may have even started when I was talking to a friend yesterday morning. We were talking about a lady she knew and church came up. This lady used to belong to some church close by....but she had been witness to some rather unChristian behavior from some of the congregation and she decided that church was no longer for her. It got me to thinking about spirituality vs. religion, church, people, Christianity and much much more. It is definitely enough to overload the brain.
I have long been on the fence about people who claim spirituality or a belief in God....but no love of or belief in religion. If we go by behavior.....yes, I have known people with no religious affiliation who were far more Christian-like than some regular Sunday church goers. So no....I guess you don't need to go to church to be a "good" person, however....to have a good relationship with God...that is a different story. And yes...it is difficult sometimes to go to church when you know (or think you know) that there are those who sit by you on Sunday and then talk about you or others Monday thru Saturday. I myself have used this as a reason to take a vacation or two from Mass over the years. I always told myself that I never lost my faith but I did lose my desire to spend a Saturday evening or Sunday morning with someone I found to by a hypocrite. And isn't that the number one reason that many claim they choose not to attend church.....because of hypocrites?
When on my last little sabbatical from church....I continued to pray and to soul search. I was raised a Catholic, I loved being a Catholic but my heart simply wasn't in the church. I finally laid it at God's feet and said..."Is it me or is it them? Am I right or am I wrong? Can I be Catholic and be merely spiritual or must I also be religious?" I had no idea whether the upheaval I was feeling was guilt over not attending Mass, because I felt I should or whether I truly was having a crisis of faith. Once those questions came out though.....the answers began to come too. Suddenly I began to come to some very real conclusions about church, people and my own faith. The ultimate answers were....It was me! I am wrong...and Catholics and religion walk hand in hand!
The first thing I realized was that there are hypocrites in all walks of life. We have them in our work places, our families and even our friends. Nine times out of ten....the fact that they exist in our world does not make us quit our jobs, quit attending family functions or even get rid of our hypocritical friends. Why? Because usually there is more to the situation than just the hypocrisy. For instance at work....our goal is not to socialize or even make friends. Our goal is to make money in order to survive. Our need outweighs our discomfort in working around hypocrites. The same goes with family and friends. There is a greater need there that allows us to overlook hypocrisy. Lets face it.....the world is full of hypocrites and if we shutdown every time we felt hypocrisy.....we would never get out of bed. So realizing this something occurred to me. Going to Mass was not....or at least should not be about others. The reality is that I am not going to Mass to socialize....I am going to have a relationship with God and each consecutive Sunday, to strengthen that relationship. By not attending because of my perceived belief in hypocrisy or the fact that someone offended me is saying that I am letting people trump God. I am more worried about my judgement of others and how I perceive their relationship with God than I am my own.
So can you have a relationship with God outside church? I am not sure. Isn't that after all saying I will have a relationship with Him on my terms...NOT His. God did say He wants us to keep Holy the Sabbath. Does that not mean worship Him in His house? And would Jesus have gone to all the trouble of establishing the Catholic religion if He didn't want and expect Catholics to attend?
Going to Mass (if we are doing it right) is a weekly celebration of Our Lord. Yes....we celebrate as a group but when I kneel, pray, sing, receive communion and listen to the readings and the sermon....it isn't about anyone but God and myself. It doesn't matter if someone else in that church isn't viewing the experience or getting from the experience what I am and it is not for me to judge them because I really don't know what their relationship with God is. And truthfully....judgement of another person even if I feel justified or that it might be deserved is not very Christian on my part....so doesn't that make me a little hypocritical myself? Of course it does.
In no other setting in life do I allow perceived hypocrisy to decide how I do things, where I go and how I live my life, so why do I allow myself to use that as an excuse to dictate whether I attend Mass or not? When viewed in that light...other thoughts come to mind about my vacations. Maybe I did not attend Mass because there was something lacking in me at the time and I used another persons unkind remarks as an excuse to cover my own conscience. Maybe my faith and my actions were not compatible at the time and therefore I myself felt hypocritical for going to Mass. And maybe.....there were just times when my laziness and desire for extra sleep was more important to me than God. Darn....that sounds so bad....and yet sometimes....the truth isn't pretty! They say that knowing and admitting are half the battle.
Since having my little chat with God and getting a new and obviously much needed perspective on Mass, things seem to have changed a bit inside of me. The realization that I may have spent years attending Mass and not getting what God was truly offering.....a real relationship with Him, is sad to me. The fact that I know I attend Mass now to keep that relationship strong and growing is a game changer. Like any relationship worth having....it takes work and quite honestly....I think God has done more than His fair share of the work. Giving Him a little of my time and visiting Him in His house really is the least I can do on my end. As for those who I viewed as hypocritical or unkind....I have quit judging them and have forgiven all that I felt wounded by. They are no longer my excuse for my own bad behaviors.
Perspective is an amazing thing. When you really break down a tried and true argument and see the reality, it is often surprising what we allow ourselves to believe in order to excuse certain desires or behaviors. Luckily...we Christians are blessed with a patient God who when asked, forgives our sins, our unChristian behavior and even our selfish actions such as putting other things whether they be people, thoughts, desires or even laziness before Him while having the audacity to justify it by blaming others. Yes...I would say that is a relationship that deserves my very best effort.
So there you have it. The inner workings and thought processes of this Catholic....and when the truth finally won out over excuses, spiritually and religiously....there was no doubt....I had really been lacking. As I sat in Mass last night....I felt the peace that I have grown accustomed to, if only for that hour. I was able to pray not only for my family and their needs but also for the needs of all those around me.....without judging them or holding a grudge. This truly makes it much easier to focus on what is really important. No longer do I view going to Mass with an inner conflict where I am allowing excuses to override my relationship with God...and finally I realize just how important that relationship is. After all....when I take my last breath...it will be just Him and I......and excuses will no longer be acceptable.