Lazy Man’s Spirituality

29 Sep

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
~ G.K. Chesterton

My high school choir director couldn’t have been more emphatic. “Whatever you do, whatever happens, no matter whatever else you do wrong,” he told us before we left for Europe, “don’t lose your passport!”

Needless to say, I did.

I made it through four countries without a hitch, stashing my passport in my hotel room after check-in, and retrieving it before departure. When we hit Brighton, England, however, I got a bit too clever. I hid my passport so well that I couldn’t find it several days later before leaving for London. As a result, I spent a whole day at the U.S. Embassy filling out forms and being grilled by officials while my compatriots toured Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Bummer.

On the plus side, however, I got to hang out at the U.S. Embassy—something my Palace and Abbey visiting friends missed out on completely. The Embassy was a fairly boring encounter in itself, to be frank, but being in that physical space—inside the Embassy, on American turf within the confines of a foreign country—was unexpectedly solemn and comforting. There, I was home, although not home. There I wasAmerican_Eagle_on_the_London_Embassy safe and could get the help I needed to continue my journey home.

I have similar feelings when I go to Mass every day. It’s like I’m slipping into God’s embassy for a respite from the jarring and disorienting journey of my daily jumble of life.

Hilaire Belloc touches on this in The Path to Rome, where he talks of daily Mass as a source of both spiritual and temporal goods.

Of course there is a grace and influence belonging to such a custom, but it is not of that I am speaking but of the pleasing sensation of order and accomplishment which attaches to a day one has opened by Mass.

Belloc lists four reasons that daily Mass is comforting to him—four reasons that James Schall, SJ, described as being “as profound as any seen in theological literature since.”

For example, Belloc includes the simple fact that by attending daily Mass, one is setting aside thirty minutes or so to be quiet and “recollected,” putting aside “cares, interests, and passions”—an action that “must certainly be a great benefit to the body,” says Belloc.

He also notes that Mass is a ritual, and that when you give yourself over to that ritual, it takes over and can “relieve the mind…of responsibility and initiative and…catch you up (as it were) into itself, leading your life for you during the time it lasts.”

The “most important cause of this feeling of satisfaction,” says Belloc, is that daily Mass attendance is an ancient tradition—and it wouldn’t be an ancient tradition if it wasn’t important. “Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit…we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy….”

But my favorite of Belloc’s four reasons is his third—Mass as an escape and a refuge.

3. That the surroundings incline you to good and reasonable thoughts…. Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short St._Peter's_RC_Church_Chicago_from_eastrepose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.

Note that he says that the surroundings themselves incline you such, and that the “time spent at Mass” is itself the repose, regardless of your attentiveness or even interior disposition. In other words, taking all his four causes together, Belloc is suggesting that the mere act of getting to Mass has value, even infinite value.

Now in the morning Mass you do all that the race needs to do and has done for all these ages where religion was concerned…and all that your nature cries out for in the matter of worship.

This is vitally important, especially to a slug like me. I am not always properly disposed or attentive at Mass—a truism that might be lost on those who don’t make Mass a daily priority. Those of us who do make it a priority know that it’s certainly not because we’re particularly holy, or anywhere close to it. In fact, the opposite is the case: We know we’re lousy sinners, and we want to be holy. Getting to daily Mass is just the lazy man’s approach to the matter.

Lazy man’s approach because, as Belloc was suggesting, all you have to do is show up to accrue some benefit. I even confessed this once—that my practice of going to Mass every day seemed like spiritual sloth because it was just too easy. Shouldn’t I be doing more than that? My confessor laughed and pointed out the pride in my question. “Just being at Mass is of infinite value, regardless of your state of mind,” he said. “Remember that Jesus is the one who is the real Actor there. You never know how He’ll be able to get through to you, but it’s up to you to get yourself into the pew.”

Romano Guardini writes about this in his Meditations Before Mass:

At the celebration of the Lord’s memorial we are not dependent on our own faculties of perceiving and appreciating; Christ works with us. Primarily it is He who acts; in our “remembering,” it is Christ Himself who stirs.

On the other hand, Guardini also speaks of a “veritable crisis of boredom and weariness” when Mass becomes just routine.

When the Mass threatens to become a habit for someone who goes regularly during the week, it is certainly advisable for him to attend less frequently, perhaps only on Sundays for a while, substituting visits in the quiet church or Bible reading.

Gulp—is that me? I must confess that I’m frequently distracted at daily Mass, or even so fatigued that I routinely fall asleep (hopefully during the homily). Yet, even then, isn’t there greater value in getting to Mass than simply making a visit or reading my Bible? If I make it inside the door, and I’m present for the miracle that takes place there, isn’t that always preferable to virtually everything else?

My confessor and Belloc would argue in the affirmative, I think, and perhaps even the Holy Father.

In his recently published interview, Pope Francis referred to the Church in medical terms:

I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

pope1_0What a terrific image of daily Mass! When I get my sorry self into the pew for Mass every day—despite the distractions and fatigue, and regardless of how attentive or disposed I am—I’m a wounded warrior that needs first aid and basic care before returning to the battle. Yes, I need to strengthen my prayer life outside of Mass, and, yes, I need to say my Rosary and find time for spiritual reading.

But for the moment—a spiritual expatriate in need of assistance, a limping combatant requiring balm—just being there is enough. And I’ll be back again tomorrow, please God.

_____________________________________________________

A version of this story appeared on The Catholic Thing.

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One Response to “Lazy Man’s Spirituality”

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  1. Lazy Man’s Spirituality | One Thousand Words a Week - September 29, 2013

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