Get Real: Pray the Mass

I read escapist novels – like fairy tales and westerns – to escape. Duh. But how does it happen?

The story puts me into a different world. An unreal one, where death is comic-book death, where there are superhuman helpers, and the good guy always wins. I can get out of the real world for a while, lose myself in a different one. Escape.

I dawned on me: this is what Mass is, except the unreal world we get into there is the real one.

This world is true and false reality. The ground is solid under my feet – as long as God keeps willing it into existence. Of itself it is nothingness. So are other people. So am I.

My relationship with others, no matter how deep, still doesn’t reach the core of their being. I don’t know any of them as they really are. Nor do I know myself.

I feel alive. I am alive – tentatively. But what feels like life has already ended in death, if I include the future. I am more “living” than “alive.” It is a passing condition.

Things give me pleasure. I think of it as happiness. Money and health make me feel secure. Approval and success make me feel I am worth something. Sirach said it like it is: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity!”

Now let’s go to Mass.

From the moment we enter church we are in a different world. God’s world. What is real is God: Father, Son and Spirit. What is real about us is that we share in the divine life of God (the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”). We are forever. We are divine. That is reality.

At Mass our conscious connection with others is the mystery of “communion in the Holy Spirit.” It is not sociological Catholicism. We are one as the Father, Son and Spirit are one (John 17:11-21). That is a mystery. But it is reality. One that will last forever.

We praise God, calling to mind who he is: “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High!” That restores perspective. That is reality.

We listen to God’s words read at Mass. They clash with the words of the culture, the words we see and hear all day. But God’s words are true. They are reality.

Jesus Christ becomes present in the act of offering himself on the cross. It is a “real presence.” Calvary is present to us. We are present on Calvary. We are united to Jesus, participating in his act of sacrifice. That is reality. It is the reality of our lives. .

At Baptism we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” We were incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross, died in Christ and rose to be his living body on earth (Romans 6:3-4; 12:12). The truth about our being is that we “were buried with Christ in baptism, and were also raised with him” and “seated with him in the heavenly places” (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 2:6). That is what we celebrate at Mass. That is reality.

We were “reborn,” “raised with Christ” out of the “womb tomb” of Baptism, so that we might “walk in newness of life.”

“So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). That is reality.

At Communion time we enter in preview into the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Christ the “Bread of heaven” has entered visibly into each one. For a brief moment all divisions are forgotten, all resentments put aside, all offenses forgiven. We are one as we will be in heaven – and, in the eternal “now” of God, already are. That is reality.

Now “the Mass is ended. You are sent forth.” We are sent back into the “real” world of shadow permanence, of wavering focus, false perceptions and phony promises. The world which lures us to forget who we are.

But we are sent back to remember. And to proclaim. We go out to bring the whole world into reality, into the celebration that lets us “escape” into the world that is real.

We “Go in peace.”

Three poems by Father David Mr. Knight, written in Grand Coteau between 1950

and 1952:


Funny, God, whenever we

Look up our faces crack.

You make your sun smile down on us,

Can we help smiling back?

Cana Clouds

I like the sunset clouds the best,

The cotton-candy kind.

To bless day's close, does God put out

The best ones he can find?

Or for our Lady change the clouds

From water into wine?


"Bird, who wrote that song for you?

Who taught you how to bring

Such joy?"

"My Father. He's your Father too.

Don't you know how to sing,

Little boy?"

Spirituality means relationship with Jesus Christ

Baptism essentially incorporates us into Christ. We are “saved” by being incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross, dying in him and rising with him to live as his risen body on earth. This is the mystery of our identity; a mystery so shocking that John Paul II taught, quoting St. Augustine, that by Baptism we become Christ.

If St. Augustine and John Paul sound too extreme for us, we can at least accept to say that, as Christ’s body, we are in “partnership” with him. The first thing we need to do is focus Catholics on living in constant relationship — in real language that means in constant, conscious interaction — with Jesus Christ. All day long. In everything they do.

This gives us an immediate answer to young adults who want “spirituality” but don’t think they will find it in “religion”; that is, in what they have experienced in church. The “religion” they experienced may have seemed to them to be just a system of doctrines, rules and practices. Personal relationship and interaction with Jesus may have had very little to do with it. They did not experience God. So they think they have to seek elsewhere. But they don’t. Not if we teach them to interact with Jesus Christ as Catholics.

A girl in my parish went to a Baptist revival in her junior year of high school. When the preacher invited all those who had “never received Jesus” to come up, she went up. They sent me as her pastor a postcard so I could follow up on her “conversion.” When I saw her at Mass that Sunday I asked her, “Why did you say you had never received Jesus before? Isn’t that what you do every time you receive Communion?”

She knew this as a catechism answer. But it was not something she was conscious of when she actually went up to receive Communion. I think this might be more common than I would like to believe. Catholics can be present at Mass, receive Communion, and receive absolution repeatedly in Confession, without ever consciously interacting with Jesus Christ. But we can change that.

Is it simple to form people — children, youth and adults — to deep, constant, personal interaction with Jesus Christ? I think so.

Let me make three suggestions, all of them easy and practical.

1. Preach it and teach it. Focus explicitly and repeatedly on the need to interact consciously and constantly with the person of Jesus Christ as the core of our religion. “The Lord be with you.” Preachers and teachers should speak from lived experience. This might call many of us to deeper personal conversion and discovery.

2. Integrate it into everything else we teach. Be explicit about what should be obvious but is not. Teach participation in Mass as a way of interacting with God and co-acting with Jesus Christ in the offering of the sacrifice. Teach Reconciliation as encounter with Jesus Christ. Teach morality as loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ and as following the Spirit of Christ in everything we do. Teach prayer and reflection on Scripture as searching for union with the mind and heart of Christ who is present and teaching us through his word. Teach marriage as the image — and experience — of consciously being for one another what Jesus is for the Church, his spouse. Teach social justice as Christ in us loving Christ in others and establishing his kingdom on earth. Above all, teach Baptism as the mystery of “being Christ” — of consciously being and acting as the living, risen body of Jesus all day long.

3. Offer a concrete and practical way to help people remain conscious of interacting with Christ all day long. Use whatever reminders and “gimmicks” it takes to help them form the habit.

Starter suggestion

I suggest the WIT prayer. Begin the day with a waking prayer that renews awareness of Baptism: “Lord, I give you my body. Live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.” Form the habit of repeating this all day long, saying to Jesus before and during everything we do: “Lord, do this with me; do this in me; do this through me.”

This alone will transform one’s whole experience of life and religion. Simple and easy as it is, this one thing will go far to renew the Church.

If we just do it.