A friend of mine went to a small Catholic college in New England on a baseball scholarship. His coach was the kind of friendly, no-nonsense journeyman they don’t seem to make anymore. At the first practice of the year, he told all the players to take a knee. Then in a thick Massachusetts accent, he said to them, “Now fellas, this is important, so listen up. If you’re gonna be on this team, it doesn’t matter what you believe. But we go to Mass on Sundays.”
This happened almost two decades ago, but even at the time, it would have been considered more than a little politically incorrect. Fortunately, though, the young men understood that there was not an ounce of malice in him. He truly didn’t care about the players’ personal religious convictions. All were welcome on the team, regardless of creed. But this was a Catholic school, and they represented that school when they wore its jersey, and with that privilege came certain expectations.
And go to Mass they did. Even on road trips, the team would skip batting practice if necessary in order to make it to a Mass in town. Tiny parishes would see their congregations suddenly swell at early morning Mass as a line of athletic young men would file into a middle pew. And when the collection basket came, they each put something in it, even if it was only a dollar.
By insisting that they go to Mass every Sunday, regardless of how convenient (or inconvenient) it may have been in a given week, my friend’s coach was conveying one of life’s most valuable lessons. Besides the obvious lesson that one’s duty to God comes before everything else, even batting practice, he also taught them that, in life as in sports, consistency might cost you something, but it’s worth it.
Immediately after I was ordained a priest, I did a year of graduate studies that culminated in the writing of a seventy-five-page thesis. Intimidated by the sheer size of the project, I felt paralyzed. I did everything I could to avoid sitting down to work on it—other homework, cleaning my room, reading emails, mindlessly staring at my phone—anything to avoid confronting this beast that haunted me at every turn. I knew I had to do something at some point, but as long as I could put it off I would.
Then one day, I decided to get started. The first step was to go to the library. Then it was to check out some books. Then it was to read those books and take copious notes. Then it was to check out some more books. Rinse and repeat.
Before I knew it, I had pages of notes with citations and a pretty substantial bibliography. I started to cut and paste the notes in an order that resembled the structure of an argument. With the help of my thesis director, I outlined three chapters that would each amount to about twenty-five pages. Boom. I had a thesis.
Then I just sat and wrote. Day in and day out, I sat in a quiet corner of the library, or in a loud corner of a coffee shop, and I wrote in my own words the ideas that I had read in those books. I didn’t write a seventy-five-page paper. I didn’t even write three separate twenty-five-page papers. I wrote 472 paragraphs, made up of 2,066 sentences, containing 22,418 words. And most of them made sense.
It wasn’t easy, but it was simple. I just had to do it.
Just like going to Mass.
My catechist in second grade said something to me that I have never forgotten: “Every time you receive Holy Communion, you get more of the life of Jesus in you.” I remembered this for years every time I went up to the altar to receive the Body of Christ from the hands of the priest. As I would return to the pew, I would almost feel the power flowing through me. And even if I couldn’t feel it, I still trusted in the truth of it. I knew it was doing something, and I knew the effect it was having on me was somehow cumulative. I wasn’t becoming a saint overnight, but because my mom was bringing me to Mass every Sunday, Christ was able to move the needle at least a little bit every time.
If you went to Mass every Sunday from the time you were in second grade to the time you were eighty years old, assuming you were in a state to receive Communion every week, you would receive the Eucharist 3,744 times. Throw in the five regular Holy Days of Obligation every year, and you easily top the four thousand mark. The grace of the Eucharist is infinite because the Eucharist is Christ, and Christ is God. There is enough of God’s grace in just one consecrated Host to make any one of us into a saint. But for most sinners like you and me, the building up of that grace into real transformation is gradual, and it takes a long time.
Go to Mass on Sundays: This is the bare minimum the Church has set for the faithful to stay in the state of grace. God gives us 168 hours of life every week, and as long as we are physically able to get to church on Sunday, he asks us for just one of those hours back as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. But it’s not God who benefits from our attendance at Mass. God empties himself so that we can receive the life-giving grace of the Eucharist. It’s not always easy, but it’s simple.
We don’t always feel up to giving God thanks and praise, and other things will always compete for our time and attention. But if we’re consistent in the practice of going to Sunday Mass, the cumulative effect on our lives and relationships will be enormous.
As I initially did with my thesis, we make things more complicated than they need to be. God doesn’t play tricks on us. He doesn’t give us a lot of riddles to solve to figure out his will for our lives. He reveals himself plainly, and he makes his grace available to everyone who wants and asks for it in faith. When we get to heaven, we don’t want to say, “God, where were you when I was struggling? Where were you when I was sad? Where were you when you felt so distant?” He might just say, “I was at Mass on Sunday—where were you?”
It’s simple: go to Mass on Sundays.