Why Go to Church?

By Jeff Pajak, Catholic Communications intern

Holy Family Parish in South Deerfield

You may notice the next time you are at Mass that, if you discreetly glance around yourself at the other parishioners, you’ll be hard-pressed to spot any youth. I’m not talking about the youngsters or infants – those cute and mischievous rascals tend to make their presence known whether we’re interested or not. I am referring to the adolescents and young adults who had their First Communion years ago and who are old enough to know the drill so to speak, but have left it to their parents and grandparents to fill the pews in their stead. Where have all the teenagers gone?

 I remember when I began my weekly classes for Confirmation nearly five years ago how strongly my religious education instructor tried to explain the importance of making our Confirmation, and what it meant. He told us that when we had been baptized as babies, our parents or guardians had dedicated us to God and made vows on our behalf; now that we were considered old enough to decide for ourselves, we would personally renew those promises to God.

 He also told us that this was not something we had to do, but rather something that we should want to do. If not, then there was no reason for us to bother attending the classes or receive Confirmation. Although I do not think I entirely grasped just how significant the sacrament was at the time, I do recall being stunned by the idea of Confirmation and that I would be making a promise to God that I would be obliged to keep for the rest of my life. Any lifetime promise has got to be a big deal, right?

The Holy Spirit of Confirmation

Needless to say, no one left the class on account of realizing that he or she didn’t want to be Catholic after all. However, I do think that some of my fellow classmates did not plan on taking their promises very seriously. Doubtlessly, some were only there because “it’s what Catholics do” or because their parents made them come.

Our "Sunday School" house

 Today, I still try to go to Mass weekly as is the obligation of every committed Catholic, and in the months when I am home from school, I notice how rarely it is that I see students from my class at Mass.  Granted, it is quite possible that they changed parishes after being confirmed, moved to another town or state, or even fell away from the faith. Unfortunately, it is likely that my peers, like many Catholics these days, only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter, if at all.

So why should we go to Mass? In fact, why even be Catholic? Well, those are big questions which saints and popes (not to mention Jesus Christ) have answered much better than I ever could. Instead, perhaps answering why I still go to Mass and why I am still a Catholic would be more suited to my abilities.

 Firstly, I think I can whole-heartedly blame my parents – two of the most loving and hard-working people I know. They have been around the block a few times, as people say. They know what it’s like to be lost in their own ways, and what it’s like to be found. I trust them and their love for me more than anything else because I have been blessed with the greatest parents on the planet (no offense, but it’s true).

Mom and Dad

 They have brought me to church since I was a child, and I’m confident they will be devoted Catholics and church-goers until the day they die. I also believe them to be incredibly intelligent people. All of this combines into one very good reason why I should continue to go to Mass, even though they don’t ask me to keep a tally of Masses attended and Masses missed while I am at college.

This brings me to my second reason for why I continue to go to Mass: it is so easy. When I am at home, I can drive five minutes down the road with my family to hear an excellent homily from Fr. Philippe at Holy Family.

A painting of the Holy Family on the church ceiling

While I’m at Providence College, however, I’m just a skip and a jump from St. Dominic’s Chapel, which offers three different Masses throughout the day, every day (almost, anyway). What’s even better is that at Dominic’s more than ninety percent of the attendees are young adults who are going to Mass because they want to go.

St. Dominic's Chapel

The experience is invigorating, and it serves as a reminder that the third commandment (or any commandment) is not just some arbitrary rule to be followed with no immediate reward. The Mass was instituted by Christ for our benefit, not His! It is a chance to set aside some time of your day to pray before the physical presence of Christ and just be with a God that wants to be with you.

A guardian angel

Prayer and the grace it gives is another reason for why I go to Mass. One thing I have learned time and time again is that I can’t do anything without God. Honestly, I would forget how to brush my teeth properly if my guardian angel didn’t help keep me focused. I know, because I’ve had bad days when I hurry out the door without taking a few quiet minutes to pray; by noon, I have had a horrible morning, and something as small as an eyelash in my eye can suddenly make me want to tackle a small bush or head-butt a maple tree in frustration. If this is how I react when I neglect five minutes of simple daily prayer, imagine how I might offend Mother Nature if I chose to skip Sunday Mass?

We all go through cyclical periods of happiness and sadness in our lives. Everyone has had a day or two, or maybe even a week, when everything seems to be going perfectly. Our family is proud of us, our friends love being around us, our employers can’t manage without us, and our relationship with God feels as strong as it ever has. Then, things start to slide, we lose our grip little by little, sometimes all at once, and we find ourselves in a seemingly bottomless hole. Each time I have stood in that hole, I have realized more and more that I am there because I have tried to do things by myself, independently of God. My soul knows what it needs, and when I don’t take time out of my week to share what’s going on with the Lord, I start to get frazzled, weak, and depressed. Nearly every time I am unwell, I analyze what it is that is missing and I always discover it to be God and my relationship with Him that is out of place.

Going to Mass bestows graces on us, and never have I believed this to be truer than when, after an upsetting or challenging week, I kneel before Christ at the altar and pour my heart out to Him. He gives me the strength to carry what I must, and He takes from my shoulders what I don’t need to carry. Then, He helps me stand and walk out of that church with renewed strength and a light-heartedness which allows me to smile when it rains as well as when it shines.

Smile when it rains

 Never do I feel more like myself, more like the person I am meant to be, than in those moments. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that all of the time? The Holy Eucharist is offered at the Mass for our sake so that we might be close to the Heavenly Father who wishes us to be with Him forever. St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”

St. Augustine and his mother

 God gave us the Mass so that we might rest for a moment and have an inkling of what heavenly fulfillment feels like. It only makes sense that the God who created us out of love would know what fulfills our created hearts best.