All Too Familiar

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the starts, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

St. Augustine

In last weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus is rejected in His hometown. His family, friends and neighbors watched Him grow up among them, and as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The better we think we know a something, the less special it seems.

In a country like ours, in which Mass is readily accessible and religious persecution is relatively rare and non-violent, we can be tempted to regard Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the same way. Our priests celebrate five Sunday Masses each weekend at St. Michael alone, and in an effort to urge people to resume going to church in person, the Church has emphasized how easy it is to find a Mass near you, wherever you are.

All of which makes it easy to say, I can go to Mass later. I can go to Mass anytime. I guess I’ll go next week.

Even when we go to Mass, it can seem too familiar. It’s easy to wander in, sit in our usual pew, check the time after the homily, and forget that the Lord of the Universe is coming to us, in the Flesh, in Holy Communion. After Mass—especially in the summer—we go off in search of wonder, not recognizing the everyday miracle before our eyes.

Familiarity with the Mass and the Eucharist is one potential pitfall; familiarity with ourselves is another. It is important that we see ourselves clearly and understand our own strengths and weaknesses—but often we get discouraged when we struggle with the same things over and over. It can be difficult to confront and uproot habitual sins and tempting to give in to the thought that I will never change or that God cannot possibly regard me as anything special or worth saving. This is why, after we miss Mass once, it becomes easier to skip it again, and harder to go to Confession and return to the Eucharist.

The sacraments provide us with the grace to live them out—so it makes sense that receiving Communion makes it easier to live in Communion, and that skipping it makes it harder to return. But God, who is Love, desires only the good for us. He made us free and rationale, in His own image. He wants us with Him and will do anything to bring us back, short of robbing us of our freedom. The choice, as always, is ours.

This post appeared in the July 11 bulletin of St. Michael Catholic Church.

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