Column: Even stragglers are seeking the Lord ‘with a sincere heart’

by Michael Podrebarac

“Remember those who take part in this offering, those here present and all your people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart.”

I’ve always loved these words from Eucharistic Prayer 4, because they remind us that the church offers each Mass for every person of good will, wherever they may be. The church’s affection stretches beyond those with whom we worship and even beyond those of whom we are aware or can imagine. The church’s affection is universal, because our Lord’s affection is universal. That’s why the church is called catholic.

I contrast those words above with something a friend of mine once said.

“I really like going to Mass on All Souls Day,” she said, “because it’s not a holy day of obligation, you don’t get anything like ashes or palms, and so you know that everyone there really wants to be there.”

I understood what she was saying. But well-intentioned though she was, she was wrong. And I tried to gently respond.

“Yes, I think I know what you mean,” I said. “But I myself have come to the conclusion that, in our culture — so stuck on the idea of absolute individual freedom — anyone who shows up for Mass does so because, in some way, they do really want to be there.”

That includes those in the last pew of the “last chance” Mass on Sunday; those whose responses are mumbled; those who arrive late and leave early; and those there merely out of obligation. Believe it or not, they really do want to be there.

Their reasons may not be the best-formed or the most complete. Like all of us, they have need for improvement. But they do want to be there. If they didn’t, they simply wouldn’t have bothered.

Most of us, at some point, have found ourselves at Mass distracted, uninterested, bored, or merely obedient. And yet we were there. We joined what statistics tell us is the 40 percent or so of Catholics in our nation who will be in church on any given Sunday, including those who attend weekly, those who go only once or twice a month, and those who only go once or twice a year. We were there. The Mass was offered for us. We, though feebly, took part in that offering.

Scripture reminds us that the first Mass also had a few distracted participants. This Sunday’s liturgy will likely be the same. Hopefully, there will be no Judases among us! But there will be Johns, and Peters, and Thomases. Christ can again build on that, just as he did before.

And so the church prays that the strong will grow stronger, that the tepid will become fervent, and that all those “with a sincere heart” will receive and benefit from the church’s affection.

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