Those of us who were born into practicing Catholic families have been blessed to experience the unconditional love of God as expressed in the sacraments. Welcomed as sons and daughters through baptism, fed at His table by the Holy Eucharist, cleansed and drawn closer through reconciliation–we experience these concrete, tangible moments of grace drawing us ever closer to Him.
The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, knew well that faith is not just an attitude or something that happens in our heads, but is experienced through the senses and the physical elements around us. So she gave us these rituals which accomplish what they symbolize. Of course, our God, whose name is “I Am” would always give us the “real thing”, not just a symbol or an empty ritual. We who value these sacraments strive to carry them out with great care, not because we believe that we can win God’s favor by more meticulous attention to detail, but rather with the awareness that it is God who acts, we strive to clear our minds and hearts of all but God and His infinite love.
This is so important that the Church established obligations– requirements that we be baptized, receive communion at least once a year, go to Mass every Sunday. The great danger is in seeing these things as “merely” obligation, performing them routinely and not experiencing their full power.
Of course, the true purpose of the sacraments, daily prayers and devotions is not to entertain us with great religious experiences, but to keep us attached to the vine, so that it may bear fruit in us. We bring what we have received into our little corner of the world.
Sadly, as the mistaken perception that there no longer are any obligations, many have fallen away from these life-giving rituals, and not always to seek God in nature or in personal prayer, but often to work, play sports or watch television.
My spiritual journey involved attending mass every Sunday, but also frequent weekday masses with my mother when I was small. Those weekday masses were quiet and austere—no music or incense, just the basics. But even then I could discern the more commited intention of the people participating. They were very quiet and methodical—no obvious ecstatics. But they were there, every day.
As I grew older I was drawn to Charismatic worship. I appreciated the lively music and the entusiastic participation of people who were alive with their faith. As a young person I was sure that the whole world would be transformed by this great movement of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many of the people involved moved on to more and more exciting and invigorating churches, always seeking, it seems, a greater spiritual “high”.
I was also drawn to contemplative prayer and the whole centering prayer movement. Again, I noticed, in myself and others, the motivation toward a more profound religious experience, which didn’t always translate into repentance, conversion and a truly holier life.
When I finally got down to trying to actually live my faith I discovered that amazing, exciting experiences weren’t that big a part of it. It was a lot of sticking with the program and clearing out the garbage (sin) in order to hear the still, small voice of God.
And once again I found myself in the company of the humble, ordinary daily mass people, praying and striving to live a virtuos life, and finding God in the ordinary—even boring and monotonous—daily devotions, joys and trials of life in the body of Christ.