When we perform an act of faith, hope, or love in God, we are in direct contact with Him, and this is especially true at Mass. God is no longer remote, He is as close to us as any two persons can be because Christ is not only present in the Eucharist, He dwells in us. In our earthly life we don’t see or touch God directly, but when we perform acts of faith, hope, and charity we are as near God as Jesus Christ the Son of God is near the Father and the Holy Spirit. Even in Heaven we will never be closer to God than when we make a sincere act of faith, hope and love.
Living in fellowship with God is the climax of the Christian life, a life directed towards charity. The Catechism says “that the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’; it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.” (CCC 1827)
For these reasons, my husband and I decided a long time ago that we wanted to make a habit of taking all our young children to Mass with us, an act of charity. We said to God, “We believe, we trust, we hope in you. God we love you above all things. We love our neighbor for your sake, and we will raise these children to do the same.” We figured that faith and hope would allow us to do whatever we needed to do to attend Mass as a family, and that it would be a blessed, climax of our lives each week symbolizing our blessed unity.
Oh you know the feeling, you envision it something like this.
So, each week we spent the three hours it took to get the kids all dressed, loaded into the truck, and driven to our parish. We filed in through the parking lot, and taught the children to quietly bless themselves, kneel and make the Sign of the Cross, locate the readings and hymns, and do all the things they can do to participate. However, even with all our fervent prayers invoking the aid of the saints and angels, even with all our determination and virtuous efforts in faith and hope and love, this is really more like how it looked each week. Relate?
Now, if you’re parents like us and can relate to the chasm between how you envision Mass with children to be and how it actually is, perhaps a simple image that keeps me focused on the bigger picture will help you too. Sometimes when I’m on the verge of tears, holding my head in shame at the misbehavior of my children – children we really and truly try our hardest to teach and discipline in love – I ask God to just give me a glimpse, a little spark of light, to lighten my intense distress. I don’t want to let Satan win by focusing on my frustration and anger. I don’t want to be distant from God when I should be the closest, and I don’t want to distract anyone else. So, in an act of sincere faith, hope and charity, I say a little prayer that God will illuminate my vision beyond the immediate chaos in the pew, and that those around us are mercifully spared even noticing we are there (now that’s hope). This is what I see first.
I see myself alone at Mass, with everything that disturbs me fallen away. All I have to do is look around and see all the women sitting alone who have told me countless times that they remember when their children were little, when they also once brought them to Mass with their husbands and faced the same frustrations. I remember how so many times after Mass, they tell me, with distant smiles and tears in their eyes, how fond they are of those precious memories. Like everything in this life, it passes. Time passes, and passes, and passes, whether we want it to or not. If I live long enough, one day that may be me sitting alone with my memories in sacred silence before God, thanking Him for the journey of my life, sufferings, joys and all. And not just this life, this life is temporary, but for the life to come when I am hopefully, in faith and love, united with the entire family of God, in communion all together, forever into eternity. That is Mass, resting in unity with the Body of Christ, glimpsing Heaven. So, this is what I see next.
That’s kind of how I picture the Beatific Vision, and it reminds of something else I read in the Catechism. “The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God…There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” (CCC 1828-1829)
The more I’ve learned to focus on the bigger picture, the more I’ve been graced to endure the daily minutia and allowed to understand that moral life on earth is an animated life, a journey towards perfection but never in any instance the culmination of perfection itself. That has made me strong enough to endure things and events I never imagined I could endure because attending Mass regularly has taught me what life is really all about – Christ’s love for me and for you.