It can actually be pleasant to drive in the city early on a Sunday morning. The epic traffic that makes us famous is mostly at home in bed.
Our people work hard, and I’m glad they get a day of rest. But I do wish more of them would gain their refreshment by turning their attention to God, and worshipping in the way Christ and the Church say we should.
People sometimes grumble about the demands of the Catholic faith, as if the Church makes us carry a backpack full of lead and drag a ball and chain with us wherever we go. It’s not true. The Church lays very few specific obligations upon people. The very first of them, though, is "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.”
Most people seem OK with the “rest” part. They don’t mind sleeping in or heading to the beach. But the “attend Mass” part? Not so much.
I can only conclude that they don’t know what they’re missing.
If they heard that someone from Apple or Best Buy was showing up somewhere to hand out free gadgets, people would show up by the thousands.
But at Mass God himself shows up to hand out His life! God comes to us in the Eucharist so that we can “share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
That’s better and more powerful than all the gadgets in the world. Jesus gives us his body, blood, soul, and divinity, so that we’ll become like Him — Christ-like, God-like!
Jesus is God’s only child by nature. He is the only begotten Son of God. But through the eucharist we come to live in Him, and He comes to live in us. He has taken our flesh and identified himself with us. Whenever we go to Mass, we take His flesh and identify ourselves with Him.
We can’t get to heaven on our own power. Only God can get us there, and holy communion is the ordinary way he’s established for us to get to heaven. The Church demands very little, but God made sure the Church demanded Sunday Mass as a minimum.
Why Sunday Mass? Well, because Christians have done it since the very first generation. The Lord chose the “first day” of the week to perform his mightiest deeds: his resurrection from the dead (John 20:19, Mark 16:2) and his sending of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
Formerly, the Apostles, as devout Jews, had observed the Sabbath (Saturday, the seventh day) as the memorial of the day God completed His creation (Genesis 2:2). Now, as disciples of Jesus, they observed Sunday (the first day) as the day God accomplishes his new creation. Every Sunday God makes us new by means of the sacraments!
And it remained that way throughout the history of the early Church — even though Christianity was illegal and Christian worship was punishable by death!
I love the story of the forty-nine martyrs of the town of Abitina in North Africa. They lived during the time of the “Great Persecution,” the Christian holocaust of the time of the Emperor Diocletian.
At the time the Church was driven underground. But it was very hard for Christians to hide. You see, Sunday was just another workday in the Roman world.
So if the authorities saw a crowd gathering in a certain place that day, they knew what was going on. They knew it had to be the Church gathering for Mass. So, one Sunday in Abitina, the authorities watched and waited — and then arrested an entire congregation.
The magistrate couldn’t believe the seeming stupidity of these Christians. Why did they expose themselves so recklessly to danger?
They responded to him: “We cannot live without the Mass.”
They couldn’t live without the Mass, this “thing of the Lord,” as they called it. They would rather have died than have missed it. And so they did die rather than miss it — and so they still live today.
It’s understandable when people miss Mass because of illness. We don’t want to make our neighbors sick. It’s understandable when people miss Mass because they can’t get a ride.
But we gain nothing if we miss Mass for the sake of a trip to the beach, which is over all too quickly — while the grace of the Mass is something we can take with us to heaven.
We gain nothing if we miss Mass so that we can sleep in. We’ll be far more refreshed if we worship.