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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: August 12, 2023
By Jeff Hines
Faith Formation Director
“I didn’t get anything out of it.” A person who has stopped coming to Mass might say. But what can we expect to get out of Mass?
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) Clearly Jesus expects us to get something out of Mass, for that is precisely where we come to him and believe in him. He is saying that our deepest needs are met. Everything that we hunger and thirst for in life comes to us.
When we come close to Christ in the Eucharist, we start to love what Christ loves. He works through our interests, our aptitudes, our ideas, the things we like to do.
But how does this happen? How do we experience it? St. Paul explains it in Philippians 2:13, “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” He changes us from the inside out, at the level of our desires. When we come close to Christ in the Eucharist, we start to love what Christ loves. He works through our interests, our aptitudes, our ideas, the things we like to do.
But when does this transformation of our desires occur? Back up a few verses to Philippians 2:5-11. It says our attitude should be like Christ’s who humbled himself, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” How can we do that? How can we become obedient to death on a cross?
This is the purpose of Christ giving himself as the bread of life in the Eucharist. By coming to him and believing in him, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice with his sacrifice. That’s what it means to say, “Jesus died for me.” He died on the cross and we unite ourselves to him, and so we died on the cross, too. St. Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “One died for all; therefore all have died.” And then we rise with him to “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
We change from the inside out when Christ comes close to us in the Mass, where “prayer and teaching are conjoined with the grace of Christ to enlighten and nourish Christian activity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2031). When we act on our new desires, we follow God’s purpose for our life: “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.”
Having the same attitude as Christ does not mean suffer, deny ourselves and take up our cross out of our own efforts, as if we must be inspired and motivated to do so. It means to offer ourselves to him and be transformed from the inside out at the level of our desires. We will do these things with the grace we receive from Christ in the sacraments.
“But why don’t I feel anything?,” one might say. You will. It happens gradually, little by little over time. The catechism tells us that God has a “divine pedagogy,” a teaching method, in which “God communicates himself to us gradually.” (catechism, no. 53)
It is not like the scene in the “Blues Brothers” where the character played by John Belushi gets hit with a beam of light in church and cartwheels down the center aisle, yelling, “The band!” and sets out on a mission from God. It’s not like that.
It’s more like your favorite movie where the lead character follows her heart and life turns out better than she could have hoped or imagined. You pick the movie. It’s more like that.