“Why are you here?” Monsignor asked us during his homily this morning…and then fell silent. I felt the ripple of discomfort ripple across the church, beginning in my chair. We’re used to hearing rhetorical questions from the pulpit, but somehow this one sounded like a real question.
He let us stew for a couple of seconds, like the disciples in the Gospel who Just Didn’t Get It, and then went on. “A lot of people don’t come to church because they say they don’t get anything out of it. But it’s not about you—it’s about God, and worshiping God.”
I’m sure everyone has heard the I-don’t-get-anything-out-of-it complaint, as well as the counter-argument: you get out of it what you put into it. Monsignor’s take is a little different—his point is that such arguments miss the point altogether. The point is God. Church is about God.
And yet the Sabbath is for people, and not the other way around. These two ideas seem to be at odds, but as I got to thinking about it, I realized that they actually aren’t.
Two nights ago at dinner, Alex was telling his daddy all about playing with his little neighbor friend. “Did you tell his mommy thank you before you left?” Christian asked.
Alex froze in the act of spearing a bite of chicken and threw him a puzzled look. “No.” Why would I do that?
“Well, you should,” Christian said. “You should always say thank you when you played at someone’s house.”
“Okay,” Alex said. “But I probably won’t remember.”
“Oh, but this is something that’s easy to remember, isn’t it?” Christian said.
I wanted to say that our neighbor doesn’t really care if he says thank you; adults generally don’t need thanks from children. It’s nice, but it doesn’t change anything. We’re so used to taking care of kids, we don’t expect gratitude. Of course I didn’t say this, because the point wasn’t that the neighbor needed Alex’s gratitude; the point was that Alex needed to be grateful.
One of the prefaces in the Roman liturgy says “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself Your gift.” God doesn’t need our thanks—it doesn’t make him better or holier. We do it because it makes us holier.
So no—God doesn’t need us there on Sunday morning. But we need to be there, to re-center ourselves, to remind ourselves that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s a gift to us. At a minimum, the simple act of sitting butt in a pew forces us to set aside time for someone other than ourselves.
But imagine—just imagine what would happen if everyone came into church with the eagerness and the mental presence that we give to golf or scrapbooking. If we came expecting this to be the best hour of our week. I highly doubt that there would be boring liturgies. Not for long, anyway. People wouldn’t stand for it. They’d leap in and do something about it. What form that might take, I don’t know, but I am sure of one thing: it would change the world.