Love makes action easier

| Father Tom Margevicius | November 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

In elections, we don’t vote only when we think “our candidate” will win; it’s our obligation.

Father Tom Margevicius

Father Tom Margevicius

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “Co-responsibility for the common good makes it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country” (2240). We don’t participate in the political process because of what we get out of it (e.g. a winning candidate); we vote because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s also true of participation in the liturgy. We have an obligation; it’s the right thing to do. As the priest says in the eucharistic prayer, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation.” But that’s not enough.

Before knowing how to participate better in liturgy, we have to be convinced why. I could give you instructions on how to change the oil in your car, but you won’t do it if I don’t first convince you that it’s better than paying a Jiffy Lube mechanic, who can do it cheaper, faster and safer. You would have to believe there’s a good reason for doing it yourself: It’s important to know how your car works, or show your children good stewardship, or achieve a sense of accomplishment.

America is infused with consumerism. We determine something’s worth based on what we get out of it. This makes it hard to understand why we should participate in the liturgy. “It’s asking a lot of me: waking up early Sunday — or even rearranging my work schedule, hunting plans, or tailgating before the Vikings game — getting dressed up (at least somewhat modestly), traveling all the way to Church (don’t forget to fast an hour), being polite to strangers, who also don’t want to be there, sitting through unpleasant music and uninspired preaching, forking over some money, eating and drinking a small mouthful of food (can’t wait for a real breakfast), suffering the parking lot traffic … and for what? What do I get out of it?”

If this governs my approach to the Church, liturgy becomes a consumer commodity. I will go church-shopping for one that caters to my tastes: traditional architecture or modern? Contemporary music, Gregorian chant, ethnic singing — or no music at all? Do I like this priest’s preaching? If I don’t and aren’t “getting fed” (having my needs met), I’m going to go somewhere else — or nowhere at all.

Imagine a married couple deeply in love. Tragically, the wife becomes ill and slips into a coma. Every day her husband comes to her hospital room, sits by her side, holds her hand and speaks lovingly to her. The medical staff tells him there’s no evidence this registers; it seems she doesn’t “get anything out of it.” But he keeps coming, not because she benefits, but because she’s worthy of love. It’s the right thing to do. He loves her, and that’s how love acts.

Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

Return to my voting analogy: voting only because I have to doesn’t go deep enough. In truth, I love our country, and I’m happy to participate in the political process because of that love.

We will participate in the liturgy if we are in love. Good music, dynamic preaching, friendly people, attractive decorations —these all help, but they’re not essential. Even if my parish liturgy sometimes feels comatose, whether or not I get anything out of it, or it seems my parish doesn’t benefit from my participation, I will still offer my love because God is worthy of it. When I fall in love (again) with Jesus Christ, participating in the liturgy is easy.

Father Margevicius is an instructor of liturgical theology and homiletics at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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Category: Catholic Watchmen