Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of complacency? The other day I was flipping through my Missal to see what the daily Mass readings would be. When I saw we were going through the stories of Genesis, my immediate reaction was, “Genesis again? Didn’t we just read that?”
Almost mid-thought, I stopped myself. Yes, we did. Two years ago, the last time we were in Year 1 in the weekday cycle. But what a lousy response. I should be thinking, “Genesis again! Yes!”
Of course, I was wrestling with perfectly human reactions, but that doesn’t mean they were good ones. I had clearly become complacent when it came to Scripture, and it was a good a wakeup call.
How many times have you stood up to hear the Gospel at Mass, heard the first few lines, and thought, “I know where this is headed…” Your brain clicks off that channel, almost involuntarily, and when you sit down for the homily you almost don’t even notice that you spent the last four minutes thinking about your to-do list.
The multiplication of the loaves, the story of the Prodigal Son, the Bread of Life discourse… these stories have become second nature to us. “Oh, Jesus is going to make a few loaves of bread feed five hundred people—yawn—what am I going to make for dinner tonight? I do have that roast, but I forgot to defrost it…”
When I caught myself in my complacency, I was reminded of the danger of doing that not just with the Scriptures themselves, but also with the Mass. How often has that become something we work into our Sunday schedules, rather than vice versa? And then when we’re there, our brains tune out all the parts because we’ve heard them before. The Creed? I can recite that in my sleep… so how often is that exactly what I do?
“Oh, and now Father’s going to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This again?”
I’m incredibly blessed that I can often get to Mass during the weekday, too. But do I just allow that to exacerbate the problem? How often do I take it all for granted? How often do I stop and really think about what I’m doing?
Would I walk miles to that church, like so many people have to in other countries? Would I risk my life for it like my Christian brothers and sisters in parts of Africa and the Middle East?
Next time you’re blessed to go to Mass, make your first prayer one of gratitude. Gratitude that Jesus died for us, that He chose to remain with us in the Eucharist, that you have a priest to celebrate the mysteries. Gratitude if you have easy access to the sacraments, and prayers for the so many Catholics who don’t. Next, pray to have ears to hear the Scriptures and the prayers of the Mass with greater awareness, greater understanding, and greater joy. Ask for help.
So often when we start to pray, we fall into the trap of thinking that we are the actors in the drama and that the first move is ours. We seem to think that God is busy somewhere doing something, and when we start our prayers, we’re initiating conversation with Him. “Hey, come over here! Do you have a minute? I have something to ask you.” We forget that we wouldn’t even be able to pray if God hadn’t first desired it and called us to Himself. Whenever we pray, however we pray, our first step is never really first—it “is always a response” (CCC 2567).
Don’t forget to ask for help. My mind is likely going to wander at some point during prayer. But if I begin my prayer with gratitude and a petition to hear the words of Scripture or the Mass with a greater awareness, maybe that complacency can be turned into delight. Try to hear something that you’ve never heard before, or hear something in a new way. Rather than think, “Wedding feast at Cana? This again?” instead try to find something in John’s Gospel account that you hadn’t noticed before or that you had glossed over. Just how much water did those jars hold? And what were those jars used for originally? Try to listen to the readings with new ears and a new heart. It’s not the Scriptures that are old and tired—it’s me!
Remember, He’s the one that said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). He can take my complacency and give me zeal. He can take the words of Scripture, the depths of which I can never fathom (no matter how many times I read the book of Genesis) and speak words to me that are alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). I only have to ask… and hold on for the ride.