What Does it Mean to Be Fed? Part 2

What Does it Mean to Be Fed? Part 2

In the comments to Part 1 below Christine said, “I think you confuse notions of duty and sacrifice.” Although I’m not sure what she meant by that, somehow I think that might be the heart of what I’m trying to get at so let me try to address those two notions and see if I’m addressing her concern and getting any closer to the point I’m trying to make.

I have a duty (obligation) to attend Mass, my one year old and three year old don’t. I have a duty to bring them up in the faith, which I am attempting to do to the best of my ability. So that’s where duty takes us.

As far as sacrifice, it’s a good thing, it draws us closer to God. One sacrifice I can choose to make as a parent is to bring my daughters with me to Mass knowing they may distract me and even cause me to have to leave Mass but also knowing that as baptized Catholics they do receive graces from the Mass now and that by learning to participate in the Mass they will continue to grow in faith and to be able to receive more graces as they are older. Another sacrifice I can make is to stay home with my children if they are sick. Another sacrifice is to have someone watch them so that I may go to Mass without the distraction of my children and focus all of my attention on the sacrifice Mass (assuming I’m not distracted by other people, wandering thoughts, etc.) None of these is required by the Church, all of them might have some good attached.

The question is: which sacrifice is God calling me to, which one will most benefit our family as a whole and help us all to grow in grace and to move towards God? In discerning the answer to that question there are many factors I should consider and weigh and this is where my answer might look different from yours because it is a prudential decision. And in fact my answers might look different from one Sunday to the next, from one year to the next, as everyone grows and changes and as circumstances change.

What I’m trying to do in this blog post and the previous one is to examine more closely some of the factors that influence our respective decisions and to consider some assumptions people frequently make that might influence them one way or another. I really want lots of good meaty discussion here so that some of my own assumptions might be challenged. I’m not even sure what those are so I really want feedback. I think that will help me be a better decision maker.

The assumptions I’ve addressed so far are:

1. That children under 3 don’t really get anything out of Mass.

2. More basically, that getting something out of Mass requires understanding of the Mass.

3. That getting something out of the Mass requires quiet meditation with no distractions.

4. That the point is “getting something out of the Mass”.

I guess what I’m really driving at is a better understanding of how the Mass helps me grow closer to God and what exactly it means to be fed by the Mass and to get something out of it.

And the more I write the less sure I am that I’m even asking the right questions. I’m trying to articulate exactly what it means to “get something out the Mass” or to be “fed by” the Mass or to have one’s “batteries recharged” by the Mass, which are all commonly used phrases I see tossed around. But I wonder if those phrases aren’t part of the problem. Are we clarifying or obscuring our understanding of the sacramental theology? Heck, I’m not a theologian and I’m not even sure how to phrase the question.

Also it seems to me that there is an ideal situation and then there is the reality that we must make compromises. But before we start making those compromises shouldn’t we take some time to ponder what the ideal is and shouldn’t we understand what it is we’re striving for?

I think the conversation gets particularly thorny and murky perhaps because the Mass is the highest and most mysterious thing in the universe. I’m really tackling a theological subject that’s beyond me. And I’m certainly no expert in spirituality. I’m just a mom trying to understand my own spiritual journey and trying as best I can to understand my children’s spiritual life and how I can best nurture that. I share my thoughts and concerns here so I can do those things more perfectly so I can learn from other mothers’ experiences and perhaps help other moms who are on the same journey.

Also in the comments to the previous post Sarah shared an article on Sunday obligation from Envoy magazine by Eric Scheske that seems to get at at least part of what I’m driving at:

I have a suggestion for people who attend Mass out of obligation even though they doubt they�ll get much from attending (such as a person with small children). It�s difficult to explain because it requires an approach that is largely at odds with conventional thinking. I call it an �existentialist� approach to Mass in order to contrast it with an �essentialist� approach. An essentialist approach would concentrate on our essence (i.e., our souls) and think about the spiritual benefits bestowed on our souls by the liturgy and Mass.

This existentialist approach, on the other hand, does the opposite. It basically says, �I will go and take in what I can, but I won�t worry about it or think about what the Mass is doing for me. I will just be there, accepting what comes and not thinking about what could be coming if I could be more attentive.� The surroundings or circumstances don�t matter with this approach because the person is not at all concentrated on himself: He is simply �looking outward� and taking in what he can and not worrying if he can�t take it all in.

This type of approach played a large part in St. Therese of Lisieux�s �Little Way.� St. Therese would have been a saint in any time or any setting because she simply existed without reference to her separate soul, becoming, in her words, a drop of water in the mighty ocean of divinity.


A person with St. Therese�s mindset can pretty much accept anything that is thrown at him during the day � or during the Mass. He does not grow irritated or overly distracted by any surroundings or circumstances, because he doesn�t think much about them. If his kids are unruly, he will attend to them, without thinking about the benefits of the Mass he�s missing, then return to the Mass, without thinking about the benefits he�s going to get. He just accepts his surroundings, allowing grace to work where it will, but with no thought of the grace.

It may seem awfully simple or even commonsensical, but it�s an approach that I suspect eludes most young parents. I know it eluded me for the first few years of fatherhood as I sweated through the Mass, trying to get as much out of it as I could and despairing when I was distracted for prolonged periods. I have found it a highly beneficial approach to worship under trying circumstances.


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