The Apathetic Churchgoer

16 September 2009 Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time
1 Tim 3, 14-16; Psalm 111; Luke 7, 31-35

Jesus describes His generation as unresponsive and uninterested. John and Jesus teach the same message, but their style of presentation are different. Their lifestyles are also diverse: John lives in the desert, but Jesus’ base is Capernaum. Whatever way the same message is delivered — through the style of John or Jesus — people do not listen. That is why Jesus compared the situation to children who do not dance when a flute is playing (the flute is used for weddings and celebrations) or mourned when a dirge or a funeral song is sang.

This passivity is also seen in many worshipping communities today. But let us use an example close to home. We experience the many liturgical changes in Vatican II. The Council exhorts all Christian communities: “In the restoration and development of the Sacred Liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the paramount concern, for it is the primary, indeed the indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (Sacrosanctum Concilium II.141). We give credit to our liturgical committees who tried to make the mass better. Or the many choirs who tries to make their songs accessible to the congregation. I have seen them practice more often than usual, offering to the Church their precious time.

Despite these efforts to animate liturgy, however, we remain passive, apathetic and unresponsive. At mass, we stare blankly and appear impatient. We want to finish the mass as quickly as possible. Paul writes to Timothy: In the event of a delay, Timothy knows how to behave in the house of God. We mistakenly interpret acceptable church behavior as rigid, stiff and inflexible; as many socialites carry themselves in weddings when they are all made up; it seems their cosmetics petrify them.

Why are we unresponsive? Primarily, we are used to a mass with minimal participation. Everything is focused on the the priest and the altar. But Vatican II tells us that the presence of God is also seen in the people at mass, turning the spotlight on the congregation, encouraging community participation. Like the noontime Philippine TV show Wowowee: it gained popularity because it actively involved the audience.

We enjoy change and variety. In a diverse Church, millions come from different cultural backgrounds and affiliations. To promote orthodoxy is to have some uniform way of doing things. At present we have these rubrics, except we tend to make it boring. Liturgical norms, even in history, incorporate the arts to add life and zest to worship. Thus, if we put in some drums and percussion, some dancing as Catholics in Africa, Latin America and Asia do, perhaps we can animate our communal worship. We can make some of the rigid churchgoers to enjoying the mass; or perhaps, influence some priests to put in some energy and excitement. After all, Christian faith is about hope, joy and love. It is about celebration!

One more thing. It is also possible that God is doing a lot of things for us so that we can notice Him. But our attention is somewhere else. Various distractions are part of modern life, but it can turn our senses away from the call and desensitize us to the presence of God. We are unresponsive because we do not notice God.

Perhaps, let us begin to train ourselves in quiet prayer. When we are accustomed to silence, we get to manage our distractions. We are able to focus ourselves on the voice of God. After all, we are to gaze upon the Lord at all times.

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