"Thank you for bringing Jesus to us today." This was the comment from one of my parishioners after Mass recently. As we spoke briefly at that time, it was clear that he meant more than just the Eucharist. Certainly the Eucharist is the primary means by which we receive Jesus, but He also comes to us in the homily, in the individual Scripture readings, in the prayers, as well as in the meditations when all is silent. When people genuinely want to see Jesus, their behavior will reflect that desire to do so.
Let me ask it another way: What is it that makes people want to go to Mass? The reasons can be either good ones or bad ones. Bad reasons for attending the Mass would be: to see a friend; to make others think good of you; or, the worst reason, because it entertains you. Among the good reasons, however, one really tops the list. That reason is: to be with Jesus.
At the heart of the matter, every Catholic wants to be with Jesus; some of them are just a bit confused about how this is done. In helping them to see it there are a few things that will better set the direction so that everyone coming into the Mass will be guided properly. These things will both help to explain what it means to be with Jesus as well as create a stronger desire to do so.
The first thing that will draw people to the Mass is deeper reverence. The second thing that will lead them to Mass is good preaching. The third thing, which we do not often think about is a sense of joy within the community. Reverence toward our blessed Lord (especially through the Sacrament of the Eucharist) is naturally attractive to everyone who seeks to serve God. Good preaching will draw people, since it directly applies to our lives and gives us encouragement. The last factor, that sense of joy, is the one that is not as clear as the others, but it is just as noticeable when it is absent.
I recall once visiting a family in their home, and there was a definite sense of tension in every member of the family. At first I thought it was me--it was the first time I had been in their home as their priest and that was certainly a possibility. It was made clear to me, however, when the Dad had to run outside for a few minutes (to care for some livestock), and the rest of the family actually relaxed in a visible manner. This is the very opposite of joy in a home--it is misery.
How does one create that sense of joy that we are speaking about? There is no formula that anyone can write down because it is a mixture of distinct and unique factors that change based on the mood and relationship of the family. Some today think that this mood can be created by being "nice" to everyone. Not so. In fact, if a priest really is "nice to everyone" then he will learn quickly that this kind of behavior ends up driving people away. "Niceness" is a syrupy, compromising, and quite fake expression that often comes across as weak and desperate. So then, let me ask again, "how do you create it?" There is only one proper way for a priest to do this, and that is when he simply behaves like a good father of a household.
A good "fatherly" presence is what every Church needs. A good father will play with his children, teach his children, and protect his children. Where this presence exemplifies strength, love, discipline and wisdom, then the parish members will long to be a part of the Mass. When this fatherly presence exemplifies for us a typical abdicating father who is weak, unloving, unruly, and foolhardy, then the people will have little or no interest in the Mass, and they will not thrive in their faith.
Priests: work to accomplish this in your parishes. Parents: work to accomplish this in your homes. If all of us worked together to accomplish this in every sphere that we had an influence on, can you imagine what the Church would look like today? What is the atmosphere or general culture of your home? Does it exemplify loving relationships and peaceful comfort, or is it something else? What is the atmosphere or general culture of your home parish? Does it make you want to be with Jesus? Let each of us work toward this, and pray for it with all diligence.