It is a beautiful, sunny, warm Sunday. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and it is a perfect day for the beach. But I am Catholic, which means I need to go to Mass on this beautiful day. How many of us have grumbled about going to church on a beautiful day? How many times have our kids lamented the drive to church, when the other kids are outside playing and having fun?

The third commandment obliges us to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” The magisterium interprets this as an obligation to attend Mass, either on the Saturday vigil or on Sunday. Unless there is a particular exemption, if we fail our obligation, we place ourselves in the near occasion of mortal sin.

The first way to look at the obligation is as a simple obligation. It is like doing the dishes or getting out of bed for work. Sometimes, this is the default answer to our kids when they are complaining about going to Mass in the morning. It is easy to place the blame on God and say that we must attend Mass because he tells us so. If this is the reason you get yourself and your family to Mass every Sunday, then it will suffice.

However, if we want a deeper reason, we find ourselves at obedience. We go to Mass out of obedience to God and to Jesus, as he invites us to partake of his body and blood. Obedience is more reverent and carries more respect than an attitude of merely obligation. Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that obedience will lead to greater blessings. For instance, in Deuteronomy we are told, “Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and prosper.” (Deuteronomy 5:33) We want to obey God’s commands because we know they will benefit us. Like a child obeying the instructions of his parent, we will do better when we follow God’s instructions. This includes going to church on Sundays. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Psalms 128:1)

If we look even deeper, though, we come to love. We go to Mass on Sundays because we love Jesus. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” When we obey God, we show that we love God. And when we love God, we will obey him, whatever the cost. When we attend Mass out of love for God, the beach looks less appealing. The kids outside seem less happy. When we truly love God, then our Sunday focus will be on God and on the cross, not on this world. This is the deepest reason that we go to Mass.

We must progress from obligation to obedience to love. If obligation is your sole motivation, acknowledge that and continue to follow the obligation. But do not be complacent, settling for superficial motivations. When you are ready to go deeper, look to Jesus. Jesus tells us in Matthew, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Going to church on a beautiful day when so many earthly desires and necessities beckon us is a sacrifice. But it pales in comparison to the sacrifice of the Mass which is calling us. To deny ourselves means we must let go of our earthly pleasures. If we are grumbling about going to Mass, it is because we have not truly denied ourselves. We have not taken up our cross and we are not yet ready to truly follow Jesus. Jesus himself waits for us at the Mass. He offers himself for us there. Why are we more worried about the dishes, cooking meals and watching the Packers than sharing in our Lord’s passion?

These earthly distractions will fill our minds if we are not properly focused on our Lord. We must discipline ourselves: dress well, pray as a family on the way to church, make an act of contrition before Mass. It is not denying oneself to arrive at Mass 10 minutes early and then to waste that time discussing the afternoon’s agenda or if the Packers will beat the Bears. It certainly is not focusing on the cross, where our eyes ought to be. If we truly love our Savior, the inevitable distractions of the world may enter our awareness, but finding no welcome, they will leave as quickly as they came. We must strive to grow closer to our Lord. By moving from obligation to obedience and ultimately to love, we attain much greater benefits from attending Mass.

Andi Bochte

Andi Bochte