I want to talk about making use of the interior life.
For me, and sometime soon I will lay out the whole long story, the Eucharist is the center of my faith. No matter how miserably I’m spacing out during Mass, from the moment of the Sanctus I suddenly wake up to God; from there the consecration, the Agnus Dei and fraction rite, Ecce, and finally my own reception of the sacrament are when the Mass really does something life-changing for me.
Y’all wish that change would last a little longer and be a little more visible in my life, but to God a thousand years is a like a day, so hang on, He’s working. This is the time of week (or time of day, when I can get it) that I am most aware of that work happening.
Therefore having to not go to Mass is something I dislike intensely.
Reading prayers, even very good prayers, or watching the Mass on TV are not the same. They can be valuable, but I don’t love them and I don’t get the same sense of God’s presence and intimacy apart from the Mass.
And yet sometimes I have to not go to Mass.
You might be in this situation right now, and you might be struggling with that reality, because you want, more than anything, to be with our Lord in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. So I’m going to talk to you about my interior life, and maybe it can help you with yours.
Slacking vs. Slaking
I can be a pretty lousy Catholic. Everything I am going to say does not apply to situations where I’m spiritually slacking. There are times when I let myself get so wrapped up in the delusion of being “self sufficient” from God that what prayer I do manage, what obligations I do fulfill, are not about intimacy with the Lord.
But, fortunately we have the Sunday obligation, and the Mass does its work on me, and so I can count on most weeks getting some spiritual first aid by the time the consecration rolls around, even if I’ve been committing low-level spiritual self-harm all week long. And of course some times I am, in fact, seeking God throughout my week, and taking time to be with Him, and that’s the spiritual state I’m going to be talking about now.
See, when you are seeking God, if something happens that keeps you from Mass, your soul can be disposed to receiving Him even when you are separated.
This is a mystical thing, not a theological treatise, so don’t get hung up on vocabulary. I am talking from the point of view of my lived experience, and if you would like to translate that into precise definitions of this or that category of prayer, you can do that. I’m just going to tell you what I know.
And what I know is that when you are thirsting for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord will slake that thirst.
How to Be Not Afraid
This is the thing that has worked for me, so if you are now facing the absence of the sacraments and that fills you with anxiety, try this thing:
Mentally put yourself there in the sacrament. If it’s the Eucharist, mentally put yourself in Adoration before the Lord. See, feel, hear, smell, taste in your mind that moment when you and Jesus are together at Mass. If it is confession you cannot access, as you make your act of perfect contrition at home, see, feel, hear, smell, taste in your mind that moment when you and Jesus are together in Confession. The scene or the thought or the quiver in your gut that you experience will be unique to you, so I’m not going to give you too many words of instruction. Just mentally try to make present that moment of spiritual lightning that strikes, or that wave of spiritual refreshment, or that warm, powerful embrace of consolation, that in the past you have felt when you diligently seek the Lord in the sacrament.
I don’t have your brain. Maybe there is a hymn, or an image, or the wafting scent of incense, or some other tangible thing that helps you make your experience of the sacrament again present to you. Maybe it is the position of your body. Maybe it is the memory of a particular person who touched you profoundly at a time when you received the sacrament — a priest’s advice in the confessional, or the lady in the pew who held your hand at the sign of peace, or whatever it is — there could be some particular memory that helps you re-call, re-summon, your experience of the sacrament. Don’t be afraid if it’s something weird. Maybe the wood of your kitchen table reminds you of the wood of the pew and somehow that’s your thing. I don’t know what crazy way God has put together the connections in your brain.
But figure that out.
And then when you are saying to yourself, “I hate that I can’t go to Mass on Sunday,” or whatever it is that you are missing, stop and take some time to mentally make present that sacrament. Allow yourself to experience it again. Allow God to bring to you, right in your bed or at your desk or at your kitchen sink, the grace that you experienced before.
Time with an Infinite God
The thing is that though we live in time, God lives outside of it.
God is able, with your willingness and cooperation, to deliver back to your awareness the grace that He bestowed on you already, about which you have forgotten. He who knew what would happen today, and tomorrow, and three weeks from now, has poured out on you all that you need to survive this time of desolation.
I don’t mean that this is a substitute for the sacraments. I don’t mean that if you ought to be going to Confession today or Mass today, and though you could obey the Lord’s call, instead you plan to sit in your lounge chair and surf the internet, that you can just sub out thirty seconds of imagination and prayer for the Lord’s desire and command for you to find Him in the sacrament. No way no how.
But if for some reason (perhaps acting on obedience to your bishop though you do not agree with his reasoning, and yet you know very well his authority is divinely-ordained, or perhaps acting in justice towards those to whom you owe care and protection) you are kept from the sacrament you desire, I do know that in those times, the Lord can supply what is lacking.
Artwork: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Virgin With Angels, courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.