Mass is an obligation for Catholics. We are told that if we miss Mass without a legitimate reason, we have sinned. Father Sichko began his introduction to the parishioners by telling them they were welcome to leave if they were at the Mass because of obligation and not because they wanted to attend. I'm not sure if he had the church's blessing on that direction but I understood what he was saying; don't show up without an attitude of gratitude, embrace the gift, embrace the mystery.
How many times in our lives have we simply shown up physically to some event but didn't commit emotionally? What we invest in our experience is directly proportional to what we receive from it. How about school for an example to which we can all relate? Everyone knows the amount of time and effort one puts into their education directly affects what one learns. Yes it is easier for some than for others but that isn't the point. If we aren't fully invested in the process we miss out regardless of whether or not the learning comes easily. We may not only miss out on how much and what we learn from the classes but from our teachers, peers and the environment.
Catholic Mass is not an entertainment form. Regardless of the music or the priest's personality, it is a very traditional ritual. We stand, sit, and kneel, over and over. I’ve heard it called "Catholic aerobics." The readings change and the hymns are different weekly but the words are always the same. I can go to Mass anywhere in the world, and I have, and regardless of the language, I know most of what the priest is saying. I tell you this because I understand how other, more contemporary fun services can attract people. I can understand why some people come to mass out of obligation and not out of want and it is obvious when a church is filled with people who really would like to be somewhere else. Many won't be singing, they vie for seats in the back of the church; they don't bother to say the prayers and they leave as soon as Communion is distributed. I understand why Father Sichko gave permission to those unappreciative Catholics to leave.
The people attending the mission were there because they wanted to be. How could I tell? People came early. A half hour before the mission began, the church was almost full. Everyone sang, they were still singing after Father Sichko had walked out of the service. It was an awesome sound. I stopped singing for a short time to just listen. It was like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! All those people singing a joyful sound. Why, I wondered did so many people choose to spend four evenings here in this church? What was of such value that they made an effort to attend? Certainly, this is not the first event of its type.
I've never attended a traveling preacher's event. Even living here in the heart of the Bible Belt, I've never gone to hear Billy Graham speak or Joel Osteen who regularly visits our area. My only revival experience is from watching the movie Elmer Gantry with Burt Lancaster a "hundred" years ago. I would hope that's not a good representation. From the little I remember he was not a very upright person. But, I can understand how one can get caught up in the experience. I guess it is like the Super Bowl of faith. It's exciting, all these people gathered in one place with a similar outlook, rooting for the same team. My question is why are they here? What is everyone looking for? What do they hope to gain? People seem to be seeking something most of us cannot seem to find alone.
My mother was a great fan of Robert Schuler and the Crystal Cathedral. Thousands of people attended his services and millions watched every Sunday. Joel Osteen is very popular now. His church is a former basketball stadium and holds over 18,000 people. It is full every week and millions more watch his service from home. You don't have to look to the media for popular preachers or venues. Here in Cary alone we have other churches that attract large throngs of people each week. It’s the same throughout the rest of the country. They represent every denomination: Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Non-denominational, Muslim, etc. Why? Why are people coming together? Is it simply for community or are they looking for something else? And, why do they continue to return week after week, year after year? Why did over 1000 people come to St. Michael the Archangel every night for four nights the week before Holy Week? Was it because it was free? Maybe they had nothing better to do? No, I believe it was because we are all looking for something beyond ourselves, beyond our understanding, beyond our wildest imagination. We are looking for that which will complete us. We are looking for God.
People came hoping. They were hoping they would hear something that would inspire them to lead richer, fuller lives. They wanted to know more about their faith with the hope that that would lead them to lives of more value. They wanted to know what knowledge their faith has gathered over the last 2000 years that would bless them and their loved ones today and in the future. Did they get that? Did they enrich their lives and their faith? Father Sichko had a very direct message, a simple one but not an easy one. He told us to "live the gospel." Have you read the gospels? Have you read the words of Jesus Christ? His lessons are very clear; care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the suffering of this world. Love at all costs, all the time. Don't be attached to your material possessions and trust that God is always here to care for you. Simple, but challenging mandates. Father Sichko repeated these directives. He was able to weave them around some very entertaining stories, some very humbling stories and at the end of the fourth night, he received a standing ovation. His message seemed to reach everyone there. It was a very inspirational experience. The energy in the church was palpable. It was exciting! I knew I was in a holy place with others who chose to be there. No one I believed was there because of an obligation but solely because they wanted to be there.
One of my newer affirmations is "I read something inspirational every night and motivational every morning." For the four nights of Father's presentation I was inspired. Listening to him was even better than doing my reading. It was the difference between looking at a photo of a bowl of my favorite ice cream and actually being able to eat it. I came looking for a way to enrich my life and to add to the blessings of my family and friends and perhaps some part of the world and I found it. I found it in Father's reminder to "go live the gospel." I know I'll need reminding. I'm sure to find a reminder in my daily evening reading of the New Testament. That, along with Father Sichko's lessons will sustain me, I hope for quite a while to come. I only wish, and hope that some of those non-appreciative Catholics did show up on a night or two and they too were inspired, inspired to the point where they find themselves wanting to come to mass, not just showing up because they think they need to in order to escape the everlasting fires of hell but because something magical happened, something mystical and the veil that had hidden the blessings of their faith from them was pulled back and they can finally see the beauty, the gift of the Mass and especially of the Eucharist.