“Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what he has prepared for us.”
Recently I received an angry phone call from someone who wanted me to tell all the bishops to reinstate the obligation for Sunday Mass immediately. Less than three hours later, I received an equally angry email demanding I advocate forcefully for the complete opposite. Beyond the immediate chuckle I had thinking about how I can barely get my four children to do anything, let alone convince the apostles’ successors to issue decrees, I began to reflect on both requests and the idea of obligation. In my ministry, I often try to help leaders articulate clearly that which we might imply or expect. Likewise, I have witnessed firsthand the significant difference in terms of transformation for individuals or communities who choose a path versus those who have one forced upon them. As all of these thoughts distracted me during Mass this Sunday, I was called to attention by our parochial vicar posing the questions, "What does this obligation of Sunday Eucharist do to me and what difference has the absence of the obligation had on me?"
I couldn’t help but think about how often I hear others and the voices in my own head lament "obligations." Many of these obligations are usually much less explicit and much less important than our call to worship the Lord. "I couldn’t say no to that request" or "I had to go to that baby shower" or "He will be so mad if I don’t do this or that." So often, I treat the idea of obligation as a burden or a bludgeon rather than something for which I am obliged, aka grateful. It is true that our obligation to participate in Sunday Eucharist is one of the most clearly articulated commands from the Lord (both Old Testament and New Testament). "Do this in memory of me." It’s likewise just as true, that Jesus instituted the Eucharist with a choice, "Take this, all of you." Even in His command, the Lord, in His divine love, always engages our freedom. As I prepared to receive Holy Communion, my reflection came back to one key question. Whether it be as a husband, father, son, CEO, or disciple, am I living a life of obligation or am I living a life that is much obliged? Am I fulfilling my obligations in freedom and with intentionality? Am I grateful and open to how they can transform me? As we come from this solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, let’s give thanks for the obligation to worship. Let’s remember that when we come to worship, we are not only coming to remember, but actually coming to experience, in every Mass, the ultimate obligation fulfilled by Jesus’ in His sacrifice for us.