I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD" (Psalm 122:1).
Most anyone who sits under the preaching of God's word will tell you the gospel message can make people uncomfortable. The reason is quite simple. God often requires us to change, and let's face it, living within the status quo is easier.
But what can a person do who, for reasons such as family tradition or social pressures, regularly attends Mass, but doesn't want to change? This is not simply an academic question. Ask someone in this unenviable position and you'll hear a sad story of warfare between the conscience and self-centered rebellion.
I have good news for those waging this battle. Just because you sit in church doesn't mean you have to come under conviction! You can attend church and still be insulated from the message. Apply the following suggestions and you'll find yourself adequately protected from the gentle (and not so gentle) urging of the Holy Spirit.
1. Go to bed late Saturday evening -- the later the better. And get out of bed early the next morning. Getting only a few hours sleep will guarantee fatigue during the Liturgy. And there's nothing like a fuzzy head to run interference for you when the homily gets too personal.
2. Time your arrival at the church to minutes before Mass begins. And be ready to leave as soon as the Liturgy of the Eucharist is over. Spending as little time as possible in God’s presence will greatly enhance your ability to avoid hearing from Him.
3. Find a seat as close to the back of the sanctuary as you can. It's much easier to play the role of spectator than participant in the back corner.
4. Don't open the Missal during the readings. And find fault with the way the readers pronounce certain words, or their accent, or their inflection. If you leave the missal closed, and you spend your time silently criticizing the readers, you won’t be able to pay attention to God’s word. If you don't pay attention, it's easier to avoid the Holy Spirit's whisper in your ear.
5. Don't participate in congregational prayer, recitation of the Creed, or song. Those three forms of worship have a nasty way of softening one's heart to the Holy Spirit. You may have to go through the motions of participating in order to avoid being rude, but you will discover the mind can be a wonderful ally. While faking your participation, you can plan the week's menu or your wardrobe for the coming work week. Be careful not to sing or recite too loudly because the mind might become momentarily confused and you may suddenly hear yourself singing about pizza. That would be embarrassing.
6. During the homily, take mental note of your surroundings. For example: What is the ratio of men to women in the service? How many guys are wearing suits? How many women are wearing dresses? Compare the ratio of those wearing glasses to those who do not. Think of the statistical data you can develop from these observations.
7. When you run out of things to note about the congregation, turn your attention to the matters awaiting you at home. When does that TV show start? Did you program the DVD to begin at the right time and on the correct channel? Shall you eat the left-over spaghetti for lunch, or just have sandwiches?
8. Bring a small notebook to Mass and jot down a grocery list or some other "to-do" items during the homily. This will help keep your mind off the message. Don't worry about what others might think if they notice you scribbling away. They will assume you're taking notes on what the pastor is saying.
Unfortunately, because of God's great love for you, even meticulous observation of these suggestions does not guarantee successful flight from Him. Despite the best intentions, you may succumb to His love.
Of course, worse things can happen.