Not long ago I had a conversation with a woman which is pretty typical. She’s real nice, wealthy, upper middle class and Catholic. I ask her where they go to Mass. She says they don’t go to Mass, but they are “really good people.” She then proceeds to tell me how good she is.
So I’m at St Joseph’s Catholic School and I ask the kids, “So here’s a Catholic question for you..what’s better to be good and not go to Mass or to go to Mass and be bad?” They’re pretty smart. A few of them say, “Be good and not go to Mass.” Some others come up with better answers, “What if you went to Mass and you were bad, but going to Mass made you realize you were bad, and so you went to confession. Wouldn’t that be better?” Another said, “You couldn’t go to Mass and fully participate and be bad. Just going and being close to God would make you good.” Another was even smarter, “The person who says they’re good is bad because they’re self righteous. It’s the person who thinks they’re bad who’s really good.”
So the conversation continues and I ask individual kids, “Steven, are you a good person?” Now they’re beginning to get it and they’re laughing. Steve says, “No Father, I’m not good. I’m bad.”
“That’s the right answer!” I exclaim. “Mary are you a good person?” She comes up with a corker, “By God’s grace I hope I might one day be good.” Wow! These kids are on it.This is the how exciting paradox of religion. Anyone who says, “We don’t go to Mass, but we are really good people” have missed the Christian bus big time. They don’t get it and so greatly don’t get it that they are almost uneducable. Their misunderstanding is so profound that you couldn’t even say to them what they haven’t got because they don’t know what they don’t know. The astounding blind ness of such folks is that nine times out of then they then turn around and blame the people who do go to Mass for being hypocrites. Their lack of self awareness and spiritual awareness reveals the depth of their own hypocrisy for they think they are good, and never see that the essential prayer–the prayer at the heart of it all is the sinner’s plea, “Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on me a Sinner.”
This prayer, so simple and so profound is the prayer that truly liberates. See how free and how child like you can be if you simply say this prayer? Within this prayer is the soul’s freedom and the soul’s joy. Within this prayer is the simple trust in God on which everything else depends. Therefore, “Being good or Going to Mass” is a totally false dichotomy.
As one of the students said, “You can’t really go to Mass and mean it and be bad, and if you don’t go to Mass you can’t really be good.”