Father Earl Meyer: Church is boring
“Church is boring. I don‘t get anything out of it.“ Not only parents of restless children, but also pastors of testy parishioners have heard that complaint. It is true that religious services can become routine and rigid. The manner, if not the content, needs to be reviewed often. But our disposition also needs to be re-examined.
We go to church for a number of valid reasons, social and educational as well as religious. But we do not come to church to be entertained. The primary purpose for attending religious services is to praise God. We go to church to worship. This is essentially different from the reason we attend other social gatherings, and we practical minded Americans need to be reminded of that.
This does not imply that personal enrichment is absent in religious worship. Faithful Christians can attest to the validity of the gospel directive, “Give and you shall receive.“ Worshipers often receive gifts of peace and joy, comfort and consolation, forgiveness and hope. But it is tempting to place the cart before the horse, to invert the equation. The gospel does not say, “Receive and then give.“ Rather, it delights in the paradox, “Give and you shall receive.“
Fortunately, there are many human relationships which confirm this gospel wisdom. Marriage, friendship and even business ventures teach us that a self-centered disposition is counterproductive. Human relationships are rewarding only when the other is given a sincere priority.
We all value our own personal time and space. When we enter a church we should remember that it is God’s place and the time there is to be dedicated to praising the Lord. The proper disposition for such worship is respect for the sacred, and the deportment of the congregation should reflect that. Unfortunately, our daily casual behavior can unwittingly be carried over into our demeanor at religious services.
If our conduct in church is little different from that in a theater, our attitude and expectations will be the same. If we chat with our neighbors until the show begins, rate the performance of those presiding, and gossip about it on the way out, we are there to be entertained not to worship. Yes, we should feel at home in the house of our heavenly Father. But we should always remember that it is God’s house to which we have been invited, and the Lord’s presence is to be honored above our own.
St. Philip Neri, a devout priest and noted preacher, had a simple practice to prepare himself for prayerful worship. On entering a church he would hang up his cloak in the vestibule and say, “Lord, I leave here with this cloak all my daily cares and concerns. I can take them up again on my way out, for they will surely be waiting for me.”
St. Francis of Assisi had a deep reverence for sacred places. When entering a church he would pause and prepare himself for proper worship by praying, “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all Your churches throughout the whole world because by Your holy cross you have redeemed the world.“
If you ever feel that you are gaining nothing from a boring church service, pause and reflect if your disposition is welcoming the sacred. And consider this counsel of Christ, “Give, and gifts will be given to you; in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you." (Lk 6:38)