Sunday, April 30, 2017

BOOK REVIEW - Bored Again Catholic: Journey to the Center of the Mass

Timothy O'Malley and I come from two very different generations. I'm a baby boomer grandma with a pastoral studies degree and 30 years practical experience in liturgy and catechesis, working in diocesan ministry. He's a millennial with a young family, a doctorate, and an academic directorship in addition to a teaching career at Notre Dame. However, he can certainly speak wisdom to someone my age... actually to people of any age.  

When I started reading his latest book, Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life, a little voice in my head kept telling me that Tim lives in a different reality than I do. Although he has much to say to young adults, especially to students in college (and campus ministers), who are his intended main audience, he acknowledges in his introduction that this book might  offer the rest of us, who struggle to convince young people to go to Mass "something that will revive your weary souls." OK, I thought. We'll see. 

For the first few chapters, I read through my teaching lens, thinking about the catechetical potential of the book and what I could recommend in it for others who minister in parish life with teens and young adults. Since I work primarily with directors of children's religious education, I was mentally including young adult parents of children in faith formation programs. I pretty much distanced myself from the book and honestly underestimated its effect on me personally. 

I will admit that from the first I was aware that going back and really exploring the questions and suggested practices at the end of each chapter could take me much deeper and that this book had great potential that would not yield itself up to a first quick reading, but I shelved those thoughts for later exploration.

Today, at the first Mass I participated in since reading the book, God had other ideas about how to upset my carefully cultivated distance from this book. It started at the "Gloria." Yes, I was the cantor - and of course it's Easter Time and I usually can lead this with joy, but today, the comparison from Chapter 6 of the "Gloria" to a "fight song" such as we sing for our favorite team at an athletic event hit me. I felt a burst of great energy and delight as I led the people in the singing. In fact, I felt renewed and refreshed.  

At the Gospel, which was today about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I immediately recalled the reference to this same Gospel reading in Chapter 12 "The Homily", where Jesus' interchange with the two disciples is referred to as "the Gospel of Luke's most famous homily."  The goal of the homily, O'Malley says, "is not to report on the most recent findings in historical-critical scholarship. It is instead to show us the coherence of God's narrative of love."  That's a theme in this book: the love of God shown through the sacrifice of Jesus is at the heart of the Mass. I felt it as the Mass continued, and I as able to offer myself unreservedly, to join in the sacrifice more wholeheartedly than I had been of late. In short, this book affected me more than I initially thought it would. 

Bored Again Catholic is much more than an explanation of why one should not succumb to boredom at Mass. Instead, it is an extended meditation on the connection between liturgy and life, a virtual journey to the center of the Mass. It is at one and the same time revelation, information and an engaging tale of how one man has found ways to enter into "full, conscious and active participation" in the Mass and how to truly offer himself in sacrificial love (the theme of his previous book, Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love. Tim may not be everyone, but he offers himself, exposed in his humanity, as a model, showing us how his inner journey with elements of the Mass can serve as an example. 

A significant treasure in this book is the author's personal witness to his own struggles and how he has let the graces of word and sacrament shape his interior life. He shows us how engaging faithfully in the repetition of listening, praying, responding, and offering one's life as part of the sacrifice of the Mass can bear fruit. Tim is not shy about sharing his and his wife's battle with infertility - or his joy in adoption, which, as he tells it, became possible because of the work he engaged in during the liturgy. Again, he models a faithful response to Christ's sacrifice of love and our work in re-echoing that in our own lives as we continue to grow spiritually through faithful openness to God's work in us.

And no, it's not all about struggle. Tim shares with us charming moments of family joy, silliness and triumph. The antics of his toddler son at home and at Mass are a welcome dose of little things from real life that echo the imperfections of human life and the mission of love on which the Mass sends us. 

His explanations of the meaning and structure of the Eucharistic Prayers and the Lord's Prayer are joyful catechesis at its best. It is clear he loves these words and wants others to do the same. Indeed, it is clear throughout the book that what O'Malley really offers is an invitation to a life in which the Mass has a primary role. This is the invitation we want young adults to receive and take to heart: that the Mass has the power to uplift and change them, to send them forth to be people of sacrificial love.  

There is plenty of additional treasure to be discovered in the questions and suggested practices at the ends of each chapter.  I would urge you to take  time with them, I plan to. In fact, this is a book to be savored and studied, marked up and revisited - by adults of any age. 

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