On my desk at work, there is currently a copy of a book called "Dating God: Live and Love in the way of St. Francis" (http://www.amazon.com/Dating-God-Live-Love-Francis/dp/1616361360/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335816659&sr=8-1). It is a small book, which bodes well for me considering the fact that I often do not have the attention span to truly make it through a book longer than 150 pages. I believe I am "in the middle of" at least four different books that last over 150 pages that I became distracted from and simply have not finished. This book caught my eye when I was at a Christian bookstore because the concept of "Dating God" has always been very intriguing to me. Especially within the past year. We are all called to enter into a relationship with God. A relationship that is deep, intimate, moving, passionate... One that fulfills the longing of all our hearts. ("Our heart is restless until it rests in you." St. Augustine) To me, this was always easily compared to a dating relationship with a significant other. For is that not what we all desire? To share in communion with an other that is deep, intimate, moving, passionate?... That truly fulfills the longing of our hearts? Sadly we seek this out in that long desired significant other rather than with THE significant OTHER. But I like the concept of what this book suggests. It actually reminds me of a revelation of thought I had this past summer.
I was with a group of teens and other youth ministers at a Steubenville Conference in Springfield, MO. This was my first Steubie since I graduated high school. I was so excited because it was on my first Steubenville trip that Jesus became real. The beauty of these conferences is that all who attend are treated to the reality of Jesus within an encounter with Him in Eucharistic adoration that is more powerful than most spiritual experiences I have ever had. At the time, I was eagerly anticipating the second night, Saturday night, where the Eucharist is the main attraction. To me, it is almost my own experience of the Transfiguration, Jesus is made known to me in all of His glory. The night before, Jesus reminded me in an incredibly powerful way my need to be loved and to allow myself to be loved... I had no doubt He was going to share with me His love this second night.
Before this "main attraction" went down, one of the conference speakers proclaimed the love of the Father for us His children. He ended up demonstrating it in one of the most powerful ways. At the pinnacle of his preaching, the speaker began to talk of how many of us do not understand the love of the Father because the love of our own father is far from perfect. That we do not have a witness in our own personal stories to really understand this love. So he ended up inviting a married couple of many years to come on to the stage and they slow danced before us to a moving song. He asked us to imagine the love that this married couple shared for each other as the love the Father shares for us, but in an infinitely greater way. This INSTANTLY sparked a fire within my heart, for the love of God is of course relational. And it started a fire in a camp that was built in my heart just a few weeks earlier regarding the love of God...
At the time I was working at our Catholic summer camp "Camp Tekakwitha" on the leadership team called the "Blue Team". We were discussing the added experiences we create for the longest camp of the summer, (And the absolute best camp of the summer! Truly one of my favorite weeks of the year for the past 6 years) T-Extreme. I signed up to lead one of the morning prayer sessions and it was to be focused on our experience of the Mass and how to properly enter into this great communion with God. A tall task, but one that I was looking forward to nonetheless considering the fact that I have a great love for the Eucharist and receiving Jesus in the Mass. But, I was stuck in contemplating how I was going to do this. How was I going to relate to these teens the great experience we are blessed to enter into each Mass in which we get to receive Jesus Christ, our Beloved, in the Eucharist? How was I going to truly express in a way these teens could understand the great experience of God's love that occurs at every Catholic Mass?
Back to Stuebie... As I was sitting there, watching this married couple of who knows how many years slow dance together, I was caught up in the thought of how amazing the love is between a husband and wife. And it made me think of a concept that I heard of that I believe is so incredible that I hope to practice with my own wife some day. That concept is the simple concept of "date night". This is where a married couple reserves a certain night of the week for their beloved. Where a husband and wife reserve this night every week, (whether it is Friday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, whatever night!) to spend time with the one they love. It does not matter what they do as long as they are with each other. They can go out to eat at a fancy restaurant or stay at home and make dinner themselves. They can go to a movie theater to catch a new release, or they could stay at home to watch their go to movie on DVD. They can go to a special place downtown, at a park, or in the country, or they could just go to their special place on the swing chair on their front porch. Whatever they do, all that matters, is that they get to spend time with their beloved. I have heard of couples who have been married for several years stay faithful to this concept and it just blows me away. That, to me, shows a couple who knows what it means to love and be loved...
Then, God spoke to me... This is what Sunday Mass is... "Date night with Jesus". Date night with THE Beloved. Date night with THE One and only who can truly fulfill us. Date night with THE One who knows us infinitely and therefore can love us infinitely. Date night with God. That is what each experience of the Mass is! It is an intimate, deep, moving, passionate date with God. It is a date with the One who can truly fulfill our hearts the way they were created to be fulfilled. And Sunday is our date night, the one day out of the whole week that we drop everything else to reserve intimate and personal time with our Beloved. To be in communion with the One who loves us most.
The love of God is of course RELATIONAL. And if you have ever had any experience of working with or talking to teens, you would know very well that they are RELATIONAL beings. Much of what they talk about or consist their life in is their relationships. Who their friends are, what their friends are doing, who is dating who... And many of them are at a point in their life where for the first time they experience that strong desire and longing of being with another in an intimate and significant way as dating. What better way to share with these teens the love that we experience within each Catholic Mass than through the concept of "Date night with Jesus"? This was it. This was how God was calling me to share the love we enter into at every Mass with the teens at T-Extreme.
Of course, when I got back to Camp to share this divine nugget of revelation with the rest of Blue Team, I was informed that the schedule had changed and now that morning prayer was going to focus on our relationship with Mary... Well crud... But this was not going to stop me from sharing this! I shared it with everyone I could talk to. I shared it with the teens in my youth group. I shared it with the youth ministers I work with. I shared it with several others. Now I want to share it with you. The idea that the Catholic Mass is our own "Date Night with Jesus".
Think about it. When you walk into a church on Sunday for Mass, what do you see at the center? An altar with an altar cloth, plenty of candles, chairs, and some dishes... Now picture a couple walking into their kitchen with a table cloth on the table, candles in the middle, two chairs for the beloveds and some dishes ready to share a meal with one another.
What happens on a date in the first place? The typical date begins with the couple talking before dinner or during dinner where they share a meal with one another and, more importantly share their life stories with one another. The couple gets to know one another. What happens in the first half of the Mass? The Liturgy of the Word where the life stories of God and His beloved people are shared with the first and second readings, the responsorial psalm and the Gospel. The couple gets to know one another. The beloved gets to know the Lover.
Often times during the meal certain music is played to set an environment where love is easily encouraged and shared between the two lovers. What happens at Sunday Mass is that music is played to set an environment where love is easily encouraged and shared between the Lover and the beloved. (And what could be more romantic than one of the lovers to write a song for their beloved to really put into words the love they feel for them? And people don't understand why we sing at Mass or why it is more powerful to pray through song.)
What happens at the end of a date? The love between the lover and beloved is shared in an intimate and unique way through the body where they share in an exchange of persons in a kiss. Where the one gives themselves as a gift to the other, and the other receives it completely and then reciprocates that gift of self back to the one, who receives it completely. (And if the couple is married, that love can be shared physically in the most intimate of ways within the marital embrace of conjugal union, otherwise known as the "hibidy dibbidy"! Or sex. Where two become one flesh.) And what happens at the end of Mass? The love between the Lover and beloved is shared in an intimate and unique way through the body where they share in an exchange of persons with Holy Communion. Where one and THE One become one flesh. Where the One gives themselves as a gift to the other, and the other receives it completely and then reciprocates that gift of self back to the One, who receives it completely. That is our experience in the Eucharist. A certain marital embrace with God. Complete union with our Savior. Communion.
And what really matters with this date night? Do you think it matters to the lover and beloved if the restaurant they eat at is aesthetically pleasing or if it is run-down and needs renovations? Do you think it matters to the lover and beloved if the music at the concert they went to was the greatest music they have ever heard or if the live band that played during dinner was a shade better than a 5th grade band rehearsal? Do you think it matters to the lover and beloved if the movie they went and saw at the theater was engaging, exciting, entertaining, and went by really fast, or the movie they watched at home was long, dry, dull and had no point? None of this matters to the lover and beloved because all that truly matters to them is that they are with the one they love. All that matters to them is the love they get to share within that date. All that matters is that they get to be with their beloved.
To that I ask, what really matters with our own "date night with Jesus"? Do you think it matters if the church we go to is reminiscent of the beautiful cathedrals of Rome or is an older church that desperately needs renovations? Do you think it matters if the music played at Mass is that which could be digitally recorded, mass reproduced and sold to anybody and everybody or if the music played at Mass is long, drawn out and boring? Do you think it matters if the priest's homily is truly engaging, exciting, entertaining and goes by really fast or instead, maybe it is too long, dry, dull and has no point? None of that matters! None of this matters to the lover who is with their Beloved because all that truly matters to them is that they are with the One they love. All that should matter to us is the love that we get to share within each Mass. All that should matter is that we get to be with our Beloved.
This thought of sharing "Date Night with Jesus" has been pivotal to my experience with the Mass. It has truly brought such a new outlook on my experience on Sundays and during daily Mass that my heart has renewed and rediscovered the love that I have for God and the love that He has for me! I LONG to be with my Beloved God and I know that He DESPERATELY LONGS to be with me. And these desires run into each other in a beautiful collision within each Mass. And this extreme and somewhat scandalous perspective of the love God is calling us to share in has diffused into the rest of my prayer life.
What does one who is with their beloved in marriage do the first things they wake up? They say good morning to their beloved and "I love you" to their beloved. Why can't we do this with our Beloved?
What do they do last in their day before going to sleep? Say goodnight to their beloved and "I love you". What if we did this with our Beloved?
What do ones who love each other do throughout the day? They send messages of love to each other to remind the other of their love for them! Whether that is with a phone call, text message, email, facebook message, whatever! What if we did this with our Beloved, took time throughout the day to send a message of love to our Beloved with a simple prayer?
What do they try to make time for every day to stay in communion with the one they love? They make sure to spend intentional, intimate, and personal time with the one they love in conversation to further discover the person that they are. What if we did this with our Beloved? What if we made sure to spend intentional, intimate, and personal time with the One we love in conversation to further discover the Person they are? What if we made time for deep, personal, intimate conversation with our God in prayer every day? We should do this to stay in communion with the One we love and who loves us.
Wouldn't that couple want to do all that it can to be before one another in conversation if it were possible? What about us? Do we do all that we can to be before the One we love in conversation if it were possible in Eucharistic Adoration?
And if it were possible and worked for their schedules and rhythm of life, wouldn't this couple want to share the intimacy of love they have for each other with a date every day? What about us? If it is possible and worked for our schedules and rhythm of life, wouldn't we want to be with our Beloved every day in the greatest intimacy of love we can share in with a date with Jesus in daily Mass?
This is the love God has for us.
It is relational.
It is personal.
It is deep.
It is intimate.
It is the love between Lover and beloved.
Between lover and Beloved.
And it is shared most intimately and deeply within the Mass.
So please, as often as possible... Make time for
Date Night with Jesus.