The grace of being a 'Bored Again Catholic'

On bus rides to and from public school in eastern Tennessee, a young Timothy P. O’Malley would scour the Catechism of the Catholic Church to pass the time. Growing up where less than 2 percent of the population was Catholic, O’Malley became interested at a young age in explaining the Church to his peers.

“People began to ask me, ‘What do you believe?’ and ‘What’s your faith?’” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “All my friends were Protestant, asking me questions, and I didn’t know any of the answers.”

His reading inspired a lifelong thirst for theological study, which led to degrees from the University of Notre Dame. Now the author of the newly published book from OSV, “Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life,” O’Malley wants to reignite an appreciation in Catholics who may have short attention spans at Mass or find the rituals repetitive and dull.

Outgrowing a kid’s faith

Hired in 2010 to direct Notre Dame’s Center for Liturgy, O’Malley said the book emerged from day-to-day interactions as a theology instructor.

“For years, my students have told me that they’re bored at Mass,” he said. Many of them come from parishes with active youth ministry programs, where the kids felt fed and uplifted. But in college, they feel less enthusiastic and worry their faith lives are receding.

“What people understood by ‘active practice of Faith,’ especially young adults,” he said, “was that faith was supposed to be exciting all the time; you were supposed to be perpetually entertained.” His book evolved via courses he’s taught and lectures he’s given. It unfolds the mystery of the Mass. He breaks it down chronologically and digs into Tradition, Scripture and the Doctors of the Church. He reveals the poignancy behind the words and actions of the Mass. Questions and prayers at the end of each chapter make the book easily accessible to study groups, book clubs and personal use.

Enter a mystery of love

O’Malley wants people to study the Mass the way that they’d study the Bible. “I wanted a slow meditation upon every dimension of it. I could see someone using the book and doing a chapter every Sunday before Mass.”

He’s a father of two, and he uses gentle humor and pulls from parenting experiences for illustration. Similar to family life, he says, the day-to-day of Catholicism isn’t glamorous; it can be a rather mundane business that, nevertheless, leads to a life in Christ.

“The act of sacrifice is actually when you don’t feel something but you do it out of love instead,” he said, using the example of his son’s stomach issues in the middle of the night.

Timothy O'Malley on the importance of boredom during the celebration of the Mass
(Taken from Page 9)
Boredom at Mass is not something that should be eliminated. The moment in which we find ourselves bored while listening to the readings and the homily, bored while hearing the same Eucharistic Prayer offered once again, and bored while singing this same hymn we chant every Advent, is also the moment in which we are invited to participate more fully in the love of God poured out in Christ.

To let our minds be distracted by the way that incense fractures the colored light, revealing the beauty of a beautiful God, or to let our imaginations wander during the homily, may be less a matter of frittering away the time and more a moment in which God’s voice speaks in the stillness of our hearts. To lose our attention during the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer and find ourselves fascinated by the crucifix is not something that should be stopped but is instead our own particular way of participating in the mass this day. For Catholics, fruitful participation in the Mass requires this ability to let the mind wander and wonder alike.

Our rejection of the state of boredom, therefore, makes it quite possible that full, conscious, and active participation in the Mass is actually made more difficult; for it is saving boredom that gives rise to wondrous contemplation of the Eucharistic love of Christ.

“The real act of love in parenting is not saying to yourself, ‘I am delighting in and super entertained by this vomit cleanup,’” he said with a laugh. “You’re giving yourself over to this act of love, and you do so in such a way that’s really committed to the love itself. And so when we go to Mass when we don’t want to, or when we’re not really feeling anything, or maybe we’re distracted, that itself is an act of love.“

He challenges his readers to pray the Mass when it’s no longer about feeling total delight in God. Boredom, he said, “isn’t evidence, most of the time, that Mass is actually boring, but it’s evidence that God is actually inviting them through their boredom to a deeper relationship.”

O’Malley hopes his readers see that active faith isn’t private. “Being present in the Church with the community, and the concrete Body of Christ that exists in the world — that’s actually part of our active worship,” he said. “It’s actually the act of love of being together as part of the Body of Christ.”

Mariann Hughes writes from Florida.