Why we go back to church

This Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the foundational moment of the Christian faith.

It is the culmination of Holy Week, the final leg of the 40-day Lenten road. During the six weeks of Lent, Christians seek to draw closer to Christ through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Ironically, this time of sacrifice is one in which Church attendance swells significantly.

Rob Clements, Director of the All Saints Catholic Newman Center at ASU, said that attendance at Mass during Lent is greater than “any other time in the year.”

Because church attendance increases during certain seasons in the liturgical calendar, some churchgoers who only attend on Christmas and Easter are labeled "CEO," or “Christmas and Easter Only.”

This reveals a deeper truth about human nature, beyond the humor in the phrase itself.

One may attribute the phenomenon to a variety of things, such as cultural tradition, peer pressure or sentimentality.

The root of the answer lies in the fact that individuals recognize the presence of something greater than themselves — that God is real.

While the aforementioned potential factors may play some part in the church-going surge at Lent, can it really be the case that those factors are ends in themselves?

Isn’t it true that all those things — culture, pressure and sentimentality, among others — ultimately are only a fragment of a larger reality? These things point to something greater, but they can never act as the ultimate end, because they are fleeting.

Civilizations die out, friends move on, feelings come and go. Things of this world inevitably cease to be.

Churchgoers are made aware of this every Ash Wednesday as, when marked with the ashes, they are reminded that, “from dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”

These forceful words are to remind us that we are limited in our humanity and to encourage us to invest more deeply in faith by turning back to God.

What they also remind us is that not only our physical bodies pass away, but so do all material things in which we place our hope.

Why do we go back to Church?

St. Augustine summed it up best in Book 1 of his "Confessions" when he wrote, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We go back, because we are restless. We go back because we acknowledge that there is something real for which we were made, something that no earthly accomplishment will fully satisfy. Lent offers a tremendous opportunity to identify more deeply with that longing which we all inevitably experience to realize that, despite our mortality, we desire something eternal.

Hope in this eternal promise is what brings us back to worship, no matter how resistant we may be to admit it.

Reach the columnist at mrrich2@asu.edu or follow him at @cshmneyrichard

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