In my family’s house, the days or mornings before company arrived were always the most stressful. My mother would assign me and my siblings a room to make “spotless” while she prepared the food in the kitchen. When the company arrived, we sat in the immaculate dining room and ate food cooked to perfection. Half the time, the guests wouldn’t even enter the rooms we spent hours preparing. Often, the dirt we swept up from under the couch or toothbrushes we stashed in the cabinet would not have been noticed or judged otherwise. And so the biggest question of my childhood persisted every Thanksgiving, birthday and casual get-together: Why do we spend so much time preparing for company?
A similar question appeared in my mind years ago when I sat down in a pew the few minutes before Mass began. When I saw my mom kneeling, I asked her why, and she explained: “We have to prepare our hearts for Mass.” So I knelt down, too. When I imagined “preparing my heart,” however, I thought of cleaning up our home and making the meals before company arrived. And with that came the same feeling of futility. Why do we spend the time to get ourselves ready for Mass when God already knows everything inside our hearts? We can’t stash anything under the sofa or in the closet that he will not see. So, what’s the point?
I’ve recently come to accept that, often with our faith, we shouldn’t focus on the outcome. When we pray, we should concentrate on experiencing his presence in that moment, not on our specific needs and wants for the future. Although this is hard to put into practice, the process is similar when we are told to prepare our hearts before receiving him. Arriving at Mass with a clean soul fresh out of confession is an excellent way to show God your devotion to him, but the process of confession itself was likely more fruitful than the product. Kneeling down to declare your sins requires humility, honesty and courage, three virtues that are essential in growing closer to God. The action and effort of saying a prayer of invitation before Mass shows him we are prepared to receive him more than our words could ever express. Just as taking the time and effort to prepare our homes for guests makes us ready to be hospitable to them and make them feel comfortable, so, too, should it be with Christ. Through our works and sacrifices we show our devotion.
A lesson on how to ready our hearts for God’s entrance can be found in the first chapter of Mark. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Lord, and he preached to the crowds saying, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Mk 1:7). This is how we must approach our God in holy Communion and prayer. John the Baptist’s great humility provides us with an example of how we should treat every interaction with our Lord. Receiving the Eucharsist every Sunday (or even daily) is a profound and undeserved privilege. God always gives us more than we deserve, and if our demeanor reflects gratitude for his gifts and understanding of our weaknesses, only then can he truly enter our world and transform our lives.
God is very good at healing places, events and people. Later in Mark’s account, Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (2:17). His ultimate goal is to come into our sinful hearts and soften them, transforming them into loving hearts that imitate his profound mercy and affection. Our ultimate goal should be to desire this conversion. So when we kneel down before Mass or in front of the Blessed Sacrament during adoration, let us remember how to welcome Jesus into our hearts and how to show him we desire his presence.