THE STORY BEHIND THE PAMPHLET

I grew up in a quiet, typical, single-family home in a suburb with what seemed to be everything a kid could want to surround him, family, friends and beautiful parks with grassy fields and ornamental trees.  This, the Church and the parish school I attended were all within walking distance of a home, which in my eyes, made my childhood seem as good as it could be.  It never occurred to me at the time that I was missing something.  Our family attended Mass every Sunday morning, and for my siblings and me, Catholic grammar school every weekday was often followed by afternoons that were littered with every sport imaginable.  When Catholic high school came along, the only thing that changed was the car or bus ride that was required to reach our high school campus.  Graduating high school with a B+ average, I felt as though I was living a full life.  I was confident that I understood all that was necessary to continue living my life just as it was.  Little did I know then that just around the corner would come the day that would change my life forever.

 

At the age of 19, I was sitting at the dining room table of our family’s home in one of the many vibrant beach towns of New Jersey.  In fact, the home was just a few blocks from E Street, the place where the singer songwriter, Bruce Springsteen, would famously find the inspiration for his band’s name and helped to popularize the name “Jersey Shore”.  A Priest friend of the family, who was often invited over for a visit or a special occasion, was visiting with our family.  Father John was a good Priest, with an intimidating presence, very logical, yet gentle and caring with his teaching.  He had baptized all seven of us children and would often offer his wisdom on all matter’s moral.  Most times when he would visit, we would have the usual small talk about how I was doing in school or my plans for the future.  

 

It was on this particular day, however, that he would ask me a question that would forever rock my world.  During our typical conversation, he referred to my 12 years of Catholic education and that given this schooling; I should know something about the Catholic faith.  As with most adolescents who have attended parochial schools from first through twelfth grade, I was confident in my understanding of the faith.  So, I agreed to have him ask a series of questions that would test that understanding.  The very first question sent that confidence reeling.

 

“Can you explain to me what benefit there is for you when you attend Sunday Mass?”

 

“What?” I asked myself.  Why would he ask such a basic question?  I felt as though it was a trick.  Like a deadpan joke where you’re set up to look like a fool.  Losing some of my original confidence, I answered the question as quickly as I could to avoid being made that fool.  I nervously fumbled the response that most Catholics would use by pointing to the third commandment to “Keep Holy the Lord’s Day” and that it was my obligation as defined by the Church to attend Mass on Sundays.  “No!” was his immediate answer with a stern voice. His response was based more on disappointment than anger.  He then reworded the question as if to give me a clue to the answer. “Explain to me the logic of the Mass and the specific benefit that it has for you as an individual?”  Wait, what?  My mind was now starting to spin.  I was completely stumped, and I could not find the courage to respond.  12 years of Catholic education and I could not find the words to answer the most basic question about the Catholic faith.  I felt demoralized.  He must have seen the look on my face.  Perhaps realizing that much like a drowning man, I was in desperate need of assistance.  He then proceeded to impart an answer that I had never heard before.  An answer that I found out later had to do with the Doctrine of Expiation.  His explanation was so clear, that it was as if a veil had been lifted and for the first time in my life, I understood not just the true meaning of the Mass but what was at the very heart of the entire Christian message.

 

The more he explained to me the logic and the benefits, the more I realized that this was something that was missing not only from my life, but from the lives of an entire generation of Catholics.  I thought to myself, “It’s no wonder why so many Catholics have abandoned the Catholic faith.  They have not been given the truth about what the Catholic Mass actually is and have completely missed the entire understanding of the true Christian message.  Consequently, most have not grasped the great benefit it has for them.”

 

This enlightened clarification ignited my mission, to disseminate this commentary to all those struggling to understand the Catholic Christian message.

 

The very next year Father John passed away, my wife and I were married, and children came soon after.  But since that day in the late 1970’s at the dining room table, whenever the opportunity arose, I would carefully explain to those that were put in my path, exactly what I had learned about the Mass and the true Christian message.  As our children grew and began to attend religious education classes, I saw my opportunity to bring this understanding not only to my own children, but to students preparing for confirmation.  I knew that once confirmed, most students would not return to the Church, so I felt that it was my obligation to tell them the truth before they were gone for good.

 

For years I taught it verbally to each confirmation class and to anyone else that was looking for help with understanding their faith.  Occasionally the lectures I gave on this topic were offered to an entire parish, recorded and then subsequently populated to YouTube.  Those that heard the message often responded with, “Why hasn’t anyone explained this to me before?”

 

At this point in time, I was confident that with regard to what I was teaching about the Mass, I was accomplishing exactly what God wanted me to do.  Little did I know then that Our Lord had bigger plans.

 

In the late 1990s and for several consecutive weeks while praying after receiving communion, I discerned a clear prompting from within, “Write down what you were taught.”  I knew it was coming from Our Lord, and I knew he was referring to this explanation about the Mass.  And yet, I procrastinated for several months.  I thought, “I’ll get around to it as soon as I get some free time, maybe tomorrow or maybe next week,” when I wasn’t busy with work, our children, or their school activities.  But as my procrastination continued, so too did the prompting. It was sometimes gentle, sometimes more forceful.  I later learned that God is patient, but only to a certain point.  And when he chooses to, he will make his voice heard.

 

Almost a year had gone by since that first prompting and while attending a lecture at a neighboring parish, the visiting Priest, whom I had never met, was hearing confessions. It was then that God’s voice came through loud and clear.  After hearing my confession, I was about to leave, when the Priest stopped me dead in my tracks.  He said, “Before you leave, I have something to ask you.  Are you aware that God is waiting on you for something?”  I almost fell off the kneeler.  I said, “Excuse me, what was that Father?”  He reiterated, “God is pointing at you for something.  Are you aware of this?”  I sheepishly responded, “Yes Father, I am.  He wants me to write something down.”  He then advised me that I needed to take care of this without delay and that I should never put off anything that God is directing me to do.

 

My contentment with putting off what I had been asked to do had finally reached its end.  The next day was Sunday and I immediately got to work.  Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to put down in words exactly what had been taught to me.  And by the end of that day most of the explanation about the Mass was in place.  The following day I completed my review of the details and printed the presentation on 8 ½ x 11 paper to hand to my religious education director.  She loved it!  She made copies and had them distributed to all the teachers.  Soon after, it became part of the confirmation curriculum.  Over the years I would refine it with a few additional words here and there that better fit the narrative, but for the most part it remained much as it was when initially put to paper.  This was the genesis of the pamphlet, “Perfect Sense.”

 

The children were finally being taught the truth.  I thought to myself, “This must be what God wanted me to accomplish.”  Or so it seemed.  But apparently, once again, God’s plans were much bigger.

 

Throughout the 1990s and then well into the 2000s, I would often listen to lectures given by Doctor Scott Hahn, professor of Theology at Franciscan University.  I marveled at how he would perfectly dovetail the events of the Old Testament into exactly what Jesus said and did in the New Testament.  In particular, I was awestruck by the extreme deep connection between the Mass and the Old Testament Passover.  The parallels were striking.

 

Then, in the early morning hours of a Friday in January of 2014, I was awakened at about 5AM by another prompting, once again clear as day coming from within.  “Go downstairs and add what you have learned about the Passover to what you have written on the Mass.  Then give it to your pastor.”  Learning from my mistakes of the past, I immediately dressed and went downstairs.  My wife, puzzled why her husband, who normally doesn’t wake before 8AM, would be up so early, asked, “Where are you going?”  I responded comically as anyone would when faced with a directive given from above, “I can’t explain it right now, honey, I’ll tell you later.”

 

I got right to work and to my amazement, I was able to insert these new details with very few corrections.  I printed the document with the updated information, stapled the 8 ½ x 11 pages together with just enough time to get ready for the morning Mass.  It was never a given that my pastor would be saying the morning Mass, but on this day, sure enough he was.  After Mass, I went and handed the updated version to him to see if he might critique it for me.  He agreed and the very next day, as I was leaving after the morning Mass, he called out to me as I was about to walk out of the Church and said, “Hey Mike!  That thing you wrote is really good.  You should do something with that.”  Walking back to him with two daily Mass companions in tow, I explained that I would have no idea how to deal with the formatting and printing necessary to make this into something that could be easily distributed.  It was then that the friend to my right asked what Father was referring to.   I explained to him that I had given Father a document I had written on the Mass.  His response floored me.  He said, “A close associate of mine does formatting and printing.”  Twenty minutes later I was being advised how the document could be presented in pamphlet form. 

 

Within two weeks we had the very first version of the pamphlet.  My friend’s associate recommended the use of powerful images to be included in the pamphlet to enhance the impact of the message.  Together we found two striking photographs, one of a Priest’s hands elevating the host, as is performed in the Mass at the consecration during Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the other a beautiful depiction of the Benedictine Cross.  The former was placed on the front cover and the latter was placed on the back page.  Both of these pictures still grace the boundaries of the pamphlet today.  All of this confirmed for me once again how amazing the Mass is and how God can work through each of us to create something beautiful.

 

The pamphlet spread like wildfire.  Everyone that I told about the pamphlet liked the idea and wanted a copy, not only for themselves but asked for additional copies to give to family and friends that they were trying to bring back to the faith.  I will never forget one conversation that I had with a young woman married about 7 years.  She approached me before I was about to give a talk at a local church.  The talked was titled, “The Catholic Faith, Why We Believe What We Believe.”  She said to me, “That’s so funny that you would be giving a talk on that topic because, have you seen that pamphlet?”  I began to smile and when I told her that I wrote that pamphlet, her response amazed me.  She said, “For our entire married life, I have been trying to get my husband to attend Sunday Mass with me and nothing I could say would get him to attend.  I picked up your pamphlet after Mass one day from the back of the Church.  I handed it to him saying nothing.  He hasn’t missed since!”  I am still astounded to this day when I think of her story.

 

In May of 2014, our local diocesan EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) Catholic radio affiliate heard about the pamphlet and did a one-hour interview with me for one of their weekly radio shows.  Subsequently, the explanation of the Mass was published as an article on the Catholic365.com website and was the number one read article for the entire week.  As a result of the article, requests for the pamphlet began to come in from locations all over the United States and even from parts of South Africa and Australia.  Later in August of 2018, I was asked to do a second radio interview by the local EWTN Catholic radio affiliate in Chicago.  This generated even more demand for the pamphlet.  

 

Then in December of 2018, at the urging of multiple Catholic school administrators, both a “Nihil obstat” and “Imprimatur” were granted by the local Bishop.  The “Nihil obstat” and “Imprimatur” are official declarations from the Catholic Church that a publication is free of doctrinal error and is true to the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.  This was a significant step because it enabled the pamphlet to be utilized in an official capacity within the Church’s education, committees and functions.

Learning of the success that the pamphlet had achieved, a correspondent for The National Catholic Register, the official newspaper of EWTN, reached out in February of 2019 and conducted a 45-minute interview with me.  The pamphlet will soon be featured in an upcoming article about the decline in Mass attendance across the United States. 

 

As a result of word-of-mouth testimonies, video recorded lectures, the Catholic365.com website article, radio interviews, and the continued sharing of the pamphlet with others, in particular by benefactors purchasing pamphlets to increase Mass attendance in their churches, to date over 10,000 copies of the pamphlet have been distributed throughout the world, mostly by benefactors.  I have had several stories and emails come back to me from people that have picked up the pamphlet in the back of a church from various U.S. states and from other places in the world, to include Australia and Africa.  As a result, our website designer has suggested that we add a page to the website to start tracking the different states and countries that the pamphlet has traveled reached.  Perhaps we will give the travel gnome a run for his money! 

 

It’s been an incredible journey thus far, but one that I suspect has not ended.  I believe that I have not yet fully realized the ultimate objective for the pamphlet and may never know the impact it will have on others.  Therefore, I must leave everything in God’s hands and surrender to him, asking him to take care of everything according to his Most Holy Will.

 

I hope that you enjoy the pamphlet and the explanation of the Mass that it presents, as much as I have enjoyed making it available to you.  Its popularity has now inspired the creation of a Perfect Sense Study Guide, as well as translations of the pamphlet into several different languages.  My current plan is to work on simplifying other parts of the Catholic faith through the CatholicMadeSimple.com website Blog, along with both past and future Catholic365.com articles that will be posted to this same website.  In addition, we will be sure to post any exciting breaking news about the pamphlet.

 

Thank you for your interest and May God continue to bless your lives today and every day!

Michael J. McCormick

July 4, 2019

 

 

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