Tag Archives: John 6

Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 4

 Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ''Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass'' 17th century

Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ”Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass” 17th century

“Praying Without Words”

Gospel for the 20th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B
JN 6:51-58

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing what Protestants might call a “sermon series.” The homilies (probably better called “teachings” in that sermon series language) I’ve been giving are reflections on things pertaining to the Eucharist we celebrate, in an effort to help people get more out of the Mass. I’ve chosen to do this because we’re reading from the sixth chapter of John for several weeks during August, that part of John’s gospel where he explains what the Eucharist is about by having Jesus call himself “The Bread of Life.” This Sunday I’d like to focus my reflection on the “praying without words” that takes place during Mass.

There’s a saying “It was a picture worth a thousand words.” We understand what it means to say something is a “picture worth a thousand words.” You’d need hundreds of words to express the message or the experience that is captured in a single picture. Wether it’s a photograph or a painting, there’s more going on in the image than can be expressed even with thousands of words. Or think of a sunset you’ve seen. “A picture that is worth a thousand words.”

The same can be said of some of the ritual actions that are prescribed to take place during the Mass. Not all prayer involves words. Sometimes an action, a gesture is worth a thousand words. A simple gesture can sum up what would take many words to say. We, you and I, need to do these simple gestures to deepen our experience of the love of God that is being revealed in these few moments at each Mass.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t use the gestures prescribed by the instructions for Mass contained in the missal (and your hymnals, by the way) for the congregation to do to express more deeply what could be going on in their praying the Mass.

Let me mention a few…

During the Penitential Act (you know when we say “I confess to almighty God” after the first hymn), the church asks EVERYONE to strike their breast at the words “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Why? Striking the breast (either once or three times, it doesn’t matter) expresses sorrow. Striking the breast is a symbolic penance and disciplining of the body and mind that lead us away from God by our sins. Maybe it could mean my choices have not expressed the love in my heart for Jesus. It could mean we realize we’ve broken Jesus’ heart by our lack of living as he desires. Whatever it may mean to each of us, we’re asked to “strike” the breast to intensify our expression of the words we’re saying, “through my fault.”

Have you noticed in the middle of the Creed we pray after the homily that there’s an instruction to “Bow slightly” at the words “and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary?” Why do we bow then? Hopefully, a simple bow says what’s going on in our heart and mind. I’m in AWE of such a mystery, God becoming like me, a human. Our humanness has been raised up to be like God. WOW! I want to honor the God who “lowers” himself to my state so I can be “raised up” (recalled in coming out of the bow to a standing position) to the nature of God in my resurrection promised because I take into myself the Bread of Life. Then too, what do people do when they want to honor and important person, like a king or superior? We might bow to show respect, our willingness to be of service. We humble ourself before the superior or important figure only to have him ask us to rise as an equal or to accept our honor.

Receiving communion…here’s were our actions speak volumes of words, and it’s not always positive as I observe communicants in many parishes.

The church has asked us to show reverence for what we are receiving, what we are doing in the communion procession. We are taking in our hands and mouths JESUS, the BREAD of LIFE, SAVIOR of our lives from death, GOD in our Midst. That should give us pause and have us mind-fully approaching the heavenly banquet food we are about to receive. Unfortunately, many Catholics by their manner of receiving common seem to be saying, “This is not a big deal!” receiving communion by the casualness of their actions. Sometimes, I compare how many Catholics receive communion to the drive through lane at McDonald’s, “Give me what I’ve been waiting for in line so I can get on with my day.” It’s not a very reflective or reverent type of action going on. The communion procession is not utilitarian like getting a snack, it’s a crossing over to another realm, the banquet hall of heaven and dining with God.

Let’s remember how we are to go to communion.

As the person in front of you moves away from the minister of communion,

a simple bow (even of the head) is to be done, to show respect for the presence of Christ before the communicant in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Approach with palms held one over another, as an early Church father said, as a throne to receive the King of the Universe upon which to recline. We Catholics, by the way, don’t “Take” communion. The Body and Blood of Christ is a gift. We “receive” a gift in our hands or mouth.

We also don’t eat on the run. Ideally, to give us time to reflect on what we have been given, we step to the side, STOP and consume the host while NOT MOVING our feet. Why? To show respect, to ponder what we’re doing, to be stopped in our tracks by the wonder of taking God into our bodies and being united to Christ in love. Don’t most people stand in amazement at a moment of beauty, or a when they see something that moves their heart, their inmost being? Isn’t this what communion is about? People often talk about an experience that made them stop in their tracks.

Only after a brief stop and consuming of the host do we move to the chalice. where a bow is also required. Don’t forget to say Amen! It’s necessary before a minister can give you communion. The minister needs to know you believe what we as church believe so that he or she can give you the host or chalice, an action that expresses our unity not only with Christ but with each other who are members of the Body of Christ.

Children often learn more by the actions of their parents than the lectures and words parents preach. People who visit our church will only know that we believe in some wondrous, mysterious thing happening in our church not only by our words but especially by our actions. Let our actions, not just our words be an authentic expression of our prayer and what we believe!

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Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 3

S._Apollinare_Nuovo_Bread_and_Fish

“S. Apollinare Nuovo Bread and Fish” by anonymous – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Silence, Be Attentive” 

Readings for the 19th Sunday OT Cycle B – 2015

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:41-51

This homily began with at least 30 seconds of silence, with me just standing at the pulpit head down, saying nothing. Quickly, people in the congregation began coughing and shuffling in their seats, clearly uncomfortable with the lack of something being said or some visible action taking place, uncomfortable in the silence.

You were uncomfortable with the silence, weren’t you? It’s normal. Our culture conditions us to be uncomfortable with silence. We’re almost afraid of silence. Our radios are on in the car, the house. Young people walk around with ear buds plugged into our MP3 players listening to music. T.V.’s fill our homes with sound. Silence often means something might be wrong. The power is off, the batteries in our electronic devices are dead. Mom yells at the kids, “It’s too quiet in there. What are you up to?”

As you know, I’m doing something with my homilies during August which in the Protestant Churches would be called a “sermon series.” Since the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus says he is the bread of life multiple times is being read over the course of 5 consecutive Sundays this summer I’m giving a series of “teachings,” so to speak, about the Mass. John 6 is the gospel writer’s explanation of what takes place during the Eucharist. Here at St. Mary we’re making this an opportunity to explain some elements of the Mass so that all of us might appreciate better what is happening at the Eucharist we attend each week.

Silence is an important part of the Mass. I’m aware that sometimes people think a priest like me is just drawing out the Mass, making it longer, by observing moments of silence in the Eucharist. “Father, just get on with it! Mass doesn’t have to take as long as it does with you.” Yes, I do get versions of that comment from time to time.

The instructions for how to celebrate The Mass (they’re in that big red book the server holds for me at certain times during Mass) actually specify that there are to be periods of silence during the celebration, of varying lengths. I’d like to talk about a few of those times silence is mandated during the Mass and hopefully give you some ideas on how to become comfortable with the silence.

1. The Penitential Act

Near the beginning of the Mass, the priest directs the congregation, “Let us be mindful of our sins so that we might worthily celebrate these sacred mysteries.” Before we pray “I confess” or another form of the Penitential Act there is silence. We pause at this moment for a variety of reasons, not just to think of what I did wrong lately. That’s one thing to do. But why? By recalling our humanness, our imperfections, we begin to sense why we even need Jesus, why we need to be at Mass. Jesus alone can set right what we make wrong by our human choices. Jesus alone can “reconcile” humanity and bring the peace we long for. We’re in the situation we’re in, needing someone to give us a way out of death, to give us bread that will keep us alive even when death comes calling. This is the time to realize, I’m not God. I need what God gives in Jesus, the Bread of Life. We humble ourselves before God and get ready to offer heart-felt thanks to Him. Otherwise we might just be going through the motions, but our heart’s not in it. Empty praise, thoughtless ritual. If we just rush into saying “I confess” we may not even be aware of what to confess and why it’s essential as we begin Mass.

2. After “Let us pray”

There’s a mistaken notion that the praying the priest is speaking about is just the prayer that he’s going to say after he says, “Let us pray” when it’s time for the Opening Prayer of the Mass. It’s really about something else.

“Let us pray” is an invitation to enter into silence, once more. Everyone is invited to think in their own heart and mind “What prayers do I bring to this particular Mass, today? What ‘grace’ or sign of God’s love or result do I want to have happen during This Mass in my encounter with Jesus in our midst, today?” This is a time to reflectively and silently speak to Jesus, this is what I need right now. Grant me (or those I love or this community or the world) this or that so that in union with all these people I’m standing with we can hope to receive signs of your merciful love that we will give you thanks for in a bit.

Only after he’s given the congregation’s members sufficient time to gather their thoughts and pray privately should the priest speak the prayer. It’s called a “Collect,” meaning, the priest collects all the individual prayers being offered in the room and presents them to God, summing them up in words given by the church for that day. There’s nothing to collect together into a summary prayer if the individual prayers haven’t been given time to be silently voiced by those present. It’s all part of the preparation for what is to follow. We are the humans who need God’s presence to grace our lives, which will challenge us in His Word and lead to our prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done.

3. After each reading & Homily

Ever need a moment to ponder what someone has said before reacting or before replying? That momentary pause can make a difference in the relationship. We do not rush through the conversation of the readings at Mass. Like any good communication between people, it’s not just listening to words, but hearing the meaning of the words that is important. During the readings we’re having a conversation with God who speaks in his Word.

The time of silence after a reading is a time to ponder what has been heard, to get to the heart of what God’s saying to me. Here’s a suggestion how to get more out of the silence. Listen for a word or phrase that you hear in the reading that grabs your attention. Hang onto the word or phrase. During the silence, repeat it over and over in your mind, a kind of rumination. See where your thoughts take you. Like in the first reading “Get up and eat or the journey will be too long for you!” What journey? The journey of life? What do I need to not let life wear me down? Do I need to pray more? Attend Mass more often? What is God telling me, because I’ve been kind of tired of life lately? (By the way, this is called Lectio Divina) Or maybe you can imagine yourself in the story being told. Who would I be? What does Bread of Life mean to me?

After the homily and before we stand to profess The Creed, we have silence, too. This is a time to ask yourself, “What challenge did I hear in Father’s word? Is there something I need to do differently in my life from this point on? I like to call this the “So what?” moment. I’ve heard Jesus speak, not what difference does it make in my life? Think of a concrete way you will live more deeply as a disciple of Jesus during that time of silence.

4. After the distribution of communion.

Perhaps some will think this too graphic an example or too profane. But, don’t husbands and wives, after the most intimate of acts softly talk to each other or even just remain silent in each other’s presence, basking in the intimacy and relishing the love they have encountered in their unique sort of communion? The reception of the body and blood of Christ is a kind of similar moment. Christ intimately enters our bodies and souls, we are joined with our Savior in a unique, intimate way. We, the church, are the spouse of Christ, the bridegroom. In the act of receiving communion we are united to our “lover.” We need to spend time reflecting on what has just taken place. We need a moment of silence to relish and savor the special union we’ve experienced and to give thanks. To rush on with Mass, or even out of the room where the sacrament of union has been experienced is to take for granted what has been given by Christ and we have received, the sharing in divinity (The Bread of Life) that will one day enable us to live like God, eternal where death has no hold on us. Our silent prayers of thanksgiving are an act of love returned to the spouse of the Church. We need to ponder the mystery we’re in the middle of!

“It is written in the prophets:‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him
comes to me.”
Jn 6:45

If we’re talking all the time, were not listening. We need some silence during the Mass to hear what The Holy Spirit is saying so that we all shall be taught by God through The Bread of Life, His Son, Jesus. Or as our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Catholic Rites often hear during their Divine Liturgy, “Wisdom! Be attentive!” God help us if we’re so busy talking and waiting for something to happen that we miss the lesson that will give us direction in this life, help us grow as disciples more and more aware of the mercy of Jesus able, in the end, to receive the gift of eternal life. Silence, be attentive!


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