Tag Archives: spirituality

Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 3rd Sunday Easter

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

If your around my age, maybe you remember an advertising campaign for Wonder brand bread from the 1960’s. The commercials would claim that “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” The ads implied a good mom would feed her children Wonder Bread so her children would have the benefit of enriched bread that would make her children strong in bone and muscle helping the grow with a strong, healthy body.

Mother Church has a wonder bread, too, necessary for the strength of her children. Christ gave us this miraculous body strengthening bread at the last supper, the Eucharist. The bread and wine that is His Body and Blood helps the Church, the Body of Christ grow into a strong, vibrant witness of the risen Jesus. This Sunday, Mother Church invites her children born from the baptismal font womb of rebirth to reflect upon the need of every Catholic to eat the wonder bread of the Eucharist, on a regular basis, to sustain and strengthen their life of faith.

The sacraments that initiated us into the spiritual life, one of sharing the life of God that overcomes death, are similar to the events that humans experience at the beginning of natural life. Babies are born when they come out of a womb filled with a kind of watery fluid. Then the child must breathe air. Only if the child is feed, and feed regularly does the human person continue to live and thrive.

So it is with the spiritual life, the life of faith. Only once are we baptized in the water of the womb of mother church. There is only one taking of the life-giving first breath of God, given by the Holy Spirit that we are given in Confirmation. But to continue to live the life of the divine, Catholics must eat regularly the food of the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens the identity of the Body of Christ. WE CANNOT TRUELY SUSTAIN OUR SHARING OF THE DIVINE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN IN BAPTISM WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Recalling the theme of our Easter season message series, The Eucharist is the “Now What?” that comes after we encounter the risen Christ. The Eucharist is where we continue to encounter the risen Jesus, taking as our cue the story of two disciples disappointed by the seeming futility of hoping life can be different for those who encounter Jesus on the journey of life. The story of the two disciples (who are depicted on our sanctuary wall) and their encounter with the risen Jesus is the template of what we do here each Sunday. Listen to the voice of God strengthening hope for a new life then encounter the risen Christ in sharing bread and wine. Because Christ is alive, now what? Read Scripture for insight, eat to strengthen the experience of Him who lives, go tell others what you’ve encountered.

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The Icon of the Supper at Emmaus in the sanctuary of St. Mary, Trenton by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B. monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana

Do you ever spend time remembering your deceased parents? Do you, on a wedding anniversary, remember how you fell in love? Remembering someone, remembering an event can powerfully make the person present, again. Recalling an event brings the what you felt then into the present. Pope Francis has said (I’m loosely quoting something the Pope wrote in his Encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” here) “the [Christian] is essentially one who remembers. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s…remembrance of and deeper sharing in, the event of his [defeat of death by his death and resurrection].” This remembering brings grateful joy that leads to sharing the presence of Christ, sharing the Good News of Christ with others.

In my own words, I am convinced our celebration of Sunday Eucharist is absolutely essential to our lives as Catholics so that we are renewed in our encounter with risen Christ. Catholics need to live our life as disciples who invite others to encounter Christ. Receiving the Body of Christ strengthens our identity as the Body of Christ risen in the present time so that we will carry on His mission. Eucharist strengthens us to witness. Communion with Him enable us to feed those not in the pews each week with life-giving hope, good news, with the grace to walk through the life in this world that ends in physical death without fear.

Now what? The story of the Emmaus encounter that is always before us on the sanctuary wall is model of the mission of our parish, to be disciples who evangelize. Don’t let that word scare you. Evangelize means to share the story of Jesus with others. Just as Jesus accompanied those two seekers with questions about the “meaning” of their life’s events, we are called, in the words of Pope Francis, to accompany those who seek to understand how to make sense of life; to walk with those who need to see how encountering Jesus can make life joy-filled instead of full of anxiety or fear. We gather to strengthen our memory, our experience of Jesus alive so that we can witness. That in turn will build up the Body of Christ with new and returning members.

Remember, last week I said something had to change in our parish. That something is each one of us. Fr. Michael White, a priest who’s parish has experienced phenomenal growth in numbers, has written, “The church is not a clubhouse for the convinced, but a place that is relevant and welcoming to the unchurched.” The parish needs to be a community that is excited to share the Gospel and make it relevant to people by it’s members sharing how Jesus makes a difference in their life. Reading what Fr. White has written has left me wondering if you and I at St. Mary need to be more like the disciples who risked traveling a road back to Jerusalem in the dark so they might tell how they encountered Jesus. Might we not need to follow their example. They could have said, “Wasn’t that great seeing Jesus, again, at the dining table” and played it safe and gone up to their room in the hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.” We’ve got to stop playing it safe. We encounter Jesus at this dining table and go back to the comfort of our homes all the while waiting for those who are not here to miraculously show up without us bringing them an encounter with the Good News.

Today, we’ve been exploring Step one of “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection. Build a stronger body of Christ. Renew our experience of the resurrected Jesus in Eucharist. Then we’ll be ready to share what we encounter with others who walk the journey of life with their questions about what difference Jesus makes to their life situation.

In the next two parts of this “What now?” series I will try to suggest a couple of practical ways our parish and each of us might get up from this table that strengthens our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus walking with us in this world and bring good news to those in need of sustaining their life with the Eucharist who may be starving themselves to spiritual death. We’re all familiar with the commercials on T.V. showing starving African children begging us to help them with our contribution. A worthy cause. The situation is somewhat similar in Trenton. We have people in our parish, in our town who are in danger of spiritual starvation. Don’t let that happen. I can’t talk to all of them, but together we can reach out to many of them, offering them the chance to encounter Jesus walking with them, feeding them the bread of salvation.

Don’t forget the words proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised this Jesus;of this we are all witnesses.” Let our hearts burn within us as we hear the scriptures and break the bread of the Eucharist so that we will be strengthened to grow into the Body of Christ we encounter in this Emmaus experience.

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Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 2nd Sunday Easter

This is the introductory message for my Message Series for the 2017 Easter Season. I’ll be focusing on the reason the church and parish exists, to make Disciples. In the message for this Sunday I set up the premise. And, I issue a challenge to my parishioners to get out of their “safe” mode of operating.

Poster what now

“Call to Action: Time to Get Busy”

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter

The honeymoon is over and the newlyweds come back home to begin their everyday life. They may be saying to themselves, “The wedding and honeymoon were so romantic! But, what now?” The Chicago Cubs won the world series last fall, and long deprived Cub fans are probably wondering, “What now? Can the team do it again or do we wait another 108 years?” After any big event, there’s usually a period of let down. Or there is a period of wondering what the future holds for those who were so high in the clouds with emotion.

It was the same for the apostles after the resurrection, an event even more emotional than a wedding or the Cubs World Series championship. Imagine the apostles after the resurrection. Their friend, their teacher they saw die on the cross is alive, again! The sheer joy and excitement they must have experienced seeing Jesus in the flesh after they thought he was gone forever has them bursting with joy. They must have been wondering “What now? If it’s true death can be defeated, how do we live? This is new territory.”

But it’s scary territory. The authorities might come after us. The religious leaders may try to shut down the news. The Romans might think we are trying to pull a fast one and put us on a cross, too, for sedition. So, according to the Gospel the first inclination of  the disciples of Jesus is to hole up in a safe house! The disciples seem to want to play it safe. Keep the Good News to ourselves. Don’t make any waves. Don’t draw attention to ourselves.

Jesus will have nothing to do with such a reaction to his defeat of death. He didn’t go through the crucifixion to have a handful of people benefit and the rest of the world not even hear about the event of Resurrection. Jesus shows up in the safe house. He essentially says, “You want to know ‘What now?’ Get busy!” He tells the disciples He didn’t die to form a secret club, with rituals and secret handshakes. The world needs salvation! The way the world will be saved is if others hear that God loves them, God desires that the divisions of humanity and it’s separation from the life of God be ended.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Notice the verb…Send! In other words, Tell Good News! Evangelize!

Over the past six years as your pastor I’ve begun to realize that our parish, it seems to me, is very much like the disciples in the safe room. We spend a lot of time fretting about the fewer numbers of people in our pews. We are anxious about the future of our parish and if partnering with St. George means the Bishop has closing us down on his mind (HE DOESN”T). But the response to our questions about “What does the future hold for this parish? What now?” is not to go into safe mode, worrying about self preservation. The message given to the disciples huddled together worried about their future on that Easter evening is the message given to us at St. Mary, Trenton. GO! I’m sending you! Tell other people about the Jesus we believe is alive.

Something has got to change in our parish. I am convinced there needs to be some sort of change. The change that needs to happen is in our attitude. We need to stop worrying so much about finances. While roofs and ceilings that need repair are important, there’s a bigger fix needed, our outlook, our attitude about what is important. We can have a full church every Sunday like we did last week on Easter if we begin to see our primary reason for existing is to invite people to encounter Jesus and follow him like we attempt to. Then other things will fall into place.

We live in a world that finds it difficult to believe in the truth of Jesus. Many people like his ideas or his teaching. But believing in Jesus, experiencing him is not a matter of doctrines. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, It’s a business of encounter. If the people of Trenton, much less the world, are going to be saved, then people in our area are going to have to encounter Jesus. Like Thomas who wanted to have proof by touching the wounds of Jesus, they’ll touch him, they’ll hear him in the witness we give to Trenton. We are the Body of Christ by baptism. Yes, we the people of St. Mary are imperfect witnesses. We’ve got our imperfections like a body with wounds. But Jesus didn’t get rid of his wounds to remind disciples of the necessity of embracing the cross to get to a new way of living.  In our wounded-ness, we who are convinced Jesus lives and loves us will be more effective witnesses of the power of God at work saving people from death.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I propose to explore with you in our message series “What now?” how to invite people to encounter Jesus. I’m going to attempt to give some practical examples of how we are all called to evangelize, that is, invite others to come to our church and experience the real presence of Jesus alive in our midst. Eventually the disciples got over their fear of talking about Jesus, left the safe house and wouldn’t stop witnessing. Because they decided to not let fear of authorities keep them holed up in their comfort zone we heard in the Acts of the Apostles And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. 

Hopefully, by the end of this Easter season all of us in this building will be a bit more willing to take witnessing to our faith out of this safe room and into the streets. Let’s address our anxiety about what will people think or respond to me with practical plans of action. Then next Easter, we’ll be able to say the Lord has added to our number.

“What now?” The reason for a church that has celebrated Easter to continue to exist is to grow, to make more disciples. Everything else is there to support the mission of making more disciples of Jesus. Everything! Ritual, buildings, catechetical programs should serve the mission of bringing people to an encounter with Jesus Christ so they, too, can become his disciples.  It’s time to get out of this room and get busy.

©2017 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

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Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Holy Thursday

Putting It Together: Know Your Role

Homily for Holy Thursday 2017

Readings for Holy Thursday

Last Sunday I began a message series called “Dress Rehearsal” that will continue through our Triduum liturgies. I’m calling the theme of the message series “Dress Rehearsal” to help us explore how the liturgies are a kind of symbolic “rehearsal” of the Christian’s life of Discipleship. What we do in this room is learn, through ritual, what the death of Jesus means for us and how we bring this truth onto the stage of the world.

Palm Sunday’s liturgy was a kind of initial “table reading” where those who gather for the Dress Rehearsal get familiar with the who, what and meaning of the drama that will unfold during the rest of Holy Week. We learned the drama we enact these days is  a rehearsal of the journey we disciples make following the crucified Jesus through our everyday life sacrifices eventually reaching the banquet of eternal life foreshadowed by the Eucharist. The overall story line played out in each of the liturgies of Holy Week we learned on Palm Sunday was “Paschal Mystery.” That short two word phrase contains the whole meaning of the drama we rehearse these days. The Pascal Mystery is what Jesus was all about, revealing by his life, death and resurrection that those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who die will discover a richer, fuller life. That life even has the potential of being unending because of the Paschal Mystery for those who give themselves over to Jesus. Death leads to life. Any death.

Tonight is the part of rehearsals when we learn what our roles are in the drama of discipleship that brings our life meaning. Who gets to be the lead? Who is a supporting actor? The liturgy of Holy Thursday is about what role the disciples of Jesus to play in the drama of everyday living of the Paschal Mystery.

You would think the Jesus get’s to the be lead actor, his name on the marque. In a way, Jesus is the star of the drama. But, he is a very different kind of star. He shuns the spotlight. Jesus doesn’t expect privilege. This lead actor in the drama of Pascal Mystery says all the characters in the drama will be servants. That’s the role of the disciple enacting the pascal mystery on the stage of everyday life. Disciples are servants. Disciples of Jesus die with the Lord in every act of self-sacrifice to make another person’s life better, more comfortable, more alive. Servant is the role assigned by the director Christ to everyone. No stars, no lead actors. Just a servant’s role for every person baptized into Christ.

To be sure, there are different kinds of servant roles. The Church points out that this is the day Christ gave us the role of priest as a way to manifest the servant Christ. Men are chosen to offer their life as priests, without the companionship of a spouse in imitation of Christ to serve their Christian family in daily offering themselves as a companion on the road to the new day of eternity.

There are other servant roles, too. Deacons to image the Christ who tends to the physical needs of those who need comfort. Bishops to lead like shepherds. There are Moms and Dads who sacrifice their own desires to ensure that their spouse and children have what they need to live life. Changing diapers, cooking, going to work are living the mystery death of self leads to life. There are the young Christians who help out at home cleaning their room or taking care of siblings, then who show compassion to friends. Servant roles come in all sorts of vocations! The oils that we received from the Bishop remind us that we are anointed to share in the mystery of Christ through servant who rejects the evil one’s siren call to think of self first. The Chrism oil made us servants who proclaim Christ, leading other to him. And when the servant suffers illness, Christ strengthens him or her to continue playing the role in union with His cross that served the world redemption.

Bishop Braxton announced this past Tuesday at a Mass in the Cathedral when the holy oils were blessed an opportunity for members of the laity to respond to the call to be servant to their parishes. Beginning this year there will be a training program for some of you to become a lay minister assisting your parish live out it’s mission to be a community that proclaims Christ. Called Into My Vineyard: Formation for Lay Ecclesial Ministry in our Parishes, this training of people from the parishes throughout the Diocese is meant to equip select parishioners to help keep our parishes vital and growing. Perhaps, tonight you might begin to hear Christ the director of our rehearsal saying to you, “You, my friend, would be good for the role of Lay Parish Minister servant.” If you hear that call and want more information ASAP, I’ve got a pamphlet for you with your name on it.

In a few moments I, the representative in your midst of Christ the servant priest will symbolically wash the feet of some of you.  Washing feet may seem very archaic, maybe even strange or too personal in our culture. We do it because Jesus said do this in my memory, like breaking bread and sharing wine. Washing feet is meant to be a rehearsal of my role as your servant caring for your spiritual (and sometimes emotional and physical needs). But the washing of feet for those who come to the sanctuary and those who observe the rite is a reminded  that every one of us has a servant role to play. Everyone of us has to let our pride die. All of us must stop thinking of ourselves as someone who deserves something and figuratively kill off our ego, letting the identity of Jesus take over. Only when we spend a life time rehearsing, practicing our role of servant will we be confidently unafraid to let go of life at our physical death and discover the fullness of life as we are invited to dine at the banquet of eternal life served us by Jesus Christ.

Let us continue our “Dress Rehearsal” in humble gratitude for being called a member of the cast of disciples. We’re putting it all together, glad to have the role of servant sharing in making the Paschal Mystery a reality in this world following the lead of Jesus on the way to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 5

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, 'Eucharist, the Bread of Life' via https://commons.wikimedia.org

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, ‘Eucharist, the Bread of Life’ via https://commons.wikimedia.org

“What’s Really Going On, here!”

Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
JN 6:60-69

People often leave a club they belong to because the direction the organization is taking just doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Or, the leader of the organization will say something that rubs a member the wrong way and the member says, “I’m out of here, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense!” People pull their children out of sports teams because the coach isn’t seeing things my way, that my child is talented and should have more time on the field! People make choices all the time about how committed they are to an organization, a team or even a church. Often, if something challenges the thinking of an individual, he or she says “Forget it! I just can’t accept that way of thinking. I’m out of here!”

That kind of rejection of a leader’s direction for the group is what is going on in the Gospel, today. Some of Jesus’ disciples think he’s gone too far. Did he just say we’ve got to eat his flesh and drink his blood to live in the presence of God? That’s crazy talk! It’s repulsive, even. Who does this Jesus think he is? God?

Some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that they were in the presence of God in the flesh and that Jesus could make bread his body and wine his blood. They chose to leave his company.

Some people today, still can’t accept what we believe as Catholics. We believe that when we eat communion, the bread is not just a symbol of his body, it IS His body. The wine, some will argue is just wine that “represents” his blood, but isn’t really blood. Yet, we Catholics believe the bread stops being bread, the wine stops being wine and they are the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in our hands, mouth and assembly. Many have left the church over the years unable to accept this truth.

Continuing for this last Sunday my “sermon series” on the teaching of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel about the Eucharist, let’s look at how, as one of those  people who did send in questions I asked for about what members of the congregation would like to learn about the Eucharist, how does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. (I need to acknowledge where I’m getting most of my material for this teaching, by the way. There’s an excellent video on the internet by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the real presence. (Click this link to be taken to the video and see if I represent his teaching accurately THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE at the web site Word on Fire.)

Spoken words have tremendous power. When you, I or anyone says something the words we use can change reality. Words have tremendous power to affect reality. A lot of times we use words to describe something. I am wearing a green chasuble, today. The weather is rainy. These are descriptive words. But words can also change reality. An umpire has the authority to say to a player who breaks the rules, “You’re out of here!” and the ball player cannot continue to play the game. He ceases, for a day, to be a ballplayer.  A policeman says “Your under arrest,” and a person’s life is changed, sometimes forever carrying the identity of criminal where that wasn’t reality before. You and I can hurt the feelings of a spouse with harsh verbal criticism or make someone our spouse by saying “I take you to be my wife, to have and hold, forever.” Words have power to change reality. Saying something out loud can make reality change.

In the scriptures we proclaim every Mass, the word of God we claim guides our lives and tells the truth about what’s real, God is the ultimate changer of reality by the words he speaks. “And God said, let their be creation” and everything came into being. Not only did God change or describe reality by speaking a word. He made reality as we know it! That’s power.

We also say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. The beginning of the Gospel of John that we’ve been reading for several weeks states in the first chapter “And the Word of God became flesh, one of us!” (John 1:1-5, 14)Therefore we can believe that when Jesus, THE WORD, says something His words are God speaking. God who made and can change what is real. Think about what words Jesus would say in the Gospels. “Be healed” he’d say to lepers, the blind, the lame and the sick and they would be restored to health. Jesus’ words affect reality, sometimes at the very core of a person’s existence. Things change because Jesus speaks.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the bread and wine he and his friends were sharing, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” He didn’t say “this is a symbol to stand in for my body and blood.” Jesus’ word meant what he said. By his power as the divine in human flesh he could use words to change bread and wine into something else, at the deepest level of their existence.

At Mass, I as the priest, have been given authority by you, the church, the Body of Christ still in our world, to speak His words. I do not speak my own words. I say the words of Jesus Christ. I make audible what Jesus continues to say, as he did at the last supper, his words echoing down through the centuries. “This is my body and blood.” You “order” me, in Holy Orders, so to speak, to speak “in the person of Christ.” And so when I say His words, His words change reality of bread and wine at their deepest existence. Christ effects a change in reality. Bread and wine change at the level of substance.

There is a difference between appearances and what is real often in our lives. Usually, how something appears is what is reality. I appear to be a man. I am a man. But sometimes what something seems isn’t what’s really going on. Someone seems like a jerk, but when you get to know the guy, he’s really a stand up person who has a bad habit or two. You look at stars and it seems like you’re seeing them as they are now, this night, but what you’re really seeing is light that was generated maybe millions of years ago, as the star appeared a long time ago, not as it is now, which may be a dead black hole. The appearance remains, but at another deeper level, the reality has changed.

This is a way that St. Thomas Aquinas taught we can understand the Eucharist. Accidents (a word for appearances) and substance (a word for reality) is still how the church teaches about the real presence of Jesus in our gathering for Mass. The accident of bread-ness remains but the substance of Jesus is really there, his body, his love, his eternal God nature really, truly and substantially. Through the power of the Word of God the deepest reality of bread and wine change. We call this transubstantiation, a word if you break it down that means “trans” (to go from one thing to another, to cross over, to change) in substance, it’s realness.

One more thing, someone once said that you are what you eat. It’s true. The hamburgers and vegetables and fruits we put in our stomachs are changed into the muscle fiber and cells of our body. Because we eat of the real body and blood of Christ, we become what we eat. We become the real presence of Christ in the world, here and now. We are drawn into his person, our words as a church and individual members of the church able to change reality. We can speak words of mercy and love, reconciliation and peace. We have to make a choice. Do we reject the truth Jesus speaks and leave the church where we are assured of His truth? Or do we stay. If we stay we know his body speaking through us can speak a word that will change the world to be closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ came to bring.

Sometimes I complain to friends about one thing or another the church wants us to teach or believe. Friends will say, “Why don’t you just leave and go become a minister in another church, then?” But all I can say in response is that I choose the Catholic Church, where else can I go? I need the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ. I have come to believe I need Christ’s real presence. I may not be worthy to have Jesus come under my roof (to become part of my being) but I choose to believe! AMEN!

 


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!


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!


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 2

737px-Stoneware_Jug,_Wine_Glass,_Herring_and_Bread._Claesz

“It’s boring! Why Ritual?”

Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Exodus 16:2-4
John 6:24-35

Parents who take family car trips on vacation are familiar with the voice of children coming from the back sea,t, repeatedly complaining, “Are we there yet? Are we there, yet!” That’s a bit what Moses must have felt leading the Israelites on their trek through the desert. The folks loved to complain. Today in the first reading it’s “We’re hungry! At least in Egypt we had something to eat while they beat us!”  Then after Moses and God have a conference about the complaint, the solution is “mana” and “quail” everyday. I wonder if after a few weeks if the People of Israel began saying “We’re tired of eating Manna every day! The routine, the ritual of gathering quail and mana is boring!” (Yet this food provided by God, kept them alive!)

I’m giving a “Sermon Series” on getting more out of Mass by understanding better certain aspects of the Mass during August, since the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we’re proclaiming for 5 Sundays may be a bit repetitious. Every Sunday we hear “I am the Bread of Life” and like dealing with the people of Israel and the children in the back seat of the car I am attempting to provide thoughts that are not repetitious each week that will not elicit “we’re bored!” The sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel is his “theology” of the Eucharist.

As I said in my first post in this series, I sought questions I could answer during my sermon series from parishioners through the bulletin but not many folks replied. Yet, the experience of the Israelites leads me to reflect on one of those questions. It’s something I often hear from some of our parents when I ask them to make sure their children get to Mass regularly.

“The Mass is repetitious, it seems like the same prayers are said over and over every week. The ritual get’s boring because it doesn’t change.” To a casual observer the order of the elements are always the same; gather, say I’m sorry of sins, a prayer, three readings, a too long (boring) talk, collection, a long prayer while we kneel, Our Father, shake hands, shuffle up to get communion, blessing and go home. But, why? That’s what I want to look at in my reflection, here.

Human beings need ritual. They always have. Ritual helps people navigate the unpredictability of the world, it gives a sense of predictability about life. In some ways it’s an attempt to order the chaos we experience. Ritual is also a way to get into the realm of deeper meaning, to make contact with that which is beyond the routine-ness of life.

We live in a culture that craves the “new experience.” People, nowadays think we need something new to excite us, stimulate us, to get us to notice something important. People spend hours in front of screens, where the images change every few seconds. Children are getting to a point where they get bored in classrooms or with books because it’s not stimulating enough. Attention spans are shrinking even in adults. So at first glance ritual seems “boring.”

But ritual is so much a part of other events in our life and we don’t object. Every culture has it’s rituals…It’s the way we identify having a connection with others, that we share an interest, we share meaning and purpose. How do most of us celebrate birthdays. It’s almost mandatory that family and friends sing “Happy Birthday.” Some sweet confection with burning candles signifying the number of years of life is presented, candles blown out and food consumed. Presents are given. If this doesn’t take place a person might feel “cheated” or like I didn’t really have a birthday. Maybe even the person might wonder if they were loved!

Or consider the “national pastime” the professional baseball game. It has it’s rubrics (rules) and no one stays away. The game must start with the opening hymn, The National Anthem. The 7th inning stretch is always observed and there’s the singing of another traditional hymn, almost always the same, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There are “rules” (In church language rubrics) and a prescribed ritual form of 9 innings, 3 outs per half inning on a field that has proscribed dimensions. All this “ritual” enables teams to play together.

Family Christmas traditions are rituals, unique to family, and one invites criticism if the rituals are changed. How often do people feel like it wasn’t really Christmas if the family doesn’t gather, doing things “like we always” do. There’s a disorientation, a sense of loosing our connection with past family members and present relations.

Our secular rituals help human beings to “play together” and sense their commonality in a common purpose. So too, our sacred Catholic rituals actually help us experience our communion with one another as the Body of Christ. Ritual makes it possible for people to get below the surface and not have to worry about what’s going to happen next. It opens up a space, so to speak, where we can contemplate and encounter the mystery of God in our midst and what God does in our lives. It enables us to experience God’s love.

I am glad that I am a Catholic with a predictable liturgy! Please, understand I am not “putting down” or being critical about our brother and sister Christians of other denominations. But, to be honest, I always feel disoriented, almost on edge, at Protestant services…what’s going to take place next? Yet, when you go to enough non-Catholic liturgies I’ve learned even protestant services follow a ritual pattern most of the time. I just don’t know what the pattern is going to be, because it is somewhat flexible from denomination to denomination. The other thing that’s happening in many protestant churches is the appeal to the “surface need” (as opposed to a basic need, essential need) for stimulation and entertainment with the big screens flashing images during worship and music leaders “performing.” This isn’t a comfortable fit with the Catholic liturgy, by the way.

The beauty of Catholic ritual (or any ritual for that matter) is that a group or pastor doesn’t have to recreate the wheel each week. Ritual helps us experience being part of a long tradition, connected with our ancestors and our descendants. We’re family across the ages, brothers and sisters in Christ! (Sort of like that Christmas, Birthday experience I mentioned, earlier.)

And Mass isn’t always “the same” In each celebration: the words change, various options for certain prayers can be used. The music selections change (but a common set of familiar music is needed so the congregation is comfortable singing together, not feeling like they don’t know the songs). Yes, the “pattern” is the same, the music is familiar, but there are differences from Mass to Mass.

Even there, though, the words used are prescribed by the whole church, not the individual pastor. A ritual book approved by “the Church” (The Roman Missal) is used to pray from. That is so the congregation is assured that they are being asked to pray in an orthodox way, expressing the one truth the church holds to and not the opinion of an individual pastor. The ritual is your and my assurance we are not veering into heresy or something we don’t believe in common. The books the priest prays from, the scriptures we read are agreed upon by the whole church and therefore a sign of our unity now and across the ages in our belief.

The ritual pattern, since we’re not worrying about what’s going to happen next or what to say or do, this gift of ritual, enables us to listen more deeply to the words, to listen to what God is saying through the familiar actions, to speak to him in the silence and hear God’s reply. If we let the ritual carry us along, we’ll find ourselves transported to a place where we are guaranteed to meet Jesus Christ! It’s worked for 2000 years, so why throw it out?

The people in the Gospel, John 6:24-25, were like modern people whose attention span is shrinking and who want to be constantly stimulated by something new, are looking for the fast fix, the quick solution to a problem, getting food to fill their stomachs another day. Jesus offers them something more, to fill a deeper need. When we stop wanting to be entertained, when we cease looking for a new way to be stimulated, then we’re beginning to be ready to hear and receive what God wants us to experience gathered at the Altar-Table; that God loves us and wants to satisfy our deepest need. That need is to know God loves us ,that Jesus wants us to live in a new way, a way that is without the distractions of suffering and death, forever!


We Are Sowers, and So Is the Lord

A reflection based on the Readings for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, according to the Roman Rite
Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

God produces the yield from our random efforts to proclaim Good News,
beyond our expectations. 

Driving on the highway passing fields of corn in my corner of the Midwestern U. S. it looks like it could be a good year for the crop. I’m not a farmer, but I have been around enough farmers and corn fields as a child and in 33 years of priesthood and to me it looks like it could be a year for a high yielding corn crop. Saturday morning, in the paper I saw that there is some concern that the corn crop, if things continue as they are right now, may be too good and prices will drop triggering government subsidies to keep prices from being too low. Some would say it’s luck farmers have had the right weather so far. Other people might say the abundance is a gift of God.

Now having said I’m not a farming expert but have been around farmers since childhood, I also know enough that it would sound silly or crazy if I said to one of my parishioners who’s growing corn “Bet you’re going to get fifteen hundred buss els of corn per acre this year! And your neighbor, it’s looking like he’ll get at least a thousand bushels of beans per acre! I did hear a few farmers are only going to get 800 bushels of corn per acre, though.” The farmers in the parish would think this priest was at best joking with them and at worst he had gone delusional!

But that’s the kind of thing Jesus was saying in the gospel we proclaimed at Mass this weekend. The wild amounts of harvested crop that could be expected by the farmer in the Gospel who just throws seed around here and there is outlandish. Jesus was predicting unreal amounts of grain would be harvested. Unless we understand a little about farming in the first century in what we call the middle east we’ll miss the point of the Gospel of the sower and the seed.

The Sower (Le semeur) - James Tissot  between 1886 and 1894 on display at the Brooklyn Museum - image in common domain  (from http://commons.wikimedia.org)

The Sower (Le semeur)
James Tissot
between 1886 and 1894
on display at the Brooklyn Museum – image in common domain
(from http://commons.wikimedia.org)

People who grew wheat or barley in the time of Jesus did not have the knowledge of seeds germinating and growing roots that took up nourishment from the soil like the modern farmers among us. The farmer in the time of Jesus didn’t even plow nice neat rows into the soil so the seed could be covered by dirt. Farming was a random act that depended on the generous mercy of God. Throw the seed out, expecting some to miss the targeted softer ground and land where people walked a path because it was short cut to where they wanted to get to or in the hedge row that kept out animals. Then hope God blessed you with enough to feed your family and sell a little to the townspeople. In a sense, to them it was a miracle that stalks of grain appeared. First century farmers didn’t know how it happened but God must be involved because, amazingly, grain appeared on stalks where the farmer threw seed a few months earlier. Today’s general knowledge of agronomy shields us from hearing the parable. By God’s willing it, a miracle of abundance happened. Everybody knew that, then. But, Jesus takes things a step further and says that the Kingdom of God is like an outlandish yield of crops.

It’s a metaphor. God’s kingdom isn’t really a field of unexpected high yielding grain. But it’s like that. Jesus uses one image to get those who listen to him to have an experience, an insight into what it’s like when God is in control of life.

Whenever you and I have an experience of an outcome to something that we’ve done that far exceeds our expectations, or surprises us that anything even happened, that’s experiencing the Kingdom of God in our midst. What’s it like to experience life in the Kingdom of God? When ever a seemingly random selfless action has results far beyond expectation. When we let God do his thing instead of trying to control the outcome of everything we do.

Think of it like this. Once there was a young girl who had trouble paying attention in school. Her parents told her they believed in her, to make sure she took the opportunity to help others like they were helping her and then spent a little more time with her doing homework. That’s just normal parent behavior. The mom and dad did nothing grand or planned out for results. Then, many years later on the day the girl retires from a long career of teaching in a school in a poor area, having inspired many other students to be the best they can be she says “I owe it all to my mom and dad who did something so simple as to believe in me and help me study that I was able to help so many children be more than they thought they could be!” That’s experiencing the kingdom of God in this world. God took the small random act of selflessness and produced an abundance of life for many people.

Or, maybe one of us has said a kind word of support to a grieving widow at the funeral home visitation after her husband’s death. Some time later the widow says “You know, something you said at my husband’s funeral made it o.k. for me to go on enjoying life instead of dying in grief. Thank you!”

Or, a family brings some cans of food to Mass and places them in the food pantry barrel in the vestibule. Because of that act, some unknown recipients in another part of town won’t have children that go to bed hungry but who can grow and get through a rough financial patch. Who knows how much someone will be helped by a selfless act of a disciple of Jesus. But, to live in the Kingdom of God, even here and now, is to trust that a random act will produce more benefit, or even make a better life possible, than can be “rationally” expected is to experience the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Whenever you and I have an experience of an outcome to some act that we’ve done or word that we said that far exceeds our expectations, or surprises us that anything even happened, that’s experiencing the Kingdom of God in our midst. Disciples trust that God will make a harvest of good, an abundance of life, come out of our feeble efforts to proclaim the mercy of God revealed in Jesus.

Let God do great things through you. Don’t let your heart be choked off by the thorns of other people’s cynicism that something can’t be done for the poor. Don’t let your own self-doubt that you can’t do anything about the state of society or other people’s difficult situation become a hardened path to a place of inaction. We do what we can, throwing the seeds of seemingly random small acts of selflessness into the world and let God grow the harvest of His kingdom.

 


Third Sunday of Advent – REJOICE!

Readings for the Day

Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:10-18

When a person receives good news, they usually show it by facial and bodily expressions. They can’t wait to tell someone about their good fortune. A person wins the lottery and wants to tell others. A young couple discovers that they are going to have their first baby. It’s difficult to keep the news to themselves. Smiles break across the face. Shouts of excitement escape the lips!

Yet, when we’re in church for Mass and hear “the Gospel (Good News in Greek) of the Lord” there’s little of the signs of excitement usually associated with the reception of good news. Generally, the people in the congregation just mumble “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ,” sit down and with faces bordering on boredom almost challenge the homilist to “get on with it priest, let’s get the homily over with so we can get on to more exciting things back home.”

The recurring image, the word repeated many times in the readings of the Third Sunday of Advent is REJOICE! Be glad, show excitement, even dance for joy is the directive the Word of God gives us.

Joy is part of faith in Jesus Christ. But sometimes you’d have a hard time telling that by the solemn faces and “reverent” liturgies we Catholics supposedly “celebrate” Sunday morning with in our Eucharistic gathering. But, Listen to what is prayed in the opening prayer of the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent. “Enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” (Roman Missal Third Edition, English translation) Liturgy should be “solemn,” true. It should also reveal our joy!

Joy is part of Christian faith because we’ve been let in on good news. Evil does not triumph. Death is not the end of relationships with those we love. There’s more to life than violence, sickness and human misery. Christ who took on our human nature has redeemed that nature and made it possible for humans to live like God.

And, if you pay attention to the last sentence of the first reading of the day, God “rejoices in his people.” He’s happy we’re around. God delights in the humans he’s called into being like a parent can’t help but smile at their children when they do something cute or sleeping in their bed.
Joy is essential to being a Christian. Humor can be a part of that joy, of the Christian life, too. It can be a way we delight in the truth. It reminds us that while faith and liturgy are serious business, we’re delighted that God is among us, saving us from that which is evil through Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons it’s important for people of faith to be seen with a sense of humor and who express joy is so that we can attract others to faith in Jesus Christ. In my current parish, pastoral council members and other members of the parish often say we’ve got to invite back, get re-involved, the members who have left our church or become non-active. Parishioners say they want to welcome new members to our church and parish who don’t belong to another church. Well, would you want to join a group of people who are always serious, whose worship is always solemn, where no one smiles or expresses delight that you are in the pew with them? A joyful disposition attracts people to have a relationship with Jesus! Even Jesus wasn’t above making a joke or pointing out the absurdity of a situation.

I’ve been reading a book by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Martin, S.J. that explores the relationship of joy and humor to faith in Jesus Christ. In his book he gives many examples of how humor and joy were part of the spiritual life of the saints.

The author tells a couple of stories about Blessed Pope John XXIII. Once, before he was the Pope, he was at a diplomatic dinner in France. A woman is there whose dress is very low-cut revealing much of her breasts. A government official mentions to the future pope how scandalous her attire is and how everyone is looking at her! The future John XXIII replies, “No, everyone is not looking at her, but at me to see if I’m looking at her!” Another time, after becoming pope, John XXIII is asked during an official visit by an important dignitary, “Holy Father, how many people work at the Vatican?” Blessed John replied, “About half of them.” Such humor and what must have been a sense of joy that infused the Holy Father’s spiritual life made him a very attractive figure. People loved “Good Pope John” and felt closer to Christ who he was the vicar of to the world.

If we Catholics want to attract people to our message we need a bit of the spirituality of saints like Blessed John XXIII. Humor attracts. Poking fun at ourselves can speak of humility and a realization that the one we serve is a savior that’s good to know and spend time (and eternity) with. The Christ came to bring joy, not fear.

I am not speaking of a type of frivolity or silliness that is off-putting. I’m not suggesting that we never be serious and act immature. The Gospel is much too important to present ourselves in such a way that we are written off as to not be taken seriously. Yet, joy helps gets the point across, sometimes.

There are serious things in this world that must be addressed with a serious, sincere message. We are all aware of the suffering in this world that brings sadness. Evil exists and shows its might, trying to suck the joy out of life in Christ. We need only look at the events in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. It seems that evil has gotten the upper hand. There is so much sadness in the effects of one person’s actions. We grieve with those whose lives have been torn apart so violently.

Yet, we can face such evil, unafraid and undefeated because our lives, our faith, are grounded in Good News, joyful news that we are not afraid to let show in our expressions of faith that at times include humor and laughter and smiling faces that invite others to share the joy in our heart knowing Christ. He came among us in the flesh in order to defeat evil on the cross. He comes among us in this liturgy to lighten our fears about death and help us rejoice in God’s love. He will come again to finish the work begun in his incarnation when he will make right all that is wrong with human existence by joining it to his divine nature.

Our vocation is to witness to others, even with lightheartedness the joy that underpins our ability to not be afraid of evil. There was a deacon of the early church, St. Lawrence, who was put to death for his belief in Christ by being put on a spit over a fire to be burnt alive. At one point in his execution he taunted his executioners by saying, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” Such playful joy even in the midst of dying mocks death and proclaims, as another saint said, “I do not fear death, I believe in God!”

As it is proclaimed in the Communion Antiphon for the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent;

Say to the faint of heart: be strong and do not fear. behold, our god will come, and he will save us.

A joyful attitude will take us a long way to getting the message out to those who are “faint of heart.”

 

 


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