Our Celebrations

During the last 70 years, or maybe even more, there has been a mentality in the Church, an undercurrent if you will, that tries to explain away the mysteries of church, the dogma, and the Traditions.  The idea is to make the faith more palatable for human consumption. Try to make it sound reasonable.  It manifests itself in a wide variety of ways.

For instance, earlier this Month, the head of a bible study at the parish I work at wished me a Happy Rosh Hashanah.  She has been known to hold a Seder meal during Lent for the RCIA class at the parish. I have always been fascinated and dismayed by this sort of misguided ecumenical act done by many in teaching positions in Catholic Parishes.

When asked why they do it, the usual answer varies around: ‘Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, and shouldn’t we celebrate the Holy Days of our ancestors?’ This answer saddens me; it shows an unawareness, if not disregard, for Christianity.

Why? Isn’t it a nice ecumenical action that brings us closer together with our elder brothers and sisters?

No, I don’t think they would care, one way or another, if we celebrated their Holy Days. In fact, it might offend them since we deny their faith by proclaiming the messiah has indeed already come.

Doesn’t it sound more reasonable to show that we aren’t made up, that we come from a deeper and older societal activity?

Not really, what this does show is lack of our understanding of the meaning of Christ and His actions. Trying to make faith more reasonable takes the importance out of the discussion. Catholics believe that Jewish feasts were foreshadows of the actions of Christ. They technical term is ‘type’. For instance, the Jewish Passover is a ‘type’ for Christ’s Pasch. Our Lord fulfilled what the Passover foreshadowed and what is celebrated. Our attention and total obedience is to our Lord and Savior. Our faith is centered on His actions and His Gospel. Why? Because He rose from the dead! So, who He is and what He did and is still doing should demand our whole attention.

The Jewish Holy Days and their feasts are special and wonderful events in salvation history. We wish our Jewish friends the very best as they celebrate. But we have been given the fulfillment of these events, indeed the fulfillment of creation through our Lord. Our celebrations, we believe, make whole and complete any other celebration and so we can in a very real way say that we are honoring the Jewish feasts with our own celebrations. But that isn’t the main point; we have the fullness of the truth, we should be zoned in on that, not on other events; not even to try and make ours sound reasonable. How can man make the mysteries God reasonable? That is like Hamlet trying to explain Shakespeare.

But what worries me the most is that apparent parish volunteer leaders (I shudder to think that clergy are doing this) are catechizing catechumens and candidates with these misguided ideas. These types of events have the possible result of diluting the teachings of Holy Mother Church, minimizing the importance both Traditions and traditions, making them ‘one of among many’ acceptable celebrations as it were.

Brothers and sisters, it is up to us to live the faith of the Catholic Church. To show the import of the faith in our lives and celebrate it with vigor and joy. After all, it is Faith – not social anthropology.

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A Time To Change

During the past two Sunday Vesper services, we have reflected on two foundational prayers given to us. Crossing ourselves while praying ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ And the Our Father, given to us by Christ Himself as the quintessence of prayer. During the last ten years of Sunday Vespers we have reflected on other prayers and aspects of prayer in general. Tonight, I would like to reflect on the maybe the most fundamental aspect of prayer – time.

Not, how much time we offer, not what type of time schedule we keep for our prayer but just the time we pray. Whether we offer corporate prayer such as this Vesper Liturgy, or the Holy Mass; whether we offer known traditional prayers that we recite, or we pound our breast and explode with extemporaneous dialog to God, as in the Gospel today[1]. Whether there are words or just silence, we are offering our most intimate time to God.

If our prayer, no matter the type, is offered from our heart to God; if we are making time for God in our daily lives, then we are opening our time to the eternal. We are making our time God’s time[2]. This tithe is of absolute importance and value, for when we are in God’s time, in the eternal, we are in effect entering the end of times, the goal of our lives; and by doing so we are being changed. This might be the most important action that we can do as pilgrims on our journey home because as we are being changed our actions will now change those around us – we change the world. Or as St. Theresa of Calcutta said ‘I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.

Brothers and sisters, the world needs our change, needs us to open ourselves to being changed by God, let’s not ignore this need.
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[1] LK 18:13
[2] Dogma and Preaching, Cardinal Ratzinger pg 115

A Serious Prayer

Last week I reflected about Blessing ourselves, how it is almost rote, no thinking behind it, and yet it means so much. This evening I would like to bring up another almost rote prayer, one that just comes off the lips without a lot of thought. A prayer that also means so much in spite of our almost absent minded recitation.

The Our Father, the prayer our Lord taught us to say. The perfect prayer prayed by many over the millennia. One that, in a certain way is a very dangerous prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.

Look at what we are proclaiming. God is our Father and as such we owe a child’s obedience to Him. Not only that, we are stating that we want His will, not ours, to be done. And since He is God, we can’t comprehend what His will entails, but nonetheless we want it to happen. I would add that because we are the ones praying this, we want to be an instrument in making this happen, which means that we participate in something that ultimately is unfathomable to us. We are telling God that we will go blindly forward with His will – come what may.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

We are asking for not only His help in nourishing us, but we are saying that we totally rely on His gifts. Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow because God will provide.  ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.[1] and again ‘do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.[2]

Then we ask for forgiveness, and we need much; but only as we have been forgiving others. Think about how we harbor grudges, anger, yes hatred. How petty we are and fickle.  Is this how we want God to act towards us?

And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

And now we ask God to protect us. Protect us from how we handle the assault for Satan’s advances, protect us, at times, from even our loved ones, but mostly protect us from our own weaknesses.

This whole prayer is a prayer of conversion. We are asking God for certain guarantees and in return we will change our lives. Not slightly, but radically, totally. We are, in a very real way promising much to God in this prayer and this is very serious.  Let’s look at it from a real world point of view. When you ask your bosses for more responsibility they hold you accountable for it, if you fail to do what you promised when you asked for more responsibility then there are ramifications and not good ones. Now, of course God is a merciful God, but the comparison is still valid; the Our Father is a request to participate in God’s work, it is a blind request because we don’t know what that will be, but we request it anyway. And though He won’t fire us, how we will feel when our failings are revealed to us?

Brothers and sisters,
This great prayer that we learned very young, that we can proclaim in an instant should give us reassurance because it is what God desires to hear from us. But, at the same time it should give us concern because what it means and what we are intending when we pray it can be as far apart as the sunrise and sunset. Whatever we are intending when we pray the Our Father we are telling God that we will be obedient and St. Josemaria Escrivá writes ‘to obey is to be a martyr without dying’. This prayer is that serious.

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[1] MT 6:34
[2] LK 12: 29-31

Crossing Ourselves

As Catholics, the most common expression of our faith is when we cross ourselves with the words ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. Most people probably don’t even think about it; the words and the actions just come automatically. Even when we say grace before meals, our action of crossing ourselves and saying those words is almost a subconscious segue from what we were doing to our prayer.  And yet, those words are the core of our faith.

First of all, they declare our belief that God exists! Not only that, but that He has come to us and revealed to us that He exists. He takes an interest in His creation. He is concerned that we come to know who He is. He is in dialog with us.

Second, they declare that God is a relationship, a family. He exists as three persons in one God. We don’t say ‘In the names of’ no, the words are ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

The third declaration, which comes out of the first two is that God is perfect love. Let’s unpack this declaration. As God, He is the absolute totality of creation, He is perfection. As a triune God, one who is dialog, family; He is the perfection of a family. A family is a dialog of love (or is judged by their ability to dialog love). So, as the perfection of family, God is the perfection of love, perfect love. What God is, what perfect love is, is not any love, for there are many uses of the word love, but self-giving love, agape.

Finally, we are led by first three declarations to another declaration. That His self-giving relationship is not just within Himself but outwards as well. We can’t mention the trinity, and especially the second person of the trinity, the Son, without proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son incarnate. And in doing so we proclaim God’s gift of Himself for and to us. His embracing us within the Triune dialog of love.

Our actions of crossing ourselves and using those words proclaims what some call a Trinitarian testimony. Now of course the action of crossing ourselves holds much more about our faith; but these declarations/expressions are the bedrock of our action of crossing ourselves, indeed the bedrock of our faith and should be the bedrock of how we live our lives.

If we acknowledge that God exists – we should strive to grow in our appreciation of He who created us. We should desire to come to understand better our creator who continues to dialog with us, who holds together this creation, especially us. It only makes sense since all of creation and how it works; the nature of everything is by His design.

If we acknowledge this then we should accept that the hermeneutic for understanding God is love; because that is who He is. That is why He created, still creates. That is why He does anything and everything including gifting to us our life, our very being and freewill – love.

If we acknowledge this, then we should be at peace and rejoice that this God, who has revealed Himself to us; who has revealed that He is love; has embraced us into the divine dialog of love within Himself. We are not strangers outside looking in, we are family.

All of this from just fifteen words and two movements of our right hand. Two quick gestures and a few words proclaim the most important and powerful truth of eternity. So I have to ask myself: Why do I still have trouble appreciating and dedicating myself to these words that I so often use?

God help me, give me the wisdom to embrace what I say so often.

 

Episodic

During our vacation last week, we went through the Amish region of northern Indiana. Every time I go through there and see the Amish traveling the roads in their horse and carriages I am both impressed by their total devotion to living their faith in the wider society and am saddened and concerned by our inability to do the same.  It seems to always bring me back to one issue in our society.

I have noticed for decades that the lives of people have become more ‘episodic’.  Men and women go through their daily existence and relationships as if they are watching TV. Each move through the day as if they turn on and then turn off the different events; and one event doesn’t relate to the other.  They live in sequential but different realities; family life is one episode, work life is another; weekends are different from weekdays; interaction with friends are different from interaction with their loved ones; and their episodes of faith are separate from their secular life.

Holy Mass doesn’t escape this malady. People seem to turn on their religious life as they enter the church for Mass and then turn it off when they leave.  When faith is viewed in this way, it is easier to understand why it is so hard to build a vibrant parish. But there is an even more direr aspect to this episodic malady, and it has to do with a fundamental reason for Mass.

An important purpose of the Holy Mass is, sadly, almost unheard of; and it is the mission of the faithful: consecratio mundi. We are to go forth and help consecrate the world – make it holier.  The dismissal at the end of the Mass isn’t just a quaint way of closing the celebration, it is a mandate. The original and still primary dismissal is ‘Ite Missa Est[1] – Go, she (meaning the church, us) is sent. Two alternatives in the Roman Missal which closely reflect the essence of the Latin dismal are ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.[2], and ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.[3]  The Mass, our participation in it and the fruits we receive from it are not to be stored in the back of the Church as we leave, they are not turned off as if we switch the channel from Mass to Sunday Morning breakfast, they are to continue outward. In a book review in the September Adoremus Bulletin the reviewer writes: ‘The liturgy of the Mass nourishes Christians to sanctify the world[4]. This is what it means to us and how important it is to mankind. The reviewer goes on in the next paragraph: ‘…the liturgy does not exist for its own sake, but it is oriented towards the transformation of the world. All Christians have the vocation to take the cues for how they live their lives and they see the world based on the liturgy.[5]

But this understanding of the Mass is missed by many today because of this ‘episodic’ paradigm they live their lives under.  How can we hope to instill in the faithful this understanding of consecratio mundi if they don’t understand the organic connectedness of all moments in their lives?  When they leave their lives in the narthex and pick them up as they go out? This is not only a malady of Mass participation, it is a malady for all religious participation: the Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer, devotionals, and so on.

So, the question for us this evening is: how can we enliven the mission of the Royal Priesthood of the faithful; reinvigorate the true paradigm of living our lives; remove the social mentality of ‘episodic’ lives? The complete answer is complex and nebulous; but maybe, our small part is clear: living our lives in an even more public way.

Brothers and sisters, for those of us who try to live a full and connected life within our faith – let others see what we know; that all parts of our lives are interwoven with the Mass, with Christ. There is no ‘turn off one aspect and turn on another’; at every moment the Mass affects our lives and every moment of our lives are offered up in the Mass; because it contains Christ in the Eucharist which is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life..[6]

But, of course all of our actions mean nothing without receptivity to the Holy Spirit by those around us; and this means prayer.  We need to pray and then pray more.  Our plan is clear, though hard, in the words of St. Augustine: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.’ May God bless us all in our part of His plan. Maybe, just maybe, more and more people will see life as it is intended to be, an interconnected and continual journey towards He who made us. In turn, person by person, the world will be become a holier place.

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[1] http://www.usccb.org
[2] Roman Missal page 673 order of the Mass Dismals.
[3] ibid
[4] Adoremus Bulletin September 2015, page 9. Book review on Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology by Dr. David W. Fagerberg – written by Roland Millare.
[5] ibid
[6] Lumen Gentium #11