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

Peace be with you

I am not sure how Holy Mother Church decided on the progression of readings during these past two weeks.  Last weekend the Gospel reading was about doubting Thomas and that took place a week after Easter which makes sense because it is read a week after the resurrection. Today our reading actually takes place on Easter.  We see this by the first line: ‘The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.[1] These are the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They have hurried back to the apostles to let them know the good news.

For me this reading is a powerful moment.  It always drives home the importance of Holy Mass. It true that the Last Supper is where Christ institutes the Eucharist and where He teaches the Apostles about the meaning of leadership, servant leadership.  But I always look at today’s reading as a semblance of the Mass.

  • We have Jesus appearing mysteriously in the midst of the apostles. As He appears to us in the Eucharist.
  • He shares a meal with them. As He shares His body and blood, soul and divinity with us.
  • He breaks open the scripture which is the Old Testament and explains to them how it points to His gift of the Passion. As the Mass does in the readings and the Homily.
  • The progression of this event mirrors our action of prayer in Mass. He is concerned with those in the room and then He broadens the concern to the world.
  • And of course like in the Mass Christ bestows His peace on participants.

Peace be with you[2] He said to them. Christ wished to offer His peace to them.  In the Mass we do the same.  Right before Communion we are prompted to this action by our Celebrant when he prays to Jesus:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who said to your Apostles.
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.
Look not on sins,
But on the faith of your Church,
And graciously grant her peace and unity,
In accordance with your will.[3]

Then He turns to us and says: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always.[4] Which we return with ‘And with your spirit[5] then we are prompted ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace.[6] Which we do.

I must admit that at this point in the Mass it seems to me that chaos seems to enter.  I usually hear a cacophony of greetings – all the way from ‘God Bless you’ to, and I am not kidding, ‘May your peace spread to your family’ and to ‘Merry Christmas!’ or any holiday.  I do hear variations of ‘Peace be with you’ which is more appropriate.

But why is ‘Peace be with you’ a more appropriate greeting than the others?  For the simple fact that we are not greeting each other we are bestowing the peace of Christ to those around us, and by extension to the parish, the universal Church and to all mankind.

It is of great importance to notice that during the Mass our prayers are addressed mostly to the Father, after all, the Mass is ultimately Christ’s act of supreme sacrifice to His Father for us.  We are adding our participation to Christ act towards the Father.  But at this point, the prayer is to Jesus, we are asking Him for His peace – indeed for Him; because He is peace incarnate.

In other words the congregation through our priest asks: ‘Lord give us yourself and the peace that you bring – we need it.’ So when we turn to each other we take what the priest has asked for, and Christ has given us and wish it on each other. ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Here, I give you Jesus’ could be another way to put it.

And just what is Christ’s peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ and he continues ‘Not as the world gives do I give it to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.[7]

The peace that is Christ – His peace is a fullness of joy and life that can only be attained and experienced in a climate of justice, order, truth, respect, and good will. His peace is not simply the absence of conflict but is the total abolition of evil.  There is no peace without justice. Christ’s peace, in other words, cannot exist along with evil, injustice – even when there is no conflict.

We are not called to make everything calm and happy. Our peace comes when we are with Christ and that means no evil.  We are called to proclaim the truth – call it as God sees it – we are to participate with Christ in the promulgation of His peace which needs truth – no truth, no peace.

This is what we wish towards each other and ourselves.  That we live within Christ and that we live together in that rich life of justice, order, truth, respect and good will.  This means that we radiate this life of peace – we allow others to see it – we evangelize peace and proclaim it.  We turn to each other in the Mass and say ‘Peace be with you[8] but for those who are living this peace it can’t stop there – it must be delivered to others. The dismissals at the end of Mass ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace[9]; ‘Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord[10], ‘Go, glorifying the Lord by your lives[11] all have the same demand on us – spread this peace.

Christ doesn’t guarantee us a calm and serene life when following him – the world won’t allow this: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.[12] But living in the peace of Christ will give us a depth of joy and peace that no buffets from the world can strip away.

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[1] Lk 24:35
[2] Lk 24:36
[3] Roman Missal
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] Jn 14:27
[8] Roman Missal
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] Jn 15:18-20