Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Will and the Way: 26th Week of the Liturgical Year, September 25-October 1, 2011

Zechariah chapter 8; Nehemiah chs. 2, 8; Baruch chs. 1, 4; Luke, chs. 9-10.


Two images give a key to the readings. 1. A large ship under way has such forward inertia that, even after the rudder is swung over, it takes miles for the ship to actually move in the new direction. 2. Stampeding cattle are deaf and blind to everything but their panic. Cowboys can only stop their headlong rush by racing their horses to the front and gradually turning the leaders to the side until they begin to “mill” in a circle. Both images tell us something about leadership in the Church.

First, big changes take time, both in society and in the Church. Even when authorities call for an alteration in course, as the bishops did at Vatican II, and “swing the rudder” by new legislation, the Church as a whole takes a long time to get on the new course. An example of this is the Mass: in spite of the “new liturgy,” the centuries of practices that excluded the laity from “full, active, conscious participation” still keep people from seeing the Mass as a “communal prayer” — or even understanding what that means. So people still participate as isolated individuals, sitting apart from others or in back, not singing, making the responses without personal investment in what they are saying, and frequently not even paying close enough attention to the words the presider is speaking during the Eucharistic Prayer to pray them with him. No wonder some want to return to the Latin: even in English they don’t really listen to the words. And if they are not united with others in communal prayer, the individualism of the old “quiet” Mass that left all alone with their devotions seems better to them. Mindsets take time to change.

Cultural conformism is like a stampede. People are rushing blindly in whatever direction the “herd” has taken. This is true even in the Church, in both clergy and laity who don’t “go aside” as disciples to listen personally to the voice of Christ. When those in front have closed their eyes to where they are going and to what is going on around them, and their ears to what the Spirit is saying, the “blind are leading the blind” — in a stampede to destruction.

The answer is for those who see what is happening to “ride for the lead.” To gradually replace the leadership of those who are not leaders. To make tiny but consistent changes in their own way of participating at Mass; of participating in the guidance of their parish and diocese by communicating with those “in charge”; in their way of speaking and acting at home, at school, at work; in the kind of conversations they initiate (for example, on the “forbidden topic” of religion); in the news they keep up with (for example, news of the Church on the internet); in the approach they take to politics: to the fundamental philosophies and motivations of the people and causes they oppose or support (bearing in mind the lies both parties tell about each other and the “spin” in any reporting).

The key to everything is an activated and activating awareness of responsibility for establishing the “reign of God” wherever we are and however we can. Where there is a will, there is a Way — who is also the Truth and the Life.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

To Make the Kingdom Come: 25th Week of the Liturgical Year, September 18-24, 2011

Ezra chapters 1-9; Haggai chs. 1-2; Zechariah ch. 2; Luke, chs. 8-9.


I am on the island of Guam, where I was invited to give the keynote at the Archdiocesan Catechetical and Liturgical Conference, and then spend a week speaking of Immersed in Christ in the schools. I am looking out from the hotel’s sixteenth floor at a beach where, for all I know, Americans and Japanese died in the recapture of Guam in World War II. Now, I am told, the Japanese make up ninety percent of the tourism Guam lives on. And I ask, as I look at the dozen high-rise hotels in sight of mine, what does Jesus want us to think of all this?

From the readings this week, I think he wants us to be conscious that he is going to come again to gather together everything I see — and don’t see — under his headship, making all of redeemed humanity one in the peace and love of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Whatever I see from my balcony; whatever I don’t see but can guess at; whatever went on here during the horrors of war; whatever is yet to come — he has already brought it to fulfillment in the time-frame of God. And, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

The readings encourage us to make it so.

But he wants us to make it so by being now what we are trying to bring about: a community united in love, working together as one body now “under his headship,” a Church filled with love, joy and peace, radiating the “fruit of the Spirit.” We must dedicate ourselves to being now what we will be when we actually see realized “the blessed hope and manifestation of the great glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Yes, inescapably this requires us to live out and experience all five mysteries of Baptism — the new identity we have “in Christ”; the divine enlightenment offered us as disciples; the empowerment to bear witness as prophets by lifestyles that cannot be explained without the “gift of the Spirit”; the repeated surrender to Christ living and wanting to express himself in us and through us in ministry to all we encounter; and the total abandonment of ourselves in persevering, inexplicable hope to the work of transforming Church and world as stewards of his kingship. Yes, all of these. But this week the focus is on the last: exercising leadership in union with authorities in the Church.

All of us are called to be leaders. Leadership is not the same as authority. Only a few people are invested with authority. We follow them out of commitment. Leaders are people we follow freely, because we believe they are pointing us in the right direction.

The job of authorities is to hold the Church together. The task of leaders is to move it forward. These are two different functions. Both are essential. Each depends on the other.

The Church is not a “democracy.” But when we say that, we have to ask, “What, then, is it?” It is not a monarchy; not a dictatorship. What, precisely, is our form of government in the Church?

The Church is a community meant to be guided by communal discussion, prayer and discernment. There is no model for this kind of government in civil society. In important matters, by the time an authority makes a decision, everybody should have had a hand in it. In this way, all are called to exercise leadership. For this, leadership and authority must work together.

God’s ways are not our ways, but as stewards of his kingship we are committed to trying to adapt human life to his ways. The Church is being renewed, and we are called to renew it. And through the Church the world will be renewed

To believe this is to work for it. To work for it is to take initiatives. To take initiatives is to be a leader, a steward of the kingship of Christ. This is our baptismal commitment.

I think Jesus is saying this to all of us as we look out from all of our windows.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peace I Give You: 24th Week of the Liturgical Year, September 11-17, 2011

1Timothy chapters 2-6; Luke, chapters 7-8


The Rite of Communion can be summed up in one word: “Peace.”

This may not be what we are most conscious of. We may think of Communion as a time of intimate personal (and private) union with Jesus in our hearts. And except for the word “private,” it is that. The truth is—shocking to our generation—there is no “private” union with God or with Jesus. Christian union with God is only “in Christ”—that is, in the shared union we have with others as members of his body. Without union with others, we have no graced union with Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

Communion expresses this. There is no such thing as “private Communion” in the Church. Even Communion to the sick is brought by a minister coming from the Mass to bring the communal celebration to one unable to be present. And Mass is never a private devotion. Priests are forbidden by Canon Law to celebrate Mass completely alone except under exceptional circumstances. Communion is a time for us to be intensely aware of one another.

“Peace” is the most frequently-used word in the Rite of Communion (seven times) because Communion is meant as a preview of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” Christ’s description of heaven. Those who do not share the Bread of Life together in the “peace and unity” of total mutual forgiveness and love simply do not share it. The same is true on earth. When Paul says (1Corinthians 11:29), “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves,” he is talking about recognizing each other as the body of Christ.

This week’s readings show that those who most disturb the peace and unity of the community are those who judge others as not being in “good standing” because of their perceived non-observance of rules. They do not “discern” the faith and love that makes people Christ’s body, but see only the externals of words and “works” whose significance in another’s life they presume to interpret. In making this judgment they “eat and drink judgment against themselves.”

It is natural for us to make these human judgments. That is why the readings stress that the “peace and unity” of God’s kingdom is a mystery. The “blessed hope” we are awaiting is the “manifestation (epiphania) of the glory” of the Lord Jesus Christ, when in all the redeemed we will see Christ himself brought to “full stature.” This is divine hope, not human optimism. It depends on the vision we have of each other by the divine gift of faith. And the love we have for each others is divine love, based on seeing each other as we are as sharers in the life of God and as we will be when that life is brought to fullness in us all. Those who quibble and criticize are seeing with human eyes, shutting themselves off from mystery and shutting themselves out of “full, conscious, active participation” in the Eucharist. Peace is the sign of the Spirit in our hearts.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Preview of Heaven: 23rd Week of the Liturgical Year, September 4-10, 2011

Colossians chapters; 1-3; begin 1Timothy; Luke, chapter 6


How many Catholics experience Sunday Mass as a “preview of heaven”? Would it make you feel sad, threatened or hopeful to hear that this is what it should be for you?

“Sad” would suggest you’ve given up. “Threatened” that you hear you aren’t measuring up. “Hopeful” that you are open to the good news that there is more in the Mass than you dream of.

And there is. If you don’t experience the Mass as a preview of heaven, it means that either 1. you don’t understand it; or 2. you don’t pay attention to it; or 3. you are not really participating “fully, actively and consciously.” That is, that you are not celebrating. Chances are, it is all of the above.

That is what this year’s Reflections should remedy. If you read the 87-page theme booklet that accompanied them (Experiencing the Mass) and have kept yourself focused through the Reflection booklets, you should be having a much different experience of Mass—if, of course, you are applying at Mass what you read.

Now we are beginning the last Reflection booklet for this year, and it’s focus is on the last part of the Mass: the Rite of Communion. This part of the Mass is most explicitly a “preview of heaven.”

It is designed to be a preview of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” The communal enjoyment of Jesus as “Bread of Life,” Bread of the heavenly banquet. This Bread is only served in a communal meal: no private room service, no take-outs. By nature it is Bread that Jesus “takers, blesses, breaks and gives to his disciples to distribute.” (Although portions can be taken to the sick). And to receive it we must gather with the community in total mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and love. In the “peace and unity of the kingdom” that characterizes this communal sharing and union with Jesus Christ we experience a preview of heaven.

That is not as far-fetched as it sounds. During the Rite of Communion all conflicts are set aside. We have all given the Sign of Peace to each other. Jesus has come to each and to all. If we pause in silence for a moment as the liturgy directs us to do, we can simply be aware of that peace and unity as foreshadowing the gathering of the whole human race together “in Christ” at the end of the world. All will be well. “There will be no harm or ruin on all his holy mountain.” All will be love; all will be peace. And Jesus will be “all in all.” We will all be one, rejoicing in God, rejoicing in one another, sharing the life of Father, Son and Spirit. That is heaven.

To experience a tiny taste of this in the Rite of Communion is to experience a taste of heaven. It should motivate us to go out and invite everyone to the wedding feast. Motivate us to transform social structures and renew cultures to “make straight the way of the Lord” for all to receive him. Motivate us to embrace each other in our sinfulness now as we will embrace each other in our perfection when Christ has “grown to full stature” in us all and there will be “but one Christ, loving himself” (St. Augustine). We in him, he in us, as he is in the Father and the Father in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

We just have to make ourselves aware of what we understand, of what is happening, of what it foreshadows, and let Mass be for us the “source and summit” of all we live and long for.

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