Man himself cannot simply “make” worship. If God does not reveal Himself, man is clutching empty space. If you remember a few weeks ago…Moses says to Pharaoh: “We do not know with what we must serve the Lord” (cf. Ex 10:26). These words display a fundamental law of all liturgy. When God does not reveal Himself, man can, of course, from the sense of God within him, build altars “to the unknown god” (cf. Acts 17:23). He can reach out toward God in his thinking and try to feel his way toward Him. But real liturgy (the liturgy God wants…in other words… perfect liturgy) implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship Him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of “institution”. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity—then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real (perfect) relationship with Another, Who reveals Himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.
In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of “what you please”. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (by the way…for the farmers and ranchers out there that know the significant difference…strictly speaking, a “bull calf”). The misdirected worship conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods.
Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God Who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God…to idolatry. This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes.
First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote and mysterious God. They want to bring Him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world. He must be there when He is needed…and He must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.
This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated worship. When Moses stays away for too long…and God himself becomes inaccessible…the people just fetch Him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation.
Instead of being worship of God…it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God…but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around.
Or, still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in pious disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking from the same place He was for the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus is giving us His last will and testament. What is He going to leave to His followers? His love. That love includes not only Himself, but the Father and Holy Spirit. He fulfills His Last Supper promise: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14: 15-16) Jesus did die on the cross, but He did not leave us. As we see in His words He will come and dwell within us and the Father will come with Him. A few verses later Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance from Him is the fullness of the life of God. We began that life the moment we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (We remind ourselves of this treasure every time we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
When you think about it, those we love do dwell within us. They are an intimate and intricate part of who we are. They are always in our hearts that are filled with love for them expressed in our concern, goodness, gratitude, humility, sacrifices, mercy, and generosity. In this Gospel passage Jesus expressed what was going to happen when He died and rose from the dead. Our inheritance from Him is the gift of Himself, the Father, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. How does this inheritance affect our lives? The more we “use” our inheritance from Jesus, the more we recognize the gift of peace that He also promises in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace we long for as individuals, families, communities, nations, and worldwide. Human efforts have helped us to defeat the countless powers that seek to separate us from God and one another (just ask a faith-filled veteran). Yet still, in all too many places around the world, there is violence, injustice, destruction and the abuse and taking of human life.
So, what is this peace Jesus is leaving us? It is the peace that comes from truly believing that He knows us as we are at each moment of our lives and is with us in all we say, do and think each day. This thought is expressed so clearly at the beginning of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers (for Various Occasions): “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, Who love the human race and Who always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is Your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by His Love, and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us, He opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.” Obviously we need to accept His invitation to be renewed by our inheritance from Him through our heartfelt participation in the Mass every week. Jesus never tires of inviting us to open our eyes to His Love for us and His Presence to us. It is Jesus and our inheritance from Him, which is Jesus Himself, that lifts us beyond the confusion, challenges, and obstacles we face as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Only a nation under God can be one nation. It takes God to not only take away the confusion…but also to enlighten us with the truth of who we truly are and what we are ultimately capable of in the best sense possible.
Many know that I was assigned to St. Sebastian Church back in Connecticut when I was a deacon. It was a predominately Italian parish. (And, yes there is a difference.) I would visit and bring Communion to an elderly Italian lady who lived to be 102 years old. Every time I visited her one of the first questions out of her mouth with her heavy Italian accent was: “How’s your mother?” That was quickly followed by these words from her: “Nobody loves you like your mother!” Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. It is a special day to do what we actually do each time we see or think about our mothers – to give thanks for the life they have given us and their continued maternal love. Whether we are children or adults, whether our mothers are living or deceased…we have the gift of life because they carried us in their wombs and nurtured us as children.
There is another Mother I honor every day as well – Mary. As He was dying on the cross Jesus said to St. John and to all of us: “Son there is your mother.” Jesus knew the love of His Mother. She conceived Him miraculously in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. As she anxiously searched for a place to give Him birth which we know was a stable, she had the joy of seeing the wonder and awe of the shepherds who responded to the announcement to them by the angels and went and saw the newborn Christ Child. What wonder she must have felt when the Magi came, who prostrated themselves in gratitude, and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Forty days after His birth, she and St. Joseph presented Him in the temple. There she heard the heartfelt words of the old man Simeon, who recognized the gift of God Himself in the child Jesus. He also foretold the sorrow His Mother Mary would experience when he said: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) Like every mother, Mary knew the joy of her Son’s goodness and love for herself and others. She also knew the pain when He was rejected. But her love for her Son did not make her bitter, angry, or doubtful when others attacked, betrayed, or abandoned Him. Just as she trusted that she would conceive Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, so she stood at the foot of the cross with hope and trust in God.
We also have the blessing of belonging to and being part of Holy Mother Church. As Catholics we are a living, life-giving part of the Body of Christ on earth. Once we receive life from the Church we make the Church a powerful source of love, hope, healing, and assistance as individuals and as a community of believers. On a local level in the parish, most are fed weekly by God’s Word and Presence at Mass. (Some are able to be nurtured at our daily Masses.) When we fail because of human weakness and sinfulness, we are renewed, refreshed, and forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. People who are sick or going into the hospital for surgery or other medical procedures are anointed with the oil where Jesus and His healing presence are encountered in the Sacrament of the Sick. We celebrate weddings, joining couples together in a bond of love that mirrors Jesus’ love for the Church. At funerals where we come together in sadness, compassion, love, and hope to pray for those who have died and to pray for and with their families and friends. We educate our children in the religious education programs. The Treasure Hut in Hoven reaches out to so many people who have a great number of different needs. Yes, Holy Mother Church is a powerful source for nourishment to thousands of people because together we are a Parish Family.
I wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. May God bless you for the life, love and goodness you have so generously showered upon us. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary…you are signs and sources that encourage all of us to be good, loving, generous, life-giving members of Holy Mother Church.
Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. We see this in this week’s Gospel. His disciples taking His words to heart in the Our Father each day gives us a spiritual reminder and uplift of all we are entrusted to do as the followers of Jesus and all we are truly capable of. By praying the Hail Mary we acknowledge Mary’s powerful faith and her love for Jesus and us. In our imperfection but faith fired hope we say: “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Like any mother she sees beyond our faults and imperfections to someone she loves with all her heart.
We also hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us through our consciences. At times we ponder what we should say or do. Openness to the Spirit of God enables us to hear the voice of Jesus and say or do what He would say or do. When someone tells us of a good thing that has happened to another person we know, we increase their joy with words of congratulations. When we thank people for what they have done for us, we increase their joy. At times we are told of those who are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one. Those words lead us to visit them and offer them words of comfort and love.
Each day is another opportunity to hear God’s voice in all the ways we use to communicate with one another. The more we listen, the more we respond with our life-giving presence and words. The constant blessing is not only our life-giving words to others, but the chance to speak them from our hearts. Life-giving words are Resurrection words – they lift us both those who hear them and those speak them.
One of the joys of being a priest is baptizing children. Before the ceremony begins, there is a lot of joy and enthusiasm in all who are present. How good it is to see how an innocent child, who is need of constant care and attention, brings such unity and joy. Along with their parents, who among us would not do anything to help these innocent souls to be healthy, happy, and cared for? The birth of a child is a Resurrection experience in that it raises the lives of parents especially to a new level of love. Sleepless nights and concern for any problems are sacrifices readily made for the good of a child. Newborn children along with anyone else we let into the depths of our minds and hearts raise us to a level in our lives that is energizing, encouraging, and inspiring.
Does our presence bring love, life, and mercy to others? When it does that is the power of the Resurrection in our minds and hearts. To bring love, life, and mercy to others means we do far more than avoid evils the Ten Commandments warn us against. Virtue and the love of God are far more than being able to say, “I didn’t kill anyone,” or “I didn’t commit adultery.” Virtue, living in union with the Risen Christ, and being part of His life means I do far more than avoid draining life out of others and myself through my words and actions. It means giving life by my thoughts, words, and actions at all times, in all places. It means far more than avoiding unfaithfulness to God and others; it means always being there, loving with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Resurrection is far more than rising from the dead and evil and its consequences; it means living in Jesus and allowing Him to live in us. Our loved ones live in us and we live in them. Even our loved ones who have died are still very much a part of who we are. We are grateful for them and their love and goodness. As we see in today’s Gospel, the disciples were very much alive in the mind and heart of Jesus. In Jesus they and we are far more than grateful for His love and goodness, we become His love, mercy, and goodness.
When we are born we are embraced by the love, gratitude, and joy of our parents. We are raised to ultimate hope and joy in life when we see how we are embraced by the love, life, and mercy of God in Jesus. When we embrace the pure love, life, and mercy of God we become that very love, life, and mercy.
At the beginning of Lent, I was switching between radio stations and hit the song “Love Without End, Amen” by Aaron Gale Barker…made popular by the country singer George Strait. If you haven’t heard it recently, do a search and find it. Baker (and Strait) gets the Season we now have and will celebrate (and he has a great melody stream too).
Love is the most powerful force in the world and in our lives. In spite of the violence, injustice and pain we inflict upon each other as human beings and in spite of the devastating power of weapons we have developed to protect and defend ourselves, no power other than love will bring peace and unity. Once Jesus was arrested, He was no longer the one doing things for other people, people were doing things to Him. The Scripture passages that recount His Passion do not focus so much on the physical brutality He experienced with the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, or the extremely painful act of crucifixion. The Scriptures speak about the betrayal, denial, abandonment, and injustice. Through it all Jesus remains silent and passive. There are no words of rebuke, no threats from His mouth, no expressions of disappointment, and no words that would in any way say He was giving up on us. Jesus suffered in silence, but the love in His heart was not extinguished, compromised, or denied. As we saw on Good Friday, His words on the cross expressed only love: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” “This day you will be with me in paradise.” “Son, there is your mother, mother, there is your son.” Jesus not only died for us and our sins, He rose to give us a share in the new life of Easter.
The older we get, the harder it is to trust and the easier it is to become skeptical and cynical. Yet none of us wants to be this way. Something inside us wants to trust, to hope, to believe in the goodness of things, to again feel that trustful enthusiasm we once had as children, when we were innocent (and innocent means “unwounded”), and we could still take another’s hand in trust. No one wants to be outside the circle of trust. The Resurrection makes real this desire we all have in the depths of our hearts.
When Jesus rose, He told his disciples to go back to Galilee. Galilee was a geographical place, but even more it was the place where His disciples first came to believe in Him. Jesus was calling them back to their initial innocence, joy, and trust in His love for them. To return to the idealisms that first drew themselves to Jesus. The Resurrection was far more than the body of Jesus coming back from the dead. It was the final, emphatic proclamation and reality of the powerful depth of His love. It was that love that renewed His first followers as they laid the foundation of Church, the Body of Christ in the world. We are now the living members of the Body of Christ in the world today. Easter is our time to be renewed by the powerful hope that love is more powerful than evil. Hope is more powerful than apathy or despair, and faith is more powerful than distrust. As you come to Church this Easter Sunday, welcome to Galilee! Welcome home, where once again we are told by God…I love you! May that love permeate our minds and hearts in all we do each day! There is no greater love and it is God’s gift to us – without end … Amen.