In the celebration of the Transfiguration, Jesus shows the Apostles what life is going to be like in heaven. It seems earthbound…but…it’s not. It seems ordinary…but it is, in fact, extraordinary. Peter couldn’t take it in all at once. Jesus had to show him. And, for us 2000 years later, it is the same with the Mass. What seems ordinary is, in fact, extraordinary and not really of this world.
So…what is the Liturgy? What happens during the Liturgy? What kind of reality do we encounter here?
In the 1920s the suggestion was made that we should understand the Liturgy in terms of “play”. The point of the analogy was: a game has its own rules; sets up its own world (which is in force from the start of play but then, of course, is suspended at the close of play). If you don’t believe me…ask anyone (especially a wife or girlfriend) before, during and after a Super Bowl Game.
A further point of similarity was that play, though it has a meaning, does not have a purpose; and, that for this very reason, there is something healing (even liberating) about it. Play takes us out of the world of daily goals and their pressures and into a sphere free of purpose and achievement…releasing us (for a time) from all the burdens of our daily world of work. Play is a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where (for a moment) we can let life flow freely.
We need such moments of retreat from the pressure of daily life if its load is to be bearable. Now there is some truth in this way of thinking…but it is lacking. It all depends on what we are playing. Everything I have said can be applied to any game. The trouble is that serious commitment to the rules needed for playing the game soon develops its own loads…leading to new kinds of commitment. Whether we look at modern sports or at chess championships (or, at any game), we find that play…when it is not worn down into mere fooling about…quickly turn from being another world (a counter-world or non-world), to being a bit of the normal world…with its own laws.
We should mention another aspect of this theory of play, something that brings us closer to the essence of the liturgy. Children’s play seems (in many ways) a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity. Looking at it this way, the Liturgy would be a reminder that we are all children (or should be children) in relation to that true life of heaven which we yearn to go. Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation…a rehearsal…a prelude for the life to come. By contrast with life in this world, St. Augustine describes eternal life as a fabric woven, no longer of survival and need…but of the freedom of generosity and gift. Seen this way, Liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood (an openness to a greatness still to come) which is still unfulfilled in adult life. Here, then, would be the concrete form of hope, which lives in advance the life to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life. Here, then, would be the concrete form of hope, which lives in advance of the life to come, the only true life, which initiates us into authentic life – the life of freedom, of intimate union with God, of pure openness to our neighbor. This imprints on the seemingly real life of daily existence the mark of true freedom, break open the walls that confine us and let the light of heaven shine down on us (as it did with Peter, James and John).
This application of “play” distinguishes the Liturgy by its essence from the ordinary kinds of play, which always contain a longing for the real “game”, for a different world in which order and freedom are at one.
Do you remember taking Algebra (or Calculus)…a kind of dreading…going to class (or doing the homework from the book)? This was the case I had in the seminary when it came to the Liturgy class we all have to take.
One of the first books I read after starting was Romano Guardini’s first little book (printed 1918): The Spirit of the Liturgy (and from then until 1957 it was constantly reprinted). This slim volume may rightly be said to have started the Liturgical Movement in Germany (and the Vatican II changes). Yes, its contribution was significant. It helped us to rediscover the Liturgy in all its beauty…hidden wealth and time transcending grandeur…to see it as the animating center of the Church, the very center of Christian life. It led to a striving for a celebration of the Liturgy that would be “more substantial” (one of Guardini’s favorite words). We were now willing to see the Liturgy – in its inner demands and form – as the prayer of the Church, a prayer moved and guided by the Holy Spirit Himself, a prayer in which Christ unceasingly becomes contemporary with us, enters into our lives. (And…like my calculus class…I dreaded it when I had to study it.)
I should like to suggest a comparison. Like all comparisons, it is in many ways inadequate…and yet it may aid in understanding. We might say that in 1918 (the year that Guardini published his book) the Liturgy was rather like a fresco painting in a building somewhere. It had been preserved from damage…but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations.
In the Missal from which the priest celebrated the Mass, the form of the Liturgy that had grown from its earliest beginnings was still present; but…as far as the faithful were concerned…it was largely concealed beneath instructions and forms of private prayer. The Liturgical Movement (and in a definitive way…Vatican II) cleaned and cleared the fresco. For a moment its colors and figures fascinated us. But since then the fresco has been endangered by climatic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences. Of course, there must be no question of its being covered with whitewash again, but what is imperative is: a new reverence in the way we treat it…a new understanding of its message and its reality…so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreversible loss.
My purpose in writing these reflections for a while is to assist this renewal of understanding. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve in his own time with The Spirit of the Liturgy. The only difference is that I have had to translate what Guardini did at the end of World War I (in a totally different historical situation) into the context of our present day questions, hopes and dangers. I am not attempting (any more than Guardini was) to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research (… I am not a dreaded Calculus professor). I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give the faith its central form of expression in the Liturgy. My hope is to encourage, in a new way, something like a “liturgical movement”, a movement toward the Liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the Liturgy (inwardly and outwardly)…then the intention that inspires the coming reflections would be richly fulfilled.
All too often, we (as Catholics) will come to Mass or in a common prayer without understanding why. (How often do you hear from a non-Catholic: “Why do you, as Catholics do (blank)?” (Make the sign of the cross, say memorized prayers, use incense, stand, sit…you can fill in the “(blank)”. And our response is something like: “I don’t know…it’s just what we do.”
The “great prayer of the Church” the Mass (or the Liturgy of the Hours), I want to give the parish unique insights on many areas of the Liturgy to help everyone to rediscover the hidden spiritual wealth (and transcendent grandeur) of the Liturgy as the very center of our Christian life (our Catholic life). While other denominations express prayer in their own method, the Liturgy is distinctively ours (given to us over 2000 years). It is not to be seen as a museum piece that is viewed from a distance…or just walked by as painting on a wall done by a famous artist. Our Liturgy is something we touch, see, smell, hear…taste. It is ours to take and experience.
Among the many liturgical areas we are going to look at in the next few reflections, I hope we can discuss fundamental misunderstandings of the Second Vatican Council’s intentions for liturgical reforms (renewal), especially the focus of prayer at the Mass, the placement of the tabernacle, the posture of kneeling, etc.
Other areas of interest: the essence of worship • Jewish roots and (2000 years old) new elements of the Christian Liturgy • sacred times and places • the historic and cosmic dimensions of the Liturgy • the relationship of the Liturgy to time and space • art and music…and the Liturgy • (the often misunderstood concept even among religious and clergy) – “active participation” of all the faithful • gestures, posture, and vestments. I hope…in the reflections to come…when you are asked to fill in the “(blank)”, each of us will be so excited to explain the “(blank)” – others will want to learn the steps of the Dance with us and join the music and the excitement. And, even more important, when you are tempted to think (or worse … say out loud): “Does God really care? Does what we do at Mass only get in the way of worshipping God?” …you will have the knowledge to expel that demon.
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.
The idea is that every aspect of human existence was better in the “good old days” than it is today. What childish nonsense! All of us are required to live in the present. The “good old days” are right now. The advances in modern technology and medicine are tremendous. People are living longer than ever before. The quality of life is much better now than in the “good old days.”
This Catholic Church of ours has our spiritual welfare in mind during these forty days. In Lent we rise above childish limitations to appreciate the value of this special liturgical season. The Church sees Lent in terms of three different aspects of our life in faith. The first aspect is: the Pascal Mystery, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ which brings about our salvation. The Church gives us these forty days as a preparation for the celebration of the great event of Easter. The Paschal Mystery is at the very heart of our faith in Christ…as the Savior. It is through the Paschal Mystery that the Church came into being.
With the first aspect of Lent comes the second: Christian initiation. Early in Church history it became clear that the most appropriate time to introduce new members into the faith and Christian community is through the spiritual birth of baptism as the Church was celebrating Her own birth. Lent then became the annual season of preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism.
The third aspect of Lent is: Repentance and Renewal. The Church recognizes that Easter is the time for us Catholics to become reconciled to God and to His Church through the repentance that comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Each liturgical year one of the three aspects of Lent take on a prominence. And so during the year of Cycle A it is the turn of repentance to occupy center stage, because of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which features parables about the forgiveness of Jesus. As St. Paul preached repentance to the Romans by explaining how the Lord forgives sinners. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
So Jesus suffered, died, and rose for all sinners, even the really bad ones. On this Second Sunday of Lent, we should turn our attention to our need for repentance by going to Confession (which isn’t just for the CCD students) as an important part of our preparation for Easter. And giving up treats, snacking between meals, (… or Twitter, Facebook, etc.) like we did in the “good old days” puts us in the proper penitential frame of mind.
This coming 22nd and 29th, the Church honors the two subjects of our gospel this Sunday. Martha and Mary, who were sisters and friends of Jesus. They invited Jesus to their house so that He could get some needed R & R. The hosts had different roles to play. Martha did all of the dirty work: cooking and cleaning, etc. Mary supplied the chit-chat. Martha thought that the arrangement should be more equitable with Mary responsible for more chores and less gab: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus wisely skirted the issue: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part of it and it will not be taken from her.” (Could you see Martha thinking to herself: “Fine, then you can all starve and find your own accommodations…I am going to sit it out too.”…But, you know what…that is exactly the point! We tend to forget: “I came to serve…not to be served.”)
The key question is this – what exactly was the part of Jesus that Mary was choosing? When St. Luke wrote that Mary sat at the foot of Jesus, he was not describing her posture but her relationship to him. “To sit at the feet” of someone meant to be that person’s disciple. Jesus had come to call all people, women equally with men, children as well as adults…even those who were considered sinners. They were all eligible for discipleship. Jesus insisted that Mary had chosen the better part of Him. She had made the right choice. Of course, someone had to prepare the meal if they were ever going to get something to eat. Jesus wanted Martha to be His disciple too, even if she spent a lot of her time in the kitchen.
Martha and Mary represent all of the women of the Church. They can also serve as a role model for men, because we all have the same calling, to offer the Lord the warm hospitality that He had experienced in the Bethany home of Martha and Mary, to listen to Him as intently as Mary had, to make Him the priority of our lives as Martha had, and to allow nothing and no one to deprive us of our relationship with Him. In the first reading this week, the prophet Abraham proved himself to be a highly gracious host (like Martha and Mary would later be). He provided hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be Angels, preparing for them a fine meal of beef, rolls, curds, and milk. Like Abraham, Martha and Mary…we must provide hospitality for the Lord.
At Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus the Christ…Right? We focus our attention on Him, hear His words in faith, absorb it and apply it to our lives…right? Then we are nourished with a Sacred Food, the Eucharist, which is prepared, not by Martha or Abraham, but by Jesus, Himself (the Real Host of the party). Some of us may find the example of Mary difficult to imitate. (After all, the busy work of Martha is physically hard…but mentally easy.) We can allow the preoccupations of daily living to distract us from hearing and following the teachings of Jesus. There is a temptation to let the false values of this society turn aside the truths of our Catholic Faith. At Sunday Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus. This wee bit of a church becomes our Bethany, the place where we learn to become true disciples of Jesus.
Father Kevin’s Reflection – June 12, 2016 – Now is the time to reflect … Especially during this Year of Mercy
I have gotten sickened by those in the media who talk about being “good stewards” of the earth. It has become the 21st century’s version of the worshiping of a Golden Calf. I find it humorous when someone in Washington, DC thinks they know how to care for farmland and animals because they have a window box “organic garden” and a pet dog (or cat)…which they often refer to as members of the family!
The Lord wants us to trust Him in all things, and He knows that trusting Him with our finances is the most practical example of stewardship in the 21st century. God specifically asks us in this week’s readings to do exactly that! He also promises that when you do, He will “pour down blessing upon you without measure.” If we can trust God with our finances, it becomes easier to trust Him in other things as well.
While we should not tithe expecting material blessings, sometimes they occur. The greater lessons I have learned about tithing are detachment and trust. And, take it from me…coming from a successful business with my father in Denver, coming to South Dakota is considered by this world as a downslide. And, NONE of the money we receive as priests is our own; it comes from the generosity of our parishioners, so it should be easy to offer up the first 10% of it. Right? Well, even I struggle to practice tithing.
Even when it is not easy, making that offering builds in our hearts a detachment from money, self-interest, or the “what’s in it for me” attitude. Instead, one turns to a trust in God to provide. In a materialistic age, it reminds us that Jesus is Lord of our lives. But it also is a spiritual offering to God. There is a reason that the collection is symbolically carried up to the altar as part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and offered up with the bread and wine. Spiritually we should offer ourselves up – our time, talent and treasure – during the offertory of each Mass. (This is why the priest offers to God the Father: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”)
When stewardship is discussed in parishes, the three T’s mentioned are Time, Talent, and Treasure. But often people hear “just another talk about money.” Stewardship is so much more. It is the offering of our entire selves to God. We have a choice: to live self-willed lives or Christ-centered lives. God gives us all our time, talents and treasure; we should give back to him the first fruits of these gifts.
Fr. Andrew Kemberling (a priest in Denver) once said, “Giving God our skill and our wealth without giving of our self is meaningless. If a man showers his wife with gifts but does not love her, his gestures are empty. If the wife loves the gifts more than him, her actions are equally as empty. Stewardship is truly Spirituality.”
Quite frankly, I find no excuse whatsoever, when people do not commit to giving of their time and talent to build up God’s Kingdom. What would it look like to give God 10% of your time? In a 24-hour day, that adds up to almost two and a half hours (2 hours, 24 minutes) of time given directly to God. The time could be mental prayer, perhaps getting to and attending daily Mass, doing some spiritual reading, praying the rosary each day, and getting involved in at least one ministry of the Church. Perhaps you are called to serve in one of many charitable works in the area (Senior Center, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, Right to Life groups, Altar Society, (in Hoven) the Treasure Hut, just to name a few). Assisting in the various ministries during the Mass, or visit the elderly in nursing homes, or feed the hungry and clothe the poor comes to mind too.
God does not just want our money – He wants our hearts. He wants us to show Him that we are in love with Him, and that He is in first place. Tithing of our treasure, apart from giving God our talent and our time is empty…like the husband who gives his wife lavish gifts but never spends time with her…or Him. While most people find it difficult to immediately start giving 10% of themselves to God, it is important to try to strive to make that an eventual goal. Maybe, a good gauge to start is by giving at least one hour’s wage to the Lord each week. After all, isn’t it the Lord that provides for your needs now?
Yes…it is wisdom to plan to save for: an emergency fund, short term needs and long term needs. But always make a provision for God first. Allow Jesus Christ to be Lord of your checkbook, too! What amount of the day do you currently give to God in prayer? How do you show Him that you love Him above all things? What are some ways in which you might be able to share more of your gifts (talents) with the Church and your neighbor? Are your priorities really in the right place…if you are too busy for the Lord…your priorities are definitely in the wrong place.