Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Isaiah 8:23-9:3

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

Matthew 4:12-23


Dear Jesus,


Something is happening in the Church that causes me great distress.  There is nothing that I can do about it, but I thought I would write and put my sorrow before you.  Sometimes, you get back to me with a response.  That would be most welcome now.  Other times, silence ensues and I must pray over my concern and learn to live with it knowing that ultimately you will heal what is perceived to be a wound; you will unite what seems to be intractable division.


How many years have I been walking with you and gathering with you at The Table?  You know I was never the same after that first encounter, that nothing that antedated our meeting had the same value or importance.  You know that my journey with you has been fraught with questions that always seek greater understanding.  That is the way with faith, isn’t it?  I noticed in this Sunday’s reading from 1 Corinthians that Paul chastises his audience for the divisions that they seem to be fostering in the Corinthian community.  Some are boasting because they belong to different teachers – Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ.  Each sect seeks to lord it over the others as being inferior to itself.  And Paul cries out: Is Christ divided?  He is scandalized by their attitude.


Nowhere is that unity of the whole church more clearly proclaimed than in the celebration of the Eucharist.  But things are changing.  Now there are two rites, one Ordinary and one Extraordinary, but two nonetheless.  The Ordinary is the Celebration of the Liturgy according to the Missal of Paul VI promulgated in 1970.  The Extraordinary comes from the official document Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI that authorizes wider us of the Latin Mass composed before Vatican II and contained in the 1962 Roman Missal of John XXII.

Am I mistaken, or are there now two rather startlingly different ecclesiologies in evidence in the two rites.  I am old enough to remember when the 1962 Rite was the only rite.  Said in Latin, the priest had his back to the people – were they called the Assembly in those days? – and the people on their knees followed along in their missals, which offered translation, or they read their own devotions or prayed the rosary depending on what moved them.  Bells rang to call the people to attention for the words of institution.  Then, after the exposition of the Bread and Wine above the priest’s head, they could go back to their devotions.  When Communion time came, it was not unheard of that the priest was the only one to receive the Bread.  He was the only one to drink from the Cup.  The later in the morning the mass time, the fewer the number of communicants.  The emphasis seemed to be on the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into your body and blood that the people were there to adore.  The priest was the sole celebrator of the mass with the people in attendance as silent adorers.  The Scriptures were limited to two readings, one from St. Paul and one from one of the gospels.  The Hebrew Scriptures were in short shrift.  There were not three cycles of readings for mass.   Much of the Scriptures was never proclaimed in the course of the Sundays of the year.


There is nostalgia among some for that essentially Tridentine Liturgy.  Nostalgia for the Latin.  Nostalgia the silence and reverence perceived in the assembly’s posture of adoration.  Even some priests find joy in celebrating this rite with fewer distractions because the assembly is behind them and they have less of a compulsion to perform.  Alas, how can there be nostalgia form something that one has never before experienced?


Am I mistaken in thinking that the Second Vatican Council called for the full, active, and conscious participation of the assembly?  Am I incorrect in thinking that the assembly is called to exercise the priesthood of the Baptized as co-celebrants of the Liturgy?  In no way is the assembly to be passive adorers, much less spectators.


We stand about the Table of the Bread in testimony to your resurrection and, as the Baptized, to our participation in the resurrection.  We stand in recognition of your presence in the transformed assembly and in the transformed bread.  We engage in dialogue with the priest-celebrant and are of one mind and heart with him in the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer.  There is no place for private devotions here.  (In fact, I wonder if an argument could be made that if one were to engage in private devotions throughout the mass s/he would not have been missed mass.)  We stand in unison in the Communion Procession acknowledging our common union with you augmented through our reception of the Bread and our drinking from the Cup.  It is after all a following of your instruction quoted in the words of institution.


Am I making sense?  Am I wrong when I think there is a different ecclesiology being exercised here?  Am I just being stubborn when I think that I cannot go back to the other way?  I loved the chants of the old days.  I loved the ritual of my youth.  It was difficult and even awkward to adapt to the new.  But once the theology of the call to renewal was grasped and the transforming effects on the assembly were perceived, there was no going back for me.  The priest now empowered the assembly and did not just preside over them.


I didn’t exactly shake the dust from my feet as I left, but I left the parish church near where I live knowing I could never return there, that I had to find a parish that celebrated according to the mind of Vatican Council II.  What sent me over the edge?  The pastor announced that he was discontinuing granting access to the Cup to the assembly.  Among his reasons, none of which seemed substantial to me, was his concern that with so many Ministers of the Cup the people might lose track of the importance of the priest.  Clearly it is his perception that too much power has been given to the people and that it is time for the ordained priest to take that back and return the people in their proper place.


So I travel a distance to Liturgy now.  The parish is poorer than the one closer at hand.  The disabled and the aged are much more in evidence here.  Some of the disabled even engage in liturgical ministry as greeters, ushers, lectors and Eucharistic Ministers.  The choir isn’t as polished sounding as the one in the more posh surroundings.  But joy abounds and a spirit of rejoicing because you have called us to be transformed by the Eucharist that we celebrate in order that we might be sent to be the continuation of the Bread broken and the Cup shared until all have eaten and drunk and know that they are the beloved in the kingdom of the one who sent you to live among us.  It is curious how poverty enhances that proclamation.


I hear Paul asking again: Is Christ divided?  I am afraid that is my perception now.  It makes me sad but all the more resolved not to go back but to enter into the reformed liturgy and continue to be challenged to do this in your memory.





The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

John 1:29-34


Dear Jesus,

No one can ever know what is in another person’s heart.  We can only imagine how we would feel were we standing in that other person’s shoes.  Only you know the secrets of the human heart.  Still, I find myself wondering and imagining.  What was it like for John the Baptist to come to the end of his career?  How easy was it for him to hand it all over and exit stage left?

The more I ponder the more important I think it is to look into my own heart and, remembering, filter the other’s experience through my own.  I couldn’t have done this as a youngster, not even at the beginning of my career.  All was possibility then.  The sense of vocation was so strong.  I had the truth.  In those heady days, it was easy to delude myself into thinking that I would make a difference, that the world would be a better place for my having trod the face of it.  I did not think much about aging or even about having to pass on the baton much less consider departing from the scene.  I lived in the now of the forever young.

Did John the Baptist know from the start of his career that his role would be to prepare the way for another?  When the crowds came and listened with rapt attention to his call to repentance, was he always thinking that he must be ready when the other would come to step aside, hand over the reins, so to speak?  As he continued and his reputation spread, as he heard people speculate that he might be the Messiah, was he quick to dash such thoughts and remind himself that he lived for the yet unknown you?  It seemed so clear to others that he, John, was becoming a light to the nations that (God’s) salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  It was said that even the king came out in disguise to listen to him.

How much time did you and John spend together?  The Evangelists do not agree.  Only Luke makes the two of you cousins.  In John’s gospel, the Baptist says he did not know you but the reason why he came baptizing with water was that you might be made known to Israel.  Was it easy for John to turn it all over to you?  Didn’t he have certain expectations and amongst them that you would conform to his image of Messiah and the judgment and scourging the Messiah would bring?  John’s gospel makes it seem as easy as it was inevitable.  Having seen the Spirit descend upon and remain with you, he could then with calm assurance declare that you would be the one to baptize with the Holy Spirit.  And, having understood that, he can testify that you are the Son of God.  It flows so naturally with no evident struggle.  Did John have no doubts until his days in prison?  Did he wonder only then if it had all been a mistake?  Did he wonder only then what his life would ultimately mean?

I wonder if the greatest mistake we make is in thinking that we understand.  Is it true that the clearer the vision is the farther we are from the reality?  There is a temptation to try to do all we can to keep things the way they are.  The familiar is far safer than the unknown.  There is a comfort in saying that we have always done it this way.  My life was spent in the service of this dream and I want to pass that dream, unaltered, to others.  We really do not want to walk by faith rather than by sight.  I have had to struggle with that so many times.  Faith is not required to believe in what you see.  There is no faith in heaven.  God is seen and known in the beatific vision.  If I walk in faith, I have to remind myself that the Mystery is ever unfolding and developing in a process that will not be exhausted until the end of time and maybe not even then.  After all, it will take the rest of eternity to get to know God.  And then we will have only begun to know.

This is not to deny the worth of the Baptist’s witness.  It just was not an end in itself.  This is not to deny the worth of any person’s ministry.  It just was not the expression of the fullness of the mystery.  I should have been able to remember this as I went along.  All I would have had to do was remember the experience of church I had as a child and contrast it with the experience of church I had as an adult.  Both were beautiful.  Both shared the truth.  One experience prepared the way for the other.  The mistake would be to think that either one was as it should be forever.  Ever ancient; ever new, the poet said.  That is what I must remember.

When John the Baptist saw you coming toward him at the beginning of your public ministry, was he able to deal with that unfolding reality.  Or would his struggle heighten as he heard how different your ministry was from his?  Who told you to flee the wrath that is to come?  That’s the message with which he harangued the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  How could he cope when, from his prison cell he heard you denounced for welcoming sinners and eating with them?  Could he have accepted a Messiah who washed others’ feet?



The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Acts 10:34-38

Matthew 3:13-17



Dear Jesus,


It is one thing to ponder the wonder of your baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.  It is another to consider the implications of my own in light of yours.  With yours, we celebrate and Epiphany, a proclamation that you are Lord.  With ours, we rejoice that we are identified with you as the object of God’s love.


You and John obviously had had a relationship prior to the encounter between you at the Jordan.  John’s ministry was highly successful if such huge crowds came out to hear him and if so many people were submitting to his Baptism.  As his junior, had you sat and listened to his message, perhaps even being in formation by him?  When was it that you decided that you had to go your own way?  When did you determine that your message would be new and good news markedly different from the reform that John preached?  So much of John’s proclamation had to do with dire warnings of a wrath to come, of judgment and condemnation for those caught unawares.  It is difficult to reconcile that message with the Suffering Servant Isaiah describes in today’s first reading, the one who brings forth justice to the nations without crying out, without shouting, without so much as a voice heard in the street.  Why do I imagine that John shouted a lot even as he admonished?


Your way will be the gentle way.  You will be about forming the relationship between people and God, the baptismal covenant, even as you help people to see and walk in the light of freedom.  You will not be about condemning but about calling people to the freedom of the children of God.  Your message will be for the nations as well as for the Jews.


And yet you must have wanted it to be obvious that there was continuity between your way and John’s, one message to be built upon and flow from the other.  Was it the Spirit urging you that day as you went to the Jordan and John and asked him to baptize you?  Was it the Spirit that told you this was the hour, that it was time to begin the response to the Father’s will?  There would be no turning back from this moment even as you must have wondered where this moment would take you.  It doesn’t say that John clapped you on the back and wished you well.  It doesn’t say that you parted after a fond embrace.  But it does say that you saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descending upon you.  It does say that you heard a voice saying: This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.  This pleasure is at the beginning before you have accomplished anything.  Is this being well pleased at the start God’s way of say that God’s love is unconditional and forever?  The voice came from the heavens but did anyone else hear it but you?


     We believe that this is an Epiphany moment just as surely as was the coming of the Magi.  We believe that in your Baptism you are recognized as and proclaimed to be the Messiah whom we call Lord.


That is all well and good.  But I wonder if you want me to stop there.  Isn’t there much more for me to remember in this celebration that should have profound impact on my life and the way I live it?  Otherwise, the Word isn’t living and all I do in the hearing of it is to look back at an isolated moment and wish that I could have witnessed it myself.  But that moment at the Jordan was timeless and each time someone enters the waters to die and rise that moment is renewed, as is the covenant.  


Now I begin to see why the Font in every church is such a sacred space, a place where people ought to pause and reflect each time they enter the worship space.  I think I understand why each one should touch the water and wash again in the sign of the cross and so remember that it is only journeying through this font that one gains access to the Table to share in the meal that is prepared there.  It was not a minor moment when I was plunged into those waters.  I was called by name as I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And all the people, the Church, said Amen!  And just as surely, the earth shook, the heavens parted, and the voice was heard calling me God’s beloved, proclaiming that I am loved with the same love God has for you.  That is my comfort and consolation.


I wonder if you are telling me not to stop there.  To do so would be to make that a private moment to be cherished in my heart without implications.  If I was called by name and Baptized, if God spoke of God’s pleasure in me, all this was so that I could be sent to do what you did.  And that has nothing to do with making my voice heard in the streets.  I may have done that.  It has nothing to do with being judgmental or condemning, much less with breaking the bruised reed.  I must come out of the Font ready to minister and to love and to be vulnerable in the loving and ministry.  I think you want me to be aware that the journey that begins at the Font may well lead to where yours did, to Calvary, the Cross, to crucifixion and even death.  But not to defeat.  All the defeat was washed away in the Water.  Death stayed there.  And even if I am asked to pour out my entire being in service of the Word, if I die doing that, in you I will rise again.


Help me to remember in the dark times so that I will be strengthened for the journey.  And keep me looking forward to the next time I pause at the Font and touch the waters.