A MOMENT OF GRACE

 

It was a surprise when, after a long silence, I received the email message from a friend.  Immediately I responded, telling him that I had some obligations to fulfill before I would be able to answer his letter.  Within seconds came back his reply: Barbra Streisand had it wrong.  It’s people needed by people who are the luckiest people in the world.

Talk about a dash of cold water in the face as a wakeup call.  I had been feeling put upon and was grumbling on the inside about these intrusions on my free time.  But, as my friend pointed out, these obligations were from people who needed what I could offer.

Then Sunday at mass, I listened to Paul remind the Corinthians that the Spirit is the source of the many gifts individuated among every member of their faith community.  That was another moment of grace that put a context around my friend’s note.  I sat in silence for some time when I returned home and then thanked the Spirit for the insight that I would like to share with you.  You may say this is obvious.  I would agree that it should be.  But sometimes we miss what is most obvious because we’ve heard the message before.  The trouble is that we fail to make the application to current circumstances.

These times are difficult for many of our brothers and sisters.  All of us can become discouraged by the barrage of negative news, as one horrible event follows another, seeming to convince us that there is no limit to the evils human kind can inflict on each other.  We can sink into a morass of despair and forget that there is also no limit to the good that can be shared in this community of the Body of Christ, the Church, and beyond to the community that is the human family.

It is a blessing to be needed as long as we remember that what is needed from us is gift.  I’m not the source of it.  I should not resent that fact that others have gifts that I do not.  What I should be doing is placing my gifts at the disposal of those in need.  And I should be encouraging others to share their gifts and not be threatened by the blessings that result.

That was the lesson that Paul taught the Corinthians.  Their community was being torn asunder because some gifts were seen by them to be more important and therefore signs of God’s special favor than were other gifts.  The gift most boasted about was that of tongues.  Obviously, they felt, to speak in tongues was the greatest of all gifts.  Those who spoke in tongues were the most important members of the community and should therefore lord it over the rest.

Not so fast, Paul said, in effect.  There are many gifts but one giver, the Spirit.  You will notice that whenever Paul lists the gifts, tongues comes at the bottom of the list.  Love is the greatest of the gifts.  The body has many parts and only functions well when each part is working.  The Body of the Church is Christ.  The Body works best when each gift is exercised for the good of the community and placed at the community’s, the Church’s disposal for the benefit of the church.

It seems to me that there is a wonderful example for us in our experience of the Eucharist.  Of course this proposal can also be the source of resentment and division in our faith community.  What if I envy you your gift and do not see the worth in my own?  What if I exercise the charism without actually having it?  You see where this can go and how understandable become the schisms in the Corinthian community.

What are we supposed to experience as we come together and gather around the Tables of Word and Eucharist?  I have to confess that my perspective is shaped from my experience of those Spirit filled days of renewal in the Church, the days following the Council of Vatican II.  Pope John XXIII had opened the windows to let in fresh air and help the Council Fathers be lead to an unfolding understanding of what it means to be Church.  Adjournamento.

The image of the first Pentecost comes to mind with that gathering of the church in the upper room when the violent wind blew through the place and fire danced over them.  Those gathered were transformed and ran out to tell the rest of the Good News that is Jesus dead and risen and the hope that is our in him.  All are called to partake in the Mystery and the Kingdom Jesus Christ brings.

Each of us has a responsibility.  Each has a part to play as we respond to the challenge to be fully, actively, and consciously participating in the Eucharist and in the life of the church.  Many of us were thrilled as those waves of realization washed over us.  None of us knew the full implications of change.  But we saw possibilities as we learned new ways to celebrate and participate, new ways to pray in common and in unity, new ways to minister in the broader community, ways that had been reserved for the clergy.   We began to experience the rush of the Spirit among us and the presence of the Risen One in our midst.  We were being awakened to the Priesthood of the Baptized, the gift that comes with that encounter with Christ in the Waters.  Here was the wonder of the imminence of our God that did not deny God’s transcendence.  The wonder? Each of us is a member of the Body.  Each of us is gifted.  Each of us is called the ministry in the church and beyond.

Of course there were those who soon came to resent the changes and who wanted to keep things the way they were.  So the call to renewal became a source of division just as the gifts showered by the Spirit among the Corinthians divided them.  We learn some lessons slowly, over and over again, with each new generation.

But I digress.  Enough has been said about the division.  My point is the gifts and the richness that results if those gifts are called forth.  If we stay in the realm of Liturgy for a moment, you will see what my point is.  Gifts that come from the Spirit are called charisms.  There are different charisms, different gifts but the same giver.  Different charisms but the same giver, the Spirit.  The Lector exercises a charism as s/he proclaims that Word in the midst of the Assembly.  But not every reader has that charism.  Eucharistic Ministry is a charism.  Not all who function in that capacity have that charism.  You’ll recognize the difference when you experience the Word proclaimed by one with the charism.  Preaching is a charism.  You sense the difference when one with the charism preaches.  Eucharistic Ministers ought not feel threatened by Ushers or Altar Servers.  Presiders ought not be threatened by Preachers.  And so on, through the various gifts of the Spirit.  Charisms cannot be legislated nor imposed.  They are gifts of the Spirit to be recognized and celebrated by the Church.  If we call forth those so blessed and gifted by the Spirit, how rich will be our celebrations and how strengthened we will be to continue on our journey of faith.

Which brings me back to the starting point and these difficult times with so many needs before us.  Paul knew there were many gifts but the same giver.  He said the same thing to us last Sunday through the living word that was the Second Reading.  There are many gifts among us, sufficient to meet all the needs of the community.  The gifts need to be recognized.  The gifts must be called forth and empowered for service.

The Church gathers to celebrate Eucharist and to be transformed.  Then, once the Meal is shared, the gifted are sent to continue the Presence in the world.  The gifted must respond to the Spirit and their being sent by placing those gifts at the service of the community. Remember when Jesus fed the 5000 with the few loaves and the couple of fish; remember how much was left over when all had been fed?  If we trust, that will continue to be our experience.  There will be plenty to meet the needs, with energy and giftedness left over to meet tomorrow’s needs, until Christ comes again.

Those who recognize their giftedness and experience the call and respond will know the truth of what my friend said to me.  People who are needed by people are the luckiest people in the world.

Those people are you.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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