Immersed in Christ: Sunday 10/15/17
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Being Faithful to Faith
Questions to Ask Yourself
What do you love most about the Church? How do you experience God’s action in the Church, especially in the way he blesses you? How do you respond to experiences or thoughts that make you feel
Ideas to Consider
The Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 23) sets the tone of today’s celebration: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” We are rejoicing in what God is doing and will succeed in doing through his Church.
The first and second readings both speak of God’s generosity in providing for his people. The Gospel recognizes that we don’t always recognize or accept what God is doing for us, but the message is still that God is inviting us to a wedding feast. And the Entrance Antiphon assures us that, even though we sometimes fail to respond to God’s love, the bottom line is not what we are, but what God is: “But you are forgiving, God of Israel.”
In the Opening Prayers we ask God to make his “love the foundation of our lives.” We acknowledge that “the hand of God’s loving kindness” guides “all the moments of our day.” And we ask him: ”Send your Spirit to unite us…that we may rejoice in your presence.” Today’s celebration is inspired by the vision of peace, love and joy that God is bringing about in the world through his Church. It inspires us to work with him to bring it about.
“On this mountain…”
Isaiah 25: 6-10 holds up before us the vision of the “wedding banquet,” which is the image Jesus used to describe the fruits of his victory and the fullness of his redemption in heaven: “a feast of rich food and choice wines” in which all evil is overcome. “He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples.” There will be no more blindness and distortion of truth; no more racial, religious or nationalistic division. All people will have forgiven each other any wrongs they have suffered at the hands of other individuals or nations. “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” And we will see the full glory of God revealed in the glory of Jesus shining through his redeemed and glorified body — the human race transformed and made perfect in love. “On that day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!’”
This is what we pray for in the petitions of the Our Father: “Give us this day…” and “Forgive us… as we forgive….” A more accurate translation of these petitions would be “Give us today our future bread,” the bread of the banquet, Jesus himself, who is the Bread of Life and our joy in heaven. The Church, in her liturgical instructions, says “daily bread” means Eucharist: “in the Lord’s Prayer, daily food is prayed for, which for Christians means preeminently the Eucharistic bread….” that is, Jesus himself. And when we pray, “Forgive us… as we forgive…,” we are in fact looking forward to the “end time,” when God will have brought about the perfect “unity and peace of his kingdom” through universal, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. This is what we look forward to when we declare, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
The wedding banquet
In Matthew 22: 1-14 Jesus uses the image of a wedding banquet to describe the “reign of God.” But one guest would not wear the special wedding robe that was provided for the party. When the host saw this he was furious, and he said, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This seems to be a rather extreme reaction to the violation of a dress code! But that is not what it was. The guest was refusing to enter into the celebration. He was there on his own terms, not to celebrate the wedding. This was an insult to the host and to everyone there.
This is something we see every Sunday at Mass, when people are present, but on their own terms. They come to Mass, not to enter into the real spirit of the Mass, but to participate more or less — in some way that pleases them, but not according to the real nature of the Mass.
The Mass is a “communal prayer.” It is something we do together, as a community. It is not supposed to be a gathering of individuals who are watching the priest celebrate Mass and who are participating on their own terms, following the words and the actions in their own way, according to their own devotion. The Mass is like a dance: we all enter into it, we all dance to the same music, we let the music and the motions unite us, and by “losing ourselves” as individuals in the dance we “find ourselves” as a community.
When all who are present “put on the wedding robe;” accept to participate in the Mass, not on their own terms, but as the Church urges us to do, then we will all experience the Mass as a preview, a foretaste, of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” (see Revelation 19:9). All will be united in love. All will be giving themselves, sharing themselves with each other in song and response; not holding back behind walls of protective reserve, not sitting separated, each one isolated in defensive individuality, but all together, caught up in, losing themselves in, communal celebration. Then we will experience the Mass as a celebration. Then we will all be clothed in the equalizing, unifying, self-transcending robe of the wedding feast where all are “clothed in Christ,” made one in the Spirit.
Most Catholics are not ready for this. We are afraid to put on the wedding robe. We want to remain in our own clothing, distinct from others, free to participate on our own terms, doing or not doing what others do as led by the liturgy. We are reluctant even to sit with others — especially up front in the church — because then we will be giving up some control over whether or how much we participate. And so we make the Mass less than authentic for ourselves and everyone else. If we are “lifers” in the Church, and have learned to get something out of the Mass regardless of how it is celebrated, we will be able to profit by praying privately while Mass is going on. But we will be falsifying the true nature of the Mass and perpetuating the distorted perception of the Mass that centuries of misguided direction from the clergy produced in the Catholic people. We will see the Mass as a gathering of people who come to watch and to pray individually while the priest offers the sacrifice for them.
But if we can “lose ourselves” in celebration to “find ourselves” as a community, this will carry over to the rest of life. We will “lose ourselves” in the life and work of the Church to “find ourselves” as the redeeming body of Christ wherever we are, and whatever we are engaged in. This will enable us and encourage others to say, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life!”
The Spirit in the Church
In Philippians 4: 12-20 St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the spirit (and it is the Spirit of God) active in the Church. Paul is writing from prison. He says, “I am experienced in being brought low,” but “I have learned how to cope with every circumstance.” The Holy Spirit is his support: “In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything.”
But the Spirit is also supporting Paul through the ministry of others.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1Corinthians 12: 4-7).
Paul writes to the Philippians, “It was kind of you to want to share in my hardships.” And the love to which the Spirit inspired them is a love the Spirit will return to them: “My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of his magnificent riches in Christ Jesus.”
Both in heaven and on earth, what we experience is the love of God inspiring us all, uniting us all, expressing itself mutually in us all. This is the reality of the “wedding banquet.” It is why we rejoice to say, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
Have you experienced Mass, or the Church, as a community giving expression to the life and spirit of grace? What would make Mass such an experience for you?
Beginning with Mass, ask God: “Send your Spirit to unite us…that we may rejoice in your presence.” Then follow the Spirit in word, song and action.