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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Harsh Realities

Saturday February 5, 2022

Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

by Fr. David M. Knight

The introductory verses to 1Kings 3: 4-13 tell us that “the people were sacrificing at the high places,” the hilltop shrines where the pagans sacrificed to idols. They did it, however, “because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD.” And Solomon himself, though he “loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David” also “sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.” This was good and bad.

We can compare this to Catholics who have abandoned the Mass to worship in Protestant services. This is good, because they are worshiping sincerely with true Christian believers in authentically Christian assemblies (the word “church” means “assembly”). But it is also bad, because they are not in the “House built for the name of the Lord” where Eucharist is celebrated and the “catholic, universal faith that comes to us from the apostles” is preached in union with all the bishops throughout the world.” Why aren’t they?

Catholics go to Protestant churches for the same reason the Jews sacrificed in the “high places” when “no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.” They go because we do not provide them with a parish where they can find what Jesus offers and they seek.

The essentials are present, of course, in every Catholic parish: instruction, preaching, all seven sacraments, the Mass, and even, for those who know how to recognize it, a community of faith. It would be heresy to deny this.

But to say realistically, in practical terms, that all Catholics can find what they need in their parishes would be to bury our heads in the ground. The second largest religious ”denomination” in the United States, after the Catholics, are the ex-Catholics. When the most popular Protestant churches report that 40% of their congregations grew up as Catholics, we would be blinding ourselves to say we have really “built a house for the Lord” where they can find him. Whose fault is this?

Ultimately, of course, it is the Pope’s. Since over the centuries the popes have reserved to themselves many pastoral decisions that properly belong to the local bishops—for example, the regulation of liturgy and the requirements for ordination—the Pope has to say, like every “monovocal” authority, “The buck stops here.”

Then, in descending order, we blame the bishops and pastors. But this is a cop-out. All the popes, bishops and pastors together cannot provide an adequate experience of God at Sunday Mass unless the congregation—the congregation, the congregation—are expressing their faith enthusiastically, joyfully and credibly. God has called every baptized Catholic, as he called Solomon, to “build me a house.”

The first step is to be aware, when we walk in for Mass, that the effect the liturgy will have on many depends, in large part, on how we participate in it.

In Mark 6:30-34 the disciples return from their mission tour and tell Jesus “all that they had done and taught.” In response he takes them away “to a deserted place by themselves” to build up their union with himself. But when he saw the crowd that sought them out, he realized that all the ordained priests and bishops in the world would never be enough. “He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” But no pastor can possibly be an adequate shepherd for a whole parish. He would need more “gifts of the Holy Spirit” than the catechisms can describe. When Paul said, I have become all things to all people,” he did not mean he could be and do everything that each person required. That is why he made it clear that to each and every one “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good,” to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”[1]

Paul gives only a “short list” of all the gifts, services and activities needed to bring about the “common good” in a Christian community. No one person, and specifically, no ordained priest or bishop, could possibly have them all. It takes the work of every member to “build a house for the Lord” where all of his people can find him. That is why Paul goes on to use the phrase “building up” or “to build up” five more times in the same letter. It is a basic Christian obligation, rooted in our baptismal anointing as “priests,” to “build a house for the Lord” by building up the Church, beginning in our own parish. Not to do this (okay, here comes the bombshell!) is just as truly a violation of our baptismal promises as failing to communicate deeply with a spouse is a violation of the marriage vows. When are we going to start taking our commitments seriously? All of them.

The last statement may sound harsh. It isn’t. It is challenging. So is an invitation to compete in the Olympics. All of us are “volunteer Christians,” and we are all Christians by invitation only. Jesus Christ has chosen us to be his body, to let him live, speak and act in us to continue his mission on earth. We did not choose him; he chose us, and has anointed us to “bear fruit, fruit that will last forever.” But having been chosen, and having been promised a “posterity” in those who have received or grown in divine life through our ministries, it is obvious that we need to live up to what we are, have become, and are called to be. And to do. [2]

Is it harsh, is it a threat to tell fathers and mothers they are “committed” to take care of their children? Or do parents consider this the greatest privilege and blessing of their lives? It is the same for us who are called to take care of the children of God as co-sharers in the life of the Father. We just need to keep ourselves aware of the mystery of our being, the mystery of our life, the mystery of our identification with Jesus, “only Son of the Father,” the mystery of what it means to be and live as a Christian.

Initiative: Decide to cultivate awareness of who you are and are called to be. Don’t just dismiss this; make a concrete decision. How will you do this?

[1] 1Corinthians 9:22; 12:1-10; 14:4-26; Ephesians 4:11-13. [2] John 15:16.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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