The Responsorial (Psalm 106) invites us: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” Always.
Exodus 32: 15-34 shows the need we have for something visible and present that we can deal with to experience our relationship (interaction) with God and be assured of God’s relationship (interaction) with us. An invisible, intangible God just seems too vague, too far-away to keep us confident that he is “with us.”
While Moses was in camp, he fulfilled this need. In a sense he was an “idol” for the people: not that they worshipped him, but that his visible, physical presence made them feel safe. When he delayed on the mountain, they said to Aaron, “Make us a god to be our leader. As for the man Moses… we do not know what has happened to him.”
The “idol” that reassure us can be the tangible observances of the law (“legalism”); or the visible, felt external practices of some devotion. It can be an authority figure (if a priest, this is “clericalism”) or an inspiring minister (religious “hero-worship”). It can be the visible and reassuring splendor of the Church itself (“triumphalism”). These become idols for us when we fail to subordinate them consciously to the living God and to use them only as aids to personal interaction with God as Person. When we put our faith in these things, that is idolatry.
Then, when they fail us, we turn to other gods, leave the Church, seek another religion. A classic example of this is the Protestant Reformation. When ministry in the Church was so corrupt and corrupting that the early reformers could not “find” Christ in the Church — even in Eucharist — they turned away from the mystery of Christ’s living presence in the sacraments and focused on the Bible instead. They could not “give thanks to the Lord for he is good” in unreliable people, so they made the words of the Book their only sure link with God. The words, at least, were unchanging.
Matthew 13: 31-35 focuses us on the living, active presence of God in the Church itself — in the people who are the present, visible, living body of Christ. Jesus invites us to see God’s life in the smallest mustard seed, his action in the seemingly inert lump of dough that is in fact always rising. The “Church” is the “assembly” of people made alive by grace, in whom Jesus is present and active, even when our sins and mediocrity make him hard to see.
At Mass, during the Liturgy of the Word, the human ministers and congregation make it harder or easier to perceive Christ’s presence, because he is acting in and through them. But in the Eucharistic Prayer we can be easily present to the mystery of what Christ is doing regardless of humans’ part in it. We just need to focus with faith.
And at all times, with faith we can penetrate to Christ’s presence in the ministering Church (both clerical and lay), even when what we see and hear obscures more than reveals his presence. In spite of appearances we continue to “give thanks to the Lord for he is good”
Initiative: Be a priest. Let Jesus appear in your words and actions.