Tag Archives: 21st Sunday

21st Sunday of the Year: Listen to the Prayers

 

To listen to the audio for the Homily, please select the link below:

One of the most important things we do as Catholics is to come to Mass and pray. I’d like to reflect on the prayers of the Mass, in particular the Eucharistic Prayer. They’re good guides to prayer at Mass, but before reflecting on the prayers themselves I want to say something that has to be said today.

Praying at Mass begins with us being there. Praying at Mass begins with us showing up.

Someone once said “Most of life is showing up.” I don’t think we realize how much we need each other “showing up” in church. Suppose the music ministers didn’t show up, the readers, the ministers of communion, the altar servers, the ushers, the deacon, the priest didn’t show up?

We notice people at Mass week after week, year after year. We encourage each other. I often feel in awe watching someone coming into church in a wheelchair or on oxygen support, or mothers and fathers dragging their kids in. Showing up together is a key to praying at Mass.

We’re at Mass to give thanks. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the priest says at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. When we celebrate Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God together.

What does it mean to thank God? The English writer, C.S. Lewis, has a wonderful reflection on thanking God in a little book he wrote on the psalms. (Reflections on the Psalms) Lewis turned away from God for awhile. When he returned and began to pray again he was bothered by the way our prayers urge us again and again to thank God. Why do we keep on praising God, he wondered? Was God a “prima donna” or a dictator looking for our adulation?

After thinking about it, Lewis said he realized that thanksgiving and praise are embedded in ordinary human life. To be thankful and to praise are actually signs of a healthy life. Ordinary life rings with praise and thanksgiving, he wrote:

There’s “…praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars.”

Healthy people praised most, Lewis noticed; cranks and malcontents praise least. He came to the conclusion that praise and thanksgiving are indications of an “inner health made visible.”

That’s true, isn’t it? People who are inwardly healthful praise most; cranks and discontented people praise least. The self-absorbed see only themselves and their little world. Those who lose an appreciation of life because of hurt, loss, or disappointment can lose the ability to enjoy and give thanks and praise.

When we come to Mass, it seems to me, we’re looking for the inner health God wants us to have. It’s so easy to sink in smallmindedness, self-absorption. It’s so easy to let the hurts and sufferings of life get us down. We need to be lifted up to a higher vision of things.

That’s what happens in the mystery of the Eucharist. Do you remember the prayers at beginning of our Eucharistic prayer, the little dialogue that introduces the prayer?

“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.”

“Lift up your hearts.” “We have lifted them up to the Lord.”

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” “It is right and just.”

The Lord is with us, lifting up our hearts and minds to a greater world that God wants us to see. Like the water poured into the wine, we enter the prayer and vision of Jesus Christ and are lifted up into another, higher world, the world of God’s creation. We give thanks to the Lord, our God in that world, and it’s the right thing to do.

In the Eucharistic Prayer we give thanks for the special gift of the God of Creation: Jesus Christ, who came into the world as God’s Son. Remembering the mysteries of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection, we give thanks for him. And he blesses us with the blessings of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection.

He refreshes us by these mysteries. We’re fed by them. They’re food from heaven that gives us a heavenly vision.

Listen carefully to the prayers of the Mass and make them your own

Journey with Weakness

Our readings at Mass can often tell us about ourselves and our situation. The reading  from the Book of Joshua for this Sunday is an example. It’s worth reflecting on.

If you remember  your bible history, Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. A soldier, he led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a disputed land then and a disputed land now.

The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles this great general fought, beginning with the battle for Jericho. As the spiritual says, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Today’s reading concludes the Book of Joshua. Joshua’s an old man now, over a 100 years old the bible says, and he’s getting ready to die, so the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, he reminds them. Our journey isn’t over. The old soldier doesn’t speak of military matters or plans for new wars. Something more important is on his mind. He reminds the people that they’ve been called by God. “Are you going to listen to that call or not?” he says to them. You can ignore that call or drift away.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says. And the people heartily join him in renewing their convenant with God.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Notice that Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call. They’re called by God as a people. When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to make the journey together and they did.

That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, no matter how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

This isn’t just the wisdom of the bible. A French geophysicist,  Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

According to Le Pichon, who’s quoted at length on a recent NPR program, one important way we differ from the animals is the care we take of our weakest members. He adduces recent studies of our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, in whom this surprising trait appears over one hundred thousand years ago.

One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and buried with them. He was surely a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of this spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least,” you did it to me. You grow in love through your care of the least.

The thought of Xavier Le Pichon is worth following. Take a look at all the material on him at NPR.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Who do you say I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples at Caesaria Philippi. It’s a question  at the center of Matthew’s Gospel, which we read today in our liturgy.  Before this, Jesus has taught and done marvelous things in Galilee, mostly around the Sea of Galilee.  Now he’s going up to Jerusalem. “Who do your say I am?”

He asks the question at Caesaria Philippi, a place we don’t know much about, because the city fell into ruins after Jesus’ death and resurrection,  but it’s a place that has an important role in our gospel story.

Caesaria Philippi was located about 40 miles from the lake area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. It was a gentile city, devout Jews tended not to go there, so we might ask why Jesus took his disciples there to ask this important question.

Caesaria Philippi was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, the great mountain that was the origin of most of the water that flowed into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. It was a large Greco-Roman city built  in Jesus’ time as part of a big economic boom going on in Galilee. Under the Herods, especially Herod Antipas, a number of large cities like Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesaria Philippi were built in Galilee to handle the developing trade in agriculture and fish from the Sea of Galilee. The Herod’s wanted this area to be a supplier of food for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars think that Joseph moved his family to Galilee from Judea to get work in this new economy. Sepphoris, one of its booming cities, was only four miles from Nazareth.

“Who do people say I am?”  Jesus’ disciples answer his question in typical Jewish terms. “Some say you are Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or one of prophets.”

In sight of Caesaria Philippi, Jesus’ question might also be posed: “Who do these people say I am?”  The unspoken answer might be “Nobody.”

Would that be the answer we would give if we were asked what any of our great cities think of Jesus Christ today? “They think he’s nobody.”

“And you, who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”