Jubilee Year of Mercy: Jesus' Eager Desire
4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
Flannery O’Connor was an American writer who died in 1964 at the age of 39. She was a sincere Christian, although her writings are not classified as religious works. In her mid–20s, she was stricken with lupus, an inherited vascular disease that attacks the joints. This severely restricted her movement, and she spent the last 13 years of her life on a farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.
At one point, Flannery’s aunt encouraged her to travel to Lourdes, France, and take a healing bath in the waters of the famous shrine there. Flannery found the whole idea distasteful, although she did finally agree to go. But she wrote, “About the Lourdes business, I am going as a pilgrim, not a patient ... I am one of those people who could die for his religion easier than I could take a bath for it.” She simply did not expect a miracle, for while she understood that they occasionally happen, they are not among God’s promises to us.
She did, however, have a profound experience of God’s grace in her life and that gave her life meaning. In 1957 she wrote, “... for me the meaning of life is centered in our redemption by Christ, and what I see in the world is in its relation to that. I don’t think that this is a position that can be taken halfway ....”
Naturally, she would have liked to be healed, but like countless Christians down through the ages, she found a sufficiency in the grace of God. She learned to expect that despite whatever else happened to her, and it made all the difference. When we come to Mass, we should have the same attitude and expectation like Flannery to find sufficiency in the grace of God.
This Sunday, as the International Eucharistic Congress Commences, I would like to dwell on “Why Catholics come to Mas?” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Boston, in a Pastoral Letter, entitled, “Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass” enumerated some interesting reasons why Catholics come to Mass. Given the very limited time we have, however, let me point out three important reasons as I see them fit for our community:
1. WE DESIRE TO RESPOND TO GOD’S LOVE. Cardinal O’Malley exhorts, “The word “love” in English, particularly today, has been stripped of much of its beauty and meaning. It often is reduced to a “feeling.” In Greek, there are seven words for love and the word for the love God has for us, agape, connotes action, a self-gift. The love we want to have for God is a self-gift in return, of our time, energy, worries, hopes and joy. The Mass is the best place to thank God for the gifts besides Himself that He gives us — especially life, family, friends, faith and love.” Such profound words, don’t you think? The greatest of all virtues is unconditional love which is the main theme of our 2nd reading today. And the beginning of this agape love is the recognition that there is only one chosen people of God, only one chosen race: the human race.
2. WE DESIRE AND PRAY WITH OUR PARISH FAMILY. Again quoting Cardinal O’Malley, he says, “Christian life is a pilgrimage we make with our brothers and sisters in Jesus … Our presence to each other [at Mass] is a symbol of our solidarity and unity with God and with each other. It is the fullest expression of our Christian identity.” We do not live solitary lives. Basic Anthropology lesson will tell us that, “Man is a social being.” But more than just a social being, as Christians, we live our lives in collaboration with God. So at Mass, like our very lives, when we come together, it has both vertical and horizontal dimensions. Our solidarity with our parish family is that which identifies us with our faith. More importantly, our coming together as one family affirms our love and faith in Christ contrary to the way His townspeople treated Him in His own hometown. Jesus is family to us and His humble beginnings form part of that divine identity.
A somnambulist, as you know, is a person who walks in his sleep. On the eve of his wedding, a young man decided to confess all to his fiancée. He went to her and said, “My love, there is something I feel I must tell you before we are married; something you must know. It may make a difference in your feeling toward me. You see I am a somnambulist.” The young lady thought for a moment, then replied, “Oh, that’s all right. There’s no problem. I was raised a METHODIST. We can go to your Church on Sunday and to mine the next.”
We may neither be a Methodist nor a somnambulist, but as Catholics we live in solidarity with God and each other and that’s not an OVERSTATEMENT.
3. WE DESIRE A FORETASTE OF HEAVEN. Quoting Blessed John Paul II, the Cardinal further exhorts, “We participate in the Lord’s Supper which gives us a foretaste of the heavenly glory.” Don’t we find it comforting that as we come to Mass, we experience a foretaste of heaven? The Holy Father tells us that those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life for we already possess it here on earth! (Encyclical on the Eucharist) Do we feel and see it that way? If ONLY we see Mass that way, I believe that my work here is done. I don’t need to remind people to go to Mass; to be punctual; to participate actively, etc. Heaven is our goal and we yearn for that time and moment when we are there in heaven at peace with God. Our yearning to go to Mass, therefore, should be as enthusiastic as our yearning to be in heaven.
A Sunday school teacher asked his class, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big house, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the Church, would that get me into heaven? “NO!” the children answered. “If I cleaned that Church everyday, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven? Again, the answer was, “NO!” Again the teacher asked, “Well, then, if I were kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven? Again, they all answered, “NO!” “Well then, how can I get into Heaven?” A five-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!” Good insight for a five-year old!
But seriously, we don’t need to be dead in order to experience it. Christ left us a way to have a foretaste of Heaven and He is eager every Sunday to celebrate it with us at MASS!
Aside from the reasons Cardinal O’Malley pointed out which I mentioned three, WHY DO YOU COME TO MASS? Are you here because of sheer obligation? Are you here because, this Sunday you have an hour to spare? Are you here because you want to listen to the choir? Are you here because your friends are here? The list goes on and on. But if we see the same reasons as Cardinal O’Malley see why Catholics come to Mass, we are on the right direction. Remember, it is neither the Church as a structure nor the presider that makes the Mass special, like what Flannery O’Connor said, IT IS TO PUT TO HEART THAT GOD’S GRACE IS ENOUGH FOR US. So come to MASS … NO, more than just coming to Mass … BE PRESENT!