Monday, September 10, 2012

Spiritual unclogging and loosening

The Gospel text of yesterday’s Mass readings give us indications of what happens when the Word of God effectively works in our lives.  Symbols were rich in that short passage, and I thought that it would be apt for me to reflect on this in my blog space this week as there was no opportunity for me to preach this at liturgy.

At every Eucharistic celebration, what happens is that Our Lord comes right into our midst in various ways.  What should happen at the dismissal rite is clearly shown if the celebrant uses one of the alternative options “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  What this means at the deepest sense is that we as participants in the celebration would have been so touched, enlightened, graced and transformed by receiving the Lord in the entire celebration that we live in a radically changed and courageous way as people who live unmistakable Christ-centered lives.  Does this ever happen?  It is noted that this was what happened to Saint Anthony of Egypt.  It was at Mass that he heard the words of the Gospel where Jesus said “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  He did just that – literally.  He gave his family estate to his neighbours and sold some of it, donated the funds to the poor, and placed his sister (they were orphaned when Anthony was 18) with a group of Christian nuns, and he became the disciple of a local hermit. 

I haven’t seen any of that kind of radical action happening after any of the liturgies I have celebrated in my time as a priest, and it doesn’t surprise me at all.  But it should not surprise anybody to know that behind the words of that dismissal (a choice which for some strange reason many priests do not particularly fancy using) lie the spirit of the liturgy in its most basic state.  Every liturgy is a confluence of God coming into sinful human man and woman’s very existence, filling us up and enveloping us with his divine grace and energy.  And when we as participants give our entire selves, mind and heart and bodies, to this divine overture and outreach of love, a radical transformation happens.  Not that it has to happen without fail, but the onus is ours to cooperate with the grace of God which provides the possibilities of it happening to us. 

Instead of that kind of response happening, or anything remotely close to that kind of radicality, what we have is a whole range of other actions and reactions.  Examples abound – people drifting in after Mass has begun, jostling for seats and getting into arguments over seats which have been saved for friends who have not turned up, members of the congregation endlessly distracted by babies crying and wailing for lack of rest or food, people in various stages of brain activity, and of course those who are checking on phone messages or emails.  This is a common sight, and something which apparently plagues churches in many countries throughout the world. 

It’s far too easy to blame this on bad or insufficient catechesis, pallid and banal preaching or poor parenting.  What perhaps needs to be considered also is the reality that people are in different stages of openness and receptivity to God and his offer of love and grace.  I recall one of the songs in our seminary hymnal which I particularly disliked to play (I was the seminary organist) let alone sing, was one entitled “Great things happen when God mixes with man”.  This song had a very real message, but horrible melody with a tune without much body.  Indeed, great things, like what St Anthony of Egypt did, is a possibility, but it can only happen when man (and woman) go to the liturgy and go before God with unstopped ears and loosened tongues.

One of Vatican II’s teachings in Sacrosanctum Concillium is that Christ is present in the Liturgy in four modes or ways.  In the celebrating priest who is in persona Christi, in the consecrated species of bread and wine, in the gathered body of believers, and in the sacred word that is proclaimed.  If we only pay attention to the real presence of Christ in the consecrated species on the Altar, we are missing out so much in terms of grace and awareness of God’s love in the other ways he is present.  After all, this is the reason there are altar servers bearing lit torches flanking the ambo or lectern when the Gospel is proclaimed, and why we all rise at that point.  God is being revealed to us, just as the reason there is a Tabernacle lamp next to the Tabernacle in the sanctuary, indicating God’s real presence. 

The simple action of Jesus’ opening of the deaf man’s ears and loosening his tongue is not just something that he did once in history and in time to one particular man.  The living word of God reminds us that this action is alive too in our own time, and as long as we long for this same grace there is no limiting what we are capable of as our response to the dismissal words of the celebrant to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”, assuming of course that we want to be transformed and changed and encouraged by God.

Yes, we have to dare to believe that “Great things happen when God mixes with man”.  Just don’t sing it or make me play it on the organ. 


  1. Ha Ha Ha! Good one, Fr. Luke. Like you, I cringe when certain 'tunes' are played in church. And don't worry, I won't ever ask you to play "that song" again. Promise.

    Seriously though, I believe we first have to ask God for the grace to be more open to things spiritual. Rather than ask for a better job, better home etc. (not at all bad in themselves), it starts with genuinely wanting to know and love Jesus more. Ask for it, and it will be given.

    And then the liturgy, the hymns (even though sung a little off-key sometimes) etc. will take on a whole new dimension - one that is not limited by space and time. For heaven's sake, we'll even love our priests more! Wouldn't that be something? Praise and glory be to our God, from Whom all good things come.

    God Bless.

  2. Today, great things like what St Anthony of Egypt did, may not happen after a celebration of liturgy, but I believe great things still happen among the faithful who ‘’go before God with unstopped ears and loosened tongues.’’ These are the nameless, faceless heroes who respond to the divine overture and outreach of love by a total giving over of themselves to works of love or mercy......... like the sisters of Blessed Mother Theresa’s Order, whilst other loosely formed Christian groups venture out from the comfort and safety of their homes to help those marginalized by mainstream society.........providing shelter and human contact for child HIV victims and victims of human trafficking – (as I have heard it done in our neighbouring regions....just to mention a few)

    However, perhaps, our unsung heroes are our parents and friends – who still hold the Gospel values in fidelity, in the face of all temptations to conform to civil society’s norms and mores. I am thinking of the ordinary, un-ambitious Catholic, who nurtures a deep love and integrity for Truth and tries valiantly to cultivate and share this with his family and those he encounters on life’s journey. In a world where God is being marginalized, these ordinary folks are ‘great’ because they still believe that ‘’.....but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.......’’

    God bless you, Fr.