Just a "warning" - these are my "notes" - so I didn't write them to be published, so please excuse grammatical/spelling mistakes (which regularly appear even when I do know I'm going to post something!) Also - please know that I used a couple of sources for a great deal of these notes -- Dr. Edward Sri's "Biblical walk through of Mass" and the Magnificat Roman Missal companion; as well as things I remembered from liturgy classes in Seminary... So here we go...
Today we start using a new English translation of “THE ROMAN MISSAL” which is the book that contains all the prayers and responses for our worship.
One of the beautiful things about our Catholic-Christian faith is the Unity of the Universal Church. For centuries the language at Mass was Latin. A major reason for that was to maintain our unity - that no matter where you went to Mass around the world, Catholics would all be saying the same thing.
In the 1960's the Church recognizing how fewer and fewer understood Latin and prayerful concluded that we could still say the same thing but allow the Mass to be celebrated in the language of the people.
So we’ve only been celebrating Mass in English (or any other language other than Latin) for close to 50 years (and the Catholic faith has been around for over 20 centuries!) The Church, constantly is prayerfully considering where we are and where we believe the Holy Spirit is moving us to go. In recent years, Bishops (especially those who speak multiple languages) noted that the English translation wasn’t nearly as precise as the other languages to the original Latin texts we used. And that in some cases the meanings and scriptural references were a bit lost or missed. Not to mention that not all English Speaking peoples were using the same translations of the prayers. That’s why we have a new translation.
So tonight at this Mass, as we introduce the new translation with some of the changes that will affect the responses that we’re used to making, we’re going to have what’s called a “teaching Mass” where I’ll try to pause at certain points and explain what it is we’re doing and WHY we’re doing it (in some cases in a new way):
SIGN OF THE CROSS/GREETING:
As Catholics the first thing we do at Mass after we’ve Gathered is to begin our worship recognizing that God is a God in three persons. The gesture of the sign of the Cross has ancient origins with written descriptions of it being done before the year 200. In making that sign, we invoke God’s presence and invite him to bless us, assist us and guard us.
Immediately after the sign of the Cross, in the words of Greeting we discover the first change: There’s three possible greetings the priest can use and all of them have origins from both the Old and New Testaments.
The most common has been “The Lord be With You”. When the priest is saying that it’s not a Church way of saying “hey how are you” and the people responding back “great and you?” The Priest is reminding the people that when we assemble in Jesus’ name – as he told us in the Gospel of Matthew – that He is here in our midst. So whenever we hear “The Lord be with you” it’s a reminder that we make this space Holy and that sacred things are taking place in our midst.
Here is one of the first changes for the people. So as your priest, I’m calling on you to remember this important aspect that you by gathering in Christ’s name make him present, From now on in response to that , you will respond“And with your Spirit.” Again, this comes right from scripture from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. By saying “And with your Spirit” it’s not exalting the person individually (me Fr. Jim) - it’s the community, who recognizes that “The Lord is with Them” and in response recognizes the deepest interior part of the priest - His Spirit, that has been transformed by ordination, that allows him, that makes him able to lead the people in these most sacred actions of the Church – The Celebration of the Mass.
END OF INTRO RITES/ BEFORE READINGS:
With the conclusion of that Opening Prayer, which we call “the Collect” which says what it means – it “collects” all the prayers and intentions of the people gathered to participate in the Mass - we have concluded what is called “the Introductory Rites”. Now we begin what is called “The Liturgy of the Word”
This is considered the “first table” of “two tables” in which God’s people are nourished. So in this First Table - we are fed with God’s Sacred Word coming from scripture. It’s good for us to remember that the scriptures aren’t just moral lessons, reflections on the spiritual life or historical recollections. We believe that in the Liturgy of the Word - God is speaking to us. Yes, through human authors and their writing styles, and historical incidents are recounted, but the fact that are contained in scripture means they are inspired by God. And so we are about to hear God speaking to us.
This being the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a “New Church Year”- On the First Sunday of Advent, we start reading from a different Gospel. Last week we finished reading the Gospel of Matthew, now we begin the Gospel of Mark. Next year on the First Sunday of Advent we will hear from the Gospel of Luke. In the course of three years in coming to Mass, you would hear the entirety of the Gospels proclaimed (with the Gospel of John being heard throughout the Easter Season as well as parts of the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Lent and when Liturgically appropriate)
Our First Reading usually comes from the Old Testament. At the end of the passage, the lector says “The Word of the Lord” – That’s not our way of saying “The End of this, let’s move onto the next thing” - it should cause us to pause in amazement how marvelous it is for us human beings to hear God speaking to us... Which is why we respond with a heartfelt “THANKS BE TO GOD”
Between our First and Second Reading - we respond not with our own meager words but rather with God’s own inspired words of praise and thanksgiving from the book of Psalms - a collection of poetry that captures the spectrum of Human emotions and experiences and the presence and activity of our God through all of them.
Our Second Reading comes from the New Testament, usually one of the letters written by St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, St. John to the Early Church communities. While the first reading is often connected to the Gospel, the Second Reading is meant to reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ and his saving work – and the meaning it has on our lives.
So while the whole Bible is the inspired word of God – The Gospels hold a special place because they are the “principle source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior” JESUS CHRIST.
That’s why we do some things to point out the special reverence for hearing the Gospel - we STAND to welcome the Lord Jesus who is about to be proclaimed. We SING “ALLELUIA” - a Hebrew word which is so particular that we cannot fully find an English translation. The closest we can come is “Praise the Lord” - But it’s a word we find in scriptures that captured the angels using that word to praise God for his work of salvation and to announce the coming of Jesus Christ to his people.
The Priest carry’s the Book of the Gospels - again to underscore the solemnity and importance of about to happen. (You might notice that the priest bows at the altar and seems to mumble to himself, the priest is praying: Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel. AGAIN - this comes from scripture, where the prophet Isaiah’s lips needed to be purified before proclaiming the word of the Lord to Israel).
The priest reminds the community again “THE LORD BE WITH YOU” and the community reminds the priest of his special role, now speaking the words of Chirst “AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT” - at which point we trace the Sign of the Cross on our head, lips and heart – which is our way of consecrating our thoughts words and actions to the Lord asking that his Word in the Gospel be always on our minds, our lips and in our heart.
From the earliest days of Christian liturgy, the Word of God was not read on its own - It was accompanied by a homily which explained the meaning of the scriptures and drew out applications for people’s lives - this was an ancient Jewish custom that continued through Christianity to this day.
There’s a reason that only a priest or a deacon preaches a homily. We believe that the Bishops are the successor of the apostles – the priests and deacons are sharers of that authority (the Archbishop could remove my “faculty” to preach and in fact has the responsibility to if I should be leading the people of God astray) And the idea of this is that the scriptures are to be read and understood under the authority of the apostolic faith. That’s why only an ordained minister can preach a homily. That’s not to say that lay people or a religious sister of brother might be more eloquent than a priest, but the homily in the context of the Mass, preached by an ordained minister is meant to be a guarantee that the preaching is passing on the Church’s apostolic faith – not just the private thoughts or experiences of any individual person.
As the Liturgy of the Word comes to a conclusion, we come to the Creed which is an ancient statement of our faith. In a sense, we give a cliffs notes narrative to the entire Scripture from the creation of the world, the Fall of humanity, the incarnation (or coming of Christ) - His Death and resurrection to the sending of the Holy Spirit, the era of the Church and looking forward to the Second Coming.
There’s a few noticeable changes which is why we need the cards to assist us in our proclamation of something that many of us had memorized:
First is the shift of the very first word from “WE” to “I” believe – starting with “I believe” is an exact translation of the Latin word “credo” and the difference is that while we are baptized into a community of believers, we acknowledge that we receive the sacrament in our own persons, one by one - that we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and with His Church. So by saying “I believe” I’m making a declaration of what I believe with my heart, my mind, my soul...
There’s a few other changes of significance - and because this is such an important “statement of faith” that we are making, it’s important to notice the changes and what they mean:
things visible and invisible instead of Seen and unseen - the emphasis is that it’s not just a matter of perception, but things by there very nature cannot be seen - angels for one; the “moral law” for another – all have their origin in God and are a part of His creation
only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages – while we celebrate at Christmas Jesus being born into humanity, into time, this is a more precise theological point that before there was a thing called “time” - God existed and that there was never the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit. All things, all times - from the beginning of the world to its eventual end are a creation of the Blessed Trinity.
The next change has probably gotten the most attention: from “one in being with the Father” to Consubstantial with the Father - this, again, is a more precise explanation that Christ is not a different God or somehow less significant than the Father. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, so since God is one, Christ being consubstantial with the Father means he too is God - not a different God, but the same God.
Incarnate of the Virgin Mary - rather than saying “born of the Virgin Mary” which turns our minds to Christmas at Jesus’ actual birth, by being more exact and saying “incarnate” we recall the Annunciation - the moment where Mary said to the Angel “behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, May it be done to me according to your word.” Jesus became incarnate in the virgin Mary 9 months before his birth.
The Prayer of the Faithful -
The final act or the culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is what we call “THE PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL” - This has been a part of the Mass from ancient times, as late as the year 155. In a letter written by St. Justin the Martyr where he gave an outline of the prayers and rituals of Mass, he explained that after the readings from scripture and homily – [QUOTE] we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves... and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.”
- Before the Preparation of the Gifts-
We’ve now concluded the Liturgy of the Word - now we enter into what is called the LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST where Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is made present by the priest – by carrying out what Jesus did at the Last Supper and what he commanded the apostles to do in his memory. The people bring forward bread and wine as gifts which are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Christ.
During the Preparation of the Gifts, on Sunday, usually we sing a hymn so often times you don’t hear the prayers the priest offers as bread and wine are presented to him. Bread and wine had profound meaning to the Israelites - Bread was the most basic food and necessary to sustain life; wine was not just a side beverage, but a common part of Israelites meals. At the most ancient of Israelite meals, the Passover feast - which was what the Last Supper was – Jesus offered the bread and wine as the priests do today acknowledging that these offerings are gifts of His creation and the result of our labors. This rite symbolizes our giving of our entire lives to God in the offering of bread and wine.
THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER:
With the prayer over the gifts concluded we now begin “The Eucharistic Prayer” - which from this point till we sing the Great AMEN is one long prayer that consecrates the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Because of the importance of this, there’s again a great deal of meaning to the things we do at Mass.
The first thing is once again the invocation of “The Lord be with You” - as we said earlier, this was a biblical greeting that when God called people to important but daunting missions they were greeted with these words because they needed the Lord to be with them as they set out on their charge - here this greeting is repeated as we embark on the most sacred part of the Mass. You’re response to the priest is a reminder that this isn’t something the priest himself does, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who has transformed the priest’s soul, his spirit at his ordination.
Then the priest says “Lift up your hearts” - another exhortation that comes right from scripture. In the bible, the heart is the hidden core of a person - their thoughts, emotions, actions all are contained in the heart. So in lifting up our hearts, the priest is calling us to bring our fullest attention to what is about to unfold. Which is why we respond “we lift them up to the Lord” - recognizing this is the only place we should be focusing our attention.
Finally (and another Change) is when the Priest says “LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD” We now simply say “it is right and just.” This brief translation corresponds to the Latin version. We affirm simply that it is the right, and just thing for us to do.
THE COMMUNION RITE:
Before the Our Father:
Now we begin the final preparations. The Eucharistic Prayer is ended and we begin “The Communion Rite” - the bread and wine have been consecrated and Jesus is now truly present before us – in a few moments we will receive his body and blood in holy communion. From this point forward these rites are meant to lead all of us to the sacred point of holy communion and help ensure we are properly prepared to receive the body and blood of Christ.
First is the Our Father which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not simply give us words to pray - He gave his saving command to pray these words which also forms us as Children of God.
THE RITE OF PEACE:
Now we participate in THE RITE OF PEACEIn the Our Father we asked the Father for deliverance from evil and for peace to be established. Now the priest addresses the Lord Jesus recalling his words from the Last Supper where He offered us that deep, longer lasting peace that the world does not give.
We are reminded that in this rite that when Jesus is the foundation of our lives, when we follow his commands, we can withstand life’s many disappointments, trials and sufferings - This is the peace that builds unity between a husband and wife in marriage; in families, in communities and nations. Which is why the priest now shares the words of exhoratation from St. Paul “THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU ALWAYS” and once again you respond that that peace reign in the core of the priest - and with your spirit. Then we exchange a sign of peace. A sign that signifies that we who have called God “Our Father” are brothers and sisters and as apart of that family are called to live in peace with one another – and it challenges us to work to make God’s peace a reality in our love and forgiveness to one another.
AFTER LAMB OF GOD/BEFORE INVITATION:
The words “Lamb of God” takes us right up to God’s throne. When we say or sing those words, we join the angels who worship Jesus as the victorious Lamb in the New Testament book of Revelation. So we are crying out with our hearts that this Lamb of God has saved us from our sins by his death and resurrection.
The change to the “invitation to communion” now has the Priest inviting us to “BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD” - which comes from the Gospel of John. These are the words of John the Baptist who when he saw Jesus in the Jordan, he cried out with those same words. So we are being invited to “BEHOLD” to contemplate the mystery, to gaze upon and behold with heartfelt gratitude what God has done for us.
After that is a signifigant change in translation that uncovers a scriptural reference most of us never noticed before. In the Gospel of Matthew & Luke, there’s an encounter that Jesus has with a Roman Centurion who has a servant who is seriously ill. The Centurion says to Jesus “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.” With the change in the translation we are recapturing that biblical scene and personalizing the words.
Jesus was willing to go to the home of that centurion to heal that servant, but the centurion with all humility felt unworthy, uneasy, that Jesus should come into his house and even more had the faith that Jesus only had to “say the word” and his servant will be healed. We know that Jesus wants to come into our “roofs” - into our body’s and souls as we receive His Body and Blood, soul and divinity in this Eucharist, to heal us and transform us. We pray for that faith of that centurion believing that this is possible.
One final time, the priest reminds the people that the Lord is with them (and the people remind the Priest that all that he has just lead them in and this final act is an act of the priesthood, not him personally as they say and with your spirit) and there’s a simpler dismissal “Go Forth, the Mass is ended”
The word Mass in fact means “sending” - we who have celebrated the Eucharist are called to go forth and fulfill God’s will in our daily lives, recalling Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of John “As the Father sent me, even so I send you.”
We are called to radiate his life and his love in the world – we are to bring for the mysteries of Christ into the darkness of the world around us.
On this Thanksgiving weekend we come to Mass and are greeted with scriptures that talk about the end of time as we know it - the time when God comes to judge the world - the time when Jesus comes again. When people hear or talk about the end times, they might think about that guy Harold Camping who predicted that day was coming, twice, this past year - first in May then on October 21... Some have Hollywood images of the rapture or that movie a couple years ago called “Left Behind:” and those images can be frightening.
A pastor a few years ago had an interesting take on the end of the world. He asked “imagine how the media would deal with end of the world?” He came up with a list of examples of different headlines he imagined different papers and magazines would have:
USA Today - WE’RE DEAD;
WSJ: Dow Jones plummets as world ends;
Forbes magazine: 10 ways you can profit from the Apocalypse;
Rolling Stone Magazine : The Grateful Dead Reunion Tour;
Sports Illustrated: Game Over;
Ladies Home Journal: Lose 10 pounds by Judgment day with our new Armageddon Diet -
Discover Magazine: How will the extinction of all life as we know it affect the way we view the cosmos -
PC Magazine: If you don’t experience the rapture, Download software patch rapt777.exe.
Today’s readings don’t sound as comical - Isaiah describing the sun being darkened, the moon not giving light, the stars falling from the sky – the Gospel warning us you do not know when the Lord is coming... so Watch!”
But before we get ahead of ourselves focusing on the end of the world, maybe we should be asking ourselves why are we suppose to stay awake, what are we suppose to be watching for. Are we looking for signs of the end times? Because, in the past few years, we’ve had enough hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis; wars, terrorist attacks – all kinds of things that people believe that the sun has already darkened and the moon has refused to yield light.
Even in our own lives, we struggle and are overwhelmed by our own dark clouds - maybe you’re overwhelmed with problems at work, maybe there’s problems at home; maybe sickness or death has thrown you into a very dark place; maybe those sins, failures or temptations keep wearing you down lying to you convincing you that you will never be able to withstand them or be forgiven of them.
With all of that, it’s easy to want to simply want to zone out and “fall asleep?” Which is why these scriptures invite us into a hopeful posture to wake up! We are being reminded that we are not on our own - because otherwise the darkness would overwhelm us. No the darkness around us or within us will not overcome us. Jesus comes, light breaks through, and when He does here’s the Good News that the world as we know it ends. Each and every time the true light of Jesus shows itself the world as we know is ends and - that is what we have to keep awake and alert to - so that we don’t miss it!
each and every time the hungry are fed;
each and every time wrongs are righted;
each and every time peace breaks out where war has raged;
each and every time forgiveness allows a new beginning,
each and every time death is faced down with serene faith;
each and every time fractured families are reconciled...
In all of those ways, and many more, we find that into our lives comes the Messiah Jesus who makes our lives complete and whole, who brings healing and liberation.
May we welcome his coming into our homes and hearts and be attentive to his presence already here in our midst as he ushers us into a new day, a new age, a new world.
What makes America great?
Depending upon your perspective, your experience or your history, the answer to that question will vary. For many nations, greatness is measured by military strength. By this measure, the United States is peerless.
The bravery with which young men and women volunteer to risk their lives in service to our country is a measure of American greatness. Today, we are mindful of those serving so far from their homes and families so that we could enjoy this holiday in peace and security.
Another measure of a nations greatness is it's diversity. Whether you use the term "melting pot" or "salad bowl" to describe it, the variety of races, religions, cultures and nationalities that have made their home in the United States is a characteristic of our nation that is uniquely American. Though there have been some serious lapses throughout our nation's history, America has always strived to offer all the opportunity to live in peace. Today, we have a peaceful nation where Muslims, Christians and Jews can be on a line in a department store or in the same restaurant and not fear the other. This is something of which many people in other nations are rightfully envious.
Some would argue that a nation's greatness comes from things over which they have no control, such as the physical land that nation occupies. For some countries, problems such as poverty or hunger are caused by their location. America is also great in this sense--from rich farmland to busy sea ports, from reserves of natural resources to thriving cities, from the Rocky Mountains to California's beaches.
All of these things make America great, but these are not all that make America great. There is something more, which encompasses all of these and reveals the true greatness of this nation. What makes America great is that it is the greatest experiment of faith ever attempted. Our nation was founded by Christians who were fleeing religious persecution. Our forefathers believed that each person had a soul, and that soul was made and given as a gift by a creator. They knew that the greatest gift in the heart of a soul was the freedom to chose between what is right and wrong.
Our Founders had faith in God, and tried to create a nation where everyone could choose their own way to serve him. Our national songs do not say, "God Save the Queen or King;" we sang "God Bless America." We imprint "In God We Trust" on our institutions; We pledge to be "one nation under God."
Today, there are many who disparage religion's influence on America. They don't want to hear that our leaders believe in God and openly practice their faith. They want to remove traces of religion from public places--whether it's a plaque of the Ten Commandments in a court house, or Christmas carols being sung in a public school. Yet, Thanksgiving isn't about turkey, Pilgrims or football.
Thanksgiving was first proclaimed by President George Washington in 1789 with these words "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor...[we] recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors Almighty God."
You'd expect to hear this from a member of the clergy. Yet, our first president, in proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday, articulated the belief that was in the hearts of the people who had entered into this great faith experiment that is America. When the United States finally became a truly free and independent nation, it must have seemed miraculous. So our forefathers thanked God for their many blessings.
As millions gather with their families this Thanksgiving, our prayer at this meal is obviously one of thanking God, but also a prayer of petition that Americans will be able to rediscover their spiritual selves, and draw strength and comfort from their individual spiritual faiths in the same matter that our Founders did, a faith that guided them in creating this great nation, and has sustained American greatness to this very day.
Since late September, there’s been wide-spread protests around the country - around the globe that has been dubbed by some as “the occupy movement.” Here in the New York Metro-area, the local version of it has been called Occupy Wall Street, which has made famous a small park that not only tourists to the Big Apple had never heard of before, but probably many New Yorkers were unaware of as well - Zuccotti Park. As with any protest movement, there’s been various claims and charges that depending upon your perspective either inspires you or enrages you. There have been things said and done by some individuals associated with the movement that make it hard for anyone to want to be even remotely connected with them (like anti-Semitic sentiments) – to other things that would be hard for anyone to deny or argue against (high unemployment, corruption, the influence corporations have on all aspects of economic, political and cultural life) It’s confused a lot of people because there’s no clear leader, nor has there been any list of specific demands.
But if you’re able to get to the core of the movement, a common theme or a top reason so many are out there protesting, the reason you would hear given the most is that they are there to fight against “greed.” The protestors argue that greed is the reason there’s so much unemployment, foreclosures, so many problems that affect a great majority of the people (they would claim 99% of the population) because of the excesses done by a few.
Whether you agree with all of their beliefs, their tactics, or their solutions or not; if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that greed does lead to destruction. We can argue about the particulars and all, but even in our personal lives we know that to be true. When I’m greedy - when my focus goes to what I alone want, immediately I’ve stopped considering what anybody else needs because my focus is on the pursuit of what I want. When we imagine that on a greater level – corporations, governments, institutions – acting that way, we can see how this could affect even greater numbers of people. So greed is an evil that impacts us not just here and now but poses a danger to our eternal souls...which is what we just heard in today’s Gospel.
In fact today’s Gospel has been cited by some affiliated with the protests as evidence that Jesus would have been among the people in the crowds that are occupying Wall street. The Washington Post in a recent article on the subject interviewed some religious scholars that seems to support this view:
“Jesus believed the whole system was corrupt,” says Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. “The people who ran things were empowered by the evil forces of the world, and his followers had to work against these powers by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and caring for the sick.”
Interestingly with this story there was a picture of a guy dressed as Christ at one of the protests with a sign saying “I threw out the Moneylenders for a reason.” (I would say ‘yes Jesus did... care to know what it was? Because something tells me it’s not the same reason as yours...’) But before people use (or mis-use) Jesus, making him a Che’ Guevera to the occupy movement or some face of “revolution” it’s important for us to know there’s a fundamental difference.
Yes Jesus is preaching against greed in all it’s forms. Yes, today’s gospel is a warning that the fate of our eternal souls is dependent upon how we cared for our brothers and sisters in great need. Did we even see them in need? Did we even recognize them as brothers and sisters? But that only works when we recognize that we have a common Father. That only works when recognize Jesus Christ as King of the Universe who is the one giving us these commands. And that living under his dominion, living under his reign, that there will come a day when we will be asked What did you do for me in your neighbor?
That’s why, even though it can be easy to see common ground between Jesus and the protesters being “against Greed” - many of the parallels would end there. Jesus isn’t going to favor capitalism over socialism or communism or any other economic system. Jesus isn’t going to register as a Republican or a Democrat (that’s going to tick off both sides of my family) Jesus isn’t going to favor violence as a means to bring about his kingdom (or combat the things that threaten his kingdom) And while Jesus loves those in Zuccotti Park for their passion and their desire to address injustices done to the poor, the weak, the vulnerable – he also loves those in the board rooms, the traders, the financial people. He loves the politicians, the media folks. He loves the Catholic, the Jew, the Muslim. He desires the salvation of everyone of the souls who live in his vast kingdom and continues to reach out to all of us that we will desire that as well.
He wouldn’t differentiate groups of people between haves and have nots. Or percentages like 99 % vs 1 %. What we celebrate in today’s feast is that Jesus Christ is the eternal King of the Universe. His kingship came not simply by being God’s son - which should have and could have been enough. It was won by His death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. No other has cared so much for each one of us that they would lay down their lives for us. It’s an often quoted statement, but it bares repeating: If you or I were the only person to ever have lived, Jesus would still have come down to earth, suffered and died on the Cross for us, for our sins, for our corrupted, sinful hearts. That loving act has to matter to us. It has to call us out of self-centeredness into selflessness. It has to transform us to recognizing that my sins - whether it’s greed, or any other sin – doesn’t simply upset God because we’ve chosen not to listen to Him and follow him, but because it also affects others. It affects the Kingdom of God in that some of our brothers and sisters are not living the fullness of life they’ve been promised by the Lord, because others of us haven’t been obedient to our King’s commands.
In the past few weeks, sadly the occupy movements have seen crime, disease and violence filter in. And all of those things seem to have distracted or moved the discussion away from the important questions that were being asked, like: what responsibilities do I have to my fellow citizens? What responsibilities do companies, businesses, government have to there workers, customers, citizens? That loss of focus was going to eventually happen because Jesus Christ wasn’t their motivation, but was being used as an afterthought to build a larger alliance. That doesn’t diminish the issues they’ve raised. And it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want us to do something about those issues – it’s clear that He does. The caution we have to make is in assuming he would align himself with “Occupy wall Street” or “Occupy DC” or whatever city the protests have popped up. That’s way too narrow for this King of the Universe, who comes to occupy our hearts.
So let me tell you about a really good friend of mine from college – I’ll call her Allie – truly one of funniest, most random, crazy (in a ha ha; not an EEK way) people I’ve ever met. More simply she was a theatre major. For those of you who are theatre majors, you know that’s totally not a slam – it’s meant to be descriptive. You know what I mean, theatre majors seem to be dramatic on and off the stage. That was Allie... I mean - she seriously could never take drugs or dink alcohol because of some health stuff that she took very seriously - so she was totally drug free and sober as can be - but you would be convinced she was on something. She’d call me up at 3:00 in the morning singing Neil Diamond songs, for no reason. And we were so cutting edge at DeSales University, our dorms had this new thing called “voice mail”. So if I decided I didn’t want to deal with her 3 am serenades, and set it so that it would go straight to voice mail, she would leave 37 messages, fill up the entire voice mail box with her singing. So that is Allie...
Anyway, so the first time I really spoke to her was Freshman year... I was a bit introverted and somewhat shy the first couple of weeks (shocking I know). I didn’t really know Allie... I mean I heard of her and definitely heard her in some of her more colorful moments in class, in the cafeteria. I tended to stay away from the louder types. We were both in Fr. O’Connor’s Introduction to Philosophy class. It was the morning of our mid-terms - our first midterms as freshmen. Fr. O’Connor was a brilliant, philosophical tormenter. He gave us a week and a half before the exam with a list of 10 Essay Questions, from which he would pick 8 and you had to do 7 - so you could skip 2 questions altogether. But basically you had to memorize and outline your answers to the other ones... So it would be something like “Explain the meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Socrates final address – note three similarities, three contrasts and explain how its related to your college experience” . So you had to basically write 8 mini-term papers- outline them - memorize them - oh and they had to be correct too - and then write them out the day of the exam. So like I said, it was Freshman year, it was my first time going through that. I had worked on this stupid review sheet for the whole week and a half. Trying to memorize and remember it was torturous. It caused me for the first time, ever, to have an “all-nighter”. So it’s the morning of the test. I’m pacing in the hall outside the class room, reading through my notes again - waiting for the torture session to start (hoping that certain questions would be eliminated).
That’s when I had my first conversation with Allie. She came in, looking like she was shot out of a canon - hair was all a mess. She doesn’t even know my name, comes up to me and says to me “Yeah - you look smart... you gotta help me... We have a test today? Right? What’s going to be on it, I mean what do I need to know?”
That was the first time in a week and a half that I felt reasonably sure I wasn’t going to do the worst on the exam. I think I just looked at her and said something like “you’re joking right?” That’s when she continued “ YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – I WAS AT LABUDA ALL WEEK [that was the name of the theatre building]... PLEASE - YOU GOTTA HELP ME” That’s when Fr. O’Connor walked in - and she just turns her head and says “He’s a priest, he has to be nice.” That’s when I said, “Yeah, I know his boss is pretty nice, and you know what, at this point, you’re better off talking to him, because Jesus is the only one who can help you now.”
I remember the scowl, open mouth, stunned - angry/shocked look she had with a “Jim Chern I can’t believe you just said that” (wow, she did know my name).
Seriously though, while that story was comical - how unrealistic was that? I mean even if I had considered cheating to help (at that point) crazy stranger - you can’t cheat on an essay exam. And you sure as heck can’t learn all you needed to know - a half of semesters of course work; a week and a half of researching, studying and memorizing things – in just a few minutes. Even if I really wanted to at that point, it was way too late. No charity, no desire on my part would’ve been able to help Allie miraculously learn what she needed to pass the exam.
That’s the same point Jesus was making in today’s parable. When we hear a parable, Jesus is trying to tell a story to convey some deep truth, some important information in a dramatic memorable way. So this story about the five virgins why don’t they want to share oil with the five foolish ones - what’s up with that? It seems like they’re just being petty doesn’t it? We’re expecting Jesus to come down hard on the “wise” ones as being arrogant or selfish. The thing was to give a little historical context - at the time, this was part of the custom of weddings. Weddings were like “the event” of the year - the whole town would be buzzing about it. But the bridegroom would come at an unexpected time to kind of surprise them. So if you were prepared, you got in. If not, you’re on the D list outside trying to beg the bouncer to let you in. So Jesus’ initial audience would’ve realized that custom and the deeper meaning that Jesus was sharing to his immediate audience. That Israel, the Jewish people were the ones invited to the Wedding Feast, and they should’ve been anticipating and awaiting the “groom” - The Messiah...
For us who are Catholic Christian, hearing this tonight, we see Jesus as the Groom and the Church is her Bride. So how does this parable speak to us? As we await Jesus’ return at the end of all time, the oil in the lamps that we heard about in the parable represents something that cannot be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. One religious writer put it, The wise virgins “represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterize a complete Christian life.” So when you look at the parable that way, you see how dramatic the differences between the wise and foolish maidens are. The wise choose to live chastely rather than the foolish one to give into lust; the wisdom to have self-control and restraint rather than getting drunk or high. It’s the difference between the charitable and the greedy; the hardworking versus the lazy; being patient rather than giving into rage; being kind rather than envious. The wise who are humble rather than the foolish who’s pride and ego’s are way out of control.
When we look at those virtues over vices we realize it’s just like my friend Allie the day of the exam - just like you can’t learn half a semester of material in an instant, we can’t move from being foolish to virtuous in an instant. Those are choices, decisions, steps we make on a daily basis that moves us in one direction or the other. We grow closer to the Lord or further from him in all the decisions we make. Jesus shares this parable to illustrate the importance for us to be engaged in that battle to make those virtuous choices. To be working always to fill our lanterns with the oil that has us burning bright to welcome the “bridegroom” who is Jesus Christ who wants to unite with us, in that grand wedding celebration of eternity. The great thing is, for those of us who find our oil running a little low, we can begin right here, right now to change that. A good confession, a change of heart, a step in the opposite direction can begin to fill our lanterns up to burn brightly the Light of Christ in our lives. So, are you’re lanterns ready for a fill up?
Among the many things that sadly divide Christians - today’s feast is probably one of them: the Saints. A lot of it comes from misunderstandings or misinterpretations. There are some that some accuse Catholics of “worshiping” Saints; making them “gods” and saying “why do you pray to them... why don’t you just go to Jesus yourself with your prayers?”
And whenever these debates or arguments come up, I usually say “we do go to Jesus ourselves with our prayers, but we also ask others to pray for us. Why? Well, because... the Bible tells us to do so. St. Paul tells the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians to pray for Him... He also tells these communities that he’s praying for them. So in scripture we see the Apostles knew of the importance and the power that came from people praying for one another. That it unites us as the Body of Christ to “bear one another’s burdens” as Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians.
So if we’re going to ask one another to pray for each other, who better to ask then the Saints? Saint James in his letter says “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16). So it makes sense for us to ask the Saints not only to pray for us. We ask those who’ve lived heroic, virtuous, holy lives to inspire us... to encourage us when life gets tough... when we’ve been tempted to sin (or even given into sin) to remember their stories which tells us of a God who never gave up on them and who never gives up on us. That when we have our fears or worries or trials that cause us to doubt – we hear their stories, imagining how they faced similar fears or worries or trials or even worse ones. Yet in those moments of struggle, they found the strength of the Holy Spirit within themselves to never give into despair, never believe the lies of the devil... They carried within themselves the truth that Jesus has conquered the ultimate thing that causes humanity to be afraid – death, and if we focus our lives on Him, like the Saints did, we are promised to live in eternity with Him, and all the saints...
That’s why this Gospel is such a perfect one. So often when we hear this passage, because it’s familiar we might not pay close attention. But think about how relatable it is. Just going through the list of Beattitudes- who here hasn’t mourned? ; or been wronged and sought justice. How often are you mocked because you even come to Mass? More than likely, we can find a lot of things in these verses that seem familiar to our lives and things we’ve experienced.
What makes the saints Saints is that these countless numbers of men and women experienced those same realities in their own lives, but also found Jesus Christ was there in the midst through it all. So even though they mourned, they knew to call out to God in their sorrow. Even though they were persecuted or hungered and thirsted for righteousness, they didn’t whine, whimper of complain - but struggled for what was just, stood confident in their faith. They were merciful and meek, not in just laying down and getting taken advantage of, but rather doing the more difficult thing – learning to forgive gross injustices, and in that, constantly displayed the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in every day and age.
As we continue our life journey’s, we hope to share the same eternal reward that the Saints enjoy: an eternity in the Mansion our Heavenly Father has prepared for us that our Savior has promised us will be ours if we follow Him, follow these words of His. In the meantime, may the Saints continue to pray for us that we will never waver in pursuit of that eternal reward.