Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Humble Certainty vs. Passive Suggestion

 Saying "It is..." instead of "As Catholics, we believe it is..."

This often comes up in the context of a non-Catholic attending a Catholic liturgy or perhaps in other conversation of an apologetic nature. (apologetic - to do with explanation/defense). The Catholic will say to the non-Catholic "As Catholics we believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ and so [we genuflect/only Catholics may receive/etc...]" This is true. As Catholics we do believe that. However (and maybe I'm just splitting hairs here) I think that sometimes this phrasing, or things similar to it, carry a different implication.

What it sometimes sounds like to me (even when I say it myself) is "This is what we believe but I don't want to offend you by being too blunt so I'm going to soften it with language that lets you off the hook in case you don't want to believe it." I think we do this without even realizing, because we're so used to a culture where we have to make everything palatable lest we offend anybody. Again, I am plenty guilty of this myself so I'm not trying to point fingers here.

I want to encourage a different approach. What if we said "It is the Body and Blood of Christ and so [we genuflect/only Catholics may receive/etc...]"? It's a subtle difference but an important one. It leaves no room for relativism, no room for "If I don't believe it, it isn't true." I'm not proposing rudeness; we should always speak with Love.

Of course, I don't mean this to only apply to discussion regarding the true presence in the Eucharist. This is just the most obvious example. I think that speaking with humble certainty is needed in all aspects of our public dialogue. We only seem to know how to speak in the extremes of tiptoeing around everyone's nerves or abandoning all concern for others and just saying whatever we want. As usual, the middle ground is better.

Remember, love is all charity but also all truth and that we're not doing anyone a favor by softening, by lessening the truth to make it palatable. True things have their own sweetness and we should be let them shine through.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Teaching Moment: Accidentally Unconsecrated Hosts

At the 10:30 Sunday mass, like at any other parish, there is a process of gifts from the back of the Church to the altar. At this particular mass there are too many attendees to bring up all the hosts to be consecrated at once. It would be possible but would require multiple pattens and would be awkward to carry. (An excellent problem to have, if you must have one.) For the sake of the symbolism of the bread and wine to be consecrated being brought up by the people it isn't necessary that all the elements to be consecrated are brought up in procession. It's okay that about 200 hosts in a separate patten and 8 pre-filled chalices are kept in the sacristy behind that altar. Only some of the hosts and the little bit of wine needed to fill the priest's chalice is brought forward with the gifts. A portion can symbolize the whole lot.

This past Sunday we forgot to bring the extra hosts from the sacristy out to the altar. It wasn't until after the consecration that we realized we had forgotten to bring them out. There was the one patten full of unconsecrated hosts sitting there on the sacristy table.

One might be tempted to just bring these hosts out and mix them in as if they hadn't been forgotten, but, that would be the absolute wrong thing to do! I emphasized the symbolism of that carrying down of the gifts and it's inherent flexibility in order to contrast it with the inflexibility here.

These hosts that were left in the sacristy are not interchangeable with those that made it out to the altar because the Consecration that the priest does at the altar is not a symbolic act. It is a real act. The bread and wine that were on the altar literally have become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist (the physical properties, the "accidents" in philosophy-talk, remain of bread and wine but their nature is no longer so simple. They have been transubstantiated.) To mix these unconsecrated hosts in with the consecrated ones would be to terribly mislead the faithful. (For the record, no one present was suggesting we do so.)

This wasn't a big deal, of course. We just left them where they were in the sacristy. It would be ideal to have consecrated them so that there would be enough for everyone to have a whole host but in this case those distributing communion just broke the ones that were consecrated into smaller pieces so that there were enough for all present (no matter how the small the piece the True presence of the Body of Christ is not diminished) At the end of the mass it was probably entirely forgotten, except hopefully by the servers but I choose to share it as an illustration of the seriousness of the Eucharist. It's not just a symbol. It's a reality that can't be fudged.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mass Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

We’ve all had that time where we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. It doesn’t even have to be a bad situation; in fact it could be quite good. Suppose you just bought a new house and maybe you even got it for surprisingly cheap. You’re really happy about it and in the excitement packed up everything in your old house a whole week early just itching for the day the movers come. But you can’t move in yet. Nothing is wrong, you knew it would take two weeks to finalize all the paper work, but now you find yourself in a awkwardly quiet house pacing around refreshing your email inbox every two minutes, as if that will speed the paperwork up. It will get there when it gets there but that doesn’t keep you from being anxious.
       It seems to me that this Gospel passage opens with a similar feeling. I see Simon-Peter and this handful of other disciples walking along the shore of the sea just days after the Resurrection still not quite sure what to do with themselves. They have had some excitement, definitely. The big events that Jesus kept referencing finally happened and they get the feeling that greater things are yet to come but all they can do for now is wait. Jesus’ passion death and resurrection is the old house sold and the new house bought but move-in day, the beginnings of the Church at Pentecost isn’t here yet.
        I picture the disciples walking along the beach, each one alone with his anxious thoughts. (They didn’t have smart phones to pretend to be doing something on…) John has a stick and is nervously swatting at the sea-grass, Thomas is fidgeting with a shell he picked up a few minutes back. Suddenly Peter stops, turns in the sand to face the others, and in a decisive tone says “I am going fishing.” He doesn’t know if it’s the right thing to do but it’s the only familiar thing he can think of and it’s definitely better than just tensely pacing along the shore waiting for something to happen. The other disciples had probably been thinking the same thing but didn’t want to be the one to say it and so are glad Peter finally did.
       So they get in a boat and start to fish. Nothing. But fishermen are stubborn like farmers so they keep at it…all night…what else do they have to do? And in the morning – still nothing. Suddenly they see a figure on the beach who calls out to them, inquiring about their catch. Something about this is familiar. “Cast your net over the right side!” directs the stranger. They do so. This is unbelievable. The catch is huge, the net is so heavy! This is really familiar now. Peter’s minds flashes back to the last time he was fishing…
       Three years prior they had been on the beach tending their nets when a popular rabbi commandeered one of their boats to preach from. After preaching, he, though not a fisherman himself, directed them to a phenomenal catch. Peter was so amazed that in fear he begged the man to leave him. Jesus, of course, was this popular rabbi and he did not oblige Peter’s fear but instead spoke to them the words known by every vocations director the world over. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
       Back to today: Peter is still thinking but John puts the details together quicker. He shouts out, “It is the Lord!” And so in that moment all of their past three years following Jesus comes back to them. Peter acts on his heart immediately, not even waiting for the boat to get to the shore. His heart is burning too much to wait. As soon as he hears John’s words he drops the net and in one motion quickly strides the length of the boat, dives into the sea. He swims to shore, eager to see the Lord.
       This would be enough, in and of itself to make a fine reflection. We ought to have the zeal for the Lord such that at the sight of him we are willing to drop what we are doing and dive in. But there is more. The details are no accident.
       This takes place on the Sea of Tiberias, aka, the Sea of Galilee, and it it’s not the first time in the Gospel that something important has happened here. The Sea of Galilee is a body of water that often features in Jesus’ ministry. It was on these very shores that Jesus called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John. He taught from a boat on these waters, walked on them, calmed storms on them, fed thousands beside them and, yes, directed massive catches of fish from them.
       On the shore there is a charcoal fire burning. This is for Peter. There is only one other appearance in all of scripture of a “charcoal fire” and it is the one around which Peter is warming himself when he denies Jesus three times. We can almost imagine Peter coming up from the water, all dripping wet with an eager smile only to see Jesus, see the charcoal fire and understand immediately that this is not about to be a laughing, back-slapping reunion. Peter can tell Jesus has something serious to say. He certainly does. He asks Peter  three times “Do you love me?” and three times Peter affirms “You know that I love you, Lord” thus symbolically undoing his previous denial. Not only did the Lord forgive Peter he sought Peter ought and laid the path to repentance right there before him
       There are lessons for the rest of the disciples as well. When they were fishing that last time three years ago, they were having no success at fishing until Jesus arrived and provided a miraculous catch. This day also they are fruitless until they follow the directions of Christ. The disciples tried to go back to their old way of life and they were not fruitful but when they followed the Lord they were fruitful beyond their expectations. The message was clear for them and it should be clear for us as well. As Christians we are called to conversion, to be someone better than we were before, not settling into old ways, and with Christ we will exceed our expectations.
       These lessons of Peter are also for us. Like Peter we will sin, we will deny the Lord but we must not despair. When we feel sorrow for our sins we should turn immediately to the Lord and accept the forgiveness that he is constantly offering. Remember, he does not wish any of His sheep to be lost.
       Let us indeed also be willing to dive in whenever we hear the Word of God calling us and once we have done so let us not return to our former ways that were not fruitful. Let us return instead to the ways of the Lord, especially in this Easter season of rebirth.