In the first reading, Moses reveals to God’s People
the word of God—the commands of God.
They hadn’t received God himself, but his words.
Notice their response: awe and trembling and a need to offer sacrifice.
When God comes near, it is natural and right to tremble with awe.
When the 8th graders are confirmed,
they learn about the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
one of which used to be called “fear of the Lord”;
in modern parlance, we say, “awe and wonder.”
And I explain that this way:
Everyone, every human being,
naturally feels awe and fear and trembling and being overwhelmed.
It’s not something bad—it’s something very necessary.
But what’s sad is that some people
have had this awe wrung out of them.
They go to Paris to see the Mona Lisa;
They stand before the Pieta by Michaelangelo…*yawn*!
A man walks on the moon—saw it in a video!
You step up to the precipice of the Grand Canyon—
okay, what’s next?
Whittaker Chambers, who played a small role in the Cold War
and wrote a book about it called Witness,
describes the moment he was converted
from being a communist and an atheist,
into the terrifying realization that God exists.
He was holding his baby daughter in his arms,
looking down at her ear.
He felt awe and wonder—you parents know what he felt.
How sad it would be…
What a poverty—what a cruel parody of “life” it would be—
never to feel that!
But you and I live in a very busy and cynical age.
We rush and hurry and never see the beauty around us.
We are so up-to-date, we see through everything.
C.S. Lewis pointed out
the danger of the one who sees through everything
is that he actually sees nothing at all.
I said a moment ago God’s People trembled
to receive the Word of God—
Yet what have we received?
A greater and more perfect covenant,
Ratified not in the blood of goats and calves,
But the Blood of the Son of God,
our God who became our brother!
God’s People fell on the ground to hear the Word of God—
What must our response be?
Our church is made sacred, not by the blood of goats,
But the Blood of Christ, of God himself, poured out on that altar.
Do we always treat this place, and our time here,
with the awe and wonder it deserves?
At 47, and with a few extra pounds,
I recognize not all can genuflect or kneel.
But for those of us who can, why is this an issue?
Why would anyone say, “oh, that’s asking too much?”
I am puzzled that some object
to approaching the Mass as it truly is:
a profound mystery that goes way beyond our understanding,
and so the Mass is not ours to refashion as it suits us,
and yes, the Mass is challenging, and not always “user-friendly.”
Here’s what Pope Benedict said the other day:
“There is always a strong temptation
to reduce prayer to superficial and hurried moments,
allowing ourselves to be overcome
by earthly activities and concerns.”
I would add—there is sometimes an insistence:
“Don’t make it too hard.”
Where did we get the idea that worshipping the Creator,
in all his mystery and power,
his justice and purity and mercy,
should not be something extraordinarily demanding?
Sometimes we don’t understand what’s happening—
that’s a challenge to make an effort to discover.
Sometimes the prayers are in our own language,
Or the language of our forebears in faith—in Latin,
Or in the language of the New Testament—in Greek,
Or the language of new immigrants—such as Spanish.
Kadosh (Hebrew)! Hagios (Greek)!
Sanctus (Latin)! Holy!
We’re kidding ourselves if we think we understand
what that means in any language.
Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday,
when we reflect—and are changed by our reflection—
on the fact that God is a Trinity of Persons.
God, in his own being and life, is a relationship.
Another way to put it: God, in himself, is communion.
What’s the connection?
God is relationship;
And the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass
is about bringing us into that relationship.
Long ago, God’s people trembled to hear the Word of God.
Then God came himself, become one of us in our midst.
He said, “This is my Body”…
“this is my Blood…poured out for You.”
And then we discover this is not just for us
to witness with fear and trembling—
But—if we will be his disciples,
baptized and in union with his Body the Church,
we are bidden forth to share that life—communion.
To quote Pope Benedict once more:
“With the Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth,
God’s tomorrow descends into the present moment
and time is, as it were, embraced by divine eternity.”
Awe and wonder? Fear and trembling?
What must our response be?