Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not so 'seeker-sensitive' (Sunday homily)

A lot of churches have been trying to be
what they call “seeker-sensitive.”

They will advertise “come as you are” services;
They’ll have fancy coffee available and comfortable seats;
the pastor will dress casual.

While some of that sounds strange to us,
we did just hire someone to market our school and our parishes!
There are valid lessons to be learned.

That said, we might wonder:
What would a marketing guru say about today’s readings?

She might say, “Paul, I wish you hadn’t said that about wives!”
Now, what Paul is saying is a “hard teaching”—
but in a way very different from what I think most people hear.
It’s not power Paul is talking about; you did not hear Paul say,
“Husbands, dominate your wives”—

No, Paul said, love them—as Christ does the Church.
In other words, die for them. Surrender for them.
That surrender cannot be one-way—
not women to men; not men to women.
Paul said: “be subordinate to one another
out of reverence for Christ.”

We’re not husband-and-wife, but as your pastor,
I’ve got a long way to go in learning that lesson in relation to you.
I apologize for my failures in humility and patience
and subordinating myself to you,
and I thank you for your patience with my weaknesses.

As I said—this is a harder teaching
than we may have realized at first;
Because that surrender isn’t one way—but mutual.
And words like surrender or obedience
do not usually sit well on our tongues.

Telling people that that’s what it means
to be a Christian—a Catholic—is not easy:
You don’t just show up once a week,
you don’t just put in an envelope, or follow certain rules,
or bring your kids for certain things;
no, being a Catholic is a total way of life;
it changes everything in our lives;
we make a total gift of ourselves to God and to Body of Christ!

That’s a hard teaching—but it’s who we are.
There is no other message we can give and be faithful to Christ.
But we invite people to follow Christ, not because it’s easy,
but because, as Peter says, where else can we go?

Next Monday, we start having RCIA
for those who want to be joined to Christ in the Catholic Church.
Next week, we have signups for Sunday Religious Education
for our children to follow Christ better.
Ask me about either or both after Mass.

When our Lord explained—as we heard over the past few weeks—
About the Eucharist being his real and true Body and Blood,
And that we need the Eucharist to have his life in us.

That was a hard teaching—they didn’t all accept it.
What he will reveal later is how this connects to the Cross:
The Cross is the Sacrifice of himself—
and we share in that Sacrifice—
we eat his Flesh and Blood—
through the Mass and the Eucharist.

And the connection to what Paul said is clear:
What Paul asks of husbands and wives,
Is what Jesus asks of us, in his role
as Bridegroom to his Bride, the Church.

He, for his part, goes first: he dies for us and all his life
and grace flows out of him, and into us!

And to make that more real, more meaningful for us,
We have the Mass and the Eucharist—
not just one time, but Sunday after Sunday.

Wives and husbands—it might work to tell each other,
or show each other, you love each other,
just one time and that’s enough.
But my guess is that it’s not enough;
you need to say and do it again and again.

That’s what Sunday Mass is for Christ and his Bride—that is, us.
That’s why skipping Sunday Mass is a mortal sin
if there’s not a good reason.

That’s why it is right that the Mass
calls for the very best we can offer.
Absolutely we put Mass first on our list of priorities—
And that’s why we have rules and boundaries
about how the Mass is carried out.
It’s both joyful but also serious business;
The Mass is a mystery we don’t even begin to understand,
and I include me and every priest in saying that.

The same advice Paul gave to couples applies here:
It’s not about power, it’s about dying to self.

As I said, I know I need to learn that lesson better, as do we all.

The thing is, we’re going to rip ourselves apart
over views on the liturgy
if we aren’t prepared to die to self,
and that includes our own likes and dislikes,
and instead realize that it’s all our task
to carry out the sacred liturgy,
but the pope and bishops,
and, yes, pastors—have a particular role to play.

Can we agree to subordinate ourselves to one another
as we submit ourselves to Christ?

The Good News is, this dying to self doesn’t lead to death—
but to new life.
That conversion—that transformation we experience—
is never pain-free,
but it is the most powerful thing that happens to us.
In a friendship; in a marriage; in a family; in a parish;
in our union with Christ!

In the Mass, at the climax, Christ dies—
pours himself out on the Cross—and on this altar.
Everything he is, God, man, soul, body and blood—
all his life and grace!—is poured out for us!

If we are truly ready, ready to do the same,
we come forward and take his Flesh and Blood on our lips,
united with him, one flesh.

What the Lord asks of us is so hard; and yet we say with Peter:
“to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life!”

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