Here is the Question and Answer session following my talk, “What is Worship” given at the St. Lawrence Center “Theology on Tap” night at Old Chicago.
Moses, the Mass, and the Meaning of Life
With so many different “churches” offering opportunities to “worship” one must ask the question, “What is worship?” “Where does it come from and how do you do it?” This talk explores the origin of Christian worship in the Old Testament, showing that it was God who first asked us for worship and the essence of this worship was expressed through offering sacrifice. But what place does offering sacrifice have in worship today? Are there any “rules” for worship, or do we just make it up and do whatever we like? Understanding how we are in fact called to offer sacrifice is the key to understanding the Mass and…the meaning of life.
This talk was given to a group of Catholic students and permanent community from the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence, KS. The talk was a part of their new “Theology on Tap” series and was given at Old Chicago in Lawrence.
Knowing is Only Half the Battle
We are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in today’s gospel. Yet, what do we do with the knowledge gleaned from this parable? Today’s homily gives the unfortunate results of several studies demonstrating that a lot of us are like the priest and Levite in the story…we ignore those in need. There are lots of reasons why this is and not all of them are because we are uncaring people. We’re often just in too big a hurry to stop and help. Perhaps more often, we tend to think that someone else will help.
There is an important principle of Catholic social teaching called “subsidiarity.” It says basically that problems and changes should be handled at the lowest level possible. If there are poor and needy people around us, it is not the job of the federal government, the state government, or anyone else to help them. The poor need to be helped at the lowest level possible and that lowest level is you and me. We cannot rely on some government program to help the poor. The fact that we may give money to a charity or pay our taxes that fund welfare doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to help those in need that we encounter each day.
Ultimately, there is no law that will force us to take care of those around us. However, Jesus doesn’t appeal to the law in today’s gospel. He appeals to our hearts. No policeman will arrrest you for passing by a homeless person or not helping someone change a tire. Only the love of Christ can compel you to act with compassion. St. John of the Cross reminds us that “in the evening of life, we will be judged on our love.” We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, but that’s only half the battle. The real question is…”what will we do?”
A Warning from Fatima
We often tend to ignore the reality of hell. We talk and act as if it didn’t exist. Yet, today’s gospel clearly says that it does, and that people go there. In 1917 our Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. On July 13th of that year she gave them a special warning about hell. She showed them a vision of hell and all the souls suffering there. She asked the children to pray and do penance for sinners so that fewer souls would be lost. Mary gave several prophesies to the children about what would happen if her call to repentance was not heeded. She continues to call to us today to pray, to pray the rosary especially for peace. Let us resolve today to change our lives, do penance for our sins and those of the whole world, and to pray the rosary every day.
Today we rightfully give thanks for the blessings of freedom we enjoy in this country. Our scripture readings today also call us to give thanks for an even greater freedom, the freedom that only God can give. What is the source of this freedom? Isaiah reminds the Israelites that as bad as things might seem in exile, they have cause for hope. One day they will return to Jerusalem. Jesus teaches the apostles in the Gospel that if they have him, they needn’t fear that anything will be lacking. There is a great freedom in knowing that God is in control. Yet so many of us rarely experience this kind of freedom. What gets in the way? In a word…fear.
We’re afraid of so many things. We’re afraid of loosing our job, afraid we won’t find a job, afraid our kids will lose the faith, afraid our health will fail and list goes on and on. Ultimately, we’re afraid that we will die. In little ways and big ways we are confronted with death every day. If we live in fear of dying, we are not truly free to live.
St. Paul gives us the answer to this problem in our second reading. He talks of how we should boast in the cross of Jesus. The cross seemed like the ultimate defeat and yet was turned into the symbol of Jesus’ triumph over death. The cross reminds us that death is not the end and that Jesus has conquered death. We need no longer fear death.Boasting in the cross is now our ticket to true freedom. If we have nothing to fear from death then we need not be afraid to encounter the cross in our life. To live in the knowledge of the resurrection gives us a freedom the world can never give.
Today we are especially thankful for the freedom we have in this country and we know that it was bought at a great price. Men and women throughout history have given their lives that we might live free. Even greater though is the freedom in God that points beyond this world. This freedom too was bought at a great price. Jesus gave his life on the cross that each of us might live in freedom, freedom from sin and death. This is a victory we celebrate every Sunday. Each week we can rightfully celebrate the Lord’s day knowing that it is indeed our Independence Day.
Freedom, Commitment, Fidelity
50th Wedding Anniversary of Joe and Pat McGreevy
St. Paul speaks today in the second reading about freedom. Perhaps no other value expresses better the core element of what it means to be American. But what do we really mean by freedom? Today, we tend to think that freedom means being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and no one can stop you. We also value freedom as “keeping all our options open.” St. Paul, and the Church, have a different view of freedom in mind. Freedom should be seen as the ability to be who you were created to be. Our freedom is a gift to be used in such a way that we make ourselves a gift to others. When we discover how we are to make this gift we are called to use our freedom to make a commitment.
If freedom is seen as “keeping all your options open” then commitment would seem to be the opposite of freedom. After all, doesn’t making a commitment limit one’s freedom? While committing to something will necessarily close the door to certain other options, it is actually through making a commitment that we become most free. A life that is lived with “all options open” is a wasted life. When you make a commitment, especially the commitment of your life as in marriage or religious life, then and only then can you become who you were created to be. Then you find a new freedom that you never knew before.
After a commitment is made, there can be only one course of action…fidelity. If you think about it, we wouldn’t need to have solemn public commitments in marriage if it were easy to stay married. We wouldn’t need sacred vows in religious life if everyone who became a priest or religious just naturally went on without any temptations to think that maybe the grass was greener somewhere else. It is precisely because of the great difficulty in living out our vocations that we need commitment. If the only thing that keeps you coming to Mass every Sunday at times is that you know you have a commitment on pain of mortal sin, well…good! That’s what the commitment is there for…to get you through the tough times.
This weekend we celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Joe and Pat McGreevy. We celebrate the commitment they made 50 years ago and have been living out in fidelity ever since. It has of course not always been easy, and that is precisely why the joy of celebration today is so special. They’ve remained faithful to their commitment through good and bad times, just as they promised each other. What is the result? Joy and peace…and life. Just look at the family that they have around them and you can see the fruit of a commitment faithfully lived. We thank them for their faithfulness and witness and ask God to strengthen all of us in our commitments that we too may know this great peace and joy.
Why We Believe in the Eucharist
The following homily was given at the monastery of Santa Maria Real in Spain while on pilgrimage. A Eucharistic miracle took place here in which the appearances of the the consecrated bread and wine in the Mass were changed along with the substance into true flesh and blood.