Saturday, October 22, 2011

No Hands But Ours (Sunday 30.A)

I was praying in the front pew a while back, when out of the corner of my eye I saw that something was wrong with the statue of the Sacred Heart. On closer inspection, I noticed that it was missing one hand.

Some detective work quickly discovered that the hand had come loose and fallen on the floor; it was in pieces in the sacristy.

Fortunately, Father Xavier's many talents include statue restoration, and all was well a day or two later.

But to tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed that the repair was so quick and easy—because I'd started to think about putting up a sign that said "Let's give Jesus a hand!"

It's not as silly as it sounds. Consider the more serious words of St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote:

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

God is all-powerful, and can do all things. Milton recognized this when he wrote "God doth not need/Either man's work or his own gifts." But the fact is God chooses to do much of his work on earth through human instruments.

Today the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday, our annual reminder that spreading the Gospel everywhere is a responsibility of every Christian. Pentecost was the first and last time that the Holy Spirit worked all on his own; since then God has called on men and women of every age to assist in the Spirit's mission to the world.

Today our parish celebrates another Welcome Sunday, when we acknowledge the new members of the congregation. But the real job of welcoming them isn't done from the pulpit. They are made to feel at home by handshakes, smiles, the pouring of coffee and the cutting of cake.

Many years ago, I met a woman who had been baptized the previous Easter at St. Anthony's parish. But when I asked her how she liked the parish, she said "oh, I don't actually go there. I much prefer the Cathedral. Nobody ever speaks to you at the Cathedral!"

Well, there's no accounting for tastes. Still, the fact is that the Church is a communion of persons, and communion among believers is shown by the warmth of welcome. I still mourn the letter I got a year or two after arriving at Christ the Redeemer. It was from a woman who was moving away after three years here, during which, she said, no-one ever spoke to her.

I was tempted to write back and ask if she'd ever spoken to anyone, but that's not really the point. In our second reading, Paul is saying that he and his companions were like living Gospels for the Thessalonians; people imitated them, confident that they were authentic models of Christ's own way of life.

It's often said that you are the only Gospel some people will ever read. We support the Church's world-wide mission of evangelization by prayers and sacrifice, including financial sacrifices. But closer to home we are missionaries at home, school, and work. We are missionaries who speak a language of love, as Jesus commands us in the Gospel we have just heard.

I found a wonderful Methodist website where a Quaker writer listed all the ways the early Church cared for the poor, both within the community and beyond. By the year 250, Christians in Rome were caring for some fifteen hundred needy people; a hundred or so years later, St. John Chrysostom reported that the Church in Constantinople fed 3,000 people every day, regardless of religion.

As you know, you can find just about anything on the web, and you can't take all of it too seriously. But I came across a blog that made me very sad. In a post entitled "Why I am Not a Catholic," a man wrote "Does Roman Catholicism have some of the same behavior as early Christianity. No. Not in the least. There's not even a resemblance."

It's not true, of course, except in his experience. Much of the good that's done in the parish is done quietly, out of respect for the privacy of those who are helped; so where possible we need to show love in action right here in church.

We will not love our neighbour if we do not begin by loving our fellow parishioners—even those who park in front of the rectory garage, or who abandon their cars in the fire lane. (Not at this Mass, of course!) "See how they love one another," was the pagans' reaction to the early Christians as recorded by Tertullian.

In times of persecution, early "Christians also provided for those who lost their jobs because of their faith in Christ. It was assumed, for example, that an actor who became a Christian, and had to give up his profession because of its involvement in pagan mythology, would be cared for by the church. . . "

We may yet have to help those who lose their jobs on account of the faith, but right now we love our neighbour in the parish in numerous ways, some of them as simple as moving over in the pew. The warmth of our greeting at the sign of peace can make a big difference, especially when the person we are greeting is someone we don't know.

Of course Jesus doesn't only tell us to love our neighbour. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. From such love flows love of neighbour in all its forms.

Today, as we continue to think about the upcoming changes to the liturgy, I'd like to suggest that participating fully at Mass is a way of fulfilling both the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour at the same time.

Our reverent silence invites others to join us in prayer. Our genuine responses and heartfelt singing make it easier for others—especially visitors—to take part. Have you ever thought of that? I can tell you from a priest's point of view that Mass is richer when the congregation is actively involved. Yesterday I said Mass for the Dominican Nuns—who are coming to visit us in a few weeks, by the way—and I felt truly holy! Only it wasn't me at all; I was flying in their spiritual jet stream.

There's even a missionary aspect to such things as bowing during the Creed and before we receive Holy Communion. These gestures are ways to proclaim publicly what we believe. We shouldn't assume that everyone in the Church is a fellow Catholic. There are a surprising number of folks who come to see what our parish is about, and they are going to read our body language carefully.

Today's a great day to get rid of two false ideas. The first is that someone else will look after proclaiming the Gospel to the whole wide world. The second is that someone else will share the joy of being a Christian with the person next door, in the next office, and beside you in the pew.

So let's lend Christ a hand. He has no hands but ours.


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