Saturday, November 26, 2011

At Mass, Actions Can Speak as Loud as Words

Today is Grey Cup Sunday, but in this parish we're not offering prayers for either team. We have to balance our loyalty to the home team with the fact that the grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins of one of the Blue Bombers are all parishioners here at Christ the Redeemer.

I must say that it's a shame the big game is being played on such a wet day. This morning a football fan from out of town asked a young boy outside of BC Place if it ever stopped raining in Vancouver. "I don't know," the lad replied. "I'm only five."

Of course the Grey Cup is not the most important thing happening on November 27, 2011. Today is both the First Sunday of Advent and the day we start to use the new English translation of the Mass.

We've talked a lot about the change, but soon enough we'll take it for granted and hardly notice. Some might say that's just what we should hope for, but I disagree. To me, the new Missal demands some fresh thinking about the Mass and how we take part in it.

Happily, this first Sunday of Advent is the perfect time to take stock of our spiritual lives, which should be centered on the Eucharist. While a tired young parent or a weary teen might sometimes nod off during the homily, there are many more of us who have become spiritual sleepyheads with our eyes wide open.

We're dozing spiritually if we come to Mass without passion. If we participate without focus. And whenever we pray without enthusiasm.

That can't be what Jesus wanted when He gave us the gift of His Body and Blood. Do you daydream through Mass, at least some of the time? Then listen carefully to just two words from today's Gospel: Keep awake.

Jesus is talking about the Second Coming. But he's also referring to our daily spiritual life; we need to be wakeful and alert, especially at Mass, where the Lord comes to meet us. Otherwise we may be napping as he passes by.

Think of the excellent wake-up call we're getting from the new translation! We've got no choice but to slow down and focus on the words we're saying, since they're no longer that familiar. So why not turn the awkwardness of using printed cards into a new mindfulness of what we're saying?

And words aren't the whole story. Any teacher can tell when a student is keen and alert. They sit up straight. Their body language says "I want to learn." The same is true of all our postures at church. From the Sign of the Cross we make at the beginning, to the genuflection we make as we leave, our body language says whether we're dozing off or diving in.

Posture reveals what's going on inside us, but it also helps shape it. If I pray slumped in an armchair, I won't likely pray as well as I do in a more alert posture.

A lot of what I'm saying today is just common sense. In human relationships, we know the difference between a firm handshake and a limp one. How do you feel when someone looks you straight in the eye and says "I'm very pleased to meet you"? Not the same as when someone mumbles, "Oh, uh, hi" while looking over your shoulder.

When parents tell kids to stand up straight, it's not just so they'll look good to others. It also affects how they feel about themselves.

So it should be clear that how and when we sit, stand, kneel and bow at Mass can make a big difference. The changes in posture today are minor, but they still invite us to think. From today on we'll all bow during the Creed at the words to show our profound faith in the Incarnation. We'll stand at the "Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours…". That's a chance to pray with new intensity that the Lord will accept our sacrifice.

Until now, some people have knelt and others have stood at the "Behold the Lamb of God." Having one common practice will speak loudly about our unity in faith and prayer.

A slight bow of the head at Holy Communion will help us to focus on Jesus. This act of reverence before we receive the Body of Christ will strengthen those who haven't been doing it before. And now the whole community will join those who were already bowing.

Anyone who might prefer making another sign of reverence—like kneeling or making the sign of the cross—will now show their oneness with others and obedience to the Church by making the change.

You can tell from what I'm saying that posture is significant in two ways. It's personal—it shows outside what's happening inside. But it's also public—common posture shows unity with one another when we gather for the liturgy; we're one body in Christ.

In today's second reading, St. Paul rejoices in God's gifts to the Christians at Corinth. Later on he has some complaints, but he starts his first letter with thanks to God for the grace and spiritual blessings He has given to the members of the community.

But Paul knows there's always more. The apostle thanks God for what the Corinthians have, but in the same breath he also asks God to continue His work with them.

Christ the Redeemer parish has been celebrating the liturgy well: we've avoided liturgical mistakes, we've taken music seriously; we have well-trained lectors and servers, devoted people who care for the altar and the church, and a warm ministry of greeters and hospitality. But there's always more.

So let's be alert to what God wants to give our parish; let's stay awake and welcome His coming by participating fully at Mass—which, need I add—starts with arriving on time and finding a seat.

Only in heaven will we experience the wedding feast of the Lamb fully. On earth we just catch a glimpse. But God wants that glimpse to bring us closer to His heart Sunday after Sunday; he wants the Mass to nourish our souls, heal our wounds, and prepare us for eternity. He wants, in a word, to meet us here.

The word of God we've heard today ought to awaken us to a fresh encounter with the God who comes. No ear has heard, no eye has seen, all that He offers us in the Mass. There's always more.

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