Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Eucharist Unites (19.B)

It’s been more than thirty years since I first saw the chain letter about “the perfect pastor,” but it still makes me smile.

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes but always say everything that needs to be said.

He condemns sin boldly but never hurts anyone’s feelings.

He works from 8 am until midnight and is also the church janitor.

The perfect pastor makes $200 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $100 a week to the church.

He is 29 years old and has 40 years’ experience.

The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with senior citizens.

He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed.

The chain letter concludes "If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this notice to six other churches that are tired of their pastor, too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. If everyone cooperates, in one week you will receive 1,643 pastors.

"One of them should be perfect!"

Even if that joke is older than the internet, I couldn’t resist it—because we’re hearing a lot at Mass lately about complaining.

In last week’s first reading, complaining was front and center. The whole assembly of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. We’d rather have died, they told them, than end up following you into the desert.

This week, Jesus is the target of the people’s complaints. They think he’s forgetting his humble origins, and making ridiculous claims. And, like the Israelites, they’re gossiping and grumbling.

The gossip and grumbling carry on in next Sunday’s Gospel, which continues the story. And by the end of the story, many have turned away from Jesus.

Such is the power of complaining!

For almost a year, a committee of professional and dedicated parishioners have been overseeing an engineering study of our parish buildings to judge their ability to withstand an earthquake. We’re lucky to have modern buildings, but for some parishes seismic upgrades will cause a great hardship.

But no earthquake could destroy a parish half as well as the division that comes from complaining, from the kind of undertow that went on while Jesus preached about himself as the Bread of Life.

There are many, many things for which I am thankful as I look back on eight years as pastor here. But the thing for which I am most thankful—by far—is that the community has never been divided.

One reason I’m glad is that I have very little stomach for fighting and feuding. I can hardly imagine the pain—and the courage—of those priests who have had to minister in parishes split by factions or serious disagreement.

But the number one reason is this: a divided community, a complaining community, is not a truly Eucharistic community.

Celebrating Mass with people who have broken into isolated groups—and I heard of a parish back East where there was a group that came to Mass with picket signs—contradicts an essential truth about the Eucharist: it draws us into communion not only with God but with each other.

When most Catholics hear the word “communion” they think first of “Holy Communion,” of the consecrated Host they receive at Mass. But communion is a huge word: you could write a book about it.

When we approach the altar to receive the Sacred Host, we enter more deeply into communion with Jesus, of course. But we also profess our communion with his Church.

And to some extent, we show our communion with each other in this parish community. Saints and sinners, rich and poor, young and old, even Liberal, Conservative and NDP!

A little grumbling is an ordinary aspect of parish life—everyone is entitled to his opinion. I was delighted by the strong consensus that supported the renovations of our sanctuary some years back, since that’s always a tricky business.

But there was still one man who came up to me and said “Where would we be if every single Pope made changes to St. Peter’s?”

I told him very gently that I knew St. Peter’s like the back of my hand, and could assure him that every single Pope did make changes to St. Peter’s, with the possible exception of the month-long pontificate of John Paul I.

We are friends to this day.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul gives two lists, one bad, one good. In the first list he includes bitterness, anger, arguing and slander. In the second, kindness, tenderness and mutual forgiveness.

I can say that I’ve seen very little from the first list and everything from the second in my time at Christ the Redeemer. Surely this is a fruit of the Eucharist we receive together each week.

As we ponder the great gift of the Bread of Life, let’s also be grateful for the blessings of unity and charity in our parish, and in our homes.

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