Sunday, September 29, 2013

Would the Real Roman Catholics Please Stand Up?

Readings for Sunday, September 29/ 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time:Amos 6:1, 4-7
Psalm 146:7-10
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

How actively are we living our faith?

A couple of weeks ago I went on a little road trip with some friends to Disneyworld. Anyone who has done a road trip before knows how much planning it can take: Where are we going? When are we going? Who is going? How will we get there? How much will it cost? Where will we stay? What will we do? So much to plan beforehand and then when it’s time to go another list of things: Do we have all of our stuff packed? Do we have the directions? Where can we stop to eat? To fill up the tank? To use the restroom? Are we headed the right way on the road? Does the road have tolls? And on and on! There’s a ton of activity going on! It’s not like the airport where we just hop on the moving sidewalk and stand there while it takes you further down the way. It’s active, requiring planning ahead and attentiveness along the way. And if that much planning and action was required just to get to ‘the Most Magical Place on Earth’, how much more planning, attentiveness, and action is required to get to the most magical place of all – Heaven?!

In the Gospel today we hear about an anonymous rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man had all of his needs filled and much more. And at his door lay a man who would have loved to eat the scraps that fell from the floor of his table. The bad part is that the rich man knew Lazarus and his needs. The Gospel account recalls that fact – that he calls to Abraham and says not ‘send that guy that was in front of my house’ but rather ‘send Lazarus.” He knew him by name and so often walked past him. It wasn’t because of any sins that he committed that he went to hell, but rather it was his failures to do good.

A lot of times we Christians can become complacent and try to reason ourselves into thinking that we’re okay, that we’re good people.  We sit an think ‘well, I haven’t killed anybody, so I’m not that bad of a person’ or ‘I haven’t stolen anything big so it’s not that bad’ and so on. We make ourselves good simply because we don’t do things that we’re not supposed to do anyway. That’s not being good, that’s just being smart! Being good, being holy, is avoiding bad things but also doing good things. After all, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded ‘Love God and love your neighbor.’ I don’t know about you, but loving others isn’t something that just happens by itself. It’s an active thing, and sometimes a very difficult thing because it involves putting the other in front of me. We were created to be active people, people of faith alive in the Holy Spirit.

Whether we know it yet or not, the Mass actually tells us just that. Most of us know the Catholic aerobics routine: come in, genuflect, kneel, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, stand, make the loop for Communion, kneel, sit, stand, then process out. The Church doesn’t do all of that just to make sure we keep our legs nice and toned or to make sure we don’t fall asleep in Mass. It’s because our bodies speak something to our soul – what we do with our body, we should be experiencing and praying with in the silence of our hearts. When we stand up it means we are attentive, that we are read to move, to act on whatever it is we receive. So let’s look through the Mass.

We stand first for the entrance process. While it is usually just the servers and ministers who process in, it is meant to be representative of the whole community gathered there coming to the altar of God to offer praise and worship. The community stand because in our hearts we’re recognizing the movement to God that is taking place. Action. We stand again for the Gospel reading as a sign of readiness to take the Gospel into the world. As we mark our forehead, mouth, and heart we are asking the Lord to cleanse our mind, lips, and heart that receiving the Word in fertile soil we can bring it out to bear fruit in the community. Action. Next we stand for the Creed, the summary of our faith. We stand because in professing our faith we also implicitly say that it must be visible, that it must be lived. Jesus’ death changes the way I live my life. His resurrection changes the way I live my life. The Church changes the way I live my life. It is something public to proclaim, not private to be hidden. Action. We stand again at the offertory at the invitation “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours…” because we recognize that in that moment we are offering God the things of our lives upon the altar. All of us know someone (and probably a lot of someones!) in need of prayer – someone who is sick, someone struggling to make ends meet, someone who lost a loved one. It is our place to take them and to bring them before the Lord and give them to Him. And just like the host and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus and give life to us, we can lift up others in prayer and the Spirit can infuse us and them with His presence and to the same. Action. We stand again for the Our Father because the petitions we make also mean we have some skin in the game. One of my seminary professors spoke of how we could pray ‘in me’ through much of the petitions: “thy kingdom come in me, thy will be done in me”. Action. We stand again and process up to receive Communion, walking toward the Lord, preparing our bodies to receive Him and opening our hearts to receive His grace. Action. And then we stand for the conclusion and sending forth, which is when we take the Word we’ve heard, the good news from the homily and prayers, and the grace of the Eucharist and bring it to the world who didn’t have that opportunity.

We are called to be active in a very real sense. There are a thousand and one excuses not to do something for someone at any given moment: we might be afraid, maybe we got burned last time and can’t trust it wont happen again, maybe we’re greedy or self-centered, maybe we think that something else is more important, and many others. But there is one reason why we can and should be active in seeking out and serving the poor and that reason is Jesus Christ. He came to us to bring us life and win for us eternal joy in Heaven with Him. It is for us to choose it. It doesn’t just happen.

So we pray today to receive the grace to recognize the Lazaruses in our lives, the understanding to know how we can best serve them, and the courage to serve them and in serving them to serve Christ Himself.