The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Note: As the Church in English-speaking countries prepares for the new translation of the Roman Missal used at Mass, we here in the Diocese of Orlando have been encouraged by our diocesan liturgical office to address these changes in our Sunday homilies. On occasion it can be a bit of a challenge to discuss and explain some of the changes while, at the same time, fulfilling the need of the homilist to bring the scriptural readings to life. I have tried to marry these two demands and trust it hasn't resulting in too awkward a union. The following, then, is the homily I preached earlier this morning.
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Readings: Ex 22:20-26; Ps 103; 1 Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:33-40

First of all, I’d like you all to know that our celebrant today, Father Gerry Shovelton, was my pastor at my last parish on Cape Cod. Indeed, Father Gerry is largely responsible – well, along with the Holy Spirit and Dear Diane, my wife – for my being ordained a deacon almost 15 years ago. He's also largely responsible for our moving here to The Villages. So…if you have any complaints, you’ll know where to direct them.

Now let’s see how well Dawn, our cantor, has prepared you for what’s coming. How many of you know that, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, there will be some significant changes to the words you will hear and say at Mass? Show of hands…

Wonderful. It appears the word is getting out. And I hope you’ve all been taking a few minutes to read the bulletin inserts that describe these changes.

It’s important to realize that the Mass itself will not change. Indeed, the basic structure and content of Mass hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. If you read St. Justin Martyr’s description of the Mass as it was offered about 100 years after Jesus’ death, you will find it virtually identical to the Mass we celebrate here today.

No, the changes we will soon experience are primarily linguistic changes, stemming from a more accurate translation of the Roman Missal to ensure the English text used at Mass corresponds to the Church’s official Latin text. The English translation we’ve been using in recent years is quite different from the translations used by other language groups. Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and other translations follow the official Latin text much more closely. And so, we must prepare for these changes in language. In addition to bulletin inserts, you’ll be hearing a lot about these changes in homilies between now and Advent.

It’s also important to realize that all of us here – not just the priest, or deacon, or server, or reader, or musicians, but every single one of us – is an active participant in the liturgy. We each have a role as we take part in the mystery of this Holy Sacrifice. We are not simply onlookers, like those who stood at the fringes of that Holy Ground of Calvary and watched the crucifixion and death of Our Lord out of mere curiosity.

No, when we participate at Mass we are right there alongside Jesus in His suffering, in the weakness He chose to accept out of love for us. At Mass, at the foot of this altar, we take our own sinfulness to Him on the Cross; for we are a repentant Church, fully aware that His Passion and Death is the great act of redemption, the means of forgiveness God offers a sinful world. It is this act of Divine Love that stirs in us a need to worship, to respond in faith. And Jesus provided us the means to fulfill this need when He instituted the Mass and the priesthood at the Last Supper.

What a marvelous gift, a gift truly beyond understanding, for through it He gives us Himself in the Eucharist. This is no symbol – this bread and wine become Body and Blood – but God Himself, Emmanuel, God with us and in us. As Jesus revealed to those gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” [Jn 6:54-56]

Now isn’t this, brothers and sisters, a reason for rejoicing. But, really, how joyful are we? Are you and I as joyful as the Christians of Thessalonica, praised by St. Paul in today’s second reading for their joy, for their enthusiastic missionary spirit?

“…you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit…a model for all the believers.”  And then Paul added, “…from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth… in every place …” [1 Thes 1:6-8]


This, brothers and sisters, is what God wants from us as well: to sound forth His Word in every place. When we participate at Mass, here in this Holy Place, does God’s Word “sound forth” from us, or do we simply go through the motions? Do we receive God’s gifts of Word, Body and Blood with thankfulness and humility, intent on taking Him to every place, as the Thessalonians did?

One of the oldest and most beautiful prayers of the Mass is a true “sounding forth” prayer, the Gloria, the prayer that follows immediately after the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass. It’s a fitting place for such a prayer. Having just expressed repentance for our sinfulness, and our thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness, we then turn to God in praise, overwhelmed by His love, His majesty, His mercy, His gifts, His promise of eternal life.

As Jesus instructed the Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” [Mt 22:37-38] What better expression of the love we have for God than to pray together, “Glory to God in the highest...”?

The new translation of this ancient prayer is slightly longer because it more closely reflects its Scriptural roots. Listen for a moment as I read it:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.

We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.
Yes, there are a few additions, a few changes in wording, but nothing we won’t get used to. And the fact that we usually sing the Gloria will make the transition that much easier. And so, let’s all follow St. Paul’s lead, and sound forth with joy and thanksgiving as we sing God’s praises in the Gloria.

Then, just before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, each of us declares aloud our Catholic faith, publicly accepting that which the Church teaches. We do this by reciting the Creed. Two versions of the Creed are now acceptable, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed.

Because our Baptismal Promises are based on the Apostles Creed, the Church encourages its use during the Seasons of Lent and Easter when the focus is on the Sacrament of Baptism. Normally, however, we’ll continue to use the Nicene Creed, a product of the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, largely in response to the Arian heresy which in essence denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.

And, again, there are a few changes.

We begin with “I believe” rather than “We believe” both because it is an accurate translation of the Latin word, Credo, and to remind us that each one of us is declaring his or her faith as an individual.

We’ll also encounter the word, “consubstantial”, a more theologically correct way of describing the eternal Oneness of Father and Son.

And, finally, the word, “Incarnation” is used to describe the annunciation and birth of our Lord, the act of our God taking on flesh to become one of us out of love for us.

But the most important aspect of all this is the need for each of us to pray here at Mass, not just with our voices, but with our hearts and minds. Indeed, because we haven’t yet memorized them, these changes may actually cause us to think more deeply about what we are praying, leading each of us to a greater understanding of our faith and a deeper love for our God.

And we must not forget that Jesus gave us a second commandment: to”love your neighbor as yourself” [Mt 22:39] We are commanded to do exactly this at the end of Mass when the deacon gives the dismissal. In Latin, this dismissal is “Ite, missa est”, which, at least in one literal translation, can mean, “Go! It is sent.”

The “it” of course is the Church – that’s you and me, all of us gathered here as witnesses to this Holy Sacrifice, as recipients of God’s gifts. And we are truly sent. We are sent to do the work of Christ in the world, in the world that you and I encounter in our own lives, to see Jesus Christ in others and to be Jesus Christ to others. We are sent to pray as we believe, and to live as we pray by loving God and neighbor.

Today, then, as we celebrate on this altar Jesus’ eternal act of love for us on the cross, let’s each take a moment to ask God for the courage to be the people he has called us to be, people who return all they have and are to God – people of his Kingdom.

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