My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. A few years ago, I was asked by my cousin to take a weekend off from my parish responsibilities in order to celebrate her wedding in Des Moines. It was a nice time to catch up with some extended family that I only get to see at these types of occasions and it offered some important rest from my parishes. Since the next day was Sunday and the wedding not only took place before 4:00 but was not focused on the Sunday Celebration, that meant my family still had our Sunday obligation to attend mass. Thank goodness there was a priest, namely me, available at the hotel (another good reason to encourage your son to become a priest, by the way). The hotel was good enough to give us a meeting room and I found members of the family to do all the ministerial roles, even someone to take up collection. I started mass, as I always do, with the sign of the cross, the greeting, and then an invitation to silence. I closed my eyes to remember how loving and forgiving God is only to have my nephew, about two seconds in, shout, “Wake up Uncle Dennis!.”
In thinking about what my nephew shouted, I couldn’t help but think that he’s got a point. There’s something that happens whenever we celebrate mass that most of us don’t experience anywhere else. We take time to allow for silence. So much time in our lives is filled with clutter. Television, radio, telephone, computers; all of these can be used for good and even necessary activities. The problem is that they also have two big difficulties: first they can clutter up our lives with a lot of noise and activity that make prayer and peace difficult. And, yet, a further problem is that these effects seem to linger. They shorten our attention spans and make us slaves to constant positive stimulation. If we aren’t being entertained by what’s happening, then we simply turn the channel and look for something that does entertain us.
In this constant search for stimulation and entertatinment, we lose something that is fundamental to our humanness, the need for quiet and rest. That’s partly why, when we gather here, we begin mass by taking the time to quiet ourselves so that we can be ready to hear the Word of God. Our readings today speak of how important it is to hear God’s Word. In the first reading, we hear of the priest, Ezra, gathering all of Israel together to hear the first five books of the Bible that our Jewish brothers and sisters call The Torah. For some reason, the scrolls for those books got lost and, when Ezra and his sons found them, they decided to read them all to the people. Can you imagine how angry people would be if they came to church and the liturgy of the word alone lasted several hours? Don’t worry. I’m not going to try it today. I did find it interesting; however, that it says they all listened intently. It’s true that Ezra took time to explain what was being said and that may have helped them to concentrate but, fundamentally, they paid attention to what was being said because it was a priority for them.
Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus reads part of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Isaiah. His reflection passage is short and sweet. He declares that he is the one who has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. It’s short, but as a set of goals, it’s packed! I wonder if Jesus were to preach that same brief homily in our church today, how many people would be too busy thinking about what they’re going to have for supper/lunch, reading the bulletin, or thinking about the last episode of their favorite TV show to hear what he actually said. And, I wonder which television show I’d be thinking about.
We especially need to take the time with what we remembered this past week. As you are aware, one of the reasons that our mass schedule is different this weekend is because Fr. Paul has taken people to the March for Life in Washington D.C. Part of the reason that we have abortion in our world today is because of a failure to listen to God and, instead, a willingness to listen to the voices that prize pleasure and selfishness. We have women who have listen to the call of radical feminism that prizes success at work over children who ruin your life, men who listen to the call of a childish machismo that says sex and sexuality is just a part of dating. And, we have politicians who listen to an abortion industry that makes millions of dollars by killing the most innocent around us. The question is: who is listening to the church calling us to respect life? And, even more imortant, who is listening to the child in the womb who is voiceless?
Maybe my nephew was right. It is time to wake up: The time to listen intently, as St. Paul said in the second reading, to the spirit calling us to be the body of Christ for a world so capable of harming those most in need of its care. Yet, all of this begins and ends in prayer. It begins and ends with quiet and, only in the middle has peaceful action. Therefore, I’d like to offer these humble suggestions as to how we do this. Begin by setting aside time before mass, not only as a time for fasting from food for an hour, but as a time for fasting from noise. Leave the TV, car radio, computer and whatever else that distracts you off. To go along with that, take an hour each day to turn off all the noise for a while. You can use this hour to converse with your family or sit quietly and pray the rosary or some other form of prayer such as reading the scriptures for next Sunday’s mass. Listen intently on how God calls you to be a person who acts in peaceful ways to make this a more just world and then act on it. For now is the time for fulfillment. Now is the time to wake up.