Thursday, March 20, 2008

Where are you headed?

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Holy Thursday, 20 March 2008
Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s

“We pray that in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.” Thus the Opening Prayer of this Liturgy for Holy Thursday!

The Holy Week services contain a lot of theology, but for some they carry a very high emotional or devotional charge as well. The Easter Triduum is the high point of the whole year; it is really central for all those who are into Church, heart and soul. Perhaps that is why Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not days of precept: they are meant to draw people of their own accord; they are meant for those who have been working up to them through works of penance all Lent long.
Maybe it is just an annual Lenten thing, but I have the impression this year that there is more than the usual amount of talk going on in public (TV, radio, news) about WHO’S GOING TO CHURCH THESE DAYS AND WHO IS NOT. For instance, a big statistical study on the topic of Catholics and church attendance published in the United States not too many weeks ago caused quite a stir and just the other day I saw an article asking people on the street whether for St. Patrick’s Day they were planning on going to church or to the pub. In case you were wondering, even on the Emerald Isle the pub won out three to one.

Whether we are talking about a serious, scientific study or about the type of on-the-street-interview typically presented on a live television talk show or some kind of a radio thing, what follows, when people say they will be going anywhere but to church this Easter let’s say, is always a judgment call on the part of someone, be that person an analyst with an academic title or a talk show host. Somebody draws a conclusion from the behavior they record and says, “You see: people aren’t as Catholic as they used to be” or “You see: Church doesn’t play an important role in people’s lives any more”. While many people are scandalized by such, some people brush it off and others just remain silent. Thinking people usually cry “Foul!” and object, saying “Is that any way to judge where people’s hearts are?”

Leaving aside the issue of the fairness of the conclusions drawn, the question itself must be asked. But rather than pointing fingers at others, we should look to ourselves. Holy Thursday really is a good time to ask “Where is your heart? Where is my heart?” While on the one hand recognizing that the so-called “church mice” or the “bats in the belfry” are not what is meant by those who have followed Christ faithfully and stand as His witnesses before the world, we need to look and see whether we ourselves truly draw our water from the fountain of salvation or rather from the occasional pothole on our aimless path through life. Is ours the path of least resistance or indeed the road less traveled?

Today, Holy Thursday, the Church celebrates the anniversary of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, as well as of the Priesthood, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which assures that this Gift of Christ, of His Sacred Body and Blood offered up for us upon the Cross and given to us as food under the forms of bread and wine, will be available to the Church to strengthen us on our way until the end of time. Today we focus on the source and summit of Christian existence. Today’s optional ritual of the washing of feet and the passage we just heard from John’s Gospel recounting that event focus on the nature of genuine love, true love, of God-like, Christ-like love as self-sacrifice, as self-oblation, as laying down your life, as something more than just service to fellow human beings.

“We pray that in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”

This prayer is essential because, truth to be told, there are lots of people who really miss the point of life, who seem oblivious to ultimate questions, to what might be considered core values or to what matters, to what is most important in life. There are more wrong-headed people in the world, I am afraid, than either you or I would like to believe.

Those studies, which talk about people who have stopped going to the Catholic Church, also tell us that most of these folks are not going much of anywhere instead. Those who claim that people abandon the Catholic Faith in search of something better should look again at the reality. Most of those who have stopped going to Mass on a Sunday aren’t going anywhere else. They aren’t disenchanted; they are not looking for something better; they can’t be classed as conscientious seekers of any kind. There doesn’t seem to be much of a hunger or thirst that wasn’t being met and which they are seeking to satisfy elsewhere. Many folks aren’t going anywhere and aren’t even looking. They are just sitting home of a Sunday. “Indifference” is and has been typical of Western society for quite some time.

There probably were just as many indifferent people in Jesus’ day and time as there are now, people in that very neighborhood of Jerusalem all around that Upper Room who were not celebrating the Passover as Jesus and His disciples were. We don’t know about them, because in a sense they don’t enter into the drama of life either for good or for bad. There are no Judases among them; there are no anguish-filled Peters either. The folks we are talking about are just kind of there but not in the picture, if you will. It would be a mistake, however, to consider them as neutral.

Evil is not threatened by indifference. It is perhaps its greatest ally. Fairy tales invariably describe evil as a great darkness or void. In point of fact, evil is probably not all that great. It’s the black hole at the center of something much more nebulous. Indifference, on the other hand, can be quite large and extensive. Although we cannot call indifference wicked, it certainly is not of the light and has nothing of love or life about it. The rich man, who ignored poor Lazarus at his gate and went to hell when he died, may not have done much else wrong in his life beyond satisfying his own needs and those of his blood relatives without a care for the less fortunate around him. He recognized only in his torment the fullness of love and life which he had not sought or shared here on earth. Jesus tells us that Abraham assured the rich man that if the Law and the Prophets couldn’t touch such stony hearts as his then neither would someone raised from the dead be able to rescue his brothers at home from sharing his fate.

Our drama or dilemma in life may not necessarily be crime but rather stupor. The guards which the enemies of Christ set at His Tomb to see that His disciples did not steal His Body slept through the Resurrection. Without horns or tails or pitchforks, they represent the opposite of the fullness of love and life, they are aligned with evil. Yes, they were aligned with the bad guys. They lost all hope by reason of their indifference.

“We pray that in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”

In just a few days time we will be hearing an Easter refrain which invites the sleeper to rise with Christ. Oh, that we might do so! We pray that Lent has been for each of you a time to cast sin out of your lives and that tonight and in the memorable days of the Easter Triduum we will be drawn with eyes and heart wide open to Christ!

Catholic tradition teaches us that emotion is not a trustworthy measure of either sanctity or devotion. When I ask the question: “Where is my heart?” I am really asking a dynamic question, namely: “Where am I headed?” Some people are headed toward a bad end and many more do not know and do not care where they are going as long as it is not too uncomfortable. The Catholic way is another path through life and it might be quite sober. Our cross in life might have to be worshipping and praying without feeling any tugs at our heart-strings, no emotions, no fire. Catholic faith is not a tent revival. That may be hard, but if you are in touch with what matters in life, you will know that the direction you have chosen is much more important than the dust you might kick up as you go your way.

Where is your heart? Where are you headed in life? Do you know? Do you care? Jesus’ and Peter’s dialogue over the significance of the foot-washing is very telling. Peter is one big knot of emotions over the whole business, but Jesus sorts him out in no time. Whether we are torn by emotion or numb for whatever reason, whether you have been working up to tonight all Lent long or just somehow drifted in off the street, turn again to Jesus, turn as if for the first time to Jesus in the Eucharist. Discover Him for Who He is and become a part of Him in this great sacrament. Let Jesus wash your feet and bind you to Himself.

“We pray that in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”

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