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Accessed on July 03, 2022 - 1:40:46

Thoughts at Sunday Mass

Katie van Schaijik, Feb 06, 2022

The dearth of posts across the last several months (not counting yesterday!) doesn't mean I've run out of ideas. Rather, the overwhelming flood of events has led to a bottlenecking of corresponding reflections. I sometimes feel I must shut down or explode. 

My core convictions have been deepening and strengthening apace.

The Church is in crisis, and the solution lies with the laity. Specifically, we have to move from the status quo, which involves a master/slave relation between clergy and laity, toward the reciprocal self-donation of complementary equals that is the essence of true communion and the source of new life among persons.

I almost can't read a passage of Scripture these days without being pinged, so to speak, by its application to the theme. Here's how it went at mass two weeks ago. The first reading was from Nehemiah chapter 8. It began:

Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,

Ping! I'm immediately struck by the trinitarian structure: the agency of the priest in bringing the law, the objectivity of that law (which, of course, was formed by the word of another Agent), and the vibrant receptivity and agency of the people in hearing and responding. 

The whole scene fairly hums with a dynamism of reciprocity and mutual regard between priest and people. You can almost visualize the spark of divine light kindling, leaping and blazing among them.

Then, look at the next line:

which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.

We're talking about all of the people here, not the religious scholars, not just the men—the leaders of tribes and households, the elites. He's addressing all of them and each of them as persons, capable of understanding and freely responding.

He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.

Did you catch the equalizing motion? He wanted all the people to see it. He's calling them up, as it were, to his level. He's appealing to their own interior capacity for Truth. And as they see it, they spontaneously rise, as if to meet it. They are taking it up and allowing it to lift them higher.

The last line of the passage, too, stood out:

for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!

How absolutely true it is that rejoicing gives strength! And rejoicing is a natural function of lively communion. And, yet, where is it in parish life today? I remember it vividly from my college years in Steubenville—the immensity of our joy in God and in each other, especially at Mass. Typical parish life today, by contrast, is almost unbearably dull. Sometimes it's worse than dull; it's deadening. You want depth and you get superficiality. You're panting for beauty and you get kitsch. You're pining for fellowship and you meet strangers. You're hoping for consolation and you leave enervated.

You go anyway, because it's the Eucharist and because it's commanded. You make a point of acknowledging and thanking God for every good bit of it, all of which is an undeserved blessing. "Thank you, Father, for  that beautiful stained glass! Thank you that we have an organ in our parish! Thank you for an orthodox homily and good priests, who are so clearly sincere. Thank you that this many people in my town keep coming to Mass! It's all a gift. Please help me focus on You and not on the horrible music and the atmosphere of indifference and the wretched clericalism oozing all over the pews...Forgive me my faults that have added to this terrible situation. Show me how I can better serve you and help the poor Church...."

It is seldom a joyful experience. I have to make lots acts of faith. "Lord, though I FEEL depressed and discouraged, I know that I have heard your Word and received your Body and Blood and that these convey supernatural graces. You are at work in me and among us. I believe. Help my unbelief."

Now to the second reading, First Corinthians 12:12-30

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

What is the source of our unity and equality as Christians? Baptism. By that sacrament, the one/up, one/down condition of human relations since the fall is resolved. Jews are no better than gentiles; slaves are just as worthy as their masters. Women are on a par with men. It is a combination of shared faith in the truth and grace coming from God and the mutual respect and self-donation among the believers that causes a collection of disparately-endowed individuals to become one body.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 

What leapt out at me here was the fact that the exhortation is addressed first to the slavish mentality, not the master. Paul urges the lesser parts to recognize and rise up to their true dignity and calling within the body. 

Only then, secondly, does he remind the "privileged parts" not to consider themselves more important than the humbler parts. 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary...
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.

I note, again, the equalizing motion. Our fundamental equality and mutual deference is the source of our unity, and we all must work to make ourselves more conscious of it. The lower must learn to raise themselves; the higher must learn to lower themselves.

The habits of hierarchy die hard. Not only do we have them "naturally", via original sin, but, perversely, we have been taught to associate them with virtue. 

I have to say here again that I am not calling for the abolition of all hierarchies, never mind the hierarchy of the priesthood. Rather, I am calling for our attachment to hierarchy to be properly relativized by a due appreciation for the more fundamental equality among us. And then I'm calling for that new sense to be worked out in in our ecclesial laws, customs and culture.