23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Previous Years: 2018
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
Let’s begin today by naming the elephant in the room. It has been a hard several weeks.
I knew that taking the burden of singing off of a mic’d cantor and putting that burden onto the congregation was going to be an uncomfortable transition. I knew that it would take months before we would see the confidence and strength in our congregation that I assure you are the fruits of this endeavor. But I did not realize just how emotionally difficult it would be. I did not realize how much Mass would begin to feel like work, how hard I would find it even to pray during our weekend liturgies. If you are struggling, know that I am struggling right there with you.
But I believe in what we are doing, I believe the results will speak for themselves, and I know that the only way past this period of discomfort is through it. So you can imagine how heartbroken I was when I realized I needed to pause congregational singing again, because the Delta variant has gotten so out of control. Whatever progress we had made now gets stopped and reversed, and the emotional tension involved with starting up again is just going to be hanging over us until we get there. I probably waited too long to institute this pause already, because I wanted to spare us this ordeal, but here we are anyway.
And then on top of all of this, we have something akin to a civil war breaking out in our society over vaccines and vaccine mandates. The 70% of the population that has been vaccinated now blames every COVID death and every new restriction on the 30% that has not been vaccinated, while the 30% that has not been vaccinated feels desperately trapped by a mob rule democracy which seems to deny their essential human right to bodily autonomy. There appears to be no middle ground between the two camps, and both view this as a battle of life and death. Fever pitch has never been a more apt description.
So yes, my friends, it has been a really hard several weeks for us. I knew that the hymnal would introduce tension to our parish, I had just hoped and planned that this tension would be balanced by the joy of decreasing COVID and loosened restrictions. Boy was I wrong. My timing could not have been worse, and the result is that, right when you needed comfort inside the walls of the church, that comfort was not to be found for many of you. I am sorry for how all of these factors have come together at just the wrong time.
So is there still comfort to be found, even with all of this tension? Our first reading suggests that there might be.
If you want to understand tension, understand the historical period of the Prophet Isaiah. He began to prophesy during the period when the Hebrew people were still divided into two Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. At the time of Isaiah, however, Assyria, the great power of the time, was threatening everyone around them with domination and destruction. Isaiah understood the threat and called the people of Israel and Judah back to repentance and conversion so that the Lord would protect them from the Assyrian armies. Unfortunately, this did not happen and within 20 years of Isaiah’s first prophecies, the Assyrians had completely wiped out the Kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel were lost forever. The king of Judah, fearing for his own people, then made an alliance with Egypt to the south, which angered the Assyrians and prompted an Assyrian invasion. Jerusalem itself was, at one point, surrounded by the terrifying Assyrian army.
Talk about tension. Today’s prophecy is delivered as Judah contemplates its complete and utter destruction. Isaiah is prophesying to a people who believe that their entire culture and society is about to be wiped off the face of the Earth. And what does the Lord say to his people through Isaiah? What do the Scriptures continue to say to us today?
“Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God[…]”
So ask yourself, is your heart frightened? Are you worried or anxious, about yourself, your family, your church, or your world? The Lord is speaking into that. The Lord is addressing you. “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God.”
The message of comfort is the fact that God is here. He has not abandoned us. He has not left us. You may have reason to be uncomfortable in the Church – maybe the teachings, the history, the bishops, the priests, fights with a pastor, fights with a neighbor, new wounds, old wounds. You may feel like the world is closing in on you and that there is no escape. No matter what frightens your heart, the message of comfort remains: “Here is your God.” God is still here, and he is here in this church.
Even when we sin, God is here in the assembly of believers, who contain within them the indwelling of Christ. Jesus was not lying when he said that, where two or three are gathered in his name, he is with them. Even when I sin, God is here in the priesthood and in the sacraments. Somehow Jesus himself can still be glimpsed through the ministers of the Church. God is here in his Word, the Scriptures which are read from this pulpit every day. Jesus, the Word of God, has never stopped speaking to his people. And, most powerfully and most importantly, God is here in the Eucharist. Jesus promised he would be with us until the end of the age, and that promise is fulfilled through his body, blood, soul, and divinity made present on this altar and kept present in the tabernacle.
If you are surrounded by the armies of Assyria and you worry that everything you know and love is headed for destruction; if your heart is frightened, hear the message of Lord: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
If your heart is frightened, come into this church and sit before the most blessed Eucharist and ask yourself if God has abandoned you or abandoned us. Stare Jesus in the face every Wednesday in exposition and ask if you cannot find him. Come, experience the presence of your God, before whom the blind, deaf, mute, and lame are restored and healed. Sit and receive the love of Jesus who will fill your heart with pools and springs of life-giving water.
No matter what happens, in our lives, our communities, or our world, the comforting message of God remains the same: Here is our God. He will never abandon us. He is always here, in this church, waiting for us to come to him.
Mi Comisión Hispana me dice que necesito explicarme mejor, particularmente con todos los cambios litúrgicos que estoy haciendo. Así que eso es lo que voy a intentar hacer hoy.
Idea importante número uno: la Misa es una ofrenda a Dios.
¿Qué sentido tiene la Misa? ¿Por qué lo decimos? ¿Por qué lo asistimos?
La Misa es la ofrenda más grande e importante a Dios. Todo ser humano desea volver a ofrecerse a su creador. Cada cultura humana ha hecho sacrificios a sus dioses. La Misa es nuestra ofrenda. La Misa es nuestro sacrificio. Pero en lugar de ofrecer sacrificios de animales o humanos, nuestro sacrificio es el sacrificio de la Cruz. Jesús se ofreció perfectamente a su Padre Celestial, y los cristianos nos ofrecemos al Padre por medio de Jesús en la Cruz.
Idea importante número dos: La Misa no es una actuación. La Misa no es una obra de teatro, un concierto o una película que venimos a observar, sentados en silencio en nuestros bancos. Ni siquiera es como un evento deportivo donde animamos a los atletas. La Misa no es algo que ocurre en un escenario o en un campo aparte de nosotros. No vemos la Misa, somos parte de la Misa.
Sí, la misa solía ser como una actuación. Los católicos durante muchos siglos creyeron que el sacerdote ofrecía el sacrificio por sí mismo en el altar, y la gente solo estaba allí para ver al sacerdote realizar los rituales de sacrificio. La gente solo estaba viendo una elegante obra religiosa de la que no formaban parte. Para la mayoría de ustedes, esto es lo que les enseñaron a sus abuelos sobre la Misa, y dado que los abuelos son tan importantes en la transmisión de la fe, esta es la espiritualidad que probablemente les enseñaron de niño.
Pero hemos redescubierto una forma más poderosa de pensar sobre la Misa. En 1962 hubo una reunión en Roma de todos los obispos del mundo. Esta reunión se llamó Concilio Vaticano II, y lo primero que discutieron todos los obispos del mundo fue cómo dejar de tratar la Misa como una representación. Los obispos querían que los católicos volvieran a participar en la misa, como lo hizo la gente siglos antes. Entonces, los obispos decidieron que cambiarían la Misa, para ayudar a las personas a participar en la Misa, no solo a observarla. Por eso, ahora, cuando el sacerdote dice algo, la gente responde.
Principio importante número tres: la Misa te pertenece. Estás bautizado en Cristo. Eres parte del Cuerpo de Cristo. Y no es el sacerdote el que ofrece el sacrificio, sino todo el Cuerpo de Cristo con el sacerdote a la cabeza. Lo que significa que la misa también es tu trabajo. También es su trabajo ofrecerse a sí mismos y a sus familias a Dios. Es su trabajo, como Cuerpo de Cristo, ofrecerse al Padre.
Lo entiendes? La Misa no es una representación de la que ustedes son observadores. La Misa es un ritual y todas las personas de esta iglesia deben participar. La Misa te pertenece, y si no participas en ella, si no te ofreces, no experimentarás ninguno de sus beneficios ni frutos.
Entonces, ¿qué estoy haciendo aquí en nuestras misas y por qué lo hago?
Primero, notarán que no uso mi micrófono cuando rezamos el Credo o el Padre Nuestro. Esto se debe a que estas son tus partes. Te pertenecen. Son partes del pueblo, no del sacerdote. Cuando uso mi micrófono, te quito esas partes. Te doy una excusa para no conocer o aprender estas oraciones. Pero quiero que las conozcas y las digas, así que te dejo tus oraciones.
“Pero padre”, podría decir, “todos vamos a diferentes velocidades. Necesitamos que nos dirijas “. Sí, van a diferentes velocidades porque no se escuchan entre sí. Todo el mundo quiere ir a su propio ritmo y no pensar en la velocidad de otras personas. Pero esto no es cristiano. Un cristiano se preocupa por la otra persona antes que por sí mismo. Un cristiano vive en comunidad. Irían a la misma velocidad si se escucharan y trataran de comprometerse entre sí. Cuando tengo que volver a entrar, significa que no nos hemos escuchado.
Algunos de ustedes pueden tropezar porque no conocen las palabras del Credo o del Padre Nuestro. O es posible que haya aprendido palabras diferentes. Por eso tenemos los nuevos libros de Misa. Tome uno de estos libros y léalo hasta que sepa las palabras.
En segundo lugar, les estoy enseñando a cantar las respuestas para la Misa. Cuando el sacerdote dice algo y la gente responde algo, la Iglesia dice que deberíamos tratar de cantar estas partes entre nosotros. ¿Por qué? Porque es más atractivo. Porque si tenemos una conversación y yo digo “¿Cómo estás?” Y tú dices “Bastante bien”, esta es una buena charla. Pero la Misa está ofreciendo adoración al Dios todopoderoso. Estamos haciendo algo especial aquí. Queremos comprometernos. Queremos participar. Cantar nos obliga a participar. Además, es más difícil ir a diferentes velocidades cuando cantamos. Cantar nos obliga a actuar más como una comunidad que trabaja como un solo Cuerpo de Cristo, en lugar de una sala llena de personas que hacen lo suyo.
Debo admitir que cuando canto la Plegaria Eucarística, se siente como una actuación. Pero solo el sacerdote hace esta oración, por lo que siempre se sentirá como una actuación. Puedes participar en ella escuchando atentamente las palabras de la oración y tratando de orar junto con ellas en tu corazón. Mi esperanza es que cuando cante la oración, las palabras de la oración se atasquen en su corazón como una canción que se atasca en su cabeza.
Finalmente, no hemos descubierto qué hacer con la música para nuestra Misa. No haremos Mariachi porque Mariachi es una actuación. Es agradable escuchar al mariachi, pero no te ayuda a hacerte cargo de la Misa y participar en la Misa. Pero, ¿qué te ayuda al participar en la Misa? ¿Cómo ayudamos a la gente a cantar? No sabemos. Estamos tratando de resolverlo. Desafortunadamente, con el nuevo aumento de COVID, tenemos que dejar de cantar canciones nuevamente, pero seguiremos aprendiendo las respuestas de la misa cantada y, con suerte, continuaremos a partir de ahí.
Amigos míos, hago muchas cosas porque hay muchas cosas que la Iglesia nos pide y quiero que seamos fieles a la Iglesia. Pero si no me explico, por favor pregunte. Nuestra Comisión Hispana hace un muy buen trabajo ayudándome a comprender las necesidades de nuestra comunidad. Si hay otras necesidades, hágamelo saber, ya sea directamente o a través de ellos.
Español (Original English Text)
My Hispanic Commission tells me that I need to explain myself better, particularly with all the liturgical changes that I am making. So that is what I am going to try to do today.
Important idea number one: The Mass is an offering to God.
What is the point of Mass? Why do we say it? Why do we attend it?
The Mass is the greatest and most important offering to God. Every human being desires to offer themselves back to their creator. Every human culture has made sacrifices to their Gods. The Mass is our offering. The Mass is our sacrifice. But instead of offering animal sacrifice or human sacrifice, our sacrifice is the sacrifice of the Cross. Jesus offered himself perfectly to his father in Heaven, and we Christians offer ourselves to the Father through Jesus on the Cross.
Important idea number two: The Mass is not a performance. The Mass is not a play or a concert or movie that we come to observe, sitting silently in our pews. It is not even like a sporting event where we cheer on the athletes. The Mass is not something that happens on a stage or in a field apart from us. We do not watch the Mass, we are part of the Mass.
Yes, the Mass used to be like a performance. Catholics for many centuries believed that the priest offered the sacrifice by himself up at the altar, and the people were just there to watch the priest perform the sacrificial rituals. The people were just watching a fancy religious play that they were not part of. For most of you, this is what your grandparents were taught about the Mass, and since grandparents are so important in handing on the faith, this is the spirituality that you were probably taught as a child.
But we have rediscovered a more powerful way to think about Mass. In 1962 there was a meeting in Rome of all the bishops in the world. This meeting was called the Second Vatican Council, and the first thing all of the bishops in the world discussed was how to stop treating the Mass like a performance. The bishops wanted Catholics to participate in the Mass again, like the people did centuries earlier. So the bishops decided that they would change the Mass, in order to help people participate in the Mass, not just observe it. That is why, now, when the priest says something, the people respond.
Important principle number three: The Mass belongs to you. You are baptized into Christ. You are part of the Body of Christ. And it is not the priest that offers the sacrifice, but the entire Body of Christ with the priest at the head. Which means that the Mass is also your job. It is also your job to offer yourselves and your families to God. It is your job, as the Body of Christ, to offer yourselves to the Father.
Do you understand? The Mass is not a performance, of which you are observers. The Mass is a ritual, and every single person in this church must participate. The Mass belongs to you, and if you do not participate in it, if you do not offer yourselves, you will experience none of its benefits or fruits.
So what am I doing here at our Masses, and why am I doing it?
First, you will notice that I do not use my microphone when we pray the Creed or the Our Father. This is because these are your parts. They belong to you. They are the parts of the people, not the priest. When I use my microphone, I take those parts away from you. I give you an excuse not to know or learn these prayers. But I want you to know them and to say them, so I leave your prayers to you.
“But Father,” you might say, “we all go at different speeds. We need you to lead us.” Yes, you go at different speeds because you do not listen to each other. Everyone wants to go at their own speed and not think about the speed of other people. But this is not Christian. A Christian cares about the other person before they care about themselves. A Christian lives in a community. You would go at the same speed if you listened to each other and tried to compromise with each other. When I have to jump back in, it means that we have failed to listen to each other.
Some of you may get tripped up because you do not know the words to the Creed or the Our Father. Or you may have learned different words. This is why we have the new Mass books. Pick up one of these books and read along until you know the words.
Second, I am teaching you how to sing the responses for the Mass. When the priest says something and the people say something back, the Church says that we should try to sing these parts to each other. Why? Because it is more engaging. Because if we have a conversation and I say, “How are you” and you say “Well enough” this is a nice chat. But the Mass is offering worship to almighty God. We are doing something special here. We want to be engaged. We want to participate. Singing forces us to participate. Also, it is harder to go at different speeds when we sing. Singing forces us to act more like a community that is working as one single Body of Christ, rather than a room full of individuals doing their own thing.
I will admit that when I chant the Eucharistic Prayer, that does feel like a performance. But only the priest prays this prayer, so it was always going to feel like a performance. You can participate in it by listening closely to the words of the prayer and trying to pray along with them in your heart. My hope is that when I sing the prayer, the words of the prayer will get stuck in your heart like a song that gets stuck in your head.
Finally, we have not figured out what to do with music for our Mass. We will not do Mariachi because Mariachi is a performance. Mariachi is nice to listen to, but it does not help you take ownership over the Mass and participate in the Mass. But what does help with participating in the Mass? How do we help people to sing? We do not know. We are trying to figure it out. Unfortunately, with the new increase in COVID, we have to stop singing songs again, but we will keep learning the sung Mass responses, and hopefully build up from there.
My friends, I do a lot of things because there are many things that the Church asks of us, and I want us to be faithful to the Church. But if I do not explain myself, please ask. Our Hispanic Commission does a very good job helping me understand the needs of our community. If there are other needs, please let me know, either directly, or through them.