Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32
I really like all this renovation that’s going on. I really like how the Church looks now. Everything is being stripped away. We’re getting down to the foundations, to the actual ground.
And the Eucharist is still the Eucharist. The mass is still the mass.
Last year at this time, over in the Newman Chapel on Monroe, we had the chairs arranged in a circle around a new central altar. But after a while some of the students wanted the chapel to be arranged in what they called the “traditional” arrangement. So they put the chairs into straight rows again, facing the tabernacle.
And that’s OK. That’s fine. I think this longing for the past is really a longing for God, a deep and sincere longing, and that’s wonderful. We just have to sure that we know what we mean by “tradition.” 1950 or 150? We just have to be sure that we don’t lose sight of what’s underneath.
Fr. Lucas, I know, really stresses this. As he said to me this morning, if it’s stuck in 1950, or any year, it’s not really tradition. Because tradition is living. It’s alive.
Be of one mind, St. Paul tells us today in Philippians, have in you the single heart of Jesus, and that means getting down to the heart of things in the first place, getting down to the foundation, and not letting ourselves be distracted by anything else.
The Eucharist is the Eucharist, even if the chairs are on the ceiling.
There’s this beautiful scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ where he imagines Jesus the carpenter joking with his mother about this strange new thing he’s been asked to make. A table. With chairs. Gibson shows Jesus indicating with his hand the height of these new chairs--about waist high--and then he and Mary laughing. Because of course in the time of Jesus people reclined on cushions, around a central low-lying table. There weren’t any chairs like ours.
There weren’t any churches. People met in houses. In caves. In catacombs.
Or let me come at this from the opposite direction.
Most of the couples who ask me to marry them want to get married outside, by a river or in a garden. Almost all of them. And that’s always a problem, because the Church doesn’t approve of outdoor weddings and it takes a lot of time to write the Archbishop and get permission.
I understand why people want to get married on mountains. God is present in the natural world, and the natural world is beautiful, and why should it matter anyway, wherever the wedding takes place? But on the other hand, I understand the Church’s position. Why should it matter?
Recently I asked a couple I was working with, point blank: what’s most important, having a Catholic wedding or getting married outside? And they answered: getting married outside. And that’s OK. I like this couple a lot. I’m glad for their love and I’m glad for their commitment, and I assured them that the Church will be there for them, in the future, whenever they’re really ready.
The question is, in this and in everything, what’s the surface, what’s the depth?
The National Council of Catholic Bishops hasn’t told us who to vote for this election; it’s told us what issues to think about. It hasn’t given us the answers, it’s given us the questions. There are certain underlying principles, the bishops say, in their document on “Faithful Citizenship,” and it’s up to each Catholic to decide which candidates would best apply those principles in the real world. As Archbishop Vlazny wrote in the Catholic Sentinel last month, “it seems clear that no single candidate embraces all the social teachings of our Catholic community,” and so, “just as political leaders must act according to their consciences, so must we in casting our votes.”
This is our own bishop, in communion with the other bishops.
These are complicated issues, in other words, and people of faith can have different opinions about policy. The Eucharist is the Eucharist, the the mass is the mass, and it’s really important, for our country and our faith, that we not mix these things up, that we not mistake politics for religion or religion for politics, however much they inform each other.
One of the men in my class when I was studying to be a deacon was Ron Benz. He was the oldest and I was the youngest, and we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, too, and of the theological spectrum. He’d make comments in class I didn’t like and I’d make comments he didn’t.
But one day Ron invited the deacons and their families to come out to his ranch, outside Scio. You can tell a lot about a person from the pictures on his walls, and you can tell a lot about a person from the way his children act, and his grandchildren, and as the day wore on I realized what a fine and generous man Ron was.
I’d thought Ron was the Pharisee, but he wasn’t. I was.
And this hit me again at Ron’s funeral, where I was one of the pall bearers. Ron died unexpectedly, of a heart attack, a few years later, and despite all my earlier efforts, we were brothers, in the diaconate, and all of us in his class helped to lay his body to rest. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget all the tributes people made that day, to Ron’s humanity, to his compassion.
Not long ago I found a picture of the two of us, processing out together after our ordination mass, at the Cathedral. We’re side by side, in our blue and white dalmatics. Ron seems to be saying something and I’m laughing.
We couldn’t have been more different, Ron and I, we were opposites, and yet the archdiocese ordained us anyway. It ordained us both.
And there we are together. Laughing.
When we walk out of mass tonight, let’s stop and look at the hole they’ve dug in the floor, down to the earth.
When we walk out of mass tonight, let’s all of us laugh and tell each other stories. When we go, let’s go in peace. Because that’s what the Lord always gives us, in the Eucharist and in our lives. He gives us peace.
He gives us the peace beyond all understanding. He gives us the joy beyond all politics, the joy beyond all religion, the joy that no one else can ever give us--the joy that can only be found in Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, the Word Made Flesh. Our heart. Our hope. Our one fou