Friday, September 21, 2012
Do you remember a time when you were hesitant to jump into a swimming pool or wade into the waves at the ocean? A friend or family member, already in the water, perhaps called out to you, “Come on in; the water’s fine.”
Sometimes we approach the Mass a bit like that body of water. We know that jumping in is the only way to really enjoy it, but we’re still hesitant to make the leap. Perhaps we are shy by nature and inclined to play the wallflower. Perhaps we don’t really like to sing or don’t think we have a very good singing voice. Perhaps we participate well most Sundays but just got up in a bad mood this morning.
There can be a lot of different reasons we hesitate to jump in, but the only way to fully benefit from the liturgy is to enter into it with our whole selves. We are invited by Christ to share in his worship with every part of ourselves – mind and heart, body and soul, eyes and ears and voices. We need to worship the Lord with both our interior disposition and our external expression.
When the Mass begins, we are called to offer our praise to God by joining in the opening song. This song often expresses the theme of the feast or the season we are celebrating, helping us to enter into the mood of the celebration. Sometimes it may be more general, speaking simply of beginning our worship. In either case, it calls us to move beyond the limits of our own little world and become part of something much larger.
It is important to realize that our liturgy is the common action of all of us who have gathered. Mass is not a time for private prayer, but a time for communal prayer. The entrance song reminds us of this fact, because the song itself draws us into a communal act of praise. Each of us contributes his or her own voice to one musical sound.
This is the most important function of music in the Mass. It unites us in a common act of worship. It is a unifying element that recurs again and again throughout each Mass, continually calling us to worship as one Body in Christ.
Music also adds a sense of solemnity to our celebration, lifting it out of the ordinary and expressing our joy and our thanksgiving. Music can lift our minds and our spirits as we lift up our voices to the Lord.
All of this works, or course, only if we join in the singing. It takes all our voices together to give God the praise that God is due. It takes the cooperation of each person in the assembly if our music is to be as prayerful as it can be. If you think your voice isn’t that great for singing, so what? As Deacon Mark is fond of saying, “If you think God gave you a bad voice, you owe it to God to give it back!” Don’t let any fear or hesitation keep you from joining in. Come on in; the water’s fine.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
War has been part of the human condition since the beginning of time. In the passage from the Letter of St. James we read this week, he asks his listeners to consider the cause of war. Our Christian response is to always attempt to turn away from violence. The US Bishops wrote, "The Christian tradition possesses two ways to address conflict: nonviolence and just war. They both share the common goal: to diminish violence in this world"
Christian nonviolence does not consist in surrendering to evil - as some incorrectly interpret "turn the other cheek" (Luke 6:29) - but in responding to evil with good. Because loving our enemy is at the core of Jesus’ message, nonviolence is not merely an outward behavior of the believer, but the attitude of one who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.
The Catholic Church’s teachings on war, and when war can be considered just, developed very early. The Fourth Century bishop, St. Augustine of Hippo was the first Christian writer to describe the four conditions that must be met in order for a war to be just. The Catechism of the Catholic Church still teaches these conditions, they are:
1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor must be lasting, grave, and undeniable;
2. all other means of putting an end to the conflict, including sincere diplomatic efforts, must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
3. success must be a serious prospect; and,
4. the use of arms must not produce evils greater than the evil to be eliminated.
These are hard conditions to fulfill, because the Church teaches that war should always be the last resort.
The decision to enter a war is up to the civil authorities. But Holy Mother Church prays that those responsible for the common good use prudential judgment. That means the government must make certain that a war is just before they fight it; and that it remains just after the battle has begun. We also pray for those in the military who serve in harms’ way and support them physically, emotionally and spiritually while they fulfill their duty.
The Catechism also says that the power of modern weapons weighs very heavily in deciding whether a war is just. Because chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are always a concern in modern warfare, Pope John Paul II suggested that the threshold for a just war has been raised very high. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, went even further, stating in 2003 that "we must begin asking ourselves whether… with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still [valid] to [think] that a 'just war' might exist."
As James was trying to tell his first readers, war is never the answer. Peace must be sought at all costs.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
On September 13th, we celebrate the feast of Saint John Chrysostom. John was born in Antioch, in modern-day Turkey, in the fourth century. His father died when John was a baby, and with the death of his sister, he became the only child of a widowed mother.
John was baptized at about age 18, and the bishop Palladius, says, “After his baptism, John never cursed or swore or spoke evil of anyone or spoke a lie or wished ill to anyone or tolerated loose talk.”
In 386, he was ordained to the priesthood and began preaching. His sermons were so good that when he preached, pick-pockets came to “work” the crowds because people listened so intently that they didn’t notice they were being robbed! Because John is considered one of the greatest preachers of Christianity, he was given the name Chrysostom, which means golden-mouthed.
What made him such a great preacher? John was solid in his knowledge of doctrine, and was capable of explaining Scripture in a way that people could understand. He was not interested in difficult questions of theology, or complicated Biblical interpretation. He was interested in leading people to the fullness of Christian living, and guiding them through the difficulties of living in a largely pagan world
John left Antioch when he was named the Patriarch of Constantinople in 398 AD. In this new place, John was not well-liked because he preached against the luxury of the upper class and about the duty of taking care of the poor. He practiced what he preached, building a hospital with the money he saved on expenses in his first year as bishop. He said, “God wishes that all should become holy and that none should neglect the practice of virtue.” This made him strong enemies, including the rich Empress. His zeal for social justice led to his exile to a remote spot on the far coast of the Black Sea, where he died.
St. John is called a Doctor of the Church, a rare title reserved for those whose writings have contributed to the theology or doctrine of the Church. 1909, Pope Pius X made him the special patron of all those who preach the word of God. St. John is also called the “Doctor of the Eucharist,” partly because he spoke in the clearest possible terms about the Mass and the Eucharist.
St. John is most important for us to learn from because his life, actions, and words mirrored and echoed God's eternal Word, Jesus Christ. St John expressed that as a preacher, but we too are called to express that same Word using the gifts God has given us.