The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And with your spirit.
I have begun to go through the Mass bit by bit on Thursdays, to show how every bit of the Mass is something to be lived and not simply a ritual to be undergone.
So we are still in early days here, with the ritual greeting of the priest and the response of the congregation. As I said last week, these ritual forms are important, theologically charged and meaningful. It is well meant, but a terrible mistake for a priest to substitute them with ‘Good morning!’ and similar glad handed informality.
The point of these entrance rites is to gather the community, coming from different directions and filled with different concerns and problems and attitudes, into a single body to offer God the worship in spirit and in truth. All the entrance rites are for that purpose.
And so we begin, as we did with the sign of the cross, by acknowledging that it is the Trinity that brings us together into unity. Jesus, the Father, the Spirit – in our quest to become a unity of faith, we have to know that God is the starting point, not nice human feelings or any other human efforts.
No, it is the gracious gift of Jesus Christ that places us in the love of the Father, a love that is sustained by the abiding presence of the Spirit in and among us, not anything of our own doing that is the source and strength of Christian unity.
I want to reflect, though, on our living out this one moment of the Mass. This is not exactly a part of the Mass we devote much time to, or think about afterwards. Even if the priest is extraordinarily slow of speech and super-duper reverent, this ritual greeting clocks in at under a minute.
It’s too bad, on one level. Because if we Catholics who are at Sunday Mass simply took this moment of the ritual greeting and applied it to our daily lives, factually the world would be transformed in a month’s time. In other words, if our guiding principle as we went through the day was to draw everyone we meet into a space of communion, if our basic principle of action was to extend grace and love to every human being who comes into our ambit, the results would be dramatic and world changing.
It is not a question of dramatically declaiming in the checkout line or the doctor’s office ‘PEACE BE WITH YOU ALL!’ But it is a question of having that sentiment within your heart towards the people in the checkout line and the harried cashier. Which will come out in one’s countenance, tone of voice, choice of words.
It’s about treating people as if they are, you know, people. Not automatons or avatars or annoyances. This is particularly acute in our on-line communications, where the actual human being at the other end of the media can recede into a dim abstraction. I don’t have to belabour what we all know, that digital communications are harsh and nasty and rude in a way that face to face communications never could be, as people would be punching one another in the face if they talked that way to one another within arm’s reach.
Well, we’re Christians, and we’re supposed to do better, folks. No exceptions, no excuses, no ‘but he did it first’ infantilism. Our mission is to spread the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to everyone we meet – period. Whether we like them or not or think they merit such treatment from us or not.
But it’s not primarily the on-line stuff I’m thinking about. I really am thinking about the supermarket cashier, to be honest. We have this awful tendency to reduce people to functionaries, to simply go through our days not really treating human beings as human beings. Obviously we are not to strike up a conversation with someone who is checking our groceries through while a line snakes behind us all the way to the dairy case. But… a smile? A sincere thank you? A basic warmth, a kind look, a simple acknowledgment that this person is not just a menial worker but a brother or sister? Is that really beyond us?
My experience is that being deliberate and purposeful in this way makes the routine tasks of daily life lighter and more pleasant, that people more often than not respond with smile for smile, warmth for warmth. And then the same thing with co-workers, with neighbours, with fellow commuters, with… well, you get the point. EVERYONE. And don’t forget the people you actually, you know, live with. We can lose sight of the basic call to build communion and family spirit with them, too, taking them for granted or consigning them to the category of ‘burden’ or ‘problem’.
Grace, love, and communion. To go through one’s day putting it out there, and receiving it back when it is reciprocated (‘and with your spirit’), and not fussing too much when it’s not. Gathering everyone in, bringing everyone into a space of communion, or at least trying to do so. If every Catholic who is at Mass on Sunday even tried to do that Monday-Saturday the whole world would be transformed into a much kinder, gentler, and warmer place in a fortnight. So let’s you and I try to do that today, OK?