Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Big Picture

I am writing a commentary on the Mass each Thursday on this blog, looking at how the rites of the liturgy inform our lives as disciples. We have now reached the following part of Eucharistic Prayer I:

Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.

Now, while all of this is worn familiar by time and repetition to us Catholics, it is nonetheless quite a remarkable thing the Church is doing here. We are, after all, at the very center and reality, at the Great Altar of God, in heaven itself. We are at Calvary, at the empty tomb, at the Throne of God. The liturgy is cosmic, grand, sweeping, all-encompassing.

And we pause here to say, “Oh yeah Lord… remember my Aunt Gertrude? And then there’s Nancy who works at the office… and Frank my dentist’s cousin’s son…” I mean, we don’t quite get that informal—it is still liturgy and there is a formal ritual language and tone we maintain here.

But still… we are at the throne of God, the center and heart of the cosmos, and yet we pause to remember and offer our worship for this one, for that one, for the other one. All of the sudden, in this grand cosmic sweep of liturgy, it all gets very personal and small and particular.

This is very important. This says a great deal about who we believe God to be, and from that, who we believe ourselves to be. The great God we worship, the One before Whom all flesh bows… well, He cares about Gertrude and Nancy and Frank. He really does. And His Grand Offering, the offering into which we enter at the Eucharist, the offering which is for the whole universe and which has power within it to save and transform every atom of creation… well, it is for those three little people, and every other little person (you, me) as well, in a way that is deeply personal and individual and solicitous of our well-being.

This is the God we worship. And as it is with God, so it is with us. This is why Catherine Doherty placed so much emphasis on the person-to-person apostolate, on simply attending to humanity one at a time. Of just getting to know people with great respect and reverence, and only out of that knowing, that friendship (the first name of our apostolate was Friendship House) do we try to meet the person’s needs.

We do not love humanity en masse, because God does not love humanity en masse. Those who are especially engaged in various forms of mass movements, of social justice efforts such as the pro-life movement (to name the one dearest to my heart) have to be vigilant about this. How can we love the unborn baby and care about the sacredness of human life… and ignore callously the actual person who we live with?

How can we be overwrought with emotion and compassion over the plight of the refugees… and then contemptuously treat like dirt someone who, perhaps, is struggling with this issue and is truly concerned about the safety of their children? How can we pretend to care about ‘the poor’, and then be scornful of the human weaknesses and follies, failures and sins of those nearest and dearest to us? How is that loving the poor? Or are the poor just some abstraction to us that we pretend to care about, while we loathe the actual poor people we encounter each day?

God is so personal, so very, very personal. He loves you, He loves me, He loves Tina and Stan and Maria and Evelyn and Mike. Our discipleship always has to be primarily at that personal level, and we need to take that to heart especially if we are inclined to be swept up in big causes and social movements, or get lost in intellectual abstractions of one kind or another.

At the very heart of reality, at the very foot of the Cross, we have time and breath to spare for personal intentions. On His Very Throne of Grace, the Lord has ‘time’, so to speak, for those personal intentions. There is nowhere in this world where our focus and our energy is more taken up into universal and cosmic concerns, and yet it remains personal, intimate, concrete.

A whole theology of love and discipleship, of presence and hospitality and friendship, emerges from this one paragraph of the Eucharistic Prayer. So… let’s try to just love the person in front of us today, whoever they are and no matter what challenges that might pose to us. Because there’s no one else to love, no other time to be loving, and in fact when we make that choice of personal love and friendship, we are indeed touching the cosmic, the universal, the big picture of life and of God, and in fact there is no other way to do that.

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