Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happy Serious Business

I would also like to stress that the sacred has an educational function and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes culture and especially the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a faith that is secularized and no longer in need of sacred signs, these Corpus Christi processions through the city were to be abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be “flattened out”, and our personal and community awareness would be weakened.

Or let us think of a mother or father who in the name of a desacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end by giving a free hand to the many substitutes that exist in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs that could more easily become idols.
God, our Father, did not do this with humanity: he sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfillment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing he replaced the ancient sacrifices with himself, but he did so in a rite which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as a supreme sign of the true Sacred One who is he himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, let us celebrate the Eucharistic Mystery today and every day and adore it as the centre of our life and the heart of the world. Amen.
Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – A man who ceases to believe in God does not believe in nothing; he will believe in anything. So says, roughly, GK Chesterton, somewhere or other. There is a human capacity, really a human need, for belief that stubbornly persists despite the best efforts of rationalists to eradicate it. We need the sacred; that is, we need the presence of something bigger than ourselves which we cannot prove to be true but to which we pledge our loyalty. We need to be reverent; we need something or someone to respect.

Throwing out the God of heaven and earth, the God of Jesus Christ, as so many have done or (often, these days) have had done for and to them, any old god will do. Whether it is one of the host of new age or occult energies, or The Universe (TM), or human progress or science or environmental purity or Love (TM)—well, in the words of the Prophet Dylan, “Don’t you know you gotta serve somebody?”

And this is very much tied to the question of reverence, of respect. I think a good test to see what god a person worships is to see what they will not make fun of. ‘God is not mocked,’ – what does this person not mock, and why? We can all think of the stereotypical Sunday Christian who takes his religion very lightly indeed, but is deadly earnest about the maximization of his bank balance.

Personally, I don’t like jokes about Jesus. I don’t tell them, and I will listen politely if some well-meaning soul tells me one, but to me Jesus is not a subject for jokes. Jesus is joy, happiness, peace, beauty, delight, love, and laughter. But jokes? No—He’s too sacred for that.

And so these rituals, these sacred rituals, and the reverent respect with which we do them. This is how we teach children what God we worship. And how we teach ourselves, too. And, most importantly of all, how God has taught us who He is and how we are to approach Him.

This is rather important, actually. In our desacralized world, we are a bit unclear on something that had been obvious to our ancestors from day one. Namely, we cannot just approach God any old way we please. God is greater than we are, and awesome, and somewhat fearsome; we need to be shown how to enter His presence, and how to offer Him the worship and honor that are His due. This has been blindingly obvious to every generation of humanity since humanity was; we have forgotten it.

And Jesus is the one who teaches us how to approach God and enter His presence, and indeed personally bears us into the Presence of the Most High. And so as we go to Mass we go with happy hearts, uplifted hearts, joyous hearts… but never with sloppy, inattentive heedless hearts. We are entering God’s presence through, with, and in Jesus. It is serious business. Happy serious business. And it is reverent respect—genuflections, bows, good posture and moderation of voice and countenance—that helps our hearts to stay in that ‘happy serious place’ that opens us to the action of grace.

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