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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NPM 2014: Quite a week

Last week, I attended the 37th annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, which was held in St. Louis. It was a homecoming of sorts, since Terry grew up there, and that made lots of time for her and Des available for visiting mom and family. For me, this was probably the most I have ever had to do at one of these conferences, working for several hours a day for all five days of the conference. And back here in Barrington, people thought we were going on vacation!

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) has been a part of my life since 1980-81, which means I've been in NPM longer than I've been out of it. During the first twenty years or so, I attend national or regional conventions most of the time, often on NALR's or GIA's dime, less often in the last ten years or so, but I've gone when possible, especially when I had something to. NPM is an international organization, really, if you go by membership and convention attendance, but it is organized for U.S. musicians, clergy, and educators "to foster the art of musical liturgy."

L-R, Rick Reed, Paul Inwood, me, Mark Wunder, last day
I was privileged to have been asked by the association and Paul Inwood to lead a five-day "institute" for composers and songwriters interested in getting better at the craft; privileged, I say, because the supposition might be that I had something to offer them. Paul Inwood is a well-traveled and distinguished British composer, a member of the original St. Thomas More group of composers with the likes of Chris Walker, Ernest Sands, and Bernadette Farrell, and former director of music at the cathedral of the diocese of Portsmouth. He is a part of the Psallite project, new church music from Liturgical Press written by a collaboration of artists and specifically focused on assembly singing, with or without accompaniment. Since I have some experience of his egregious talent, thanks to annual meetings with him and other composers in St. Louis, I did not hesitate long in saying "yes" to the opportunity, knowing we would all be in good hands.

It was important to me that our institute go really well. Attendees paid an extra fee, nearly $100, over and above the convention registration, to attend, and were committing to skipping every other workshop block for the entire week in order to attend the institute. Paul had the idea that we would use the first day's time block, about four hours, to share our own process and give some input about ways to approach writing texts, set them to music, and perhaps apply some theological insight to the task. We assigned the attendees the task of setting an original Genevieve Glen OSB text and a Grail psalter text, and spent the other 8 hours singing through each of those settings and learning about the craft by some (admittedly hasty) analysis of them as we did. All who submitted works got to hear their pieces sung and played, and received the benefit of some loving mutual critique from colleagues in the same ministry. All things considered, this played out very well.

We used projection for the entire process - no trees were killed in the edification of these composers. On the downside, two projectors were pilfered from our supposedly secure room, and we were finally rescued by using the personal projector of one of the security team who happened to be a St. Louis policeman in real life. I suspect that helped solve our disappearing projector problem.

It was a big convention for the simple fact that it introduced to most of us the new president of the organization, Father Rick Hilgartner, a lovely man and pastor who comes to us most recently from the office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on his way to a pastorate in Maryland. I was able, on Monday evening, to attend a reception for him in one of the hospitality suites at the hotel and have a conversation with him, and know that he is up to the task of leading the organization with energy, and he seems to have a particular gift and insight about expanding our membership and musical horizons to include more people who do this ministry. It was the first time I had met Rick, but other friends of mine told me that in the months of meetings and interviews leading up to the convention, his name kept coming up in conversation, until finally someone just said, "Why don't we call him?" I have high hopes for the future of NPM.

Two big aspects of any NPM convention, aside from the exhibit hall with its ongoing mini-concerts
with Jerry Galipeau at WLP party
and musical activities and merchandise, are the plenum addresses and musical showcases. In my experience, so much of the inspiration I have derived over the years from NPM come from these events, particularly the plenum addresses which are given by spiritual, musical, and liturgical leaders in the country (and, thanks be to God, these are often packed gracefully into the same people). This year, I was unable to attend all of these sessions beginning to end, though I tried, but I got to hear the brilliant and passionate Jerry Galipeau, the animated, erudite, and pastorally acute Paul Westermeyer, and the beautifully affirming and challenging Fr. Ray East for their entire sessions, and a good deal of Ann Garrido's and Sr. Honora Werner's humorous, gentle, and moving talks as well. They brought to mind the dozens of motivational exhortations we have heard for all these years from NPM stages, helping those of us who have been around a few years to give thanks that we have stood on the shoulders of spiritual giants, and been very privileged in our lives to have done so.

with Tom Kendzia (r)
with David Haas (l)
 Besides the plenum addresses were the showcases, and I was delighted to have scored a "trifecta" in this department, in that some work of mine (at least in collaboration) was presented by each of the three major Catholic publishers in their showcases. The first, on Tuesday, was World Library Publications' event, where, with many other lovely pieces, two parts of my "Mass of St. Aidan" were sung by the attendees. On Wednesday was the GIA showcase, at which was presented my most recent publication from them, "To You Who Bow," which was commissioned by my own choir on the occasion of my 60th birthday in 2012. They wanted me to write them a song, suited to their voices, which was a very touching (and not a little bit intimidating!) thing to be asked. After about six Here is a Facebook link to the performance: I don't know if it's accessible to everyone, but I hope so! Finally, on Thursday at the OCP showcase, the song "One in Love," which I co-wrote with my friend Tom Kendzia was sung by the group. I was sitting about halfway back in the center, and the effect of singing in the midst of such an assembly, with the composer-choir and orchestra accompanying, was such a wash of beautiful sound that I was overcome with gratitude, and again remembered that it was just moments like this that have been sustaining for me in my ministry for so many years.
months, I began writing the text out of a new place I think I was being led to in my spirituality, and with which those who read this blog are probably already aware. It speaks of a God who turns our expectations about what a god is and what a god does upside down by making us consider Jesus seriously from scripture. I'll write a little about this song and our current project another day, but the thrill of hearing it sung by the 1500 or more people gathered for the event, in parts, with oboe, piano, and the brilliant cello of Joe Hebert accompanying, led by Terry, was just overwhelming.

Gary Daigle, me, Marty Haugen
Me, Jaime Cortez, Terry, Ray East
But I'd be lying if I didn't say that a real high point for me of this or any NPM I've attended was receiving the "Pastoral Musician of the Year" award on Thursday morning at the members' breakfast.
Since then, I've had to endure statements like, "you deserve it" and "what took them so long" and "no one is more deserving" and other such hyperboles and adulation, but if you know me, you know that it is a surprise and wonder to me that in a room and national organization of people, any number of whom can do everything I do better than I can, I should be selected to receive this honor. I tried to say, in my remarks after getting the award, that NPM is a valuable asset in our lives as pastoral musicians, one that is responsible for fostering the vocation of liturgical musicianship in my life, helping me to see that my shortcomings aren't the last word, but that my calling is. I have received so much inspiration, vision, and formation from the association over the years, and I really want to see that continue and be passed on as vision to the next generations of pastoral musicians as well. So, thank you to NPM for that great honor, and thank you to my teachers and the parishes who have called me to service for the opportunity to share my gifts.

with Delores Dufner, OSB
receiving the Pastoral Musician of the Year award

At the table with Terry that morning, along with Fr. Rick Hilgartner and Gordon Truitt, were our great friend and colleague Gary Daigle, and my colleague at St. Anne, Courtney Murtaugh. It was at the St. Louis NPM in 1993 that Courtney contacted me about the opening at St. Anne in Barrington. Though we almost never got to meet, we did make contact, and on the weekend which, that year, was the feast of the Assumption, I visited the parish, sat in with the musicians, and was interviewed. Even though they needed someone, the pastor, Fr. Jack Dewes, said that if I wanted the job, they would get along until after Christmas so that I could put some closure to things with my Phoenix parish. The rest is history. It was very special to have Courtney at the table that morning, representing all the great people of St. Anne and my wonderful choir. Coincidentally, completely coincidentally, a song that I wrote for Fr. Jack's 40th anniversary of ordination, "Heart of a Shepherd," was the communion at the convention liturgy. Maybe there really aren't any coincidences?

I'm going to link, for archiving sake, a couple of videos on YouTube. One is a panel I took part in that was sponsored by Fr. Anthony Ruff's PrayTell blog, hosted by Nathan Chase who is running the blog while Anthony is on sabbatical. The topic was the effect of Pope Francis on liturgy and music, and I was delighted to be able to share that time with Sister Kathleen Harmon and Paul Inwood.

The other video was taken by the omnipresent Alyssa Bellia, who posted a number of interviews to the NPM Facebook page. She did a brief interview with me after the award breakfast. Watch it if you want to find out what my favorite ice cream is, at least, the only flavor not vanilla I could imagine eating at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Thank you, NPM, for a lot of years of inspiration and motivation, for helping us "claim your art," and for teaching us, little by little, how to sing the good news.

Some related posts:
Acknowledging Impostor's Syndrome
What a Liturgy Director Doesn't Do
The Privilege of Our Calling
So You Think You Want to Write Liturgical Songs - Part one - Part two
Prophets and Martyrs for a New World

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The field of God's dreams (A15O)


I will never be able to hear the parable of the sower again, ever, without hearing John Gallen speak about it. He brought it up often in his homilies and spiritual talks, and it was always with a single message: it's about the Sower. We tend to focus on the various kinds of ground in the parable, but the thing is, the parable is about the reign of God—God is sowing it everywhere, and doesn't care where the seeds fall. The "lavish" Sower wants the earth to bring forth the grain, and tosses the seed everywhere so that it can have its day.

I rarely advocate for the short version of the scriptures, when two are offered, but I recommend to our presiders and deacons that we use the short version of the gospel for this Sunday, the parable of the sower. The short version is just the parable–it doesn't have the "explanation" of the parable attached. According to many scripture scholars, it is most likely that the explanation does not originate from Jesus but from the redactors or editors of the gospel The explanation of the parable narrows its field of meaning and even possibly gets us off track from the intent of Jesus, reducing it to an allegory. It is an important parable in the great schema because it appears in all three synoptics and the gospel of Thomas, with the Mark version probably being closest to the original. The parable focuses on the divine initiative and lavish gift of the reign of God; the explanation focuses on the response of the ground. One might argue - “hey, if I'm rocky ground, I was made that way.” Anyway, the parable itself is much more, well, parabolic, and allows us to concentrate on the important aspect: the reign of God is God's work, and it is being sown everywhere. Also, and perhaps more importantly, “failure, miracle, and normalcy” are all part of the way the kingdom operates. In the beautiful conclusion of Bernard Brandon Scott,
"In failure and everydayness lies the miracle of God's activity. The accidents of failure are not exploited for their possible moral overtones, but are coordinated with the harvest. The hearer who navigates within this triangle can experience God's ruling activity under the most unfamiliar guises, even among prostitutes and tax collectors–in the everyday... Both the ordinary and the unclean belong to the miracle of the kingdom. The kingdom does not need the moral perfection of the Torah nor the apocalyptic solution of overwhelming harvest." (Hear Then the Parable, Bernard Brandon Scott, © 1989 Fortress Press)

May I just suggest, if you are looking for a terrific book on parables, one that will help get your mind clear of the moralistic and allegorical way we westerners hear them, get hold of Scott's book. It will see you through these Matthaean parables and the rest of them, and help put the parables back in the mouth of the Jewish storyteller who used them.

I love this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables one after another, each one bringing new light and meaning to our search for the reign of God. It’s going to be a good month. Here’s what we’re singing Sunday:

Gathering: The Reign of God (Like Farmer's Field) is S. Delores Dufner OSB's beautiful hymn text paired with MCKEE, which most of us have sung forever with the words "In Christ There Is No East or West." It picks up images from several of the parables that we will hear over the next few weeks so bears repeating. It was not only a pleasant surprise that the editors of Gather Third Edition included it, but included it with two verses that I hadn't seen printed in missalette incarnations of the hymn.

Responsorial psalm:  Psalm 65 You (GIA octavo) I’m fairly certain that I wrote this for the same Sunday in 1993. The lectionary antiphon, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest” puts, it seems to me, too much emphasis on us and not enough on God, the sower. So I wrote a longer antiphon that focused on the sower when I wrote my metric paraphrase of Psalm 65:
You, you visit the earth; you make it fruitful, you make it bloom.

You, your rivers overflow, spilling to earth in the rain.

You call forth the grain.

To you belong the sowing and the harvest,

To you alone the rainfall and the sun.

We will praise your name,

You have staked your claim on the fierce and stony landscape

Of the human heart. 

by Rory Cooney © 1993 GIA Publications

We took the title song from the album we recorded that year, Stony Landscapes, from this song.

Preparation Rite: Open My Eyes (Manibusan) Jesse's well-known little gem of a song helps us to see, hear, and love in a new way. In the context of today's scripture proclamation, I hope it is a response to the invitation re-imagine the world in the reign of God.
Communion:  Within the Reign of God (Haugen) One of Marty's many great communion songs, this one from his gospel musical based on Luke, The Feast of Life. The connection to this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables, will, I hope, be obvious!
Closing: Walk in the Reign (octavo) I wrote this song for Advent in 1989, the beginning of a Matthew year, so I wanted to highlight the aspects of the emerging reign of God that appear in the advent Sundays, the familiar verses corresponding to the four Sunday of Advent, with a bridge employing the direct address to Bethlehem and its projected inferiority complex:
Bethlehem! You think you’re so small

That God doesn’t notice your children at all?

But Bethlehem is all of us who don’t think that God-with-us can really mean “us,” who don’t think that God can notice us with all our silly little issues and problems. Anyway, later that year I wrote a couple of verses so that we could sing the same song in the summer as we reflect on these parables and their meaning, and so I included them in the octavo. I love using “Walk” in the summertime, and singing these verses about the emerging reign of God:
A sower is planting in acres unseen

The seeds of the future, the field of God’s dream.

Those meadows are humming, though none sees them rise:

The name of the sower is “God of surprise, the God of surprise.”

Oh, one day we’ll know them, the treasure, the pearl,

That capture our spirits and brighten our world.

We ache to possess them, the burden that frees:

The treasure of justice, the pearl of God’s peace, the pearl of God’s peace.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Revisiting "lex orandi lex credendi"

Or, as others might put it, "De lege orandi-credendi disputandum est."

This probably falls in the "angels dancing on pinheads" department, but I wrote all this down a while back, and thought you might like to read about it as well. Some of the insights below came via Christian McConnell, professor of liturgy at University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Chris is the real deal, and he humors my musings here and elsewhere with both corrective and supportive comments. I may be fiddling with words while Rome burns the historical foundations of the liturgical tradition, but this is just a blog, after all, and one deserves a little latitude.

In the years of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, we tried, as experienced practitioners in the ministry of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Catholic church, to empower others charged with the same ministry but perhaps with less background in the rites and their theology, to develop the tools to be good ministers of initiation by experiencing the rites and reflecting on them catechetically. In other words, we told them "don't do unto others what you haven't done unto yourself," then we helped them experience the dynamics of initiation rites and then reflect on them as “first theology,” the prayer of the church. In traditional theory, to experience the prayer of the Church, that is, to be immersed in the divine liturgy which is suffused with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Logos of God in the scripture and activity of the baptized as we join in the eternal prayer of Christ, is to be shaped by the action of God, conformed to Christ, the logos incarnate, who is kenosis and agape.

All of this is based on an ancient theological principle that is simplified in the phrase lex orandi lex credendi. This Latin aphorism means, literally, “the law of praying is the law of believing.” Translated into English, the principle tells the basic truth outlined above: prayer (and particularly and par excellence the liturgy) shapes belief. One doesn’t take the beliefs of a person, or a group, or the world and make them into a rite, but rather one submits to the rule of the ritual, in this case initiation ritual, and is shaped by it. Behind this principle is the promise of Jesus to be present to the Church “wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” as well as the faith of the Church that the sacraments had their origin in the life and habits of the Messiah, and grew organically among his disciples into the liturgy we have today through the practice of the apostles and the Church in the earliest decades of her existence. That’s all by way of some background.

At many Forum gatherings (and I suspect at other catechetical meetings as well) the phrase lex orandi lex credendi was expanded to include lex vivendi and then lex agendi, that is, the law of life (living) and the law of action (doing).Those who make these kinds of presentations are trying to expand the meaning of the original phrase to more clearly express the truth that lex credendi is not just a matter of intellectual assent to a body of truths, but a way of living, a pattern of action. You know, if you read this blog, that this might have pushed a button in me, the “faith” button, the place where I bristle when people suggest that faith is a matter of intellectual assent, that platonic sense that “knowledge is power,” rather than “knowledge is possibility.” I believe in Forum's model, really the RCIA model, of  "apprenticeship-to-discipleship." This model of initiation holds fast to the truth that Christians are made by other Christians, that God’s gift of faith is nurtured in community, and that it includes not just introduction to the truths of Scripture and tradition, but walking with other Christians in communal solidarity, prayer, and service to the world. This four-sided dynamism of kerygma, leiturgia, koinonia, and diakonia has its origin in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is along the trajectory of all four of them that candidates for initiation are discerned to be moving toward the sacraments at every ritual stage of their journey. What struck me was that by excising vivendi and agendi from the equation, we might be contributing to the misunderstanding of credendi as meaning “what we do about faith with our heads,” that is, taking life and action out of the meaning of “credo” where they belong. As I’ve stated before (and I tried to find my first post on this to prove it, but navigating through all those pages turned out to be looking for a needle in a haystack), belief is more related to love than it is to knowledge, even in its etymology. Credo, “I believe,” in the Latin, is a portmanteau verb created by the evolution of the words cor (heart) and do/dare (to give); that is, to believe is to give one’s heart to, not just one’s head, and the heart here is a synechdoche for the whole person.

Once I brought this issue up to my non-Forum friends on an internet list, and ask what they think. J. Michael Thompson, a wonderful musician and former seminary professor, pointed out that “lex orandi lex credendi” is a shortcut catchphrase for a longer statement by the anti-Pelagian scholar Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary and disciple of St. Augustine, to the effect that “legem credendi statuat lex supplicandi”, which more clearly articulates who’s zooming who here: the law of prayer legislates the law of belief. It’s not so much an equation (lex orandi = lex credendi) as a statement of the true order of things. Popular or even theologically sophisticated belief does not shape prayer, but vice versa. In a way, it is saying in theological language what the Directory for Catechesis says about the influence of parents on children’s faith, that parents are the first or primary catechists of their children. This is not a law: it’s a fact. It’s not burden the church imposes on parents: it’s the natural way of things. Kids learn from their parents. Jesus learned to be a good Jew from his mother and father. He might have learned other details later in life that were also important, but how to live as a Jew, the prayers, habits, rites, world view, practice of justice, all of that, he picked up from Mom and Dad. And so do we. Similarly, mother Church teaches us, through the community’s prayer life, how to live as Christians. The sense is that, as long as we keep remembering who we are, keep listening to the self-revelation of God in the scriptures, keep using real stuff – bread, wine, water, meal, oil, songs, gestures, color – to signify God’s presence, we won’t stray too far from the truth. When we start making it up, doing our own thing based on what “we” believe in, we’ll be in dangerous waters. (Don’t get me started on “making it up” again; we’ll be here all night!)

So I brought up my concern to others. I wondered whether the lex vivendi lex agendi business was part of the tradition, and it clearly is not. It’s an accretion used by contemporary scholars to make a two points: one, that liturgical prayer (orandi) precedes catechism in its role as shaper of Christians, and two, that life and action (vivendi and agendi) are elements of faith (credendi). But if they are elements of faith, why distinguish them from faith by using new Latin words for them, as though they were principles from some greater, more ancient authority? That is really bugging me. By our use of those words, aren’t we actually contributing to the dichotomy? By saying they’re distinct, aren’t we saying they’re different? At a time when we ought to be reconciling and integrating, are we making distinctions that aren’t helpful?

Chris McConnell went so far as to point out that the quote from Prosper is truncated from the original, which is part of a conditional phrase introduced by the connective ut, so that Prosper is saying we ought to pray in a certain way in order that the law of prayer might legislate the law of belief (this explains the subjunctive statuat in the phrase, too). McConnell makes the point that, in a sense, while Prosper seems to admit that prayer shapes belief, his actual statement is arguing for prayer in a certain way in order to shape belief—he’s arguing against the liturgy and prayer of the heretical Pelagians! Chris, who is nothing if not passionate about the liturgy and the God who enables and sustains it, wrote further to me:
I think it's worth noting that when people have hashed out the lex orandi/lex credendi thing, I don't think the content of orandi and credendi even pertained to the point they were making. It was all about the direction: which way does it go? Which one is built on the other? They were trying to rectify the tendency to think that liturgy has to be built on doctrine, a major Reformation and Counter-Reformation assumption. But they got a little carried away with thinking it was unidirectional the other way. That's starting to fall apart now.  After my initial attempts to work through that stuff, I came to the conclusion that theologia prima and theologia secunda can be salvaged, but lex orandi -> lex credendi is rightly dying a natural death. It's just untenable. It's a dialectic between the two, both ways, and everyone will admit it when you bring it up, even while they continue to try to hold on to it.

He’s talking about liturgical prayer as primary or “first” theology (theologia prima) versus what we traditionally think of as theology, which is a reflection on mystery, fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding, but after and because of an experience of mystery that animates faith in the sacraments.

So what? My gut instinct is to say that we ought to lay off expanding the lex orandi lex credendi principle for two reasons. One, it’s intellectually dishonest, since we’re treating modern additions to an ancient principle unfairly by retrofitting them with Latin and making grammatical parallels. It might even be misusing the original principle, when we look back at Prosper’s original statement. (However, as I write this, I certainly don’t dispute the possibility that Prosper was rearticulating a principle that already existed by the end of the fourth century when he was active.) Two, it tends to further the disintegration of the truth that credere, to believe, is an action of the whole person, mind, body, spirit, heart, and fortune. To separate "to believe" into parts, as though it were possible to genuinely believe in parts, or that we’re divided into parts as persons somehow, is to dis-integrate faith, and to contribute to the very misunderstanding about tradition that we’re trying to correct! Belief is a matter of love. Creed is a way of giving one’s heart, which is to say, one’s whole self, over to a way of imagining the world with God as its caretaker, heart, and breath. All I wanted to do here was get my concern down in words, and at the end of it, I guess I’m not sure of the value of the effort. But I’m grateful for the people who have made me think like this, and in whose footsteps I walk as I negotiate the trails of the kingdom with you and the rest of the people of God.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Come to Us (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

I’m so far behind! Trying to keep up with work in the parish, prepare for NPM, keep an eye on Composers' Forum work and pay attention an hour or two a week to my home life has left me spinning this summer, and there's no end in sight until maybe the last week of this month. I love writing, but I hate writing on a deadline. I feel it ought to be a leisurely activity, especially this kind of blog writing, you know? Reflective, so there's a chance of a payoff for the person who finds it worth reading!

The two threads that struck me the hardest preparing for Sunday are captured in these texts:
Praise and thanksgiving; i.e., vertically right relationship. 
From the psalm:
I will extol you, O my God and King,

and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you,

and I will praise your name forever and ever.

From the gospel:
I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
 for although you have hidden these things
 from the wise and the learned
 you have revealed them to little ones.
 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

Humility and meekness, horizontally right relationship.
from the first reading (Zechariah):
See, your king shall come to you;

a just savior is he,

meek, and riding on an ass,

on a colt, the foal of an ass.

He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,

and the horse from Jerusalem;
the warrior’s bow shall be banished,

and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

from the gospel:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart;

and you will find rest for yourselves.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Of course, you have to spot me too the almost un-Matthew-like eikon saying in the gospel:
No one knows the Son except the Father,

and no one knows the Father except the Son

and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

I'm almost certain that I've mentioned in another post that I once heard Fr. Richard Fragomeni of CTU call the lectionary a "new canon" of scripture. Certainly that's a dramatic way of saying something we know pretty well, having lived with this book of readings for a couple of generations now, that is, that it represents a particular way of looking at scripture. The readings of the Sunday lectionary, at least, reflect on and echo each other in ways that are often just alluded to in the actual texts, and help us with less knowledge of the texts hear some of the echoes in the words that we were intended to hear by the writers and editors of the sacred texts. My advice to pastoral musicians and composers especially is to know the context of the pericope (the liturgical passage) within the whole gospel, read a commentary, and read the footnotes in your bible! 

Today's gospel is a good example of this. With the references to revelation to children and joy and an easy yoke, we might miss both the context of this passage in Matthew and perhaps a wider field of meaning when it is heard in the context of the reading from Zechariah. I would say that if we listen to the gospel on Sunday without considering the first reading and psalm for context and subtext, we run a good chance of missing the point of the gospel alone, because it's as part of a whole that the gospel was intended to be heard liturgically. 

That reading from Zechariah will be used later by Matthew to shed the light of meaning on the arrival of Jesus on a donkey on what we call Palm Sunday. This late entry into the prophetic tradition denies the mimetic violence that underlies the imperial hopes of Israel after the exile. The prophet insists that the messianic king will not be astride a warhorse and enter breathing threats of violence, but will enter the city riding on a beast of burden, banning weapons of mass destruction, and proclaiming peace to the nations. Jesus says in the gospel, “Come to me, I will give you rest.” Jesus (whether you choose to recognize him as king or not is immaterial) is like the king in Zechariah, an anti-king, if  you will. He is a king whose kingdom is “not like those of this world,” a living sign of the empire of God, whom Jesus reveals. Rather than announcing a way that is full of burdensome laws and restrictions, the gospel of God’s empire is written upon the heart; its yoke is easy, it is a light burden, it is the fulfilment of our humanity. Empire is hard and dangerous work: threats and violence lead to more threats and violence, it's expensive work, paid for with life that cannot be redeemed. The way of Jesus and Abba does not go down that road. Without the first reading and gospel, without knowing the gospel context of the rising tension with the Jerusalem elite, we will almost certainly overspiritualize the gospel today.

No wonder Jesus bursts forth with praise and thanksgiving to Abba for revealing this truth among the simple, among whom he includes himself, “I am meek and humble of heart.” He knows who he is: not that he is God, but that he is a human being, a creation of the divine. Yes, he is our God, and we know the rest of the story, but Jesus himself cannot have known that he was God, or he could not have been fully human. We cannot believe, can we, that Jesus was just pretending to be human? That is heresy. He was fully human, and felt it, and knew it, and gave thanks for it. So we sing with him, as we sing the responsorial, “I will praise your name, my king and my God.” But what kind of king? One who rides a beast of burden, and proclaims peace to the nations.

Gathering:  Come to Us (Gather #842, published by OCP) This is one of my compositions, originally on the record and cassette (yes, record) Do Not Fear to Hope, from 1985, which some people still think of as my best work (I really, really hope not, but I’m glad people like it.) I actually wrote this song after a homily on a summer Sunday probably in 1984, a homily by Vernon Meyer, a St. Louis transplant who became incardinated in the diocese of Phoenix and eventually the third pastor I served with at St. Jerome. He also taught scripture at the diocesan higher education center, the Kino Institute. As often happens in my songs, the lyric transfers the words of Christ more explicitly to the lips of the assembly, that is to say, it tries to allow us to sing who we really are, the body of Christ. I'm also happy to promote, however self-servingly, a beautiful new arrangement by Patti Drennan at Hope Publishing, for choir, piano and flute.

In the words of the great American preacher William Sloane Coffin, “It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters,' and quite another to work out the irrigation system.” To sing a song like “Come to Us” means that we don’t just say, “Go to Jesus, and he will give rest for your soul.” It says, “Come to us, we are the people Christ made through the Holy Spirit by our baptism. There is rest here among us, we can share the yoke with you.” My fellow parishioners at St. Anne make this come alive every day of the year at our local resale shop ("House of Hope") and used to add a massive annual “Annie’s Attic” garage sale, raising over $125,000 for the poor in the Ministry of Hope at the parish. Come to us, indeed. And thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145 I Will Praise your Name Gather, Haas

Preparation Rite:  Only In God (Gather, John Foley) When a song uses “God” and “only” in the same sentence, it is pretty sure to be delivering the right message. We tend to be at least mildly Pelagian as American, we pull ourselves up, we think, by our own bootstraps. We help other people, we don’t need help ourselves. Songs like “Only in God” set the record straight. All good, every good thing, originates in God. The distribution rights are in our hands; the only thing we can do wrong is hold on tight and forget where they come from.

Communion:   Come to Me (Gather, Joncas), to iterate in the communion procession the beautiful words of today’s gospel, to remind us the kind of God we are being made into by the gift of the Holy Spirit in the eucharist.

Sending forth: Joyfully Singing (Balhoff, Daigle) or On Holy Ground (Donna Peña). Donna's great song is harder for us to pull off in the summer because of our reduced numbers, but it's worth the effort when the choir forces are there! Otherwise, we'll end with a perennial favorite at St. Anne's, the Dameans' aptly titled "Joyfully Singing" from their Morning to Night collection, mysteriously and undeservedly dumped from the current incarnation of Gather Comprehensive. Another eye-roll to the heavens and church music gods.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ordinary Time and the Color of Hope

If you do a Google search on the question, “what is the color of hope?” you will get more answers than you’ll know what to do with, even when you leave out all the ads for L’Oreal lipstick. Blue is the color of hope, with no explanation other than a Patti Griffin song and a picture of a Montana sky. An blurb about a book about women in a Russian prison announces that “gray is the color of hope.” Beta-carotene is the color of hope, says a medical article. What is that, yellow-orange? There’s no picture. Other sites proclaim that green is the color hope, purple, yellow. I didn’t find any red, but of course red would appear in the rainbow, another “color of hope.”

The church vacillates on it. The liturgical color for Ordinary Time, the season of the year that covers all the Sundays not in the incarnational or paschal seasons, is green, the "color of hope," the color of vegetation and the earth. One could believe that on a day like this, certainly; we’ve had so much rain that the ground is lush and the trees are bursting with verdure. But then we have Advent, the season of hope, where almost every prayer makes some reference to hope or expectation, and the liturgical color for Advent is violet, perhaps a poetic nod to the darkness before dawn? I don’t know.

All of this was going through my head as I was reading the Letter to the Romans, used for the second reading on these Sundays of Ordinary Time Year A, after ingesting Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth , and wanting to read some of Paul (again) on the subject of faith and James (again) on the subject of works. Determined to prove, while looking straight into the eyes of Torah, that no human works or adherence to the Mosaic law can bring about the justification of a person, but only the saving act of God in Christ, St. Paul invokes the memory of Abraham, a childless centenarian with a barren wife, who is justified by his faith in God to keep his impossible-sounding promises.
Abraham believed, hoping against hope, 
that he would become “the father of many nations, ”
according to what was said, “Thus shall your descendants be.”
 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body 
as already dead - for he was almost a hundred years old—
and the dead womb of Sarah.
 He did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
 rather, he was strengthened by faith and gave glory to God
 and was fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to do.

The phrase “hoping against hope” catches my ear, because Paul goes on to describe, in apposition to the impossibility of Abraham’s becoming “the father of many nations” in his old age, faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Paul says that nothing we can do in obedience to any law can justify us in the sight of God. Only God can justify, and the way that God has chosen to do that is through his Son. But what does that mean?

In a later passage, we hear what seemed to me to be a further development of his insight.
Christ, while we were still helpless,
 yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
 though perhaps for a good person 
one might even find courage to die.
 But God proves his love for us
 in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 
How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood,
 will we be saved through him from the wrath.
 Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
 we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
 how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life?
I hear in these words St. Paul describing the very nature of God, that is, unrequited and unconditional self-gift. Perhaps unable to use the words that John uses in the catholic letters that appear in the New Testament, nevertheless Paul describes the human condition: we’re commercial beings. Things have value to us, and we are more conditioned to trade, particularly at a profit, than to altruism. But God isn’t like that. The one thing we have that is irreplaceable and can’t be pawned is our life. There are times when we might be called to give it up for another person. We might do it, say, in time of war, when our love for the people or even the ideas for which might give our life is strong enough to overcome our need for self-preservation. But, says Paul, God isn’t like that. While we couldn’t do anything to help ourselves, when we were still sinners, “enemies” (of God), Paul says, far from God and unable to do anything about it, God did something. God did the one thing that God always does. God poured self out, became human in Jesus, lived a specific life and died a specific death for us, and was raised from death to show the truth of his life.

It’s not just that God became human. It’s that God became this man, who lived this life, and spoke these words, did these things, gave everything away until even his life was spent, and in the resurrection God poured life abundantly back into this same person because that is the way the cosmos is, because it is God’s cosmos. Later, in another letter, Paul or some disciple of his will call Christ Jesus the image of the invisible God, and even later, in the fourth gospel, John will see the parallels between the Logos becoming flesh in the world and the pouring out of the Spirit of God in the world when the Logos returns to the Father.

The thing is, the story doesn’t end there. The gospel describes the sending of the twelve to take Jesus’s work of healing, exorcism, and preaching to the towns and villages of Galilee. It’s the beginning of a story that is still going on, that got its great impetus at the foot of the cross, in the upper room, and at Pentecost, when the Spirit of Christ filled the disciples with the messianic breath of Jesus that the body of Christ might go on living and washing the feet of the world in every time and place.

Which brings us back to hoping against hope in a world with too much war, too much rain or too much drought, too much hate, not enough food, earthquakes, floods, IEDs, a hole in the ozone layer, melting icecaps, and ballooning energy costs. Maybe we think hundred-year-old Abraham has nothing on us. But God’s impossible promise is always the same, because God is always the same, can only be and do the same, pour self out completely, and show us how to do the same in Christ; how to not expect compensation, how to give ourselves even when the other is “sinful” or still our enemy. The church as “rainbow coalition” or “rainbow connection” is the color of hope to those who are without it insofar and always as we can live the life of God, live the life of Christ, giving life, giving ourselves away so that others may live, without counting the cost because there is no lack of life in the divine economy. The color of hope is the color of you, of me, of the hand that reaches across the well with a cup of water, or into the ditch to assist a battered enemy.

I guess these thoughts weren’t as clear as I imagined they’d be! But that’s what “ordinary time” is for — it’s the gospel measured out over real time so that we can slowly absorb the ineffable mystery of the gift of God, and choose, maybe, day by day, Sunday by Sunday, to surrender a little more to its fascinating invitation. Knowing my selfish heart, is it hoping against hope to think that I might, someday, plunge into that rainbow of hope trusting that what God promises God is able to do? It may be, but then again, I’m not yet (quite) a hundred years old.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Super hanc petram aedificabo..."

I like it when the sanctoral cycle, ordinarily celebrated at weekday masses by the  pious faithful who pray there, irrupts into the Sunday schedule. It happens too rarely. Feasts of the Lord can and do, and this year the feasts of the All Souls and the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s cathedral in Rome, will do so, the latter being a celebration of the Lord made visible in the Church and in churches. The feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) displaces Ordinary Time when it falls on a Sunday, as of course do the feasts of the Holy Trinity, the Body and Blood of the Lord, and the Baptism of the Lord (nearly) every year. But the sanctoral cycle is less hardy in its encroachment. All Saints, of course, occasionally falls on a Sunday, and the Birth of John the Baptist, but really the only other feastday which falls in Ordinary Time and has the significance to displace the Sunday cycle (that I can think of without actually doing any actual research ☹ ) is the one that occurs this Sunday on June 29, the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.

What does the liturgy have to say about these two men who are the pillars upon which the church grew in the first century of its existence and whose profound influence upon the interpretation of the gospel is felt today? The opening prayers praise God that through their teaching the Church “first received the faith,” and asks that we be kept true to their teaching. The alternative prayer paraphrases the letter of Peter, praising God through whose great mercy we have received “new birth and hope through the power of Christ's resurrection,” and asks that their prayers for us we might reach the inheritance of heaven with them. (Quotations are from the previous Sacramentary.)

But the readings point to their faith in Jesus and God’s support of them in their hour of need. The first reading, from Acts, describes the rescue of Peter from prison by an angel of the Lord, and the responsorial psalm, from Psalm 34, celebrates that “the angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.” In the second reading from 2 Timothy, the first part of which is so familiar to all of us who attend so many funerals through the years, Paul, writing from prison himself, confesses that his life is slipping away, poured out like God’s life and the life of Jesus, but that in every trial and in his time of need “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” The gospel is one we will hear again later this summer, the confession of Peter from Matthew 16, in which Peter announces, to Jesus inquiry as to his perceived identity, that "you are the Christ (messiah) of God," quite possibly giving the right answer but meaning the wrong thing. Jesus changes his name from the Jewish “Simon” to the Greek Kephas, in Latin, Petrus, a cognate of petra, which means rock, leading to the famous wordplay written in huge letters around the cupola of the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome: Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. (“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”)

That Peter and Paul came to have the same feast day is a triumph, I suspect, of some historical revisionism begun by the evangelists that homogenized and beatified a relationship in the early church that was probably anything but amicable. In Reza Aslan's recent book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which sought to popularize some theories about the historical Jesus in the context of first century Judaism in a Roman world, what was arguably the best and most convincing part of the entire work was the last chapter, which analyzed passages in James, Acts, and the Pauline letters to reveal the serious rifts that divided the apostolic church and at the same time made Christianity possible after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 CE. While Aslan is concerned about the animosity, possibly the antipathy, between James (the brother of the Lord) and Paul (who never met Jesus), Peter is clearly in James's camp. I don't want to get distracted by all this today, but the short version of Aslan's theory is that James knew Jesus, and led the Jerusalem church as a movement within Judaism that kept the Jewish law sacred in a way that edified the church's Jewish milieu. Paul, on the other hand, preaching in the diaspora and poaching Greek-speaking Jewish sympathizers had a more liberal bent, and preached that the law could do nothing to save a person, only faith in Jesus Christ. Hints in their letters show their barely concealed distaste for each other's teaching.

At the distance of two millennia, we have reconciled, to some extent, the faith vs. works argument, and rationalized a belief that sees, as James writes, that faith without works is nothing, and that good works are an outward sign of a faith that believes in the genuine Jesus. Still, even within Christianity that letter of James is not considered canonical by all believers. The question can be settled without it, I suppose, but it's interesting to me that, in spite of the heat of these arguments that separated these lions of the faith at the dawn of Christianity, they all believed in Jesus, his message, and his risen life to such an extent that these servants went to their violent deaths at the hands of the same governments and gods that had crucified the master. The Jewish Jerusalem church that had flourished under James and Peter disappeared after the razing of Jerusalem in 70, and what was left were the churches of the diaspora in the Mediterranean basin, Rome, and beyond that had been cultivated by Paul and his disciples.

So, rather than focusing on these men, who in the words of the entrance antiphon “(conquered) all human frailty, shed their blood and helped the Church to grow,” the liturgy focuses on the God who empowered them and who will empower us to continue to work to build up the church and make it truly catholic. Tacitly taking up last week's evangelical refrain to “be not afraid,” the liturgy encourages us to trust that the angel of the Lord will rescue us as well, and to trust that God will do what the word of God promises. The life and memory of these two men, so unlikely to share a feast day in a sense, who knew each other as allies and adversaries at the same time, is testament to a God who, in Christ, reconciles all things to himself.

Here’s our music for this weekend:

Call to Worship: Be Ye Glad. Michael Kelly Blanchard's great song of ransomed joy is a favorite of ours, and the choir is singing an arrangement as a call to worship. I chose it because it recalls the miraculous release of Paul and Silas from jail, a story from the readings of the vigil, not of the feast day, but still to the point. The spiritual "Eyes on the Prize (Hold On)" takes off from the same event. Blanchard's text is so beautifully crafted. If you are not familiar with it, this is the second stanza, the reason I chose it for today:
Now in your dungeon, a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
Ah, but this time, the cell keys are turning
And outside there are faces of friends.
And though your body lies weary from wasting
And your eyes show the sorry they've had,
All the love that your heart is now tasting
Has opened the gate. Be ye glad! (© Gotz Music/Benson )
Gathering: The Christ of God, by John Foley, SJ. OCP octavo. I wrote about this song in my blog last year (see link). I like that the triumphalistic refrain is framed by a recitative question, “Who do you say I am?” The verses, complementing the faith expressed in the refrain, describe the role of the Christ and the disciple: “The servant of God must suffer much, be rejected, and yes must be killed....Take your own cross, and come, follow me.”
Psalm: Psalm 34: The Angel of the Lord, setting by Rory Cooney, OCP octavo. This is an alternative refrain to my setting of “Taste and See” from Cries of the Spirit 1, written for this feast twenty-something years ago.
Preparation Rite: God Is Love by Rory Cooney or A Dwelling Place, by John Foley, S.J.
Communion Song: Heart of a Shepherd, by Rory Cooney, (link is to a blog post on this song in the "SongStories" series) adapting verses from the Gelineau Psalm 23.
Recessional: Anthem by Tom Conry or Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones (traditional).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Intimacy for Mission - my 'homily' for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Presider began the homily with this introduction, then introduced me, and I gave the section below the asterisks. This includes a few things I edited out of my actual spoken text to keep it under 9 minutes. 

The Eucharist of the church is a precious gift. So much of what identifies the Christian church, and the Catholic church specifically, is the importance and centrality of the Eucharist as part of the Church’s practice and identity. We may celebrate it differently among the denominations, argue about its meaning, use one chalice or several or dozens of tiny cups, or no cup; we might receive the eucharist in the form of bread and wine, or bread alone, every day, or once a week, or once a month, or once a year. But in every case, we know that the Eucharist has a special meaning to us because its origins are with Jesus and the apostles and the early church, and the very meaning of who Jesus is, what he taught, and how he imagined God to be is wrapped up somehow in the sharing of food with one another.

You might think that the church would celebrate this central reality at the high point of the liturgical year, and we do, in fact, on Holy Thursday. We begin the sacred Triduum with the Solemn Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. But there is a lot going on on that day, not the least of which is that historically Lent was a more solemn, even sad, season of penitence. Holy Thursday also marks the institution of the priesthood, the washing of the feet, and the agony in the garden. There’s a lot going on that day! Late in the 12th century, a Saint Julianna was said to have had a vision of Christ asking for this feast day. An archdeacon from her Belgian town later became pope, and created this feast, calling it Corpus Christi, on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In the United States, we celebrate it on the second Sunday after Pentecost.

To speak further on the meaning of this day for us, I invite Rory Cooney, our liturgy director, to offer the reflection today.


Many of you may remember the little book I wrote for Lent to help us uncover the meaning of our baptismal promises to renew them more authentically. Change Our Hearts observed those promises through the lens of Jesus' preaching about the reign of God as a clear choice over competing gods, like Tiberius Caesar. He preached about the alternate kingdom of a God who is Father of everyone, and not emperor, or judge, or executioner like other gods. Jesus made his teaching concrete to people through meal-sharing. He made his vision of a world without violence and threats visible by a day-by-day practice of sitting down to table with good people, like Pharisees and lawyers, and not-so-good people, like Roman collaborators and other sinners. The good guys accused him of claiming a special relationship to God while at the same time colluding with sinners, and accused him of blasphemy. The not-so-good people saw that he was claiming a different emperor-god than theirs, also blasphemy. In both cases, the penalty was death, and they colluded to kill him. But God raised him from death, and in his risen life the church came to recognize and celebrate him and his unique vision for the world by doing what he did, calling people to eat together at table, to live in unity, and to look out for one another's needs with love. In today’s 2nd reading, written just a couple of decades after the death of Jesus, Paul already is needing to remind the Corinthians of this reality.

Scripture scholars tell us that every time St. Paul speaks about the body of Christ, he means the church, head and members. He means Jesus, of course, but connected to all of the baptized who have all been given the same spirit. In today’s second reading, he is trying to convince people in Corinth to stop playing both sides of Church street, participating in pagan sacrificial meals as well as the agape meal of Jesus. His argument is that all sacrifices, Jewish, pagan, and Christian, create community. But the sacrifice of Jesus, remembered in the sharing of bread and cup in the eucharist, is unique. The bread we break, he says, isn’t it the body of Christ? He means that there is intimacy with Jesus and the whole church in that meal. Why would you even think of placing that on a par with meals of pagan gods and temple prostitutes? The cup that we share, isn’t it sharing the blood of Christ? We are all made one, he says, just as the loaf is one, and the cup is one. Don’t dilute and defile that intimacy with cults of violence and hedonism. What we have in the community of Jesus, symbolized by the eucharist, is too precious to be mistaken for the false promises of the gods of war, fertility, and weather.

Here’s a simple if crazy metaphor about intimacy and eating. Do you love the smell of babies? Not every baby smell, but that fresh-from-the-bath and clean diaper baby smell that makes you pick up a giggling baby and say, I could just eat you up. It’s a way of expressing intimacy, a desire for union and joy so deep that it seems like the only appropriate metaphor is consumption. Thank goodness, weird looks we get from other people and fear of life imprisonment keeps us from acting on those impulses. But you might remember that (our pastor) Fr. Bernie (Pietrzak) in his homily about the Holy Trinity last week spoke about God's life, life of the trinity, both as a dynamic intimacy and simultaneously an outwardly-focused love. God invites us into that great intimacy of his own life by making us part of Christ, filling us with the gift of the holy spirit, both to give us a sense of belonging to him and to one another, and to teach us how to move beyond ourselves in love to the service of others, inviting them into the divine life as well. Recall, for instance, when the priest adds a drop of water to the cup or flagon of wine as he prepares the gifts for consecration, and he says, By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. We do not pray idly in the liturgy. These ancient words in fact articulate our belief that God will give us a share in the divinity of Christ, the divinity of Godself.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowds that he is “living bread from heaven.” What is he talking about? First, he’s referring to the manna, the miraculous windfall described today in Deuteronomy that saved the Israelites from starvation on their journey to freedom through the desert. It may or may not have been miraculous in origin, but it was miraculous for Israel in that it came when they needed it, and they remembered its presence with them forever. That it fell from the sky was to them a sign that it was from God. They didn’t grow it, they didn’t buy it, they didn’t steal it. It just showed up one morning, and they received it. Exodus says everyone collected the exact amount they needed, no more, no less. It tasted like almost whatever they imagined it could taste like. And yet, eventually, they got tired of it, and, whether they ate it or not, whether it was from the heavens or not, they died.

But Jesus says of himself that he is living bread from heaven, and that those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man will never die. What is he saying here? The words “the Son of Man” are important. The “son of man” is a character from late Jewish apocalyptic writing who comes into the world to make right the injustices forced on humanity by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucids in the 2nd century BCE. “Son of man” is a Semitism, a local figure of speech, that literally simply means “a human being”, but one whom God chooses to restore peace and justice in the world that Israel inhabits. So "son of man" is a political term, much like “messiah” was in first century judaism. Before your eyes glaze over about that, I just want to ask you to keep that political aspect in mind as you reflect on what it means to have “eternal life” in us because of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. There is reason to think that this intimacy of eating means a depth of life in this world, freedom and justice in this world, as well as in a world to come.

The passage from Deuteronomy begins with that resounding word, “Remember,” and echoes with it again when it says, “Do not forget!” Remember the lessons of your journey to freedom. Remember that you were slaves, and remember that this whole freedom thing was my idea, and that I promised to lead you, my chosen people, and to be with you, and how you promised to be people of my covenant. “Remember” - “do not forget” - these commandments are a charge not to simply be reverent or to make an intellectual recall of past events, but are a call to action, a call to keep faith, a call to covenant. “Remember” means “we have a deal here, and I kept my part of the bargain.” When you call out to your kids “remember your homework,” the correct response is more than just, “yes, I remember…I even wrote it down.” Mom means, DO your homework. It’s more than an act of the mind, it’s an act of the whole person.

So Eucharist is a call to intimacy with Christ, with God, and one another, in the Holy Spirit, that acts on behalf of peaceful justice-making in the world. Christ calls us to discern our gifts, gifts given to us by God like manna from the sky while we sleep, and to use those gifts to live for the freedom and equality of all people. Intimacy is a call to action.

Over sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine gave a homily on Easter morning on which he urged his community to live in the unity and integrity of the Eucharist. He said,
“If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: 'You are the body of Christ, every one of you is a member of it.' If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying 'Amen' to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear 'The body of Christ,' you reply 'Amen.' Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your 'Amen' may ring true! … (St. Paul) says about this sacrament: 'The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.' Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. 'One bread,' he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the 'one body,' formed from many?"

St Augustine says that the bread is us, friends, together with Christ as head of the body. We are bread of life, saving cup, to be broken and poured out for the life of the world. We have been given gifts of peacemaking, forgiveness, and unbounded love, like manna. Let us prepare to offer our gifts for the empire of God with the bread and wine we are about to offer, gifts that will be taken, blessed, broken, and shared by Christ that the world may live. To this I will say “Amen."