Sunday, August 14, 2011

All For One

While shaking hands after the 9:15am Mass, a fellow asked me, "Does Jesus charge $55,000 for an appearance like Randy Travis does?" I answered, "Of course not! And we don't ask for $15 at the door!"

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

As you may already know,
I spent a few days on vacation this past week up in Québec City.
I always enjoy visiting this land of my ancestors:
the food is amazing, the architecture stunning,
and it’s very good practice for my French.
But French was not the only language I heard in the city:
there was, of course, plenty of English,
but also Spanish, Italian, some German,
and a few Asian and Eastern European languages I couldn’t identify.
With the many things Québec has to offer,
it draws visitors from all over the place.

Lately I’ve been remembering an earlier visit
to another French-speaking city:
to Paris, way back in 1997,
when I traveled there for World Youth Day.
Last evening I offered Mass in Saranac Lake
for twenty-four young adults from the diocese
(including one of our own parishioners)
who are leaving today for World Youth Day in Madrid.
Nearly half a million are registered to take part this week in Spain—
all Catholics in their teens, twenties, and thirties—
with hardly a country on the planet not represented…
…and I’m quite sure, based on my own experience,
that even more young people will show up.

You don’t have to consider them for very long
to recognize a rather major difference
between these two international convergences of humanity.

In Québec, you see,
we all just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
Even when we were forced into close quarters on a crowded elevator,
there was no bond, no real connection between us.
Oh, we were polite, and we smiled.
But we remained separate:
tourists each going about their business.

In Paris, however, I encountered something quite different.
Next Saturday night and Sunday morning,
hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth
will gather out on an airfield in Madrid
to adore the Blessed Sacrament, to celebrate Mass,  
and to listen to the words of the Pope.
If it’s anything at all like Paris,
despite the unusual setting,
despite the immensity of the young crowd,
the atmosphere will be as sacred as that found
in any of the world’s most revered cathedrals.
Regardless of cultural differences and language barriers,
these young people are brought together by a common faith,
and so they very quickly become one.

Friday was the eleventh anniversary of my ordination as a priest.
It’s a major part of my priestly ministry
to bring people together, to make the many into one:
by baptizing new members into the Body of Christ;
by helping the sick and the sinner know that they’re not alone;
by uniting husbands and wives in holy marriage;
by preaching a message of hope intended for everybody;
above all, by gathering the one family of God
around one altar for Eucharist,
offering one sacrifice of praise.

This priesthood is quite a calling.
For it, I remain both very grateful and rather unworthy.
And I can’t ever urge the young men among us strongly enough
to personally consider priesthood
as they discern their life’s vocation!

But this important work of unity is not the priest’s alone:
I can’t be everywhere, and I can’t reach everyone.

Now, next to places like Québec or Paris or Madrid,
Malone isn’t exactly what you’d call a “diverse” town.
We’re pretty homogenous culturally, racially, and ethnically.
And while we do have visitors
(and the Chamber of Commerce is always trying to attract more),
we’re not quite a tourist Mecca.
Nevertheless, Malone has its divisions.
Some are based on politics—who you know.
Some are based on social status—where you work or where you live.
Some are based on how long you or your family have been in town.
The ones that sadden me most
are those within our own Catholic community—
emphasizing historical lines between our four parishes.
Such lines are fading, it’s true…but they’re still with us.

Here in this house of prayer, here in this house of God,
is the place—above every other—
where all should feel welcome,
where all can come together as one.

Do we try to get to know the other people
who come to church with us?
Do we connect with one another as Catholics
outside our time spent in this building?
Or is our church involvement limited to one hour a week?
Do we hear God calling us to be united as one family—
one with him and one with each other?
Or have we become “spiritual tourists,”
each of us going about our own business?

As a Catholic community,
we must make sure that our doors are wide open.
Even more, we must go out from this place
to invite other people in.
As I’ve mentioned before:
we have 4,500 registered parishioners here in Malone
that we’re not seeing at Mass on a regular basis—
not to mention all the folks in the area
who claim no allegiance to any particular faith.
Can we rest content in our pews
knowing that they’re all still outside?

In speaking with the Canaanite woman,
Jesus betrayed the prejudices of his own people.
I don’t think this is because he shared their bias against foreigners,
but in order to draw attention to it—
and to blow it right out of the water.
True faith can know no human boundaries.
God and God’s mercy will not be limited
by the lines we draw in the sand.
So we must not allow ourselves to be limited
to old notions of belonging
or accepting things as they happen to be now.
If Randy Travis could draw something like 10,000 people
to the Franklin County Fairgrounds on Friday night,
what sort of crowd should we be packing in
with a visit by the only Son of God every Sunday?
Our world—like the Canaanite woman’s daughter—
is deeply troubled and in need of much healing.
If our faith is real,
it can’t be satisfied with the status quo;
we need to get out there and spread it around.

May the peoples praise you, O God!
From Québec to Paris, from Madrid to Malone,
may all the peoples praise you!

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