Sunday, June 2, 2013


A few folks kindly said they wanted to applaud after this one...but it might have been a bit better if they'd started to throw things...

   The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ   C 

I think we all have been to
a school concert or children’s dance recital
at one point or another.
And whether or not you’re really into that sort of stuff,
we all know what you’re supposed to do
at the end of the performance:
you’re supposed to clap, maybe even cheer a bit.
If you’ve ever been to a professional symphony or watched a ballet,
the expectation is much the same:
when the piece is over, you’re supposed to applaud;
if it was pretty good, then you ought to stand up;
and if it was really, really good, you should call for an encore.

On May 29, 1913—100 years ago
the Russian Ballet premiered a new work in Paris
entitled, Le Sacre de printempsThe Rite of Spring
with a musical score by Igor Stravinsky.

This would not be your typical ballet, to say the least.

The Rite of Spring depicted a rural Russian village,
before the arrival of Christianity,
celebrating winter’s end.
The village elders were seen choosing a young maiden
to be offered in sacrifice;
she then proceeded to dance herself into such a wild frenzy
that it kills her—leaping into death
that the earth might experience the new life of spring.

Contrary to what the audience came expecting that evening,
the dancers were not in light, airy costumes—leotards and tutus—
but were wearing dark makeup and animal skins.
The choreography did not have them
moving about on their toes and flying through the air,
but instead stomping their feet and writhing on the ground.
And then there was the music:
ominous and brooding
with dissonant notes and odd, driving rhythms;
familiar instruments were played in such eccentric ways
that listeners couldn’t determine what was making those sounds.

If The Rite of Spring was meant to provoke,
then it certainly accomplished its goal.
And the audience in that glitzy Parisian theatre
didn’t wait till it was over to react.
Within the first few minutes of the performance,
the entire crowd began to murmur.
Soon, people began to laugh, boo, and hiss.
They yelled disparaging comments.
The noise coming from the audience grew so loud
that the choreographer went backstage
and began shouting out the count to the dancers
who could no longer hear the music clearly.
A few men in the seats
even began to physically beat on one another.
By some accounts,
the police removed those who were most unruly
as the assembly nearly erupted into a riot.
Despite all these disturbances,
the performance continued without interruption.
Needless to say,
the reviews in the newspapers were equally hostile,
calling the production ridiculous, barbaric,
and “the work of a madman.”

But as time went on,
and the piece was performed again in more places,
The Rite of Spring failed to provoke such impassioned reactions.
In fact, today it is hailed as a brilliant masterpiece—
a landmark of twentieth century classical music.
What once shocked and incited Paris’ high society to a brawl
can now be heard playing as background music at a coffee shop;
what was once completely revolutionary
has become perfectly comfortable.

There’s a part of me that really, really wishes every Mass
were like the debut of The Rite of Spring.

Now, don’t get me wrong!
I’m glad you don’t hiss at my homilies
or drown out the organ with loud complaints.
But how I wish the Mass retained its power
to truly grab people’s full attention and shake them up!

Consider St. Paul’s account of the Last Supper.
Those words of Jesus are all-too-familiar to us
after nearly 2,000 years of constant repetition.
But try to hear them again for the first time,
and you realize just how provocative they are:
“This is my Body, this is my Blood: eat and drink.”
If any one of us were to make that claim and give that command
to folks sitting on the other side of the dinner table,
they’d rightly conclude it was crazy talk!

If we were really listening to the words of the Mass
and paying close attention to their significance,
if we were really taking what we do here seriously
and believing it all to be true…
…then we couldn’t help but be a little rattled.
And yet—more often than not—
we depart from here little challenged or changed.

The conclusions we’re left to draw from this
aren’t exactly encouraging.

The Twelve—as we find them in the gospel—
had been following Jesus for some time
and—like the crowds—had heard his preaching
and seen the healing wonders performed at his hands.
Maybe they’d become just a little too comfortable with Jesus.
Maybe—when faced with the possibility of feeding 5,000—
they’d lowered their expectations
of what Jesus could actually do.
Even more likely:
maybe they feared what Jesus would ask of them
to respond to this overwhelming problem.
And so they propose the obvious, easy way out:
send these hungry people off to fend for themselves.
But Jesus will have none of that.
Instead, he challenges his Apostles to meet the people’s needs:
not by their own practical calculations,
but by trusting in Divine Providence.
God had once before
miraculously fed his hungry people in the desert.
Why couldn’t they believe
that God could—that God would—do it again now?

This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
is the perfect opportunity for us to pause and reflect
on why it is that we come to Mass.
Unlike in an earlier age,
it’s becoming rare these days for people to come to Mass
because they see it as a serious obligation.
You’re more likely to hear folks say
that it’s a nice thing to do as a family.
Ask yourself that question: Why am I here?
And—please—really ponder it.
Don’t let yourself off the hook!
Is it because it’s a good habit?  A family tradition?
Do you view Holy Communion
as a reliable form of hellfire insurance?
Or are you here at Mass
because you personally believe with all your heart
that Jesus Christ is Lord
and that the Only Begotten Son of God—
who loves you enough to die for your sins—
becomes really and truly present on this altar
and you simply cannot stay away?

If we’re not sure of our own motives
or find them to be less than pure,
then how can we be surprised that so many Catholics stay away?

What God wants to do for you and me today
is far and away more miraculous
than the multiplication of five loaves and two fish.
This sacred offering, 
foreshadowed by that of Melchizedek,
utterly surpasses it.
In this wondrous Sacrament,
the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ
are not only recalled with devotion,
but are made real for us in every generation.
And yet we have domesticated the Holy Eucharist;
we have tamed its transformative power.
Churches built or renovated in recent years
look more like cozy living rooms
than temples outfitted for sacrifice.

My friends, we are not here
to witness a maiden’s frenzied, lethal dance
for the sake of another spring;
we are here to proclaim the Death of the Lord,
which is for us eternal life.
May the Mass provoke and deeply disturb us,
but nonetheless leave us crying for an encore:
Come, Lord Jesus!
Come again and again!