Sunday, August 31, 2014

Inconvenient Truth

   Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

Last evening, Fr. Justin and I were invited
to join some parishioners for dinner in their home.
(Thanks to all of you who have been doing that!)
There was a lot of great food,
and a lot of entertaining banter around the table.
Toward the end of the meal,
we were hearing about the family’s more religious habits:
about grace always said before meals, even in restaurants;
about the way the youngest had called his grandfather a “sinner”
when he heard him say God’s name…but it wasn’t while he was praying;
and about how Mom was trying to teach the kids to “offer it up”
when they had to do something they didn’t exactly want to do.

I urge you, St. Paul writes,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.
“Offering” and “sacrifice” are clearly themes
found in our readings this Sunday.

For many Catholics today,
the idea of sacrifice on a personal level
really only comes up during Lent,
with the custom of giving something up for the season.
Of course, after 40 days, you then get whatever it was back.
But in the Bible, “sacrifice” has a much more definitive sense.
The word “sacrifice” comes from Latin words
meaning, “to make sacred.”
The idea was to set something aside
as a gift to God, and God alone.
Throughout the Old Testament,
we find God’s people surrendering things of value—
gold and silver, sheep and oxen,
the finest wine and the best grain of the harvest—
in order to seek the Lord’s favor,
or express their thanksgiving, or beg pardon for their sins.
If the gift given was alive, it was to be slaughtered;
otherwise, it would be poured out, or burned,
or contributed to the temple treasury.
This culture of sacrifice can seem barbaric, or at least wasteful…
…unless you stop to consider its deep meaning:
these things were all being offered to God in such a fashion
that they could never, ever be taken back again.
(Of course, we also find God refusing such sacrifices
when the external ritual didn’t match up
with what was going on in his people’s hearts.)

At some point in my first couple of years of priesthood,
I remember sitting with one of our senior priests
who, while rocking in his chair, boldly asked,
“You know what’s the single biggest mistake
the Church has ever made?”
Needless to say, we were all ears!
He announced, “It was allowing anticipated Mass.”
His statement had me a good bit confused.
While my family now always goes on Sunday morning,
my earliest memories of going to church
were at 7 o’clock on Saturday night—
a time that worked great for our farming schedule.
The priest explained,
“It was such a big mistake because it made us think
that practicing our faith ought to be convenient.”
I’ve pondered those words many times over the years,
and I think he just might be right.
I’m as guilty as the next guy of sometimes trying to figure out
how best to get my faith adjusted to the other demands of life,
rather than getting my life adjusted to the demands of my faith.
And that’s never more the case
than with our most precious commodity of all: time.

And so we hear St. Paul urging us to “offer it up”:
to yield our bodies as a living sacrifice;
to allow our minds to be renewed;
to permit our wills to be transformed
by God, instead of by this age.
In other words, God isn’t after our stuff;
God’s wants us—and he wants all of us,
not just what’s left over after everything else.
The Lord will not be satisfied until his will, his plan, his way,
is at the very top of our list—
until he gets from us the best time we’ve got to offer,
and not just whenever we might conveniently squeeze him in.

That’s why Jesus says that those who would follow him
must deny themselves and take up their cross.
Somewhat like our temporary Lenten sacrifices,
we sometimes describe as “crosses”
our petty burdens and minor annoyances.
But that cleans up the cross far too much.
For those who first heard Jesus say it,
the cross could be nothing other than an instrument of death.
God is once again demanding sacrifice—
not because he needs it,
but because the Lord knows that we do.
This, of course, is nothing Jesus himself isn’t willing to do…
…and we know there was nothing at all convenient about his cross.
For those would follow after Christ
not only in name but in deed
it is letting go that leads to gain,
dying to oneself and to the world
which is the only way to truly save your life.

Whether it’s Sunday Mass, daily prayer,
or opportunities to study about our Catholic faith,
what time do we sacrifice for God?
Are we willing to be inconvenienced?
Or have we come to expect the Lord’s ways to bend to our ways,
instead of the other way around?

We follow a Savior who willingly sacrificed everything for us.
Let us do likewise.
Joined to him, “offer it up.”

No comments: