Amid the noise and rush in the streets of New York City, there’s an old building on 5th Avenue across Central Park with these words etched around the structure: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)
This is an apt invitation for us in the middle of a busy life. It likewise makes a perfect antiphon at the beginning of the Mass. Let us use this reflection from today’s Gospel—Christ’s invitation to listen.
In the Gospel, Christ says: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:45) The murmuring of the people prevented them from listening to what the Father is saying through Christ, the Word made flesh.
The murmuring showed us the people’s biases and opinions, which are all normal. But when they prevent us from listening, they become negative and divisive. This leads us to the failure, not just to listen, but also to hear, and to obey—to be drawn to Christ, the source of eternal life, and to be drawn together as community.
At the end of today’s Gospel, Christ reveals himself, the Bread of Life, as the source of meaning in this life and of eternal life.
A state of grace
This is the movement of grace we can feel at the start of each celebration of the Mass. Yes, this is the nature of the Mass—a gathering to celebrate, which begins with each of us entering God’s merciful, compassionate presence and being.
In the penitential rite, we acknowledge our sins and failures, an act of humility and a preparation for us to listen. It is, more importantly, an acknowledgement of God’s merciful and compassionate love.
As Pope Francis’ motto puts it: “Miserando atque eligendo,” or lowly but chosen. Literally, in Latin, it means “by having mercy, by choosing him.”
It’s a celebration of gratitude for this mercy to choose us. As the Pope emphasizes, we are called because we are sinners, and not in spite of our being sinners. It’s the same idea Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ, expressed: “To know one is a sinner, yet call to be a companion of Christ [in mission].”
This attitude, predisposition, or state of being, is the grace we receive at the start of each Mass. We acknowledge with humility both our failures and what is “greater than our hearts,” God’s merciful and compassionate love.
In the conversations of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in “The Book of Joy,” they pointed out that humility, humanity and humor all come from the same root word, “humus”—the earth, the element that decomposes and fertilizes the ground.
It’s the basic pattern of death and coming to life, a life-giving process we see in “humus,” the pattern of the Cross and Resurrection.
At this beginning of the Mass, we create common ground with humility, a shared humanity, and, yes, even humor—to “laugh” at our self and accept our “failures,” yet called and welcomed to this companionship with, in, and through Christ.
The murmuring becomes one voice of “confession,” the communal penitential rite. The murmuring becomes one prayer, a song of praise, “Glory to God in the highest.”
We praise and give thanks to God. As “The Book of Joy” puts it: “Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life we have and the moment that we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance.”
This is the beginning of our celebration at every Mass. This predisposes us to listen.
We are ready to listen and we open with the prayer: “We dare to call you our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters, that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised.” Amen.
We listen with the prayer for the grace to obey: “Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8) —CONTRIBUTED