Readings: Sirach 27: 4-7, Psalm 92: 2-3. 13-14.15-16, Response: Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.; 1 Corinthians 15: 54-58; Luke 6: 39-45
Recently, an advice of Pope Francis to priests to keep our homilies to 10 minutes made the rounds of the internet. (Fr. Joe Galdon, SJ, used to tell us in the seminary, “There are no souls saved after seven minutes,” while Fr. Jim Donelan, SJ, trained us, or at least tried to, on the one-point homily.)
The Sunday homilies issue is proving to be one of the most crucial concerns we as a Church should pay attention to. We can safely assume that for a great majority of Catholics, their main contact with the Church is Sunday Mass—thus, the importance of the homily.
This Sunday’s Gospel lends itself as a good springboard to reflect on this concern in our Church. The Gospel appears to be a string of four seemingly disjointed sayings or teachings. A closer study, though, opens the possibility that it is deliberate on the part of Christ.
A common practice of preaching in the time of Christ was the “charaz,” what we see now in the Gospel for today. Preachers were advised not to stay too long on one topic so as not to lose the attention and interest of their congregation.
So, we realize this is a 2,000-year-old issue, keeping the interest of people during services/Mass and, hopefully, making an impact on how they are to live.
Allow me to interject another current issue, the sexual abuse scandal in the Church which caught worldwide attention because of the recently concluded meeting of bishops with Pope Francis.
Given these two concerns, now is an excellent time to start a renewal movement in the Church.
Piece in the puzzle
Both concerns seem to point to one important “piece in the puzzle,” the priest at the center of both issues.
Time and again, I go back to what Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, told us in our Holy Orders Class, that the priest is one who brings together the community, calls forth and brings together the gifts of community members, and draws from these gifts to build God’s Kingdom here and now.
We—not just priests, but all of us Catholics—must ask how much of this is going on in our communities. The role of the priest that Father Arevalo described is in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist.
Coming together, calling forth our gifts and bringing them together so the community may draw from it in making our world better—all of these are graces of the Mass constantly renewed in remembering Christ’s one perfect sacrifice: “He took… gave thanks… broke… gave…”
As Sharon Daloz Parks writes, describing the experience of young college students attending Sunday Mass on campus, “…a place where a very large number… gather and the full spectrum of their lives is acknowledged… (they) come pouring in… to a place where they know they will see each other, they will have hearth and table, they will be ‘fed,’ and then they will be sent out with a sense of purpose… they are offered access to a living tradition: story and myth, symbol, song, and sacrament, by and through which they may discover and name their own spiritual experience and intuitions.”
I shared this quote from Parks two years ago in our reflections on the Mass. I share it again because I strongly believe that the Mass is one of our best hopes to renew our Church.
If we can celebrate the Mass with this spirit of community Parks describes, with priests leading the celebration in the way Father Arevalo taught us, there is so much hope in the midst of the Church’s present crisis.
Let us all work together, dream together, hope together, pray together, celebrate together to renew our Church in a time when many challenges beset us. Crisis either defines us or destroys us.
I pray and hope that we will all respond in a way that will define our Church in the spirit of renewal, bringing God’s message of hope, joy and love in the context of our world today.