Sunday, March 20, 2011

11-02-27: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:14-15 / Psalm 62 / 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 / Matthew 6:24-34
Mystery is not something we can know nothing about; it’s just something we cannot know everything about. So said the Catholic apologist, Frank Sheed, of publishing fame. Yet even those parts of mystery we do encounter remain elusive and for the most part substantially incommunicable. Teilhard de Chardin, a mysterious figure himself, would write that “the incommunicable part of us is the pasture of God.” And St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” We might take it all a little further and picture that divine pasture where mysteries abound as a part of us. We carry it around with us like an imprint. It fuses with our unique identity. It becomes inseparable from who we are.

Religion can help or hinder us in our exploration upon that pasture of God. If religion becomes too routine, a balance sheet recording the fulfillment of ritual obligations, it can divert us from the challenge of facing that interior mystery which is confounding and even painful. Religion, as C.G. Jung ironically pointed out, can become the very thing that protects us from the experience of God. But if religion is allowed to capture our imagination it may indeed be the vehicle we can use to explore that vast divine pastureland where “the incommunicable” always seems to seek to express itself.
After years in the making, the Vatican has approved a new translation into English of the Roman Missal or Sacramentary – the book of prayers voiced by the priest and the people at Mass. This new Sacramentary will go into effect on the First Sunday of Advent this year (11/27/2011). Several prayers said at Mass will change including the Confiteor, Gloria, Creed and Sanctus. It will take some getting used to.

Not a few people have been wondering why the Church would change the prayers we’ve become so used to reciting for the past forty years. One reason given is the need, according to Pope John Paul II, to offer a closer and more appropriate translation of the original Latin so participants might be more easily drawn into the mysteries they celebrate. Whether the new translation of the ancient prayers will accomplish that noble objective remains to be seen. But it is a good example of the desire to approach that “pasture” where the divine-human encounter takes place. Significantly, part of this endeavor includes a call for less vocal praying and more silence during the Mass, as if to say that mystery might not only be expressed in words but may be even better grasped by other means including silence, which makes us attentive probably because it initially makes us uncomfortable. Just think of the various times in scripture when someone encounters an angel (a euphemism for the divine presence). The angel must always preface his message with the words, Do not be afraid, implying, of course, that the person encountered is experiencing just that.

And maybe that’s the bottom line: true religion, like mystery, makes us uncomfortable. That discomfort, often experienced as fear, is a marker for the presence of the mystery, like a storm brewing on the horizon of that interior pasture. When all that religion can provide is a feeling of comfort, then we can be sure it is ultimately not worth pursuing. Marx was on to something, after all, when he called religion “the opium of the people,” offering the promise of a painless eternity as long as we follow the rules here and now and don’t question the status quo. True religion, the vehicle by which we are invited to explore the mystery of being human, is anything but comfortable – at least on first encounter.

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