Within the Octave of our Patronage – Pastor’s Reflection (May 5, 2019)
Last week preaching crowded out writing and so these lines come to you as an insertion.
This Third Sunday of Easter will be our third Mass of initiation: at the Easter Vigil we baptized, received into communion, and confirmed; last Sunday we received more adults into communion and then confirmed them; and this Friday, May 10, we will host the confirmation Mass for the Adeo Clubs, at which 64 young people will receive the Seal of the Holy Spirit. But today at 10 AM at St. Catherine, 20 of our own enter into communion with the Lord in the Eucharist. So it is our joy to congratulate these young people, their parents, and those who formed them. We also welcome families and friends to our pews and hope that the life of our Parish will speak to you of the One who gives it vitality and focus.
Ponder if you will the placement of these events. Each takes place by the light of the Paschal Candle in the fifty days of Easter. A visitor might look at these celebrations and assume that we are completing the programming of this year, just as the “academic year” is aching to finish up all around us. Indeed, such rituals often look like the ecclesiastical version of graduation. Typically, the recipients walk in procession and wear special dress, catechists take the place of a proud faculty, while Bishops and priests stand up front and confer things. As in school, they give a certificate afterword, but behind the human busyness, dressing up, and solemnity it is Jesus who initiates and directs everything.
The Risen Lord works through our events to share life with people. He initiates them into Himself, not just into doctrines about Himself. While it is true to say that communion expresses agreement in doctrine, it is more true to say that doctrines express the nature of the communion: they have been formulated by people to clarify the experience they were already having. Ever since the Resurrection the Church has tried to put into words who Jesus is, and her attempts flow from her real experience of Him at every Mass and in every confessional.
What is true of the Lord Jesus is true of those who serve him. This means the preaching of the Church is never an end in itself: Preaching serves mystery. Consider these words from the Constitutions of the Friars: “Whatever form it takes, the ministry of the word is intimately connected with the sacraments, finding its completion in them. The Christian life is born, nourished, and strengthened by word and sacraments. The faithful, therefore, ought to be taught the meaning of the sacraments and properly disposed to receive them.” (LCO 105)
If we want to speak about the healing and renewal of the Church in our time, if we want the Catholic people to “know their faith,” and if we want to share the faith with our secular contemporaries this truth of preaching (and evangelization) becomes paramount. While preaching might achieve institutional loyalty or revenue enhancement, moral reform or doctrinal familiarity, community building, or personal serenity, in the end, only Christ nourishes these kinds of growth with the food the lasts.
Preaching, whether that of clerics giving homilies, or of theologians giving lectures, or laity giving an account of their faith at home or at work, comes from the Eucharist – our intimate contact with the Risen Lord- and points back to it. We write wonderful books about Catholicism, its customs, and its artifacts, but more effective than any of these are the human beings who will speak to us with a strength not their own, about a matter beyond their wisdom, with a goal higher than their well-being. Preaching, collective or individual, has effect when it evidently has life that does not come from quality of voice or diligence of research, but comes from the resurrection of Jesus, believed in as an event of the past, a shared life for eternity, and as a strength for the present.
When attached to this source, our witness of words and works is confident without arrogance and humble without fear. It has no need to browbeat, placate, or manipulate. It neither shows off nor hides gifts. When we are close to our source the Christian People recognize that we have received the gift of a life so rich in promise and challenge, connection and illumination that we trust its power to make itself evident through our all too human instrumentality.
This Sunday finds us between the feasts of our two patrons, Catherine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer. We accord each of them the title of preacher precisely because they lived from the unfailing source of the Lord’s resurrected life, and in the strength of that life spoke with loving courage to the exhausted Europe of their time.
To borrow a term from contemporary food culture, if we would be a parish that preaches then we must be a parish that is “sourced” in the life of Jesus. To the extent we are, we must be thankful, to the extent we lack we must beg. The Easter life cannot be learned or bought, it can only be received with amazement, like a child has who has just tasted and seen that the Lord is good.