Summary: It's a great day to be a Catholic, and to begin fulfilling the promise of the Council through our worship and witness.

Divine Mercy Sunday

April 11, 2010

Our Sacred Liturgy–the Hermeneutic of Continuity

This is a great era in history to be a Catholic. What? “A great era to be a Catholic?” Just now, when some of the dust has settled over the abusive histories of 2% of U.S. priests, we begin to learn about the abusive 2% in Ireland and Germany and other lands. And, of course, the New York Times begins to club us over the head again with what happened in Milwaukee thirty years ago, and even tries to drag down the very Pope whose tough stance against abuse gave us a way out of the crisis. The national media are running stories about Bavarian Catholics giving up the faith. Have I gone mad?

No, but it is really a great time to be a Catholic, because in the midst of being pilloried by the secular world, the Church is rediscovering its heritage, its mission, its identity. The amazing papal encyclical, Charity in Truth, has so many helpful insights on social justice and the world economic order that I’ve been able to preach on it every Monday since last July. Archbishop Gomez just gave us a wonderful pastoral letter about our mission to evangelize the nations, a letter I’ll be giving a homily series on beginning on Mondays in May. After the seminary visitations just concluded, we can hope for even better training for our young priests. Once the visitations to the religious congregations have concluded, we should see a revitalization of those valued communities of the consecrated, and hopefully a flowering of vocations to the religious state. In reaction to a flawed and troubling health-insurance bill that the bishops consistently opposed, I understand that there is an explosion of support for pro-life groups and action.

We cannot worry about the persecution that the Church is undergoing these days. When the secular, anti-Christian world is happy with us and leaves us alone, when they give our bishops awards and favorable coverage, that should tell us that we aren’t fulfilling our mission to the world. When the media and our enemies misconstrue our message and try to beat us over the head with our own words, if that Word is the Word of God, we should rejoice and be glad. In the midst of the worst weekend in history, when the apostles were gathering up their belongings from the upper room and getting ready to go back in shame to their old way of life, the Risen Jesus appeared to them. To their erupting volcanoes of souls He said the healing words: Peace be with you. And along with that peace, that shalom, he gave them, out of the power of the Resurrection, the power to forgive each others’ sins, and mine, and yours. In weakness, power reaches perfection.

There’s another reason this is a great day to be a Catholic. It is Divine Mercy Sunday. Really, every Sunday is a celebration of Divine Mercy. The pagans of Jesus’s day thought the gods played with them like chess men, or workers in an ant farm. The Jews of Jesus’s day thought that God was their exclusive property, and that their mission was to destroy all unbelievers. But Jesus came to proclaim to all peoples that God is bigger, more merciful, more loving than we can imagine, and to show that mercy and love by shedding His own blood to redeem us. The flowing waters from His side have washed us clean of sin in Baptism. The sacred Blood of His passion, under the form of wine, is given to us to forgive our daily, venial sins if we only ask and come to the altar of sacrifice.

Thus we gather on the Lord’s Day to give thanks and to celebrate the unity of purpose, spirit, and identity that flows from the precious gift of Jesus Christ. “the Liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished’, most of all in the Divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby [we] faithful may express in [our] lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (SC art 2) “While the Liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a Holy Temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ, at the same time it marvelously strengthens [our] power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together, until there is one sheepfold and one Shepherd.”

Powerful words those are, from Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued by the Vatican Council forty-seven years ago. And now, like the words of the Council of Trent four centuries earlier, we as an American Church are finally beginning to listen to what the Council Fathers prophetically wrote, rather than what we thought and hoped they wrote. By acting only on what we wanted them to say–we Boomers who back then arrogantly demanded change on our own terms, and who now lead the Church–we headed down what now we know was a blind alley. Instead of strengthening the Church, the actions of the past two generations have imperiled our very existence. The clerical abuse problems are only part of it. Over 90% of American Catholics practice contraception and sterilization. Over a third have been involved in abortion–and there are Catholic legislators even trying to make us pay for the murder of preborn babies. The Catholic divorce rate is the same as the general population. Catholic couples are cohabiting without marriage at nearly the same rate as the general population. And, as another symptom, our supposedly attractive and relevant Masses have resulted, not in a rich prayer life, but in a flight from the Church. Ten percent of the U.S. population is now made up of former Catholics.

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