WITNESS TO JESUS
When I was a pastor and was trying to make the liturgy in the parish as engaging as possible for the parishioners, I knew that it would take a lot of hard work. First, the place we gather has to be in good condition and its order and decor need to reflect that something very important is happening here. Lectors need to be recruited, properly trained and scheduled. The music had to be engaging and beautiful, with the liturgical music leaders understanding the purpose of the liturgy and the interconnection of its various parts. The extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion had to be trained not only in proper methods and techniques for distributing Communion, but in the theology of the Eucharist, so that they would understand what they were handling. It seems so simple, but it is a lot of work.
There were times when I thought, for example, “With all the electronic resources available to us today, why do we need lectors at all? Wouldn’t it be better to have someone who is a really good lector record the readings, and then we could just play them at the proper time? We would no longer have to recruit and train lectors, worry if they are going to mispronounce words, speak with an accent, or mumble. Everything would be proclaimed crisply and clearly.” The same could be said for music. Instead of relying on talented but volunteer musicians we could have the best recorded music available, with harmony and beautiful instrumentation, and simply play it over the loud speakers at the proper time.
These things will never happen — and never should happen! Even though the quality of lectors or musicians might not be at the professional grade, they are not “canned,” but real people, with real faith who are proclaiming the Word of God or leading us all in the singing of God’s praises. And it demonstrates that when God wanted to show his merciful love and save the world from its sins, he did not send a rule book or a curriculum, or a protocol or a set of procedures. He sent a person, the Son of God made human, Jesus. This, of course, was hard to grasp, since people wanted results and guidelines by which to live. They wanted to know the way to arrive at their final destination, to be happy forever in heaven with God.
And so Jesus makes it very clear that he — a person — is the way, the truth and the life. One could follow all the commandments, keep all the rules, follow all the proper procedures in our faith, and still miss the goal of it all. But if one first has a relationship with Jesus and focuses on that, then the rules and procedures make sense. Then they are not dead letters but living things that help us enter more deeply into the relationship. God builds his house with stones, but they are living stones, based on the one stone the builders rejected that became the cornerstone.
Just as the early disciples of Jesus did not grasp this, and Jesus had to draw pictures for them, so we often fail to fully understand what we are here for. If we had the most beautiful liturgies on the planet, but missed the fact that the risen Jesus is physically present with us in the Eucharist, the beauty would soon fade into boredom. And when people tell me they do not “get anything out of the Mass,” I am sure their boredom would melt away if they realized that Jesus is truly present with us. But if we can be more conscious of the fact that the Savior of the world, who loves us more than we can imagine, is here — even if our songs are a little off key or the lector stumbles a bit — that will be all that we need to feel refreshed and fulfilled in our journey toward our final destination.
We can have the same issue with our Catholic schools. Even if they offer the finest education, and even the finest religious education, if the education does not lead to finding Jesus and putting him who is the truth as the grounding of all truth, whether in science, math or religion, then they may be producing a good “product,” but they are missing their essential mission.
The same could be said for a parish. If we only focus everything here, and never take what we learn here out to our families, our places of work, and our body politic, then our faith can become like a canned performance, not meeting the challenges of the mission to take it out to every corner of the world. This is why when the apostles were stretched beyond their limits, they did not write a manual for evangelization or a rule book for taking care of the neglected widows, they appointed seven persons, whom we now call deacons, to make sure the ministry always had a personal touch, hands that could be grasped, and hearts that could truly be compassionate.
The parish is extremely important, but it is not the way. Jesus is the way! We encounter him here in the parish, especially in the Eucharist, and we open the way for others by taking him out to the streets so that others, through us, can know the way and be embraced by the One who is the way.