Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily 16th Sun O.T. Year B: Sunday - The Day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity

family Some of the fondest memories I have of my childhood are of going to Sunday Mass with my family. I grew up going to Blessed Mother Church in Owensboro, KY. My mom’s side of the family had a few Catholics but they lived outside of Kentucky. My dad’s side though was entirely Catholic and many of them went to Blessed Mother. Dad is one of twelve children so we formed a sort of “Hardesty section” at Blessed Mother. Every Sunday we were always surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember feeling this great sense of comfort and belonging as my whole extended family went to Mass together. I’m one of four boys and when we were small my dad could put his arm around all four of us. I always liked it when I was on the end and dad’s hand rested on my shoulder or if I was next to mom and she put her hand on my knee. This spirit of innocence, consolation, and family characterizes every Sunday Mass.

My family went to Mass every Sunday, we honored the Third Commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath day.” I don’t want to say we did this perfectly, but I think we lived well our Lord’s encouragement to his apostles today: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” We kept Sunday as a day of rest, we rested in the company of the Lord, and we rested in each other. In the Mass and in our family we found refreshment and joy to sustain us throughout the rest of the week.

Our beloved and saintly Pope John Paul II wrote an entire Church document, called an Apostolic Letter, on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, called Dies Domini. Therein he called Sunday a day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity. Focusing on the family and looking at Sunday as a day of joy, rest, and solidarity can make the every-Sunday obligation of going to Mass something that we long for and desire rather than something restrictive or burdensome.

Often, throughout the work week, we find it hard to live in Christian joy. Every day we can tend to rush to work, bear down, rush home, eat, “veg out”, rinse, and repeat. You battle traffic, bosses, co-workers, and deadlines and then perhaps battle the kids at home. Or perhaps you battle loneliness and isolation while everyone else is busy and occupied. If we don’t let the Lord shepherd us via Sunday throughout the week, if we don’t let Sunday be a source of true Christian joy, then the Mass can become just another thing we have to stop and do, just another thing to take care of on a long list of chores; or just another thing keeping us from what we’d rather be doing – sleeping, shopping, playing, camping, fishing, traveling, etc.

If this is the type of work week we have, it is because we have allowed ourselves to be shepherded by other people or forces other than our Good Shepherd, the Lord. In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah saw God’s chosen people scattered and misled by sinful shepherds who were not caring for them. Therefore, God promised to shepherd them Himself by raising up a descendant of David, a shepherd-king, the Messiah, to shepherd them rightly. We too can become scattered and misled by our worries and anxieties and we can fail to see that the Sunday Mass is the source of the healing joy that we need.

In Pope John Paul II’s letter on the Lord’s Day he quotes his predecessor Pope Paul VI who encouraged pastors to be shepherds of joy. He urged pastors to insist "upon the need for the baptized to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in joy. How could they neglect this encounter, this banquet which Christ prepares for us in his love? May our sharing in it be most worthy and joyful! It is Christ, crucified and glorified, who comes among his disciples, to lead them all together into the newness of his Resurrection. This is the climax, here below, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, a stage on the way to the eternal feast" (Dies Domini, 58).

Sunday is also a great day of rest. As much as the work week can provide only a few moments of joy it can also provide similarly scarce moments of true rest. We can get into such a grind that every day is marked with getting up early and going to bed late. Then in the morning we’re too tired to do our morning prayers or at night we are too tired to do our examination of conscience. If this defines our work then it also defines our rest to the point where what we call “rest” is actually a mockery of true rest. When our work becomes so tedious then rest degenerates from a time of peace, reflection, meditation, and refreshment to a time of just “not working” – even “not being” or simply turning off. At the end of the day, by all means, turn off being a manager, a student, or a teacher; but never turn off being a father or mother, a daughter or son, a sister or brother. As for me, when I go back to the rectory, I should never turn off being a priest. Vegging out in front of the T.V. or computer at the end of the day is not rest. Vegging out is simply a soda and Sportscenter induced coma where we can for a while cease to be who we really are, we shut everything out, and close in on ourselves. There is nothing energizing or refreshing about vegging out, all it does is make us fall asleep and even then not a very deep one.

The Mass teaches us how to rest. It teaches us that rest is not simply a self-isolating check-out from the world. It teaches us that true rest, the rest that Sunday gives us, is a plugging in to the things that matter most – to peaceful co-existence in prayer and reflection with our closest family and friends, to the quiet leadership of our Good Shepherd. Instead of making Sunday a day of vegging out, or worse yet, running around dizzily to twenty ball games or sales at the Mall, let Sunday be the day described so beautifully in our Responsorial Psalm. Let Sunday be the day when the Lord is your shepherd and you “shall not want.” Let the Mass be the moment when, “in verdant pastures,” he gives you repose. “Beside restful waters” he leads us. He “refreshes” our souls.

Pope John Paul II wrote: Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective: the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people with whom we live… And, In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion (Dies Domini, 67-68).

Finally, Sunday is a day of solidarity, a day in which the Lord draws us together from all of our different social and economic classes, from all of our different neighborhoods and home towns, from all of our different schools and workplaces, to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is here, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that the “dividing wall of enmity” is broken down and God “creates in himself, one new person,” establishing peace, reconciling us with God, “in one body, through the cross.” This then becomes the mark of the best of parishes. The mark of a good parish is not simply how many hours it spends in community service; any secular social service agency can do that. The mark of a good parish is how far it is advancing in holiness. It is marked by its commitment to Mass and how many hours in spends in adoration of our Eucharistic Lord. It is this type of parish then that doesn’t leave Mass and go straight to the Mall or to the couch in front of the T.V. It is this type of parish that instead goes out to share the graces it has received with the poor, with its neighbors, with its family and friends.

To this point too, our late Holy Father wrote: The Eucharist is an event and programme of true brotherhood. From the Sunday Mass there flows a tide of charity destined to spread into the whole life of the faithful, beginning by inspiring the very way in which they live the rest of Sunday. If Sunday is a day of joy, Christians should declare by their actual behaviour that we cannot be happy "on our own". They look around to find people who may need their help. It may be that in their neighbourhood or among those they know there are sick people, elderly people, children or immigrants who precisely on Sundays feel more keenly their isolation, needs and suffering. It is true that commitment to these people cannot be restricted to occasional Sunday gestures. But presuming a wider sense of commitment, why not make the Lord's Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people's lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table (Dies Domini, 72).

When the Sunday Mass, the every Sunday Holy Day of Obligation, is lived in this way, in joy, rest, and solidarity it becomes the privileged way in which the Good Shepherd shepherds us and in which we become his faithful flock. It is how we become truly who we were created to be, a people marked through and through with the character of Jesus Christ – a people not characterized by the world, but known and characterized by these sacred mysteries.

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