April 20, 2008, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A
A few minutes ago, we asked Peter and Erin if they clearly understood what they were getting into by asking for Amy to be baptized. They said yes. In a few minutes from now we will invite all of us who are baptized to renew our own baptismal promises; implicit in that invitation is that we should clearly understand what we are promising. I think most of us would answer yes that we do understand but I would suggest that we understand in a very general, fuzzy way.
Todayís readings help us move our understanding from some general understanding about what it means to be Catholic to a very particular, and therefore very challenging, understanding of what it means to be Catholic. This need for deeper understanding becomes even more urgent as I listened to the news reports earlier in the week of the results of a survey that said 68% of Catholics in the US said that they could be good Catholics without going to church regularly. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be Catholic. It is the equivalent of a member of the Red Sox saying that regular attendance at the games was not necessary to be a good Red Sox player.
As shocking as this statistic may be, this lack of understanding is not surprising. The way most of us were taught about our faith was with symbols and metaphors that have long since lost their true meaning. Most of the people I talk to about this think being Catholic is about ďgetting to heavenĒ. That is how most of us were taught. But we have no idea what that means. We think heaven is a place and getting to heaven is like checking into a resort that we have earnedthe right to go to by being good. It is no wonder that people cannot see what going to mass regularly has to do with that.
Luckily we have the scriptures to turn to so that we can recapture the reality behind those symbols and metaphors. Being Catholic is about bringing heaven to earth. Heaven is not some place; it is encountering God. It is entering into the loving relationship of the Trinity as brothers and sisters of the Son in that Trinity. Being Catholic is bringing Godís plan for salvation to completion: bringing heaven to earth. As Jesus tells the disciples, it is not about going some place, but by encountering the person of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, and heaven. Being Catholic is about believing in the incarnation, which is God coming to earth in human form so that humans could encounter God the way humans are built to encounter everything: with our senses. Being Catholic is about participating in Godís plan to make Godís kingdom come on earth, Godís will be done on earth.
How do we do this? The same way that Jesus did it: by making God truly, physically, present here on earth. That is what our baptism missions us for.
Peter is quite clear in that second reading that God did not call us to baptism so that we can go anywhere, certainly not to another place, and even more emphatically as individuals. We have been called to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people God claims for his own. The next verse which was not in our reading today says: Once you were no people but now you are God's people. Notice that all of those words used to describe what we are called to are collective nouns. We are not called to be holy individually but as a nation, a people. Individually we cannot make God incarnate in this world because our God is not an individual; our God is a community, a communion of persons in loving relationship. There is no such thing as an individual Catholic. It is only when we are in communion that we make God present.
That first reading from Acts, which is always read at the ordination of deacons, makes it clear that we are to be Catholic by forming a community that cares for one another at every level. We are to be concerned with each otherís physical welfare as well as spiritual. I have been ordained a deacon to do publicly and permanently what all of us who are baptized are called to: serve one another at the physical level (feeding with food) and the spiritual as we later hear Stephen and Philip do with the Word.
To serve one another as we are called to means that we have to get to know one another so that we come to know what others need. If we donít come to Mass regularly we are not Catholic because it is here that we are formed over and over again into a communion, a community, whose life resembles the loving relationship within the Trinity. It is forming and then living this communion that incarnates God here in Stow in 2008. The sacrament of Eucharist feeds us with the body and blood of Christ so that we might become the body and blood of Christ, as real a presence of Christ as is in those consecrated gifts. And I would suggest, a more important real presence because we are the ones who are sent out of this church to make God really present in the world. †Jesus did not come into the world to be stored away in a tabernacle.
This is what Peter and Erin acknowledged that they understand they are undertaking. This is what we say we understand by saying, ďI doĒ to the baptismal promises. I would pray that we reflect on these readings so that our lives might reflect what it truly means to be Catholic. So that we re-discover the reality that we come to Mass to get to know one another so that we might be formed into a communion. Rushing into church at the last moment and rushing out to one of the many obligations on our busy schedules all the time misses that point as widely as not going to mass at all.
Take time to meet your fellow parishioners. Donít sit so widely dispersed that we look like we are trying to avoid one another instead of being a community. Enter deeply into the rubric of all standing during communion that ritually speaks to the sacramental communal action taking place.
This is what we have been called to in baptism. We have put on Christ so that along with Christ we can say, if you know us then you will also know our Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.
Do we clearly understand what we are undertaking?