Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sunday 31 A. "Now, O priests, this commandment is for you": performing good works of love whether seen or unseen

In the new English text for the Creed we profess our faith in things both visible and invisible, whereas the previous version translated the original Latin text "seen and unseen". What's the difference and why is it important?

There are realities in God that always remain invisible to us even if we enjoy their physical proximity. Angels, for example, have spirits as do we but do not have bodies as we do, therefore whether here or in heaven we have to believe they exist and are present even though we cannot detect them except through the power of faith.

There are, however, "unseen" things that are thus because they are happening at a place and a time different than the one we are inhabiting at any given moment. The Lord speaks of these kinds of things in the Gospel today when he excoriates with severity the religious leaders of his day who "performed religious works to be seen."

For many years some of us have believed that religion has to be sort of like Missouri: "Show me or I won't believe it". Some priests have tried to make their poverty "seen" by getting rid of their robes and celebrating Mass with a stole only.

Others in the Church substituted pottery vessels for gold and silver in the celebration of the holy Eucharist in the hopes that the poor Christ whom they thought would be better "seen" through this sign would lead people to believe more fully in, and have more solidarity with, the poor Lord of the Gospels who had "nowhere to rest His head".

Saint Francis of Assisi whose feast we celebrated this month, perhaps more than anyone else, speaks compellingly of the poor and was a sign to the world of the Gospel mandate to love and serve the least among us. But by this same genius, Francis taught that poverty was for us, not for God, and called for the very finest materials, vestments and sacred vessels to be used in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in order that God's heavenly glory may be more fully seen in this world. To this day one may see in Italy the beautiful chalice Deacon Francis used in the celebration of holy Mass.

The priests of Jesus' day take it on the chin in our Gospel reading: "do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you," he preaches to the crowds in their regard, "but do not follow their example". The Lord condemns the public piety of the scribes and pharisees that lacks the internal, unseen, spirit of God's love which justifies every "work" that is performed whether seen or unseen.

In the first reading, the priests receive a commandment: they are instructed to listen to God and to take His glory "to heart"; simply, to keep His commandments, the greatest of which is to love Him with all that they are and have. In this way they would be capable of bringing God to His people and of bringing God's people to Him.

As we observe "World Day for Priests" on this last Sunday of October, let us show our thankfulness for our priests and bishops by praying always for them, that they may be able to take the Word to heart, to possess the grace of Christ's love, so as to always give this richest treasure to God's holy people by all that their vocation calls them to do, the good things both seen and unseen. In this way, when we call them "Father", we will do so as Christ calls us to in the Scriptures, for the reason that these earthly Fathers of ours reflect the true and eternal paternity of God, our heavenly Father.


In photos: Above, Chalice sculpture in Assisi at Santa Maria degli Angeli Church. Immediately above, Father Brian Converse, Diocese of Norwich, blessing the animals for the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

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