Sunday, June 10, 2007

Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (C)
Going Through Mow-Shun

Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

Sisters and brothers, I don’t know if this ever happens to you. But, as you may have noticed, from time to time I tend to recall some obscure phrase that I might have heard someone say in the past. Today is one of those days. Today I’m reminded of something one of our platoon sergeants in the army used to yell at us. Perhaps some of us trainees might be sweeping the grounds of the camp, or cleaning the windows, or doing some other mundane task. And, of course, we would often, at the very same time, either be dreaming about what we would do once we got out of camp or simply be falling asleep. Then a loud voice would shock us out of our daydreaming. Don’t go through mow-shun!

Don’t be alarmed. The sergeant wasn’t referring to any of our natural bodily functions. What he meant to say was that we should not simply go through the motions of whatever it was we were doing. We should instead do it properly. Do it like we meant it. Don’t go through mow-shun! And the sergeant was quite an expert at spotting the telltale signs of trainees who were simply going through mow-shun. He’d somehow be able to find leaves on the ground even after we’d swept it, or smudges on the windows even after we’d wiped them. And then he’d make us do it all over again, with the shrill sound of his voice still ringing in our ears: don’t go through mow-shun!

Why, you may wonder, should such a strange, and perhaps even irreverent, memory pop into my head on a day like today? A day when we celebrate a feast as solemn as Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ?

Well, I think we have Saint Paul to thank for this. It’s probably not all that clear on a first hearing, but the second reading today is really part of Paul’s effort to remind the Corinthian Christians about the deeper meaning of the Eucharistic meal. Several verses earlier in the same chapter of his letter, Paul highlights some signs that things are not quite right in the Corinthian church. In verse 18 he says: when you all come together as a community, there are separate groups among you. And in verse 21 he notes that everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk. For Paul, these are clear indications that when the Corinthians gather for the Eucharist it is not the Lord’s Super that they are eating (v. 20). Like our platoon sergeant, Paul has detected unmistakable signs that the Corinthians are simply going through mow-shun.

And I hope you forgive me for saying this, but it does seem that two thousand years on, the situation hasn’t changed all that much, has it? Why else, for example, do we find such frequent gentle and not-so-gentle reminders in the Catholic News, on our notice boards and even in our weekly bulletin telling us how to dress and behave appropriately at Mass? Aren’t these reminders simply different ways of saying the same thing? Don’t go through mow-shun! Remember what it is you’re doing. Do it like you mean it.

Even so, it’s important to note that Paul’s approach to the situation is quite different from that of our platoon sergeant. More than simply yelling at people and trying to force them to do something they don’t want to, Paul actually tries to help the Corinthians to remember the deeper significance of what they are celebrating when they gather for the Eucharistic meal. Indeed, isn’t this what this whole feast of Corpus Christi is about? It is an invaluable opportunity for each and all of us – certainly you who participate from the pews, but also we who minister at pulpit and altar. It’s a time for us all to remember what it is we are doing when we gather for Mass.

In particular, three things stand out for us in the readings today. In the gospel, we are reminded that when we come to Mass, we are not simply here to fulfill an obligation that someone else has laid down without first consulting us. We are here so that we might be fed. We may come here tired and anxious, harassed and hungry, or simply jaded and indifferent. And, as he does in the gospel, Jesus welcomes us and speaks to us about the kingdom of God. He accepts the meager offerings that we bring. Yes, he accepts the bread and the wine. But he also accepts what they represent: all our efforts at home and at work, our half- and un-fulfilled resolutions, the good intentions that we haven’t quite put into effect, all the messy and chaotic circumstances of our daily living, all these he takes and transforms into spiritual food and drink that nourish us unto fullness of life. But can we truly enjoy this nourishment if we are busy receiving and sending text messages, or planning our lunch appointment? Can we truly be fed if we are merely going through mow-shun?

And not only is the Mass a feeding, the first reading reminds us that it is also a thanksgiving celebration of victory in battle. This is what Abraham is doing in the first reading. And in the process of thanking God Abraham receives further blessings through the ministry of Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High. For us too, even though we might not actually be fighting a war, isn’t it true that life does often feel like an ongoing battle? Especially for those who take seriously our relationship with God and with one another, doesn’t it often feel like we are engaged in an ongoing struggle against the different forces that hinder us in our attempts to walk in God’s ways – forces that may come both from within and from without? And what are we doing when we come to Mass if not bringing these same struggles to the Lord, the supreme high priest (Hb 4:14) who blesses us with strength and courage to keep on struggling, confident that the victory has already been won.

Which brings us to the third, and perhaps most poignant aspect of our Eucharistic celebration highlighted in our readings today. Paul states it most clearly at the end of the second reading. Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death. There are two words that Paul leaves out probably because they are too obvious to require stating explicitly. The words are for us. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that Christ died for us. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died that we might be fed. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died that we might be victorious in battle. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died so that we might have fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, if this is what we are doing at Mass, if this is indeed the awesome mystery that we celebrate, can we afford to continue going through mow-shun?

1 comment:

  1. Anything that is repetitive by nature dulls the senses. That's why broadcasters change their TV programmes every so often, why we dress differently depending on the occasion, and why we don't eat from the same food stall every lunch time. For someone with a short attention span from young, I'm especially susceptible to the hypnosis of repetition.

    On closer examination, why do broadcasters keep changing their programming, why do we dress and eat differently? Because poor ratings mean bad business, and because we want to look good and enjoy what we eat. In other words, we care enough to not let things spiral downwards.

    If we are not to go through the mow-shun of Mass, how then should we dispose ourselves at Mass? If it is of any help, these are some of the things that keep me "connected" to the sacrifice of the Mass:

    1. At the general confession at the start of Mass, I recall collective transgressions (e.g. as a family, neighborhood group, at work, in society, the nation) and seek the Lord's forgiveness. I've always had a problem with the silence that follows.

    2. Mentally pray the Eucharistic Prayer with the celebrant, when we remember our pastors, all those in need, the living and the dead. I like especially a Euchristic Prayer that pauses for us to mentally articulate our intentions.

    3. Thanksgiving after Communion. This is when, after a personal thanksgiving, I "offload" my biggest hang-up of the week to the LORD, confident of His grace and blessings.

    Mass will always be remote and unappealing if it is mere words and actions. The Eucharistic meal will only become real when the Perfect Sacrifice is continually enacted in our lives, day in day out and we become bread broken for others.