Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Wanted Alive Not Dead

Readings: Exodus 11:10—12:14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15 and 16bc, 17-18; Mathew 12:1-8

One needs to be a doctor to certify whether someone is alive or dead. But even a layperson can recognize certain telltale signs of death. People who are alive generally move around and do things, because they breathe. Dead bodies, on the other hand, cannot. They can only lie there, doing nothing, because there is no breath in them. And isn’t it also true that not just people but actions too can be alive or dead? Just as a body is dead when it no longer has breath, an action is dead when the meaning behind it is lost or forgotten.

Take the irreverence and boredom manifested in the conduct of some Mass-goers and that continue to be the subject of much discussion, even in the latest issue of the Catholic News. Are these not possible signs that the liturgical actions being performed by these people are more dead than alive? And yet, on the other hand, don’t those of us who find ourselves easily upset by such behaviour, those of us moved to push for more stringent enforcement of codes of appropriate dress and conduct at Mass, also need to be careful? For, as today’s gospel reminds us, not just boredom, but rigidity too can be a sign of dead actions. As Jesus tells the Pharisees: if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless.

Yes, actions can be dead or alive. And when there are signs that actions are indeed dying, that they are losing their connection with the deeper meaning that should motivate them, how helpful is it simply and solely to keep insisting on more stringent compliance? Should we not, in addition, expend some effort in finding creative ways to help people to recover the meaning behind the actions? Isn’t this what the whole first reading is about? We find here a long list of actions prescribed by God for the Passover. But these actions are dead without the meaning that goes along with them, a meaning that the actions themselves are designed to recall. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour… The rituals of the Passover call to mind and make present for the Israelites how their God freed them from slavery in Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm. And in the psalm too, we find a similar connection between actions and their meaning. The cup of salvation I will raise… Why? In order to repay the Lord for his goodness to me…

Whether it be at Mass or in daily living, actions live to the extent that their meaning is recalled, at least periodically. Otherwise they begin to lose their vitality. They die.

How might we keep our various actions alive today?

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