by Father Anthony F. Raso
Years ago, long before Vatican Council II, there was a “rule” – and I don’t know how “official” it ever was – that if you arrived at Mass before the Offertory and stayed at least until right after Communion, then you had technically attended Mass.
Even at that time, in my altar boy days, it seemed to me that this was a decidedly cockeyed “rule.” It just made no sense to me at all. However, this “rule” was known by all and practiced by many. It was convenient and let you off the hook, obligation-wise, every week. Of course, we now no longer have this “rule,” but those convenient old practices die hard, don’t they?
We look for those loopholes in our religious practice and hang onto them for dear life. I moved into the parish of SS. Simon and Jude in Gravesend about 40 years ago as a transitional deacon, and one of the first things I noted was that the priests had a lot of time on their hands when confessions were being heard. There were very few confessions in what was a very large and vibrant parish.
When I asked why, the priests laughed and said that not very long before, a priest, who was no longer there, had explained that the Penitential Rite of the Mass was “of the same nature” as the sacrament of reconciliation. Effective immediately, the bottom dropped out on Saturday afternoons. “That’s all the people had to hear,” the pastor said. “Now, you didn’t have to go to confession anymore!” (Provided, I assume, that you were in the Church at the beginning and not just in time for the Offertory.)
Not Making Our Own Rules
The problem with these “loophole” religious practices is that they directly oppose that which the Bible teaches us, as we can hear in today’s readings. In Isaiah, we are told that it is only when we keep the commandments, put our trust in God, choose between light and darkness and follow the path that leads to God that the Light of God will shine upon us. He expects the light of goodness and charity to shine from within us and not the shadow of people who make up their own, more convenient rules and then follow them as if Moses had carried them down the mountain on two tablets.
St. Paul writes to the sometimes-off-the-road-to-Heaven Corinthians that he is giving them a message of spirit and power and not the passing words that could change tomorrow. The Spirit, he tells them, rests upon the power of God, and the Holy Spirit will, needless to say, know it when we begin “adjusting” our religious practices to suit our wishes and not the Word of God.
It really just comes down to this: We have to decide whether we are Christians or just people who show up for Mass when (and sometimes if) it is convenient to do so. We are “the salt of the earth.” The world will taste pretty flat without the wisdom of Christ, and no one will know about Him unless they encounter Him in us. We have a rather glorious example of being “the salt of the earth” in Pope Francis. While not throwing any of the rules out of the Vatican window, he is giving them flavor and meaning.
TIME magazine, in proclaiming the pope as “Person of the Year,” said very wittily that he is not changing the words, but he certainly is changing the music. That is what it means to be “the salt of the earth:” giving new life to our religion by our enthusiasm and faith.
You don’t do that by coming late for Mass and leaving early. You do this by adding your presence to every celebration of the Mass in your parish. You won’t be the “salt” if you decide you don’t need the sacraments – like reconciliation. You’re the “salt” if you receive them and let them transform you to such an extent that everyone around you begins to wonder why this Roman Catholic faith of yours seems to leave such a wonderful taste in your mouth.
As the Lord is also telling us today, the world, if left to its own devices, will always choose the darkness where it can hide rather than the brightness of Christ’s light where it can fulfill its potential for holiness. And how will the world know that the Light is better than the darkness?
There is only one way: You and I must pick up that torch and carry it into the darkness of this world. From the day we were baptized, that light has been shining in us. It makes no sense to take such a bright and shining gift and hide it under every bushel basket we can find (and, Lord knows, there are plenty of them out there). We must rather “shine before others so that they may see (our) good deeds and glorify (our) Heavenly Father.”
The Lord Jesus says this eloquently today and so do Isaiah and Paul. What God wants from us, and for that matter what He needs from us, is to give a spiritually starving world its flavor and a blind world its vision of what it should be seeing.
The best beginning for that is to attend Mass early to bring our flavor to the celebration and to stay late to light a candle, say a prayer, realize that this parish church is your home and then be brave enough to invite your sisters and brothers to come home with you.[hr]
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 58: 7-10
Psalm 112: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 2: 1-5
Matthew 5: 13-16[hr]
Father Anthony F. Raso is the pastor of Guardian Angel, Brighton Beach.