13 Jan 2008
“If I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2)
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …
One of the persistently most difficult teachings of the Christian faith to convey is that God looks at us in our communion with others. Some Mafia big-shot just died in Tucson and was buried this past week. In the eulogy, his parish priest could make no references to his life; he could only talk in general about the theme of the afterlife. This man loved his family, may have attended Mass regularly and been generous to his church, but what he must have done to others made all of that disappear. God looks at us in our communion with others. Think about the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee is listing off to God all of his religious qualifications, all the things that he does that should set him apart as an extremely religious man. But the Pharisee has no compassion for the publican standing beside him. Jesus says the Pharisee goes home unheard by God. God looks at us in our communion with others.
Christianity is a team sport not an individual competition. Tom Brady, for example, may be an excellent quarterback, as he showed for the 17th time this season last night, maybe the best quarterback in the NFL, but his success is only going to be measured by what he accomplishes as part of the team. He may set an individual record for the most touchdown passes in a season, but if the team fails so does he. This is the same kind of message that St. Paul is trying to tell us this morning. We can claim impressive spiritual gifts of our own, but in that great pounding refrain of 1 Corinthians 13, “if [we] do not have love,” if we do not care about others, then says St. Paul, it’s all for show. It’s meaningless.
A friend of Sharon’s received a mailing from something called St. Matthew’s Churches, which she then gave to Sharon for me to see. It has a .com web address, which means that it is a for-profit business. This organization mailed out a church prayer rug, which is nothing more than a piece of paper with a picture of Jesus’ face on it. You’re supposed to kneel on this piece of paper and your prayers will magically be answered. Testimonials are included from people who are referred to only by their initials. There’s not one name offered. And these anonymous testimonials all claim gifts from God of money, real estate, cars and health, all of which, of course, are followed by the ever-constant: “And enclosed is a donation from us for you and your ministry. Thank you.” That’s where the .com comes into play. These kinds of mailings are intended for the desperate and the illiterate. They play on decent people’s good religious inclinations, but they’re not hoping for miracles, they’re hoping for donations. This is a perfect example of what Paul was talking about when he exposes the fraud of taking on the appearance of faith and religion. “If [we] do not have love,” if there is no concern for the community, then it’s all meaningless. It’s all fraudulent. It’s all boasting before a bored God.
A sincere Christian faith is marked by a communion with others. There are undoubtedly individuals who are especially gifted by God, but this entails the privilege of greater responsibility not the privilege of more privilege. If I can go back to the football analogy one more time, great players may carry the team forward by the power of their own achievements and that may even help other players to improve their own game, but it’s always about the team. In the Mass’ first pre-Communion prayer, we say: “Look not upon our sins, but upon the faith of your church.” When we strike ourselves on the breast and say, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” we don’t then say, “Have mercy on me.” We say together, “Have mercy on us.” God looks at us in our communion with others.
That may be part of the meaning behind Paul’s reference today of looking in a mirror. When we see our reflection, it’s like the way others see us. As Christians that has to be important to us. This notion may drive a guy like Nietzsche crazy, but it’s what Jesus is all about. Let me go back to the example of football one more time to help explain what we’re talking about this morning. I read a newspaper article about the time and effort fans put into tailgating at Patriots games. The Boston Globe last Sunday focused on just one of the groups among the hundreds of tailgators. They wrote that the game-day customs of these fans are some of the “most enduring traditions” in their lives. One guy spoke of commitment: “You won’t find me anywhere else on a home game. If I’m at work, I’m taking the day off. If it’s 0 degrees out, you’re going to find us there because we’re true fans. If it’s snow, sleet, hail, rain, all four together, you’re going to see us there.” Still another spoke of community, of getting together with friends to plan for the tailgate party, to meet others at the game, and to enjoy the camaraderie of everybody coming together for the same purpose. One guy even said it’s the glue that keeps his family close knit. And lastly, tailgators spoke of their active and meaningful role in the game. They said they don’t feel like spectators, but like partners in the Patriot’s games. They believe that their traditions make them a part of the action; their rituals matter on the field.
Tradition, commitment, community and involvement, these are four things that church needs to pursue, as well. If fans enjoy and relish the sense of community and involvement they have on game day, then the church should be able to tap into those same emotions on game morning, Sunday morning. It’s not silly to think of such traditions and commitment when it comes to football. Heck, it makes the front page of the newspaper. Then it shouldn’t be naïve to speak about the absolute, unavoidable importance of those same values when it comes to our faith-lives. Let us pray that tradition, commitment, community and involvement inspire all of our faiths, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)