12 Jul 2009
“[Jesus] summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two …” (Mark 6:7) (+)
Last Sunday after Fr. Sen. Soltysiak finished his Masses in South Deerfield and I mine in Westfield, he and Sharon drove south and I drove his wife Janice north and we met in Northampton for breakfast at Sylvester’s. We finally got a table and sat down, but Sharon realized that she had left her cell-phone out in the car. I offered to go out and get it. Walking back up Pleasant Street to the restaurant, and as always in Northampton with the traffic moving rather slowly out on the road beside me, I happened to be walking almost in sync with a guy in a pick-up truck. I didn’t notice him until he started commenting out his window on how attractive this blond woman was who was walking down Pleasant Street toward the both of us, comments along the lines of, “Wow, will you look at that.” It’s amazing to me that those kinds of lines don’t work so well on women. I think this woman had gone to church that morning because she was dressed up nicely, definitely more dressed up than you would be just to go out to breakfast with friends. From the look on her face, it wasn’t hard to tell that she wasn’t appreciating the flattering observations being offered by the suave and sophisticated gentleman driving by in his truck. So spontaneously, all dressed up in my civilian clothes and looking good, I said to her, “Don’t worry. I think he’s talking about me.” To which she smiled and simultaneously our mutual friend in the truck grimaced as he continued on his way.
I’ve never seen her before and I’ll never see her again, but I hope I made her morning a little bit nicer. I hope my conversation stayed with her longer than the obnoxious comments of the other guy. And I think this is part of what church is. Church, in other words, doesn’t stop at the doors of a building. That’s one of the reasons I like to come outdoors in the summer to celebrate Mass. Sitting out here under the maple trees reinforces the teaching that we are the church, not the building off to your right. If that building were destroyed right now as we sit here, we as the church would still remain. It’s one of the reasons I so like going up to the Cathedral of the Pines each summer, as we’re doing this afternoon. It reminds us that a simple granite cross and our shared prayers surrounded by nothing else but the rest of God’s magnificent creation is church. These building-less liturgies blur the distinction between the holy and the profane, and I think that’s healthy because the Creator is God. And as Fr. Trela had a fondness for saying, “God don’t make junk.” All this helps to build-up the idea that we carry church with us wherever we go, and that’s why trying to right a wrong on Pleasant Street in Northampton on a Sunday morning is still very much a part of church.
Think about the message in today’s two readings. Amos, as we read in today’s selection from the Old Testament, is out taking care of his sheep, minding his own business, and God calls upon him to be a prophet, to leave all that he was familiar with to go and speak God’s Word in a strange place and to strangers. In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends out His twelve disciples as six pairs of two. We know the occupation of only five of them: four were fishermen and one a tax-collector. We can assume that the others were also tradesmen of some sort, and most likely none were religious leaders of any sort, or for that matter even public speakers. God, it seems, doesn’t heed well to clear-cut designations of holy and profane. All is open to His influence, He seems to make clear. A shepherd carries God’s Word to a foreign land. Fishermen preach repentance in Jesus’ name to people who have never heard of Him. We think of prophet and disciple and very formal images come to mind, but these are ordinary people, shepherds, fishermen, tax-collectors, who are doing the work of God out in God’s world. The distinctions between what we could call church and not-church become blurred, and instead God reveals that church everywhere and among all of us.
So I guess the next logical question is, why come here? I can’t tell you why because I think each of us comes together as a part of the worshipping church for different reasons, but I can offer some thoughts. Fr. Sen. Banas visited here in South Deerfield this past week. He brought with him a friend who is a Roman Catholic priest who hails from Poland, and has served in Australia and in Singapore. He’s been a priest for just over 20 years. Fr. Sen. Banas mentioned how he faithfully recites the Breviary, the daily prayers of the church. I was impressed by that priest’s reply that he maintains the discipline of the prayer cycle to help him stay constant in his spirituality so that he doesn’t, in his words, do anything stupid.
Fr. Randy Calvo
He finds in the church’s worship the strength needed to live the life of a practicing Christian. Worship re-charges his soul. That’s one reason why we worship. Another I take from a man who attends AA meetings here at the church on Saturdays. He’s been sober for more than a decade now, but he faithfully attends AA meetings anyway. I asked if he still comes to the meetings because he needs to, and his response was that he comes because others may need him to. This is easy to translate to our question of church worship. We don’t come only for ourselves; we come for each other, which is another reason for worship, the community. And I know personally that I come because church worship feels close to God for me. I believe that church is making a woman smile on Pleasant St. in Northampton or whatever trivial or noble deed we can do for someone else, but worship makes Jesus feel close for me, and that makes Sunday like a base, an oasis, a refuge.
So worship strengthens us, and us strengthens others, and worship refreshes us all spiritually. This is why church is everywhere, but church also needs to be here as a worshipping community. That we may always appreciate both aspects of church, the active and the contemplative, out in the world and in our souls, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the name …