10 Jun 2012
“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God …” (Heb. 9:14) In the name …
Last Sunday when I was talking to the First Holy Communion class I mentioned how young people like to ask questions, lots of questions. Nothing is off limits to them, and everything is connected in some weird and wondrous way. Questions help them find their way in the world. Let’s see how that works with the rest of us. In a couple of days our bishop will be traveling here from Manchester, NH. He’s calling this his diocesan listening tour. He wants to know what’s going on in all of the parishes of the diocese, what our concerns are, what our hopes are. He wants to hear our comments, and he wants us to ask questions. But there’s a built in problem right there. If you go to this sermon on the website some time later today, you’ll see a link to an article I read recently. http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/05/19/just-ask/k9PATXFdpL6ZmkreSiRYGP/story.html
Unlike children, the rest of us have trouble knowing how to ask questions. It’s said that even PhD candidates, men and women who can answer questions with great thoroughness in their field, have trouble creating meaningful questions. I’m a long way from a PhD, but I remember that the single hardest part of writing my Master’s thesis was coming up with a question to answer.
If we don’t know how to ask meaningful questions, then we have not kept-up our end of the bargain in democracy. Today we close our School of Christian Living classes for the academic year. This program took-off during the time of Bishop Grochowski, the second Prime Bishop of our church. It was intentionally not called religious education because it was supposed to be something more than that. Religious education means that we teach the answers to questions that mean something here in church. School of Christian Living means that we try to teach that as part of how to live religiously. It’s not limited to questions of who was Jesus. It’s supposed to have us ask how would Jesus expect us to live. And that’s a direct outcome of our church’s democracy. “How do we live the faith,” is a question not only for the priest; it’s a question for everyone in the pew. It’s not only about theology. It’s about practice. And since the priest or the SOCL teacher can’t be with the students every moment of every day, the purpose of the School of Christian Living is to create the ability to think about moral questions on the run as life throws situations at us. It’s supposed to teach us how to think about our faith in practical ways, and that’s one of the bedrocks of our Christian democracy. Asking questions is not easy, but it’s necessary. It’s part of who we are as National Catholics.
I think by now you know that I’m impressed by science and scientists. They challenge and test each other all the time. They prod and look for weaknesses in arguments and data. They ask questions, hard questions. And they do so not to ridicule or embarrass each other, but to find the truth. And what impresses me the most is that they’re never satisfied. Truth is a constantly advancing target. When Einstein corrected Newton, for example, it wasn’t because Einstein wasn’t impressed by Newton, because he was, it was because he took Newton the next step forward. Einstein isn’t so much a rejection of who came before him, but a building on what came before him. That’s the power of questions. Sometimes though I get the feeling that questions are considered to be a sign of a lack of faith in religious discourse. Sometimes though I fear that this stifles religious thought and prevents us from getting closer to the truth, like we already know all that we need to know.
Today is the Sunday of Corpus Christi. At the heart of our worship is the Eucharist. It’s so sacred that we sometimes are afraid to ask questions about it. Sometimes we like to think that church and Mass has always been like it is now, that questions and change have nothing to offer when we’re talking about Holy Communion. But it has changed, and changed fundamentally. The earliest church had no priests and part of the reason why is because of the text we read as today’s Lesson. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Christian author, whom we don’t know, is writing to Jewish converts to earliest Christianity. And it is argued that these converts are wavering, that they’re thinking of returning to their first faith. The Epistle to the Hebrews draws a stark distinction for them between the worship of the Jerusalem Temple and Christian worship. The Temple repeated sacrifices to God over and over again, day after day, unendingly. And Hebrews says instead that Jesus offered one, perfect sacrifice of Himself upon the cross for all time, that Jesus is the only priest. There is no other Christian priest in the entirety of the New Testament. There is no other Christian sacrifice besides Jesus on the cross, and that is unrepeatable. This was the earliest Christian thinking, and I hope we can see why it took time for the church to start talking about her own priests and about the sacrifice of the Mass repeated time after time. This looked too much like the Temple, too much like what Jesus replaced.
But here we are at Mass. Here I am as priest. How did that happen? Well, that question is a perfect breeding ground for more questions, and those questions can hopefully help us better understand and appreciate what we do here. Somehow through the mystery of the Mass Jesus the high priest becomes present at our altars. Somehow the one perfect sacrifice of the cross allows us to say that the bread mystically becomes the body and the wine becomes the blood. And then more questions should arise, and hopefully we grow even further in the truth. From the School of Christian Living to the bishop’s listening tour, questions are part of what it means to believe strongly enough to wonder, and wonder is an important step to seeing the real presence of Christ among us now. For the faith and the grace needed to be able to ask questions and to trust that there will be answers, for this we pray in name of the heavenly high priest who comes among us here and now, Jesus Christ. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo