Homily 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA
If someone were to ask you why Catholics must attend Mass each Sunday, would you be able to tell them why? You might say, “Well, we’re supposed to keep holy the Lord’s day.” And they might reply, “Yeah, but you can do that anywhere - stay at home, read the bible, listen to a good sermon on television.” Then you might say, “Well, it’s important to pray as a community.” And they might reply “Yes, but you can gather anywhere or just be with your family, why the Mass?” And then you might appeal to authority, “Well, it’s a law of the Church.” Well, why is it the law… the objections and the question why would still keep coming. Perhaps some parents here have had such discussions with your children.
Well, the answer to why is implied in both the reading from St. Paul and in the Gospel. Jesus reminds us that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him to Calvary, and St. Paul says, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.” And that’s the key: sacrifice.
Of all the things we can do on a Sunday to keep the Lord’s day holy – rest and relaxation as the Lord did on the seventh day, prayer, reading the bible, being with your family and the Christian community – it is only at the Mass that we can do the one thing we must do each week, and that is offer sacrifice – spiritual worship.
What does this mean? St. Paul says, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” and Jesus says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To offer sacrifice means that we must offer our whole lives.
And why must we do this at Mass? Because the Mass is the perfect sacrifice. The Mass is Calvary made present, and it is by the Cross that we are saved (CCC 1366). By participating in the Mass, we unite ourselves with our Lord, as if we were the good thief saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” The catechism describes it this way: CCC 1368, “In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offerings.”
When we participate in the Mass, we are, in a sense, offering him our whole lives. Jesus asks rhetorically, “What can a man offer exchange for his very self?” And the answer is nothing, so you must then offer “your very self”, your whole self. When we come to Mass, we are doing this in time on a continuous basis. We are bringing him the last week, with all of its joys and sorrows, successes and failures, good deeds and weaknesses, and we are giving it to him, offering the past week to him and dedicating the next week to him. Some people do this even daily, each day offering themselves to God, united to Christ's sacrifice and receiving it’s fruits.
And what then do we receive when you make that offering and dedication? We receive the fruits of the sacrifice of Calvary, the Risen Body of our Lord. We unite our sacrifice to his, and he unites himself to us in communion, forgiving our faults, strengthening our weaknesses, consoling our sorrows, while giving us the peace he promises, the joy he gives to his servants.
This is how we are transformed, as St. Paul says, “by the renewal of our minds, so that we might judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” Weekly Mass keeps us focused on that time when the Lord will come again to “repay each man according to his conduct.” We continually renew ourselves, hopefully becoming more and more pleasing to him, transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
The catechism defines our Sunday Obligation this way, 2180: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” It adds, “the faithful are obliged... unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.” So please keep in mind that this obligation is very reasonable. I define it as “you are obligated to attend Mass if you are able to attend Mass.” The Church does not want to impose heavy burdens on the people, but it does ask them to take seriously the Sunday Obligation. It also recommends that those who are not able to attend Mass should at least put aside an hour for the Word of God. You should do the same if you miss Mass for a non-serious reason.
Now, if we are able-bodied, and the Mass is available and accessible, and we have no serious obligations of health or caring for others, then not keeping holy the Lord’s day is as if we are telling the Lord, like Peter, “No thanks, Lord, I don’t need that Cross; I can find my own way; I don’t need to follow in your footsteps.”
But if we do understand the “why” behind this obligation, then perhaps we can say with the psalmist, “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting... So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. For your love is better than life; so I will bless you all my life; my soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.”
So if anyone should ask why you go to Mass each Sunday, you can ask them in return, “Why would I want to be anywhere else?”
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