Apr 13, 2011

Faith: efficiency or integrity?

Last year I received the second of two emails from a parishioner who expressed himself in no uncertain terms that in his opinion we were wasting time during our Sunday Eucharist. He had devised all sorts of ways to speed up our Sunday liturgies and keep them to no longer than 60 minutes. Where the Eucharistic ministers should stand in the Church, how we should not “wash the dishes” after Communion since that wastes time, shorten the music (and the homily of course), don’t wait for the gifts to be brought to the altar after the collection is taken up, and other such liturgical innovations. All for the sake of time, not reverence or reflection, so that we are out of there within 60 minutes. I didn’t know that “fast food Jesus” was the point of our gathering. God bless this observant parishioner.

I must say that his opinion is very much in the minority as the vast majority of parishioners here appreciate the fact that we don't rush through things but are respectful of time.  Nonetheless, it does pose some concern.

Well, once I calmed down, I was able to explain that I had no intention of deliberately containing our liturgies within a certain time period. Our Sunday Masses are most often completed in a reasonable amount of time. We are not there to punch a time clock or speed things up in a way that would, I feel, create more of a sacrilege than an inspiration. Whether the Mass lasted 50 minutes or 90 minutes was not the point of our Sunday gatherings.

I don’t think he bought my argument and said that after 60 minutes, no matter what, he would just walk out. What will he do when he learns that “eternity” means exactly that? Where do you go if heaven lasts more than 60 minutes? To be a slave to time in this case would be to compromise the integrity of sacred liturgy.

Our three men in Wednesday’s first reading from the Book of Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and their run-in with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is a story of integrity and non-compromise. They would not worship the false idol, the golden statue that the King had demanded they do so he threw them into the same fiery furnace that had made the statue.

The words of the three are courageous: “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.” No fear for their own lives but a total commitment to the principles and commands of God.

Well, God saved them from the furnace as an angel came to protect them. These Jewish men are an inspiration and a reminder for us of where our lives should ultimately stand; before God we are called to be people of integrity and inspiration for others. Sometimes, that will involve a certain non-compromising attitude. Not to be offensive or stubborn or arrogant but to stand for certain principles of our faith. To balance truth with charity is our call.

As we approach the holiest week of the year, let’s not count the time, the speed, or the efficiency of our lives. But rather enter into the spirit and the beauty of the mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Christ has given us the Eucharist, the Priesthood, the command to “wash each other’s feet,” the cross, his very life poured out for us. I don’t think Jesus cried out from the cross, “OK, that’s it. Time’s up, take me down!” Where would we be today if God had decided he spent enough time with us and was ready to move on? Every time we say “No” God says “Yes!”

Another thought for these days.