Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B: 22.08.21
11.00am: St. Conleth’s Church, Newbridge
Surveys paint a wide canvas, but don’t always tell the complete story – a recent Amárach Research poll told us that 46% of Catholics who were going to Mass regularly pre-pandemic had returned to Mass since the resumption of public worship – today as in Jesus’ time, some choose not to follow Jesus or at best barely keep track of Him!
They often complain that it’s the structures of Church that have sullied their image of Christ. The big block around returning to Mass for those who have not yet returned apparently is ‘fear’ – too frightened to return. It might be good to ask ourselves what are we doing that doesn’t attract them or address their deep seated fears?
For building structures that restrict our notion of the Lord; for sullying and tarnishing the image of Church; for at times barely been aware of Christ, we pray for His love and mercy …
This has to be Peter at his vintage best. The one who will in time deny knowing Jesus is the same plucky Peter who says today: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life” In that beautiful Latin phrase: “ad quem ibimus”. Just think of the power, the love, the honesty of those words!
And the context of these words coming at the end of a Eucharistic Dialogue that has dominated these past summer Sundays. And so many chose then to walk away from Jesus – this teaching is tough. Someone remarked, it was only when Jesus starting to discuss his body and blood that people close to Him walked away.
This morning he seems to be giving them permission to walk. It’s very gentle, but it’s still very strong: “there are some of you who do not believe” . Jesus reminds the disciples and reminds us, the Eucharist is also a decision, a conscious decision to get closer; a clear choice to be ‘in communion’ with Jesus in our daily lives. It’s not enough to walk up to the altar, receive and walk out. We have much, like Peter, to give thanks for and equally much to regret. The quiet post-communion time allows Christ in Eucharist to settle inside us with His message of love, forgiveness and of course ‘second chances’.
I, like others, am somewhat concerned that there are people who haven’t returned to Sunday worship not really because of a fear around the pandemic but because Mass has simply slipped off their radar. When a prudent decision was made at the beginning of this pandemic to remove the Sunday obligation, it gave permission in some ways for these people to stop attending and other attractions such as hill walking, golf, cycling, or simply staying in bed longer, has become the order of their Sunday morning. There is no anger there, no walking away, just slipping out of the habit and when we do, it’s hard to reintroduce a practice, simply put it’s hard to start going again.
The solution is not in my opinion to reintroduce the obligation. That would be a missed opportunity. We must teach people why Sunday is so special that they will want to go to Mass rather than feel compelled to attend Mass. People need to be reminded that a Sunday without giving God time is a Sunday less well spent. However it is up to our parish councils, liturgy teams, our priests and faithfilled parishioners who have returned to reflect on how we might reintroduce Mass gently into the lives of these good people – our brothers, our sisters, our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren, our friends.
Mass on Sunday is a way of affirming that life has meaning and no matter what we’re struggling through, we have value before God. During the depths of the pandemic when we had no public worship, there was much talk about Eucharistic starvation, as if the Eucharist was a prize to be possessed rather than a missionary mandate to go out from Mass and heal the sick, bandgage the wounded, welcome the stranger.
We have met the Lord in our little domestic churches; we come to church on Sunday, in that knowledge that we can meet Him at home, but in church we meet with and are supported by a faithfilled people. In receving Eucharist we become His body – we become what we receive. When there are some people missing, that body is incomplete.
I invite all our parishes to reflect in the month of September on how the parish can be supported to be more welcoming to those who are slower to return to regular worship. I invite you to write to me your thoughts, your ideas. In a diocese that has a long tradition of ‘reaching out’ this is our September Reach Out. Blessings and thanks to all of you who have returned and to the many who continue to tune in on our webcams.