Saturday, June 15, 2024

Year B Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezk 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3.13-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

As indicated in our reading today from 2 Corinthians, as Christians, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”1 What this means in practical terms is that we don’t always, or even usually, see the fruit of our spiritual endeavors. We’re used to living by the law of exchange, which, in our society, threatens to make all relationships quid pro quo, characterized by “You do something for me, and I will do something of less or equal value for you.” As Bob Hope once quipped about his comedy partner Bing Crosby: “There's nothing I wouldn't do for Bing, and there's nothing he wouldn't do for me. And that's the way we go through life—doing nothing for each other!”

As Jesus shows, divine life is not ordered that way. Rather than the law of exchange, the divine economy adheres to the law of gift. This means rather than this-for-that it is simply this, given the impossibility of giving something equal in return.

Think about how Christian life would be if for everything God gives you, God explicitly expected something in return to the point that if you did not return what was expected, God would take away what he gave you. But it isn’t that we don’t owe God anything. We owe God everything. It’s just that, having given us his only Son, God isn’t interested in collecting debts. God is gracious. Rather than take back what he gives, God leaves it to us whether to accept his gift, which is nothing other than himself. A gift not received is a gift forefeited.

What do you owe God? You owe God praise and thanksgiving! Among the reasons it is important to attend Mass each Sunday is to thank God, to praise him for the gift of his only begotten Son. Another reason is to offer yourself, again, as a living sacrifice to the Father, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.2 As you have no doubt heard- in the Eucharist, Christ gives himself to us body, blood, soul, and divinity.

“Eucharist,” as you are likely aware, means thanksgiving. Coming as it does from the Greek verb eucharisteō, more specifically it means simply to “give thanks.” As the suffix -urgy indicates, liturgy refers first and foremost to something we do. It’s easy to lose sight of the reality that the Eucharist is an exchange of gifts but not a quid pro quo.

Each Eucharistic Prayer starts with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you,” to which we instinctively reply: “And with your spirit.” He then exhorts us “Lift up your hearts.” We reply by saying what we should also be doing: “We lift them up to the Lord.” The priest then invites us to “give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which we respond, “It is right and just.”3

That this praise and thanksgiving is what we owe and should freely desire to give God is further indicated by the beginning of the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God4
In what does the Eucharistic exchange consist? In the bread and wine transformed into his body and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ gives us himself whole and entire and in doing so, refills us with divine life, which is infinite, eternal, and inexhaustible.

What do we offer God? In our humble gifts of bread and wine, along with the collection, which is not some new-fangled invention but part of the liturgy from the beginning, which are presented to the priest at the foot of the altar, we offer ourselves, whole and complete. This ritual act is deeply symbolic. Hence, those who bring forth the gifts should be members of the faithful through baptism who represent the rest of the gathered baptized.

What we see is a ritual act, one that always runs the risk of becoming ho-hum, just one of those things we do at Mass for some reason. What we believe is the reality to which the ritual symbolically points: through our humble gifts of bread, wine, and collection, the offering of ourselves to God, through Christ, by the Spirit’s power. By means of these gifts, we offer ourselves body, blood, soul, and humanity. While this is visible to all, one needs to understand the symbol that underlies the ritual to make the offering. In other words, it is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer, too often even to the Catholic observer, what is happening.

In Eucharistic Prayer III, with now consecrated bread and wine on the altar, the priest prays: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you [the Father].”5 Like the tender shoot taken from the top of the mighty cedar tree in our reading from Ezekiel and the mustard seed from our Gospel, nourished by the Eucharist, we grow ever more into the image of Christ, becoming not just the ekklesia, the assembly, the Church, but the veritable Body of Christ.6 God takes our gifts, makes them himself, and then gives us back something infinitely greater than what we offered, gathering us to himself and uniting us to one another.

Spiritual growth is usually imperceptible to the ones experiencing it. But whether you see it, feel it, or in some other way sense it, walking by faith and not by sight, continue trusting “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”7 And “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” do not take God for granted and do not be presumptuous, using God’s patience to exempt yourself from the demands of discipleship.8 Above all, do not neglect the Eucharist, which is an indispensable means through which God accomplishes his good work: the redemption of the world.

As we sang in our Responsory: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.”

1 2 Corinthians 5:7.
2 Romans 12:1-2.
3 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 107.
4 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Preface VI of the Sundays in Ordinary Time, sec. 57.
5 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 113.
6 Ezekiel 17:24; Mark 4:30-32.
7 Philippians 1:6.
8 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 125.

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