Showing posts with label Mass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mass. Show all posts

Why going to Mass is good for your health

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, Mark 1:40-45 (6th Sunday of OT, year b)

Vancouverites love being healthy. We emphasize the importance of exercising, staying active and getting outside. Healthy, organic foods are popular. We pretend to like quinoa and kale. Increasingly, we are seeing the importance of promoting the health of the whole person: body, mind and spirit. Many try practices like meditation and yoga in a search for “holistic health”. The desire to be truly and fully healthy is good. Christ wants the same for all of us.

When Jesus encounters the leper in the Gospel, He heals him on three different levels. Each of these three healings could become the the basis for a homily or reflection. We could, for example, speak about the leper’s physical healing. At the time of Jesus, leprosy was a terrifying, contagious and incurable disease. Beginning with spots on the skin, the disease attacks the internal organs and later causes extremities to literally rot away. In healing the leper, Jesus freed him from a life of physical suffering. In this reflection we could speak about how Christians are called to continue Jesus’ work of ministering to the sick and suffering, a reason why the Church has always tried to open hospitals and provide medical care for all, especially the poor.

We could speak about the leper’s social healing. As the book of Leviticus demonstrates, lepers were social outcasts. They had to live apart, separated from their friends and family. They were forced to wear rags, keep their hair disheveled and shout “unclean, unclean!” whenever they moved about so that people could avoid them. When Jesus healed the leper, He reunified this isolated, ostracized man with the community. In this reflection we could talk about the people in our lives we view as “lepers”. Who do we not create space in our hearts for? We can make into lepers people of different religious, political or moral viewpoints. Even people who cheer for the wrong sports team! We can ostracize the difficult, grating person at our workplace or in our family. This reflection could talk about how progress in following Jesus involves learning to love - dare I say like - those we have labelled as outcasts.

Today what we will focus on is the leper’s religious healing. Not only were lepers excluded from the community, they were also excluded from worshiping God. Lepers were forbidden to enter the temple and therefore excluded from worship. The leper who encounters Jesus certainly suffered physically and socially. At the same time, he suffered greatly as a human being because he could not worship. Notice the first thing Jesus tells the leper to do after healing him: “go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed”. Jesus sends the man to worship.

Like the leper before his healing, many Catholics today do not worship. The overwhelming majority of baptized Catholics do not go to Mass on Sunday, which is the primary way we worship. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to say that there are over twice as many baptized Catholics who do not go to Mass on Sunday compared to those that do attend. This trend is getting worse. A 2011 study found that only one in three Canadian young adults (18-34) who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.

You might be thinking “so what?” Is it really that important that people aren't going to Mass to worship? Perhaps we have doubts about the value of worship in our own lives. In all the commitments of life, going to Mass can seem like an added burden. Is it really necessary? After healing the leper, why does Jesus send him off to worship?

Fear of God’s punishment is not the reason why we worship. Nor is it guilt. Nor is the fact that our pastor will get upset if he doesn't see our envelope in the collection basket the reason why we worship (he will be sad, but this is besides the point). We worship God because it is good for us. Over time we become similar to what we worship. As we go through life we are transformed to become more and more like our “ultimate concern”, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich. Our ultimate concern is the thing that we worship. If our ultimate concern is our work, then work will define who we are. If our ultimate concern is family, we will become more like the members of our family. If our ultimate concern is the Vancouver Canuck’s, our core identity will be that of a sports fan. The question is not if we worship, but what we worship. We want to become like God.

Coming to worship at Mass each Sunday gives our life order. There are many things competing to be our ultimate concern: family, work, hobbies, or studies. When we come to Mass on Sunday, we reorder our life, making God again and again our ultimate concern. When we choose to go to Mass instead of all the other things we could do (sports, shopping, resting), we send ourselves the message that God is more important than all these other things. We need to hear ourselves at Mass asking God for mercy, thanking Him for for all the good gifts He gives us and begging Him for help. We need to hear ourselves saying who our ultimate concern is.

Worship gives our souls shape and order, just as exercise gives our bodies shape and order. Like exercise, worship can be difficult and a bit of a chore. Sometimes people complain that Mass is boring or that is doesn’t speak to them. You don’t always enjoy Mass? So what?! Don’t get me wrong, we should do what we can to make Mass engaging, but we need to remember that we don’t go to Mass to be entertained. We worship because it is good for us. In life we do many things that are difficult and hard not because they are enjoyable but because they are good for us. We worship so that we can become more like God.

Staying healthy takes work. The results, however, are worth the effort. Want to be truly healthy? Eat a healthy diet. Exercise. Get plenty of rest. Most importantly, worship God.

Do you go to Mass as a tourist or as a pilgrim?

Feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran (Ex 47:1-12, 1 Cor 3:9-17, John 2:13-22)

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
If you have been to Rome, you probably visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This Church, whose dedication we celebrate today, is always packed with tourists, and rightly so. The history of the basilica is incredible. It was originally built by Constantine in the 4th century and until the 14th century was the home of the popes. Contrary to popular belief, St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s is the cathedral of the Holy Father. For this reason, St. John Lateran is called “the mother and head of all churches on the earth”. Artistically the Church is stunning thanks in large part to the large statues of the twelve apostles dominating the interior. In addition to tourists, many pilgrims also visit the basilica. You can see them on their knees praying. They leave with more than just pictures. Maybe they know that before the basilica was named after Saints John the Baptist and John the Apostle it was originally called the Basilica of Our Saviour. The pilgrims realizes that above all else the basilica is a place to encounter Jesus Christ, be changed by Him and return home a different person. This feast challenges us to consider the attitude with which we approach Mass each Sunday. Do we come to church as a tourist or a pilgrim?

Coming to Church is all about encountering the living God in the person of Jesus Christ. Today we heard the memorable story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Here’s a Bible skill testing question for you: at what point in Jesus’ ministry did He cleanse the Temple? In the beginning or at the end? Trick question! The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) show Jesus cleansing the Temple at the end of His ministry, presenting it as an event leading directly to His arrest. In the gospel of John, which we heard today, Jesus cleanses the Temple at the beginning of His ministry. John does this to teach a lesson. In the Old Testament we discover that the Jewish people believed that certain physical locations were privileged places to encounter the living God. After the Exodus, as they travelled through the desert, the tent of meeting, or the tabernacle, was the place where God dwelt in a special way in the midst of His people. Later, when they settled in the land of Israel, the Temple was built to be the place of God’s presence. The Temple was THE place to encounter God. It was His home. When Jesus purifies the Temple in the gospel of John He is doing more than purifying the worship of the people that had been corrupted by greed. Jesus replaces the Temple. No longer in God to be encountered in a place but in a person. The living God is now present and dwelling in the midst of His people in the person of Jesus Christ. When we come to Church, we come to meet Him.

At Church we personally encounter Jesus in different ways. Maybe you have heard someone say something like this, “I don’t need to go to Mass or Church. I can pray and get close to God just fine when I  _________ (answers vary, ex: walk through a park)” It is true that we can encounter God just about anywhere, especially in nature. When we go to Church, however, we encounter Him in an incomparable way. Lets look at three ways we encounter Jesus at Church. First, we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is really, truly, fully Jesus. During Mass we meet Jesus in a personal way in the Eucharist. He is as real and present to us as we are to one another now. Secondly, we encounter Jesus in His Word. Whenever the Scriptures are read, especially the gospels, it is Jesus who speaks personally to each one of us.  When we hear the readings at Mass, we can all be struck by different words or phrases that speak to where we are in our lives. The Bible is not a document with no meaning for us today. It is alive and active! Thirdly, at Mass we encounter Jesus in one another. We are the Body of Christ. Mass is not merely a private exercise between you and God. We come together as a community to worship Jesus and to encounter Him in one another. The Eucharist, the Scriptures and the community - three ways we encounter Jesus personally that you won’t find during a walk through the park!

Going to Church should change us. Whenever we leave here, we should leave transformed so that we become more and more the presence of Jesus to those we encounter. Remember the two categories of people visiting the Basilica of St. John Lateran: tourists and pilgrims. Sometimes we go to Mass as tourists. We passively observe what is happening, hoping it finishes as fast as possible. Our hearts are not open with a desire to encounter Jesus. When we come to Mass as a tourist, the experience will not change us. It should come as no surprise that we will get in arguments the moment we leave the Church and there is a traffic jam in the parking lot! What a difference it makes when we come to Mass as a pilgrim, with a heart full of a desire to encounter Jesus. Pilgrims participate fully in the Mass with devotion even though they may become distracted at times. They speak with God during Mass, bringing to Him their hopes and fears. They remind themselves of the incredible gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. They ask for His help in the coming week. Pilgrims leave Mass transformed, receiving in some way Jesus’ love and mercy. As pilgrims leave the Church, they are for others a presence of Christ’s goodness in the world, fulfilling Ezekiel’s image we find in the first reading of living waters flowing out of the Temple into the world. Because of their encounter with Jesus, pilgrims leave the Church as what St. Paul calls a “living Temple”. They become a person through whom others can encounter the living God.

Being a tourist is great in certain circumstance. Mass, however, is no place for tourists. Most of us attend Mass at least once a week. Is this experience a personal encounter with Jesus that transforms us to become more like Him? Today let us recommit ourselves to being pilgrims - rather than tourists - whenever we go to Church.