Two fire trucks just sirened their way through the intersection outside our house. My first response was wondering where the fire was. I did say a blessing on the firemen which reminded me of how we were taught to bless ourselves when hearing such emergency vehicles. We removed our hats and caps when passing a Catholic church, because of the Eucharistic Presence inside. There were little doorjamb holy water fonts in our homes, statues of various saints were positioned prominently, and many other outwardlies of our being Catholics.
I am not here bemoaning changes and losses. Anybody coming into our house knew we were Catholics and Irish by a likeness of St. Patrick on one side of the mantle and St. Ignatius on the other. The neighbors would see us going off to church on Sunday and Holy Days. The devotions seemed fitting and gave us a sense of holiness, at least temporarily.
As we prepare to head off for church we might pray with the holiness extended to us through the celebration of the liturgy and the reception of the Eucharist. We prepare to live devotionally, that is living the Real Presence of Jesus which forms us to be more than statues, more than badges or holy cards. These are helps for sure, but Jesus consecrates us to live the unusual life of our faith. We can pray with our reflecting upon how our lives are devotions and we attend those devotions by our acting out Christ’s Presence within us...
Zion, aka, Israel is making a complaint about its feeling neglected or abandoned by God in the opening verse of our First Reading for this liturgy. In the second verse the prophet Isaiah comforts the nation Israel, which is still in exile, with a wonderful motherly image and reminder.
Even if a mother could forget her child, God cannot, not be God. The prophet is using an image of tenderness while trying to say, “God is more than you can imagine.” Isaiah could have used other images of intimacy. “Can a dog forget its master?” “Could a grandfather reject his grandson?” “Could I ever forget my first high school girlfriend?” Hmmm, what was her name now?
In the midst of exile or trials or darkness, it is so appropriate as humans and believers, to doubt, or complain or spiritually sit on the pouty pot and feel unmothered. God responds with more than any mother’s loving embrace. The prophet is saying, whatever you can imagine; God’s love and awareness of you, goes beyond imagining or sensing. When we are rejecting or abandoning ourselves, we are likely to project that God is doing the same. These feelings and reactions are all quite human and very prayable.
I remember quite easily, not only that my mother didn’t like me any more when I was sent into exile in my room, probably for something my older sister did, but I didn’t like my mother any more either. Things were all better by dinner time.
There is quite a bit of “not worrying” in today’s Gospel. Appearance and sustenance seem to be the two big areas of nervousness. There is the opening reminder which Jesus gives His followers about our not serving two masters. God is an option and materiality being the other. The choice between these two is determined by answering the question about which one is going to make us look better and feel better.
There are the two old sayings: “Clothes make the man,” and “You are what you eat.” Glamour magazines and Gentlemen’s Quarterly stress the power, self-possession, and desirability. Clothing can be a covering or a hiding. They can be a projection of a want-to-be self or a protection from being dis-covered. They can be symbols of identity, such as jackets and sweat shirts and caps, or symbols of rebellion and rejection. I have a baseball cap representing my favorite football team whose logo can flash on and off. My cap almost makes me a member of the team.
Jesus is offering His closest followers an inner clothing. Those who serve God receive their identification which results, not in appearance, but display. Serving “mammon” is our asking the external to support the fragile interior. Serving that way is worshipping what materiality can create out of our inferiority-feelings. This service is a life-long commitment of slavish isolation. Jesus is inviting His disciples to reveal the goodness of God which He is sharing with them.
This Sermon remember, is directed toward His disciples. He asks them not to worry about their starving. They will be sustained by nourishment for their living. They will do many good things and have to face opposition by resistance from their religious leaders. They will have to say strange things about loving enemies, turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy times seven, and picking up daily crosses. They will not be nourished by popularity and acceptance. They will have their egos starving for celebration and recognition, but they are not to worry.
This is a most difficult teaching-part of the Sermon. God will clothe us in such finery that we do not find ourselves worrying about looking good. God will feed us with our identities in God, so that we will not find ourselves running around asking others if we are okay. The flowers are beautifully dressed in their God-givenness. The birds flit here and there spreading their praise of who they are and they don’t worry about what others might be thinking, not even the crows!
“I will sing to the Lord for His goodness to me, I will sing the name of the Lord, Most High.”
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