Today’s first reading describes in some detail the ritual that
Moses ordered to ratify the covenant God was making with the people.
This covenant ritual would be renewed often, especially whenever
Israel wandered from God. Eventually they would build a temple where
the altar sacrifices would become a regular part of their religious
and community lives. The sacrifices would be a continual sign of the
covenant and remind the people that the bond between them and God
had been "sealed in blood" and so they could trust in the fidelity
of the One who had entered into contract with them.
Like all rituals we celebrate over years and years, this ritual
had the possibility of becoming staid, merely something religious
law or custom required. Rituals get passed on to the next
generations and these new recipients of their parents’ religious
observances can grow bored with what looks like mere formality. How
many teenagers have told us that about going to church on Sunday?
"It’s so boring!" It may not always be their fault, we who carry on
the tradition can make our rituals look empty and meaningless –
perhaps the traditional practices have become merely ritual for us,
devoid of what they express about our relationship with God. We can
forget what we are ritualizing; we can forget we are not doing it
because we are "supposed to," or "we have always done it". Rather,
with this Exodus reading in mind, we perform our rituals to
celebrate what God has done for us and the new life we have been
Like us, the Israelites, on their own, were no prizes. They were
picked, not because they were irresistible to God, but because God
is a big hearted gift-giver. The ritual of word and blood the people
are celebrating acknowledges their awareness of how gracious God had
been to them. The ritual would be a reminder of their God and their
desire to serve this most appealing God. It’s as if they are saying,
"What a wonderful God we have! What can we do to serve this God?
Let’s stay as close to this God as we can; it will be to our
benefit." The repeating of the ritual would help them to stay close
– but God would stay even closer.
The people are committing themselves to God and God is making
covenant with them. There is no hint of boredom here, no hint of
having to follow meaningless rules and regulations. They say with
enthusiasm, "We will do everything that the Lord has told us." Scan
the previous chapters in Exodus. The Israelites have just been
delivered from slavery, taken through the desert, nourished with
manna and quail, and given water from the rock. Despite their
grumblings and stumblings on their God-directed journey, God still
wants to make covenant with them. Why wouldn’t they accept the terms
of this covenant? They have everything to gain by staying close to
God. But they, like us, will pull away from what they are
celebrating in today’s event.
Our own short comings and sin on the journey of our lives give us
reason to pause: why would God want to get involved with me with all
my blemishes? We can say the same thing about ourselves as a church.
The pope and our bishops have asked forgiveness for the sins of our
church. There is much for which to ask forgiveness. But this is true
not just for our Roman church, other religious groups are doing the
same. A while back the Methodists made an apology to Catholics for
their sins against us. Why would God continue to have anything to do
with the Israelite people after their desert journey? Why would God
continue to want anything to do with us as well? Who knows why? It
has something to do with the foolish lover we have for our God!
Blood was sprinkled on the altar; peace was made between God and
the people. For us too, at this eucharistic celebration, we are
reminded of the blood of Christ offered for us; not a sacrifice of
appeasement to an angry God, but a reminder of how far God was and
is willing to go to show that, even if we were to give up on
ourselves, God will never give up on us. Thus, this eucharistic
celebration is not rote or formal liturgy for us. At least it
shouldn’t be. Not if we have heard the Word speaking to us assembled
today at this altar.
Every time we gather at Eucharist we bring much to the altar. And
we are reminded that since the last time we were here, we have much
for which to ask forgiveness. But the eucharistic ritual is a
visible reminder and assurance to us: God has not given up on us.
God, through Jesus, draws close to us to confirm a fact: God and we
are in covenant to one another. And God is always ready to renew
that covenant after our wanderings and goings astray in the desert.
The holocaust ordered by Moses was the people’s prayer of praise
and thanksgiving to their wonderful God. So too for us, our offering
today at Eucharist expresses our praise of God as we realize and
celebrate what God has done for us. The ties renewed at this altar
are so powerful that, through this sacrifice, we are enabled to
offer a similar sacrifice in our personal and communal lives. We
sacrifice our body and blood when we:
-give our energies and time to our children. (A father told me
recently that he and his wife were sleep-deprived during the first
two years of their new born’s life. And someone chimed in, "Just
wait till he’s a teenager!")
-dedicate ourselves and give up free time to minister to others
in our church communities
-sacrifice a job because our principles will not allow us to
compromise or take dishonest shortcuts
-tend to an ailing parent by bringing them groceries, renewing
prescriptions, taking time to take them to doctors’ appointments,
cooking meals and just spending time listening to them
-advocate for the poor, homeless, disabled, mental patients,
prisoners, abused women, uninsured children, etc. at community
meetings and before governmental bodies.
-work in the community to reduce violence in schools and on our
How do ordinary people like us get such dedication to do so much
service for others, to pour out our life blood on so many altars of
service? Those of us at this Eucharist have no doubt about the
source of our commitment and energy. The living reminder is at this
altar for us today: God has given everything for us. As we hear the
Word and respond by partaking in this meal we do so with eyes open.
We see those people with us who are professing what we do – that our
God is worth celebrating, not because we are ordered to do so, but
because we know better.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Sunday’s texts remind us that if we do not do "what the
Lord has spoken" (Ex 24: 3), we are turning our backs on
the Lord’s surrender of his body and blood. If we do not
practice his will of life and justice, our participation
in Christian worship, in the Sunday Eucharist, is devoid
of content. Beyond sincerity and personal itineraries,
the situation of injustice and marginalization of the
poor appears as a clamorous departure from the demands
of the new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood. Every
Eucharistic celebration ought to remind us of "the
structures of sin" (cited by Medellin and John Paul II)
existing in today’s world. Our repenting for having
contributed to these structures not only involves saying
so in solemn moments, but above all it involves
beginning to build this society on the basis of the
needs of the oppressed and of those who are excluded
—Gustavo Gutierrez, in
SHARING THE WORD THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR, Maryknoll:
Orbis Books, 1995 (translated in 1997), page 123.
I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me?
How often do you ask yourself the question posed in this psalm?
When I start adding up all God’s blessings in my life and look at
this question, I feel like a beloved, if not spoiled, child who
takes a whole lot for granted. I ask myself where I can begin to pay
it forward and find a myriad of answers.
I can begin by helping others who are disadvantaged.
Participating in one of the many social justice ministries here at
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral provides many opportunities. Check out
> parish > social justice and scroll to the bottom of the page and
click on the one of the listed ministries.
I can be kinder, listen more carefully, engage in thoughtful
dialogue, and smile more. Our society seems to be moving away from
respectful discourse and most everyone knows what Jesus says about
what comes out of our mouths. In case you do not know that passage,
it comes from Matthew 15:11--"It is not what enters one’s mouth that
defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles
one." Check out:
I can also be more conscious of taking care of the environment
for future generations. Pope Francis believes that Mother Earth is
the most neglected of all. This summer is the perfect time to begin
to make amends in a deliberate way. The Earth Day Network (www.earthday.org
) is concentrating this year on plastics. Plastics never fully
degrade in the environment and every item of plastic pollution you
have ever used still exists. Have you seen recent videos in social
media that highlight what plastic products are doing to our oceans
and ocean life? How many plastic items do you think you use in a
single year? The Earth Day Network provides a plastic pollution
footprint calculator and a planner on their website to help everyone
realize the individual impact and the harm we are contributing when
we are not good stewards of plastic items. Get your children
involved if you have families.
To learn more about what the Bible and our Church teaches about
the environment, attend our seminar "A Journey with Gospel
Nonviolence/Care for Creation," Thursday, June 14, 6-8PM. RSVP at
How will you make a return for all the good God has done for you?
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
they were eating Jesus took bread, said the blessing,
it, gave it to them, and said, "Take it, this is my body."
he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them
they all drank from it.
said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant,
will be shed for many."
Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t just his death on the cross, his whole
life was a gift of himself to humanity. By receiving the Body and
Blood of Christ today in the Eucharist, we are asking for the
nourishment and strength, indeed, the very life of Jesus, to help us
do what he did – to offer our lives as a gift to those we are called
So we ask ourselves:
- How are the daily sacrifices I make like the ones Jesus
- How does my life reflect the true presence of Christ in the
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Robbie Locklear #0246186 (On death row since 5/14/96)
- Archie L. Billings #0471315 (6/5/96)
- Angel M. Guevara #0506556 (6/20/96)
----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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