…and the fact that being Catholic doesn’t solve everything.
Years ago, one of the catalysts that set me on the road to Rome was the fact that I could not always be certain, when attending a Lutheran Church on Sunday, that I would get the Eucharist. Often, what was served up in place of the ancient liturgy of the Church was some home made didactic “liturgy”.
What I could generally be certain of was getting a good sermon which proclaimed the Gospel accompanied by good hymns and music.
On the other hand, as a Catholic, I can always be assured that I will get the Eucharist on Sunday, generally without too much alteration to the set piece.
What I can never be assured of is hearing a homily that actually proclaims the Paschal Mystery of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
This is a real problem, but one that I think could be rectified (it is certainly a major theme at the current Synod of Bishops in Rome – hopefully we will see some improvement in Catholic preaching in years to come as a result). Also, one always hears the readings from scripture proclaimed well, and if one is listening, the Gospel is there. And certainly the Paschal Mystery is truly present in the valid celebration of the Eucharist.
So I generally swallow my concern and console myself with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist if not in the Homily.
But last night I finally realise that perhaps one reason Catholic homilies are so bad is that we rarely give our priests any feedback on how they are doing. So I decided (in the Spirit of the Synod of Bishops) that I am not going to listen to another bad homily (or a good one for that matter) without offering the homilist some constructive but critical feed back.
I made this decision after returning from the Vigil Mass in the town we are currently visiting while on camp with my wife’s Lutheran parish. The Gospel (as you will known) was on Matthew 22:34-40, the question of the Greatest Commandment. The message of this pericope, according to the homilist, was simple: if you don’t love yourself you can’t love others. So, Jesus is telling you to love yourself.
In short, it was pop psychology without an ounce of Gospel in it. About half way through I thought to myself: “If he doesn’t say at least once in this sermon something along the lines of St John’s epistle (1 Jn 4:19) that we love others because God first loved us, I’m going to have a word with him afterwards.” Well, it didn’t happen. No where in the entire homily did he say anything about God at all really, let alone Jesus or what God has done through Jesus for us. Very, very sad. I often have protestant friends who say that Catholics just don’t get the Gospel, and, while I must affirm that no-one gets the Gospel like the Catholic Church, in the case of a very large number of individual Catholics, they are tragically right.
After the mass, the priest was engaged in conversation with parishioners and I had to get back to camp for tea, so I sent him my comments by email.
But in case I was getting to nostalgic for Lutheranism, I was brought up against the hard reality this morning. Although we have one of the parish pastors with us at the camp, this morning, instead of a Eucharist, they had a children’s hour of scripture and song (piloting their new Sunday School program). It was very enjoyable, but it wasn’t liturgy let alone Eucharist. Why? I don’t know. While the Lutheran Church get’s Liturgy and the Lord’s Supper, perhaps individual Lutherans just don’t get the idea that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and without the Sunday Eucharist we would die.
So, there you have it. No perfect experience of the Una Sancta this weekend. I am Catholic because their Eucharist is authentic and the Truth may be found there – not because it is a perfect human institution. I stopped being Lutheran because I couldn’t find the Eucharist in the Lutheran Church – not because they didn’t preach the Gospel clearly and purely.
In any case, in the new year we will receive a new parish priest in my home parish. I will inform him of my new “sermon criticism” apostolate as soon as he arrives.