September 2, 2007 Year C
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time/14th Sunday after Pentecost
Reflections on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: The City of the Living God
We are known by the company we keep.
The reading from Hebrews continues the theme begun in verse 1. It is there we find we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Today's passage from Hebrews begins the great crescendo of just who is the family of God.
One of the special characteristics of the Catholic Church is its attitude of inclusivity. This understanding is formed by our understanding of scripture. It is this understanding that has touched me deeply, since coming into the Church. As we hear today's second reading we marvel at our friends and neighbors who are apparently closer to us than we think. They include a festive gathering of innumerable angels, the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to God the Judge of all and to His son Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.
If you are wondering who will be at Mass today, you already have part of your answer. Lest we forget, it is Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) that states: In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, [James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian] and all the saints. May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection. (emphasis added)
Later on in this Eucharistic Prayer, we pray for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. It's here we pray for mom and dad and grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and a host of others who have left this world for the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the Living God. We pray that these and all who sleep in Christ find in that place of God's presence light, happiness, and peace.
But it gets better, for we continue: For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs, with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, [Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia] and all the saints.
And who are these folks? They are the assembly of the first-born. Hebrews 11 enumerates some of these. And they pray with us and for us as we pray with them and for them.
The Church was careful from its earliest history to remember with adoration and supplication its earliest members and martyrs. And the Roman Canon, which has its origins from the 1st century church's celebration of the Holy Eucharist celebrates their lives and memory. So from the beginning we, i.e. the Church has celebrated with holy memory the lives and faith of the first Christians in the remembrance of Christ in Holy Communion.
Truly our fellowship is with the Lord and with those who have died in the Lord. But this fellowship also must include those whom Jesus today describes as the maimed, the lame, the blind, and the poor. Like Jesus, there is no beauty in them that we should desire to be near them. (see here) But these are diamonds in the rough and without them we cannot be made perfect.
It is the world outside of Christ that merchandises babies as parts, treats all immigrants as criminals, and engages in ethnic cleansing. In our world there is disdain for the life of the poor, the aged and the unborn. Anytime the spirit of the age governs us let us be quick to denounce it and repent and pursue being the City of the Living God.
Recently at Diocesan Day, Bishop Garcia invited everyone to pray the Lord's Prayer in the language each was most comfortable with. The symphony of languages reminded me again we are a community of faith from every kindred, tribe, nation and language under heaven. Such is the kingdom of God. Such is the City of the Living God.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, keep me from the pride and arrogance that would separate me from my brother. Daily remind me of you friendship and of the friendship of those who surround us as a great cloud of witnesses. And grant me the privilege to befriend those without whose friendship I am the poorer. Amen.