The end of the academic year is often marked by the celebration of weddings and graduations. As well the ordination of priests often takes place around this time of year. Earlier today/Saturday, Fr. Tom Lawrence, who spent last summer with us as a deacon, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Knestout in Richmond. And I am most grateful he doesn’t get to retire before I do. Also, Deacon Dillon Bruce who was recently ordained deacon is with us this summer. He will be ordained to the priesthood at this time next year. Other priests also observe their anniversary of ordination around this time. I say observe because when it’s not a major milestone event anniversaries are usually a more subdued affair. And as I observed my anniversary of ordination earlier this past week, it was a significantly more subdued affair with more time set aside for quiet and prayer and reflection, and seafood fajitas in the company of good friends.
I noticed lately that with the passing of each anniversary my perceptions are deeper and more challenging. Maybe it’s just the voices in my head. But since we moved to our new church here just two weeks ago and the dust hasn’t all settled yet, I am still walking on air and still experiencing a joyful newness when we gather to celebrate Mass. We truly have legitimate cause to rejoice because it seems we’ve waited so long just to get into the building, and I continue to marvel how this place is so much brighter, more spacious, and more beautiful, and we’re finally emerging from the global pandemic, and I’m grateful to be alive and healthy, and we can once again see each other and do things that have always been expressions of life in its fulness.
Speaking of deeper and more challenging perceptions I realized that through the months of this awful pandemic, I have not missed Mass as much as everyone else. I remember in those early days when everything shut down, I would celebrate Mass with a handful of people on ZOOM. It felt strange but we adjusted to the new circumstances knowing we were still gathered in prayer just in a new way across the miles in different directions and over the internet. Even after we moved to YouTube, I continued to spend time reflecting on scripture and preparing homilies, walking to church, and putting on vestments, celebrating Mass and receiving communion while everyone else watched from home, some making great efforts to make the experience tangible, lighting candles, singing, and praying just like they were in church, kneeling and standing at the proper times. Some had more difficulty focusing. Slowly some fell from their routine, no longer bothering to shower or get dressed, even tuning out entirely since there was no way to receive communion and it’s not Mass unless you can receive communion, some finding other things to do in place of church like taking long nature walks or staying in bed longer or staying up late playing video games. Maybe it was what they needed. Maybe it was just a poor excuse for giving up too easily. Our fear of the deadly virus kept us isolated and apart. But staying in touch by phone or the internet or by waving through windows and across yards offered us some relief from our isolation and a lifeline to God who is mystery beyond our grasp but with a little help from digital technology.
And I tried to imagine God encouraging us to stay strong and to remember he was still very much present and active in our lives and in the world. But still people gave in to chaos and distrust and desperation. We were plunged into darkness and soon forgot we received the light of Christ at our baptism. God was telling us we were stronger when we worked together and shared each other’s burdens, but we feared we would run out of resources, so we hoarded what we could get and took advantage of those who had nothing. And still God offers us many chances to return to grace.
God called Israel out of slavery to be his chosen people. The tablets Moses received upon the mountain enshrined in writing God’s commitment to be their God and to make them his people. With the sprinkled blood, Israel received a tangible reminder of their part in the covenant. Blood was life, and faithfulness to the covenant guaranteed God’s favor and access to God’s abundant mercy. What could possibly go wrong?
In the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, God’s invitation to covenant held out a much greater promise than just a social contract between two parties. The grave disparity between our flawed human nature and God’s divine perfection would be reconciled by the blood of Christ because by it we are cleansed and made worthy to stand before the living God to offer fitting worship and praise.
When Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and gave them his body and blood for food and drink, he desired to immerse them in God’s very own life. Despite their personal flaws and transgressions Jesus still chose and sent them because he wanted them to be witnesses to God’s abundant mercy and bearers of reconciliation in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. Jesus brought the mystery of God’s mercy within humanity’s reach though we were undeserving and oblivious. And without God’s grace our efforts will always fall short. We cannot then claim a place of honor before God while we deny others the tremendous grace we have received.
We imagine our achievements are impressive. And if they impress us, we know they will impress other people. Skyscrapers are impressive because we admire them from the ground. But from the International Space Station, they are most unimpressive and insignificant. When God desired to share with his sinful and rebellious people the dignity of his own beloved daughters and sons, God was extending them the unique and exalted dignity of his only begotten Son. Without Jesus Christ they are nothing more than sinful and rebellious people, undeserving of his mercy and oblivious of his favor. And yet we continue to squabble over who is deserving and who is not. We forget that it is Jesus who chooses. It is Jesus who justifies. It is Jesus who reconciles and nourishes and extends to us a share in his own heavenly inheritance.
The coronavirus pandemic still rages in many communities and in the world beyond our borders. Our attempts to rein its destructive power has afforded us some measure of success although much of it remains a mystery despite all our science and technology. If we are confident that God is present and active in our lives and in the world, we can be confident that by his grace and favor alone are we made deserving of his mercy and adoption in Christ. Like beggars we come with hands outstretched in search of nourishment. It is for God alone to invite those whom he chooses to receive mercy and reconciliation and nourishment and the dignity of beloved daughters and sons. Deep and challenging perceptions. We need to believe and trust God knows and understands what he is doing.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021