Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humble Yet Honored Guests

"My child, conduct your affairs with humility..." (Sirach 3:17)

"My friend, move up to a higher position." (Luke 14:10)

Let me tell you about two humbling experience that happened to me yesterday.  The first happened in my office when our volunteer who tends the front desk on Saturdays had to leave unexpectedly.  I asked a girl from our youth group to answer the phones thinking that people would only call to ask for Mass times but didn’t count on a big walk up crowd.  Every minute or so this girl would be running to my office asking for help, so I went up to the front desk to sit in “the chair!”  My receptionist’s chair is a hot seat because every day she sits there answering phones, tending to the faithful who arrive to ask for information on sacraments, to seek Mass intentions, register their kids for CCD, and she does it all with a smile on her face.  I know what she does.  I had just never sat in her chair to actually DO what she does.  I only did it for half an hour and my head is still spinning a day later.  It lead me to the conclusion that every pastor should spend time sitting in “the chair” every so often, and at the very least it gave me a new found appreciation to the work my staff does.

The second humbling experience came later that night when my associate and I attended our parish’s Knights of Columbus Gala.  We both had tickets that were hand delivered by the Knights and had a big gold “VIP” stamp on it.  We were both hungry and anxious to have dinner, but when they came to our table to graciously tell us that we were the firsts to get up for the buffet line, we found that a huge line had already formed.  I turned to the priests that were with me and we all laughed: “Today’s gospel!  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”  It’s as if all weekend God went out of his way to remind me of the importance of humility in the Christian life, and the importance of having this attitude as we approach the table of the Lord every Sunday.

When we walk through those church doors on Sunday morning, we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a Roman collar and sitting up front or wearing cargo shorts and sitting in the back pew.  At this table, we are all God’s children.  There is no class distinction.  There is no order from richer to poorer or from best Catholic to worse Catholic.  No one has special seating.  (Sometimes they are necessary evils for our liturgical ministers, but I loathe “reserved” signs in church.)  When we walk into this sacred space, we should all feel welcomed, embraced.  It is Christ himself who takes us by the hand and tells us the same thing that the host in the parable told his humble guest: “My friend, move up to a higher position.”  Here at Mass, we are all VIP’s.  We are all God’s honored guests at this heavenly banquet, and we must approach the Lord with humility, recognizing that we are unworthy of such an honor, but acknowledging that by this sacrifice he has made us worthy. 

We approach this table with humility because what happens here is described so beautifully in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.  We hear it and think the divine author is describing heaven, but he could very well be describing the Mass which is nothing less than heaven on earth:  “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering…” (Hebrews 12:22)  Think about that!  Countless angels in festal gathering around this altar, for it is here that our Lord makes himself really present.  We enter the church worn out by the problems and stresses of our lives, and Christ greets us with this incredible gift.  This is why we approach him with humility because we need this bread from heaven to endure our earthly journey.  For an hour on Sundays, the troubles of this world are left by the church door as we approach this table as one body of Christ and take part in this divine exchange of pure love.  That’s why I don’t blame those who linger in church for five, ten, or even twenty minutes after Mass.  Why would anyone want to leave this festal gathering?

My friends, we must never take the Mass for granted just like I never take those who help me in ministry for granted.  We must cherish this gift our Lord gave us at the Last Supper.  Here we are all given a place of honor.  Here we are all honored by Christ who gives us the gift of himself in the Eucharist.  So magnificent.  So humbling!  If our Lord honors us and serves us in such an extraordinary way, shouldn’t we honor and serve each other just the same?