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The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2017

 

     In today’s reading from the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul sounds less like the great Apostle to the Gentiles than he does just a pastor pouring out his heart to his people, sharing with them his fondest hopes - that they would be a loving community, a united community, a community with the humble, servant Christ right at the center. “Complete my joy,” he tells them, “by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”

     Those are words any pastor can relate to. Every pastor wants his community to be energized by their faith in Jesus Christ, on fire with God’s Spirit, strong in love, compassionate and merciful toward one another, one in mind and heart. And, my friends, I hope it won’t sound boastful if I say that is what we are. Not completely so, of course. But it’s what we strive to be, hope to be, pray to be. And it’s our coming here together each Sunday that makes it possible. The Eucharist we celebrate is the source of our life - as individuals and as a community - and the Eucharist is also the summit, the pinnacle, of all our prayers. Our life flows from the Eucharist and our best energy should flow toward it.

     Every few years I like to reflect a little with you about the way we pray together because even though I think we do it well, we can always do it better. But I first want to say that, thanks to you, St. James Cathedral has acquired something of a national reputation for being a cathedral where the Church’s liturgy is celebrated with reverence, beauty, and warmth, a place where the people actively participate. All summer long visitors have stopped me after Mass to tell how much they loved being here.  Many told me it was the most beautiful Mass they could remember. High praise! And I think it’s deserved. Speaking for myself, gathering here with you Sunday after Sunday is the highlight of my week. But, as I said, we can always do better.

     For instance, our celebrations would be even better than they are if all of us, not just most of us, were to regard the sung responses and hymns, not as optional but as prayers, communal prayers for all. There are two kinds of prayers at Mass: spoken and sung. Both are prayers, so why pass on a prayer by not singing! And I know: some of us think we can’t sing. To that I would say that every human voice is music to God’s ear. So, if you need an incentive to pick up the Order of Celebration and join in the hymns and responses, there’s one!    

     And then our celebrations would be even better than they are if we took advantage of all the quiet moments during Mass - the pause during the penitential rite, the brief moments that follow the “Let us pray” at the opening prayer, the pauses before and after the readings and the homily – our prayer would be better if we took advantage of those silent moments to tune into the quiet promptings of God’s spirit deep in our hearts. Those moments are as much a prayer as the sung or spoken parts.

     And now, at the risk of taking my life in my hands, I will say that our celebrations would be even better if we got here on time and stayed until the end.  I know last minute emergencies can cause late arrivals (especially for families with babies and small children). That’s to be expected. What’s not to be expected is arriving consistently late, effectively treating the whole first part of the Mass, the proclamation of God’s Word, as if it was an optional extra like the warm-up at a rock concert or batting practice at a baseball game. It isn’t!  The Liturgy of the Word is as important as the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We are fed from two tables at Mass: the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist.  To miss either one is to miss out on essential nourishment.  And leaving Mass early – during or right after Communion – except in cases of real necessity - is a bad statement about priorities.  The hymn of praise is part of our prayer and so are the final prayer and blessing.  So why leave early?  Why miss a prayer? Why miss out on a blessing?

     These remarks will be incomplete if I don’t say a word about unwelcome sounds during Mass.  As far as I’m concerned, the only really unwelcome sounds are those of cell phones with their ever so entertaining ring tones. So thank you for turning them off.  As I’ve said before, it may not guarantee you a high place in heaven but it will save you from looks that kill!

     As far as other sounds are concerned, the voices of babies (including their cries) are welcome sounds!  There are so many young families with babies and young children in this parish and that is one of our greatest blessings. But, I know, there can be times when the insistent cry or ongoing chatter of a baby might mean “Can I please go outside for a break?”  But I leave it up to you parents to interpret your babies’ cries. Just know that they are always welcome at St. James! They are our joy, our future.

     Let me return to where I began: to St. Paul’s words to his beloved community at Philippi.  There is much to encourage you about: there is compassion and mercy in this community, love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.  There is among us the mind and attitude of Jesus Christ. In so many ways you have taken to heart your baptismal call and dignity and you show this by the way you worship together in this place, bringing heaven very close to earth. You show it, too, by the way you go out from here to serve the poor in Christ’s name. There is no doubt about it, my friends: we are a strong community of faith, but we can be stronger and we can even be better!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303