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The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2017

 

 

    Today’s gospel puts me in mind of a moment nearly 25 years ago when we were renovating the Cathedral. A good friend of the Cathedral called one afternoon to tell me of an exceptionally large gift his family was going to give. The unexpected gift was a game-changer. It meant that we would have the funds needed to create that wonderful domed skylight above the altar. Can you imagine what the Cathedral would be like without it!

     The architect went to work designing it and, as he did, it became clear that there would be room at the bottom of the domed area for an inscription.  I was delighted.  I thought of those great inscriptions, black letters on gold, that are such a distinctive feature of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Now all I had to do was to come up with the right words. Easy, I thought. I already had the words from today’s gospel in mind: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  What could be more fitting than that, I thought.  When I told the architect, he smiled, “Nice thought,” he said, “but with that many words, the letters will be about this big!”

     I was a little deflated and remember telling him, ‘well, maybe we just won’t do an inscription.’  But he told me, ‘No, you’ll come up with something.’  And he was right. Not long after, I was taking an evening walk along the waterfront listening to my Sony Walkman (I told you this was a long time ago!), and out of nowhere (well, I’m pretty sure it was the Holy Spirit), another verse from a different gospel – Luke’s gospel -- came to mind.  You know this verse very well.  It’s the one that’s up there now:  “I am in your midst as one who serves.”  When I told the architect, he said, ‘that’ll work.’  And work it surely has.  In fact, it has worked so well that it has become something of a parish motto for us as we remember that the Christ we follow is the servant Christ.

     I would note that, at the heart of both those gospel verses, the one we used and the one we couldn’t, is Jesus.  Jesus who assures us that, whenever we gather in his name, he is with us. So, if we’re ever looking for a reason why we should never regard this weekly gathering as optional, there it is! This is the privileged place of the presence of Christ. It’s here when we celebrate Eucharist that he makes himself known, makes himself present, draws us close to him and to each other.

     What further incentive do we need to make this Sunday Mass a priority?  I have often wondered if we were to send out an email blast to the parish announcing that Jesus was going to be making a personal appearance at the Cathedral next Sunday at Mass, would anyone stay away? I’m guessing not!

     So Jesus is present whenever we gather in his name, but how he is present?  The Second Vatican Council is wonderfully clear about this.  The Council speaks about three ways in which Christ is present:  first, he is present in the community - the people gathered for prayer; second, he is present in the Word that is proclaimed and preached; and third, he is present in the Eucharist that we celebrate and receive.  Each presence of Christ is important and each is powerful.

     We are fortunate that the rather unique physical layout of the Cathedral highlights each of those three presences. We gather as the community of God’s Holy People around this ambo or pulpit to hear the Word, and around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. And the way we gather makes it clear that we are a community - in all our rich diversity - whether we know each other or not; makes it possible for us to look around and maybe even to say to ourselves, ‘There you are, Lord!’  I sometimes do that when I’m up here, and also when I’m ministering the Eucharist, and it can be a very powerful thing, a real awakening for me!  Christ is present in the community – in the priest who presides and in you, the holy people of God.

     And then, Christ is also present in the Word which is the focus of the whole first part of the Mass. Human words can be powerful but they pale in comparison with the unique power of God’s Word, and the power of the gospel Word in which Christ himself speaks directly to us – instructs us, challenges us, comforts us. There’s a reason why we always stand for the gospel. We stand out of respect for Christ who is in our midst, stand to greet and welcome him!

     Lastly, Christ is present in the Eucharist – in the bread that becomes his Body broken for us and in the wine that becomes his Blood poured out for us.  Never do we come closer to Christ than in this sacrament of his love, and never does he come closer to us.  That’s why we spare nothing – why we go all-out to make our celebrations of the Eucharist beautiful, joyful, and prayerful.  How could we do otherwise!

     My friends, this is a good time to be reflecting on these things.  Summer is almost over, the kids are back in school and we’re getting back into our regular routine. It’s time to look at our priorities and to re-commit to what is most important.

     In today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul told us that we are to “owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another.” I would submit that a wonderful way to show our love for one another is by simply being here Sunday after Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. Christ does the rest. He takes our love, no matter how weak or tentative, and transforms it, transforms us, by his love!  For “where two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is in the midst of us!”

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303