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The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 33:18)

    Today’s gospel puts me in mind of a moment some 30 years ago when we were renovating this beautiful 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 provided the funds we needed to create that wonderful domed skylight above the altar. Can you imagine what the Cathedral would be like without it!

     Our architect went to work designing it and, as he did, he told me that there would be room at the bottom of the oculus for an inscription of some sort. 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. That was easy. I already had in mind the words from today’s gospel: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” What could be more fitting, 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 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 music on my Sony Walkman (now you know how long ago this was!), and out of nowhere (well, it had to have been 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 almost a parish motto as we remember that the Christ we follow is the servant Christ who is in our midst, calling us to serve.

     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 Mass a real priority? I sometimes wonder if we were to send out an email blast to the parish announcing that Jesus would be making a personal appearance at the Cathedral next Sunday at Mass, would anyone stay away? I’m guessing not!

     But a personal appearance he does make, my friends. He is present. And how he is present? The Second Vatican Council says Christ is present in four ways: he is present in the community - in the people gathered for prayer; he is present in the priest who presides; he is present in the Word that is proclaimed and preached; and he is present in the bread broken and the wine poured out, his body broken and his blood shed for us. Let me say just a word about each.

       Christ is present in God’s Holy People gathered with the priest for prayer. The way we are gathered around the altar in this Cathedral makes it very 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 when I’m ministering the Eucharist, and it can be a very powerful thing, a real awakening for me! So, Christ is present in the community – in the baptized, priestly People of God united with the priest in worship and song.

     And then, Christ is also present in the Word preached and proclaimed. Human words can be powerful but they pale in comparison with the power of God’s Word, including the power of the gospel Word in which Christ himself speaks directly to us – instructs, challenges, comforts us. It’s no accident that we always stand for the proclamation of the gospel. We stand out of respect, we stand to greet and welcome Christ who is present in the living, life-giving word of the gospel.

     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 prayerful, joyful, and beautiful. How could we do otherwise!

     My friends, this is a good time to reflect on these things.  Summer is about over, the kids are back in school, and things are getting back to normal. What better time to look at our priorities and to re-commit to what is most important? For most of us, that means being here in the Cathedral for Mass each weekend; for those who are not able to go out – well, you get to join in from a distance by the miracle of livestream.

     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.” What better way to show our love for one another than by joining in the celebration of 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 our midst!”

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303