Chapter 4, “Blessed are They Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness,” focuses that hunger and thirst on the liturgy. Today’s guest post comes from Bill Harper, who I have gotten to know because and my husband were involved in music ministry together in his childhood parish. Below, Bill shares some thoughts on the liturgy as a way to help us find structure when life seems unsettled and uncomfortable.
The Natural Order of Things
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt ill at ease or unsettled? Or perhaps a situation where things just didn’t feel right and you couldn’t quite put your finger on the problem? I’ve experienced that many times. But one of the most revealing examples in my life was watching it happen to someone else.
4th grader, Hannah, was serving mass for the very first time. She was doing an excellent job in exercising her ministry. I‘ve experienced her as a loving, sincere child in the classroom, the lunch room and on the playground.
John is 80 plus years old. He is a lifelong parishioner and his health is failing. He attends mass weekly, in a wheel chair, with the help of a health care professional. He suffers from early stage Alzheimer’s and has bouts of involuntary vocalizations. Mostly they are sounds, more than words or sentences.
During the consecration John began moaning loudly. Hannah immediately snapped her head around towards John as if to ask, “Are you okay?” And then, she looked at the congregation for some indication that everything was alright. She snapped her head back and forth two or three times; from John to the congregation and back again. I don’t know if anyone else noticed. The congregation was prayerfully engaged in the special moment at the altar. I wanted to walk up to Hannah and whisper that everything was okay.
Finally her eyes settled on mine. I smiled and nodded with as much reassurance as I could muster. That soothed her anxiety and she returned her focus to the mass. I think the congregation’s lack of response to John’s outburst may have aided in calming Hannah, as well.
Does Hannah’s reaction remind you of instances in your life when you were taken aback by a new situation? Unsure of what response is required? Like little Hannah, our heads look to our earthly situation –to God – and back again; looking to God for the reassurance that everything and everyone is alright. But isn’t it the image of the congregation, respectfully showing the way, which is to be our beacon; not getting distracted by extraneous details, but instead focusing on the task at hand?
It’s a struggle, isn’t it? We are bombarded by news and information which distracts us from the work we need to do to find our eternal peace. It is imperative that we maintain that focus so that we might fulfill the promise of the covenant; to join in God’s salvation.
Physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Astronomers, chemists and social scientists all struggle to find order in the chaos of our history and present day life. For the most part, we are all reconstructionists and deconstructionists in our desire to create order out of our lives. Have you ever spent time going over and over a situation, trying to find resolution to a seemingly insurmountable problem? Or trying to make sense out of another person’s perspective which makes absolutely no sense to you? In those times, it is prayer which is the work we must do.
Did you know there is a science dedicated to finding the orderliness in chaos? Perhaps you’ve heard of chaos theory. We must find order, we are driven to it. Even the primary books of our faith, the Bible and the Lectionary, are subject to our “orderedness.” And our liturgical year is structured to help us make sense of the life of Christ and the Church. But the purpose of those structures is to free us to see God in the Word and in our liturgies.
Our every move seems preordained, but must we follow?
We have seasons of the year to describe the various effects of the earths’ rotation, clocks and calendars of various sizes, styles and purposes; all designed to promote order. I remember my 13 years living in California and the uncomfortable lack of distinct seasons. I hated the brown barren hills. I missed thunderstorms and the greenery of Southern Illinois and the Fall leaf displays. It’s that same unsure feeling that deters us from staying on God’s path.
At times, it seems that we’re all scurrying around like the White Rabbit, in Alice in Wonderland, one eye on our watch and crying out, “I’m late! I’m late!” We have built machines to assist us in maintaining structure. Corporations invest thousands of dollars training employees to be more efficient and organized. Our whole lives are spent running around trying to create order out of chaos, which only creates more chaos in our lives. “Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my! – Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my!” We spend our earthly time rushing from one scheduled activity to the next. “Hey, stop the world and let me off! I’m tired of goin’ round and round!”
Won’t it be wonderful when we reach the joy of our eternal seventh day of rest; when we can let go of our desperate attempts to order even heaven to our humanly understanding; when we can stop being the White Rabbit; when all this self created hysteria will be rendered meaningless? Let us all pray that we are not distracted to the mission to which we are called. That sounds like the ultimate reward. God calls us to the joy of our eternal rest. Amen.
As pastoral associate at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marion, Illinois, Bill Harper performs a variety of ministerial and administrative functions, including liturgy and overseeing religious instruction. A 2008 graduate of the Aquinas Institute of Theology, he has a Masters
degree in Pastoral Studies with an emphasis on Liturgy. In his “spare” time he is a professional solo singer/guitarist who has produced eight CDs.