A church usher is like a hotel bellhop—without the tips. You really don’t notice us until you need us—or until we put a basket in front of your face for the parish’s weekly tip. But like a hotel bellhop, church ushers see their environment from a different perspective compared to the clientele. They see the burdens of the outside world in the eyes and the carriage of incoming parishioners. Sunday services seem to be yet another obligation for some as they check off their lengthy to-do list. That burden can be felt as the music director attempts to lead them in worship. Their collective voice can be as weak as a hospital patient’s—one with an oxygen mask covering their face. Sometimes our faith really does seem like it’s on life support.
If we struggling faithful somehow believe that keeping holy the Lord’s Day means Sundays only, we’ve been duped. We’re as flummoxed as the prophet Jeremiah was in this Sunday’s first reading (Jer 20:7-9). Exposed to the inspiration of God, he can’t contain it. He can’t leave it in a place of worship where everyone expects it to be contained. He must take it with him wherever he goes and sing its praises to all within earshot. How embarrassing.
“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed,” Jeremiah complains. “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. … “The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart.”
I feel the burn. It’s the reason for this blog. It is meant to be a tool to help amplify the voice of anyone fighting with themselves and with their family and friends about the relevance of faith in a seemingly godless world. Instead of finding sanctuary in church, that world seems to believe it has found some respite via TV or online in Facebook and Twitter forums where bullying and gossip are popular sports managed by humanity’s darker nature. Where faith is concerned, it is often maligned, marketed or, worst of all, dumbed down. Pop culture often tries to hijack faith and put it in non-threatening, feel-good terms the secular world can applaud. St Paul had something to say about that in his letter to the Romans (Rom 12:1-2), at which we look this Sunday:
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God,”
Renewal of the mind is what church attendance is all about. Yes, a church or temple can be a sanctuary, but it’s not intended as an escape from the cares of the world; it’s an opportunity for mutual spiritual formation by opening the sanctuary of our hearts to others once we’re outside the confines of our Sunday Mass obligation. We may not be able to leave our problems at that sanctuary’s doors, but we need to realize there is a purpose to our carrying them—as Christ tells Peter in Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 16:21-27) when Peter tries to divert his Master from the awesome and frightening mission he came to accomplish:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me,” Jesus tells Peter. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
That’s not double-talk designed to dupe us, it’s an invitation to get our faith off life support, out of doors and into the light for all to see.
P.S.: Many good souls in the South and from all over the U.S. lived their faith in Texas and Louisiana this week, giving and sending aid and comfort to fellow souls suffering from Hurricane Harvey’s devastating impact. Please keep all of these souls in your prayers as this region starts its slow recovery. And consider a donation through Red Cross or Catholic Charities.