Monday, August 22, 2005

21st Week in Ordinary Time

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAfter graduating from UCLA in 1992 I spent the next decade working at several different parish and campus ministry jobs, all the while telling myself “I’ll start my graduate degree next year.” I was just too scared to try something so new and to risk failure, or worse, to waste my time and my own money working for something that wasn’t going to be useful in the end.

As with most things that have to do with faith, the point is not what you get “in the end” but what happens to you “in the process.” It’s the very act of risking, of trying, of moving toward an unknown and possibly painful future that is the essence of faith. If we based our faith on having proof of the outcome—if we could actually see Christ’s glorified body or have video proof of the resurrection—then that really wouldn’t be faith; that would be logic. If I knew the outcome of years of fretting over this degree, there would be no learning; there would be assembly-line production—“insert quarter; receive prize.” No, we are people of the unseen. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” said the risen Christ to those fearful disciples. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

When we actually do the very thing we’re afraid of doing, the thing for which there is no proof of success, we are changed. We still may be scared, but in the doing, we will have become unafraid to try. And in that process of trying, we accomplish and make effective the very thing we hope for.

I was afraid of failing, of wasting my effort on this degree. But it has been in the process of signing up for classes, doing the coursework, writing papers, and being a Californian in central Minnesota (truly, a frightening thing!) that I have indeed succeeded, for I have gained something more than just “success” or “usefulness.” I’ve gained a community living faithfully, loving this sinful yet holy Church of ours, struggling through fear, doubt, and even failure, and striving always to understand and love this God we cannot see, with both heart and intellect. This relationship with this community of faith has been the “proof,” the thing that “veri-fied”—made true—the thing that I hoped for. With this community of fellow risk-takers, we have done what some might think impossible and pointless, and we do it despite the fear and the unknown.

In liturgy, we find the same kind of community and have the same kind of “proof.” At Mass, we have proof that Christ is risen even in this world of fear and death, because look at how we greet each other, friends, strangers, even enemies, with peace and hospitality. In Eucharist, we have proof that Christ is present even in this time of hopelessness, because see how we feed the hungry with life-giving bread and wine, see how we clothe the naked with the dignity of baptism, see how we shelter the homeless with the open doors of our hearts, see how we heal the sick with a simple touch, and see how we release the captive with a word of forgiveness. In our doing of the liturgy, we make real the very things we are afraid to try, the very things we may think are impossible to accomplish.

The Sunday last June that I left for graduate school, we heard Jesus say, “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” The late Bishop Kenneth Untener said that the cross is that to which we say, “I’ll do anything, Lord, anything…but that.” What is your “anything-but-that”? What is our Church’s “anything-but-that”? What is our world’s “anything-but-that”? What are we most afraid to try?

We who have not seen yet still believe are called to help each other pick up our “anything-but-that” and to move unafraid toward an unknown end, trusting that the journey itself will bring about what we hope for, and proving to each other by our very presence—cross, fear, faith and all—that Christ is risen. Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

In this week’s Work of the People, you’ll find:

I’ve just recently returned from my summer of graduate school comprehensive exams. To find out what happened, click here.

Diana Macalintal
Associate for Liturgy