Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Night Mass

Yesterday evening I took my mother-in-law Mary, mother of my wife Mary Ann, to Mary Mother Catholic Church in Burnsville. There is something about Mary in Catholicism.

This was my second visit there with my mother-in-law this summer. She has been out for both weddings and has been a great help so I am happy to take her to mass. Mary Mother Catholic Church is the more theologically progressive of the two Catholic parishes in Burnsville. It is reflected in their active social justice ministry and their (carefully worded) prayers of inclusion. The music is very good. Yesterday the worship leadership - altar girl, worship leader, scripture reader - were all female. The priest, of course, was not. In the two times I have heard him deliver a homily it is obvious that he puts a lot of time into the message, which is not always the case in Catholic, or Protestant, services.

The gospel reading yesterday was from Matthew 15:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is one of those "hard" sayings of Jesus. He appears to callously dismiss the gentile women's plea for help. It is only her persistence and smart comeback that gains her a genuine hearing. This is not a very welcoming Jesus.

I thought it was interesting how the priest handled this passage. It was a very Catholic message on the rewards of persistence in faith. Jesus' initial brush-off was just a test, giving the Canaanite woman an opportunity to work for her reward. He likened it to his 91 year old mother doing a jigsaw puzzle. He said she loves to work on big, difficult puzzles, plugging away at it for days and even weeks, looking for the satisfaction of the completed puzzle at the end. So it is with faith. If we keep plugging away at good works we can be sure we will get our reward at the end.

He talked about prayer in the same way. We need to keep praying with the confidence that God will reward our efforts with an answer. Although, he said two different times, we should not expect miracles but healing. Healing, he said, is what we should pray for. He didn't define those terms but I thought it was interesting that he made the distinction and assume that at other times he has spelled out what would be a fairly progressive theological distinction.

Still, it was a very Catholic message on faith and works. Traditional Protestantism would trumpet God's grace over works, but then remind us that although God's grace is sure we can never be sure that we have it. But our works are a visible sign that we probably do. In the hands of an unscrupulous Protestant minister it is a back-handed way to keep the flock coming back for more.

There is something to be said for a more straight-forward and fair earn your way into heaven plan of action. If you can get past the creed, the all-male priesthood, the theology of the mass itself, etc. I can't, but the couple hundred who were present for both services I attended obviously can. I am happy for them and for my mother-in-law that they find it meaningful.