Benedict and Catherine, Part 5. Love and Affection as Steps to God
First, let me offer this week’s LITURGICAL CATECHESIS: Why do we make a Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips and hearts before the Gospel is read? (Part 2 of 2)
Today we offer a continuation from last week’s insight. The three-fold sign of the cross is a wonderful tradition. It reminds us that the words of the Gospel — which are about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — have the power to transform our lives. So, the next time you hear the Gospel proclaimed, think about how God wants to change your life through these powerful words. The triple sign of the cross (on the forehead, lips, heart) is a distinctive gesture. It makes a distinction between the Gospel and the other previous readings. The Book of the Gospel holds a higher “Pride of Place” since it deals with the specific words and deeds of Jesus Christ. It is interesting that nothing in the liturgical guidelines mention lay people making this sign. Certainly they can if it enhances their spiritual experience of the liturgy.
Next, here’s some information concerning liturgy at our parish. St. Monica has a reputation of being a hospitable parish. The Liturgy Committee wanted to build upon this strength with the introduction of two new ideas. Hopefully, these will bring people into a closer “Encounter With Christ Through The Liturgy.” First, to work toward this, some parishioners recently set up a “Welcome and Information” table in the church lobby. They will soon be asking the congregation for their feedback and input on this initiative.
A second issue involved a discussion about two groups of people who celebrate liturgy with us. There are parishioners and guests who celebrate liturgy with us who are not Catholic. There are Catholic parishioners and guests who might choose not to receive Holy Communion. The Liturgy Committee had a long discussion about these two important groups. The concern involved what to do during the procession to receive Holy Communion.
Naturally, non-Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist. But we still wanted to invite them into a deeper sense of community during the Communion Rite itself. Thus, before Communion, the cantor will announce: “Everyone is invited to come forward during the communion procession. If for any reason you do not wish to receive Jesus sacramentally at this time, the Eucharistic Ministers will invite you to continue to receive Jesus spiritually in your heart. To do so, simply cross your arms over your heart as you approach the priest or Eucharistic Minister. Thank you.”
Eucharistic Ministers will then say: “May you continue to receive Jesus in your heart.” Priests will offer a blessing.
We will place the following in the Parish Bulletin:
“We welcome you all to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). In our desire to be a church of hospitality and welcome, everyone is invited to process forward during Communion. If for any reason you do not wish to receive Jesus sacramentally at this time, the priest will offer a blessing or Eucharistic Ministers will invite you to continue to receive Jesus spiritually in your heart. To do so, simply cross your arms over your heart.”
Ok, now, on to Catherine of Siena. One of the striking insights of Catherine deals with something that I hear among Catholics. That is the fear that many have that they might do something which offends God. A distaste for sin is healthy. It is the first, of several steps, on the way to spiritual maturity. “There are some who climb imperfectly, and some perfectly, and some climb with the greatest perfection. The first are those who are moved by servile fear. The soul, having seen the punishment which follows her sin, remembers her vice with her intellect. She sees the punishment which she expects to receive for her fault. This moves her to hate that fault.”
Catherine then explains the “curveball” that God throws at his children. God says that “(I) look, not only at the punishment of sin, but at the fruit of virtue, and the love which I bear to the soul, so that she may climb with love and affection, and be stripped of servile fear. Such souls will become faithful, serving Me through love and not through fear.”
For many Catholics, it is difficult to move from the “Hell-Fire-And-Brimstone” God of punishment towards a God of love. In fact, Catherine offers a warning. People who persist in the “strict parent” God, will not progress in their spiritual life. In fact, they might Regress! “There are many who begin their course climbing so slowly, and render their debt to Me by such small degrees.” Something happens where, “they suddenly faint, and every little breeze catches their sails and turns their prow backward.
In my homily two weeks ago, I spoke of Christ who is “not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way as we have.” Last week I quoted Hebrews where the High Priest “is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness.” Christ understands how difficult our lives can be. He does not want to be seen as a God who punishes wrongdoing. He wants to be a God who encourages and supports and loves his children when they do things right! In this way, his children will move from the “imperfect, first Step of the Bridge of Christ crucified to the second step of His (loving) Heart.”