I have been preparing for preaching this Sunday, as well as preaching each day during this season of Easter, when we hear consistently from the Gospel of John. For the past week or so we have been hearing the Last Supper Discourse from John's Gospel, and as I read Sherry's post on "Clapping for Jesus," something clicked.
If you recall, Sherry quoted a Time magazine article, "After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant."
Like a lot of fairly straight-laced Catholics, I am wary of religious services that are too slick, and that seem to play on my emotions. At the same time, however, I know our huge parishes can sometimes feel "cold and distant" to people who are suffering, or lonely, or depressed. We can forget that Christ is not only present in the Word proclaimed, the presider acting in persona Christi, and the Blessed Sacrament, but also in the "two or three [thousand] gathered in His name." The problems of my brother and sister in Christ should be of concern to me.
And this is where the readings from the Gospel of John come in.
On Monday of this week (June 7) we heard, "'Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.' Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, 'Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.'"
Judas may have hoped for some powerful, universal manifestation of Jesus' divinity that would end the doubts of unbelievers. What Jesus proposes is more subtle - a presence of God in the innermost being of His creature, who responds in love to the love poured out upon him or her. It is a gift that is given ever more generously as we respond by living according to the word of Jesus, which in the Gospel of John can be summarized as "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." (John 13:34)
It is love, ultimately, that brings people to Christ. Sometimes that love may be manifested in signs and wonders: miraculous healings, even the raising of the dead. In those situations, hearts and minds are opened quickly to hear the Gospel message. But love works just as powerfully, though perhaps more slowly, through kind words in the face of loss, companionship offered to the lonely, encouragement given to the depressed, kindness and patience offered where they are not expected.
Our communion with Jesus depends on our own response in grace and love to his word. The more we respond, the deeper the communion, and the more profound the transformation. Regardless of what our worship looks like (and there is a wide variety of acceptable expressions of worship within the Catholic Church), the most profound question has to do with whether or not my worship and my participation in the sacramental life of the Church is deepening the love I have for Christ and assisting me, through grace, to respond to his word. The indwelling that Jesus speaks of throughout his Last Discourse is His Father's gift of love to His Son's disciples. That indwelling should be recognized by a life that is transformed and that reaches out to others in love. That, too, is a sign and wonder! If our liturgies are experienced as "cold and distant," might it not be because those participating in the liturgy have not been transformed by it - and are themselves cold and distant?