The Independent Newsweekly
|April 1, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 51
Mary Jo Leddy is a member of the Romero House community in Toronto and the author of Radical Gratitude.
"How can we make the church a place in which it is a little easier to be grateful? How can the Eucharist be a celebration in which it is a little easier to give thanks?" These are the kinds of questions that may lead us in radically unexpected directions.
Time to let Jesus out of our little thought boxes
A reflection for the sixth week of Lent
By Mary Jo Leddy
Recent statistical studies seem to suggest that America is one of the most religious, the most Christian, countries in the world. Yet, we have our own particular form of unbelief ... subtle but sure. We do not so much deny God as we take God for granted.
We assume God is there and can be called upon in any politically correct or psychologically useful way. On the left and on the right, we have little thought boxes that contain the threat of resurrection.
During Lent, we remember someone who lived and died without calculation. Jesus is the only person who loved God for nothing. He did not take God's love for granted but, rather, lived out of a sense of radical gratitude.
When we stop taking God for granted and allow ourselves to be astonished at the unaccountable and priceless reality of God's love, then all the tidy compartments of our contractual lives fall apart. When we can't add it all up, then begins the great spiritual awakening, the start of a mature spirituality.
When we sense that God loves us for nothing, for no reason, we may begin to experience the desire to love God for no reason, neither expecting nor wanting anything in return. This is the beginning of the desire to worship -- simply because God is God.
Such a desire goes far beyond our calculations of the shoulds and oughts of contractual obligation and far beyond our needs and self-interest.
This side of the grave, such a desire will always be mixed with some of our human needs and fears. Nevertheless, the moments when we are moved to bless and give thanks are the moments when we are set free from the cravings and calculations that hold us captive in this culture.
It was on Holy Thursday that Jesus summed up the kind of gratitude that was both a way of life and the most authentic form of worship. He showed us the way of the loaves and fishes, when what we give away multiplies, ignites and sustains. He showed us how one good word grows and gathers into a symphony of truth. He showed us how one small hope whispered in the dark fills out and flows until it becomes a movement. He spoke about the lilies of the field that neither work nor worry and are blessed in doing nothing, and that bless by being just lilies. He showed us the way of the supper when you set the table with your life and it becomes as real as love, friendship and community.
However, the celebration of Holy Thursday in our churches has become, increasingly, a time of calculation.
Traditionally, Holy Thursday has been the time to celebrate the ordained priesthood. It is now a time when some Catholics seize upon the opportunity to confirm that only ordained males have control over the Eucharist. They are enclosed in their particular thought box.
However, it is also the time when other Catholics (women and lay people) may take the occasion to protest and to wrest more control over the sacrament. They are enclosed in another little thought box.
Either of these efforts is ultimately soul-destroying because the authentic desire to worship is based on something radically different from the need to control.
The authentic desire to worship can only be grounded in the desire to give thanks. It is a desire that is spiritual, but because it is radically (in its roots) spiritual, it also has social and economic implications about justice and equality. There is an economy of grace that is for each, for all, forever and for free.
To let the Spirit of Jesus open up our little thought boxes, we must begin by asking ourselves, "How can we make the church a place in which it is a little easier to be grateful? How can the Eucharist be a celebration in which it is a little easier to give thanks?" These are the kinds of questions that may lead us in radically unexpected directions.
In these times and in this place, it will never be completely easy to worship. Our structures, symbols, words and music are under severe stress. They no longer carry the weight of meaning that they had in an integrated Catholic culture. And our cultural symbols and words are so unbearably "lite" that they are meaningful only for an episode or two.
We live in a culture of consumerism that generates within us a profound dissatisfaction about what we have and who we are. We never seem to have enough or to be enough. Where nothing and no one seems quite good enough, even God can seem not good enough. It can become a cultural temptation to become perpetually dissatisfied with our forms of worship. We need to discern when our dissatisfaction with our forms of worship is legitimate and necessary and when that dissatisfaction merely reflects our broader cultural tendency in this direction.
We need to know, at times and in some places, that the words and symbols with which we express our gratitude ... are good enough.
Editor's Note: These reflections for Lent are developed further in Leddy's book Radical Gratitude(Orbis, 2002).
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