Posture at Mass

(Homily for Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Bottom line: When we attend Mass we take the posture of the tax collector - we accept our responsibility for failings and recognize who we are and who God is.

Today´s Gospel - together with the past two Sundays - form a trilogy on prayer, especially the greatest prayer: the sacrifice of the Mass.

Two week´s ago the Gospel focused on thanksgiving. Jesus praised the Samaritan leper because he returned to express thanks. In Greek, to thank someone is "eucharist." The Mass, the "Eucharist" is the great prayer of gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts.

Last Sunday we heard about another aspect of prayer: persistence, not growing weary, but keeping at it. Persistence also applies to the Mass. If the Mass is the highest form of prayer, we must keep at it - weekly or even daily.

Today´s Gospel speaks about our posture at Mass. I am not talking about kneeling, standing and sitting. I am talking about a much deeper posture. We see it in the tax collector. He acknowledged who God is - and the distance between him and God. And he accepted responsibility for his own failings, "O, God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

We do not come to Mass to tell God how great we are. The Pharisee did that - and we do have to admit that he was a very good man. Yet he did not go home justified, whereas the tax collector did. The tax collector had the right posture before God.

The prayers of the Mass can help us attain that posture. We begin Mass by calling to mind our sins. It does not have be a detailed examination of conscience, but a simple recognition of the truth. And the truth is this: I have blown it. I have fallen on my face. Maybe it happened this very week. Maybe it happened some time ago and I am still living with the consequences. As my dad would say, "You have no one to blame but yourself." And so we say, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.

That was the posture of the tax collector. We begin Mass with that posture and it sets the tone for rest of the Mass. The readings, if we listen carefully, always call us to some change, what the Bible calls "repentance." The Prayers of the Faithful express our need for God. During the Eucharistic Prayer we kneel. Kneeling expresses receptivity. St. Paul says that he kneels before God the Father from who every blessing comes. Before Communion we we say, "Lord, I am not worthy." Who is? Only a Pharisee would think he deserves to receive something so incredible - the Body and Blood of Jesus.

In a little over a year, we will have a revised translation of the Mass prayers. I believe this new translation will help us have the correct posture during Mass. The translation we have now was done at time when we wanted to emphasize our dignity as sons and daughters of God. That is true and necessary, but we also have to admit that we are children who have fallen short of what the Father had in mind for us. The new translation will bring out more clearly what our actual situation is before God. Like the tax collector, we will say in simple and direct words that we have fallen short. "O, God, have mercy on me a sinner." There is a huge gap between what God wants of me and what I actually am.

This was brought home to me dramatically during my visit to Peru. I had the opportunity to concelebrate Mass with a zealous young priest. At the end of the Mass, he asked the people to pray for him and other priests that we would be holy priests. Then he added, "If I fall into hell, I will not go alone. Many of you will go with me. But if I go to heaven, I will bring you with me."

That young priest´s words made me think about the responsibility we have for each other. In his book, "Developing the Leader Within You," John Maxwell cites a sociological study that indicates that even the most introverted person significantly influences over a thousand people in the course of his life. A priest has the possibility of deeply influencing thousand of people - for better or for worse. That is why it is so important to avoid complacency. We can easily start thinking like the Pharisee - I have it all together, I have no need for improvement. Rather, we must take the posture of the tax collector. He recognized he had large areas for improvement. Like him we want to see who God is and who we are - to acknowledge that all good gifts come from God.

Brothers and sisters, next week we begin our annual Stewardship focus. I hope this will be more than a reflection on financial giving, but that like the tax collector we will consider our entire relationship with God. We express that relationship most perfectly in the prayer of the Mass.

To sum up: 1) The Mass is the great prayer of thanksgiving. 2) That prayer requires persistence - daily personal prayer and the Eucharist at least every Sunday. 3) And when we attend Mass we take the posture of the tax collector - we accept our responsibility for failings and recognize who we are and who God is. Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (30th Sunday, Year C):

2013: How to Pray, Part Three: Mass as the Publican's Prayer
2010: Posture at Mass
2007: The Cry of the Poor
2004: Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner
2001: A Lesson in Humility

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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(October 2010)

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