Attempting the impossible: describing my longing for God

How can I describe a longing for God? The scriptures describe it as a deer “panting” for streams of water (Psalm 42). The dictionary defines panting as a longing with breathless or intense eagerness; to yearn. Synonyms for panting include an ache, a craving, a desire. Hunger. Thirst.

Longing has equivalents in music: The sound of an oboe playing the “Going Home” theme from the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. A trumpet playing taps over a grave. Monks chanting, their voices in perfect unison stretching out the notes like a violin, back and forth, the voices swelling and then pulling back. The final note sung, hanging in mid air until it fades away.

Hernán Piñera Thanks for the music, mysterious form of time Flickr Creative Commons

Longing can be a pleasant feeling as it is for something good. My longing increases when God grants me the ability to sense and feel His presence; it is pure gift. It’s like the glow after a glass of wine. It’s the lightheaded peace I feel when swimming, moving slowly through the water and then floating, letting my body go limp. It’s that leftover warmth I feel when I visit my special friend after we have shared laughter, hopes and dreams, thoughts about God and our lives, occasional tears, and the Eucharist.

Longing can also hurt. It pulls inside of me causing a painful sensation. It is loneliness when the wall between God and myself becomes hard and thick due to apathy, pride and sin. It’s a constant sensation, often in the background but lately, more in the forefront. There is no concrete feeling or thought associated with my longing that can be sufficiently expressed in words; I only know that I yearn for God’s presence.

Sometimes God is so close to me that I cannot perceive him. I feel empty inside, alone and afraid. Frequently I wake in the middle of the night and try to reach out to him and feel no consolation. Yet my scant knowledge of God reminds me that He is near. Often that has to be enough, just to believe.

A seed was planted this summer after the silent weekend retreat with the Trappist Monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey. A tiny seed of longing. The seed has not yet matured enough to poke through the ground so it needs a great deal of care. My Catholic faith has supplied me with what I need to nourish it: prayers, hymns, the Word, the liturgy, the Eucharist and the community. And new tools and reminders: Gregorian chant, looking up at the sky, and swimming at the local health club. Beautiful, simple and concrete reminders of that which is beyond words to describe.

Winam Morning Swim Flickr Creative Commons

Perhaps the psalmist says it best:

As an antelope pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When may I come and appear in God’s presence?

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Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear? This week’s gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

 

 

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus began to speak publicly in the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30).

At first, the people seem to like what he has to say. “And all were spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then, things suddenly change.

Jesus makes a reference to Old Testament story about how God worked great deeds through some non-Jewish folks in the past.

He infers that God’s grace is being extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles.

Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons
Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons

That’s not what the congregation wants to hear.

And that’s when things start going downhill…literally.

When the people hear this, they drive him out of his own town. They are furious.

They even try to throw him down a hill.

But Jesus escapes and moves on to the next town.

The story raises some good questions about the gospel we hear on Sundays.

The message of Jesus wasn’t meant to please audiences the way political candidates sometimes craft their messages to please their audiences and to get applause.

Jesus was popular as long people liked what he had to say. When they didn’t, popularity wasn’t one of Jesus’ assets.

www.slideshare.net
www.slideshare.net

Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear?
To reinforce what we already think?

The gospel is always “good news” but it isn’t always comfortable because it stretches us beyond our comfort zones.

And, over the course of time we’re bound to hear something at Mass that unsettles our ideas about right and wrong:

  • about justice, mercy and forgiveness;
  • about our responsibility in the face of human misery;
  • about death and our ultimate accountability and judgment;
  • and about the dignity of every human life.

There’s an old saying that the gospel (and the sermon) is meant to “trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”

When we feel challenged or unsettled by the Gospel, what will our response be? Amazement or fury?

Will we “expel” the message and the messenger as did the inhabitants of that unreceptive village?

Or, will we ask for the Grace, to re-think everything in life and ask the Divine Teacher to lead us where we need to go?

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Heaven on earth: What is the Ad Orientem mass? What is it like to experience it?

Today I am attending mass at Father Steven LaBaire’s parish, Holy Family in Worcester. Father Steven sent out his weekly newsletter which announced that today’s mass would be celebrated “Ad Orientum.”

Just what is “Ad Orientum?” I will let Father Steven explain.

altar

  • Ad Orientem is the practice of the priest turned toward the altar and the crucifix at Mass whenever the priest is addressing God. Whenever, the priest addresses the people, he turns toward the people. This is the way that our liturgy was celebrated for over 1800 years. It is still the normal way of celebrating Mass in Eastern Catholic churches. Pope Benedict revived the practice. Pope Francis occasionally continues it. Bishop McManus has also celebrated Mass Ad Orientem recently at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The practice is continued in numerous church and cathedrals all over the world.

preparing altar+ Does this mean the priest is celebrating the Mass with his back to us? Not really. He could only “have his back to us” if we were the center of his attention at Mass. But we aren’t. God is. So the priest simply faces the altar as the leader and representative before God and we are all united in the same direction and posture. Together we gaze upon the altar and cross—the symbols of Christ. Appropriately, when the priest addresses the people he faces the congregation.

+But this means I won’t see the priest’s face at some point during the Mass? That’s correct. But let’s remember that facing the same direction helps us focus our attention on God rather than on the priest.  Praying the Mass ad orientem makes the mass less about the personality of the priest and more about the mystery that he stands in the person of Christ the High Priest, with us and for us. The man who is the priest disappears within the vestments (that’s part of their purpose)and when we do not see his face, we are more free to concentrate on God before us.  Worship is about focusing on God.

Think of it this way: if someone points out a beautiful flower or a star in the night sky to you, do you look at him or what he’s pointing to? Just so with Ad orientem worship. The priest is pointing us to God. Look where he’s pointing, and less at the one pointing.

+Didn’t Vatican II change all this? This is a common point of confusion. While celebrating the entire Mass with the priest facing the people has become the primary way of celebrating Mass  since the Council, ad orientem remains an accepted and time honored way of celebrating the liturgy. Each practice highlights different theological values. The way we celebrate most commonly today highlights the altar and Christ at the center. Ad Orientem highlights our being pilgrims with the priest leading and  pointing toward Christ. Both practices attest to the richness of the liturgy.

consecrating the host and wine

  • Why are we celebrating Ad Orientem on this Sunday? The phrase Ad Orientem means ‘toward the east.” Christians for centuries prayed facing in a common direction toward the east. East signified Jerusalem and the breaking light of dawn. Of course, Christ is the light of the world. So, together, we look east to be reminded of the light of Christ. Churches were often constructed so that everyone faced east. When this was impossible, at very least everyone faced the altar and the cross, together. So on the final days of Advent, we will turn together toward Christ as we prepare to celebrate his coming.
Prescott Pym Kioloa Bay Sunrise, Flickr Creative Commons
Prescott Pym Kioloa Bay Sunrise, Flickr Creative Commons

Impressions

The mass was beautiful. It gave me a sense of transcending this world and capturing a glimpse of heaven. There were times when I could not sing the hymns because I was crying.

It was a wonderful way to bring the Advent season to a close and welcome the birth of our Lord on Christmas morning. In his homily, Father Steven mentioned that December 25 is the day that the sun is just a bit brighter and the day, a tad longer than the night. How appropriate as we meditate on the light of the world in Jesus Christ, here on earth, present in our hearts.

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