Sunday, 29 August 2010

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Heb 12:18-24
We heard a line in our second reading that well describes our experience at Mass: “What you have come to is nothing known to the senses”(Heb 12:18).
What we come to in the Mass is God Himself –but this isn’t what we experience directly with our senses:
Our senses say merely that we have come to a gathering of human beings, human beings that in many ways might not seen particularly god-like: they might sing badly, they might mumble their responses inaudibly, some of them might even look bored and distracted. Our senses might also say that what is given out at Mass just looks like wafers of bread, not like the Lord Jesus Himself.
But, and this is the basic point of my sermon today: there is more to the Mass, and more to life in general, than just what immediately strikes our senses. If we limit our appreciation of life to only what is immediately self-evident to the senses then we miss much, in fact, we miss the most important things.

Now, to say that in the Mass, “What you have come to is nothing known to the senses”, does not mean that the senses cannot aid us in helping us appreciate what we have come to.
For one thing, the senses enable us to see the signs and symbols, the sacramentals, that point us towards the reality we have come to.
For example, looking ahead of us to the sanctuary, our sense of sight can see that there is a veil that hangs in front of the tabernacle, a sign indicating to us that God dwells inside –and the tabernacle veil of the Church was pre-figured in the tabernacle veil of the Old Testament: when the Jews wandered in the desert God was in their midst in the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting that Moses would enter to commune with God, and later in the temple in Jerusalem there was a veil in the sanctuary of the holy of holies of God’s dwelling.
Another example, the red hanging sanctuary lamp is another thing that our sense of sight can perceive –this also indicates to us that God dwells here in the Tabernacle, just as in the Old Testament God commanded that a lamp should always burn in the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting(Ex 27:20-21).

But a final and more pivotal example: our sense of hearing hears the priest utter the words that Jesus Himself uttered: “This is my Body”. At this point our sense of hearing conflicts with part of our sense of sight and taste: our hearing tells us that this is the Lord Himself, present because He is faithful to His promise to come when we “do this in memory” of Him, but, our sight and taste mistakenly thinks it looks and tastes just like bread.
Our senses can HELP us perceive what is here, but what is here is BEYOND what our senses can exhaust.
To see what is really here, to see what is really important in life, we need to look more carefully, we need to look with the eyes of faith.

“What you have come to is nothing known to the senses”, Saint Paul said these words of God Himself and of the splendour of heaven. And as he said in another of his letters (1 Cor 2:9): “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what” wonders there are.
In a few weeks the Pope will be here in England, and many atheists like Richard Dawkins, will be appearing on the BBC to tell us what a fool they think he is. But the Pope is coming to remind Britain, and to remind us, that there is a world beyond our immediate sense perception, and it is this world that gives ultimate meaning to everything our senses are capable of perceiving, and without the eyes of faith we fail to see what is really here. The Lord is here in this tabernacle, here in this church, and He is present in our lives if we will but see Him. To have closed our eyes to such realities is to have missed out on the greatest things there are.
“What you have come to is nothing known to the senses”(Heb 12:18).

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