‘Lord, we are not worthy’
By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 9
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 4:30 — 5:2; John 6:41-51
This week we continue our program of renewing our devotion to the Eucharist by looking at the concept of worthiness, and its silent corollary, judgment. We are often judging other people’s worthiness (or lack of it), even at Mass, and that judgmental spirit can keep us from receiving the fullness of grace in the sacrament.
The theme of worthiness and forbearance is found in all three readings in different forms. In the text from 1 Kings, Elijah is discouraged and prays to God: “I am no better than my fathers — take my life.” He is so discouraged by others’ rejection that he does not believe that he is worthy to continue his ministry. Ever feel that way yourself?
Then Paul warns the Ephesians against bitterness, anger and malice in the community, and urges them to compassion and forgiveness. We haven’t changed much in 2,000 years, have we?
In the Gospel, the people murmur against Jesus: “Don’t we know his father? Where did he get this? Who does he think he is?” They judge him based on his family background — sound familiar?
Judging others is one of the number one sins confessed, in my experience. We judge our co-workers, our neighbors, our spouses and family members. We judge total strangers we see on the street, at the mall, in line at the grocery store. At Mass we judge the lectors, the musicians and chanters, the people we think shouldn’t be there and the ones who fail to show up. We judge the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and the deacon and the priest. We can be so busy with our interior monologue of criticism that we fail to see the presence of the Lord.
The Second Vatican Council reminded the church that Christ is present at Mass in several ways. He is present in the consecrated bread and wine, the holiest and most perfect presence. Christ is also present in the person of the priest and in the proclaimed Word of God. And Christ is present in the gathered congregation: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” Mass begins when two people meet in the parking lot.
Furthermore, we are all priests, and we are all unworthy. By virtue of our baptism, we all are members of the priesthood of the faithful, each of us participating in the Eucharist according to our vocation — the celebration of the Eucharist is an act of the whole church. And yet not one of us is truly worthy of the dignity Christ has bestowed on us by calling us his friends, his brothers and sisters.
How can we achieve the virtue of being non-judgmental, what Christian tradition calls “forbearance”?
Jesus tells us in the Gospel to believe in the one whom the Father sent, to believe in his word. So the primary means of achieving a less judgmental spirit is to deepen our relationship with Christ outside of the Eucharist, and become more aware of his presence and action in the world. If we were fully aware of the presence of the Lord at each and every moment of our lives, we wouldn’t dare to judge another.
A second help toward developing the virtue of forbearance is to cultivate an awareness of our own need for mercy. This very monastic concept has a long tradition in the church, starting with the publican in Luke’s Gospel whose only prayer is, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Lastly, we can avoid a judgmental spirit at Mass itself by doing what has been urged on all the faithful since the reform of the liturgy: a full, active participation in all the parts of the Mass. If we are attentive to the prayers and readings, listening carefully to the homily and the Eucharistic Prayer and responding enthusiastically to the sung and spoken parts of the Mass that are proper to the congregation, we will have little time to find fault with our neighbors in the pew.
St. Augustine urged his congregation: “Lest there be division among you, eat of what binds you together.” The liturgy itself prays for this unity when the priest invokes the Holy Spirit after the consecration, expressed most beautifully in the first Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation:
“Father, look with love
on those you have called
to share in the one sacrifice of Christ.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
make them one body
healed of all division.”
Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, where he serves as subprior and choirmaster. He also heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy. He is currently working on several book projects, including a handbook for preaching the Bread of Life Discourse.