Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Community and Worship

I may be Catholic now, but when I talk about my church family, I’m still referring to the Presbyterian church I grew up in. I’ve tried to ease into a Catholic community, but it’s not the same. My home church and my church family are somewhere else from where I worship. It’s not that either church is lacking in either aspect, but rather that I am unwilling to let go of the community I grew up in or of the faith I have in the Catholic Church.  

Healthy churches have to provide both community and worship. The more I think about it, the more intertwined the two are. I can go into a church every Sunday for years, but without sticking around, meeting people, getting involved outside of worship, I’m not experiencing the true community of the church. Christians are called to be a community, to work together, to live together. Avoiding the community aspect is trying to make a communal exercise an individual one. It’s part of Western culture to focus on the individual, and it’s easy to fall in the trap of “what is the church doing for me?” That question leads to the coffee shop, praise concert, generationally-fractured type of church that markets worship to a variety of demographics. The justification is that marketing gets people in the doors. But what kind of community grows out of niche marketing? Being part of a church community should mean interacting with people who I have nothing in common with, but who I still love as my family. It should make me ask “what am I doing for the church?”

And then there is worship. As a church, we come together to worship God. Our focus on the holy is what differentiates the church from a social club. We can’t let worship become just another service offered, somewhere between family movie night and the quilting club. In the church newsletter last week, the pastor wrote, “On any given Sunday, the sermon may bomb, the anthem may falter or we may not feel anything special. Yet sustaining worship over time builds a rich harvest of good into us that we would not otherwise receive…God deserves our worship because God is God, and we are God’s creatures, made to live in union with the divine.”

Even when the feelings of peace or community or understanding aren’t there, God is. It’s important for our spiritual health to keep going, keep worshiping, keep fellowshipping. Worship should be the height of community. We come together to be silent, to pray, to focus solely on God. And afterword, we share a meal.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Archangels

Today is the feast day of the archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. While I support a feast day of the archangels, it bought something to my attention that I hadn’t really thought about before: the archangels are saints. My understanding of saints is they are those souls in heaven. Angels are in heaven, but do they actually have souls? Or are saints any creature in heaven?

Saint means “holy one,” so apparently, it can mean any creature in heaven. The archangels are in heaven, and we can call for their intersession, so they are “holy ones.” Still, when I think of saints, I think of the people who strove for God during their life. I think of Peter and Lucy and Francis de Sales. I think I have to accept that my definition of saint is very narrow. It’s not that I’ve limited saint to people who have been formally canonized. I certainly believe there are many, many people in heaven that don’t have formal recognition. Yet, I do tend to limit my definition to people. When I talk about saints, I’m talking about humans in heaven. Even in the Mass, we list angels and saints separately (in the Penitential Act and in the prayer right before the Sanctus). But perhaps that is just the human-centric language that pervades our understanding of God. 

As a side note, if saints are not singularly humans in heaven, but all creatures in heaven, then if there is intelligent alien life, and if that life has souls, and if those souls are in union with God, then there are alien saints in heaven as well. Which brings on tons of other speculative questions, like are they present at our masses (I’d guess yes), and are there cross-species intercessions?

But back to the archangels. Unlike guardian angels, archangels look over groups of people and deliver direct messages from God. Angels are spiritual persons without bodies. They are created by God and infused with knowledge. They are difficult for me to relate to for these obvious reasons. But I’m trying to at least understand who they are.

Michael is the archangel in special service of the Father. His name means “who is like unto God.” He is in charge of the heavenly hosts. Gabriel is the archangel in special service of the Son. His name means “man of God.” He made all those big announcements about the Incarnation (Annunciation to Mary, message to Joseph, message to the shepherds).  Raphael is the archangel in special service of the Spirit. His name means “God heals.” He intercedes for the healing of Tobit. This Trinitarian understanding of the archangels’ jobs helps me ground them a bit. Like my familiar human saints, angel saints have particular skills and patronages too.

I’m still a far bit from talking to angels (sorry, guardian angel). I’m just beginning to get comfortable with the human saints. And I think a lot of angel lore is speculative, seeing at it mostly involves the realm of heaven (occasional missions to earth notwithstanding). Yet I don’t mind a feast day for the archangels. And with a broader understanding of sainthood, I don’t mind calling them saints.

Friday, September 26, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.90)

1. Despite my continuing writer’s block, I’m actually ahead on schoolwork. It’s a grad school miracle! I’m hoping to get some more work done this weekend and stay ahead. It’s a great feeling. 

2. I finally watched The Way this week. I don’t know why I waited so long; it was wonderful! As someone who extremely rarely cries at movies, I teared up at this one. I want to go on pilgrimage now.

3. I’ve also been watching a lot of Jewish holiday videos on youtube. I’m all pumped for Rosh Hashanah, despite not knowing when it is or being Jewish.

4. And then a mixing of Les Mis and Passover. Totally pumped for Easter now too. 

5. Which then led me to reading 2 Maccabees. 1 Maccabees was the first of the deuterocanonal books I read. I didn’t find anything particularly enlightening in it and never got around to reading 2 Maccabees. But reading that now…there is so much going on in there! Maccabeus fighting Gentiles right and left, the hiding of the ark, people getting caught up in Greek-fever, some martyrdoms, praying for the dead, foreshadowing of Jesus. Just because it’s in Greek, some want to throw it all out? Bad, Luther! 

6. The farmer’s market is back on campus. I got some delicious rosemary bread yesterday. It’s taking great restraint to not eat it all at once, but I’m sure it will be gone before Monday.

7. It has finally cooled off into fall here. So of course, people are already mentioning Christmas. No. Stop. Just stop.