This is just a small invocation that I've been praying lately, throughout the day or at the conclusion of prayers. I thought I'd share it with you.
Lately, I've been coming to appreciate more and more the social dimension of Catholic Christian belief. In one sense, the nostalgia for a Christendom is not entirely misplaced. Catholic belief demands a laboring towards "the good society", so we shouldn't cease to imagine it. Nothing expresses the communitarian nature of Christian belief better than our image of heaven which, perhaps, was far too long imagined as a set of pearly gates ontop of clouds where individuals get to, or don't.
In many of the world's religions, say like Buddhism and Hinduism, salvation is a release of individuality into the Absolute. It is a mystical thing, beyond words, beyond images, beyond selfhood. The Heaven of Christianity is so perfectly ordinary as to be almost shocking to the religious mind: a banquet table, a wedding, a dinner.
If ever you've treasured sitting with your family around the table, laughing and drinking wine and reminiscing or singing, you've probably satisfied, even for just a few hours, the most ordinary of human urges: To enjoy good things with good company (or mixed company!). In the end, this is the secular heart of Christianity (or the trasncendent core of the immanent, whatever one calls it), I think, that it makes something so mundane so heavenly.
So maybe our legitimacy as Christians really depends on our ability to make good banquets here, in the image of the eternal banquet to come. That doesn't really mean saying a pretty Mass. By good banquet I don't mean "good party", but "good community" on which a truly good celebration depends.
Maybe here is the charybdis and scylla that we have to navigate through. The secular world is all about throwing the best party, about intoxication and deadening the sense of the sorrows of our social loss through sex and drugs. The temptation on the part of Catholic leaders today is to throw the best ceremony in its stead. To make our refusal of the secular temptation so adamant as to become merely its opposite. This is the danger of making the heavenly banquet "too heavenly", so heavenly that it's just a dream beyond us, and our ceremonies are more a lamentation of what we don't have here.
I think if we're really to be loyal to the beauty of the Mass in all its traditional splendor, that loyalty depends above all on the ability to make its meaning real for the lives of those around us. In this sense, too much emphasis on correct liturgy can be in danger of elevating the sign above the signified (in the words of a wise friend).
How can we make our communities better, in these times? It seems so difficult. It feels like we have so few tools, so few footholds to start from.
Gay Christians maybe have a calling here, because we do tend to be an image of "the outsider" and many of us are very shaped by our outsider experience. We're such a cause for division. But the place where we divide and distinguish ourselves is also the very place where we are to reconcile ourselves amongst one another. This is the image of the meal. Where one sits, who is admitted- it all says something about social caste and membership. It is also the place where Jesus does radical things, like invite the "wrong people".
"The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully... God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9:6)We will receive in proportion to what we gave. So if we pray "Admit me, O Lord, to your Supper", we should also be admitting people to our own supper. And I am finding this is a very difficult thing!