We continue in Dies Domini with Saint John Paul getting “practical,” as the outline tells us. As we move into the era of the first Doctors of the Church, Ambrose of Milan challenges our expectations. Even to today, I suspect:
71. The teachings of the Apostles struck a sympathetic chord from the earliest centuries, and evoked strong echoes in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church. Saint Ambrose addressed words of fire to the rich who presumed to fulfill their religious obligations by attending church without sharing their goods with the poor, and who perhaps even exploited them: “You who are rich, do you hear what the Lord God says? Yet you come into church not to give to the poor but to take instead”. (De Nabuthae, 10, 45: “Audis, dives, quid Dominus Deus dicat? Et tu ad ecclesiam venis, non ut aliquid largiaris pauperi, sed ut auferas“: CSEL 322, 492)
A bishop who would not look kindly on the church-as-therapist expectation of some believers these days.
A mouth of gold lashes us with his preaching:
Saint John Chrysostom is no less demanding: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food’, and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’ … What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices, when he is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well”. (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 50, 3-4: PG 58, 508-509)
It is too bad that the curia of John Paul II did not look more closely before penning Redemptionis Sacramentum. The Lord is not dishonored by the lack of gold or silver. He is not necessarily abused in glass–the glass certainly does not manage to contain him. To be sure, liturgy and the poor can both be neglected–and that is a grave offense. But if our local pastors are wise and cautious, I’d be inclined to let the preaching of that eastern John ring a little louder in our ears.
Don’t look now, but our saintly late pope is channeling another saint in suggesting we consider a duplication of the miracle of the loaves and fishes:
These words effectively remind the Christian community of the duty to make the Eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attentions of the brethren, where Christ himself — through the generous gifts from the rich to the very poor — may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. (Saint Paulinus of Nola, Ep. 13, 11-12 to Pammachius: CSEL 29, 92-93. The Roman Senator is praised because, by combining participation in the Eucharist with distribution of food to the poor, he in a sense reproduced the Gospel miracle)
What do you think? Are there times when our Sunday practice dishonors Christ? Do these sorts of homilies need to be preached more often, and to more bishops and bureaucrats? Or to Republicans? Or Dems? Who is the best judge in any local community to keep the people and their eyes focused on this “practical solidarity” with the poor? How do we avoid platitudes, lip service, and empty charity?