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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fr. Bob Warren's Week Reflection: Before You Bring Your Gift to the Altar

Franciscan Friars
Before You Bring Your Gift to the Altar
(Matthew 5:17-37)
This gospel contains a rubric for the Eucharist. Rubrics are directions in the official book that we use for Mass. They are printed in red ink. Most rubrics come from liturgists, experts who tell us how Mass is to be celebrated. But this rubric comes from Jesus Himself. Here's what He says:
"If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar. Go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
Jesus is simply saying that worship must change us. Otherwise, it is an empty show. When we come to Mass, the first thing we do is to confess our sins against God and each other. It would be strange if after doing this, we continued to have ill thoughts against each other. We turn to each other at the Sign of Peace, and wish each other the peace of Christ. But does that peace last? Does it last until the parking lot or the dinner table?
We receive communion, and the Lord who warns us not to offer our gifts if we still bear grievances, could also warn us not to receive the gift, the gift of His Body unless we are willing to be in communion with each other.
A man once told me how he had wronged his brother, and he desperately wanted to make amends, to patch things up. But the wronged brother would have none of it. He refused to attempt at coming together. The man said of his brother, "He became a prisoner of what I had done to him."
I am sure that some of us can testify to that statement from our own experience. We all know people, or perhaps, ourselves, who refuse to go to a party because they might meet so-and-so with whom they have a grievance, or who refuse to share in a family reunion, or even go to a funeral, because of some wound inflicted, perhaps long ago, by a family member. In some cases, resentment is so great that we cannot even eat or sleep. Angry thoughts follow us to bed, and they invade our dreams. And those words become true. We become prisoners of what someone did to us.
We tend to forget that we are followers of Jesus who taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
We have been reflecting on just a single sentence in today's gospel, trying to turn it into a word of life, a life worth living... the Christ life. But sometimes this brings on discouragement. We can fall into the trap of thinking we are not good enough to come to the altar. We think that we will never be patient, free of anger, resentment, dark thoughts. Our confession of these failings runs on from childhood to old age.
We must be patient with ourselves, with our trying. And we must be honest with ourselves knowing that we need the grace of God to do anything good. Without it, we might as well try to raise flowers or a field of wheat without the sun. No one ever said that a single sermon, a single line in the gospel, or even a blunt directive from Jesus, is going to change us, to make us saints overnight. But we have to have the desire to change, the willingness to let God's grace work in our lives. We have to acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness, while also acknowledging the reality of God's love for us, a love that keeps reaching out to us in spite of our faults and our sins. It is a love that keeps urging us on to try to do better.
"How many times shall I forgive, Lord... seven times?"
"No seventy times seven," was the Lord's reply.
Let us be sure that we are not held prisoner by what someone else has done to us. Let us recall the words of our first reading, Sirach 15:15-20. If you wish, you can keep the Commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power. He has set fire and water before you. Put your hand to whichever you prefer. Set before you are life and death. Choose life. The life of Christ.
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
GRAYMOOR P.O. Box 301, Garrison, NY 10524
For more information, call us at 888-720-8247.

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