Editor’s note: Here is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily at the 5:10 p.m. July 16 Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse:
Today, the Word of God is so rich. There are so many different angles that you and I can reflect upon, but I would like to go right to the center. That is, to our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church of Colossae, in which he simply writes this phrase: “It is Christ in you.”
It is Christ in you. What does that mean for you and me? As I’ve been reflecting upon that one little phrase, it is Christ in you, I asked myself … .Where have I put Jesus in my life? Where is Jesus in my life today? Recently, I drove down Genesee Street towards Holy Cross Church and passed one of the Slavic Churches which had a sign that read, Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? I thought … What an interesting question! Where is prayer? Where is God? Where is Jesus in my life? Is prayer, in a certain sense, driving me and what I do each day or is it that spare tire, that I just hope I will never really have to take out.
In our first reading today, we encounter Abraham and Sarah at a very interesting time in their lives. We don’t hear the whole context, but really what’s going on is that they are childless, and they have been praying for offspring. Keep in mind that in Jewish tradition, it was thought that to not be fertile, to not be fruitful, was a curse from God. So, they were hoping and praying that somehow God might visit them and that in visiting them, their prayer might be answered. What we hear in today’s first reading is about God’s visit to them.
While reading this, Rublev’s icon of the Trinity came to my mind. The icon depicts that visit to Abraham. In the icon there are three messengers, three angels, who Abraham later realizes is God Himself. Abraham comes to know that he is in the presence of the Almighty. This is a good reminder for us, as it was for Abraham and Sarah … that when we engage in prayer, our God comes to meet us, just as He does at this table, at this gathering. And so, in a particular way, this story helps you and I to refocus ourselves, to focus on what we are about when we gather here.
For a moment I’d like to take a look at Abraham and how he responds to God. When he realizes that he is in God’s presence and that God is with him on the journey, he responds in four ways. The first way is that Abraham gives God his full attention. He stopped what he was doing and ran to meet God. So, in a certain sense you all have done that; you have come to this place to pay attention to God. And so, as Mass begins you and I can imitate Abraham, as we put aside our distractions and focus on being attentive to the Lord. The next thing Abraham did was that he bowed down. While this might have been a traditional greeting, it also showed that Abraham recognized his visitor’s dignity. So, imagine ourselves here as we bow — whether it is bowing our heads in prayer or bowing our heads at certain phrases as we do in the Creed. It is all about letting God be God for us and acknowledging God’s presence. When you and I acknowledge God’s presence, we do what Abraham did — we offer God the best we have. In Abrahams’s case it was fine flour and a choice steer. In our case it is here I am or here you are! Now some of us might say, Oh God, there has got to be something better than this. To tell you the truth — there isn’t. Because you and I are God’s precious gifts and when we come to this altar we can offer to God the life we have. We give Him our love, our faithfulness. And lastly, Abraham waited on his guests. What I want to suggest here is something that you and I can do, particularly at the time of Holy Communion. When after our guest comes to meet us, when we come to table together and we receive the Divine Guest and return to our seats, it is a moment during which we can commune with our God, enjoy time with Him and even listen to Him.
A couple of months ago when I was in Minneapolis, I went to daily Mass. I remember the name of the church because it is one of these churches whose name you can’t forget. It was St. Olaf’s. While attending Mass, I was struck by what the priest said after Communion to all those who were present: Okay, what’s going on in your life today? What do you need to give over to God? Where can God help you? In one way I thought, Oh, how simple! Then I thought, How truthful. So today we celebrate our encounter with God.
In the Gospel, we also see what those words, it is Christ in you, mean. When Jesus becomes a guest at the house of Martha and Mary, he calls them to two things. He really calls them to hospitality. Jesus was not admonishing Martha because she is doing all that she is doing. Instead, he is simply reminding Martha that in addition to all the “doing,” what matters even more is the listening and the attention that she pays her guests. Think of that. … More than what she can do — it is the listening and attention she gives to her guests. Interestingly, I’ve learned that right here on the streets outside the Cathedral. I’m notorious in that I don’t like carrying change in my pocket and I don’t often carry cash with me. Sometimes I’ve found that people will ask me, “Bishop, do you have a buck?” or “Do you have any coins?” I feel embarrassed but I have to say, “Sorry I really don’t.” Ironically, I have discovered that by simply listening and paying attention, by giving the person my attention it can make a big difference. When I’ve said, “I’m sorry I really don’t,” they respond, “That’s okay, have a good day.” I follow with “You too.” It occurs to me that we might say, “I don’t have anything to give, but my listening and my paying attention. “
And so that’s what the word of God invites us to reflect upon this coming week. But again, I believe it comes down to the question that I began with. When we talk about Christ in us, that Christ is and the whole idea of prayer. Is it our steering wheel or is it our spare tire?