A word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin,
A word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed
-- what gospel is that?"
INTRODUCTION: THE LITURGICAL ACTION
Vatican II, in its groundbreaking Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, describes the role of liturgy as a dynamic action of an assembled community of faith. Liturgical ritual is the locus of liberation.
One day I was in the hill country behind the city of Cuernevaca in Morelos, Mexico. It was Miercoles de la Ceniza, Ash Wednesday; and I desired to participate in a ceremony of the ashes. However, there was neither priest nor Church where people could meet. However, there was a small Christian community (comunidad de base) which assembled in a “grotto” that was no more than an indentation in the side of a hill. A friend told me about this assembly, and I found my way to have ashes placed on my forehead by a resident of the poor barrio where the grotto was situated. It would have indeed fed my ego, but it also would have violated the shared ministry of that community, to have let them know I was a priest.
At another time, Rev. James A. Hagan, a long-time friend and brother in ministry, invited me to accompany him as he presided at a liturgy -- in a chapel clinging to the side of the Tijuana dumps. The smell of garbage was pervasive and the community consisted of the families who eked out a livelihood working the dumps. Despite me looking obviously out of place in the back of the chapel, at the Lord’s prayer we joined hands, and exchanged with one another a sincere sign of Christ’s peace, and partook in the same Eucharist.
In another instance, I found myself presiding at a monthly liturgy in the Oakland jail. The assembly consisted of Spanish-speaking immigrants soon facing deportation – for some, back to the Central American country that, at the time, was in the midst of revolution and genocide. At the side of the recreational area where the liturgy was being celebrated was an African American guard, who would sit quietly to assure order was maintained. One day, I asked for someone to help distribute the Eucharistic Bread. All of the inmates were too shy to volunteer. Finally, the guard (whom I always had assumed knew no Spanish) stepped up and helped distribute the Eucharist to his charges, who came up, one by one, now on the same spiritual ground, saying “Amen” to the guard’s “El Cuerpo de Cristo”.
The proper place for liturgy is the level ground where the community of believers assembles, be it by the Tijuana dumps, or a simple grotto in the hill country behind Cuernevaca, the steel and concrete recreational room of a jail, or an ornate cathedral.
HOSPITALITY is a reciprocal relationship between guest and host.
The Hospitality Model can be best translated in Latin Cultures. In Latin, the word "Hospes", from which comes our word "Hospitality", means both guest and host. So, easily from the lips comes the promise to a friend or associate: "Mi Casa Es Su Casa." ("My House is Your House").
Hospitality evens out the sense of differential power. There is a big difference between power and control. In Spanish, the noun for power is "Poder". Used as a verb, "Poder" means "to be able". Control, on the other hand, is an illusion maintained by the assumptions one makes based on role and environment
The roles assigned to various liturgical functions are not to designate differences in power. The community assumes a structure according to the role played in the liturgical action. The different roles primarily facilitate the full participation of the community. Liturgy is an action of the assembled community, a community that, in its essence, recognizes its fundamental poverty and equality. In the liturgical action, hospitality establishes parity among all those in the assembly, from greatest to least (where, in fact, the least becomes the greatest). Priesthood, through Baptism, is shared by the entire assembled community.
In many instances, Jesus overturns convention and social roles to establish parity with the oppressed and outcast. In the case of Zacchaeus, the Christ even accepts the hospitality of an agent of an oppressive foreign government.
Liturgical hospitality is a way we recognize the indwelling God in our brothers and sisters. In particular, hospitality offered to the marginalized, the outcast, the immigrant, the stranger is very much part of the ministry of liberation. Not only is the person we now accept as guest (and as God) liberated from the estrangement that had overshadowed them, but the person offering the hospitality is liberated as well. The estranged now experience welcome; and the one who welcomes experiences (or remembers) what it's like to be estranged.
The social system of his day all but discarded groups of people who did not meet the criteria of acceptability. Now a Rabbi of notoriety reached to them with an embrace.
In our assembly, all are welcome and are received without proprietorship, seniority, superiority: the female as the male; the young family as the senior citizen; the gay and the heterosexual; the person who puts five cents in the collection plate as the person who puts in five-thousand dollars.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those bearing good news …”
The Liturgy of the Word has two phases: proclamation and response.
Listening itself is important to the liturgical action of response.
Our liturgies are particular expressions of the liberating love of God in Christ: when the art of listening has been cultivated: where the Word of God is attended to; where children are taken seriously; where readings are proclaimed to compel our attention.
Listening by itself does not free the Word to be effective in our lives. We also need to hear. When we listen to another, we need not change. However, when we allow ourselves to truly hear, room is made in our hearts to respond. We can listen to the proclamation of the Word of God and remain untouched by its revolutionary implications. If, on the other hand, we listen and hear, we are faced with the choice of response. In responding, we often are changed.
More than a verbal response is needed. Particularly, where there is oppression, violence, and injustice, people are stirred to action.
Any preaching faithful to the Ministry of the Christ is Revolutionary Preaching.
Revolutionary Preaching invites the hearer to examine his or her life against the standards of the kingdom. Revolutionary preaching demands a response of personal and social change, sometimes profound change.
Often, we are not willing to listen to or able to accept the most liberating news. If you tell an addict that there are programs out there that could help them deal with their addiction; if you tell an overeater that he or she can change his or her diet and maybe save their life; if you tell someone in a dead-end job about training programs they could take in the evening or they need not enslave themselves for life to what they find distasteful– the list goes on and on. We can preach liberation to others, but do we really want to liberate ourselves?
Can the revolutionary preacher address the rich? Social consciousness sees the problems of world oppression as a byproduct of the division of and differences between rich and poor nations or the rich or the poor in the same nation. Some preachers, then, shun the rich, since they feel there is nothing they can say that will be heard. Others sidestep the demands of the kingdom altogether, presenting a diluted form of the Gospel that indeed reinforces the very oppression Christ worked to overcome. Still others take a stance of self-righteousness, alienating the community through accusation.
In addressing the rich, the preacher reminds his audience that the Christian community extends throughout the world. At the same time, the preacher can appeal to the ways we all hunger and thirst, regardless of our social or economic status. This establishes a common bond based on mutual poverty and need. Of course, the rich are encouraged to live out this common bond by sharing their resources with the poor, not as a gesture of beneficence, but in a manner that both acknowledges their own poverty and empowers the oppressed to struggle, not only for a better life for themselves, but also for greater justice throughout the world. (I have seen “upscale” communities make commitments to social justice and take real steps to further the ministry of Christ.)