Monday, June 03, 2013

Murder and Mayhem in today's Liturgy

It was bad enough just on the basis of today's Mass readings: Tobit introduces himself to us as a pious Jew in exile, whose festive meal was interrupted by the news of a murdered relative. He runs to the scene to provide for a decent burial, something which has evidently caused him trouble before. But that's nothing compared to the Gospel parable of the murderous tenant farmers, slaying the representatives of the landowner rather than hand over a share of the produce. A pretty grim start to one's morning meditation, to say the least.

But the Mass I attended this morning used the readings for the saints' day. That meant, yes, an even higher body count. The first reading was the story of the heroic mother and her seven sons, all martyred in the first documented religious persecution in history, under Antiochus Epiphanes ("Antiochus the Magnificent"; his Jewish subjects called him "Antiochus Epimanes"--Antiochus the Mad). The gospel was much milder, except for that last beatitude about those "persecuted for righteousness' sake." But then the homily was about the saints' day: Charles Lwanga and companions (22 were canonized), bringing the liturgy's death toll to 30. (31 if you count Jesus, since the "memorial of his passion" is also made present in the Mass.)

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What are we to do with all this murder and mayhem? Gotta admit, I don't know. One thing that struck me at Mass today, though, with the inclusion of so much horror (and horror it is, when you read the martyrdom accounts of those young Ugandans, most of them adolescents), is that nothing we experience on earth is outside the pale of redemption. There it was, not just a sordid historical footnote, but a liturgical memorial; a lens with which to hear the readings and experience the memorial of the passion of the Lord. An example, a teaching, an encouragement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our daughter informed us this evening of the sudden death of one of her students while on vacation. This young woman was about to graduate from university. "What a loss, what a waste of life and talent, so unexpected." I'd had today's readings on my mind all day, so this news made sudden death all the more present. Then I recalled the words of St. Paul, whether we live, or we die, we are the Lord's. Not only a comfort, but a promise of things to look forward to, even amidst earthly loss.