Saturday, 1 October 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Habakkuk 1:2-3. 2:2-4; 2Timothy 1:6-8. 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

Quite a few years ago now I found myself in the dentist’s waiting room reading in a tattered magazine a report from a young Polish-Australian girl who had just returned from a first visit to her country of birth. She was full of exuberance and somewhat emotional. She said things like ‘I feel Poland is doing well … I feel the Pope’s recent visit has given courage .. I feel the economy is improving' .. and so on.

It struck me this use, or rather, overuse, of the word ‘feel’ and wondered how much ‘thinking’ our young traveller did.

A previous bishop once asked me at lunch what I thought of a certain matter and as my response began, ‘I feel that …’ He interrupted me immediately and said, ‘Spare me your feelings, John; tell me what you think.’ I was, naturally enough, mortified and the broad grins of my brother priests around the table didn’t make my humiliation easier. During dessert I thought to score a point by asking the bishop if he thought like another piece of cake. He was not amused.

It is undoubtedly true that in this world there are ‘thinkers’ and ‘feelers’. I confess to being, in certain areas, one of the latter. If you ask me if I’d like an ice cream I just consult my tummy and say, ‘Hmmm .. yes.’ On the other hand, a priest friend who sometimes accompanies me on holidays would look at his watch and work out how long since breakfast and how long till lunch and make a decision based on his calculations. A true ‘thinker’.

Thinking and feeling are usually thought of as two separate functions of the soul although sometimes it can be difficult to disentangle them. In most people they work together harmoniously for the wellbeing of the individual as long as it is remembered that the rational intellect is a higher faculty than the emotions. Many people have forgotten this. Unfortunately those who live their lives guided by their changeable and unpredictable feelings will usually lurch from one disaster to the next.

In broad terms feeling tends to self; thinking tends beyond self. Therefore, in our contemporary, individualistic, self-centred society feeling gets more airplay than thinking. Quite frankly, I was shocked to discover recently that among our primary school students one of the worst sins they could commit was ‘hurting someone’s feelings’. From here it’s only a short step to ‘feeling good’ is better than ‘being good’ or ‘doing good’.

An over-emphasis on feelings leads inevitably to an over-emphasis on self. The subversive little phrase ‘Are you comfortable with that?’ is symptomatic of the trend. Good becomes that which makes you feel good.

No wonder the young say, ‘I don’t go to Mass because I get nothing out of it; it does nothing for me.’ Having long ago lost any intellectual grasp of the meaning of the Eucharistic liturgy they are reduced to judging it by how it makes them feel.

We priests, instead of undertaking the task of re-catechising our people have all too often fallen into the trap of entertaining them - making them feel good. And so we have had rock Masses, and puppet Gospels and clown homilies, and all sorts of innovations and novelties bordering on abuse and even sacrilege.

When young people tell me the Mass does nothing for them I tell them it’s actually meant to do something for God. The Mass is meant to please God. We come to give him (not ourselves) glory and praise and honour and worship. This is our obligation as God’s servants.

And when they complain that they don’t like the music or such and such a hymn I tell them we’re not singing these hymns for their enjoyment; we are singing them for God. We are here at Mass to do something for God.

And when they tell me they don’t like the priest I tell them that God does. I tell them that God saw something very attractive in that man and called him from all eternity to be a priest. We would show ourselves very wise to go with God’s choice.

Feelings tend to invert the order of things. Reason puts them back the way they should be. I heard recently of a priest who complained to his parishioners that he is rarely thanked for the work he does among them, for saying Mass and delivering sermons, and a parishioner interrupted him and told him that as a father he rarely gets thanks for providing for his family, and his wife rarely get's thanked for her housekeeping. 'That's our duty, Father, and your duty is to do what you're doing.'

Strong words, straight from the rational intellect, and they certainly put the 'hurt feelings' back in their place. Just listen to what Jesus thinks of the matter: So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.’ Those words put us all in our place, and 'in our place' is a wonderful place to be. It brings peace to all around.


Laurie Bissett said...

Excellent thought...excellent presentation

Anonymous said...

I think you are spot on, Father.