Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon  Blaine Barclay

I was preparing for RCIA last week, reading the section of the Catechism on the Commandment, ’You shall not commit adultery’. The following quote jumped out at me. ’’Whoever wants to remain faithful to their baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ‘Ascesis’ adapted to the situations that confront them’’.  As you can see, the Catechism can be quite dense, in the good sense of that word.  You may have also noticed an unusual, specialized term in this quote.  It is a Greek word, found throughout the New Testament, the word is ‘Ascesis’, it can be translated variously as, ‘spiritual exercises’, ‘asceticism’, ‘disciplined practice’, ‘training’, ‘athletics of the soul’.  As a word it points to those various things that we can do, individually and as a community, to intentionally cultivate the Christian life, the tasks, disciplines, and practices of apprenticeship as a disciple of Jesus.

You may be asking what this quote and this strange Greek word, ‘Ascesis’, has to do with our scripture readings today?  In the gospel we find a very busy Jesus.  Healing, performing exorcisms, proclaiming the good news, always available, always giving, teaching the hungry sheep, a man of action.  But that is not all that we see in today’s gospel.  In the middle of all of this activity of a demanding, busy life, we find Jesus practicing a very important ‘spiritual exercise’. ’’In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’’.

Throughout his life, and particularly during his very busy and demanding public ministry, Jesus practiced various forms of ‘spiritual exercises’, the disciplines of being in right relationship with his Father, whose mission he himself was.

For example, he regularly attended the synagogue, where he would have studied scripture and participated in its liturgy.  Jesus would have regularly prayed and sang the Psalms, both on his own and with his disciples.  We know that he went on pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.  He kept the Sabbath Day holy.  He fasted and prayed in the wilderness for an extended period of time.  In today’s Gospel he gets up early in the morning, before the break of day, and goes off to find an isolated, lonely place to pray.  Even Jesus needed to recharge his batteries.  Even Jesus needed to practice ‘Ascesis’, ‘spiritual exercises’.

We all take it for granted that the body needs regular exercise in order to keep fit and stay healthy.  Why would we think it is any different in the area of spiritual fitness and health?  The season of Lent is just around the corner, now is the time to plan out our Spiritual Exercise regime, so that Easter will find us right ready for the Risen Jesus. Spiritually fit, healthy enough to dance the dance of the Resurrection, and to run in the race of the bold proclamation of the Gospel.

What St. Paul says today about himself, applies to each one of us, ’Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel’.  How can we contain the excitement of this Good News that invites us into transformation, new life, new creation, being made over in the image of Christ? We can’t.

So how does the first reading from the book of Job fit into this idea of  ‘Ascesis’ or ‘spiritual exercises’?  At first glance it is very dark and depressing.  Job compares the human condition to a life of hard labor, like the field slave who longs for the shade, months of emptiness, long nights of misery, tossing until dawn.  This passage from Job is in fact a slow burn meditation on the reality of death. ’My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope.  Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good’.

We don’t expect to read words of such dark despair in the pages of scripture, and yet, there it is, not just in Job, but woven throughout the scriptures, from the psalms, to the wisdom books, to Jesus’, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’’?  Meditation on our mortality, and on the darker side of our human experience, is a well-known and frequently practiced ‘spiritual exercise’.  It is meant to motivate us to conversion, to wakefulness, to the intentional disciplines of discipleship. ’’Remember that you will die, and then you will never sin’’, says Proverbs.  So, let us plan out before hand, the particular Spiritual Exercises that we will build into our practice of the Christian life during Lent this year.  Like Job, it may involve meditating on our own death, a hard core ‘spiritual exercise’, to be sure.  Or it may be something like, practicing patience with my family members, reading scripture, praying the psalms, not eating meat, or donuts, week day mass on occasion, visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, stations of the cross, the rosary, or, finding a lonely place to pray.  Spiritual exercise, Ascesis, keeping fit, staying healthy, getting ready for the in-breaking of the Risen Jesus.

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.