Holding back

When I was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy (last century!) I encountered a new phrase: “if the minimum weren’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum.” There a bit of logic to it, but…. can’t say it is the most inspiring bit of prose ever recorded. Yet, there was a sense in which tradition enshrined the saying. The person who graduated with the lowest GPA (2.5 was the minimum) was referred as the “Anchor Man.”  At the end of the graduation he was paraded around on his classmates shoulders and we were all expected to give him a dollar.  Strange tradition, that. He had done the minimum – and who knows he may have worked twice as hard as the rest of us….

“If the minimum weren’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum.”  I doubt YoYo Ma holds to that standard. Nor Michael Phelps. Nor people we find inspiring, heroic, and commendable. We want to be inspired, we want to see the passion. I think about the words of morning prayer from Psalm 63: O God, you are my God – for you I long! For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.  Those are words of longing, passion, desire. Those words reflect the desire of a soul. A soul that does not ask about the minimum.

Imagine this conversation between a husband and wife. Do you think it will go well?  Uhh…hey honey, you know I love you, but I gotta’ ask – how much of ‘dis marriage stuff do I have to do to make it count?  I mean, if I pay ‘da bills and get yaz some nice things, I’m good right? You know, I mean, as long as show up for dinner, and treat you good, it’s OK, yeah? Am I right or what?

Hmmm…. I don’t think that will play well under any circumstances. There are all kinds of things wrong with it, not the least of which is Hey, uhh, honey, what’s the minimum here?

I am surprised how often I am asked the following question – or some variation of it:  Father, how much of the Mass do I have to be at for it to count as my Sunday obligation?  I mean, if I make it by the gospel, I’m good, right? You know, I mean, as long as I get communion, right?  I know modern lives are busy with lots of demands, but hearing God’ Word and receiving the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, shouldn’t these be the desire of our souls so that we no longer thirst?

We all have obligations, but we are fulfilled in words of passion – words driven by an inner love.It is the inner desire, the hunger that is held up for us in the readings of Corpus Christi. Hungers that are more than a pleasure remembered and recalled; hunger is more than the craving of necessity brought about in needs of survival.  A hunger that goes deep to the inner being of who we are.

In the first reading, as the Israelites stand on the banks of the Jordan River, about to cross into the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses reminds the people what their ancestors looked back, held back and did not give themselves completely to the Lord.  They pleaded to return to the slavery of Egypt because of their hunger for pleasure and survival. Their hunger for freedom and life with God got lost – but they were never out of the sight of God. God did not hold back.

God provided and fed the people with manna.  He led them through the vast and terrible desert with its seraphs, serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground.  God provided not only the corporal needs for water and food, but also the inner hungers that only God can satisfy – the freedom of love given beyond measure.  The freedom of love that is beyond the words how much, count, obligation, as long as, get.  The freedom of love that holds back nothing.

Moses told his people that we need God’s word as much as we need food. But the people were not prepared to accept that.  In many ways, we are like the Israelites, a people on a journey to a promised land. Maybe, just maybe, like the Israelites, we are not prepared to accept the bold claims made by Jesus: whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. When we eat ordinary food, we turn it into our own being. But when we eat his body and drink his blood, we are transformed by it. We remain in him, and he remains in us. A bond is forged that not only grants us life, but endures into eternal life. It is a bond of deep abiding love.

We should be like that thirsting soul, that parched land knowing that an intimate bond of love with Jesus is the one thing, the one desire of the soul that drives and consumes us with passion, longing and hunger.  A bond of love that places claims upon us for our time, our attention, our passion, and so much more.

Maybe we are wandering just a bit in our own wilderness.  And maybe there are times when we want to turn back to some earthly pleasure, some former enslavement, and forego the promised land. But that former land is a place where the words how much, count, obligation, as long as, get are the norm, but the journey to the promised land is marked by the words love, heart’s desire, where one need not hold back and look back to the concerns of the world.

When people ask me “How much of the Mass?” My concern for them is not about obligation, but about their passion. “How much” is not a question of love.  It is perhaps an indicators of how much we hold back in our relationship with God.

Jesus held back nothing.  He gave us his very life that we might have eternal life. He gives us his Most Precious Body and Blood in this Eucharist – not only food for the journey, but food for which our soul thirsts.

Father, how much of the Mass do I have to be at for it to count as my Sunday obligation?  St Francis of Assisi would give these words of advice to us here on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Hold back nothing of yourself for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.


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