BY RORY COONEYDIRECTOR OF LITURGY AND MUSIC
I hope that as you are reading this, we will already have heard about the state of Illinois and, consequently, theArchdiocese of Chicago and Saint Anne Catholic Community fully reopening. When that happens, the challenge forus will be to look forward. Reflecting on the things that the pandemic has taught us, having rethought and evaluatedsome of our preconceptions, values, and prejudices, we now have an opportunity to do something new. What kindof future do we want? That’s a better question than, “How do we get back to where we were?”
Everybody wants stability in life. Nobody needs disruption and hardship and insecurity in every aspect of life formonths and months. Unexpected death, sickness, and separation are experiences we all share, but they fall harder onthe poor than on those who can protect themselves. Life has been that way for lots of people in our country and onour planet for decades, millennia, even. So, I suggest that we not talk about “going back” to anything. Let’s talkabout starting something new. Let’s talk about a new direction, caring for each other and the world with the heart ofChrist. Let’s talk about a world where everybody wins, and where the security and privilege of the few aren’t builton the misery and exploitation of the many. This is a big opportunity for us.
The reign of God is something new. It’s not “back to normal.” It’s the opposite of “how we have always donethings.” It offers possibility to those who have never seen it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere: it comes from thewilling participation of all who hear the call of Jesus to enter into it. It does, however, require that we turn our backson “the way we have always done things.” Stories in Mark of Jesus’s healings and exorcisms were exactly aboutdemonstrating that things do not have to be the same, even chronic disease and mental illness. The healings createda break in “the way things are” to let people imagine “how things could be.” That’s where the parables come in.In today’s gospel, Mark records two parables of Jesus, at the end of a series of parables in Chapter 4. Mixed into hisstory, he has Jesus wondering aloud about how to talk about the reign of God, “What can I say? What parable can Iuse?” In one parable, a man plants a field, sits around while it grows, and goes out to harvest it anyway. It seemsboth lazy (i.e., sinful) and unfair. How is the reign of God like that? I’m not sure either, but it could be that it’s justnot like what we think is fair. God doesn’t play by our rules. In the second story, the mustard plant, which is a bushand not a tree, becomes a shelter and home for the birds, more like the cedars of Lebanon which are praised in thefirst reading from Ezekiel. Even more strangely, the plant is sown intentionally, and mustard plants are forbidden inJewish gardens. Knowing this, we at least have to shake our heads and says, “Well, this is really upside-down. Goddoes unexpected things. God’s realm defies my categories.” We need to look to how Jesus acted to find out more.We need to hear him say, “Follow me,” and walk along the Way.
I want us to sing together again. I think liturgy should be all-in, music, instruments, communion under the forms ofboth bread and wine, kisses and hugs of peace, flowing water, touching water, touching oil, touching one another.But that wasn’t in the cards for over a year. I had to think about all that again.
It makes me ever more grateful for all of you. A big “Thank You” to everyone who made reopening possible sincelast summer. It was a risk for you, and the parish is grateful that you took the risk. Over and over, Sunday afterSunday, you came and made it possible for us to feel safe in the pandemic. I’m so grateful for all of my colleagues onthe staff at Saint Anne and certainly the school, who have been courageous by their presence and patient andunderstanding of the stress the pandemic caused parents, children, and other parishioners, while being undertremendous pressure and stress themselves.
After this year, one thing we can all say is that we don’t know what the next year will bring. But we know that it’s nouse going back to how we were eighteen months ago. We know ourselves and each other a little better. LeonardCohen’s “Anthem” sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” There have beencracks in our protected lives this year. We’ve seen a little light. Let’s be thankful and be ready to move forward
together, following Christ in the reign of God.