Several months ago, when I would be in the prayer park in Brightmoor on Tuesdays praying, I decided I would sing, not too loudly, some of the Gospel hymns that I liked. I had memorized the lyrics to some of them, but others I did not. So I took pictures of the hymns so that I would have the words with me. One of these was a hymn, “Woke Up This Mornin’ (With My Mind Stayed on Jesus).” It’s an easy tune, with the recurring phrase “stayed on Jesus.” The second verse to the hymn is “No condemnation with my mind/stayed on Jesus.”
I thought of that when I looked at the readings for Sunday. In our reading from Isaiah, God promises to gather “nations of every language (italics mine).” In fact, God states that some of the people from these other nations will be taken as “priests and Levites!” There will be no “outsiders” when it comes to God’s word.
In our Gospel reading, when someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He replies “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter and not be strong enough.” Jesus then tells a parable about people knocking at the door of a house after the door has been locked, and the master refusing to let them in, saying that he did not know them. Then the people say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” And still the master refuses to let them in because he does not know them. For me, this is a great challenge to us Catholic Christians because it says something about the Mass. At the Mass we hear the Scriptures, especially from one of the four Gospels, in which we hear the words of Jesus (“you taught in our streets”). In the Mass, we not only eat and drink in Jesus’ company, we share in His Body and Blood poured out for us! And still, some of us who consider ourselves first will be last. How can that be? It can be if our hearing the Word of God and sharing in the sacrifice of Jesus doesn’t make any difference in how we lead our lives or treat each other.
As the hymn says, if we have our minds (and hearts) “stayed” on Jesus, there will be no condemnation in our minds. Sometimes it seems that condemnation has become the national pastime. But what God has said through the prophet Isaiah and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is that it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you came from; what matters is what you do. If we go to Mass on the weekend, or even every day, and it has no effect on how we grow in love of God and love of neighbor, we won’t be able to say, “Well, I’m Catholic, and so I’m one of the first ones to get in.”
Please, by no means am I saying that we can earn our way into heaven. No, we need the grace of God to do what He commands us to do. But listening to Jesus and taking Him into ourselves at Mass is a grace that feeds us and sustains us in loving as Jesus loves. Jesus is the strength we need to enter through the narrow gate. We cannot take Him for granted.
Knowing our need for God’s grace, we need not waste time in others to condemn, or things to condemn them with. We do have to work against injustice and call it out for what it is, and we need to keep working for peace, but the condemnation is up to God, not us. May we keep our minds “stayed on Jesus,” so that hearing God’s word and sharing in Jesus’ sacrifice opens us up to God working in us and through us for the sake of the world.
Fr. Phil, CP