It seemed appropriate that we returned to our churches “in person” on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We could, for the first time in weeks, receive Communion physically — not only spiritually — while at Mass together: the Body of Christ for the body of Christ.
In the following Sundays, we have attended Masses — in reduced, safer numbers — in “Ordinary Time.” The church year is divided into seasons and Ordinary Time lasts until Nov. 22, the Solemnity of Christ the King. (Advent and a new church year follow.)
Yet there is nothing ordinary about this Ordinary Time. We are still in a pandemic. There is unrest in our streets and discord among our elected officials. As we approach Independence Day, it is easy to feel that — in many ways — we are failing our forebears in their plan “to form a more perfect union” as stated in the Constitution (ratified in 1788).
What has this to do with returning to Mass? Something called conversion.
Conversion, as the U.S. Catholic bishops remind us, is what Ordinary Time is all about: “The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time … take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.”
So how do we do that? How do we live Christ’s life? Many front-line workers have given examples: Live as Christ did: in right relationship, not only with God, but with each other. Jesus called disciples to him and, as he did, he called them to conversion: to change, to leave their old lives behind and take — as the Gospel this week says — “my yoke upon your shoulders.”
Conversion, as we are reminded each Lent, means a change of heart. To take Jesus’ yoke, we must examine our hearts — on many levels. And we must do so as a people dedicated to a more perfect union — both in our church and in our country.
“Conversion” in its original Latin means “to turn around together.”
That is what, as we approach Independence Day, we the people must do. We must turn around — together. We have “stayed apart, together.” Now we must grow together, rebuild our union. We must turn from ways that lead to death and suffering, that endanger others, that cause division, that promote strife. We must turn to healing, to form together that more perfect union.
How we do that involves soul searching. Each of us must ask: “What can I do to form a more perfect union? What can I do to combat racism, poverty, discrimination? What am I doing that might sow discord or lead to violence? What am I doing that might endanger someone else? What am I doing when things go wrong? Am I a bystander? Am I a witness? Do I intervene? Do I look the other way?”
Our Founding Fathers and Mothers didn’t declare independence lightly. They knew that to do so meant danger. They knew things would change forever. They knew there was a price — that “freedom is never free.” As Benjamin Franklin said before signing the Declaration of Independence (ratified July 4, 1776): “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
It is time to hang together. It is a time of conversion — the time when we must examine our hearts and souls and the heart and soul of our nation. We must turn together in one direction — that of love.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
As we return to our churches and fully participate in the sacrament of God’s love, let love drive out darkness, hatred and fear. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Our country is not yet perfect — nor is our church on earth – but both are meant to turn and head in one direction. We can form a more perfect union: just follow the love and the light of Christ.