1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34; Matthew 4:4; Mark 8:1-10
In the first reading we hear of Jeroboam, the first in a series of problematic kings, and the huge changes he made in the way the people of Israel worshipped. We’ll get to the reason why but it’s important to note that this tendency to mess with perfection isn’t limited to him. We have only to go back to the time just after the Second Vatican Council to see something very similar. I’ll mention just a few things I myself witnessed.
First, the music changed. That’s no big deal in and of itself; music always changes. But the words changed, and words matter. For example, now we sang about eating “bread” and drinking “wine” at Communion. This was followed in my parish by a nun wearing an alb, assisting the priest at Mass, and preaching what sounded like homilies. Next, the words of the readings began to change. I remember going up to the ambo and seeing that, throughout the lectionary, words were crossed out and others pencilled in. Awhile later, I moved to a new parish that had been remodeled so that the Tabernacle was moved to another room, the altar was where the pews used to be, and the pews were replaced by chairs. No kneeling. Finally came the Sacraments. Baptisms were “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” At Confession, the priest said to me, “Jesus absolves you of your sins.” The worst cut of all came on a road trip to the parish of an old personal friend, a priest. At Mass he changed the words of consecration. Even with what little education I had at the time, I knew you couldn’t just do that.
Too often, religious changes are made for political reasons. The book of 1 Kings is clear: Jeroboam wasn’t concerned at all about the hearts of the people, only what losing them meant for him. Similarly, in the local Church, those making changes to the Mass and Sacraments saw an opportunity to express their ideologies or advance political agendas.
Of course, that isn’t what religion is all about. As our faith teaches us, religion is an exercise of the virtue of justice; through it, we try to give God what we owe him, which is everything. If we make it about what we think is important rather than what God knows is important, then we risk reaping the rewards of Jeroboam’s pride and arrogance: Alienating God and losing the hearts of his people. That is why St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI went to such great lengths to speak about liturgical reform; they wanted us to remember that the Sacraments belong to Jesus Christ. Treating them as if they are our own personal property results only in confusion, disunity and spiritual hunger.
This is the same kind of hunger so obviously felt by the people flocking around our Lord in the gospel reading. Mark tells us that they had chosen to be with him for three days (8:2), even at the expense of not eating. He rewards their bodily and spiritual hunger by giving them a foretaste of the Holy Mass; having already fed them with the word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), he then took the seven loaves, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute (8:6). Mark concludes by telling us everything we need to know: They ate and were satisfied (8:8).
The lesson is clear: Don’t mess with perfection. Every time we approach our Lord with a humble, contrite heart that asks him only to remember us, he answers by giving us perfectly, in word and Sacrament, everything we need to be with him for eternity.
Who would want to change that?