This is part of a series of reflections on "How to Succeed in College." Click on the author's name for previous entries.
Two weeks ago I suggested that college students, as well as the rest of us, should go to Mass regularly — seven daily — because it gets us out of ourselves. Some readers thought this was an odd idea, another explained well what I meant. Thank you. Let me try again.
Last night I saw The Social Network, the film about the Harvard students and others who invented and developed Facebook, and I came away with a portrait of one of the world’s smallest worlds, which imagines itself to be the world, certainly one so tied up in itself that it cannot see beyond its computer screens.
The basis of all evil is egoism. The basic temptation beginning with Adam and Eve and up to today’s dope peddlers, muggers and paid-for politicians, is to see one’s self as the center of the universe rather than as a member of a network of communities which, if the community as a whole is to prosper, must cooperate and sacrifice for the good of all. Most of the consumer propaganda, a dominant power in our culture, stresses the opposite. Gratify yourself.
The sacrifice of the Mass (daily 25 minutes, Sunday 45) is meant to pull us out of that environment and offer us a different image of what life is all about.
The Mass achieves this through several means — the scripture readings, the homily, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the reception of the Eucharist — all executed not just by the words of the priest up there on the altar, but by the presence of the Spirit in the whole community. Jesus said to his disciples, “Come aside with me for a little while” and “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” So we come to Mass — whether celebrated in a cathedral, a college chapel, a dorm room, in the woods,, in a friend’s dining room, or in a prison (and I’ve said Masses those places ) — to be in the presence of God and of others and, we hope, to see them as all somehow more important than ourselves.
The homily should analyze the gospel passage on three levels.
1) What, as far as we can tell actually happened during the event described? Not all the passages are in the same literary form. The infancy narratives, for example are stories constructed by Matthew and Luke to anticipate actual events — Jesus playing the role of a prophet like Moses, or his coming to the temple — in Jesus’ adult life. Instances of diabolical possession may have been psychological illnesses or epilepsy.
2) What did the passage mean to the early church, during the years between 50-100 when they were written down? All the apostles were Jews. Yet John’s gospel depicts antagonism between John’s readers and “the Jews.” Much of this is because many of the early Christians continued to worship as Jews, but during early church John’s followers were expelled from the synagogue.
3) How do we apply the original stories to ourselves today? Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, for example, demand that the wealth of the many be shared with the poor and depict women as very close to Jesus and prominent in the early church. The implications of that are enormous.
Finally, in my 40-plus years as a priest, with Mass ever day except for some foreign trips, I have said a private Mass at most a dozen times. Because Mass is primarily a community event.
The Mark Zuckerman character in The Social Newwork is trapped in a world which, largely through his selfishness, he has chosen, and which, distracted by its hedonism, will not challenge his worst instincts. Only one young woman tells him the truth about himself and then drops him. In a loud nightclub scene where he sits alone with slick “entrepreneur” Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Parker sells him his vision of the world, Parker’s face is bathed in a Satanic glow. Zuckerman has no honest caring community who love him enough to challenge him. He ends up totally alone.
For Christians, the liturgical community is meant to be that challenge and the source of that love.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.