Worshiping a Homeless Man: The Liturgy as a Source for Christian Service

By Castillo-Matus, Francisco | Momentum, February/March 2012 | Go to article overview

Worshiping a Homeless Man: The Liturgy as a Source for Christian Service


Castillo-Matus, Francisco, Momentum


A renewed sense of service, understood as Christian service, as opposed to community service, would allow students to experience their faith in a dynamic way by actively participating in a variety of service opportunities in their communities

At the entrance of the campus ministry office that I used to head, there was a poster from the National Coalition for the Homeless with an inscription that read: "How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?" People often asked about the meaning of the poster. Perhaps they never realized the homelessness of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher, or they did not identify Jesus with the homeless person on the street corners of their cities. Most obvious, though, I believe that people's inquiries indicated a failure to grasp the connection between ethical action (caring for the homeless) and liturgy (worshiping Jesus, a homeless man). In other words, the link between liturgy and praxis, and between ethics and faith.

The demands of the faith are ritualized in liturgy and celebrating these mysteries prompts believers into action. Consequently, the way in which faith is ritualized impacts how evidently this relationship is perceived. My contention is that several factors are at play in some Catholic high schools that hinder the community of learners' grasp of the intimate connection between social justice or community service and liturgy.

Loosely defined, liturgy is the work of the people. It involves ritual actions, prayers, sacred music, scriptural readings and interpretations of texts through homilies, instructions and blessings. Recent theological discussions have advanced the centrality of liturgy in the lives of Christians.

According to the Second Vatican Council, liturgy is the "source and summit" of Christian life. The liturgical celebration is at once the locus for the proclamation of God's Word and the means of announcing it to the world. Subsequently, liturgy is seen as a vehicle for conversion and for celebration and instruction. According to the Swizz theologian. Father Hans Urs Von Balthasar, for liturgy to be understood properly, it must be seen in a dialogical manner. He describes the gathered assembly as penetrated by the glory of God and enraptured in divine interaction:

No matter how the shape of the response of our liturgy might look, it can only be an expression of the purest possib/e and most selfless reception of the divine majesty of grace; even though reception implies nothing passive, but rather the most active deed of which the creature is capable (Kehl and Loser, 1980, p. 331).

It is imperative to keep these aspects of liturgy present in the context of a Catholic high school. The liturgy, to echo Von Balthasar's words, needs to serve as a fertile divine-human exchange and as an opportune time for celebrating the Christian mysteries. The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, in its document, "From Age to Age: The Challenge of Worship with Adolescents" (Delgatto, 2005), asserts:

Youth are catechized by their liturgical experiences. Whether mass, reconciliation, or the sacrament of healing, these liturgies can be moments when the liturgical symbols and rituals take on greater meaning because a sense of community and prayer has been developed. "Faith is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it" (pp. 55-56).

Connecting Liturgy and Christian Service

The way in which the liturgy currently is celebrated at Catholic high schools could hinder some students' grasp of the connection between worship and social action. Kristen Dempsey, in her article "Celebrating Justice: The Sacramental Connection" in the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa Spring 2009), believes that "there has been a disconnect in the current thought and practice of Christians regarding liturgy and social justice. ..liturgical celebration and a concern for social justice are deemed unrelated or even mutually exclusive: The liturgy only rarely fosters social action, and social justice is not necessarily understood as arising out of the liturgy" fp.

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