Imagine a man who brings his wife flowers every week, but never listens to her advice. Over time she may come to resent the flowers — not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because they’re a symbol of how he spends more time and energy on what matters less.
This scenario (and I’m sure you could come up with others) helps us understand one of the messages of the prophet Isaiah that we read this week: “What care I for the number of your sacrifices? … Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me.”
God was upbraiding the Israelites for being preoccupied with liturgical details while neglecting other things like the plight of orphans and widows. The message is similar to how Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees for paying tithes on the smallest of herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23).
Paying attention to details wasn’t the problem — for Israel or the Pharisees. The problem was spending more time and energy on things that mattered less, and less time and energy on things that mattered more.
No, this is not a subtle critique of liturgical practices in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. We have beautiful liturgies — nowhere more so than in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. But we also make sure to balance our attention to the liturgy with our attention to the education of children, the needs of the poor, the rights of the unborn, providing a welcome to immigrants, and so on. I think the archdiocese and the parishes do a good job balancing what occupies our time and attention. We’ve learned from the mistakes that God points out in the Bible. It’s good to celebrate that.
But there’s still a question for each of us regarding how we spend our time and energy. Jesus makes the point abundantly clear when He reproaches “the towns where most of His mighty deeds had been done.” (Matthew 11:20) He singles out Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, but He might just as well be calling our names. His message is something like this: “Just because we’ve spent more time together doesn’t mean you’re ‘in.’ Rather: more is expected of you, because you’ve been given more.”
Israel was performing beautiful liturgies; Isaiah told them it wasn’t enough. The Pharisees were carrying out the smallest details of the law; Jesus told them it wasn’t enough. People in Capernaum saw the miracles of Jesus; He told them it wasn’t enough. The same holds true for us. In the Mass, Jesus performs the greatest miracle in the world in our midst — bread and wine become His body and blood. Do we consider it enough that we walk with Him for 60 minutes every week and witness that miracle? I think He challenges us just as He challenged them: more is required.
I can’t say what the more is for each of you. But I think each of us can raise the question for ourselves. After I go to Mass, what more is God asking of me this week in terms of how I spend my time and energy?