The Fox Television Network recently announced the cancellation of a new reality tv show. The show had been broadcast for less than two months, and was cancelled because of low numbers of viewers. I haven’t seen the show, but the announcement of its cancellation was rather amusing. The people who were featured on the show won their spots by their willingness to bare their souls on national television. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to learn that they were being cancelled because they weren’t interesting enough to attract viewers? The readings for this Sunday’s Mass reminded me of the misfortune of those insufficiently interesting reality tv performers.
Today’s first reading is taken from a vision that occurred to the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a Temple priest prior to the Babylonian Exile, and became a prophet of restoration during the Exile. The vision described in this reading is a very imaginative portrayal of the post-exilic restoration of the Jerusalem Temple.
In the vision, water flowed from the foundation of the Temple. An angel told Ezekiel, “This water flows out into the eastern district, runs down into the Arabah and empties into the polluted waters of the sea to freshen them.” (Ezekiel 47:8) The angel went on to say that the river of sacred water would give life to fruit trees and medicinal plants; as a result, fish and wildlife would flourish in the desert.
The imagery of the vision is rather fantastical, but it refers to geography and localities that would have been familiar to the Hebrew exiles who had been carried off to Babylon. The vision is one of restoration. The rebuilt Temple will bring life (the Hebrew people), back to the countryside. The “polluted waters of the sea” was a reference to the Dead Sea, which has such a high salt content that nothing can live in it. The restoration of the Temple was prophesied as initiating a religious renewal that would be so transformational that it would be as if the Dead Sea had been transformed into a fresh water lake.
Spiritual renewal is a constant theme in Hebrew religion. In addition to this image of a rebuilt Temple becoming a source of new life, the prophet Ezekiel is responsible also for the prophecy of the “dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:1-14), of fallen soldiers that come back to life in response to God’s command. That prophetic vision is part of the Liturgy of the Word for Mass on Pentecost Sunday.
Spiritual renewal was a central aspect of Jesus’ teaching. The prophetic sign that Jesus performed in this Sunday’s Gospel reading portrayed spiritual renewal in very dramatic terms. In an uncharacteristic fit of anger Jesus chased out of the Temple the money changers and vendors who served the needs of worshipers. It is probably too simplistic an interpretation to say that Jesus’ concern was only the vendors and moneychangers; this prophetic cleansing of the Temple was a reference to the renewal of worship and covenant fidelity that Jesus would bring about by his life and death.
The need for, and value of, on-going spiritual renewal is very much a part of our Catholic tradition. Nothing in this world exists in a static state; people and things are either in a state of growth or a state of decline. Through no fault of our own, our practice of the Faith, our spirituality and even our experience of worship can become like that cancelled reality tv show: not sufficiently interesting.
One of the things that contributes to the declining state of religious practice in this country is the fact that we tend to lose interest – in everything, even the most important things in life. I read a review last week of a newly opened drama performance. The performance was a Halloween-themed production about ghosts. One of the ghosts has a dialogue line that says, “I’m boring, you’re boring, death is boring.” The ghost, of course, was that of a teenage boy.
Life can become boring, at times. Even our faith life can become boring. The experience of boredom, regardless of the realm in which it occurs, is a sign indicating the need for renewal. Our faith and our religious practice will, from time to time, be in need of renewal. Declines in faithfulness and spirituality are normal and unavoidable. Fortunately, there are numerous remedies for such declines; there are many ways to find spiritual renewal.
Renewal of faith can be found by intensifying, or returning to, the practice of daily prayer. Spiritual renewal can sometimes be found by trying a new form of daily prayer. Spiritual renewal can be experienced by engaging in apostolic outreach to those in need, by teaching the Faith as a catechist or by studying the Faith as a student. There are many opportunities here at All Saints for apostolic outreach. We have groups which take Holy Communion to the patients at Countryside Hospital and the local nursing homes. Some of our parishioners serve a monthly meal to the residents at the Pinellas Hope homeless shelter. Some are catechists for children’s faith formation and RCIA. There are opportunities to serve on a regular basis, or only on an occasional basis.
The activities and commitments that contribute to the renewal of our personal faith are the same things that contribute to building up the Church. The life-giving water of faith flows from the Church into the world, and back to the Church and its members. Our faith and religious practice are in constant need of renewal; otherwise, they fall into decay. If you’re feeling that prayer, belief or Sunday Mass just aren’t sufficiently interesting, that is an indication that it’s time to renew the life-giving water of faith in your life.
The source of that necessary renewal is never far away, and it always brings life where there had been barren emptiness. Do you want to build up your life? Build up the Church!