Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dandelions or Roses?

This semester I am currently taking Principles of Biblical Studies I with Dr. John Bergsma, one of the highly acclaimed theology professors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Much of our homework assignments consist of reading passages from the Bible, and for this semester will be limited to mainly the Old Testament. This week we were required to read Genesis 1-11. For each reading assignment we have to write a one page theological reflection on something that struck us about the passage.
The most intriguing to me of what I read for my Scripture assignment this week was the story of Cain and Abel. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings or sacrifices to the Lord. Each had a different occupation - Abel was a shepherd, Cain a farmer. Each offered a sacrifice according to their trade: Abel offered lambs, Cain the fruits of his harvest. According to the account in Genesis, Abel "Brought some of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions." In other words, he brought his finest lambs to be sacrificed, giving his best when it came to divine worship. We are not told the precise nature of Cain's offering in the Scripture passage.  However, I think we can gather from what the account doesn't say is that it wasn't exactly spectacular. There was something very wrong with his offering, whether it was solely interior, or what was interior was reflected in the exterior of the offering. What Cain offered may have been done in a half-hearted or lackadaisical manner. His offering may have had all the trimmings, but his heart did not have the proper disposition -- the disposition of humility, reverence, charity: true adoration. Abel's offering was praiseworthy both in its interior and exterior. He gave his all to God, offering his whole self, which was reflected in his sacrifice. He offered both a beautiful soul and a beautiful sacrifice. This is a lesson we need to keep in mind when we participate at Mass, particularly when we are assisting in a liturgical ministry. Our hearts and minds should be properly prepared to receive Our Savior in the Eucharist -- we must not only be in the state of grace but also strive to offer ourselves to the Father (this is the essence of active participation in the liturgy) as if this is our first, last, and only Mass. But the Mass must also reflect such a disposition in its exterior as well. We cannot afford to be lax or lazy in the greatest act we can give to God. On the contrary, we must give to God our very best -- the best we can afford. This should be reflected in the art which adorns the church and the liturgy, the music, the attire we wear to Mass, even the very manner in which the text of the Mass is said. Not just any style of art, music, or clothing will do when it comes to showing our love for God. There must be in everything a sense of devotion, honor, reverence. We do not give our loved ones dandelions for Valentine's Day, but the best roses we can afford. A similar attitude needs to be reflected in our liturgy as well as in our hearts. Don't be Cain and give God dandelions! Be Abel and give God the loveliest roses money can buy!