When the prophet Elijah wanted to anoint Elisha as his successor, there was one thing that held the man from following him immediately: “Let me kiss my mother and father goodbye, and I will follow you.” The same is the case with the one to whom the Lord extended the invitation to follow him: “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Even the other one said almost the same thing: “I will follow you but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” When we look at vocation stories in Sacred Scripture, it seems that God’s call to service always has with it a sense of urgency: “They immediately left their nets to follow him.” God’s call is never placed on hold. He is not to be made to wait. He always comes first in our lives: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be given unto you.”
Contrary to what the world says about being in the Lord’s service, St. Paul looks at Divine service as a means to freedom: “For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand still and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Elisha slaughtered his oxen and used the plowing equipment to cook their meat which he gave the people to eat – this is a radical way of being free from his attachments and concerns in order to serve the Lord in freedom. When Jesus said that “foxes have lairs and the birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” he was attesting to his poverty which, ironically did not oppress him. Rather, it gave him freedom to fulfill the mission he was sent to do. He has bidden his mother farewell and left Nazareth in order to proclaim the Kingdom of God. This freedom was not a license for Jesus to do what he wants. Rather, it was the opportunity for him to do his Father’s will. Thus, in admonishing us to imitate our Lord, St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians said: “You were called to freedom. But do not use this freedom as a opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ironically, what we regard as freedom today is nothing else but a license to pursue what we want. It is a license to do what I want, which in the end is actually enslaving. St. Paul says: “Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; they are opposed against each other, so that you may not do what you want.” Living in the Spirit, doing God’s will, is the real freedom: “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” It is when we insist on what we want that we become slaves of the world and of our selves. Submission to God’s will is real freedom for it makes us available to love and to serve.
Thomas a Kempis wrote this prayer to the Lord: “It is a great honor, a great glory to serve Thee and to despise all things for Thee. For they who willingly subject themselves to Thy most holy service shall have great grace. They shall find the most sweet consolations of the Holy Ghost who, for the love of Thee, have cast away all carnal desires. They shall gain great freedom of mind who, for Thy name, enter upon the narrow way and put aside all worldly care.
O pleasant and delightful service of God, which makes a man truly free and holy! O sacred state of religious bondage, which makes men equal to angels, pleasing to God, terrible to the devils, and commendable to the faithful. O service worthy to be embraced and always wished for, which leads to the supreme good and procures a joy that will never end.” (Imitation of Christ, chp. 10)
We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Chile, 1988)
Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image," through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )