Sometimes, shopping for other people can be impossible. I’ve found so far that Valentine’s Day is one of those great affirmations of my choice of celibacy, partly because of the routine that I get to miss out on! From what some of the husbands in our parish tell me, they have to find something for their wives that is beautiful, slimming, not too expensive, the right brand, and the right color to go with what she already has. Impossible! Teenage boys are much the same way: ask them what they want, and they just answer, “I dunno.” How do you find something that will satisfy these different individuals?
Now shift your focus back to the Mass, and imagine, what kind of gift can we possibly give to God? Here we’ve just been talking about the gifts brought forward at the offertory, and we realize all of a sudden that they’re just not good enough for God! God has created everything, including bread and wine! It’s kind of like giving your mother a gift of cookies…the ones that she just made a week ago! So we acknowledge that whatever gift we give God is not going to be good enough, but we pray that he would accept them. Why? How is that possible?
Well, the prayer the priest prays is this: “With humble spirit and contrite heart, may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” Interestingly, the new translation of this prayer brings out the biblical passage that it comes from in Daniel 3:39-40. If you recall, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to obey the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and are cast into a fiery furnace, but miraculously, they are unharmed! Abednego prays: “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.” Abednego offers himself, literally, as a burnt sacrifice to God, completely surrendering himself to God’s will by trusting him.
Looking at both these prayers, we can see what the gift is that we are truly offering: the gift of the heart. It is that gift which God finds acceptable, more than any bread, wine, rams, bullocks or anything else. Just as with any gift, even if the gift itself isn’t good enough, the love and surrender with which it is given makes the gift acceptable (although this isn’t guaranteed with Valentine’s Day).
Whenever we come to Mass, it’s important to enter into it remembering that we are to offer ourselves as a sacrifice. We should come to Mass in the same spirit of self-surrender that Abednego fostered in his heart, which is the same self-surrender that the priest speaks on behalf of us all at the offertory. May we always offer of ourselves and our hearts to God, who lovces us so much! See you next week!