Sometimes I wonder whether modernity has somehow tumbled out of the mind of Thomas Gradgrind, the headmaster in Dicken's Hard Times who believed in nothing but Facts, nothing that could not be weighed and measured. Our computers, our 'phones, even our watches nowadays produce reams of data about us, weighing and measuring the minutiae of our lives. We've got apps to tell us how many paces we've walked, how fast our heart is beating, how many calories we've eaten, what we've spent our money on. And all that data flies off automatically to some Gradgrindish machine in California which then berates us remotely for the woeful inefficiency of our lives. Is it any wonder we're all so worried?
Of course, there are things we should be worried about. As Christians, we should definitely be worried about the plight of the poor and the decline of our nation into unthinking heathenism. We might also be justified in worrying about such things as sacramental assurance and our proper place in Christ's one and holy Church. But if the worry becomes a preoccupation, if the Christian faith becomes more of a burden to us than a joy, if it clouds our minds with anger and fear, if, in short, anxiety becomes our raison d'être, then we need to step back and take a deep breath.
I think it's fair to say that St Francis was not a worrier. Worry, as today's Gospel shows, is not a sign of godliness. This isn't to say that we should all just let anything go in some sort of shallow "hey, can't we all just get along?" sort of way. But the Gospel and the life of that great saint through whom we see its light refracted do warn us to think about our priorities.
Francis' priority was mission, and as Mass-centred Catholics, mission must also be our priority. After all, just think about what the word "Mass" means, and where it comes from: that last line of the deacon, "Go forth," "Ite, Missa est." "Missa," which is where we get the word "Mass," is cognate with the words missile, missive, and of course, mission: things that are "sent out." Holy Communion is about our own relationship with God and each other; Eucharist is about giving thanks to God, and these are well and good. But Mass is missional. In the Sacramnet of the Altar, we are not nourished just for our own good, but for the good of the world. Christ's Sacrifice is realised among us, but for the sins of the whole world.
We say we believe in the Mass, that it is the centre of the Christian life. If we are going to sustain that belief, then it needs to bear fruit. There's a temptation in Catholic circles to pooh-pooh such bureaucratic affairs as Mission Action Plans and growth strategies. I've certainly had my doubts, and the last thing we should do is make the Church into a sales enterprise, peddling the faith like a used Mondeo. But we need to show the world why what we believe is so important: why the sacrifice of Christ matters, why the Mass is God's chosen vehicle for the salvation of the world.
In Francis, we've got a saint who prays powerfully for us and whose example tells us not to worry but to trust in God. Let us trust deeply in the Lord as we receive Him at the altar in Holy Communion, and go out smiling to share the joy of knowing Him, fed with the most Holy Sacrament of the Mass and sent out to work for His glory.