Homily: Corpus Christi, Year A

Today, the universal Church is celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. Although Ordinary Time began last week, we set aside today for this special celebration. On this special day, the Scripture reading and prayers are devoted to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, and where we receive Jesus in his body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Today also marks the end of a four-week collective message from the readings. Four weeks ago, at the Ascension, we were sent on a mission by Christ to be him in the world. As we heard, the ascended Christ was no longer limited by temporal trappings – he was now eternal. Two weeks ago, we learned better how to fulfill our mission by confidently knowing that we had the Holy Spirit as our guide. And, last week we were reminded of the efficacy of having a triune God that is not a distant power, but a person in our lives. Today, we celebrate Christ as he will always be with us in our earthly life – in the form of the Eucharist.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, we see into the way that God makes history and its events into lessons of wisdom for his people. At this early stage in the formation of the Israelites people, God brings them out of bondage from Egypt; yet, he allows them to suffer in order to form their obedience to and reliance on him. Manna is also mentioned which, although it is a gift from God, is an imperfect foreshadowing of the true food and true drink by which God gives us eternal life.

In the second reading, Paul says that the “cup of blessing”—likely a reference to the third cup of the Jewish Passover Seder that Jesus offered at the Last Supper—is a “participation in the blood of Christ,” and then that the “bread that we break”—likely an echo of the many New Testament references to the “breaking of bread” as a common facet of the early Church— is also a participation in his body. This word in the Greek is koinonia, which is sometimes translated as “communion” or “fellowship,” as well as “participation.” It comes from the root koina, meaning “common.” In the many uses of the term in the New Testament, it implies a deep form of shared life. Paul goes on to say that this sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ makes for both a mysterious sharing of his life and a mysterious sharing of oneness in his Body, the Church.

Today’s Gospel asks us to examine Jesus’s statement in a new way, because when we really look at them, his words are as shocking now as they were two thousand years ago. Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Little wonder people thought he was suggesting cannibalism when they first heard this teaching.

As Catholics we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ each time we receive the Eucharist. But do we really believe that? It’s a question worth examining because in the Mass, Jesus is truly made present under the appearance of bread and wine.

Each time we attend Mass, we celebrate the fact our God loves us so much that he nourishes us with himself so that we can become saints. It is both the greatest gift—and greatest mystery—of our faith. Ultimately, it is also the principal reason to be a Catholic—in order to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, just as he commanded the Jews of his day…and invites us to do today.

In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus just as he promised. If we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we remain in him and he remains in us.

I would like to close with the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor.”

Homily: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

As I was preparing my homily for this week, I tried to relate to the situation Jesus and his disciples were in while they were in the boat. I thought about the times life events caused my faith to be tested. I thought about the times that I had to rely on another person to see me safely through a situation. And then I realized that I had been in this exact situation before, as a father.

There have been a number of times when I have been asleep, either in my bed or on the couch, and one of my kids has woken me up to deal with something that was going on. Sometimes it was a “monster under the bed,” a loud burst of thunder, high winds, or strange noises outside. Regardless of the situation, I would rise from my place – often tired and ready to go back to sleep – to deal with the issue. Once all was back to normal, I remind my kids that I am there for them no matter what happens. I had a similar conversation with my daughter last night, when, for a second day in row, she was scared to sleep because of the storms. I assured her that everything was going to be okay and that if anything serious happened I would be right there to help her. She and I both know that to be true, but sometimes she needs some reassurance.

I believe this is the same assurance that Jesus gives his disciples. I could just picture them scurrying about, trying to figure out what to do. They finally decide to wake Jesus up to solve the problem, and can’t believe how easily he handles it. But, rather than only quelling fears, Jesus is actually able to calm the wind – something my kids wish I could do. Jesus is the real deal. And the question he asked his disciples – “Do you not yet have faith?” – is asked by him not for his own sake, but for that of his disciples.  I have said something similar when I have asked my kids “Don’t you know I will always be there for you? No matter what happens.”

The first reading also reminds us of the importance of faith. It takes place after the trials Job underwent, and in it we see God reminding Job of how he protected him despite his hardships. The reading, like the Gospel, also takes place during a storm. Once again, we are reminded that the power of God is greater than anything.

For someone at sea, a storm is a terrifying and dangerous event. But with God, there is safety and calm. There is nothing to fear. This is an important message for us to take away from today’s readings, but I think there is another.

God was not trying to only give assurance to Job. And Jesus was not trying to only reassure his apostles. They were both pointing to a much greater life for us, if we remain faithful and faith-filled. As Paul told the Corinthians, we now have the opportunity, because of Jesus, to become a new creation. We have a Church, given to us as a foretaste of the Heavenly eternity that awaits us. And we have, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.

God intends for us to be with Him in Heaven. If we are to get there, we need to live accordingly. To help us do so, he gives us the grace we need to see our way through many situations. And when we need some extra help, he is always there, waiting for us.

Confession about Confession

For many years, I was extremely irresponsible with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Sometime in my early years of working for the Catholic Church, I developed the attitude that it was unnecessary for me to make confession. In my ignorance, I believed that God was going to give me some sort of free ride through life because I worked for the Church. I certainly understood the doctrinal and theological principles of reconciliation, but I didn’t think they applied to me.

After 5 or 6 years of doing this, I began to realize that I might be wrong…

At that point, however, I also realized that I had begun to forget what sin even was. As I continued to avoid confession, I began to read some of the writings of the church fathers and other significant figures in church history. It became frighteningly clear to me that I was treading in dangerous waters, and I needed to reform.

My next step, however, still wasn’t confession. I did everything I could to avoid sin. I also stopped receiving the Eucharist. Although my awareness of my actions did result in me sinning less, I was gaining nothing by avoiding yet another Sacrament. Despite everything I knew about the seal of confession and the beauty of the Sacrament, I still forced myself to stay away.

I finally gave in…it was the day before Easter. I printed out a list of what I was supposed to do, and drove to a not-so-nearby Church where I would know no one. Upon entering, I took a few moments to pray, and then entered the Reconciliation Room. I began my confession and, as I said my mortal signs aloud, I knew that this was the first and only time that I had ever truly faced them, both by myself and with God. I confessed the sins which were most pressing to me, and, at the end of my confession, the priest spoke some of the most beautiful words I had ever heard spoken. He said:

“You know that you have a Father who loves you, no matter what may happen. The Sacrament which was lost to you has now been restored.”

After I completed my penance, I reflected on the priest’s reference to the Eucharist as something which was lost to me. Although I did stop receiving it while I was in a state of mortal sin, I had not thought of it that way. It truly made sense, though. Through my sin, I personally chose to be disobedient to God, and that choice meant that although he never left my side, there was nothing I could do outside of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore myself to a right relationship with him. And now that I had realized that, I didn’t hesitate to allow it to have a proper role in my life.

I also began to truly understand perfect contrition and how valuable it is. With imperfect contrition, we are motivated to confession because of our fear of God. It is understood to be our most basic response to sin, so it is all that is necessary for confession. Perfect contrition, however, is the motivation to confess because of our love of God. For me, this has been a powerful tool to help me avoid sin. Through perfect contrition, sin is seen as an unloving act. If it is written onto my heart to love God, then how could I ever sin?

Of course, I still do fall into sin. But I now go to confession regularly. It has truly become a joyful experience for me. And I always remember that I have a Father who loves me, no matter what may happen.

Ten Were Cleansed, Were They Not?

The Gospel reading from last Wednesday (November 14) recounts the story of one of Jesus’ many healing miracles. While journeying through Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encounters 10 lepers who ask him to heal them. He responds by telling them to visit the priests. While they are traveling, they are cleansed. The passage continues:

“And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Like many passages in Scripture, there are numerous layers to the meaning of this text. At the most basic level, we are reminded about the importance of gratitude. Jesus’ use of a rhetorical question demonstrates that gratitude should have been at the forefront of the minds of those who were healed. Instead, they were more concerned with themselves than God, and, although they may have felt gracious that they were healed, they chose to not return and recognize God.

The question Jesus poses is much like the moment in Genesis where God asks Adam: “Where are you?” Clearly, God did not need help finding Adam in the Garden. But by responding, Adam was made to face the reality of his actions. Jesus has a similar goal in this situation. He asks this question because he wants those in his company to understand the necessity of gratitude. Jesus does not need the other nine to come to him and say “thank you.” But, God deserves at least that much. And as we read in the passage, salvation, not only healing, is granted to the Samaritan.

Just as we are commanded to pray without ceasing, we must also remember that “In all circumstances [we should] give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (Thessalonians 5:18). From this understanding, gratitude becomes a responsibility. It is so significant that both Cicero and G.K. Chesterton remarked that gratitude is of such great importance that other virtues follow from it. And, our Catholic faith is rich with examples of faithful persons who demonstrated gratitude in both good situations and tribulations or suffering.

When I wake up each morning, I have a choice to make. I can be angry with God that I am sick. When I consider all that has happened and will happen, it would be fairly easy to do so. But I prefer to thank God because, in spite of everything, he has blessed me with life and will never abandon me.

Don’t be one of the nine.