Sunday, June 26, 2011

Real Presence

Homily from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday) - Year A

In 1992, a Gallup Poll of Catholics was conducted regarding the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  It showed that many Catholics do not understand what the Eucharist truly is.  30% of Catholics believed correctly that they are really and truly receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.  However, the remaining 70% of Catholics polled did not believe in the Real Presence.

29% of Catholics believe they are receiving bread and wine that symbolize the Body and Blood of Jesus.

10% believe they receive bread and wine in which Jesus is also present.

And 24% believe they are receiving what has become Christ’s Body and Blood because of their personal belief.

Not only that, but the problem increase dramatically among younger Catholics:

Age 65 and over …………… 51% believe in the Real Presence.

Age 45 – 64 ……………….... 37%.

Age 30 – 44 ……………….... 28%.

Age 18 – 29 ……………….... 17%.

Now granted, this poll was conducted nearly 20 years ago when, let’s face it, catechesis wasn’t as good as it is today.  And I’m going to guess that our teens today hold a much more convicted belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  When you see our teens kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament at Eucharistic Adoration, some of them in tears, you know they believe in the Real Presence.  People don't cry over bread and wine.
I’m fairly certain that, as a whole, we have a better understanding fo the Real Presence.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but assume that there are perhaps still many among us who do not understand and/or believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  So, we’ve got some work to do.

How do we know, that what we are about to receive at Communion, is really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and not just a symbol?  We know it for two huge reasons:

1.) Jesus said so himself

2.) This is what the earliest Christians believed unanimously.

In today’s Gospel we hear a portion of Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse”, the Magna Carta of the Real Presence, from chapter six of St. John’s Gospel.  And we heard Jesus say, very clearly, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus says that the bread he gives is his flesh.  He is saying that the bread he will give in the Last Supper and at all subsequent Eucharists is in fact, his flesh.

Now the usual objection is, “Jesus isn't speaking literally.  He is speaking only metaphorically, right?"  The answer is “no.”

Jesus is speaking literally.  And some of his disciples take him literally.  And they are shocked that Jesus would say such a thing.  They are, for lack of a better term, “grossed out” at Jesus’ suggestion that they eat his flesh.

So, they question the literalness of his statement.  They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Then, instead of explaining to the Jews that there were misunderstanding him, that he was only speaking figuratively, Jesus – using the strongest possible language – emphatically repeats the literalness of his teaching, not once, but five times:

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

Jesus says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  Not, “My flesh is symbolic food and my blood is symbolic drink.”

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

“The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

And when the Jews can handle no more of this kind of talk, Scripture tells us that “As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

And you know what Jesus does? He lets them go. He lets them walk away. He lets them leave him.

Now if Jesus intended the Eucharist to only be a symbol of his Body and Blood, why didn’t he call them back and explain that he is only speaking figuratively?  Because he has spoken literally, and because these disciples understood him literally.

Besides, if Jesus wanted us to encounter him only through symbols, why wasn’t the Cross enough?  Jesus could have said “Remember me when you see the Cross. Do as I instructed you when you see the Cross. Think of me and I’ll be thinking of you when you see the Cross.”  No. Jesus said, “This is my Body… this is my Blood.” And “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Jesus remains with us until the end of the age in the Eucharist.

You remember when Moses and the Jews were slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh; what they had to do to escape the 10th plague of death to the first born son?  They had to eat the Passover lamb.  If they wanted to live, they had to eat the lamb.

The Last Supper in which Jesus gave himself to the Apostles in the Eucharist was a Passover meal.  A New Covenant in which we are saved from the death of sin.  And we do so by eating the Lamb.

If we want to live, we have to eat the Lamb. Not a symbol of the Lamb, but the Lamb of God Himself.

We know, that what we are about to receive at Communion, is really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and not just a symbol, because Jesus said so.  And also because its what the earliest Christians believed.

The Apostles believed in the Real Presence  St. Paul said so in our second reading: “The cup of blessing that we bless,  is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

And those who learned from the disciples, the Church Fathers, believed in the Real Presence.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, said that some people “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

St. Justin Martyr from the 2nd century said, “not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these… [but] the Flesh and the Blood of that incarnated Jesus.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem from the 4th century said, “Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ.”

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to this quote by a theologian who was writing at the time of the Protestant Reformation when the doctrine of the Eucharist began to be corrupted:

"Of all the fathers, as many as you can name... none of them uses such an expression as, 'It is simply bread and wine,' or, 'Christ’s body and blood are not present.' Yet since this subject is so frequently discussed by them, it is impossible that they should not at some time have let slip such an expression as, 'It is simply bread,' or, 'Not that the body of Christ is physically present,' or the like... actually, they simply proceed to speak as if no one doubted that Christ’s body and blood are present. Certainly among so many fathers and so many writings a negative argument should have turned up at least once, as happens in other articles; but actually they all stand uniformly and consistently on the affirmative side."

Those words were spoken by Martin Luther, who, during the Protestant Reformation, altered the Church’s understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Which is more likely?  That Jesus would have said, “This is my Body and this is my Blood” and that’s what everyone believed, but were wrong until Martin Luther came along 1,500 years later and got it right?  Or, that Jesus said, “This is my Body and this is my Blood” and that’s what everyone believed and that’s what continues to be believed in the Catholic Church today because it is, in fact, true?

We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  It’s not a symbol.  I didn't give up a wife and children for crackers and grape juice.  It’s not Jesus cohabiting with bread and wine side-by-side.  It’s all Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine.  And it’s not that way because you or I personally believe it to be so.  It’s that way because Jesus said so.

If we don’t believe Jesus is truly here in the Eucharist, then why bother coming to Church?  We don’t come here primarily for good music and powerful messages.  We don’t come here primarily for community and fellowship.  We don’t come here primarily to feel better about ourselves.

We come here, first and foremost, for the Eucharist.  And nothing else is even a close second.  We come here to the Catholic Church, because it (and the Orthodox Christian Church) is the only place on Earth where Jesus is truly and really present in the Eucharist.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Communion of Persons

Homily from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - Year A

One of my seminary professors threatened my life once.  He said, “If I ever hear that on Trinity Sunday, you said in your homily that the Trinity is a “mystery” we can’t understand and say nothing more, I will hunt you down like the dog that you are and destroy you!”  He lives only three hours away, so I never know when he might sneak into the back pew so here goes.

My dad loves to golf.  He’s one of those guys, if you ask him what he did five minutes ago, he doesn’t have a clue.  But you ask him how his round of golf went and he knows every single shot from memory.  After a great round he can’t just keep it to himself.  He has to tell someone about it.

I love the movies.  Whenever I see a great movie, the first thing I do is I gotta tell someone else about it.

Same thing with food.  When you take a bite out of something amazingly delicious, what’s the first thing you say to the person sitting next to you?  “You touch my food and I’ll stick this fork in your ribs.  Hopefully not. I think most normal people say, “Oh my goodness this is so good; you’ve got to try this.”

We have a natural inclination to want to share the things we love.  “You’ve got to read this book.”  “You’ve got to go to Arizona.”  “Let me introduce you to my mother-in-law.”

OK, maybe not that one.

That’s the nature of love.  Love cannot remain in isolation.  The nature of love is that it must be shared; it must be given to another.  Love “unbottles” itself as it were.

That’s the nature of God too.  After all as the Gospel of John states, “God is love.”  God cannot remain in isolation.  The very nature of God is that He must share Himself; He must give Himself to another.  God “unbottles” Himself.

And He does this in so many ways, but today, let’s consider two.  First, God unbottles Himself within Himself.  If God is love, He would not make sense if He were alone, so to speak.  So He isn’t alone.  God is such a perfection of unbottled, unbridled love that He isn’t just one Person, He’s three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God is a communion of persons. A communion of love.  God shares Himself, He gives of Himself, and He loves Himself within Himself; among the three Persons of the Trinity.

St. Augustine said that whenever you have love, there’s a lover, there’s the one who is loved, and there’s the love that exists between them.  He’s talking about the Trinity.  First there’s the lover: God the Father.  Then there’s the one who is loved: God the Son.  Then there’s the love between them: God the Holy Spirit.

Second, God unbottles Himself with us.  God is perfect.  There is nothing you can add to God to make Him a better God.  Yet, in his infinite wisdom and love, having no need for us, God created us out of love and shares His love with us. 

God shares this love with us most perfectly by making a gift of Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Our Gospel today says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”  And God continues to show us His love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And not only does God reveal Himself to us as love through His being a communion of persons – a Holy Trinity; He inscribes His divine nature into us.  For we are created in His image and likeness.  We’re not just created in the image and likeness of God the Father.  We’re created in the image and likeness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We’re created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity – a communion of persons.  And so we’re created to be a communion of persons ourselves – with one another and with God.  We’re created for love.

That’s the greatest desire of the human heart isn’t it?  We all desire to be loved.  And we equally, if not more so, desire to give love.  Of course!  It’s how God made us.  He made us for entering into communion with one another and with Him.

This, of course, is realized so profoundly in marriage.  When husbands and wives enter into communion with one another.  You have the lover and the one who is loved.  And the love between them, by nature, becomes “unbottled” and literally becomes a third person, a child conceived in love.  You could say that the family is an icon, an image of the Holy Trinity. 

On this Father’s Day, I want to exhort the father’s among us to follow our Heavenly Father’s lead and seize the opportunity to be the initiator of love within your family.  I’m sure you’re well aware that the divorce rate in our country is 50%.  There’s a cure to such a disease and it’s found in the communion of persons.  When couples choose to enter into communion with the Holy Trinity and with one another, their chances of having a lifelong marriage skyrocket.

There have been numerous studies that show that families that pray together stay together.  Yes, the national divorce rate is 50%.  But, when couples are married in the Church or another place of worship (and return there weekly) to enter into communion with God, the divorce rate is 1 out of 100.  And, when couples pray together in their home, for just a few minutes everyday, the divorce rate is 1 out of 1,000.

A priest once told me that when couples come into his office and their marriage is on the rocks, he tells them they need to get Jesus at the center of their marriage.  So he tells them that he wants them to hold each other’s hands for just a few minutes a day and they are to pray together.  And they're not allowed to say Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s.  He’ll ask them if they can do this.  Of course, they say “yes.”  Then he’ll say, “OK, do it now.”  And their shocked right? They’ve been put on the spot.  And he says to them, “I didn’t just ask you to walk 100 miles. Pray together.”

Because one of the biggest obstacles to prayer is simply getting over the awkwardness of prayer.  The thing is – you just have to get over it.

So dad’s here’s what I want you to do.  Tonight, I want you to take your bride’s hands into yours and I want the two of you to pray together.  I want the two of you to enter into communion with one another and with God.  When a woman who loves God sees that kind of love and vulnerability in her husband – look out! Wow, will she fall in love with him!  And if things are kind of rocky between you (or really rocky between you) then you know how much you need Jesus there with the two of you.

“Unbottle” your love for one another and for God.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Ascension: the Meeting of Heaven and Earth

Homily from the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord - Year A

For the last seven months, we’ve heard about the many mysteries of the life of Jesus.  In December, we celebrated his birth.  In February, we observed his presentation in the temple.  In March, we began the 40 day journey of Lent in preparation for his passion, death, and resurrection in April.  Throughout May we observed with great joy the presence of the risen Lord as he made himself known to his disciples.  And today, with the advent of June, we observe Jesus’ last day on earth as we celebrate his ascension into Heaven

The way Jesus leaves is kind of strange.  His body is lifted up off the ground and a cloud takes him up into Heaven.  It almost sounds mythological.  But it shows us an important truth.  The journey of Jesus from earth to Heaven shows us that there is a connection between these two places.

Sometimes we look at Heaven and earth as something of opposites.  That Heaven is the good place and earth is a bad place.  But that’s simply not the case.  After all, God made the Heavens and the earth and when He did so, He saw that it was all good.  Heaven is the place where God dwells. earth is the place where we pray and work for the will of God to be done.  The central theme of Jesus’ preaching is the coming together of Heaven and Earth.  And this is what the Church is for, it’s where Heaven and Earth meet.

This Church is a great example of the meeting of Heaven and Earth.  The architecture itself suggests it.  We gather in a space built on the solid foundation of the Earth which reaches up high into the Heavens with this magnificent dome. 

In some churches their ceilings will be painted with images of God and Jesus, the angels and the stars of the sky.  And as you descend, you’ll see images of the Saints, until you reach us who are still here on Earth.

I told Monsignor we should do that here with our cupola. An image of Christ right in the center.  And, coincidentally, there are 12 panels of the cupola. A really fitting place for images of the 12 Apostles!

Our music is a meeting of Heaven and Earth.  Our voices are raised up to the heavens.  When we sing the “Holy, Holy” we say, “And so, with all the choirs of angels in Heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise.”  Those aren’t just poetic words, it’s a reality. Here in this Church our voices of song become one with the angelic choirs of Heaven. “Heaven and Earth are full of [His] glory.”

We use incense to symbolize our prayers rising up to Heaven.

The host and the chalice are elevated as we join our liturgy here on Earth to the eternal liturgy in Heaven.

But the Ascension of Jesus isn’t just about our looking up to Heaven.  It’s also about bringing Heaven down to earth.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.  Jesus said, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  It is a prayer that Heaven and Earth may come together; that God may reign here on Earth as He does in Heaven .  Not just waiting for things to get better once we get to Heaven.  It’s about doing the will of God here, today.  It’s about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless.  It’s about restoring order and justice here on earth.

The Mass gives us one hour a day (or one hour a week) to look up to Heaven.  But then we’ve got to spend the rest of our hours bringing Heaven to earth.

When the disciples stood there on the mountain, looking up into the sky after the ascension, a couple of angels appear and ask them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”  It’s as if they’re saying, “Quit gawking and get moving. Jesus just told you to be his witnesses in the world. Do what he said. Go make disciples of all nations. Baptize them. You have work to do.”

Jesus ascends from Earth to Heaven, and departs this world and leaves our sight because we now have work to do: His work; the building up of God’s Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”