Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jesus Shock

Homily from the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

For the last five weeks, we’ve been listening to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in which we hear about Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish and one of the most shocking speeches of all time: Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse.

In his “Bread of Life” discourse Jesus tells his disciples that they must seek not earthly food that perishes, but heavenly food that endures for eternal life; that he himself is this living bread come down from heaven; that the bread he will give is his flesh for the life of the world; and unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they do not have life within them.

Last week, we heard how some of those disciples of Jesus could not believe what they were hearing.  They took Jesus literally at his word.  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink?” they asked.  They are pious Jews who know the law of Moses which forbids them from drinking the blood of any animal, let alone the blood of a human being, let alone eat the flesh of a human being.  But Jesus tells them again and again and again, “Yes, you understood me correctly.  Eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

And then the line in the sand is drawn.  “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  And Jesus asks, “Does this shock you?”  And indeed it does, for, as Scripture tells us, “As a result of this,” meaning, as a result of Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood in the literal sense and not a figurative sense, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

And Jesus let’s them go.  

He does not running after them saying, “Wait, hold on.  You’re right.  I only meant ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ in a figurative sense.”  Jesus said, “Eat my flesh, drink my blood.”  They asked, “Do you really mean that?”  Jesus said, “Yes.”  They said, “Nope, we’re outta here.”  And Jesus said, “Fine.”

Because Jesus meant what he said.  Those listening to him understood him correctly.  Jesus did not later alter his meaning.  And those who left, chose to stay on the opposite side of the line Jesus drew in the sand.

This isn’t a popular way of looking at Jesus.  Most would prefer a “nice Jesus.”  There isn’t a more boring word in the English language than “nice.”  Neil Armstrong, your the first human being to ever set foot on another celestial body other than Earth, what do you have to say about that?  “Hmmm.  This moon is nice.”

I had a professor in seminary who said when he is dead, if people say, “He was nice” then he failed in life.

Jesus didn’t come down from Heaven to be born in a feeding trough for animals and get nailed to the cross just so he could be a nice, cuddly Jesus.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with C.S. Lewis’ book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” or have seen the movie.  You probably also know that the character of the lion Aslan is a figure for Christ.  (If you didn’t know this, reread the book or watch the movie again with that in mind and get ready to experience one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.)  Throughout the book, those citizens of Narnia who know Aslan well tell the children again and again, “Aslan is not tame lion.  Oh, he's good... but he's not tame."

Jesus is not cute, and cuddly.  He is not tame.  Jesus is shocking.

Click here to buy Jesus-Shock
I just finished an outstanding book on this subject called, “Jesus-Shock,” by Peter Kreeft who is often described as this generation’s C.S. Lewis.  And in it he asks the question, “Why is Jesus the most controversial and the most embarrassing name in the world?”  “No one is embarrassed if you talk about Buddha, or Muhammad, or Moses.”  But so many people are when you talk about Jesus.  “If you’re not sure my assumption is true,” Kreeft says, “test it, in any... mixed company... The name will fall with a thud, and produce sudden silence and embarrassment.”

Why is this?  Why is Jesus the most non-neutral name in the world?  Because Jesus is the most non-neutral person in the world.  “Jesus is a sword.  He divides” Kreeft says.  Remember Jesus’ own words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.  I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter agains her mother.’”  Peter Kreeft calls Jesus, “the razor edge of the round world?”

Jesus is not a boring, nice person.    “Jesus is the only man in history who never bored anyone.”  Just look at how every single person who encounters Jesus reacts to him in the Gospel:

In the Gospel of Matthew, when he finishes his sayings, “the crowds [are] astonished at his teachings.” (Mt 7:28-29)

When he tells the paralyzed man to rise, take up his mat and go home, “they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!” (Mk, 2:2-12; cf. Lk 5:18-26; Mt 9:2-8)

When Jesus calms the storm at sea, the Apostles “marveled” at him. (Mt 8:23-27; Lk 8:22-25)

When he raises the little girl from the dead, the people “were overcome with amazement.” (Mk 5:38-42; cf. Lk 8:51-56)

When Jesus himself appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, “they were startled and frightened.” (Lk 24:36-43)

And in today’s Gospel, when he draws the line in the sand over his command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he asks “Does this shock you?”

Are we truly astonished and amazed by Jesus?  Do we marvel at him?  Are we startled or even frightened by him?  Does he shock us?

If not, we haven’t truly met Jesus yet.  We haven’t met the untamed lion.  We’re still settling for the cute, cuddly, stuffed version of him that sits on the corner of our bed and says, “Oh, don’t worry about me.  I’ll just sit here looking cute.  I won’t challenge you at all.”

Jesus is not boring.  He is God, who, as Kreeft says, “became a human zygote, fetus, baby, boy, teenager, man, and then corpse... [He gives] Himself to our mouths and our stomachs as well as our souls.  That thing that looks like a little piece of bread - that’s Him.  I certainly sympathize with most Protestants,” Kreeft goes on, “who do not believe that.  It is nearly unbelievable.  The priest puts God into your left hand, and you pick up God Almighty with your right thumb and forefinger and you swallow God Almighty, and He falls into your stomach.  That is crazy - as crazy as the Incarnation” God becoming man in the first place.

If Jesus doesn’t shock you, you haven’t met him yet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gnawing... Chewing... Munching

Homily from the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the church to get ready to celebrate a weekday morning Mass.  It was 7:30.  As soon as I got out of the car, I heard three young voices shout out, “Fr. Andrew!  Fr. Andrew!”  It was three of our high school students, young ladies, who came running up to me.  I thought to myself, “What’s wrong now.”  They said, “Father, we just came from the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Jude’s.  We’ve been there since midnight.”  They had spent the night in adoration before the Lord.  One of them said, “I didn’t know I could pray that long!”

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the people that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they do not have life within them.  And the Gospel begins with an objection by some of the people who hear these words.  They cannot believe that he would say something as graphic as “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

And Jesus responds by assuring them again, and again, and again, and again that he meant what he said: “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  In fact, he reiterates it five more times.  He goes so far as to use a word that is even more graphic than eat.  In the original language the Gospels were written in, the typical word for eat is the word “phago.”  However, when Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” the word he uses instead of “phago” is “trogo” which means “gnaw,” “chew,” or “munch”  Imagine if we had heard Jesus say in today’s Gospel “He who gnaws, chews, or munches of my flesh... has eternal life.”  But that is precisely what he is saying.

Jesus is telling us that the eternal life he wishes to dispense to us, truly comes through munching on his body and blood through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  And at the same time, I would propose that this gnawing, chewing and munching on Jesus is something that must extend after our consumption of the Blessed Sacrament.

Have you ever given a dog a bone?  What does the dog do?  It lays down on the floor, clutching the bone as best he can in his paws, and he gnaws, chews, and munches on the bone for hours and hours.  The dog is consumed, obsessed and fascinated with the bone and nothing else around them matters.  Perhaps thats how those three girls felt as they gnawed, chewed and munched on Jesus for hours and hours in adoration.

That’s the effect, gnawing, chewing, and munching on the Sacrament of the Eucharist should have on our lives.  We should then continue to gnaw, chew and munch on the person of Jesus Christ in our every affair.  In every moral decision we have to make.  In every friendship and relationship we engage in.  In every thought, word, and deed that comes forth from our mind, lips and actions.  So, let us gnaw, chew and munch on the Lord in this Sacrament and in every moment of our lives.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Church is the Place Where We Get Married

Homily from the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

The top three questions grade school students always ask me are: Will my dog go to Heaven?  Have you ever performed an exorcism?  And why do I have to get married in the Church?

With regards to dogs going to heaven: I’ve attempted to answer this question a number of ways; some with moderate success, some with no success whatsoever.  Perhaps the best answer is one Monsignor John gives: “I’m certain that if its absolutely necessary for your salvation that your dog be with you in Heaven, then your dog will be in heaven.”

With regards to the second question, have you ever performed and exorcism?  Yes.  I’ve performed dozens and dozens of exorcisms.  There’s an exorcism in every baptism.  “Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil... We pray for this child: set him free from original sin...”  So far I haven’t seen any heads spinning around.  But I’ve seen babies spit up green pea soup.

And lastly, Why do Catholics have to get married in the Church?  Initially, I would answer this question with a “Because I said so” type of response.  “Catholics have to get married in the Church because that’s where we get married.”  But this isn’t a satisfactory answer.  So I would try to flesh it out a bit by saying, “Church is where Catholics come for all the important things of life: baptism, funerals, weddings, 1st Holy Communion, Mass, etc.”

But in reality, the original answer is more satisfactory.  “Catholics have to get married in the Church because that’s where we get married.”  But this needs some qualification: Church is where we get married, not just when we receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, but every time we come to Mass.  Church is the place where God marries us.

The analogy Sacred Scripture uses more than any other to describe the nature of the relationship between God and His people is marriage.

In Isaiah we read, “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as Bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Isa 62:5)

In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Bridegroom: “I am not the Messiah” John the Baptist says, “I was sent before him.  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” (Jn 3:28-29)

Christ calls himself the bridegroom.  People ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast.  “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.” (Mk 2:19-20)

Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom through parables:  “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests...” (Mt 22:2-3)  “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom...” (Mt 25:1)

When St. Paul explains the type of love husbands and wives should have for one another, he points to the marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and the Church, his bride:  “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord... Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her... husbands should love their wives as their own bodies... even as Christ does the Church... this is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:21-32)

When sociologists describe social relationships, they often divide them up into two categories: One is a society, which are formal organizations of people with structure and offices such as the secular state, schools, hospitals, etc.  The other is a community, which are informal organizations of people who are intimately connected with relative permanence such a the family, a household, or a neighborhood.

The Church is both a society and a community.  As a society, the Church is a formal organization of the People of God with a hierarchical structure and law to govern them.  This is the horizontal dimension of the Church as we look across the spectrum of members.  However, if the Church were limited to this horizontal dimension alone, we would view our association with God as merely a matter of friendly relationships between God and man.  What is distinctive to the Church is a vertical dimension in which the divine life of God comes down to earth, becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ who communicates this divine life to men through the Holy Spirit.

You could say, therefore, that we have a kind of cruciform theology of communion among men and between the human and divine.  Through the arms of the cross, Christ gathers and unites all of mankind into one Church.  And through the tree of the cross, Christ lifts his bride, the Church, into union with the Father.

And it is appropriate that the Church should be married to God through the Cross, for on the Cross, Christ reconciles the divorce between man and God and among men.  Man divorced himself from God by stretching his hands out to the tree to take the fruit for himself.  Christ restores the marriage by stretching his hands out to the branches of the tree so that the fruit of the Spirit might pour fourth through the Church.  God cast a deep sleep upon Adam so that from his opened side, his bride, Eve might be formed.  God cast a deep sleep upon Christ, so that from his opened side, his bride, the Church, might be formed.  From Christ’s open heart, flow the two great sacramental of the Church, water and blood signifying baptism and the Eucharist.

Through baptism and the Eucharist, Christ prepares and unites himself to his bride.  In ancient Jewish custom, part of preparation for marriage was a ritual washing of the bride prior to the wedding itself.  Likewise, we the Church, the Bride of Christ, is washed and purified through baptism, prior to our union with the Bridegroom through the Eucharist

Paul alludes to both these washings, of the bride before her wedding night, and of the Bride the Church in Ephesians:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, so that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 25-26)

If you look in your pews, you’ll notice handouts with a couple pictures.  The picture on the left is a canopy over a royal wedding bed on which bride and bridegroom united.  The picture on the right is the baldachino over the altar at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.  You’ll notice the architecture of the two are strikingly similar.  From the four posts and the crowned roof, down to the scalloped trim and tassels on the top.  This is because, just like the royal wedding bed, the altar is the place where Christ, the bridegroom unites his flesh to ours through the Eucharist.

We don’t come to Church just so we can hang out with other people who share common believe, common worship,  common prayer, or common interests.  We don’t come to Church just to hear good music and interesting sermons.  We don’t come to Church just to meet a Sunday obligation.  We don’t even come to Church just to feel good about ourselves.

We come to Church to be made holy by Christ.  To be purified by him.  We come to Church to become united as one with Jesus Christ.  We come to Church so that through the Eucharist, through his Body given up for you; the two: the human and the divine, you and Jesus, may become one flesh.  We come to Church to be married to Christ.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Food That Endures

Homily from the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

Do you remember when wallets had the giant fold out sleeve for pictures?  Do they still make them like that?  They don’t seem to be as popular as they once were.  You remember... your friend or relative would say, “Lemme show you pictures of my kids.”  And with a flick of the wrist, a trail of pictures, linked together by conjoined transparent pockets would fall all the way to the ground.

So, if you’ll permit me for a moment, I’d like to brag a bit about my kids; about your kids.  Wednesday night, around 6:30, I’m putting some things away in the back sacristy here and I come out to find 10 of our teens walking into the Church, rosaries in hand, gathering in the Immaculate Heart of Mary alcove.
It’s summer vacation.  A beautiful sunny afternoon, and here are a bunch of teenagers praying to Jesus with one another and their mother.

Why?  Is it because they’re holy kids?  They are.  We all are.  As sons and daughters of God, we are inherently holy.

Is it because they want to grow in holiness?  Yes, I think very much, they want to grow in holiness.

Is it because they want to feel good?  Perhaps.  I’m sure their prayer with one another, with Mary, with Jesus, and with God brought them joy.

Is it because they feel bad?  Perhaps.  Perhaps they are experiencing some trial or suffering and I’m sure their prayer brought them some consolation.

There’s another reason why I think these teens came to pray on a sunny, summer afternoon.  They’re hungry.  They’re hungry for that which truly satisfies.  They’re hungry for what Jesus calls in today’s Gospel, “food that endures for eternal life.”  They’re hungry for the Bread God the Father sends down from Heaven: His own Son Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.  And they came, have come and will continue to come to the Church to be fed.

Occasionally, I’ll spontaneously decide to go spend a little time in Eucharistic Adoration.  It’s one of the best perks of being a priest.  You want to have Adoration, you can do it whenever you want.  Just get out the monstrance, insert Blessed Sacrament and away we go!  Well, quite often when I do, I’ll send a tweet out that says something like “Eucharistic Adoration in the Blessed Sacrament chapel today from 3-4.  Go!”

And you know what happens?  Each and every time, a handful of our teens will show up to worship the Lord.  (As well as other parishoners.)  By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @fatherbudzinski.

More and more it seems, the young people of our parish and many others, young and old, are seeking a deeper, increasingly authentic intimacy with the Lord.  Years ago, Eucharistic Adoration was sometimes looked upon with suspicion.  Now, it’s one of our teens favorite ways to pray with the Lord.  People are making courageous returns to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after decades of being away.  Just a few months ago, over 1,500 men gathered at the Coliseum for the Rekindle the Fire men’s conference and women gathered likewise for the Arise conference.  Couples are stepping forward wanting to embrace Natural Family Planning.  Couples who had been married outside the Church are inquiring about having their marriage blessed so they can receive the Eucharist again.  Men and women from our parish are going on Christ Renews His Parish weekend retreats and talking about how it has changed their lives.  Record numbers of teens are going on our Life Teen and Edge retreats.  We already have a big number of people interested in beginning RCIA and becoming Catholic this Easter.  And the list goes on and on.

Why?  What’s so special about taking part in Church stuff?  Isn’t that just for Jesus Freaks?  No.  It’s for everyone who is hungry; hungry for food that endures for eternal life.  
The food that perishes are those things, temporary entertainments and distractions that do not, that cannot, satisfy our natural hunger for God that each of us possesses which can only be satisfied by God.
Food that perishes comes in the form of money, material goods, clothing, power, achievement, status.  Not that money, material goods, and status are evil.  They’re not.  It’s OK to have those things.  But they cannot be the “bread” on which we live.  They cannot be our Bread of Life.

Jesus tells us today that he is the Bread of Life.  And every single person in the world is hungry for this Bread whether they know it or not.

That’s why 10 teens walked into the Church on a sunny, summer afternoon to pray a rosary.  Not that teens are the holiest ones in the church.  But they are are good example to observe because perhaps more than any other demographic, teenagers are sold a buffet of food that perishes on a continual basis.  Having the latest technology.  Having the best clothing.  Having the “right” friends.  They’ve tasted the food that perishes for eternal life.  And you know what, more and more of them are becoming bored with it.  Thank God!  They are coming to realize that nothing can satisfy their infinite souls except the infinite food God offers them.

If you are beginning to, or have found, the things of this world to be a bore...  If you’re experiencing a lack of direction in your life...  If it seems as though real joy is missing... Or, if you simply dissatisfied with a one hour per week relationship with Jesus Christ... Maybe you’re becoming more and more aware of the God-sized hole in your soul and the inability of any thing or any person in this world to fill it.

That realization is a cause for great joy.   For you are discovering that something is missing in your life.  And you are discovering the only one who can provide what is missing: Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, food that does not perish, but endures for eternal life.