Third Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel today Jesus appears to the Apostles. This is one of six recorded appearances following the Crucifixion. It’s from Luke’s Gospel and Jesus appears to the Apostles as they’re hearing the two disciples’ story about meeting Jesus on the road to Ameus. He gives them the familiar greeting, “Peace be with you.” But Luke tells us they were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He proceeds to ask them for something to eat, hoping to prove that He’s not a ghost, but that it’s really Him.

As you might imagine, even after hearing the two disciples’ story, they don’t know what to believe. In the end they do realize that it’s Him and opens their minds to understand the Scripture.

Now, let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen Jesus? I’m not talking about a picture or a statue, but have you really ever seen Jesus. If so, raise your hands. [Assume here that a few people may raise their hands, but not all.] I’m not talking about seeing His works or seeing Him in another person, I’m actually talking about seeing Him in the flesh.

[pause]

OK, let me ask you another question. Have you ever been to Eucharistic adoration? Doesn’t the Church teach us that Jesus is present in the bread and wine? If you’ve been to Adoration, then you’ve seen Jesus.

In a few minutes you’re going to line up for Holy Communion. Are you coming up here to receive a piece of not very tasty bread, or are you expecting to receive the Body of Christ? If you don’t believe with all your heart and all your soul that Jesus is present in the Eucharist then I have some bad news for you. By definition, you’re not a Catholic. You may be a Christian, but as Catholics we MUST believe that we’re receiving Jesus.

See, this little wafer is unleavened bread. It’s wheat and water. That’s all. I can eat it. I can throw it away. I can drop it on the floor and stomp on it and I haven’t committed a sin. We store them in an unlocked cabinet in the sacristy and we keep our extras in the freezer in the rectory so they don’t get stale. If you want, you can go to Catholic Supply and buy them by the box. 750 of them cost about five bucks.

Then we have the wine. It costs about $60.00 per case of twelve, about $5.00 a bottle, not exactly the good stuff. Again, we keep it in the sacristy. We have cases of the stuff. There is a difference here, and that’s that you can’t go to Catholic Supply and buy a case for yourself. Sacramental wine is a particular kind of wine and our state says only churches can buy it. It’s 12% alcohol, or just 24 proof. Back in the day, and maybe still today, altar servers would get a big kick out of sneaking some from the sacristy. But they didn’t get much of a buzz unless they drank a whole bottle. You wouldn’t win any points with your friends if you served sacramental wine at a dinner party.

But in a few minutes Father will say the words of consecration. This rather tasteless bread and cheap wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, that’s worth standing in line for. Instead of being stored in the freezer, the left-over Body of Christ is locked in a tabernacle. Through the centuries, Catholics have risked death to protected the consecrated Sacrament from desecration and destruction.

I’ll ask you again, have you ever seen Jesus? [Raise hands]

The Apostles were terrified when they saw Jesus. But once He opened their minds and they understood that it was really Him, their lives were never the same again. Jesus’ appearance was a miracle and the Eucharist is a miracle. Once we understand exactly what it is that we’re taking into our bodies, our lives should never be the same again either. We’re seeing Christ in the Flesh just as surely as the disciples on the road to Ameaus or the Apostles who saw Him six times before He returned to heaven.

If what I’m telling you isn’t true, then we Catholics are pretty silly. Our entire faith revolves around the mass and the reception of the Eucharist. If it’s nothing more than bread and wine, then our faith is a fraud. There’s no reason for us to come to mass. If we want to we can watch mass on television of just skip it altogether.

But as Catholics we don’t do that. You’ve heard me say it before but I hate the phrase “Sunday obligation.” We shouldn’t be coming to mass because we think we have to. We should come because we want to. Jesus makes a personal appearance in this chapel and in every other Catholic church around the world every weekend. Why would anyone want to miss the chance to not just see Him, but to actually take His physical presence into our own bodies? I don’t get it.

And, if you know someone who’s not physically able to come to mass, let us know. Call the rectory and we’ll make sure they receive the Eucharist at home, or in the hospital, or in the nursing home. If they can’t come to Jesus, we’ll take Jesus to them.

I gave this homily on Saturday and Sunday.  The response was, I’m sorry to say, very apathetic.  At both masses nobody raised their hand the first time I asked the question.  And, at both masses there were still people who didn’t raise their hands the second time I asked it.  I find this very sad.  Where have we gone wrong in our teaching on the Eucharist?

Happy Easter, Everybody

My Easter homily:

THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

I know some of you are visiting here today.  Some of you are home from college or home from out of town to celebrate the holiday with your family.  If so, welcome home.

Some of you may be visiting as a guest of a parishioner; maybe it’s your first time here.  We welcome you too, and hope to see you again.

Then there are some of you who are here today because it’s one of the two “BIG” church days, the other one being Christmas. We want to especially welcome you and hope that maybe we can persuade you to come back a little more often.

Even though we all may have different reasons for being in THIS church, there’s one thing that brings us to A church.  It’s this day called “Easter.”  What is Easter?  It’s a day for great rejoicing!  THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! Say it with me, THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

So, what is Easter?  Here’s a little story that I really like I hope you like it too. One day, during Lent, a first grade PSR teacher was teaching the kids about Easter. She asked if they knew what Easter was. A little girl in the front row raised her hand. (Little girls in the first row always raise their hands). When the teacher called on her she said, “Easter is the day when we all dress up in costumes. We go to the neighbors’ houses and they give us candy.”

The teacher said, “No, Susy, that’s Halloween. Does anyone else know what Easter is?”

Another little girl raised her hand. “Easter is when we all go to the park and there’s lots of food, and rides, and music, and when it gets dark we sit in lawn chairs and they have pretty fireworks.”

“No, Mary. That’s the Fourth of July.” Does anyone else know.”

Little Johnny sat in the back row. He was a sweet little boy, but he liked to fool around in class and didn’t always pay attention. He wasn’t very successful when it came to answering questions. But, he was waving his hand frantically. He was almost jumping up and down. The teacher wasn’t sure whether he knew the answer to the question or if he had to go to the bathroom. Reluctantly, she called on Johnny.

“Teacher, Easter is when Jesus dies and they put Him in the tomb and on the third day he comes out of the tomb.” The teacher was in shock. Johnny was actually paying attention. He knew the answer.  He should have stopped while he was ahead, but he went on, “ and if He sees His shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”

It’s funny because it’s about a little boy, someone we can all identify with.  But little Johnny isn’t alone.  Look at today’s Gospel.  Mary Magdala was the first at the tomb.  She saw Jesus was gone and thought that someone had stolen His body.  She went to get Peter, the Rock on whom Jesus would build His Church, and John, the Apostle that Jesus loved.  Peter went in and, being Peter, he didn’t get it. Remember that just two days earlier Peter had denied he even knew Jesus.   But John saw and believed.

How many modern adults really don’t know what Easter is?  Like Christmas, it’s become a day about “stuff”:  New clothes, candy, toys, and food.  Don’t forget the food. If you were to play a word association game with a hundred random people and asked them to say the first word that popped into their heads when you said the word “Easter”, how many would answer “ham” or “lamb” or “brunch” and how many would say “Jesus” or “resurrection”?  How many would say “bunny” or “eggs”?  I don’t know and maybe I don’t want to know.  I’m afraid I’d be disappointed at the results.

Remember, the Apostles had been in hiding.  They were afraid that, as followers of Jesus, they were doomed to crucifixion too.  They didn’t understand what was happening.  Jesus was gone.  One of their number had committed suicide.  But when they saw what had really happened, you couldn’t shut them up!  They had no fear of death because Jesus had defeated death.  They had the hope of eternal life.  In fact, they would all die, some of them violently, because they were preaching the Gospel of Christ.  But it didn’t matter because they knew now where they were going, and there were lots more believers to take their place.

Here we are, in this historic church, 6,471 miles from Jerusalem, on a beautiful spring morning, more than 2,000 years later.  In spite of all that distance, and all that time, we share the same hope of eternal life.  Just like that first Easter morning, there are people today who either don’t understand, or don’t believe what happened that day, or don’t understand what it means to each and every one of us.  But we do.  Or I hope we do.  By dying on that cross and then rising from that tomb, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift, the gift of hope.  Not some phony-baloney small-h hope promised by some political candidate, but real, true Capital-H Hope for eternal life.

Like the bumper sticker says, “Stuff happens.”  OK, that’s not exactly what the bumper sticker says, but you get my drift.  Stuff does happen.  Great stuff and stuff that’s not so great.  Sometimes really terrible stuff happens.  No matter what happens in this life, we’re assured of eternal bliss when God calls us home.  In the mean time, Jesus is there for us, helping us endure.  Whether we get sick, or lose our jobs, or lose all our physical possessions, we have hope.  No matter how many things go wrong in this life, nothing compares to being beaten, then having our hands and feet nailed to a cross, then being left to hang there in the dessert sun for three hours waiting to die, especially when you’ve done nothing to deserve it.  Whatever bad things happen to us, we can always know that it’s nothing compared to what Jesus did for us.

Maybe we’re not “overwhelmed with hope.”  Maybe we’re overwhelmed with something else like money worries, or sickness, or any number of things that can “cover us up”.  But that’s our fault, not God’s.  He hasn’t changed.  History hasn’t changed.  Jesus’ resurrection means just as much to you and me as it did to Peter, Mary, John, and all the others.  The hope that overwhelmed them is there for us, too.  The more space Jesus takes up in our lives, the less space there is for anything else.

That’s why we’re gathered here today, and every Sunday, to give thanks and praise to God’s only son who did and still does so much for us. Say it with me again, “THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! “

Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass. It’s the mass where the Archbishop blesses the holy oils for the coming year and it’s the mass where the priests renew their priestly vows. As you can imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons at the Chrism mass.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel. All the deacons can see is the backs of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.

As I knelt there yesterday morning, I wondered, as I often do, just what I was doing there. I know a lot of priests and deacons and most of them are good, holy men. The deacon who was sitting next to me is one of the holiest people I know. Then there was me, a sinner of the first order. Why would God choose me to be in this group?

But, you know what? I do belong in that group and here’s why. I don’t and can’t know what’s in someone else’s heart. I believe most of the men sitting around me at the Cathedral yesterday are more holy than I am, but I can’t know for sure. We’ve learned in the past few years that a lot of men we all believed were saints are actually pretty serious sinners. We don’t know. Only God knows.

Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that I do?

Scripture tells us not to judge others. Is judging someone else to be good just as dangerous as judging them to be bad? Maybe so.

Think about what failures the Apostles were?  Judas sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew Him three times.  The other ten ran off and left Him when He needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by Him were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus.

If Jesus only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.) Plus, there wouldn’t be very many priests and deacons. Maybe none.

I think Jesus wants His clergy to let people see that they’re sinners, just like they are.  Judas didn’t have to turn Jesus over to the Jews, but somebody had to fulfill the words of the prophets.  Jesus knew He’d do it, even before he chose him to be an apostle.

Peter didn’t have to deny him three times, but He did, just as He knew he would. He even told him he would do it.  He knew the others would run away.  But he chose them anyway, just like He chose you and me, sinners that we are.

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.

As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.