3rd Sunday of Easter

Today (tomorrow) is already the third Sunday of Easter and today we read the famous story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We’ve heard this story many times and we may think we know it, but there are some things in the story that you may not have noticed.

 

First is, apparently no one knows where Emmaus is. Luke tells us that it’s seven miles from Jerusalem but that’s all we know about it. Don’t try to find it on Google Maps because it’s not there. There is an Emmaus in Pennsylvania, near Allentown, but that’s hardly within walking distance of Jerusalem.

 

What we do know is that throughout the New Testament, everything points toward Jerusalem. But here we have two disciples walking the other way. We might say the wrong way. But as they’re walking along Jesus comes and walks with them. Luke says this is “that very day; the first day of the week.” In other words, it’s Easter Sunday. They’ve seen the Crucifiction. They’ve also heard from the women that Jesus has risen from the dead. But evidently they don’t believe it. It’s like “move along. There’s nothing to see here.” So they’re headed to Emmaus. Jesus calls them “fools”. “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets said.”

 

So, why don’t they recognize Him? That’s easy. They’re headed the wrong way, both physically and spiritually. When the three of them got to Emmaus the two urged Jesus to stay and eat with them. As they tell us later, their hearts were burning within them while He spoke to them on the say and opened the Scriptures to them.

 

Still, it wasn’t until He broke the bread and gave it to them that their eyes were opened and the realized who He was. Then He vanished from their sight. As the last sentence says, “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

 

This is a fairly long Gospel. The disciples knew the facts. They explained what had just happened in Jerusalem in great detail. But they didn’t “get it”. They didn’t understand what really happened. They called Jesus a “prophet”. “We were hoping that he would be the one who would redeem Israel.” But they didn’t stick around to see what happened. Instead of looking for Jesus, Jesus had to come looking for them.

 

 

This is a story about the mass. The mass has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word which is where we are now, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where we’ll be in just a few minutes and where we’ll all experience Jesus’ real presence. I could stand up here and talk all day and I might be able to make some things a little clearer. Maybe not. But the Eucharist brings it all home.

 

When Father turns that bread and wine sitting on the table in the center aisle into the Body and Blood of Christ, that’s when He enters into you. That’s when you, like the two disciples, will have your eyes opened. But you have to participate. You have to want it to happen. To put it bluntly, if you shuffle up here and Father or I say “the Body of Christ” and you mumble “amen” (or say nothing) and shove the consecrated host into your mouth and shuffle back to your seat, looking at your watch to see when this ordeal is going to be over, guess what? Your eyes won’t be opened. Nothing will happen to you. You might as well just stay in your seat. You have to do your part. You have to have the right attitude.

 

 

Father will have performed a miracle! He will have turned ordinary bread and wine, not even very good bread and wine, into the Body and Blood of Christ. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. And it happens here and in Catholic churches all over the world every single day!

 

The disciples at Emmaus were so excited that they “set out at once and returned to Jerusalem” to tell the others. They had just walked seven miles and now they were going back, at night when it wasn’t all that safe to travel. They were on fire with Jesus’ words and His Presence, the two parts of the mass. When was the last time you were that excited about coming to mass?

 

If it’s been a while, maybe we should all spend some time thinking and praying about what’s happening here and the two travelers’ reaction. Will we walk out of here today knowing we’ve seen Jesus or will we just feel like we’ve fulfilled an obligation? It’s up to us.

 

 

4th Sunday of Easter–Good Shepherd Sunday

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

 

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

 

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

 

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

 

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

 

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

 

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devises.” They hung on every word that He said.

 

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

 

We’re also living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His. During this election season we’re constantly told conflicting things. Do we welcome everyone into our country or do we build a wall? Should we encourage hard work or should we focus on giving people free stuff? I’m sure all these people mean well, but they can’t all be right. We have to discern the truth.

 

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus. Again, they can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

 

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

 

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

 

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.

If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.

In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”

One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

 

Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.

Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

 

Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.

This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.

The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.

Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.

Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.

To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.

Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.

As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

The world-famous high wire walker stood on the banks of Niagara Falls. A steel cable was strung from one side to the other and a huge crowd had gathered. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today I am going to walk this thin cable across these mighty falls. But, in order for me to do it, I must know that you believe I can. Do you believe??”

 

The crowd yelled out, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

So he jumped up on the cable and began to walk. Slowly he proceeded to the other side and when he reached the other side, the crowd went wild. Then he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, now I’m going to perform an even greater feat. I’m going to cross the falls on this thin cable blind-folded. The crowd gasped and he said again, “In order to accomplish this amazing feat, I need to know that you believe I can do it. I draw my strength from your belief in me.” Again the crowd went wild. “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!” they yelled, even louder than before.

 

With that, the daredevil put on his blind-fold and proceeded to cross the falls again and again the crowd went wild!

 

Then he said, for my third and final act today, I’m going to cross these mighty falls on this thin cable, blind-folded and pushing this wheelbarrow with someone sitting in it. Once again, I must ask, do you believe I can do it?” Again the crowd yelled, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

Then the daredevil said, “I need a volunteer from the crowd to sit in the wheelbarrow.” And they all started walking away. The only sound was the roar of the falls.

 

See, there’s a big difference between saying you believe and actually believing. Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel, possibly one of the most famous of all the scriptural passages, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” You might say to me, “Deacon, I believe in Jesus so I’m going to go to heaven when I die.” But hold on. Do you believe like the crowd at Niagra Falls? Do you believe as long as there’s no personal risk? Or are you willing to risk your earthly life to gain eternal life?

 

This is where a lot of us get it wrong. We say, “of course I believe. I go to mass every weekend.” That’s all well and good, but what else do we do? We may never be called on to actually risk martyrdom, but how do we act when someone challenges us? Do we risk embarrassment by defending the Church? Are we willing to do something as simple as making the sign of the cross and saying grace in a restaurant with our friends? Are we willing to call out a friend or family member when we see that they’re doing something sinful? Will we even do something as simple as inviting a friend or family member to come to mass with us?

 

You tell me you believe. PROVE IT! Get in the wheelbarrow. Turn your life over to Jesus, not just for one hour out of 168 each week, but every minute of every day!

 

A lot of us who wear this Roman collar are even more guilty of this phony belief stuff than any of you are. We’ve been called to preach the Gospel but when push comes to shove, we’re afraid to get in your face and ask the hard questions because we don’t want to make you mad. We want everybody to like us. We don’t want to hurt your feelings. And, God forbid, you should stop giving money because of something we said. So, we don’t challenge you. We don’t stand up here and point out your sins or warn you of what might happen. We’re happy with the status quo.

 

But, where would we be if Jesus had been happy with the status quo? If He avoided hurting people’s feelings? I think you know where we’d be. Jesus let Himself be hung on the cross that we exult today, to save us from our sins; to save us from ourselves. But we have to do our part.
I started my sales career selling life insurance more than 40 years ago. Believe me, that’s a tough sell. For one thing, nobody wants to think about their own death. And they definitely aren’t inclined to give up money today for something that’s going to come in the future, especially when they don’t know when that future date is. No young father wants to think that he’s not going to be around to see his kids grow up. He thinks he’ll always be here to provide for his family. It’s just human nature. But the fact is, we’re all going to die sometime. And we have to prepare for that day.

 

Here it is, 2014, and I’m still trying to convince you to prepare for that day that will come. I’m selling eternal life insurance.

 

Here’s the thing. When you and I stand before Jesus for that final judgment, He’s not going to ask us how many friends we had. He’s not going to ask us how much money we made. He’s not even going to ask us how many times we went to mass. He’s going to ask us how many people we helped get into heaven.

 

He’s not going to care how many years we were an altar server, or how many years we sang in the choir. He’s not going to ask me if the people I served liked me or not. All He’s going to look at is how we served Him. Whatever He asks us, He already knows the answer.

 

In the first reading today, the people complained against God and against Moses. He had brought them out of captivity. He had saved them from slavery. What were they saying. They didn’t like the “wretched” food. And the Lord punished them by sending snakes. Then they changed their tune. “Wait a minute, Moses. We’ve sinned by complaining. Take away the snakes and we’ll be good.”

 

Does that sound familiar? How often have we been ungrateful to God? Some of you, not many, but a few, sound just like those Israelites. You know who you are. Things may not always go the way we want them to go. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture. Maybe the food isn’t great, but it’s better than what Pharaoh gave us in Egypt and we’re free! Maybe Saint John’s isn’t a parish anymore, maybe we don’t have a resident priest, maybe you don’t like me, but we’re still open!

 

If we’re going to stay open, maybe we have to do some things differently. Take a look around at all the empty seats. Obviously what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. But it’s also inevitable. Like any organism, if we don’t grow we die. In 1896 this church, which the people had built with their own hands just 26 years ago was destroyed by a tornado. I’m sure there were people who were angry. I’m sure there were some who cursed God for their misfortune. Some of them probably even blamed the pastor. But the majority of them rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt this church, bigger and better than it was before. Those were the people who got into the wheelbarrow.

 

Today, we’re faced with an even bigger challenge. It’s hard work, but rebuilding a physical church is not nearly as hard as rebuilding a church community. That’s what you and I are called to do. Like the daredevil at the Falls, I’m asking you, “do you believe?” Are you willing to trust God to do what’s best for all of us and to sacrifice your own ego to gain eternal life?

 

Jesus died on the cross but He also asked us to take up OUR crosses and follow Him. Are we willing to get into the wheelbarrow? It’s a question we all have to answer.

 

 

Ascension

This is my homily for the Feast of the Ascension.

Today we celebrate Ascension Thursday. I know it’s Saturday (Sunday). But a few years ago the Church decided that it was OK to move Ascension Thursday to Sunday, giving us one less Holy Day of Obligation. I’m not sure I understand it, but then there are a lot of things I don’t understand, so I’m happy to defer that decision to people who are much smarter than I am. Anyway……

 

Today we celebrate Jesus’ return to heaven. He ascended into heaven so we call it the Feast of the Ascension. We confirm our belief every weekend in the Creed. “He ascended into heaven.” Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus appeared to the disciples many times during the time after His resurrection, proving that He was still alive. Then “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.” In other words He wanted them to stick around until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would descend on them.

 

But, once the Spirit did descend on them, Jesus told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then He ascended into heaven. He was gone! But not before He gave them their final instructions, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

So, what exactly is a disciple?   According to the dictionary, a disciple is a follower or a student of a teacher. When Jesus commissions the Apostles to make disciples of all nations, He tells them to baptize and to teach. Then each new disciple is called to make more disciples. That’s how we got from twelve men to over a billion Catholics in the world today. But, are all those people disciples? No, they’re not.

 

In order to be a disciple you have to have a personal relationship with God through His Son and His Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus to you? What has He done in your life? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? He said He “would be with us always until the end of the age.” What does that mean to you?

 

I went to a three-day Catholic conference last week. Some of the things we heard were encouraging but some weren’t. We learned some statistics that are very startling. While you and I may be focused on our own problems and issues here in Soulard, the state of the Church in the United States isn’t all that great. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of statistics, but here are some of the more scary ones.

 

Talking about mass attendance among people who say they’re Catholics, 45% age 65 and above go to mass. Of the next group, the Baby Boomers, age 47-64, only 20% go to mass. But like they say on the infomercials, “wait. There’s more.” Of the Generation X Catholics, age 26-46, only 13% attend mass. And of the youngest group, age 18-25, just 10% go to mass. Once they’re out of the house, nine out of ten Catholic young people stop going to church.

Think about that for a minute. How many of us are 65 or older? [hands] We’re the group most likely to go to mass, and even then, less than half of us do. What’s going to happen in the next ten years? The next twenty? I hate to be so blunt, but in twenty years most of us who raised our hands are going to be dead. If things stay the same, the age group behind us isn’t going to pick up the slack. One out of five of them are going to mass today. This beautiful church which as been around for more than a century will be just another vacant building in the City of Saint Louis.

 

I could give you a lot more of these statistics, but I just wanted you to have an idea of what we’re up against. But there IS good news. Whenever you hear statistics about Catholics, they probably are from a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2008. But something very dramatic has happened to the Catholic Church since 2008…….. and his name is Francis. For the last two years, since Francis’ installation as Pope, there has been a surge in positive feelings toward the Church, especially among young people. We have a tremendous opportunity to both be disciples and to make new disciples. Francis is the public face of the Catholic Church and people are liking what they see.

 

Remember that Jesus promised to protect His Church. His spirit guided the Papal Conclave to select this South American Cardinal to lead our Church at the time when we need him most. This holy man is opening doors that have been closed for a long time. Just this week he arranged a meeting between the leaders of Israel and Palestine at the Vatican. Jesus is alive and well and working through his new Vicar.

 

But, what about you and me? I said earlier that we must have a personal relationship with Christ if we want to be His disciples. I asked four questions: (1) Who is Jesus to you? (2) What has He done in your life? (3) Do you have a personal relationship with Him? (4) What does His statement ‘I will be with you until the end of the age” mean to you? I can’t answer for you, I can only answer for myself. Each of us has a different experience. But, if we’re going to be true disciples, we have to know our answers. If you and I are going to invite our fallen brothers and sisters back to the Church, they’re going to want to know your answers.

 

God answers our prayers. As you can imagine I pray a lot for things that will help keep this chapel going. This week I got a phone call from the Archdiocese. Jesus answered another of my prayers. He’s sending His Mother to visit us on June 21 and 22 in the form of the icon of the Black Madonna. This is a huge deal. The icon has traveled all over the world promoting Pro Life. It’s going to be in Saint Louis for two days. It will visit two churches.   It will spend Saturday morning at the Cathedral Basilica then will come to Saint John’s Saturday afternoon and Sunday. This is very exciting. June 22 is the day of our barbecue and picnic. Expect to see a lot of people here that day. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t look after us. Our prayers to the Infant of Prague have been answered again.

 

God isn’t some cosmic force who doesn’t care about us. He may have created our huge universe but he takes a personal interest in every one of us. That includes you and it includes me. We have a relationship with Him whether we know it or not; whether we want it or not. He loves us with a love that’s beyond our human understanding. All He asks is that we love Him back. If we do, then we’ll be genuine disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presentation of the Lord

Homily for the weekend of February 1-2

I’d like to start today with a question.  Why are you here?  Why do you come to mass?  What is it that draws you to mass?  I see mostly the same faces every week, so there’s something here that you want; something here that you need.  But, what is it?

 

I also see some new faces.  You’re here looking for something and I pray that you find it today.

 

Hopefully your answer isn’t “it’s my Sunday obligation.”  I really don’t like that phrase.  It implies that coming to mass is something you have to do, like renewing your driver’s license or paying your taxes.  I don’t believe God wants you here because you think you have to be here.  I believe He wants you here because you love Him; because you want to be here.

 

Maybe a better question might be, “What do you get out of coming to mass?”  Do you leave church feeling better than you did when you came in?  If so, why?  If not, why are you here?

 

I thought about all this as I was praying on today’s Gospel, the story of Simeon.  It’s a short reading, just 18 verses, but there’s a lot there, almost too much to cover in one homily.  There are only five players in the story and one of them is too young to speak, even though He’s the central character in the drama.  In fact, the only one who does speak is Simeon.  Ask yourself, which one of these people do you identify with?

 

This is the only time we hear about Simeon and Anna in the whole New Testament, but it’s a pivotal story.  Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as Luke says, “just as it is written in the law of the Lord.”  Mary and Joseph were faithful, observant Jews.  They had come to make a sacrifice. In this instance, the Holy Family were fulfilling an “obligation”.

They meet Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man.  “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”  He’s waiting to see the Messiah.  You might say that Simeon was the very first Christian.  He came to the temple to seek Jesus.  No one had ever done that before.

 

Luke doesn’t tell us how Simeon knew that Jesus was the One, but he did know.  He took Jesus in his arms, blessed God, and says his famous prayer;  “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace….”  That’s why Simeon was in the temple.  He was looking for peace.  Maybe that’s why you and I are here.  We’re looking for peace, too.

 

The next part is very interesting.  Luke says that Mary and Joseph were “amazed” at what Simeon said.  A popular phrase in today’s litigious world is “what did he know, and when did he know it?”  It something we ask about politicians all the time.  Obviously, Simeon’s words were a revelation to Jesus’ parents.

 

“You yourself a sword will pierce.”  Moms, you know what he meant.  Seeing your son run through with a sword is just as painful, just as real, as if the cold steel had penetrated your own body.  Imagine if someone said these words to you.  How would you feel?

 

Then we have Anna, an elderly woman who actually lived in the temple.  She worshipped “night and day with fasting and prayer.”  She gave thanks to God and “spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Anna was in the temple to worship God.  Maybe that’s why you and I are here.  I hope so.

 

Five people—three pretty good reasons to be in church.  Anna was there to worship and give thanks to God.  Simeon was there to find Jesus and to find peace.  And Mary and Joseph were there to fulfill a religious obligation.  Jesus was there because He’s God.  Where else would He be?

 

While I was preparing these comments for today, I asked my wife why she goes to mass.  She said it gives her hope; another great reason to be here.  We come to worship God, to receive Him in the Word and in the Eucharist.  We’re reminded that anything is possible with God, even turning bread and wine into Jesus Body and Blood.

 

We live in a messed up world.  The time between masses is a time where we’re tempted and pressured to forget about God.  We’re all just so busy.  I became a deacon so I could serve His people.  I was very idealistic.  I thought I would spend a lot of time in prayer and ministry.  It turns out I spend a lot of time pushing paper, filling out forms, going to meetings, dealing with the physical demands of a 160 year old church, and dealing with a thousand things that anyone could do. Do I spend your money to have the parking lot plowed and salted or do I wait and hope that the snow will melt?   It’s all about serving God and you, but sometimes the spiritual side takes second place.

 

Last week I visited Otto Stanovsky at the hospital.  As I was leaving I stopped to visit with a lady whose mother was about to die.  I talked to her and prayed with her and thought to myself, this is why I was ordained and I don’t do nearly enough of it.

 

I know your lives can be the same.  You have good intentions about praying and doing good works.  But somehow the days and weeks go by and you’re pulled in a hundred different ways.  Thanks be to God that we have this hour, this time in God’s house, to get away from all that and do what Christians are called to do.  Whichever character in today’s Gospel we identify with, our time at mass is a time to recharge our spiritual batteries.  This is the time to forget our problems and put them in God’s hands.  This is the time to cleanse our minds and focus on what’s really important.

 

In just a few minutes we’ll have the opportunity to take Jesus into our bodies.  It’s not symbolic.  It’s not a meaningless ritual.  It’s real.  It’s the gift God gives us to fortify ourselves against the bad things in this world.  Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven.  For that we should give Him praise and worship.  In return, He gives us peace, joy, and hope.  That’s why you and I are here.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–“The Jesus Cookie”

“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, 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, and I will raise him on the last day.

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  John 6:53-56

Isn’t it ironic that so many protestants who insist that everything in the Bible be taken literally write this passage off as being only symbolic?  They believe that God could part the Red Sea, that Jonah could escape from the belly of the giant fish, and that Jesus could walk on water, but somehow they can’t imagine that Jesus could make His Body and Blood present in bread and wine.  Let’s read on:

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.cAnd he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

OK.  Jesus has been sent by His Heavenly Father to proclaim the good news and to create a Church, gathering as many disciples as possible.  He’s doing pretty well, then He makes this statement.  “Eat my Body and drink My Blood.” and people start to walk away.  They left.  Shouldn’t Jesus have stopped them?  Shouldn’t He have said, “Wait!  I was only speaking symbolically!  Don’t leave.”

But He didn’t.  He knew what He was saying was true and He knew how He was going to make it happen.  Tomorrow we will celebrate Holy Thursday.  It’s the day we celebrate Jesus’ last meal with His disciples and His creation of the Eucharist.  It was at this Passover meal that He said,

“Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.”

Then, when supper was ended he held up the cup and said,

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this in memory of Me.”

This is what the late Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story”.  Taken along with the quote from John’s Gospel, this explains what is happening.  He told them to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and now He’s explaining how they can do that.  He commands us to do this in memory of Him.  It’s almost an insult to Jesus to think that He couldn’t do this.  He’s God.  He can do whatever He wants.

Sure, there’s some mystery attached to the Eucharist, just like there’s some mystery to everything else He does.  We’re called to have faith.  If everything were crystal clear, if the bread and wine changed their appearance and texture at the Consecration, then faith wouldn’t be necessary.  We sing at the Benediction of Holy Hour, “Faith will tell us God is present, when our human senses fail.”  The bread and wine change to the Body and Blood of Christ but our “human senses” just aren’t sharp enough to see it.  Again, our belief is based on faith.

So, what’s the deal with anti-Catholics who take such vile offense in our belief in the Eucharist?  What’s their problem?  The phrase “Jesus Cookie” is one that anti-Catholic Jack Chick uses in many of his works.  It’s a phrase that’s designed to get a response from Catholics.  It’s about as offensive a statement as someone can make about our beliefs.  We must realize that when someone has no logic or facts to support their position, they often resort to name- calling and abusive language hoping to get a rise out of their opponent.

Some haters refer to Catholics as “cannibals” because we eat Jesus.  Former Catholic Jim Walker writes,

“Not only did I drink blood and eat flesh, but they made me do it in front of a statue of a bloody corpse hanging by nails on two pieces of lumber, a representation of the human whom I had just eaten. (Imagine eating a hamburger in front of an image of a freshly slain cow.)”

Obviously that’s a ridiculous statement.  The appearance of the bread and wine doesn’t change.  It tastes like bread and wine.  It looks like bread and wine.  But the essence of Jesus Christ is contained in both substances.  When we consume the Eucharist we aren’t taking a bite out of Jesus or just drinking a sip of His blood.  His entire Body and Blood are contained in each particle of bread and each drop of wine.

I think the real issue is this.  It takes a heap 0f faith to believe that Jesus can change bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  It’s so hard to believe that only true believers can accept it.  If a person refuses to accept this teaching the problem isn’t with the teaching or with the teacher, the problem is with that person’s lack of faith.  Rather than admit their weakness they choose to ridicule those of us who do have faith.

How sad it must be to be a nonbeliever.