Corpus Christi

francis eucharistic adorationI know you’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat.”  Normally it refers to ordinary food.  If you eat healthy food, you’ll be healthy.  If you eat unhealthy food, you’ll be unhealthy.  If you eat too much of anything, it’s not good for you.  Some of us, myself included, struggle with food issues for our whole lives.  Between diabetes and chronic stomach problems, the list of things I’m not supposed to eat is longer than the list of things I should eat.

 

Without getting into a biology lesson, we know that the food we eat is metabolized by our bodies and gives us energy and nutrients to keep us going, like fuel in a furnace.  If we eat the wrong things, or too much of the right things, and we don’t exercise, what we don’t use is turned into fat.  Burn more calories than you take in and you won’t have a weight problem.  Eat a double cheeseburger then sit on the couch for four hours watching television, that double cheese will go right to your hips.  Eat a salad then go for an hour walk, you’re on the right track.

 

The funny thing is that I didn’t just make this up.  We all know what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle, but some of us just refuse to do it.  I guess it’s just human nature.  To add to our frustration, there are some people who can eat everything in sight and never gain an ounce.  I REALLY don’t like those people.

But the topic today isn’t ordinary food.  On this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, I want to talk to you about spiritual food.  Our bad eating habits may stay with us for a lifetime, but our partaking of the Eucharist will lead us to eternal life.  Even skinny people have a place in heaven if they regularly receive Christ’s Body and Blood while they’re in a state of grace.

 

On March 15, 2011, Archbishop Carlson wrote concerning the Eucharist, and quoting from Blessed John Paul II,

“The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift—however precious—among many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.

 “Keeping in mind that the Eucharist is the heart of our relationship with Jesus Christ, we must never forget that whenever we participate, fully, actively, and consciously in the Eucharist we encounter not merely an article of faith, but rather, the living person of the risen Christ, our Lord.”

 

I was talking with some people the other evening and we were discussing how much more strict the Church used to be about receiving Christ’s Body and Blood.  Most of us are old enough to remember that we were to fast, beginning at midnight, before receiving Communion.  We can also remember when the first mass on Sunday was at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning.  There were no noon masses because no one wanted to go without food for twelve hours and Saturday afternoon mass was out of the question.  Nowadays we only have to fast for one hour, and there are even exceptions to that short period, mainly for the elderly and the sick.

 

Blessed John Paul II wrote in “Dominicae Cenae” (1980) of the problem of some people not being properly disposed to receive Holy Communion, even to the point of being in a state of serious mortal sin. He said, “In fact, what one finds most often is not so much a feeling of unworthiness as a certain lack of interior willingness, if one may use this expression, a lack of Eucharistic ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst,’ which is also a sign of lack of adequate sensitivity towards the great sacrament of love and a lack of understanding of its nature.” We must make a good faith effort to prepare ourselves properly to receive the Lord.

 

Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that He could always be with us, not just spiritually, but also physically.  I’m afraid that sometimes we take this gift for granted.  Think about how you would react if Jesus showed up at your front door.  You would be so humbled and excited that you wouldn’t know how to act.  Of course, you’d invite Him in.  You’d be in awe of his presence.  You’d probably react like either Martha or Mary, either making sure He was comfortable in your home, fixing Him a snack and giving Him something to drink, getting out your finest china and crystal, and fussing over Him.  Or, you’d want to sit with Him and listen to what He had to say.  His physical presence would put you on your best behavior.

 

In a few minutes, we’re going to have the opportunity to receive Him, not just in your presence, but within your own body.  Just as you wouldn’t ask Him to sit on an uncomfortable chair and offer Him a beer without a glass in your home, we shouldn’t invite Him into our bodies, unless we’ve prepared ourselves to be a vessel for His Body and Blood.

 

On the other hand, suppose your best friend invited you out to dinner at the finest restaurant in town.  You would put on your best clothes, maybe get a haircut, and be on your best behavior for such a fine meal.  After an hour or two, your dinner would be over and all you’d have left are the memories.  The meal you’re about to receive here today will stay with you forever!

 

According to the EWTN website, “Each time we receive Holy Communion we should try to be as devout and fervent as if it were the only Communion of our lives.”  I think that’s good advice.  What if we all approached the Altar as if this were the last time we’d ever receive Christ’s Body and Blood?  There are people in Catholic churches all over the world who WILL receive communion today for the last time.  Only God knows the day and time when we’ll be called home.  If we knew that today was our last day on earth, I think we’d all look at things a little differently.

 

Everything we do at mass leads up to the Eucharist.  All the prayers, and the readings are designed to put us into the proper frame of mind.  We ask God for forgiveness and mercy.  We praise Him in the Gloria.  We learn about Him in the readings and the homily.  Representatives of the community bring the gifts of wine and bread to the altar for Father to consecrate.

 

Notice that in today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t provide the fish and bread.  He leaves that up to the Apostles.  He didn’t have to do it that way.  God, the Father, made food fall from heaven for the Hebrews in the desert.  Jesus himself made wine out of water.  But Jesus wanted the people to provide the food just like He wants you to bring up the bread and wind.

 

We don’t use paper plates and styrophoam cups on the altar, we use sacred vessels because Christ’s Body and Blood are holy.  We don’t keep the leftovers in a drawer or cabinet, we reserve them in a tabernacle, a sturdy, locked receptacle in a place of honor in the Church.  If we spill His Sacred Blood, there are procedures that we follow to make sure there’s no desecration.

 

Throughout the mass we’re reminded that we’re not worthy to receive such a great gift.  “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Each of us knows our own hearts.  We know our sins and our shortcomings.  So does Jesus.  As we prepare to celebrate His great gift, especially on this feast of His Body and Blood, lets all examine our consciences, be aware of our sins, be aware that we’re not worthy, and ask Him for His forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

I Don’t Need to go to Mass

It seems that we hear this comment more and more often.  Sadly the people claiming they don’t need to go to mass call themselves “Catholics”.  What they don’t realize is that they’re harming their own souls and they’re harming the Church they claim to belong to.  “OK, deacon, I can see how they might be hurting their souls, but how are they hurting the Church?”

Let’s start with the fallacy of their reasoning.  The Ten Commandments tell us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  For the Hebrew people for whom this commandment was intended, that meant much more than our current Christian practices.  For them the Sabbath began at sundown the night before and ended at sundown of the Sabbath itself.  For the Jews that meant no work of any kind and a lot of time spent in the synagogue.  Our measly one hour mass on your choice of days (Saturday or Sunday) seems rather pitiful by comparison.  But, for now, that’s what the Church asks of us.

“But who died and left the Church in charge of my life?”  Simple:  Jesus died and left the Church in charge.  He said to Peter, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.”  Then He said to Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”  Some critics will say that Jesus was speaking only to the twelve and that this authority doesn’t apply to today’s church.

Well, take a look at what the eleven remaining Apostles did after Judas’ and Jesus’ death.  They were alone and afraid.  They were hiding out because their lives were in danger.  Yet they took time to appoint another Apostle to take Jesus’ place.  Clearly they had the authority to do that and they felt that it was an urgent need.  There had to be twelve.  It was the beginning of Apostolic succession.  New Apostles (bishops) are appointed and ordained by existing bishops.

I wrote this just the other day, “If you don’t believe everything Jesus said then He’s a liar and you can’t believe anything He said.”  I’d add to that that if you don’t believe everything He said, then you shouldn’t call yourself a Catholic.  Doing so makes you a liar because you don’t believe what Catholics believe.  You can paint white stripes on a black horse but it doesn’t make him a zebra, even if he says he is.

Here’s another thing that these so-called Catholics overlook.  Jesus left us with the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus’ very body and blood.  There’s only one place you can get it (with a few exceptions like hospitals and prisons) and that’s at mass.  You must attend mass to put yourself in the proper frame of mind to receive the gift of Jesus Christ both in the Word and in the Eucharist.  If you don’t see the value of that, or if, God forbid, you don’t believe He’s really there, then there is a serious gap in your Catholic education.

Here’s the thing.  If Jesus came back.  If He made appearances on television and invited you to come to Him, what would you do?  If you knew that He was going to show up at a local stadium and save everyone in attendance wouldn’t you put on your best clothes and go to that stadium hours early to be sure you got in.  Even if He was going to be 100 or 200 miles away, wouldn’t you make the trip?

Yet He does show up every Sunday in your local parish church.  You don’t have to drive 200 miles.  You don’t have to get there hours early.  You don’t even have to dress up (though that would be nice).  Jesus has made this salvation thing so easy it’s not out of the reach of anyone.  Yet 70% of the people who call themselves “Catholic” can’t be bothered to show up at His house for one hour once a week.

I want to go to heaven.  I want you to go to heaven.  I want everybody to go to heaven.  Jesus has given us this gift.  Does it really seem like such a burden to show up at His house once a week and say “thank you”?

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments.  In fact, for several years I used them myself.  “I don’t need to go to church.”  “I can talk to God anywhere I am.”  “Why do I have to go to a special building?”  You can’t kid me because I’ve been there.  Besides, you don’t have to kid me.  I’m not the one who’s going to be there at the final judgment looking you in the eye and asking “Where were you?”  Fortunately for me, I woke up before it was too late.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir here.  I doubt that anyone who reads this blog isn’t a regular church-goer.  But the statistics tell us that someone you love who has stopped going to mass.  You can give them a great gift by encouraging them to come back to the Church.  Feel free to share this post with them.  Maybe if they won’t listen to you, they’ll listen to a third party.  Whatever we do, it’s vital that we reach the ones we love before it’s too late.

Now to the second question, “How are these nominal (name only) Catholics hurting the Church?”  That’s simple.  Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do, He led by example.  Non-Catholics, especially those who have an axe to grind with the Church, look at everyone who calls themselves Catholic trying to catch us doing something wrong.  When people who don’t go to mass, people who say abortion is ok, people who constantly criticize the Church claim to be members it gives our enemies the ammunition they need to attack the Church.

You’ve heard the statistics.  “Most Catholics don’t support the Church’s position on ___________________ (fill in the blank).”  If that’s true then the Church must be wrong.  The trouble is that pollsters ask respondents to self-identify their religious affiliation.  If they phrased the question differently, asking if the person was a regular mass attendee the results would be much different.  Sadly, many of these former Catholics have a problem with the Church.  To tell an interviewer that they belong to the Church but disagree with its teachings may be their little act of defiance.

Bottom line, from a former nominal Catholic, nothing can substitute for attending mass and receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Thats where Jesus is and that’s where we should be.

See you in Church!

Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent

Are we “Losing our religion”?  According to this video from CBS News, the answer is yes.  The reporter cites some disturbing statistics from the Pew Forum that about 1/5 of the US population claims no religious affiliation.  ”

“Researchers call them “The Nones” – those who check the “none” box when asked to describe their religious affiliation.  And they’ve more than doubled since 1990.”  Surprisingly, in spite of their TV presence and their enormous “mega churches”, our protestant brothers and sisters have suffered the largest decline.  For the first time in history they make up less than one half of the population.  Of course, for those of us who prefer to see the glass as half full, Pew’s research shows inversely that 4 out of 5 Americans do claim to belong to an organized religion.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that one out of three Americans between ages 18 and 29 call themselves “nones”, not a positive trend for the Church.

According to the video, students said “they believe in God, but agreed organized religion has largely failed to adapt to a changing culture.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  Religion hasn’t adapted to the changing culture.  In other words, the Church, who proclaims the truth as Jesus taught it, should change the truth to reflect what’s happening in the world today.  “Thou shall not kill” should be changed to something like “thou shall not kill UNLESS the life in question is undesirable or inconvenient.

The Bible’s teaching on marriage, as handed down in the very first book of Scripture and confirmed by Jesus Christ, should be changed to better fit today’s secular approach that marriage, if necessary at all, shouldn’t be limited to one man and one woman.  The Church is just so out-of-date.  Maybe a new sermon on the mount might contain the phrase, “if it feels good, do it!”

I hate to be one of those people who refer to the past as some “golden age” but when I was young (not so long ago in my mind) couples who were “shacking up” as we called it, tried to keep it a secret.  We also called it “living in sin”, which is an accurate description.  Today it’s not only acceptable, it’s not even the exception.  An engaged couple who aren’t living together are seen as some kind of “religious fanatics”.  I’ve even heard of instances where parents encouraged their adult children to move in together.  Having a child “out of wedlock” was once considered shameful.  Now it’s commonplace.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t fault the “nones” as much as I fault the “feel good” churches, including the Catholic Church, who have been preaching a watered-down Gospel for years.  We’re very good at arranging protests in front of the abortion clinics, but when was the last time you heard a good pro-life homily?  How many of us who prepare young couples for marriage demand that cohabiting men and women separate until their wedding date?  Our premarital testing instrument even has a special section for these couples.  What kind of message is that sending?

The CBS video should be required watching for every minister in every church in America.  The US Bishops recently issued a document on preaching where they call for every priest and deacon to do a better job of tying the day’s readings to the lives of the people in the pews.  I hope every one of us who dares to preach has read it and will follow it’s teachings.  Here in Saint Louis, we are very fortunate.  The priest who teaches homiletics taught me just about everything that’s contained in this new document.  Most important is that we not be afraid to preach the truth as Jesus taught it, and not as the “changing culture” teaches it.

We are still in shock from the tragic event that took place last week in Connecticut.  I couldn’t help thinking that as they led the children from the school and asked them to close their eyes so as not to see what had gone on, that most have them are not unfamiliar with such mayhem.  They see it every day on television.  Unless a child isn’t allowed to watch any TV, including the evening news, chances are that he or she has seen more people killed in their young lives than anyone should have to see.

In fact, for the millions of American kids who play video games, they’ve committed virtual murder themselves more times than we’d care to count.  Is it any wonder that mass murders, as tragic as they are, are becoming commonplace in our “changing culture”?

Even worse, as tragic as the senseless killings in Connecticut are, and it is indeed a terrible tragedy deserving of the world-wide media attention that it’s getting, every day hundreds of unborn children are killed before lunch by people called “doctors” with no media attention whatsoever.

No, the Church doesn’t need to adapt.  The Church needs to stand firm and preach the Good News of the Gospel as Jesus taught it.  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think people are falling away from the Church because the Church is old fashioned.  I think they’re staying home because they hunger for the truth.  If they don’t get it in Church, why should they go?

The obvious answer for Catholics is the Eucharist.  But if we’ve failed to teach that Christ really exists in the bread and wine consecrated by the priest, then that’s not going to bring them to mass either.  I’m very afraid that our poor teaching of the basics of our faith is what’s driving people away.

And, lest we put all the blame on the Church, don’t feel like you’re off the hook here.  If you are a faithful Catholic; if you believe everything the Church teaches; if you can’t wait to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; why aren’t you spreading the message to everyone you know?  When is the last time you encouraged someone who you know has fallen away from the Church to come to mass with you?  If you found a great new restaurant you would want to tell your friends about it.  If you saw a great movie, you’d recommend it to everyone you know.  Why would you hold back on sharing the great gift of salvation with everyone you care about?

2nd Sunday of Advent

Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

All four of our readings today have something in common.  They all speak about joy.  In the first reading, the prophet Baruch tells Jerusalem to take off their robe of mourning and misery and to put on the splendor from God forever.  “Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”

 

Then, it’s our turn.  We respond to the first reading “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”  “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.”  Are you beginning to see a pattern?

 

In the second reading, Saint Paul writes to the Philippians, “Brothers and sisters:  I pray always with joy (there’s that word again) in my every prayer for all of you.”  Remember, Paul has visited Philippi and he’s writing to them after he’s gone, reminding them of the great gifts they have received.

 

Finally, we have reading from Luke’s Gospel.  Luke’s introducing us to the grown-up John the Baptist.  He’s a voice crying out in the desert:  “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Four readings, all with the same central point.  We should be filled with joy.  Here we are at the 2nd week of Advent.  Jesus is coming!  He’s coming to save us.  We’re floundering in deep water and He’s the life boat.  All we have to do is reach out to Him and we’re saved!  We should be the most joyful sons-of-a-guns on the planet.

 

But what is joy?  It doesn’t mean running around with a silly grin on your face all the time.  Webster says it means “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.  That’s a pretty good definition.  Joy is an emotion.  That last bit about the prospect of possessing what one desires is all about our joy as Christians.  We have the prospect of possessing the thing we desire most, an eternity in the presence of God. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”

 

What has He done for us?  He’s sent His Son to become one of us and to die so that our sins may be forgiven.  What more could anyone do?  Jesus has paid the ultimate price for you and me.  If we follow His instructions and His example, we have faith that when this life ends, we’ll go to heaven.  We come to mass to praise and worship God.  We come to give Him thanks.  We come to receive His very Body and Blood.

We had a wedding here Friday evening.  I love to do weddings.  Everyone is dressed up.  They’re all smiles.  They’re taking pictures because they want to remember the day.  It’s a happy occasion.  It’s also a sacrament.  It’s the only sacrament I can think of where the congregation bursts into applause when the sacrament is performed.

 

Now, ask yourself, “are you filled with joy right now?”  You just said you were, five times. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”  That’s what you said.  I heard you.  Did you mean it?  If not, then maybe you should prayerfully consider what’s happening on this altar.

 

Did you know that mass actually begins when the second person gets here?  It’s true.  That’s what the Church teaches and it’s what Jesus meant when He said, “whenever two or more are gathered in my name I’ll be there.”  That’s all it takes, just two and He’s here with us.

 

So, what do you do when you get here?  Do you prepare yourself for the miracle you’re about to witness?  Do you kneel before God and ask Him to put you in the right frame of mind for the liturgy?  Do you look over the readings and pray for understanding?  Do you greet your friends and any visitors who might be here?  All worthy ways to spend the minutes before mass considering that Jesus may be sitting right next to you.

 

Or do you spend your time in church gossiping and talking about others behind their backs?  Or do you silently pass judgment on those around you?  C’mon, you know what I mean.  Maybe you’re critical of the way someone’s dressed.  Maybe somebody’s child is making a little too much noise.  Maybe, and this is surely one of the greatest sins of all, maybe someone is sitting in your seat!  Yikes!

 

Look, I can talk about these things because I’ve done them myself.  God help me, I still do sometimes.  It’s a common human fault.  When we put someone down, either by speaking ill about them, or just by thinking it, it may make us feel good for a short time.  We’re saying we’re better than that other person.  But honestly, we don’t build ourselves up by tearing others down.  What we really do is replace the feeling of joy that we should be experiencing with something else.  Maybe the responsorial Psalm should read, “The Lord has done great things for us; we should be filled with joy!” 

 

We should recognize this great church as the holy place that it is and act accordingly.  We should be welcoming to friends and strangers alike.  We should participate in the recited prayers and the sung prayers.  We should see that the sacrament of the Eucharist is just as exciting as the sacrament of matrimony.

We should be beacons of light in a dark world.  As we prepare for the birth of the

Christ child, we should examine our consciences and count our blessings. “Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”

 

 “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”

 

 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The following is the homily I gave this past weekend.  Enjoy.

Poor Elijah.  He’s not having a good day.  He’s tired.  He’s discouraged.  He just doesn’t want to go on.  To appreciate how he feels, we have to backtrack a little in his story.  Elijah is the only true prophet in Israel at this time.  In the episode that comes before today’s reading he’s come across 450 false prophets of Baal.  Baal was the god of the Queen, Jezebel.

 

Elijah challenges the false prophets to a kind of barbeque cook off.  Each side would sacrifice a young bull.  Whichever side’s god sent down fire for the sacrifice would be the winner, the true God.

 

Each side got a young bull and began praying to their god to send down fire.  Evidently Baal’s lighter was out of gas, his wood was wet, or he couldn’t find any newspapers to use for kindling because his bull just lay there like a sack of wet laundry.  Meanwhile, Elijah’s bull was consumed by fire.

 

After Baal’s no-show, Elijah had all 450 false prophets put to death.  Needless to say Queen Jezebel wasn’t happy and ordered that Elijah be killed.  The prophet runs for his life and that’s where we pick up the story today.

 

Elijah’s gone a day’s journey into the desert and we find him sitting under a broom tree.  He’s praying for death.  Then he lays down and goes to sleep.

I think at one time or another we’ve all felt like Elijah.  We get tired and discouraged.  We’re surrounded by negativity.  TV and the newspaper are full of bad news.  The economy’s in the dumps.  Unemployment is at record highs.  People are dying in wars and at the hands of ruthless dictators.  Hurricanes and tornados are destroying lives and property.  Who wouldn’t be discouraged?

Crazy people are going on shooting rampages in movie theaters and houses of worship.  Earlier this week, a mosque in Joplin (as if Joplin doesn’t have enough problems) was burned to the ground.

 

As Catholics our faith is constantly under attack.  Our own government is telling us what we should believe and how we should practice our faith.  Just up Broadway a group of religious sisters is meeting to decide whether or not they should obey the Holy Father.  In Friday’s paper, the GOSSIP COLUMNIST posted an editorial on the sisters’ meeting, as if she knows anything about it.

 

Then there’s the child sex abuse scandal, a story that just won’t go away.  No matter how much good the Church does, no matter how many people we help, the media always come back to the abuse scandal.  Somehow, 40-year-old cases make front page news, meanwhile other cases of abuse involving non-priests get little or no coverage.

 

Things happen in our own lives that can be even more discouraging.  Maybe you, or someone close to you has lost their job.  Maybe you can’t make the mortgage or the car payment.  Maybe your grown children have stopped coming to mass.  Maybe you’re having a hard time praying.  Maybe you don’t think God’s listening to you anyway.

 

It’s enough to even make you want to sit down under a broom tree and pray for death.  I think we can all relate to this reading from the 1st Book of Kings.

 

God answered Elijah’s prayer, but not in the way he expected.  An angel touched him and said “Get up!”  and left him a hearth cake and a jug of water.  But he wasn’t going to be discouraged from his discouragement.  He ate and drank and then lay down again.  But the angel came back and ordered him again to get up again and eat, otherwise the journey would be too long for him.  So, he did as he was told and walked 40 days to the mountain of God.  Notice that the angel didn’t suggest he get up and eat, he (or she) wasn’t giving advice.  The word used in the reading TWICE is “ordered”.  God was demanding that Elijah continue his journey.

 

OK, deacon.  That’s all well and good for Elijah, but what about me?  What do I do when I get discouraged?

The answer to that question is in John’s Gospel.  Jesus tells the Jews, “I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

The Jews didn’t understand how this Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, could be the bread that came down from heaven.  It defied everything that they knew.  They knew the story of our first reading.  They had no problem with an angel bringing Elijah food and drink under the broom tree.  The knew all about their ancestors eating the manna that fell from heaven.  But this was something new; something unheard of.  How could this man, whom they had watched grow up in Joseph’s carpenter shop, somehow be bread!?

 

You and I know the answer.  We can sit under a tree for the next month and an angel isn’t going to bring us anything to eat and drink.  We can stand in the desert until the cows come home and manna’s not going to fall from the sky.  If we want to receive nourishment for our journey, all we have to do is walk up to this altar.  God gives us everything we need to make the journey.  It’s called the Eucharist.

 

That’s how we deal with discouragement.  That’s how we face the realities of living in the 21st century.  That’s how we get the strength we need.  Just walk down this aisle.  When Father or I say to you “The Body of Christ” and you say “AMEN”, you’re acknowledging that Christ is truly present in the consecrated host.

 

Now I’m going to say something that may seem as outrageous to you as Christ’s words may have seemed to the Jews. But it’s true.  It’s Church teaching and it’s sound theology.  If you don’t believe with every fiber of your being that the consecrated bread is really the body of Christ; if you don’t believe there’s a very real difference between the hosts in this chalice and what’s in the tabernacle, if you don’t know it to be absolutely true, then stay in your seat.  When you respond to the words “The Body of Christ” with the word “AMEN”, if you don’t really believe it, than you’re lying to yourself, and worse, you’re lying to Jesus.

 

If you’re not in a state of grace, if your soul isn’t free from sin, stay in your seat until you’ve taken advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation.  Otherwise, you’re just piling sin upon sin.  As Saint Paul said, anyone who receives the Body of Christ unworthily is guilty of the Body of Christ.

 

If you had a cheeseburger ten minutes before you came to mass, stay in your seat.  You’re supposed to fast for one hour before you receive the Lord into your body.  Considering the pre-Vatican II regulations about receiving the Eucharist, an hour really isn’t much to ask.

 

If you and I are going to survive in a world that offers us very little encouragement, we NEED the Eucharist.  It IS the true Body and Blood of our Savior and He gave it for you and me.

 

 

 

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #2 The Eucharist


“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.”  John 6:53

I think Jesus is speaking very clearly here even though many of those who heard Him speak didn’t know what to make of this statement.  More ironic is that, twenty centuries later, so many people still don’t get it even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  Let’s look at the rest of the passage:

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.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

What happened next?  Many of those who heard Him speak walked away from Him.  This was too hard for them to understand; too hard to accept.  Even today, knowing what happened on Holy Thursday, many non-Catholic Christians believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively.  The same people whose faith teaches that everything in the Bible must be taken literally refuse to accept the Real Presence of Jesus Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

But, look at the context.  Jesus had been sent by His Heavenly Father to establish a Church.  Beginning with just twelve Apostles He was gaining a following.  By His words and by His actions, He was gaining new followers every day.  Then He tells them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood and He begins to lose them.  They’re walking away.  If He’d been speaking figuratively wouldn’t it have made sense for Him to say, “Wait!  I didn’t mean you really have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.  It was just a metaphor; a figure of speech.”?  Read on.  He stands by what He’s said and then asks the twelve if they want to leave Him too.  Of course, they say “no”.

Even though the Apostles have faith in Jesus they still must have wondered exactly what He meant by drinking His Blood and eating His flesh.  It had to be the subject of a lot of conversation around the campfire when Jesus wasn’t there.

Fast forward to the feast of the Passover.  Jesus is about to clear up the mystery.  With His Apostles gathered around Him at the Passover table

 He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. Luke 22:19-20

Aha!  That’s it!  He doesn’t want us to actually bite into His holy flesh and drink the blood that flows from the wound.  He’s created the Eucharist and given the Apostles the ability to turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  That ability still exists today in our bishops and priests.  You and I can partake of the Eucharist, His Body and Blood.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  “

As a deacon, I prepare the altar for the priest and stand by his side as he turns ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.  I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the elements of the Eucharist look exactly the same after consecration as they did before.  They also taste the same.  Yet you and I know that they’re different.  How do we know?  Because we have faith.  Our understanding of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection tells us that Jesus was incapable of telling a lie.  If we don’t believe everything He said, then we can’t believe anything He said.  If we catch Him in even one lie, then our faith is destroyed.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we take him into our very selves.  It’s great to read the Bible, to go to mass, to pray privately, and to do any number of other things that bring us closer to Christ.  But when we receive the Eucharist we aren’t just close to Christ, Christ is within our very bodies.  No one can come closer to God than that.  Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider leaving the Catholic Church and giving up such an amazing gift.

Having Christ’s actual presence  circulating in our own bodies is beyond cool.  It’s so awesome that it’s almost indescribable.

[Side note.  If you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, please show Him the proper respect.  Think about what you’re about to receive.  Follow the Church’s minimal rules on fasting.  Don’t chew gum.  And come to church dressed appropriately.]