The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (May 29th, 2016)

Today the Church in the United States commemorates with great care and solemnity, the gift of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, what we know as the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Communion, is not for us Christians merely a symbol of Christ, or an expression of community fellowship, or a metaphor, but it is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself. God in Christ makes himself food and drink, so that, taking him into our bodies as nourishment, we can become like him. Adoring and Receiving the Blessed Sacrament we adore and receive Christ.

This is all very mysterious and mystical, and what else could it be? All actions of the God to reveal himself to us are mysterious and mystical, the breakthrough of God into this world is always confounding and never fits easily into worldly categories of experience and understanding.

The Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, is the breakthrough of God’s life and presence into our lives and into this world. It might seem easier and safer for us to construe the mystery and mysticism of Holy Communion into a symbol or a metaphor, but this construal, is not what the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is.

We don’t make the Eucharist what it really and truly is, God makes the Eucharist what it really and truly is- and what God in Christ makes the Eucharist is the gift of his very life.

The scriptures for today are all evocations of the mystery and mysticism of the Blessed Sacrament.

The first scripture, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Genesis, recalls the ancient patriarch’s Abraham’s encounter with the priest and king Melchizedek, who offers bread and wine to God as an affirmation of his covenant, that is, his relationship with Abraham. In response to the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek, Abraham makes his own offering “a tenth of his possessions”.

The story of this encounter and offering is presented to as a foreshadowing of the Blessed Sacrament we receive from the priest and king Jesus Christ. The Blessed Sacrament establishes us in relationship with God in Christ and our response to the offering of the priest and king Jesus Christ is that we offer him our very lives.

The second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which contains one of the earliest descriptions of the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is not an invention of the Church, but a reality that Christ’s first disciples received from him. It is Christ who declares the Eucharist to be his Body and his Blood and it is Christ who makes the Eucharist the sacrifice of his new worship.

The Eucharist is the worship that God wants for it is the worship that God in Christ gives.

We might desire a different kind of worship and even invent forms of worship to satisfy our desires and needs. These invented forms of worship might even appear to us to be more appealing and entertaining than the worship God in Christ gives to us, but they are not what God wants and they will never give to us what the worship that is faithful to Christ gives. The worship we create may provide us with ideas and feelings and experiences that we associate with God. The worship of the Mass is different.

We do not receive in Christ’s worship, the Eucharist, merely an idea or feeling or experience, but Christ himself. No form of worship, except the form of worship Christ gives to us, can give us the life and presence of Christ himself.

The meaning of our scripture from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians should be taken as this: From the time of the Apostles, the Church has offered the worship that we know as the Mass. It is not just a matter of human custom, but fidelity to Christ, and receiving from Christ, the gift that he wants to give. This gift is his life and his presence, given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

Finally, the Gospel of Luke testifies to the great miracle, a display of Christ’s divine power. He feeds a vast crowd with only a few morsels of food.

There is no natural explanation to what is described in this account from Luke’s Gospel. The people cannot give to one another what they do not have. The disciples cannot give to the people what they do not possess. There is nothing to share, for there is nothing at all to share.

God in Christ provides for the people what they cannot provide for themselves. They can only eat and be satisfied because Christ gives them food that he through his divine power creates.

This miracle foreshadows or anticipates the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, heavenly food that God in Christ gives to us, a food we cannot create or provide for ourselves. Christ accomplishes a miracle to suggest to his followers an even greater revelation that is to come- the gift of his life and presence, given to his disciples as food and drink, given to us as a meal, given to us as the Blessed Sacrament.

A greater gift than the food that fed the multitude is the food that Christ makes of his Body and Blood. Greater than the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the revelation of the Eucharistic mystery.

Throughout the Church’s year of worship, there are reminders to us of what we believe. Knowing what we believe, we know who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Knowing who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus we can also know what God in Christ wants us to do.

If we forget what we believe, we will inevitably forget what Christ wants us to do, and then we will no longer be Christ’s disciples.

The stakes are high when we forget what we believe and what we are supposed to do.

For this reason, the Church reminds us, and today the Church reminds us yet again what we believe the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is- the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

We remember what we believe about the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might be made worthy to receive what we believe.

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Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 26th, 2016)

In this morning’s scripture, an excerpt from the first letter of Peter, the apostle testifies that the Church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart” and further “you are now God’s people”.

All these ascriptions are biblical allusions to Israel- these are the names by which Israel was first called in the Old Testament. The apostle’s point is that the Church is Israel made new, redeemed and transformed by Christ.

The purpose of Israel was to reveal the presence of the one, true and living God to the world and to exemplify, through their unique way of life, the values of a people who lived in relationship with God. Therefore, the purpose of Israel, was not simply introverted, intended to advance the causes and interests of those privileged to by members of Israel, but extroverted- intended to introduce the one, true God to the world and to invite others to share with them a relationship with the living and true God.

What is true for Israel is true for the Church. The Church is Israel, redeemed and transformed by Christ. The purpose of the Church is to introduce Christ the Lord to the world and invite people to share his unique way of life.

We can only be what the apostle describes- a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set apart- God’s people if we are intentionally engaged in the Church’s mission to introduce people to Christ and inviting people to share his unique way of life. The apostle is not merely complementing us by calling the Church these wonderful things, he is setting a standard, reminding us who we are so that we can do what God in Christ wants us to do.

To be a “chosen race” means to be set apart for mission. To be a “holy nation” means that we are active participants in a unique way of life, that is intended to make us ever more like Jesus Christ. To be a “royal priesthood” means that we prioritize service and sacrifice, and sacrifice for the sake of service. To truly be God’s people means that we are living in accord with God’s commandments- particularly the commandment to love one another as God in Christ has loved us.

Is this who we are?

To be a Christian means we have abandoned the pretense that our life can simply be self-directed and self-created, merely an exercise of will to power and the fulfillment of our own desires. The Christian does not lead a self-directed life. The Christian leads a Christ-directed life and this way of life is called the Church.

Christ displays his divine power in today’s Gospel- healing a blind man of his affliction. It was actions like this that left his disciples both amazed and afraid.

Christ is the revelation of God, and he can only be the revelation of God if he is really and truly God. It was through his mighty and astounding deeds that his disciples saw his divine identity with their own eyes.

Christ heals a blind man of his physical affliction, but a deeper and more penetrating affliction is a spiritual blindness, that, at its worst, is a refusal to see Christ’s revelation. A revelation is first and foremost, a vision, a way of seeing, this new way of seeing provokes us to change our way of thinking and acting. We see Christ first, and from this revelation, we are invited to think and act differently.

And so Christ reveals himself to us, in Word, in Sacrament, in the poor, and in the Church, but are we willing to see him or is his revelation, or do we look away, even blind ourselves to his reality- lest we have to change? If we see we might believe and if we believe we might have to change.

And it is in our refusal to see Christ, to believe and to change, that we choose darkness over light, blindness over vision.

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Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time (May 18th, 2016)

The New Testament Letter of James is filled with practical advice for disciples of the Lord Jesus. This advice is not without its severity. The Letter of James takes as a given that disciples of the Lord Jesus are willing to change their lives and make the necessary sacrifices to be authentic and faithful witnesses of Christ in the Church and in the world.

Today’ excerpt from the Letter of James is about wealth, and how a preoccupation with wealth can lead to the elevation of money to an idol, and once this happens, we are in great peril. The capital sin of the Bible of idolatry and it is our desires that create the idols that we worship. The desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors is can become particularly pernicious.

The Letter of James insists that preoccupation with wealth leads not only to idolatry, but also, inevitably, to cruelty, and if in our pursuit of wealth we deprive people of their dignity, that we will not evade divine justice.

The worldliness of our culture insists that wealth exists to serve our own ego-driven desires, but this is not what the Gospel reveals. The Gospel reveals that wealth is to be placed in service to Christ, to human dignity, to relieve the sufferings of the needy and to enhance, rather than to degrade, human dignity. Higher than the value of humanity as a producer and consumer of wealth is the identity of all people as the children of God.

Christ employs hyperbole today so as to emphasize the necessity of conversion and repentance. Conversion and repentance are not merely spiritual options, or meant only for the most notorious of sinners, but they are necessities for all disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Our sins may not be all that dramatic, but whatever they our sins are, they hold us back, prevent us from flourishing in the gifts that Christ offers to his disciples.

Christ does not simply affirm us as we are, but insists that we change, this change entails repentance, seeking forgiveness for what we have done and failed to do and then extending to others the mercy that we have received.

God in Christ proves himself to be the great giver of another chance. But we must take that chance and live differently. If we are unwilling to do that the consequences we suffer and the consequences we impose on ourselves.

God in Christ offers us another way, a different way. God in Christ offers us another chance- but we must be willing to take the chance he offers.

Concretely, the chance that God in Christ offers is given to us in the great sacrament of his mercy- the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this sacrament Christ forgives us and offers to us what we so often need the most- a fresh start, a new beginning, the best of all possible second chances.

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday (February 13th, 2016)

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus seeks friendship with a tax collector and then goes so far as to make this man his disciple, that is a public representative of Jesus himself.

The tax collector is so overjoyed by his friendship with the Lord and his new mission in life that he hosts an extravagant party, inviting his own friends to meet the Lord Jesus and share in his joy.

This is viewed with curiosity and contempt the Pharisees and scribes.

Why?

Tax collectors during the time of Christ’s revelation were not merely civil servants, but were considered to be collaborators with the foreign powers that ruled Israel. Remember, during the time of Christ, the Israelites were subjects of the Roman emperor, and as subjects, they were taxed. Many Israelites resented this taxation as much as the resented that their nation was ruled by Caesar. The Pharisees and scribes are expressing this resentment and the anger and contempt such resentment engenders. Christ, it seems to them, is currying favor with the enemies of the Israelites, when he should, if he was a true Israelite, shun tax collectors and refuse to associate with them.

Christ understands the situation differently.

Instead of shunning, Christ offers friendship, and this offer of friendship accomplishes what shunning the man never could- the man meets the Lord Jesus and discovers and receives from him a new way of life. Whereas the approach of the Pharisees and scribes left the tax collector to languish in his sins, Christ’s approach gives him the possibility of a second chance at life. A man imprisoned by a worldly system that dominates him and makes him a enemy of God, is set free to become God’s friend.

It is friendship with God in Christ that changes lives, and transforms those who are enemies of God into servants of God.

This is precisely the kind of transformation Christ can accomplish for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, we present ourselves as sinners, as we all are, but what we receive from him is not a cold rebuke but the invitation to become again a friend of the Lord Jesus, and in this offer of grace, we receive the gift of another chance.

During the season of Lent, the Church asks that we prepare ourselves for the great events of Holy Week, events that are really an encounter with the Lord Jesus, by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a spiritual option for a pious few, but an ordinary practice of the Church’s way of life. All of us have sinned, either by what we have done or what we have failed to do, and all of us are soul sick and in need of the care of Christ, the Good Physician.

Christ’s care is offered to us in the Church, which really is, whether we understand it as such or not, what Pope Francis describes as a “field hospital” for the world. The Church is supposed to be a refuge and place of healing and hope for those who are wounded by sin, and it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ acts through his priests to heal our sin-sick souls.

As I said, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not meant simply to be something extraordinary, but it is intended by Christ to be the ordinary practice of a disciple. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an integral practice of the Church’s way of life. During Lent we should not only call the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to mind, we should participate in it- we should do it. Why languish in feverish soul-sickness, when Christ the Good Physician is ready and willing to offer you healing and hope?

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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 23rd, 2015)

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Joshua. The Book of Joshua details how the Israelites reclaimed their ancestral lands after suffering as slaves to the gods of Egypt and wandering for years as nomads in the wilderness.

After many trials and tribulations, the Israelites have been tempered like steel in a crucible, and they are now ready to go home. But first, they must make a decision- will they give their lives over to God or serve false gods? The Israelites must decide. There is no possibility of evasion or equivocation. It’s God or the false gods.

Idolatry, the worship of false gods, is the capital sin of the Bible. All other sin originates in idolatry. Idolatry happens when we elevate a finite reality, even a good thing, to our ultimate concern, and making some thing our ultimate concern, we make it into a god.

So, you need not worship mythological beings to be an idolater or participate in bizarre rituals. False gods can be constructed out of nearly anything and are most often constructed out of our desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

The Bible insists that all those who would profess faith in the true God must abandon service to false gods. This is not just a matter for ancient Israelites, it is a matter of pressing urgency for all Christians.

The challenge laid down before the Israelites by Joshua is a challenge laid down before all of us- there is no possibility of evasion or equivocation.   It’s Christ or the false gods. Whom do we serve? Whom will we serve?

Our second scripture is an excerpt from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The Letter to the Ephesians is St. Paul’s testimony about the relationship of Christ to his Church and the Church to Christ and our relationship to both.

Today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Ephesians likens the relationship of Christ to the Church as akin to that of a marriage, in which the love of spouses is manifested in self-sacrificial love. Christ gives his life over as a sacrifice for his Bride, the Church and she in turn gives her life over to Christ, her Groom, as a sacrifice.

It is this mutual, self-giving, sacrificial love that expresses itself in the life of that the Church generates in the world. All the works of the Church are meant to be understood as expressions of the self-sacrificial love of Christ for the Church and the Church for Christ.

Without this self-sacrifice, there is no potential for creativity and life and the mission of the Church falters and fails. The conditions for the possibility of life in the Church are a disposition of love and willingness to make sacrifices.

St. Paul understood that that it was the mission of Christ to love the Church and the Church to love Christ and this love would demand sacrifice- each would mutually give their lives for the other.

If we think of Christ in impersonal ways, merely a figure of historical significance, lacking a relationship to him which manifests itself in genuine acts of faith, hope and love; and if we think of the Church as merely an corporation that provides services in exchange for a monetary transaction, we should not be surprised that our experience of the Catholic Faith lacks life-giving power.

Christ is a living, divine person, and his relationship to the Church, that is, to us, happens when we accept that he is a living, divine person who offers us a relationship with him. Acceptance of the relationship is not like a financial transaction that secures for us membership in a club, but it is more like the vows that a husband and wife accept as the conditions for their marriage.

A marriage without love will not endure and there is real love, authentic love, true love without sacrifice. Unfortunately, too many Christians attempt to have a relationship with Christ and his Church without either love or sacrifice. It is for these reasons that parishes decline, dioceses becomes distant and impersonal bureaucracies, and the mission of the Church falters and fails.

For the past few weeks the Church has presented the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John as the Gospel text for Sunday Mass.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John provides us with Christ’s own testimony about the Eucharist, what the Eucharist is and what it means.

Christ is clear- the Eucharist is the gift of his divine life and presence given to us as food and drink. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Christ or an expression of community values. Even less is the Eucharist a cultural or ethnic custom. If we approach the Eucharist in there aforementioned ways, we distort the gift Christ gives us into an idol.

The Eucharist is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself!

Christ gives us his divine life and presence as food and drink so that sharing in his life and encountering his presence, we might become ever more like him. Christ gives us his divine life and presence as food and drink so that we can be fortified and strengthened for the mission he gives us to accomplish- both in this world and heaven.

The Eucharist is called the Blessed Sacrament and I don’t know how many of Christians actually consider what it means to call the Eucharist the Blessed Sacrament, but the reason the Church refers to the Eucharist is directly related to today’s Gospel.

At the dramatic conclusion of today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus insists that the Eucharist he gives will place the demand of a decision upon us- those who would be willing to participate in Christ’s Eucharist must decide whether or not they believe that the Eucharist is really and truly what Christ declares it to be.

Many refuse, and in their refusal, abandon Christ.

Christ insists that our reception of the Eucharist is always bound to a decision for or against Christ- are we for him or against him, do we profess to believe in him or not? No evasions or equivocations. We must decide. We cannot be simultaneously for and against Christ.

Sacramentum, the word from which “sacrament” comes from means “oath”. An oath is testimony, a profession of what we believe to be true. The condition for the possibility of an oath is a decision. That decision will reveal whether or not our oath taking is true or false.

The Eucharist is presented to us, and once presented and then we must decide whether or not to take the oath and receive. This is what our “Amen” made loud and clear before we receive is meant to signify.

If we receive, we are taking an oath, making a profession of faith, giving public testimony to what we believe to be true. If we cannot or will not do this, we should not receive. Receiving the Eucharist becomes dangerous to the soul if we construe it as a merely passive act without serious consequences.

Receiving the Eucharist is not a symbolic gesture of affirmation in regards to my membership in “Club Catholic”. Nor is receiving the Eucharist a matter of whatever an individual chooses it to mean.

Receiving the Eucharist is a serious decision. It is an oath we take. It is an encounter with the Lord Jesus in which we either give our lives over to Christ, the Holy One of God and the Master of Eternal Life or we return to the false gods and the former way of life we believed to be true before we knew and accompanied Christ.

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Wednesday of the First Week in Lent (February 25th, 2015)

The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jonah is one of the most delightful books of the Bible and is best described as a combination of an action adventure, a comedy and some of the most intense theological reflection in all the Scriptures

The prophet Jonah was one of the most reluctant and successful of the Israelite prophets. Sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites, the mortal enemies of the Israelites, Jonah resists, going the exact opposite direction of where God wants him to go! Jonah’s sense of justice is that it would be best that God destroy the Ninevites and he would rather not have a part in a plan that might deliver them from God’s wrath.

God has his own plans for Jonah and the Ninevites, and today’s scripture illuminates in a radiant display that God is the great giver of second chances. He sends his prophets to preach repentance, not so that people will fear his destructive wrath, but so that they will know that God wants to save us- he wants to give each and every one of us another chance.

But is it a second chance that we want? There is an adage that is sadly, most of the time true- that we would rather be ruined than changed. Repentance means that we are willing to admit that we are wrong and that we have to live differently, act differently, think differently. This is hard, and many prefer the misery of a sin-filled status quo because the prospect of changing seems so difficult.

But the stakes are very high in our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. God’s wrath does not so much mean that he does something horrible to us to punish us, but rather that we are beset with the consequences of our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. These consequences are usually pretty grim- in our refusal to repent we impose upon ourselves heavy burdens that can crush our souls.

Lent is a privileged opportunity to repent and we should take this opportunity seriously. Waiting to repent until some other time or thinking oneself exempt is really quite dangerous. The opportunity to repent is now. We may not have this opportunity later. Then what?

Repentance is integral to being a disciple.

Repentance is not just a matter of thinking that one can be forgiven or feeling that one is guilty. Repentance happens for us in a Sacrament, a Sacrament called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is not a spiritual option invented by the Church, but it is a gift from the Lord Jesus himself. It is in this Sacrament that we receive ourselves what God proclaimed through Jonah and offered to the Ninevites- the mercy of God and the grace of another chance.

Few seem to have recourse to this Sacrament. Perhaps they seek another sign than the sign that Christ has given to us in the Sacraments of his Church. Many think that God’s grace can be invented out of inner experiences of ideas and feelings, but God’s grace does not come to us in this way- God’s grace comes to us in an encounter with Christ the Lord, who gives himself to us in the Sacraments so that we can know him and serve him. If we seek signs other than the Sacraments Christ has given us, then there is no more appropriate a Gospel passage for us (and any other generation that seeks for itself something other than what Christ offers to us so that we might repent and be saved) then today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:

“At the judgment, the men of Ninevah will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah, they repented and there is something greater than Jonah here”.

Indeed, there is something greater than Jonah here- the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus given to us in the Sacraments of his Church.

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