Today's Gospel begins with a reference to the Eucharist; the disciples share how Jesus made himself known in the breaking of the bread. Even though these followers of Christ walked with Jesus all the way to Emmaus, it wasn’t until he began celebrating the Mass that they recognized him. They are filled with such excitement, wonder, and awe that they run back to Jerusalem the very same night and share their great news with the apostles who are hiding in the upper room.
I think of this excitement, wonder, and awe each year as we welcome new members into our Church at the Easter vigil. In much the same way, I love seeing the nervous excitement and pure faith of our second graders as they receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. Just yesterday this happy moment took place and their lives will be forever changed whenever they get to be present at Mass and witness Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
As a priest, I pray in a special way for our people who are going through these milestone moments of faith as new Catholics and first-time communicants. I ask God to protect them and help them grow their spark of Faith into a roaring flame. I ask for some of their zeal and reverence, in case some of mine has been lost from being around our Catholic faith my whole life. Lastly, I pray they don’t fall out of love with God or with His great gift to us: the Mass, the Breaking of the Bread!
Sometimes people tell me they don’t go to Mass anymore because they found it boring or they didn’t get anything out of it. I try not to be defensive but it always hurts my heart. Even when the complaints are not directed at me personally, its hard not to want to shake that person and say, “do you realize what you are saying?” Even with a boring homily, or less than inspiring music, or fidgeting servers, or whatever human imperfection was observed in one of the ministers at Mass, Jesus is still present in the breaking of the bread. Sometimes we make the Mass about us but it’s supposed to be about Jesus, offering himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. Sometimes we want instant gratification, entertainment, comfort, and inspiration, all in less than an hour a week from Mass. But meeting Christ in the Breaking of the Bread is a relationship which takes time and effort to understand and experience its life-changing effects.
Let me give a personal example that might illustrate the point. About five or six years ago I found out I had high cholesterol. Each year it kept going up despite changes in diet and consistent exercise. I didn’t want to go on a statin drug so my doctor said a natural remedy of oatmeal for breakfast and a supplement of red yeast rice might work but I would have to be faithful to using both every day for it to have an effect. Virtually every morning I have a breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, raw honey, and walnuts. I'd prefer bacon and eggs or cinnamon toast crunch but over the past two years, my cholesterol has nearly been cut in half. If I start to skip this healthy breakfast and only eat it once or twice a month, or simply at Christmas or Easter, or only when I feel like it, I am certain my health will suffer accordingly.
The same is true with our faith. If I eat Jesus' body and drink his blood at least once a week at Sunday Mass, I will have his life within me. My soul will become spiritually healthy. Sometimes I will enjoy Mass and look forward to being present at the breaking of the Bread. Other times it will be a deliberate decision, a labor of love. The important thing is that I commit to being present and active each and every Sunday regardless of what feelings I experience. This language of eating and drinking is not meant to be a rare event but something a Christian does often: weekly, maybe even daily. Perhaps this is why our wise God made weekly worship one of His 10 commandments. St. John writes in today’s second reading "The way we may be sure we know him is to keep his commandments." Let’s be regulars every week at Mass. Let’s be present at the Breaking of the Bread every Sunday so that we can recognize the Lord and his Love can be perfected in us.
There are three tried and true ways to make sure our relationship with God never stops moving forward: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer, which I have just spoken about with the Mass and of course our daily conversations with God, including reading Scripture, praying the rosary, and so many other ways we stay in contact with the Lord.
Fasting, is that voluntary choice to give up good things from time to time to grow in self-control and also to remind ourselves that we are not the center of universe. Fasting can involve food, entertainment, sleep, or any other morally good thing and it helps keep us grounded as pilgrims working our way back to heaven.
Finally, Almsgiving, which is prayerfully giving some of our material resources to support the Church and help those who are less fortunate than us. There are many ways to do this, but probably the two main ways for you and me would be to contribute to Incarnate Word parish and the Annual Catholic Appeal, which Charlie Hildebrand is going to talk to you about now.