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Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Case for Christian Marriage (27th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

“The union of man and woman in marriage [is] a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.”

Pope Francis spoke these words several years ago to highlight the importance of healthy families and healthy marriages for the good of the world. The family is the basic building block of society and serves as the most accurate barometer of how a nation is holding up. If families are generally happy, wholesome, and functional then the country will move in the same direction. On the other hand, if families are broken, dysfunctional, and sources of conflict, then it is only a matter of time before the society begins to mirror those wounds and problems. The same is true about the institution of marriage. Healthy, holy marriages make for a better society. 

So what is going on in our world today??!! If marriage and family life are beneficial to society, why does our culture often undermine these crucial institutions? There is no one person or problem to blame. It is a perfect storm of many factors that have converged to make an environment that is often hostile towards married life. The truth is, God’s plan for marriage and family has been under attack from the moment Adam and Eve lived in the Garden. The problems we see today such as domestic violence, rampant divorce, casual infidelity, abortion, contraception, and same-sex unions are all rooted in the human desire to re-define God’s plan for marriage and family. 

But rather than dwell on the problems that face married couples and families, I think it is more helpful to consider the many positive things Christian marriage has to offer our world. This holy sacrament provides future generations for the world. It offers a safe and stable place for children to grow and develop so they can be healthy, productive members of society. Marriage strengthens the spouses in every aspect of life and allows them to be more than they could be by themselves. It multiplies joy in good times and gives strength and comfort in the midst of adversity. At its best, holy matrimony brings husband and wife closer to God and to each other and helps spouses and their children get to heaven. It allows Jesus to be present through all of life. The sacrament of marriage is not just a prayer during the wedding, it is not just a blessing of two people, it is far more. It is the partnership of God with two people as they establish a new unit of his Church. The sacrament of matrimony establishes the home with Christ at the center.  It is a bold, public pledge to live according to God’s plan. It is a solemn vow to work with God to build up His Church and serve as a living portrait of his Divine Love. That is why people get married in the Church. That is the ideal. 

However, we live in a world that often gives up on ideals. We live in a world where people, good people, suffer the result of sin. "But there is disorder”, the Pharisees say to Jesus in the Gospel. The Law of Moses, after all, permitted a bill of divorce. "This was not God’s original intention”, Jesus replies. Disharmony in homes, among people, is a result of generations of sin. We have many wonderful people in our parish whose marriages have suffered. It may not be their fault; it may not even be their former spouse's fault. Many good people suffer the destruction of their marriage and the inability to form a sacred lasting union due to the effects of sin in the world. It’s not so simple as to blame it on one spouse or the other. Therefore, we need to have a special place in our hearts and in our charity for those who have suffered the loss of their marriages. They have been pulled away from the intention of the Creator by the forces of the world. They need our support and our love. As for sin and suffering, it was never in God's plan for evil to enter the world. 

God never meant for people to be widowed, divorced or without a loving spouse. In God's original plan there would be no need for people to work so hard to establish and preserve their marriages. It is tragic how evil attacks something so good. The divinely created attraction of men and women to image God has been deformed into a drive for selfish gratification. Sexual intimacy is portrayed by the world as having less to do with love and more to do with pleasure. But deep down, people know better. People know the ideal of marriage exists. But they need more than the ideal. People need a living, breathing example of what this looks like. 

We need the witness of your marriages as a union with God, demonstrating the Creator's Love for the world, making real what is often talked about as theology. We need the witness of your marriage, your sacrament. Your marriages are infinitely more than natural unions. You are not animals who mate for life. You are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, who are called to make God real to the world by reflecting His Love in your love for each other and for your children. The world needs the Sacrament of Matrimony. We need you to be married in the Church and to live this sacrament. 

How important you are to us all! We the single, the celibate, the separated, the divorced, the widowed, need you, the married, to embrace and live the ideal of marriage. We ask God's blessing today on all in our parish who celebrate and live the sacrament of matrimony. May you have the courage and strength to give witness to the presence of God in your marriage and your family.

Monday, September 24, 2018

It All Belongs to God (25th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Throughout the Archdiocese, we are encouraged to reflect on the theme of stewardship for this weekend. To lead us in that direction, consider the story about a family coming out of Mass on Sunday. The man said to his wife, “father’s homily wasn’t very good.” The wife added, “Yeah, and the choir sang off key.” Their son was listening to his parents and he chimed in. “It seemed OK to me, especially since it only cost us a dollar!”

That is a caricature of one approach to weekly worship here at Mass and to religion which can be summed up in the question, “What am I getting out of it?” or “what is it doing for me?” This mentality seems to be popular with many Catholics, especially today when there are countless commitments and forms of entertainment competing for our time and attention. But there is a deeper, more rewarding approach to weekly worship and service called Stewardship. It is based on the fundamental truth that we all have the same heavenly Father. The implications of this truth are enormous. If God is our Father, then he is the source of all we have and are. It also means we are brothers and sisters and we have a responsibility for each other and to God as a sort of spiritual family.

It is hard to keep that perspective today. In many ways our society is coming apart. One can easily respond by saying that I will take care of myself. Let others worry about themselves. Live and let live. Of course, I will be tolerant of others - as long as they don’t get in my way. But if we all have one father, if we are brothers and sisters in Christ, that approach won’t work. Because of Jesus, we have to care for each other as family.

The way we express this reality is by Stewardship, that is, dedicating the first portion of our time, talent and treasure back to God in grateful recognition that he is the source of all we have. Traditionally and biblically, this is expressed by the tithe; give 10% back to God and use the remaining 90% for our needs. In the Scriptures, this 10% was not given last from the leftovers but was given out of the best, the first fruits. 

There was a boy in the nineteenth century who lived by this rule. He came from a modest family. In his first job he earned $1.50 a week. He brought the money home to his mother who placed it in her lap. She said, “John, I would be very happy if you gave ten percent back to God.” That Sunday, young John placed fifteen cents in the collection. From that time, he gave God ten percent of everything he earned. He went on to become one of the richest men in America – John David Rockefeller.

Now, you could certainly find things about Rockefeller to criticize. Still, he knew the first part belongs to God. I am not here to preach the gospel of prosperity or to say that tithing will make you a millionaire, but I promise it will bring peace, purpose, blessings and you will always have what you need! 

For many people Stewardship is frightening. They would like to do it, but don’t know how to start. They feel they have too many debts or obligations. I remember feeling this way when I began giving as a seminarian. I was timid and started out at 4 or 5%. But you have to begin somewhere —— and the hardest part is committing to giving God his share first, whatever that amount is. Rockefeller said if he had not tithed his first dollar, he never would have tithed his first million dollars.

On a personal note, it took me seven years to reach the goal of tithing, which for me is 5% to the parish and 5% to other charities. Interestingly, and sometimes inexplicably, in the years since I made this commitment, I have been increasingly blessed and have been able to give even more than the 10% I originally planned. God has taken what I have given to him, blessed it and returned it to me many times over. I have always had more than I needed.

Stewardship does requires planning and prayer. If my giving to God consists of whatever is left in my wallet each weekend or happens simply when I remember or feel like it, it will be nearly impossible to be a good steward. It will be an afterthought at best.

Stewardship is not just asking us to prayerfully consider the charitable giving of our financial resources. Sometimes giving money is the easy part. Even more importantly, we need to give God a portion of the best of ourselves which is our time and talent. We are all are busy, but try to look at it in a different way. Each of us has the same number of hours in a week: 168.  45, 55 or even 60 go for sleep. Another 40 or more are spent on one’s work or studies. That still leaves about 70 hours. We give one hour to God at Sunday Mass. Could we give an additional hour or two – say in Eucharistic Adoration, in a faith formation program, serving on a parish or school committee, or some other ministry at Incarnate Word? Could we also prayerfully look at the amount of time we spend on entertainment, especially on the internet or in front of the TV? Did you know that the average American spends 5hrs and 4 minutes a day watching tv and another 24hrs a week on the internet? Think how our lives, our families, and our parish would be transformed if we gave 10% of that screen time to God in personal prayer? Can you imagine how much more peaceful our hearts would be?

Giving part of our best time, talent, and treasure is important. As I mentioned – and I believe many people sense – our society is becoming unraveled. There is a temptation to pull back and circle the wagons. I sometimes experience it myself. I have even felt a sense of discouragement come over me while at Mass as I think of the many needs of our church and how difficult it is to get people to help. I am somewhat ashamed to say it, but it’s true. However, what gives me new hope and purpose is when I visit the kids in their classrooms at the school and PSR or interact with our teens in the youth group who want to know more about our faith and how they can be a part of it. You and I want to make a better society and a better parish for their sake.

For their sake, I am asking you to make a commitment of Time, Talent and Treasure. And there is no minimum age for stewardship. All of us have something to offer God because he has blessed us so much. We have one Father. We are all brothers and sisters – with a responsibility for each other. God owns it all……we are called to share and give some of it back so others may be blessed and our happiness may be multiplied.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Take My Kidney, Pope!! (24th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the great theologians of our time is a man named Scott Hahn, who converted to Catholicism after serving as a Presbyterian pastor and professor. Most of you probably know his name and I think the parish has given some of his books as our Christmas and Easter gift. Anyway, in one of his talks he tells the anecdote of Pope John Paul II needing a kidney transplant. There was much concern throughout the Roman Catholic world, knowing that without a donor the Pope would soon die. People spontaneously gathered outside the Pope’s apartment in St. Peter’s Square screaming and waving their hands. The Pope heard all the noise and poked his head out the window. The crowd went nuts and started chanting, ”Take my kidney, Pope, take my kidney!" Well, the Pope didn't know what to do, so an idea popped into his head. He asked everyone to quiet down and he told them he was going to throw down a feather.  Whoever the feather landed on, that would be a sign from the Holy Spirit, that they were meant to be the donor. The Pope then dropped the feather off his balcony and you know what he heard? "Take my kidney, Pope," (trying to blow it away), Take my kidney (trying to blow it away)."

The past two Sundays we have reflected on the wonderful and practical letter of St. James. His words are just as relevant now as they were then as he urges us to care for the afflicted and show no favorites. In other words, don't treat someone differently because they can do something for you. This leads into James’ message for today: if our faith is only words and doesn't have actions to back it up, it is empty and dead. Put another way: we demonstrate our true beliefs and character by how we act. It’s easy to say, “Take my kidney, Pope!” but it is a whole other thing to go through with it. 

Along the same lines, there is a story about Charles Blondin, who was a famous acrobat from France in the 1800’s. He was like the early version of the Flying Wallendas or Evel Knievel with his sensational tricks. Once Blondin gathered a crowd at Niagara Falls. He asked them if they thought he could walk a tightrope stretched across the Falls. The crowd cheered their approval. Then he asked if they believed he could do it blindfolded. Once again a booming cheer. Finally he asked if they believed he could do it pushing a wheelbarrow. The crowd went wild with excitement. Blondin then approached a man cheering loudest. "Do you really believe I can do it?" "Of course," the man said. "Then," said Blondin, "Will you get in the wheelbarrow?”
Take these stories and consider them in relation to your friendship with Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Catholic Church. I think most of us would profess loudly and confidently that we believe Jesus is God. In fact we will do exactly that after the homily as we say the Creed together. We believe he can do anything. Still, aren’t we a little, or even a lot, reluctant to get into that wheelbarrow. It's one thing to believe, to profess with our words; it's a whole other thing to put it all on the line, whether that be our body, soul, future, finances, reputation, or whatever else. The wheelbarrow represents the Church. I admit that wheelbarrow looks pretty rusty and beat up right now after some of the shameful scandals and poor leadership exposed by the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania. With all that, I am grateful we have people brave enough to get into the wheelbarrow and let Jesus lead them. Those who keep coming to Mass, who keep praying to God in their hearts, who keep ministering to others in his Name, even when the world calls for us let go of our faith and our Church. It’s in these dark and painful moments of crisis where we learn what it means to live our faith beyond words. Is it more than mere talk? For some priests and bishops, it was not. As we see in James, true faith involves care of the afflicted and avoiding sexual sins, greed, deceit, envy and arrogance. 

True faith also means we trust Jesus and don't go after illusions. In today's Gospel Jesus places the cross at the center of what it means to follow him. Peter takes Jesus aside and arrogantly tries to correct him. Peter wants a messiah, a savior, but not a suffering servant like the one Isaiah describes in today's first reading. He wants a powerful, conquering king with worldly power and glory. Jesus minces no words. "Get behind me, Satan." Jesus knows how Satan works. He can orchestrate huge evils like the Nazi concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, abortion, and yes, the clergy abuse scandal. The devil can also work through basically good people - like St. Peter. He does it by getting us to turn away from the cross. It’s natural to want to run away from any suffering or pain. But we should never forget that through our baptism, we are given grace and strength to think and act not only naturally but also supernaturally. We don’t have to go looking for suffering, but when it inevitably finds us, we must remember that Jesus and his cross give it meaning and purpose.   

We are fortunate enough to have the words of St. James words for two more Sundays. I think of them like a challenging treat, like a delicious ice cream that punches you in the face. For today we see that true faith requires not just words but also actions. Living our faith means taking a risk - getting into the wheelbarrow. Or to put it in Jesus’ words, taking up our cross and following him. True faith means accepting the irony that "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it." 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Danger of Hypocrisy (22nd Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

There is a story told of a priest who was called out to the hospital located in a not-so-great part of town in the early morning hours to anoint someone. After performing his priestly duties, he was walking back to his car when he was confronted by a mugger who exclaimed, “give me your money or I’ll shoot!" As the priest fumbled with his wallet, the thief saw the collar, and changed his mind. The relieved priest lit a cigarette and offered one to his would-be robber. The latter proudly said, "No thanks, Father. I've given up smoking for Lent." Like the would-be thief, many of us Christians can lose sight of the forest because of the trees. The danger of sin is that it opens up a disconnect between what we believe and how we actually behave in everyday situations. We can end up being very observant of certain traditions while blindly missing the essentials of what it means to follow Jesus. There is a danger, St. John Newman warned, of thinking God takes our sins lightly because we take them lightly.

One of the warnings running throughout the readings this week at daily Mass and today for the 22nd week in ordinary time is this: Don’t be a hypocrite! In other words, make sure what you believe and how you act line up. Don’t say one thing and do another. There is something universally reviling about hypocrites. We can't stand it when we learn that models of morality have been leading secret, immoral lives. We are upset when those whom we respect are revealed to be indecent frauds. Sadly we have seen this principle in action with the clergy scandals that have afflicted the Church in recent times. 
We agree with the Lord in his attack on the hypocrites. But then Jesus turns the focus of his teaching towards us. He says the things that are evil are what comes out of us. He doesn’t just lead us in a round of mob justice to condemn all those bad people in the world; rather Jesus forces each of us to ask, "Am I a hypocrite? What thoughts, words, and actions are coming out of me? What is my heart producing?" We need to be concerned with fighting against any evil that might be lurking inside us. We can easily see the wrong in others, but if we are to avoid being hypocrites ourselves, we need to control our thoughts. We need to protect ourselves against those things which will turn black and white into gray. We need to be wholesome. We need to be pure of heart. We need to be gentle, strong, and merciful. 

Because the human reaction to hypocrisy is so visceral, there is a danger that when we see it in ourselves, when we are the hypocrites, we give in to self-hatred. But God doesn’t want us hating ourselves. We must replace self-hatred with love, His Divine Love. We belong to God. He is among us and, through the grace of our baptism, He is within us. His gift of grace will help us win the battle for our souls. And this is the great irony: the thing God can’t stand the most (hypocrisy) seems at first glance, very similar to the thing He loves above all else! God loves sinners so much he didn’t even spare His Son to save them. So what is the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner? One key thing. The sinner avoids becoming a hypocrite by honest reflection on his or her life. The difference is that the sinner says, “God, I am sorry. I have done wrong. I need your help. I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else anymore. I want to do good things but I am weak. I understand the sins of others because I have my own weaknesses and failures.” 
One last observation. Just because the hypocritical Pharisees misused the commandments to harden their hearts doesn’t mean God decided to throw away the Law! Jesus does not dismiss the commandments or the notion of sin but he condemns using it to afflict, judge, or hurt others. Jesus exposes the Pharisees for honoring God with lip-service while their hearts are far from him. But the problem is with them, not the moral code. The commandments and teachings of right and wrong come from God and cannot change or be dismissed even when its teachers lead horrible lives. Perhaps the saddest result of hypocrisy in some of our moral leaders today is that it makes it easier for us to dismiss the saving truths they were supposed to be representing. That is the ultimate scandal of hypocrisy: the splendor of Divine truth, found in God’s laws and commandments is obscured by human pride and weakness. 

Today it would be a good idea for each of us to pray for the grace to be able to humbly and honestly reflect on our own life and actions. How do they or don’t they line up with the teachings we have received from Christ through Scripture and Tradition? Is what comes out of us in the form of thoughts, words, and actions consistent with what we profess and believe as followers of Christ? Is there anything we are doing or not doing that could lead someone to doubt the truth of who we represent, namely Jesus Christ? Are we willing to look first at our own sins and weaknesses rather than brushing over them to point out the faults of others? Do we think, consciously or not, that we are better than others, which is a sure sign we need God’s help to root out hypocrisy in ourselves. 

The Good News is that God’s love is steadfast! He will never stop loving sinners who confess their need for Him! So let’s be set free from any pride or self-righteousness that might afflict us. Let’s openly admit to God that we are weak and sinful and in need of His care. Make use of the sacrament of confession which he gave us as a way of returning to him and receiving his gifts of healing and strength. Pray not only for yourself, but for all who wander in darkness and for anyone who may have been hurt by our sins and hypocrisy. In time, with God’s grace, we can become the person described by the psalmist, ‘who does justice and who will live in the presence of the Lord’!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Eucharist and Fission (Bread of Life Discourse, Week 4)

This weekend marks the fourth stop in our reflection on the “Bread of Life Discourse” of John’s gospel. So far, we have pondered the themes of food, faith, and forgiveness in relation to the Eucharist. Today’s point for meditation comes to us, not from scripture like the other three, but from Pope-Emeritus Benedict. In his homily to young people attending the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, he said the Eucharist is “like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being—the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.” Let’s spend some time this morning on this theme of nuclear fission as we enter the fourth dimension of the Eucharist. 

In high school science most of us probably learned something about nuclear fission. Science wasn’t one of my strengths and I apologize to all you physicists out there. Nuclear fission involves unleashing energy inside matter which then multiplies and increases energy. Since this process involves some of the building blocks of matter, —-things like neutrons and protons, the effects can be enormous. The element uranium is the natural engine of fission and it can do incredible things, even in small amounts. For example, one kilogram of uranium, which equals 2.2 pounds, can produce as much energy as 3.3 million pounds of coal! One pound of highly enriched uranium, like that used to power a nuclear submarine is equivalent to 1 million gallons of gasoline. 

What looks like a humble rock has enormous power inside. Just so, says Pope Benedict, Jesus' death "on the outside is simply brutal violence - the crucifixion - from within, it becomes an act of total self-giving love." Jesus renews that self-giving in the Eucharist and is literally a dynamo of grace and love and mercy. When the priest lifts up the host and says, this is my Body given for you - and the chalice, this is my blood poured out for you - Jesus draws us into his self-offering. By his cross he takes us to the Father through the Holy Spirit. You might protest: But I am a sinner. I am terribly distracted. There is so much I don’t understand! So were the disciples at the Last Supper. They even started falling asleep! Jesus takes us to the Father despite our sins. 

Those failings afflict us, but you know Jesus still wants to take us to His Father. The forgiveness - the acceptance - we experience in the Eucharist can remake us. The Eucharist is the great sacrament of forgiveness. Think about this: If God put so much potential energy and power in uranium, how much more potential has he put in you? Several pounds of this rock can give light and warmth to an entire city. Consider what God can do with you.

As technology advances and we explore more of the universe, it becomes increasingly clear that God has done amazing things in our world. Just think of the incredible images we have received from the spacecraft near Pluto and the probe on Mars. But we have something even more amazing within ourselves. The American physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, said, "Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe." God has put enormous potential power in us: the nuclear dynamo which is our body, mind, and most especially, our soul. To unleash that energy, God wants to refine us with something even greater - the Body of Christ. Jesus tells us today that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. It only makes sense when you think about the fact that you and I are composite beings, made of matter and spirit. Jesus, who is perfect God and perfect man, did not take up a human body, then discard it. No, he redeemed and perfected it when he rose, body and soul, from the dead. He gives us his body so we might have eternal life.

I want to offer one last thought on the topic of nuclear fission. It is something that has incredible potential for good so long as it is carefully used and applied in the right circumstances. However, if misused, there can be terrible consequences. I am thinking specifically of the atomic bombs that were dropped 70 years ago on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed some 200,000 people. More recently, the Cold War comes to mind and currently, there is much concern about what will happen if Iran enriches enough uranium to make a nuclear device. How sad that something with so much potential for good has also been used to hurt so many!

In a very similar way, the Eucharist must be respected, cared for, and never taken for granted. Because the Eucharist is God himself, it has great power; power for good if used correctly, another type of power is misused. In fact, St. Paul warns Christians in 1 Corinthians 11 that anyone who receives the Eucharist unworthily, which is to say, mindlessly or in the state of mortal sin, eats and drinks condemnation on themselves. We should be on guard against becoming too casual in receiving Communion and taking it for granted. For example, how many Catholics now refer to Holy Communion now as simply bread and wine? We need to look deeper and be mindful of what God is sharing with us. Remember what Pope Benedict says: “the Eucharist is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being.” What an incredible opportunity that is for spiritual power, warmth, and light to radiate out of our soul!

May the life and love of God, the same life and love that created the universe out of nothing and redeemed a world full of sinners, may that life and love be placed in your hearts today at this altar and enable you to help good conquer evil! 

Eucharist and Freedom (Bread of Life Discourse, Week 5)

To listen to this homily, click here.

We have arrived at the fifth and final homily in our Bread of Life reflections. We have seen four dimensions of the Eucharist: Food, Faith, feelings and Fission (in the nuclear sense). Today we see the fifth dimension. Like the first four, it begins with the letter "f". It is a word central to the Bible and that word is freedom! Freedom is used many different ways in our time, but for the person who follows Christ, it means the power to choose what is right, to make a choice for the good. It is not the ability to do whatever we want; that is anarchy! 

Our readings today focus on this freedom to make important decisions. Joshua tells the Israelites, "Decide today whom you will serve." St. Paul tells husbands they have to make a choice: Are they going to love their wives? Not just in an emotional or romantic way. That kind of love comes and goes. Rather, St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the Church; down to the last drop of his blood. And in turn, wives should give themselves completely to their husbands. In the Gospel Jesus confronts his disciples with the greatest choice of all, "Do you also want to leave me?”

God has given us freedom - a great gift, but also a bit frightening. Pope-emeritus Benedict said, "Freedom is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil." He spoke these words to the boys and girls of Rome's prison for minors. No matter how limited we feel, God has given each of us the gift of freedom. Our readings remind us that it is up to us to decide how to use it. 

In addressing his disciples Jesus makes it clear that the decision comes down to something very concrete: The Eucharist itself. These past weeks we have been hearing Jesus say over and over again, "I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger...The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world...Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within flesh is true food and my blood true drink. An essential part of being a disciple of Christ is believing in the Eucharist and consuming it for strength to follow in the Master’s footsteps. This requires faith and, as we have learned, faith is a gift. "No one can come to me," says Jesus, "unless the Father draw him." We receive the gift of faith in Christ, by asking for it in prayer and helping it grow stronger by mindfully receiving his true presence in the Eucharist. 
All of this is wonderful to reflect on, but it also has practical implications: We have to make a choice. It’s not enough to inherit our Christianity as cradle Catholics; each of us has to become an intentional disciple who deliberately chooses to believe and follow Jesus. Our faith becomes real, personal, and intentional when we confront questions like: Are we going to live our faith outside the walls of Church, even when no one is looking or no one else is doing the right thing? Will we worship Jesus when the priest lifts his Body and Blood at Mass? Will we approach Communion with reverence? Will we spend time before Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament here in church, especially in adoration? Will we consciously make time for the Lord everyday for quiet prayer? Or, will we be like the many people in today’s gospel that left the Lord and no longer followed him because his teaching was too hard and demanding? 

God is so respectful of us and our freedom that he lets us decide. He won’t make us believe or force us to receive the Eucharist, even though these are the very things that will bring us happiness and life. When human freedom is partnered with the power of God’s grace, amazing, inspiring, and joyful things happen. When human freedom is used only for personal satisfaction, —- apart from the Lord, ——- it always ends up bringing some sort of disorder, sadness, and pain. An excruciating reminder of this truth is the recent news of abuse and cover-ups in Pennsylvania where priests and bishops used their freedom in the most disordered and cowardly ways. And all of us will experience the fallout for years to come. Human freedom is an incredible gift that must always be used in a responsible and holy way, lest we inflict pain on others.

Pope Benedict gives us a final image to wrap things up. He compares the Corpus Christi procession to Mary on the road to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary carries Jesus inside her just as we carry Jesus in the monstrance. Mary consciously chooses to accept the responsibility to be the mother of God with all the challenges and sacrifices that come along with it. Perhaps that is what is so beautiful and exciting and slightly terrifying about every pregnancy for families expecting a child. They are deliberately accepting their unborn child with all the sacrifices and obligations he or she brings. In living our faith in Christ, we face a similar choice to carry him within us and accept him with all the sacrifices and obligations that follow. Take time to consider the words of Joshua, "Decide today whom you will serve." And above all, Jesus' question: "Do you also want to leave me?" We have a choice; God respects our freedom. I pray our freedom will be a springboard to God and not an inclined plane toward sin. Hopefully we can be inspired by the image of Mary carrying Jesus within her. She can help us realize the true potential of our freedom. She can help us say the words of St. Peter: "Master, to who shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Monday, August 13, 2018

Eucharist and Feelings (Bread of Life Discourse, Week 3)

To listen to this homily, click here.

This weekend we enter the mid-point of Jesus’ preaching on the Bread of Life. Over the past two weeks, we’ve reflected on the Eucharist as food and also the role faith must play if this heavenly food is going to transform our lives. Today’s readings give us a chance to consider another aspect of the human experience as it relates to the Eucharist, namely our feelings and how they can move us closer or further from God and each other. So let’s look at the feelings put forward for us in the Scriptures. 

In the first reading, Elijah has just triumphed over 450 prophets of Baal in an epic showdown of whose God is real. Elijah is vindicated in a dramatic display before all the people. When God shows him his favor, Elijah orders the 450 prophets to be slaughtered for serving a false god. This infuriates the evil queen Jezebel and she sends a message to the prophet that she has sworn to kill him. So Elijah does what any reasonable person would do when a powerful, bloodthirsty queen wants to destroy them; he runs off into the wilderness to hide. But Elijah is no Bear Grylls! After just one day in the unknown, he is afraid, hungry, and begins to despair. “Just take my life,” he exclaims, and lays down to die. God has a better plan and sends an angel with food. Eat, get up and get ready for your journey. Elijah thinks about it but his depression is too great and he lays down again. The pestering angel comes again and helps Elijah eat and drink and he continues on his way as God asked.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells the people to get rid of unholy feelings and passions, namely bitterness, fury, anger and malice. But he is not asking them to be robots. Instead he encourages them to imitate God by latching on to holy affections like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. 

In the gospel, Jesus starts to hear pushback from his challenging teaching on the bread of life. St. John tells us that the people begin to “murmur”, the same word that was used in Exodus, when the people grumbled against God and Moses, even though they had been given so many miracles and blessings. Today the people murmur because they think they know who Jesus is. They are indignant that this son of a carpenter is claiming to be the true Bread come down from heaven. Their feelings of confusion soon build to outrage and disgust.

Having heard a bunch of feelings in the Word of God, we can ask, “what role do they play in the life of a Christian?” Why do we have them? Are they good or bad? Feelings are neither morally good or bad in and of themselves. Many times we have no power over when they come to us. They become good when they lead us toward God and promote charity towards each other. They become sinful when they lead to evil. God created us with feelings for a reason and we should be grateful for them. Think how easy it is to love someone when we feel affection for them.

As Christians, we should pay attention to our feelings and make them part of our prayer. We shouldn’t try to ignore or suppress them because God can speak to us through them. But we should always remember that our feelings are meant to be governed by our mind and our will. God never intended them to rule us. Imagine if parents only loved their children according to how they were feeling on any given day! Or spouses only loved each other when they felt it? Or friends remained friends as long as it easy and felt good. Feelings can help us love God and each other but true relationship can exist even when those affections fade away or even become negative. Loving God and one another happens because we choose to do so deliberately and freely, not always by what we feel.

So how does this relate back to the Eucharist and the Bread of Life teaching we have been hearing?  All of us come to Mass with many different feelings at various points in our lives. Sometimes we come to the Eucharist with excitement, joy and anticipation. Just think back to the day of your First Communion. How inspired we all were and full of piety! Other times we come to Mass and we receive the Bread of Life with very little feeling. That’s not our intention but it’s just the way things go, especially after receiving Jesus hundreds or even thousands of times. This happens to priest also. My first Mass after ordination was a moment I will never forget. I felt love for God and for all the people who had helped me become a priest that I thought my heart would burst. I felt so much zeal that I wanted to set the whole world on fire for God, one Mass at a time. 10 years later, I still have those moments of intense consolation and inspiration. But more often, loving God, serving you, offering Mass mindfully and with preparation doesn’t happen on its own, it requires getting to know Jesus deeper and deeper. It demands my faithfulness in those times when it is easy and also when it is dry. 

The same is true for every Catholic. There will be times of great consolation and inspiration when we come to church. There will also be many moments of dryness where we wonder if the Eucharist is doing anything for us. Pay attention to these consolations and desolations but realize they are not the final word. Jesus is the True Bread come down from heaven. His Body and Blood feed us whether we feel it or not. His saving sacrifice offered to the Father at every Mass, redeems the world whether we feel it or not. Ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass through the miracle of God’s power, whether we feel it or not. God loves us and yearns for our friendship every moment of every day, whether we feel it or not. 

So what do we do with these feelings? When they console you and help you to love God and others, praise Him and allow those feelings to move you further in your faith. When your soul feels dry or even opposed to God, don’t despair, don’t let those feelings rule you. Make the conscious choice to love and serve the Lord and the people he has placed in our life. In time, peace and contentment will be ours. May the words of the psalm be the song of our soul, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall ever be in my mouth!”