Homily for Sunday, August 23, 2015 – the 21st in Ordinary Time

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In today’s Gospel, we come to the climax of the Bread of Life discourse. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the crowd, “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.”

There are many ways to eat. If one were invited to eat cucumber and watercress sandwiches with the Queen of England at teatime, one would eat in a radically different way than if one had not eaten in three days and was dropped off at Arthur Bryants with a pocketful of twenties. In the first case, you would be more concerned with how to hold your pinkie. In the second case, you would be more concerned with not biting it off.

The word Christ uses for “eat” is tr?g?. In ancient Greek, it meant to gnaw or to devour. It was used in reference to how wild animals eat. He was stressing to His listeners that He wasn’t speaking in merely spiritual terms, but was in fact linking the spiritual with the flesh. You get your face in there and you eat Christ’s flesh and you drink His blood, or you are not alive.

And so we come to today’s reading. It is little surprise when considered in terms of the world that His listeners would respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” This is a very human response. We would be shocked if they had responded, “Grab your knives, boys. It looks like Jesus is on the menu.”

In our preaching for the last three weeks as we have heard the Bread of Life discourse, Father and I have both stressed the reality of the Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And today’s reading is the crux of it. The disciples rejects His teaching because it is too hard for them to bear; Jesus does not chase after them. He does not reassure them. He does not try to explain His teaching in easier terms to keep them. He lets them leave.

His response to them is one that links the Spirit and the flesh: “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.” Flesh is made and remade; it replaces itself, and it can be replaced by God in its perfected form at our resurrection from the dead, just as it was in Christ when He rose from the dead. It is the spirit that is eternal. It is the spirit that is unchanging in the physical realm, because it has no being in the physical realm. It is, in its nature, spiritual, and that is the source of our life. We transcend mere biology and are creatures of flesh and blood and spirit and life – I would even go so far as to say soul and divinity, for we certainly possess both as gifts from God. Certainly, we are not God; we do not possess the totality of divinity, but we have the spark of it given to us by God. We are the union of both because we are made in the image of God, and it is for this reason that we can receive both from Christ in the Eucharist.

The skeptic here might say, “If that is true – if it’s really that simple – why didn’t Christ just explain that to them?”

The answer is simple. The disciples who heard Christ speak did not have a crisis of understanding of the nature of the Eucharist. That is a problem we have today. Our Lord had not instituted the Eucharist yet. That would happen at the Last Supper. In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus is laying the groundwork for a much deeper understanding. He doesn’t expect that His disciples will have that understanding yet. It is a hard teaching, but Christ helps us through it. He gives us the eyes to see and the heart to understand, if only we open our eyes and soften our hearts to the teaching of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Christ lets His disciples leave not because they have a crisis of understanding, but because they have a crisis of faith. He tells them point blank what they must believe, and they are unwilling to believe it. Tr?g? on that the next time you’re tempted to say, “Sure – I’m a Catholic, but I disagree with the Church on <fill-in-the-blank>.”

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. They lack faith and they abandon the truth. Probably, some went on to become Gnostics, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the ancient world. Heresy is always easier than orthodoxy because you get to make it up to suit your own desires.

Many disciples leave and Our Lord goes to His apostles. You can imagine His voice heavy with pain… with disappointment… with loss. He has just seen many of His followers abandon Him because they cannot believe. He says to His apostles, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter is often teased today by those who say he usually “didn’t get it.” He is, sadly, sometimes made out to be something of a clown stumbling his way through Holy Scripture. I disagree. The response Simon Peter makes to Our Lord are the words of a man who profoundly gets it. They are the words of a man of deep faith, one with the courage to say to God, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

These are the words of a deep and abiding faith. These are the words of a man who can weather hard teachings in faith because he understands that there is another side to the hard teachings and he knows that in God, all is at work for our good. Our Lord would never give us a hard teaching because He wants to watch us suffer. He gives us a hard teaching because He wants us to be better than we were before… because He wants us to be the creatures He made us to be: creatures of flesh and spirit… creatures of body, blood, soul, and – yes – the spark of divinity.

And how does He accomplish this? By letting us become what we consume in the Holy Eucharist.

The teachings of Holy Mother Church are not random. They do not drop out of a void. All of them come from God and all are meant for our good. And they all should be accepted in faith. Every single one of us – every person who ever was or who ever will be – has the choice: he can accept the truth, live the truth, and let the truth transform him… or he can turn his back and walk away, attempting to remake the truth in his own image. Ultimately, of course, he ends up far from the truth, alone and adrift.

But even then, there is still hope. Even Simon Peter had his own crisis of faith when Christ was taken before the Sanhedrin. But Peter realized he was fleeing from the truth, and he returned to Christ and begged forgiveness for his error. There is always a path back.

Let us pray always for the courage to respond in faith and not from doubt. Let us pray for the grace to make our faith strong and for the wisdom to see the errors behind our doubts. But most of all, let us pray for the eyes to see the Truth to which we are called and to realize that the only way to the Truth is through Jesus Christ Himself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Homily for Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What does God owe us? Today’s Gospel reading speaks very much to that question. Does God owe those who love Him longer more than those who come to Him late? Do deacons get a bigger halo than your average layperson?

Clearly not. One might argue that it’s not fair that those who worked an entire day for the landowner got paid the same amount as those who worked only a few hours. In the words of my dear father, a truly wise and patient man – and words that I heard on numerous occasions as I was growing up, I might add, “Not fair? What idiot told you life is fair?”

The truth is, God owes us nothing. We are the ones who owe God, and we owe Him everything. Considering the size of our debt, He really asks very little of us. Our job here on earth is to know God, to love God and to serve God. Our goal – the goal He calls us to – is to be with Him forever in heaven. That is the goal for everyone.

If one person works his entire life toward that goal… if he dedicates his every moment toward becoming a saint, and God accepts him into heaven at the end of his life, there is cause for rejoicing. If another person thinks very little about God throughout most of his life, but toward the end comes to God, repents of his former ways, and at the end of his life earns the reward of heaven, there is also cause for rejoicing. In both cases, the reward is equal. In both cases, the cause for rejoicing is equal. It would be unjust of the first person to think that he was in some way cheated – they have both been given the same reward, the only reward, and the reward that is offered to all not as something that is our due, but as something that should be our life’s goal.

Nevertheless, though the reward is the same, be the first person. If you make knowing God, loving God, and serving God central to your life, you will have no cause for disappointment later… no cause for shame for a misspent life and missed opportunities. No cause for sadness at the realization of what might have been. The joy of knowing and loving God and dedicating your life to His service is a reward in its own right, because it is the path that leads to peace and wisdom in this life and the beatific vision in the next.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard….

August 16, 2015

Dear Parish Family,

Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.

In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified. She — for Wisdom is a she — offers understanding to the simple. She invites us to her table and offers to share with us the fruit of wisdom.

However, the gaining of wisdom is not assured. It is not enough to merely sit at the table; one must eat the food and drink the wine. In short, one must do.

One must also forsake the way of foolishness in favor of the way of understanding. Wisdom does not fall into our laps; such is not the natural order of things. We must seek her.

It is easy to be the fool. It is easy to be mean spirited. It is easy to be uncharitable. It is easy to be small, and petty, and foul, and every other thing that comes through sloth… through lack of effort… through lack of charity… through a desire to do as little as possible for others while taking as much as we can for ourselves. Being pushy and hateful is easy; any fool can do it. It is basically the default path for fallen mankind — but it was never intended to be.

To be wise is far more difficult. It takes real effort. To be charitable and loving… to defend justice for others… to work selflessly and actively for the betterment of all — these are good and noble not because they are easy, but precisely because they are hard. They do not come naturally because we must, through grace, rise above our base nature and take on the nature of sons and daughters of God. We must work to be what we were intended to be from the very beginning.

Let us all pray for wisdom and understanding, for charity and love, for a commitment to justice, and for the ability to see the good in others as being equal to the good in ourselves. Most importantly, let us always seek to cooperate with the grace that God gives us so that we can rise above our base nature and become what we were intended to be from the very beginning: sons and daughters of God.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for Sunday, 2 August 2015 – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Consider the Woman at the Well. We read about her in the Gospel of John, two chapters before today’s reading. She encounters Christ privately, as an individual. Our Lord tells her of the living water come down from heaven, and that if she drinks this water she will never thirst. The woman says to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Today, Christ tells a crowd of people about the Bread of Heaven, given by the Father. He tells them, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

This crowd, meeting Christ publicly as a group, responds very much like the Woman at the Well. They ask of Our Lord, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Then Christ makes a statement very much like the earlier statement made to the Woman at the Well. He tells them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

How is this possible? Because Jesus Christ is God. There have been many misunderstandings of Christ’s divinity throughout the ages. The most common one today is the false belief that Jesus was a good man and a good teacher, but that He was not really God. Some even go so far as to state that Jesus never claimed to be God, but that was added to the narrative later.

Clearly, those understandings are wrong. There are two possibilities: Jesus is who he claimed to be, God incarnate, or else Jesus lied to us. I, for one, will not and cannot accept that Jesus lied about anything, most especially not about His nature or His role as our savior. It is not in the nature of the divine to lie.

So, we have the Woman at the Well meeting God singly and a crowd meeting God collectively. Both the individual and the group want the same thing: to be given what Christ has to offer, to have their spiritual needs met, to be shown the path to eternal life and to be given the aid needed to follow that path. And so the people of the Bible have the same needs and wants as we have today, both as individuals and collectively as a group.

And, so how do we have these needs met? By mighty deeds? By bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth?

No. We come to Jesus, for Our Lord Himself says that whoever, “comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

And how do we come to Jesus? We encounter Him in His Word, in Holy Scripture. We encounter Him in His Church — the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We encounter Him in those around us, who, like ourselves, were made in the likeness and image of God and who through the dignity of their Christian baptism are made sons and daughters of God by adoption. We encounter Him in the Mass, and most especially in the Holy Eucharist.

The Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is not metaphor; this is reality. I had my belief in the True Presence challenged one time by someone who thought that if I truly believed in transubstantiation – that the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ – that I would be unable to approach the consecrated host, much less consume it. That if I thought the Eucharist was really an encounter with God, I would be able to do nothing other than throw myself down before Him and tremble.

And this would be a reasonable argument, except it completely misunderstands both my nature and God’s. This argument assumes I come by force of will and take God. This assumption is false. It also assumes God does not desire our salvation. This assumption is also false.

The truth is I come sinful and sorrowful to receive Our Lord and desire to be made well. God, who desires my salvation, lifts me to Him and grants me the dignity to receive Him. I am truly not worthy to receive Him, but He needs only to say the word and I will be healed. It is not I who initiates Communion; I do not reach into heaven and take God. It is God who initiates Communion by coming down from heaven, searching for me. And searching for you. And searching for every man, woman, and child on this planet. We need only to come to Him, and we will never hunger. We need only to believe in Him, and we will never thirst.

This is also why we have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration here at Lourdes. The real question isn’t how can you approach God for communion; the real question is this: how can you stand not to be in His presence? Sure — the act of believing in Him can be done anywhere and at all times and it should be! But the act of coming to Him involves getting up and going to Him.

We, as Catholics, are required to attend Mass every week. To purposefully and intentionally miss Mass is a mortal sin. More importantly, though, we — as Catholics desiring salvation and eternal union with God — should desire to come to Mass every week so that we can encounter Our Lord in His Word and in the Holy Eucharist.

Shouldn’t we, for the same reason, all be spending at least an hour each week in Adoration? If we truly desire to spend eternity with God, would it not be wise to start with an hour a week now?

The Holy Eucharist is Christ present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. What greater gift could there possibly be from God, who desires our salvation? We need only to believe and to come to Him. We need only to answer His call, which is made in love and made with the desire for our salvation. We can come to Him collectively, which we do when we come to Mass and we can come to him singly, as we do in Adoration. We should be coming to Him both ways; the Bible, which is our guide in faith, tells us of fruitful encounters with Him by both individuals and groups… both formally and informally. Let us pray always for the gift of faith, so that we may hear His call, believe, and come to Him.

Eucharistic-Adoration

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

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August 2, 2015
The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parish Family,

Buddha did not claim that he was God. Abraham — the patriarch of not only the Jewish faith, but of Christian and Muslim as well — did not claim to be any other than fully human. Moses claimed only to be a prophet and to speak with the Lord. Mohammed made a similar claim as Moses and certainly did not identify himself as Allah. Never did Zoroaster claim to be Ahura Mazda. Jesus alone makes the claim that He is God made flesh for our salvation.

Christ was fully human and fully divine. We should never lose sight of this reality. There are those who will make the claim that Jesus never said He was God. This is simply wrong. He did, indeed, make such a claim, both in word and deed. When the high priest asked Jesus directly if He was the Christ, the Son of God, Our Lord responded, “I am.” His words to Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus also that He is fully aware of His divine nature as do His words to the Samaritan woman at the well when He identifies Himself as the Living Water come down from heaven.

In today’s Gospel reading, Christ tells us that He is “the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” We receive the Bread of Life — Christ Himself — when we receive the Eucharist. Christ’s flesh is real food; Christ’s blood is real drink; what we receive at the Eucharist is really and truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, the Son of God.

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There is no other religion in which the high priest can make a reasonable claim to be God Himself. Christ alone makes this claim and Christ alone should be believed. Thousands of years of Hebrew history anticipate His coming, and two thousand years since show the reasonableness of His claim: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. He became man for our salvation. When we receive the Holy Eucharist we are receiving His flesh and His blood and entering into communion with Him. When we receive the Bread of Life, we participate in a great movement toward salvation initiated by God Himself, without Whom we have no hope of eternal life.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard