The Way, With You

We are already nearing the end of summer. In just a week and a half, I’ll be driving back to school. Going back to school is not exactly my favorite thing to do. I leave my family and friends behind, which is always hard. I leave Wichita and Kansas behind, which, in my opinion, is the best place to be. While I do, actually, kind of like Chicago and my school is pretty decent too, it’s not home. The worst part of it all, though, is that 12-hour drive back. That’s a long drive. I usually make 3 or 4 stops, depending on road condition, how tired I am, how many coffees and/or pops I drank to deal with how tired I was, and how hungry I am… I am always hungry on road trips. Something about driving always makes me hungry. I used to always need a big ‘ole bag of sunflower seeds with me on road trips. Even then, every time I would stop, I had to fight “The battle of the Candy Bars.” Do I buy one? Or do I buy 3?

I might be wrong, but I suspect I’m not the only person who has to fight the battle of the candy bars on road trips. Long trips seem to make us hungry. Perhaps this hearkens back to the days when a journey was something much more treacherous and difficult, when it was harder than jumping into the car or hopping on a plane, when people had to walk the whole way, or, if you were lucky, when you had to ride in ox-pulled wagons down a muddy trail. You would need to eat every chance you got on that sort of trip. If you didn’t bring enough food or couldn’t find more, not only would you never complete your journey, but you could very likely die on the way.

We find Elijah in this situation today. He was frustrated, tired, alone, and ready to quit. He told the Lord, “I’m ready to go, take me now!” What was God’s answer? “It’s good that you’re ready to go, because you’re going on a journey.” God sent an angel with bread and water. The angel wakes Elijah up twice and tells him he must eat to have strength for the journey. This wasn’t just any journey, it was a journey of 40 days. Sidebar: Any time we run into 40 in the Bible, something big is about to happen. It rained for 40 days while Noah was on the ark. Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert after leaving Egypt. Jesus fasted 40 days before beginning his ministry. Big things happen when we se a “40.” What was the big event Elijah was preparing for? Elijah had been sent to Mount Horeb. On that mountain, in a cave on that high place, he encountered God in the faintest whisper.

God calls each of us to make our own journey to listen to him speak to us in the faintest whisper. Our lives on this earth are the first part of this journey. In this life, we learn to hear God’s voice and to follow it, we learn to love God and our neighbor, and we learn to live a life full of the virtues—virtues which reflect God to those around us. In a very real way, we are on a journey to living the Christian life. Also in a very real way, God gives us food for this journey. This food sustains our souls and makes the journey possible. This food is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. God himself is our food for this journey: God personally sustains each of us on our journey to him. Jesus sustains us on our journey to the Father, because only through Jesus can we reach the Father.

Jesus says that “whoever believes has eternal life.” Whoever believes in Jesus, whoever believes that we must live a life following Jesus’s example, whoever believes that Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist, whoever believes Jesus when he says, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then receives Him, will have eternal life. If we do not believe Jesus, and we do not receive the Bread of Life, we cannot live. If we do believe him and do receive him, we receive eternal life. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to eternal life.

Jesus, though, is so much more than simple food for the journey. Jesus is also the way, the path, we must follow to eternity. Jesus desires to be our Viaticum. Viaticum, which is what we traditionally call the Eucharist when someone receives it for the last time in preparation for death, literally translates from Latin to mean: the way, with you. Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to go on that journey with us. Jesus wants to be our guide and companion every day of our lives on this earth. He wants to be our guide and companion as we die and pass on into the next life. He wants to be our guide and companion after this life, so that he can lead us to his Father. Jesus wants to be our Viaticum, the way, with us, every day of our lives. He wants to fill our hearts with his love and with faith in him. He wants show us the road to eternal life: Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to travel it with us.

Today’s Readings:
August 12, 2018
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 4:3-5:2; John 6:41-51

Nothing but You, O Lord

Fr. H Setter and Deacon Matt Siegman elevate the Eucharist.

It is so easy to forget.

We all forget things all the time, often just by not thinking about them for a while.

In the first reading today, we find that the Israelites have forgotten quite a lot. They forgot how awful slavery was in Egypt. They longed for their fleshpots and for bread. Fleshpots, by the way, were big ‘ole pots in which water is boiled and meat is cooked.1 Since the Israelites were slave in Egypt, they probably cooked fish, not meat in them: meat is expensive. The Israelites had forgotten how awful slavery was. They forgot that God saved them from Egyptian slavery for the specific purpose of glorifying him through right and proper worship. They forgot that God cared about them. They thought he’d let them starve. That is, of course, ridiculous. He gave them manna and quail to eat: their bread and fleshpots were even better than before. God provided, but it was so easy for the Israelites to forget that he did!

What is even more providential is that the desert in which the Israelites forgot God was named the Desert of Sin. This is exactly what sin is! When we sin, we are turning away from God. It works the other way too: when we turn away from God, we sin. The whole Exodus story reminds us of how sin functions, too. The Israelites long for something they think is good, but if they had simply turned to God all their needs and desires would have been fulfilled. I find it amazing that in something as simple as the name of a desert, we can find such profound things!

The Ephesians, too, were quite forgetful of God. They weren’t even creative enough to come up with a new way to forget him. The Ephesians longed for their own version of bread and fleshpots. They looked back and longed for the lives of depravity they lived before they “learned Christ.” Paul forcefully rebukes them in a small section we don’t read, saying they “must no longer live as the Gentiles do […] alienated from the life of God because of ignorance” and “hardness of heart.” He says “they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) That’s sounds harsh, but it’s the next line that really stings. Paul says that all these things are “not how you learned Christ.” (Ephesians 4:20) They forgot Christ. They forgot God.

Jesus himself had to contend with this problem too. In today’s Gospel, we hear that the people went searching for Jesus. When they eventually found him, he told them they were looking for him because they filled their bellies. He called them to instead look for food the endures for eternal life. To do that, they must do the works of God. These works, Jesus explains, are to believe in the one sent by God, that is: to believe in Jesus. The Jews ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” Seriously? The day before—not even 24 hours ago—Jesus multiplied food on an immense scale, for thousands! God again gave the Jews bread and fish, flesh-baskets if you will: the exact things they had been craving ever since leaving slavery in Egypt. Somehow the Jews already forgot that Jesus performed a sign greater than anything Moses ever did. Moses prayed; God provided. Jesus took what was offered, and he provided himself. The Jews should’ve picked up on the clue.

It is so easy to forget.

What was it that the Israelites in the desert, the Ephesians, and the Jews following Jesus all forgot? They forgot God. The Israelites wandering in the desert forgot that God loves them. The Ephesians forgot that God has expectations and standards for our lives. The Jews forgot that Jesus had already shown them signs, that he had already demonstrated his authority, that he was already worthy of faith. Not one of them remembered who God is. Not one of them remembered that God saved them. Not one of them remembered that God had provided for them. Not one of them remembered that God promised them eternal life.

It is so easy to forget, but it is so important to remember.

The Jews could not remember who God was, so they could not recognize Jesus as God, and they could not respond to Jesus with faith. Without faith, we do not have the openness and flexibility we need to be formed and instructed by our Lord. Sure, the Jews sought Jesus out, but they did so for the wrong reasons. St. Augustine writes of them: “You seek me for the flesh, not for the spirit. How many seek Jesus for no other purpose than that he may do them good in this present life! […] Scarcely ever is Jesus sought for Jesus’ sake.”2 They sought Jesus because he gave them bread and fish, but they could not accept the gift he wanted to give them. They could not remember, so they could not have faith, so they could not see their God who was standing in front of them, and who was offering them life everlasting.

The Jews could never have imagined what was coming. At the Last Supper, Jesus would take bread and wine and turn it into his very own body and blood, instituting the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus Christ, our God and King, would not only nourish our minds through his teachings and examples, but he would become the most excellent nourishment for our bodies too. Through this Eucharistic food, God enters into us, transforming our bodies and our souls. The Eucharist, by transforming us, helps us to remember. It helps us to remember the gifts God has given us. It helps us to remember who God is. It helps us to remember God.

Everything about the Eucharist helps us remember God. Just like God, the Eucharist is a mystery—the mystery of faith, in fact. The Eucharist gives us a taste of Heaven, where we will see God face-to-face. The Eucharist transforms us so that we may better follow God. God is present in the Eucharist, and while it’s a little different, God is present in each one of our lives. By persisting through the ages, the Eucharist reminds us of Jesus’s Resurrection, and that death cannot conquer us. More than anything, the Eucharist reminds us and helps us remember that God became a human being to save us. He sent his Son, who was willing to not just die for each person here today, but to become true food and true drink for each of us.

In the Eucharist, we remember God’s love for us and his sacrifice, made for us. We remember our unworthiness of these gifts. We remember that despite our sins, God reaches out to us. We remember that God calls us to repent—to stop forgetting about him during our daily lives! In the Eucharist, we remember that God invites us to join Him in eternal life, to be with him in perfect happiness forever, in Heaven.

Yesterday was the day in which the church remembers St. John Vianney, the great French priest. He once wrote the following: “How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to the good God like this: ‘I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.’ I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.”3 The Jews went to Jesus and asked for bread. What should we ask God when we come to Church to attend Mass?

The Vision of St. Thomas by Santi di Tito
The Vision of St. Thomas by Santi di Tito

St. Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic Doctor, answered this question perfectly. St. Thomas just completed his writing his summary of Eucharistic theology, and he offered it to God in front of an icon of Christ. Christ said to him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” St. Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.” How fitting is that response? For, it is in the Eucharist that God gives us his own self.

Today, as we gaze upon the crucifix and approach the altar to receive our God in the Eucharist, let us join our voices with St. Thomas’s to ask God for, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.”

Today’s Readings:
August 5, 2018
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-25; Psalms 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

Jesus is God!

In the Gospel today, we hear a story that is familiar to many of us. We call it “The Feeding of the 5,000.” If we let it remain a story only about feeding a multitude of people, remember it was 5,000 men, but there were also women and children there, then we might miss many, many important things. By performing this amazing miracle, Jesus is teaching us something about himself that is vitally important: he is revealing who he is.

Jesus and his disciples have retired to a mountain to rest, but a large crowd has followed him and are hungry. Jesus sees them, he is moved with pity for them, and he desires to feed them. Jesus sends his close disciples out to find out if anyone in the crowd has food. In that vast multitude, the only food they find is five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples don’t think that’s enough, but Jesus proceeds. He says a prayer of thanks—notice that even Jesus prays before meals, in full view of those around him—and then distributes the food to the people. The people eat as much as they want, and there are still 12 wicker baskets full when they’re done!

This miracle might remind us of another time God saw a vast multitude of hungry people and decided to feed them: while the Jews were wandering in the desert after escaping Egypt, God fed them manna and sent quail for them to eat while they were in the desert. The people could eat all the wanted, and they couldn’t take the leftovers with them. There are a lot of parallels. If the Jews had seen it this way, they might have recognized Jesus as God. Instead, they recognized the miracle of Elisha that we heard in the first reading. They thought Jesus was an amazing prophet, like Elijah and Moses. They wanted to make him king, but only a worldly king, so Jesus withdrew again to the mountain to pray. In the meantime, the 12 disciples who would later be called the apostles got in a boat and started heading back to Capernaum. They were, I imagine, exhausted, and looking to take a break from all the work they had been doing.

We don’t read the next few verses in John’s Gospel, but I think that they are critical to understanding the whole point of this all. In the verses we don’t read, Jesus performs another miracle. Well, actually, he performs three miracles. We join the disciples in their boat, they had already rowed several miles. It is night-time; the Gospel says it was dark. The sea is “stirred up” because of a heavy wind: when it gets windy out, the Sea of Galilee can get quite angry. Jesus had not left with them. Then, suddenly, they see Jesus walking on the water, near the boat. They were afraid. Jesus says to them “It is I” or “I AM,” and tells them not to be afraid. The storm calms, and they then immediately arrive at the shore of Capernaum. Three miracles: walking on water, calming the storm, and the sudden arrival of the boat.

This whole episode tells us one critical thing about Jesus: one critical thing which changes everything about what has happened and will continue to happen in John’s Gospel. By walking on the water, Jesus does something totally unique. Nobody else in the history of the Jewish people had walked on water. Moses and Elijah, the great law-giver and the great prophet, had walked on dry land after God parts the water for them. Jesus walks on the water. Something greater than Moses and Elijah is here. By calming the storm, Jesus shows that he has direct power over nature. Again, Elijah was able to pray for droughts and rain, but it was always God who acted: never Elijah. Jesus simply calmed the storm. Something greater than Moses and Elijah was here. Walking on water and calming the storm are two miracles that show Jesus could directly control the forces of nature. Throughout all Jewish history, the Jewish people knew that only God can control nature in such a way. If Jesus was doing this, the soon-to-be apostles could come to only one conclusion: Jesus is God. So, they were afraid. All through the Bible, whenever someone comes face-to-face with God, it says they are afraid. Jesus responds as God always does when people are afraid: he says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” He says to them that it is me, Jesus, you friend. Yes, now you known my true identity, but do not be afraid. I am here with you always. I will always be here for you. Then he demonstrates his loving care for them, his knowledge of their desires, because the boat miraculously arrives at their destination.

The feeding of the 5,000 and the episode of walking on water are here in John’s Gospel for a very important reason. They show us who Jesus is. He is God. He has God’s authority. We need to know that Jesus has this authority, because what comes next in the Gospel according to John is hard to accept and understand. The next day, Jesus gives to his followers a teaching which leads to many of them to abandon him. If the apostles didn’t know, absolutely, that Jesus had Divine authority, that Jesus was God, they might have left too.

For the next four Sundays, we will be working our way through this hard teaching of Jesus. Today, though, we take a moment to ponder something that we may not think about as much as we should: Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son of God, the Divine Word, who took on human flesh and became one of us. Not only does this mean that we humans received a gift of which the angels could only dream, God has never become an angel, but it means that Jesus has all the authority of God over creation. How did Jesus use his authority? He used it to give us himself in the Eucharist. He used it to give his apostles the authority to forgive our sins. He used it to die on the Cross and open for us the gate of Heaven, so that all who choose to follow him will be saved.

Today’s Readings:
July 29, 2018
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalms 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Amos Moments

Note: this homily was given July 15, 2018. I apologize for the late posting.

While I was reading through the first reading, it occurred to me that maybe Amos didn’t really want to be a prophet. He certainly didn’t ask to be a prophet. It sounds like he was perfectly happy being a shepherd and sycamore dresser… whatever that is. Anyway, that is all somewhat beside the point, because Amos gave it all up when he received a call from God. God called Amos to travel to north and prophesy to the people of Israel. I would hazard a guess that Amos was not a huge fan of this career change, but he trusted God and went along with it. The people of the north were not, it turns out, big fans of what Amos had to say, judging by their reaction. I’m pretty sure they wanted to kill him. Amos did not let this deter him, and he continued, undeterred, on his God-given mission.

The apostles had several of their very own “Amos moments.” They had all been called by Jesus to follow him. That was probably “Amos moment” number one. So, they start following Jesus around, learn from him, and watch him perform miracles. They probably are thinking that they’ve got a pretty sweet gig going on with this Jesus dude. Then Jesus told them that now it’s their turn. Talk about an “Amos moment.” He gives them authority to cast out unclean spirits, and he tells them that they are going to go preach repentance to the towns of Israel. Not only were they to go on this crazy mission journey, but they couldn’t bring any money or supplies with them. They were sent with the clothes on their back, a walking stick, and shoes. (Fun fact: When Jesus sent them out in Matthew and Luke, they didn’t have shoes!) Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the mission either. He told them that some towns would be unreceptive. Jesus challenged the apostles to get out of their comfort zones, and he demanded that they rely fully upon God. The apostles went out, and they did their mission. If we read ahead in Mark a little bit, (spoiler alert!) we see that when the apostles came back, they were excited! They could not wait to tell Jesus about their journeys.

I would venture to say that every one of us here has had our own “Amos moment.” We are living our lives, going about our business dressing sycamores or whatever, and then God calls us to something radically different. My biggest “Amos moment” was when I realized I was being called to go to seminary and “do the whole priest thing.” I was happy working at Learjet; I was on track to move up in the company; I was physically in better shape than I am now; and, I thought my life was going pretty well. But, one day, while I was at daily Mass before work, God sent me a little message: “you should be on the other side of that altar.” I initially resisted, but I can now confidently say that I am happier than I have ever been, even though this was not my plan. When I run into roadblocks or struggles with this vocation, I plan to follow Amos’s lead: to continue, undeterred, with following God’s plan.

God has a special and unique plan for each one of us, but that doesn’t mean that God has a different goal for each of us. He wants every single person here to be holy. He wants us to be holy because when we’re holy, not only are we allowed to enter into Heaven when we die, but also because when we are holy we change the world. How we live out holiness will vary from person to person, but that call to holiness never changes. I am called to be holy by being ordained a priest (in a little less than a year) and serving God’s people. Most of us are called to be holy by marrying and raising a holy family. Some are called to be holy by withdrawing from the world and entering into religious life. The variations of God’s plan don’t end there. Our individual jobs and volunteer activities, too, are ways in which we can be holy. Every one of us can affect the world in a different way, and if we do our best to make the world a more holy place, then we are fulfilling God’s plan.

What’s even better about this mission of holiness is that God never sends us alone. He didn’t send the apostles alone, he sent them two-by-two, and he similarly does not send us alone. We have our parishes, our families, and our friends to accompany us on our mission. Admittedly, some families and friends are not always particularly helpful—even the apostles had to deal with a Judas amongst them. That’s not the point, though. The point is that we aren’t ever alone in our mission. Even when every worldly institution fails us, God will always be with us.

On top of that, God will always give us the tools that we need to do his work. The apostles had already been learning from Jesus’s preaching, had watched him perform many healings, and had observed as he cast out many demons. Jesus gave the apostles authority over unclean spirits, and then he sent them out to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. We, too, have been given gifts for our mission to make the world holy. Jesus teaches us through the readings, the Gospel, and the Mass itself every time we attend. (Hopefully, us preachers have helped a little with our homilies too!) I doubt any of us here has been given the specific authority to cast out demons, but we have received even greater gifts than that. God has given us the Sacraments, which are more powerful than any exorcism. Baptism and Confirmation mark us as children of God, under his protection. Marriage and Holy Orders give special graces which are necessary to follow those two vocations. The Anointing of the Sick uses oil, just as the apostles did in today’s Gospel, and heals our soul—and sometimes even heals our bodies!

I will single out the two remaining sacraments as extremely special and valuable in our mission to bring holiness to the world. The sacrament of Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Getting in the Box with Father, whatever you want to call it, is vital for our personal holiness. In that sacrament, God takes away our sins. He forgives them. It is, possibly, the most intimate and personal encounter with God’s mercy that is possible on this side of Heaven. In Confession, God tells us that what we’ve done in the past is in the past. No matter how big or small our sin, He will forgive us. Sure, maybe we will have to say a couple extra “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers,” but God will forgive us. What really matters is how we go forward: we must go forward and do our best to love God. Every time we go to Confession, we get the grace we need to pick ourselves up and try again to follow God. When God says, through the priest, “I absolve you of your sins,” we can be confident not only of God’s mercy, but also that our sins truly are forgiven.

We finally come to the Eucharist. The Eucharist feeds our souls: God enters us, and in doing so, he transforms us. The Eucharist is an incredibly powerful sacrament, and we cannot underestimate how much it can change us. St. John Vianney once said that, “if we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said that, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” If Confession is the closest encounter with God’s mercy on this side of Heaven, then the Eucharist is the closest encounter with God’s love. God loves us so much that he is willing to enter into us as food, to nourish us in both body and soul. How wonderful is that!

When we run into one of those “Amos moments” in our lives, let us not be afraid to follow God’s will. Even though it may be challenging, God will never let us struggle alone. He will be with us every step of the way. Often, we will have even more help from the Church and those around us. On top of all that, we have the Sacraments, those beautiful moments of God’s grace which not even the Apostles had when they went on their first missionary journeys. May we all strive to become more holy every day of our lives, and by doing that, may we transform the world. The reward—Heaven—is worth it.

Today’s Readings:
July 15, 2018
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Corpus Christi: Sharing in the Divinity of Christ

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. There is a prayer you may have never heard before, but it is said at every Mass by the deacon or the priest when he pours the wine and water into the chalice during the offertory. It goes, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The more I prayed with this prayer, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how deep and profound that this short prayer is.

So, let’s dig into this prayer together.

By the mystery… The Eucharist is, above all, a mystery. Jesus Christ is present in what appears to us as a piece of bread and some wine. We will never really understand how. The Church and the smartest theologians who ever lived have worked to try to figure it out. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of smartest of the smart guys, told us that the substance, the “what it is-ness,” of the bread and wine are replaced with Jesus Christ. While the appearance of bread and wine remain, we know by faith that Jesus is now present: the bread and wine are now Jesus. We know this because Jesus himself told us at the Last Supper that this is his Body and his Blood, and he commissioned his apostles to do this in memory of him. We relive this exact moment at every Mass. We don’t just remember the Last Supper at Mass. We bring the Last Supper into our minds and we live it, through the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Mass. We are participating in the Last Supper at every Mass.

of this water and wine… We use ordinary gifts in the Holy Mass: bread, wine, and water. We give them to God, for his glory, in the offertory. The offertory is a profound moment at the Mass, because it is when we give back to God those things which he has given us. The prayers that Father says at Offertory remind us that we received these gifts from him. “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you.” Now, we return them to him. In addition to the bread, wine, and water, we offer ourselves to God at Mass. During offertory, we offer our prayers, works, and sufferings to God in addition to the physical gifts. Many times, we are tempted to rush through the offertory and get it over with, but instead we should strive to recognize what is happening at the offertory. By our participation in the action of the offertory, we dedicate ourselves more and more to God during every Mass.

may we come to share… We are all here to witness the Eucharistic mystery which happens at Mass, in other words, to participate in the Mass. At Vatican II, the church asked for our full, conscious, and active participation in the Mass. Full, conscious, and active participation does not mean that we all need to be up on the altar with Father, but that we consciously unite ourselves in prayer with Father and everyone else here. We follow Father as he leads us into the most sacred mysteries of our faith. The Church calls us to pay attention, to respond, and to prayerfully keep in mind the mystery we are celebrating. United in this way, we are the one, unified, Body of Christ. As we unite ourselves in prayer at Mass, the Mass can more effectively transform our lives into the beautiful lives God has planned for each of us.

in the divinity of Christ… Jesus Christ is fully in the Eucharist. This includes his divinity. This means the Eucharist is God, and it is worthy of worship. That is why we have things like Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic adoration, because God is in the Eucharist. After Father says the Eucharistic prayer, we no longer have bread and wine; they have become God, who has entered the world for all to see in the form of a truly divine food, which God then invites us to eat. Honestly, it’s kind of weird if you think about it, because eating the Eucharist means eating God, but it is also an incredible gift. The Eucharist is different than any other food. Normal food nourishes our bodies by becoming a part of us. The Eucharist nourishes us too, but instead of becoming part of us it transforms us and brings us closer to God than we could ever get on our own! The Eucharist is the only food that makes us more like it—it makes us more like God!

who humbled himself… God challenges us all to be humble and to put him first. By doing so, we lead others to God. He tried to teach the Jewish people to do this, but they didn’t understand. So he showed true humility, and God himself became a human being.

And this brings us to the final portion of the prayer:

to share in our humanity… God, the creator of everything, not only humbled himself, but emptied himself, so that he could take on human flesh and blood. When God did this, he did not come down as a king or an emperor. He made himself a helpless child, who grew up the son of a carpenter. He experienced the loss of a parent when Joseph died. He experienced joy at the Wedding at Cana He experienced the death of a friend and relative when John the Baptist died. He experienced abandonment, torture, and death in his Passion. He experienced the full range of human emotions. There is nothing we experience that God has not also experienced, both as God and as human. Any pain we feel, God has felt with us, through us, and for us.

God became human so that he could be with us more closely, and he gave us the gift of the Eucharist so that we could become one with him in a very tangible and concrete way. God, the greatest mystery of the universe, loves us. He desires so much for us to be one with him that he took on human nature. He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, so that when we consume it, we share in the divinity of Christ, and even while we are still on this earth, we may truly experience a taste of Heaven.

Today’s Readings
June 3, 2018
Corpus Christi [The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ]
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Hebrews 9:11-15;  Lauda Sion Sequence; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26

The Fuel for our Lamps

At our baptisms, our godparents lit a small candle from the light of the Easter candle. This candle was then presented to us, or our parents if we were not old enough. This candle was a visible symbol of the light of Christ that had now been lit within us. Jesus calls us to keep that light burning, not just for us, but for all those around us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 1 We must put the light within us on display so that others can see it, and so that our light can guide others to Christ.

To effectively guide others to Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom, we must ensure that our light shines as brightly as possible, and that it continues to burn. How are we to do this? How do we make the light of Christ within us burn ever more brightly? What must we do to ensure that the light of Christ within us continues to burn?

The light of Christ within us grows with our virtue. As we become better people, people who are more like Christ, the basket around our light is lifted. When we put sin behind us and dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God and his kingdom, we work to remove the basket that covers our light. In addition to the basket around our light being removed, the light itself can grow to hold more fuel and to burn brighter. This happens when we regularly receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Reconciliation trims the wick of our light. It may sting, and it may be painful, and we may really hate having to do it, but it is worth it. Just as when a wick is trimmed, the lamp glows brighter, so when our soul is healed by reconciliation God shines more clearly through us. The Eucharist grows the size of our lamp. By increasing our charity and love for others, the Eucharist gives our lamp the ability to hold more fuel. When the Eucharist increases our hope in God, it gives a purity to the flame, allowing it to shine even more brightly and beautifully. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, which makes the light within us stronger, so that it may withstand even the strongest gusts of wind that work in opposition to it.

Let us now turn our attention to the second question: how do we ensure that the light keeps burning? This is the question asked by today’s Gospel. The virgins are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. They do not know the hour at which he will come and call them into the wedding feast. The wise virgins ensure that they have strong lamps, and that they have plenty of fuel—even if the bridegroom comes at a very late hour. The foolish virgins do not take such precautions. Even when the bridegroom is delayed, these virgins do not go to find more fuel. They squander their time, waiting until the very last possible moment, when the bridegroom’s imminent arrival is announced, to search for more fuel. At this point, it is much too late to search for more fuel.

The wise virgins are unable to give them fuel. They can’t give them the fuel, for two reasons. Firstly, their fuel would be too strong for the foolish virgins’ lamps. The fuel of the wise virgins—the fuel that powers the light of Christ within each of us—is purified and strengthened and cleansed by our virtues. It will destroy a lamp not strengthened by the grace of God’s sacraments. Secondly, the fuel is not theirs to give. The virgins have a duty to light to path for the bridegroom. If they give their fuel away, they will be unable to complete the one task which they were called to do. Similarly, the fuel powering our lamps is given to us by God as a gift. This gift is called grace. While we can give some of these graces away for the betterment of others, we cannot give them all away. This grace, sanctifying grace, is necessary for us to enter into Heaven. Only God can give us these graces. Any other source simply cannot give us the graces we need for the light of Christ to burn within us. These graces are free gifts from God, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them, and we must be willing to receive them. We do this by living a virtuous life and by receiving the sacraments regularly.

Where do we get the fuel for our lights?

Today’s Readings:
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Reflection for the Third Friday of Easter

Jesus gave us his flesh to eat. The Jews thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. How can we eat his flesh and drink his blood? First, we can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood because that would require murder to do so. Second, we can’t because it is forbidden by the law. The first portion of this becomes a moot point with the Eucharist, where Christ transforms bread and wine into himself. The second point, however, requires a little more attention. Cannibalism is forbidden by Mosaic Law. If the bread and wine are Jesus, it would still be cannibalism—we would still be eating a person.

The question we must answer is whether receiving the Eucharist is cannibalism, and if so, is it a bad thing to do. St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of answering both yes and no to questions, and I think that’s the approach to take here. It is cannibalism in the sense that we are eating Jesus. We cannot deny this and remain Catholic. It is not cannibalism in a much more fundamental way: we are not eating the dead body of a person. Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a special way which we call the Eucharistic Presence. In this Eucharistic Presence, he comes in body, blood, soul, and divinity, but it does not look or taste the same as a dead body, so we know something is different about it. Furthermore, Jesus is not dead! He is still alive!

There is one more argument that makes reception of the Eucharist different, and it revolves around the act of eating. Why do we eat? We eat to nourish ourselves. When we eat, the food is broken down and becomes a part of us. The food is transformed. When we receive the Eucharist, something much different happens. Instead of the food being transformed into us, we are slowly transformed into Jesus. The Eucharist is the only food which transforms us into something new.

When we are changed into Christ through the Eucharist, it is not as obvious as Paul’s conversion in the first reading. Jesus came to him as a blinding light which he could not ignore. We receive something even more previous in the Eucharist. Instead of simply seeing Jesus, we become united with him in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, because it unites us with Jesus, and by extension all those around the world with valid sacraments. (If we are all one with Jesus, and he is one with us, then it logically follows that we are also one with all others who are one with Jesus and with whom he is one.)

Let us never forget the incredible gift we receive in the Eucharist.

Today’s Readings: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 117:1bc, 2; Jn 6:52-59

Reflection for Easter Wednesday

The disciples walking to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, even when he was telling them about all of salvation history and how he had fulfilled it. It was only in the Eucharist when they recognized Jesus, through the actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread. What is most interesting to me is that these are the same four actions we see in every account where Jesus feeds a multitude. These are also the same words that the priest uses in the Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer, where we recognize Christ in his Eucharistic Presence.

These four actions can be understood as an analogue to our spiritual life. We offer ourselves to God, sins and all. He takes us, and he blesses us. He gives us special grace so that we may transform ourselves, and purify ourselves. He helps us to make ourselves a better offering for him. He does this by cleaning off the crust that forms over our hearts. God breaks our hearts, little by little, to open them to his love. But we are not the only one being broken. God’s heart was broken by a lance, and from that broken heart flowed forth blood and water. This blood and water is the fountain of everlasting salvation; it is the water flowing from the side of the temple. The love and mercy of God flows from his own heart into ours, filling it up completely until it overflows. God then gives us back our hearts, formed anew. He has broken our hearts of stone and given us hearts overflowing with love.

Peter, John, and the other apostles had their hearts shattered by the Crucifixion, but the Resurrection and Pentecost filled them so much that they could not stop themselves from praising God constantly at the Temple. On one occasion, they healed the crippled man we heard about today. Then, the man went with the to praise God! How appropriate that this happened at the Beautiful Gate, for it is indeed a beautiful sight when a healed and renewed man recognized God’s love, and in return gives his soul completely over to God.

When we hand ourselves over to God, he will break us and form us anew. But what a wonder this can be, if we allow God time to do his work. Many of us wonder what the meaning of suffering is, and I won’t pretend to answer that; however, I will say that in our suffering we learn to truly love God and to allow others to love us. God has been through everything we will ever experience. No matter what we’ve done, God will always take us back. No matter how enormous the hole in our soul has become, God can fill it.

All we must do is offer ourselves to God. He will take what we offer him, and give us back more than we can ever imagine.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:13-35

Reflection for Easter Tuesday

My parents gave me my name. When one of them says my name, it is different than when other people say my name. They can communicate, simply in how they say it, so much more than a simple desire for me to pay attention. I see something similar with my friends and their kids. How a mother says her child’s name communicates a lot to the child. And it goes both ways. My friends can tell me which child is crying, and if that child is hurt, throwing a tantrum, or needing some sort of attention—just by the sound of their crying. Sometimes, I can calm one of these wailing children down, but sometimes only a parent’s touch will do.

Mary Magdalene is crying. She misses Jesus, the God-man who forgave her sins. The one man who was capable of showing true love for her. Two angels come, and they are unable to comfort Mary. She tells them that someone has taken Jesus, her Lord, and she does not know where he has gone. Only her Lord can calm her.

So, Jesus comes to her.

Mary does not recognize Jesus right away. She mistakes him for a gardener. But he heard her cry, and he will not allow her to suffer alone. When he calls her by name, she instantly becomes aware of who this gardener is. He is Jesus. By saying her name, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, communicated comfort and re-assurance beyond all telling to Mary Magdalene. Then he tells her that she cannot hold on to him. He will be going soon, and she must be able to do on without him. Jesus is preparing her for his Ascension.

Jesus went to the Father, but he did not leave us alone. He left Holy Mother Church to care for us, to minister for us. She has been given all authority by Jesus. She will not let us be alone. And when only Jesus will do, we can always receive him into ourselves through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:36-41; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 & 22; Jn 20:11-18

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.

By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.

Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.

Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.

To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.

When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.

The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.

Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.

Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.

On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15