If we dig into the history of worship, way back beyond the coming of Jesus Christ and even farther back than the Old Testament takes us, we see a few trends. We see that human being are innately religious. We see that the first human communities were formed around worship sites to help care for them so that people might come to perform and observe rituals to the gods. If the rituals were not done correctly, the people feared that the now-displeased deity would inflict punishment of some sort upon the people. As a result, a specialized group of people with the knowledge necessary to ensure that rituals were performed correctly developed. This priestly class became the people tasked with mediating between humanity and their gods. The priests were responsible for ensuring that their idols were fed and clothed properly and expected the worshippers to provide the necessary goods and materials to care for their gods.
When we look at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his followers, we find something different. Yes, we see holy sites and a specialized class of priests, and on first glance it looks very similar. But the priests act very differently. Our God specifically prohibited the making of images. Our God specifically tells his people that he does not eat the flesh of animals offered to him. The priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not there to provide for God. Our worship of God adds nothing to his greatness, but our worship of God is valuable for a very important group of people: us. By worshiping God, we express our desire for his closeness to us and his presence in our life.
In the liturgical celebrations commanded by God in the first reading tonight, the most important command is to remember. God says that This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution. What must we remember? God comes to our aid. When his people cry out to them, he is not a passive observer. This is why he sent his Son: to save us from the mess we got ourselves into. But these things are easy to forget. So we must memorialize these events. We must remember.
The Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which Fr. Drew and I participate, assists us in remembering God’s love for us. The pinnacle of the worship of our God is the celebration of our Eucharistic Liturgy, and the pinnacle of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church we call Mass. In the Mass, we do this in remembrance of Him by making those events ritually present through the actions of the priest. When we celebrate the Mass, literally make the events of our salvation present, and even more so tonight. Tonight is not simply a night in which we remember the Last Supper. Tonight is the Last Supper. Tonight we do not simply remember Christ feeding his apostles with his Body and Blood. Tonight Christ feeds us with his Body and Blood.
When we receive the Eucharist, we receive God, and we receive his love in our hearts. Love is not a gift that can be hoarded. It must be given. In this great Sacrament of Love, God gives us the ability to love our neighbor. Tonight we are fed with the Body and Blood of God. We share in a Communion of all believers who have been similarly united with God. This is the glory of the Eucharist, a glory which our human senses fail to see. By faith alone can we behold this mystery, which enables us to follow the commands of Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.
Today’s Readings April 1, 2021 Thursday of the Lord’s Supper Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16bc, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15
The Church has taught, and Catholics have believed, since the very beginning that the Eucharist is something different. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine and changed into something beyond our imagination: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Church had established this teaching well before Justin Martyr wrote, around 150 A.D., that only those who believe that the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood are permitted to partake of the Eucharist. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, around the year 180 A.D., fought heresies, such as some forms of Gnosticism which denied the God became man, on the grounds that this would deny that the Eucharist was Christ’s body and blood. In response, St. Irenaeus asks them: who other than God could do such a thing? Through the centuries and millennia, the Church has never wavered in this teaching. Similarly, through the centuries and millennia, many struggle to believe this teaching. Jesus Christ himself had to confront this unbelief:
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “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.” Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
It has not changed. Last year, a Pew Research survey said that among Catholics who go to Mass every week only 63% believe in the Real Presence. If you include all of the people who don’t go to Mass, that number drops to 28%. Shockingly, 22% of people who identified themselves as Catholic expressly reject the teaching if the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Many have fallen prey to the idea that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol; however, in John’s Gospel we read that God himself refutes this understanding. What’s more is that in the Greek text it is abundantly clear that Jesus is not speaking about taking a meal with him or, in some symbolic way, consuming his Flesh and Blood. He is demanding not just that we eat his flesh, but that we gnaw and munch and chew on it, as an animal chews on its food. 1 The Eucharist is different than all of the other sacraments, in that it is not simply the power of Christ that becomes present and operates within us. Christ himself becomes present and operates within us. The only way this happens is if the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. A symbol would not work this way. Flannery O’Connor, in reference to the Eucharist said, “Well, it it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.”2 She was absolutely right. If the Eucharist were a symbol, the Protestants would be right, and the only prudent thing to do would be to leave and to cut our losses now.
The Eucharist is one of those teachings that seem simple, but, in reality, defies all our understanding. Like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrated last week, this teaching must be taken on faith. In the verses leading up to today’s passage from John, Jesus speaks of faith. Jesus tells us that belief in Him is essential to eternal life. If we believe in Jesus Christ, that means we must trust him, and if we trust him, then we must trust what he says. We must trust Jesus when he tells us that bread and wine become his Body and Blood. We must trust him when he tells us that we must eat it and gnaw it and munch it to have eternal life.
In the context of right now, I’m sure some might be thinking, “wait a second, if I have to literally eat Jesus, what is the point of this Spiritual Communion everyone keeps going on about?” This is an excellent question. Between a Sacramental Communion and a Spiritual Communion, much is the same. For both, we must prepare ourselves, especially through prayer. We should be in a state of grace, i.e., we should not be conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin. To receive Sacramental Communion, we must also fast from all food and drink—except water and medicine—for one hour, but this would also be praiseworthy for a Spiritual Communion. For both, we should participate to the extent that we are able in the Mass, uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ and asking God for his grace to fill our hearts. We should, as Jesus taught his followers in the parts leading up to today’s Gospel, strive to believe in Jesus and ask him to give us the Bread of Life, that is, himself.
The key difference between the two is in the reception itself. In a Sacramental Communion, we are assured that we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We are fulfilling his Gospel command to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood. We receive actual graces due to God being present within us, and to the extent that we have prepared ourselves we are open to many more spiritual benefits. With a Spiritual Communion, the situation is a little different. Primarily, we are not physically receiving our Lord and fulfilling what he says in the Gospel. That does not make Spiritual Communion something unworthy, it simply means that it is different. We still receive many spiritual graces from Spiritual Communion, and God still inflames our hearts with love for him. We cannot allow ourselves to think, however, that Spiritual Communion is a fitting or good “replacement” for Sacramental Communion, because Sacramental Communion is essential for eternal life.
As we celebrate the Mass and approach the Eucharist, the True Presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us strive to spiritually prepare ourselves so that in this Sacrament Most Holy, we may experience a taste of the Living Bread from Heaven, the Food of Angels, and the Sacrament of our Salvation.
Today’s Readings: June 14, 2020 Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Lauda Sion (sequence); John 6:51-58
What is it that we’re actually celebrating at Mass?
To an outsider, I suppose, this would all look very strange.
All those strange things that the outsider would think we’re doing, well, we are doing them. But that’s the thing: we are doing those things. It’s not all just crazy talk from those weird Catholics. But we know that beneath the surface of the Mass, beyond the ceremony and the seemingly strange gestures and actions, something much deeper lives. One of the best summaries of why we do what we do at Mass can be found in the Mass itself, right in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the Memorial Acclamation. During this acclamation, which takes place immediately after the bread and wine have been consecrated and have become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we say to Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” We say this because we know that through his death, Christ destroyed our death. Through his Resurrection, Christ restored to us the promise of eternal life. When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised up, the Heavens and Earth will be renewed, we will see God in all his glory, and we will live with him for all eternity. Jesus asked us to do this in memory of Him at the Last Supper. It seems appropriate that we re-iterate what we are remembering. And then we thank God for such a great gift.
In the first reading we heard that Melchizedek offered bread and wine in thanksgiving to God on behalf of Abraham. (Fun trivia tip: The term for Melchizedek’s thanksgiving offering in Greek is eucharistia.) God had merely blessed Abraham. He died and rose for us, saving us from death and opening the gates of Heaven! How much more incredible, then, should our offering to God be? It is. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, we do not use mere bread and wine. We offer something far more precious for the gifts he has given to us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater we can offer to Him. At every Mass, we remember Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and we offer the true Eucharist, the perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy.
And then, as everyone offering thanksgiving to God must do to, we partake of the gifts we have offered to God. Christ told us that he would give us his Body and Blood so that we might have eternal life. Those who partake of his Body and Blood, then, shall live forever. The mere act of receiving our Lord brings us in communion with Him and with all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In this communion, our Lord offers us salvation. It is through this communion, with our Lord and with those who belong to his Church, that we are redeemed. By this communion, we may be washed clean of our sins, drawn closer to our Lord, and invited to participate in the kingdom of Heaven. When we partake of these most precious gifts, God abides in us in a true and unique way. This is why we must prepare ourselves—especially by the sacrament of Confession—to receive Communion, to make a proper and holy dwelling for our Lord.
Today, we celebrate. Our Lord has given us his Body and his Blood so that we might have eternal life.
Today’s Readings June 23, 2019 The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Lauda Sion Sequence; Luke 9:11b-17
We are nearing the
end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s
Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we
remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t
there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most
sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our
lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy.
There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.
God, through his
prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the
things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see,
I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of
living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God
gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water
is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God
built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts,
so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is
constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.
it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s
Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery,
still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at
least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the
question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much
ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it
was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us
is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without
sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob
on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority
to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law.
The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine
that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under
the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does
something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go
forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his
healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may
stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go,
and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.
We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.
As we approach the
culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we
approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all
time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires
to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water
that bring life back into the world.
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Count the stars, if you can. So shall be the descendants God promised to Abram. So, Abram put his faith in the LORD. He asked God for a sign, and he made a sacrifice to Him. Then, when it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch appeared and passed between the sacrifice. God illuminated the darkness not just of the world, but of Abram’s faith. This isn’t the only time that we find God illuminating through the darkness.
In the Gospel, we
hear Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. There are many similarities between
these two events than are immediately obvious. We all know the Transfiguration
story, but sometimes we forget the context in which it occurs. Peter, just one week
earlier, proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah of God. Afterwards, Jesus
promised discipleship, but also the Cross. The disciples were surely looking
for signs from God to strengthen their faith. This is where our Gospel reading begins
today. In this account, one detail is easy to miss: as Peter spoke, God
surrounded the mountain in a cloud. In the darkness and obscurity of that cloud,
God’s voice rang forth as a flaming torch in the night: This is my chosen
Son; listen to him. St. Ambrose writes that this “overshadowing of
the divine Spirit […] does not darken, but reveals secret things to the hearts
of men.”1 As with Abram before, God made a
promise and proved that he could do it by bringing light into the darkness of the
minds of Peter, James, and John. God revealed secret things to the hearts of
Peter, James, and John. Another important detail that is easy to miss is that
Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and prophets of the Old
Covenant, are no longer present when God reveals this to Peter, James, and
John. Only Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, remained. No questions remained
over who this Jesus was.
God continues to
work in similar ways in us today. God sent his Son to us, and has sent his
Spirit to dwell with us, because he made each one of us a promise too. God
promised us citizenship in Heaven. Paul reminds us to be imitators of him, to
live the moral life that Jesus taught us, so that we may take on this
citizenship. With this citizenship, God promised to transform us into new
creations. We must havefaith that God can transform us. This is
the Good News: God can transform any one of us into bright, shining
examples of his love. Our God, who can turn evil into good, loves us more than
anything and wants to do this for us, but we must have faith in him. We must
have faith, because faith is what allows God to work in us.
At times, it is hard to have this faith. When we look around us in the world today, we are constantly confronted with a society that is convinced that evil things are good. Society tells us that contraception and sexual license is true liberation, that gobs and gobs of money will fix any problem, that abortion and euthanasia are good things, that we must permit every bad behavior because to do otherwise isn’t nice, that there are people who have less value because of where they were born or because of some medical condition, and so many other lies. It is hard to have faith in such a society. The psalmist knows our struggle, “Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. […] Your presence, O LORD, I seek. Hide not your face from me.”
The Lord has not
hidden his face from us. He gave us an amazing gift that allows us to encounter
him even today. When we come to Mass, we all participate by laying our prayers,
joys, sufferings, and desires on the altar with our Lord. Each of us here offer
ourselves to God on the altar, alongside Jesus. Finally, we share in the
Eucharist. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body and
Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we receive the Eucharist, we are united
with God in a way otherwise impossible. Not only that, but we are united with
one another and the entire Communion of Saints, living and dead.
We have the Eucharist. We have an entire church and community of saints praying for us constantly. Maybe God is not physically lighting the room, but he is always shining his light of grace and love into our hearts. As the psalmist writes, Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
Today’s Readings: March 17th, 2019 2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
While we may not be very familiar with this passage, the Jewish people of Jesus’s time knew this particular passage of scripture intimately. The Jewish people—to this very day—recite it multiple times a day. This is the scripture passage that they put in their phylacteries. (What is a phylactery? It’s a little boxes Jewish people strap—again, to this day—to their forehead and left arm when they pray.) The Jewish people would know that the passage continues, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”
Jesus tells us that this is first and greatest commandment, it is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. And what is this instruction? Love God alone. Don’t just love God partially, though, love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just love him totally but let these words—the words of God’s love—be written on your heart, and let these words write the love of God on the hearts of your children. Don’t be content to teach just your family to love God but teach people in your home town and abroad to love God. Don’t just limit this teaching to special teaching moments but teach people about God’s love, and how they can love him back, every moment of your lives. God loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and today Jesus teaches us that we must love God in return. God has given us so many gifts! The only way we can respond to God’s love is to give him everything we have.
After I completed my engineering degree and had been working for a few years, a nagging question formed in my mind. It was this question of how I could thank God for all he had given me. I had a great job that paid well. I had great friends. I was not in need of anything. I gave my time and money to the church, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. The question of how I can give back to God kept coming back. It finally dawned on me that the only way I could respond adequately to all the gifts God gives me is to give him everything. God had a plan that he was asking me to follow. I was loving him in many ways, but not fully.
I was not following the command to love God with my whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and all my strength. How do I love God with my whole heart? Every decision I make should be rooted in my love for God. For example, if by some miracle the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but I had somehow not been to Mass yet that Sunday, how would I decide? Would I watch the amazing new Doritos commercial, or worship my God who gave me everything… including Doritos? How do I love God with my whole soul? The soul is what makes us who we are. It is the core of our being. When Jesus asks us for this, he is asking for us to be willing to give up everything for him. By asking for our soul, Jesus is asking us to live our lives for him, not for money, power, or any passing thing. How do I love God with my mind? Our thinking must be imbued with love for God. We love God with our minds by learning about him, by reading the Bible and good books. We love God with our minds when we marvel at and explore this amazing universe and remember that God built it for us. How do I love God with all my strength? I love God with my strength when I’m willing to do the hard things. When we endure persecution for living our faith, for proclaiming the Good News to the world when they don’t want to hear it, this is loving God with all our strength. Sometimes, it literally means with all your strength. The March for Life, for example, is exhausting. I’m entirely drained when it is over, but I go on it, because God and human lives are important, and this is a way I can show my love for God and neighbor.
How do we begin to love God more? Start small. Ask yourself, how am I giving back to God now? If I volunteer at a homeless shelter, maybe I can spend a little more time there. If God has blessed me with a well-paying job, perhaps I can give a little more to my parish or to a charity like Food for the Poor. If I attend Mass most Sundays but occasionally miss, maybe I can love God by simply making sure I’m at Mass every Sunday. I recognize that there are limits to our time and resources, and I recognize that we all have different talents, but I truly believe that if we really think about it there is something each one of us can do to love God a little more. For me, I think this might take the form of me only watching 13 episodes of Parks and Rec tonight, so that I can get to bed at a decent time. (Kidding!)
In Deuteronomy, this passage ends with, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” God calls us to allow these words to be written on our hearts: the words of God’s love for us and our love for him. These are the words of the New Covenant which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. This is the New Covenant we celebrate at every Mass, when ordinary bread and wine become the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Eucharist, we renew the New Covenant relationship with God that our Baptisms established. The Eucharist strengthens our love for God, because when we receive the Eucharist God Himself is entering into our bodies and transforming us. He transforms us into better people, people who are more fully alive and loving. In the Eucharist, we share in God’s life and love for us.
God loves us. He gives us everything we have. Every time we receive the Eucharist, he gives himself to us in a life-changing way. Let us commit ourselves to loving God every moment of our lives and never allowing anything to come between us and God. Let us live out the words Jesus said in Gethsemane, “Father […], not as I will, but as you will.”
November 4, 2018
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34
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 ourway, 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.
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
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?
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.”
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
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.
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