Saturday, April 01, 2006

The totality of the Eucharist (Sunday homily)

The prophet Jeremiah promises God
"will make a new covenant" with his People.

In the Old Testament,
God showed himself to humanity.
But that wasn’t enough.
God’s people said, "wow!"—
then went back to their old life.

The New Covenant is something a lot more:
Not just, God came near man, but God became man!

This points to what it means to be a Christian;
to become a "little Christ":
Someone in whom God has come to dwell!

Not, "God near" but God in us!

This is what begins with baptism;
this happens in all the sacraments.

This is why we fall to our knees
before the Eucharist:
God—Jesus Christ—
is present in a superlative way.
Notice what happens with the Eucharist:
Jesus Christ, fully present,
yet in the manner of food.

Why? Because of the very next step:
He wants not only to be near us, but in us!
Here’s a truly marvelous thing:
every other food, when we receive it,
is transformed into us.
The Eucharist is the only Food that,
in receiving, transforms us!

That’s what communion means!
Com-munion: "union with."

We Catholics do something
a lot of folks don’t understand:
We’re strict about communion.

Folks will say,
"why can’t I come? I’m a Christian."

I understand, but what kind of Christian?
To be a "little Christ"
is to be His kind of Christian:
Not Luther’s kind, not Willow Creek’s kind,
not Martin Fox’s kind, or yours, but: His kind!

So, how do we know what kind that is?
Christ established a Church,
and he is with His Church,
to show us, and to transform us!
Not God near us, but God in us!

The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity,
with Christ, and with his Church:
It’s a package deal.

Receiving the Eucharist at Mass
presupposes—and commits us to—
a way of believing and a way of living,
in union with his whole Church.

This is why I can’t receive
communion in another church:
it would be a false act of faith.
And it’s why we don’t invite
members of other bodies
to receive at this altar.

Saying this isn’t easy,
but you and I have to explain this
to folks when they come to Mass.
The priest can’t say it every time.

Some say,
"Oh, the differences aren’t so great."
First, that’s not true.
There are real differences.
The Eucharist is the obvious one:
we adore the Eucharist!
That’s not bread, not wine; that’s Christ!

And it’s not really my place to say,
to another Christian,
what’s special about your church is no big deal.
The differences matter;
and until we transcend them,
we aren’t fully one.

Now, some say,
I’m not formally a Catholic,
but I believe it all;
why can’t I receive the Eucharist?

The answer is, you can!
But: do it the right way.
Example: a man and a woman
live together, have a family,
but they never "formally"
commit themselves in marriage.
They say, "what’s the difference?"

The difference is shown
by what holds you back:
Something holds you back
from that final step of commitment.
And you can say its "nothing"—
but then why does it hold you back?

Whatever it is, that’s the difference:
Holding-back is not union-with.

And, by the way, in those six words,
you have the Church’s teaching
on sex before marriage,
and on contraception, in a nutshell:
holding-back is not union-with.
The Eucharist is union-with: total commitment!

That means with Christ, and with his Church.
It’s a package deal!

So this applies to Catholics, too:
If we have a serious sin in our life,
or for some reason, can’t commit ourselves
to everything the Church teaches,
that’s holding-back, not union-with.

The 2nd Vatican Council reminded us that
while Christ’s presence
is greatest in the Eucharist,
that’s not his only presence:
he’s in his Church, too.

And that is the greater leap of faith.

To see Christ in the Eucharist is easy,
compared to seeing Him,
and hearing him, in his Church.

There are teachings
we don’t understand or accept:
respecting life at the beginning and end;
marriage: who can enter it, can we leave it?
who can be ordained . . .

To hear Christ teaching us,
through bishops and priests,
with all our flaws and sins?
That is a far greater act of faith.

But that’s what he said he would do.
It’s a package-deal.

The same Holy Spirit
who acts through a priest,
to turn bread and wine into Jesus Christ,
acts through the Church,
to teach and sanctify us,
to turn us into "little Christs."

This is the new covenant Jeremiah promised.

It’s about total conversion.
The Eucharist is total conversion.
That’s how it becomes the Eucharist,
and that’s the essential reason
to receive the Eucharist:
total conversion. Nothing less will do.


Deacon Jim said...

Superlative! Clear, concise, honest, and direct.

Anonymous said...

When my dad was dying, each of those who would be left behind wanted something from him, even if we were not quite aware of what it was or how to put it in words. Later, through the grace of God, I was able to understand what I wanted and also why my dad could not give me what I wanted. I wanted him to say "this is my beloved son" with complete and unconditional love. To give that, dad would have had to have that within him to give. What has all this to do with the Eucharist? When we love someone dearly and we are leaving them behind, maybe forever, we want to leave them with something that lets them know how much we love them, but also to leave something behind that will care for them and comfort them. Human beings are no match for Jesus love for us. So when I hear at mass "On the night before he died" whatever follows has to be taken in that context. What would I, a sinner in all my weakness like to leave my wife, my children, and my grandchildren? I would like to leave them that which is the very essence of my love so they could taste it whenever they needed it. They could absorb this love in a way that I could never be able to articulate or give them as it is locked into this broken vessel.
On the night before he died, He took bread and said take this, all of you and eat it, THIS IS MY BODY, which will be given up for you. Later, He took the cup and said drink, THIS IS MY BLOOD, which will be shed for you. Jesus as perfect love was able to give those nearest to him and to all mankind what anyone would want to leave their love ones and to articulate it for all time.

Anyone who has watched the last breath of a loved one and longed for that perfect closure must see that this is the only place we will ever find that perfect closure because there is no limit, no conditions, no end, to this love.

On the night before my dad died, after wanting to hear him say he loved me all my life, after waiting weeks as he wasted away to cancer in silence, I leaned down to kiss him goodbye and whispered, I love you dad. He mumbled "me too." That was it. That was the last words. It was the best he had within him and thus is the treasure I will have with me. However, if he had been Jesus, he would have given me his body and blood, his soul, his heart, everything. And that is what He did.

Anonymous said...

Fr Martin:

in last couple years - I have been trying to more fully understand the Eucharist and somewhat puzzled why more Catholics do not do the same. your homily was concise and shed new light on the the mystery and beauty of the Eucharist. Why has our Catholic continuing education not embraced an on-going focus on the Eucharist?? why do not you know hear more homily like that from the pulpit?? I know the answer - you have to go the right Catholic churches!!

Rachel said...

I love how you applied the concept of "Holding-back is not union-with" to the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and contraception (four for the price of one!) A great concept to help understand all those things. And your point about seeing Christ in the church, and that the Holy Spirit "acts through the Church, to teach and sanctify us" was really good to hear. No doubt for your congregation that's especially true. :) Also! The point that "Jesus Christ is fully present, yet in the manner of food. Why? Because of the very next step: He wants not only to be near us, but in us!" I had never thought of that before! Make me look forward all the more to my first Communion. Anyway, I really liked all the instruction in that homily.