Saturday, August 26, 2006

Let's Make a Deal (Sunday homily)

Today, I’m going to talk about
the last part of Mass—
from the Eucharistic Prayer, to the end.

To review: we believe Mass is a sacrifice.

Three things make a sacrifice:

First, something is offered.
In the Old Testament,

they brought the best lamb
and slaughtered it on the altar.

That’s a sacrifice.

Second, the sacrifice makes a covenant.
If you and I have a covenant,

I owe you, you owe me;
not a set amount,

but everything—it’s total.
You are faithful to me, and I to you;
not just for a day,

or a time, but forever!

That’s a covenant.

And third, those who make

the covenant-sacrifice
do something to share it—

to be part of it,
and to obligate themselves

to the covenant:

So, after they burnt

part of the lamb on the altar;
the rest they shared as a sacrificial meal.
Doing that pledged them,

solemnly, to the covenant.

And that is called communion.


The second reading from Paul
connects this to marriage.
Do you realize, what we believe
about Jesus’ sacrifice and the Eucharist,
is what we believe about marriage:
Total, forever, nothing held back—and note:
it is consummated how? By communion!

So why are we surprised
that our Catholic Faith
has always taught that contraception—
barriers and pills—are gravely sinful,
because they ruin the communion
of a married couple?

How can there be communion with a barrier?
How can it truly be communion,
if an essential part is deliberately excluded?
That’s not total—that’s not communion!

When we hear the second reading
from Paul, we get distracted
by a “power” thing—men v. women.

If it’s about power,
that totally misses the point.
Marriage only works with surrender—
and it has to be both—
both husband and wife.

This is what Christ does for us:
God humbled himself to become man,
And further, he suffered and died—
everything for us.

In this covenant-sacrifice, Christ makes
the “new and everlasting covenant”
with his Father, for our sake:
we share in it by becoming one with Christ.

So spectators to this—don’t get a share;
There’s no “part time” sharing in this.
It’s all—or nothing at all.

You will see me lift Christ
to heaven and sing,
“Through him, with him, in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
Almighty Father, forever and ever!”

That is an ecstatic moment:
Christ giving himself totally.
This is the climax—
and I chose that word deliberately.

A heard a story last week,
about a man who came to Mass
just after he got married.
He received communion,
and coming back to his place, he was crying.
He said: “I finally understand what it means!”

From there, the rest of the Mass flows logically.
In Christ, we pray “Our Father”—
In Christ, we have peace with each other.

Then comes the breaking
of the Lamb of God:
As we sing, “Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world,”
Watch, as I will hold
the Lamb before you—
As his priest, and yours,
I will break his body—for you!

Then, we share the covenant-sacrifice.

And here’s where we answer
the big question: Why don’t we
invite everyone to communion?

Think about all we’ve just considered.
How can we?

This is a covenant-sacrifice—
Can we share it, without at least recognizing
that it is a covenant-sacrifice?

Sadly, for all we have in common,
most of our fellow Christians
do not recognize the Mass
as a true, covenant-sacrifice.

Until we can restore unity
on this central teaching of Christ—
we aren’t ready to share it.

Also, we saw that communion
is about full commitment.
Some folks, for whatever reason,
are not ready to make a full commitment
to the Catholic Church.

When they’re ready for that step,
we welcome them!
Then communion will make sense.

This challenges us who are Catholics.
Are we fully committed?

Do we hold back
from accepting all the Church teaches?
Do we hold back from living it?

Yes, it is costly.

How many ways does Jesus have to tell us:
You want to follow me, take up your cross?
That means: the price is everything.

In today’s Gospel,
some of his own followers left him,
because they couldn’t accept his teaching.
He didn’t gloss it over to draw them back.

The question is not,
what’s it cost, but what’s it worth?
Do we need Jesus? That’s the question.
Some don’t think so.

But if we do need Jesus,
here’s the deal.
It costs you everything:
give me your life; die to self!
But you will gain everything:
The Holy Spirit; forgiveness of sins;
conversion of heart; integrity of life;
hope and meaning, especially in suffering;
something truly worth dying for;
and a future to live for:
We are truly united with God—
and live forever
to the praise of his Glory!

Easy or hard, with Peter, we say:
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”

And to that leap of faith, He responds:
“Whoever eats my flesh,
and drinks my blood
remains in me, and I in him—
and has eternal life.”

14 comments:

Orange_Cross said...

Ton de asthenounta te pistei, proslambanesthe, me eis diakriseis dialogismon. Hos men pisteuei phagein panta ho de asthenon lakana esthiei. Ho esthion, ton me esthionta me exoutheneito kai ho me esthion, ton esthionta me krineto ho theos gar auton proselabeto. Su tis ei ho krinon anglotrion oiketen? To idio kurio stekei, ee piptei stathesenai de dunatos gar ha theos stesai auton.

Gregaria said...

Thank you so much for writing and posting on this! This is such a beautiful teaching that it never gets old.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Amen!

Mike L said...

An excellent homily, as usual, Father. And I particularly liked your discription of marriage as a covenent. And your rational for stating that contraception is a sin because it denies full communion is reasonable. But if find it strange that the condemnation is limited to pills or barriers. Does not the decision to limit sex to only certain times when the woman is not fertile place as great a limitation on the communion and consumation between the couple? It certainly is not a total commitment. I am old enough that when I was young the Church taught that contraception - period - was wrong. I was taught that perhaps NFP could be used for a short period for serious reasons, such as for the health of the mother, but that any use beyond that was motaly sinful. Your rational would certainly agree with that, yet today NFP seems to be a perfectly acceptable means of long term contraception.

I would appreciate your comments on this situation.

Mike L

itwasinantioch said...

I have a question and this is the only time today I have a chance to post it, but I don't mean to be jumping in ahead of anyone else's comments. Even though it looks that way! Fr. Fox, if you address my question I expect you to delay your attention until you have addressed the remarks of others before me.
My question is very sincere and has been troubling me a long time. I wonder why it is never asked or answered. There are probably good reasons but I do not know them - it would help if you could enlighten me.
In your excellent homily you touch on the idea that those who are not members of our church may not receive communion with us because they are not in union with the Catholic church. Here is my question - millions of baptised Catholics are also not "in union" in the sense that they disagree with certain teachings of the church (a variety of teachings) - I'm not judging or guessing, this is from things I read or sometimes observe (the birth rate among Catholics makes its own tacit statement about the practice of contraception). I read in the legitimate mainstream Catholic press where full-fledged Catholic members of the church disagree with numerous large or small Vatican teachings, most often the male priesthood, premarital sex, married priests, etc. A famous survey published a couple of yrs ago revealed giant gapa in areas of Catholic thinking, and now different-thinking Catholics are getting group names, such traditionalist, neoliberal, neotraditionalist, left wing, conservative (borrowing from the political venue). Are these divisions any different than the way various denoms are identified within the Protestant church? I mean are a liberal Catholic and a fundamentalist Catholic any less different from one another than, say, a Methodist and an Episcopalian? You have to have noticed there are really heavily significant differences in the thinking of not only Catholic laypeople but also Catholic priest-scholars, theologians, even cardinals. My question would be, how can anyone say the church is united anymore - the reality is, and this IS a reality no matter what anyone says to make it seem better - it isn't. And yet all Catholics receive Communion just as if they were indeed "in union" and not separated by differing conviction.
Should the church therefore refuse Communion to those who are of different conviction within the church (and how would they be identified and separated???)- or if not, how does that compare to refusing Communion to our Protestant brethren, some of whom it seems are closer to full consensus of opinion with us than some valid Catholics.
While using the breviary one day I noticed a reading from an old Apostolic letter which really stayed in my mind. In it the early churches were instructed to share Communion with all baptised Christians. True, this was before the Reformation, but there were divisions just as serious between (Christian)Jews and Gentiles back then as between, for instance, Lutheran and Catholic today.
Sorry this was so long. It seems like an issue that could benefit from clarification. I know others sometimes wonder about it because I've heard them say so.
Many thanks for whatever you can tell me about this troubling situation.

Steve said...

Mike-

This is in response to your question about whether it is any different to use NFP to avoid preganancy than it is to use contraceptives. I think I can clarify the Church's position as follows: NFP is permissible only when a couple discerns a sufficiently serious reason to delay having another child. You are absolutely correct in stating the a couple could abuse NFP and therefore would not be making a total commitment to each other. Using NFP to totally avoid pregnancy (i.e., as an alternative means of contraception) is wrong, and someone who does so may very well be cmmitting a mortal sin.

However, use of NFP to delay pregnancy for a sufficiently serious reason is totally in line with the Church teaching. I cannot give you an answer to the question of what is a sufficiently serious reason: there is no one answer. That is something that each couple needs to discern through prayer and discussion, considering their own physical, moral, financial, and other circumstances. But the key is that this decsion must be made totally in line with Church teaching, and consistent with their marriage covenant.

I hope this somewhat helps answer your question.

God Bless!
Steve

Father Martin Fox said...

Mike:

As someone else already said, NFP can be used for the wrong intention, and that is sinful.

But what is sinful is not the way the couple engages in marital relations -- i.e., there's nothing intrinsically evil about planning to have relations only during infertile periods (which is what NFP is); the sin lies in the intention itself brought to NFP.

Practicing NFP is not contraception; because, as I said: with contraception, whether a pill or a barrier (or, for that matter, an operation), we attempt to have the sex act with something deliberately excluded or kept separate (i.e., with a barrier).

But this doesn't happen in NFP.

NFP works because, when the couple is fertile, they voluntarily refrain from marital acts; and NFP tells them when that will be. The man is not withholding anything of his gift to his wife; nor is the wife deliberately withholding her gift; she is having communion with her husband at a time when her body does not offer the egg.

After all, would we say that a couple is doing something wrong in having relations when they know they can't conceive? But we know this is not true.

The difference between NFP and contraception is accepting and working within God's design, vs. redesigning it.

Finally, I think NFP, by its nature, promotes openness to life, practically, if not absolutely. I.e., it is theoretically possible to have the same mentality about children with NFP, as with contraception, but I think in reality, it won't happen.

This is because of what I said: NFP is cooperation with God's plan, and hence, with our God-given fruitfulness. NFP couples become intimately aware of their own life-giving gift; they tune into it, and conform themselves to it. That's totally different from what contraception/ sterilization do: they tune out the fruitfulness of our bodies.

As far as what would be a sufficient reason for using NFP? From memory, I would say the rule is "a just cause" -- some insist on a "grave" reason, but that could be too severe a test. I think the language of Casti Cannubii and Humanae Vitae is more along the lines of reasons of finance, stress, health and other human circumstances that would make postponing having children, or spacing them out, morally reasonable. I.e., there has to be a good reason, but the need doesn't, in my judgment, have to be severe.

Father Martin Fox said...

Itwasinantioch:

I would question whether anything in the breviary really says that early Christians shared the Eucharist, regardless of "being in communion" with the Catholic Church.

After all, there is a direct connection with the term, "being in communion" and what we receive being termed, "communion"!

Its pretty well documented that the practice, from the Apostolic age, was -- in effect -- you had to "be in communion" with the Catholic Church to receive communion. (And this applied to the Orthodox for a long time, insofar as East and West understood each other as "in communion"; that is a neuralgic question today.)

Certainly, as I said in my homily, a Catholic who isn't in full union with the Church really ought not to receive communion either -- whether that be because of unconfessed mortal sin, actual rejection of a key teaching, or simply not practicing.

itwasinantioch said...

I found it. The second reading for Weds. of the fourteenth wk. of Ordinary Time, Book III of the Liturgy of the Hours: From "The Teaching of the Apostles", The Eucharist, paragraph 3, "Do not let anyone eat or drink of your eucharist except those who have been baptised in the name of the Lord." (The Teaching of the Apostles is also known as the Didache, c. 100 AD)
As we read in the NT, there were five great centers of Christianity. Among them were many differences in belief, particularly between those of Jewish and Gentile origins. Yet in the teaching of the Apostles, all were welcome at the eucharistic table if they were baptised in the name of the Lord. That was the necessary qualification.
We can see from Scripture that there was no religion titled "Roman Catholic" at that time. It does not appear in Scripture anyplace.
The word catholic, or katholikos, was first used by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, to refer to the aggregate of the five local churches.
It might shock some modern Catholics to know that in the early church there was no ordained
clergy (bishops and deacons were elected/appointed, not ordained, and did not arise from the rank of priests/presbyter). The Eucharist was normally celebrated in house-churches by prophets and teachers, not by ordained clergy. Many were married and so were many of the bishops of the early church. This is read out during Sunday liturgy from time to time, but everyone politely refrains from listening, I guess.
At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans there was no evidence of an ordained priesthood yet. The office of presbyter is not mentioned in church documents until the year 110 AD.
Nearly every Catholic I have asked how the Roman Catholic church began has told me Peter went to Rome and built the Vatican and presided there as the first pope along with the college of cardinals, etc. Historically, and according to Scriptural description of the development of the early church, this was not at all the way it happened.
So, to briefly recap, originally there were five "local" churches in five different places. This collection of local churches taken together was called catholic, or universal. In the early days of this collective church there was considerable disagreement on topics like dietary laws, circumcision, ritual, etc. but the local or individual churches overlooked these temporary discrepancies in favor of the bigger picture; all who professed Christ could receive Communion and were thought to be "in union" with one another despite some differences of opinion. Whatever else the situation, it was not a case where Rome was "The" church and the other four centers of Christianity were also-rans. All five churches were "catholic" or universal in their profession of the Lord, and therefore Christians. It was not until many centuries later that Rome and Constantinople branched apart and the eastern church became known as Orthodox (which translates to "right way").
My question remains, if the early church was so "catholic" (universal) that its basis for communion with each other and for receiving Communion together was a belief in and profession of the Lord, and if the RC church today overlooks the grave differences in belief among practicing Catholics that we see all around us, why would other Christian churches not be considered in communion when they are Christians too, even if they disagreeon some points - just as millions of practicing Catholics likewise disagree but are still considered in communion with the mother church?

Father Martin Fox said...

Itwasinantioch:

I suggest you pursue this at Catholic Answers, where you will find plenty of folks who will debate these matters with you. No offense, but I am not interested in doing so.

It is clear enough -- and has been demonstrated amply -- that the early Church was Catholic in all essentials.

Whether the first to receive the sacrament of holy orders were married or not is not terribly important, except perhaps to you.

itwasinantioch said...

Nuff said.

Cantor said...

Thank you, Fr., for having the full Epistle read. Our own had the shortened one done.

cris120 said...

Speaking of mass. I can't help but feel not so comfortable having missed one Sunday mass this week. Is it psychological? I mean, is it only me who feels the same way?

Eileen said...

Thank you, Father for having the courage to use the full gospel reading at your Mass. Our priest chose not to read the bracketed text. I wish I could send your homily to our parish priest. Any time I have read your homilies here they cathechize so well. Your parishioners are very fortunate to have you as their priest.