Saturday, July 30, 2011

'What is the Mass "for"?' (Sunday homily)

When we talk about the Eucharist, or communion, or the Lord’s Supper,
all Christians are reading the same Scriptures, and in some way,
trying to do what Christ asked us to do.

And a lot of folks--Catholic or Protestant--ask: isn’t it pretty much the same?

With total respect to our fellow Christians who love Jesus--no, it is not the same;
even though a lot of the language and ritual can be very similar.

So, I want to explain what’s different and why.
But two quick notes: first, this isn’t criticism of anyone; just explanation.
Second, to avoid going too long, this has to be broad strokes.

We Catholics--as well as Eastern Orthodox--believe that the Mass,
offered by a priest, is a true sacrifice.
We believe what happened on the Cross on the first Good Friday,
really and truly becomes present on the altar, but in a different way.

When Martin Luther and others began the Protestant movement,
this was a key bone of contention.

They came to believe that the Mass was not--and could not be--a true sacrifice.
A remembrance? Yes.
But does the sacrifice of the Cross really become present on the altar? No.

This goes with our understanding of the priesthood.

Along with our Protestant brothers and sisters,
we believe baptism gives us a share in Christ’s priesthood.

But as Catholics, we go further. We believe in a unique, ordained priesthood.

Catholics and Orthodox believe that when a man is ordained a priest,
a true change happens in him.
He becomes conformed, in an unchangeable way, to Christ himself.
That alone is why a priest can forgive sins in the sacrament of confession--
because it is Christ in the priest who forgives.
And it is Christ in the priest who makes Calvary present on the altar.

Here again the Protestant movement took a different view,
and they see only the common priesthood of all believers.

As a result, Protestant churches almost never call their pastors “priests,” and for good reason: the essence of a priest is to offer sacrifice. If there isn’t one, there isn’t the other.

When our fellow Christians remember the Lord’s Supper, it’s very important to them;
but it means something different.

This is why when we Catholics visit another church,
we are not to take part in their communion.
Sometimes they will invite us, other times not;
but the right thing to do is respectfully to decline.

And this is why we don’t believe in sharing the Eucharist
until people choose to become Catholic.
There’s actually a rare exception, but ask me later about that.

So…what’s the upshot of all this?

Number 1, this is why coming to Mass on Sunday matters.

We can pray anywhere.
But if you want to be truly present at Calvary--that why we come to Mass.

Second, when we talk about the Real Presence of Jesus--
that the Eucharist truly is Him, His Body and Blood,
this is how that happens:
because a true priest offered the Sacrifice of his death on the Cross.
If there is no priest and no sacrifice, where do the Body and Blood come from?

That’s why so many of our fellow Christians say, it’s just a symbol.

Third is a double-reason.
While this is obviously a reason to want to become Catholic;
it also means that something very powerful happens
for those who, for various reasons, cannot come to communion.

Maybe folks will say, “I can’t come to communion, why go to Mass?” This is why.

We aren’t here, just passively observing, or waiting till we can receive communion.

Some will say, only the priest, or the reader, or others, are “doing” something. No.
Everyone here is called to “do” something as part of the Mass:
to join our hearts and wills together with the ordained priest, and with Jesus our High Priest.

Remember, this Mass is the same sacrifice as Jesus on the Cross.
If we wonder what Mass is for, ask what the Cross was for:
He did it to open heaven and to rescue us from hell.
To save us and to save the world.

That’s what every Mass is “for.”

Our nation is in a financial crisis--and we all wonder how it will work out.
Our world is in a spiritual crisis.
The fate of governments and the economy, the end of wars and famine,
are ultimately about whether we will accept Christ as our king.
And if you want to pray for our nation, for family, for the world--
there is no more powerful prayer than Jesus giving his all on the Cross!

We just heard Paul say that nothing can conquer the love of Christ--it will triumph.
But the “love of Christ” isn’t just his warm feelings for us: it’s his death on the Cross.
It’s the Mass!

In the first reading, God promised to renew his “everlasting covenant” with us.

In the Eucharistic prayer we pray at every Mass, we hear Jesus say,
“this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant…
shed so that sins may be forgiven.”

In a moment, I’ll go to that altar and I will offer this Sacrifice.
Know that I am completely unworthy of it.
It truly frightens me because I am a sinner.
That’s how awesome this is. Pray for me, please. Join with me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Caring for Eastern Christians

Here's an unusual item on my to-do list, which I've been working on, on and off, for several weeks.

Several weeks ago, I had a family approach me about becoming Catholic. They are Greek Orthodox.

Inside my head, a little bell goes off. "This requires special care."

Here's what I mean--because this delves into some less well known aspects of the Church.

If a member of an Orthodox Church seeks "to be Catholic," this is very different from a Protestant, or a non-Christian, doing so. Why? Because the Orthodox already have the right faith, but there are some differences that have to be dealt with.

The Roman feeling is that these differences are relatively narrow; sometimes, among the Orthodox, the feeling is they are major. Being Roman, I approach this situation from the Roman perspective.

So first, I have to think about what topics have to involve some instruction. Not nearly as many as others approaching me to enter the Church.

Another little-known fact. If an Orthodox believer wishes to enter into full communion with the pope, he or she does not become Roman Catholic; he or she becomes a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church, which is a distinct "rite" or branch of the Church, in communion with Rome.

Why is this? Because the various Eastern branches of the Church are not eager to be absorbed into the Roman Church--but to maintain their distinct spirituality and traditions. Same Faith; different form and expression. So strict is this rule, that only the Holy Father can make an exception.

So...these folks approaching me would not become Roman Catholics, but Byzantine Catholics--only they didn't know that. I had to explain what that meant. That means I had to do some homework.

Before I explore that, you might wonder, well, why did they come to you?

Because there is no Greek Orthodox Church nearby; nor is there a Greek Catholic parish nearby. So they came to the Catholic church.

So my concern--which I expressed to them--was that in attending Mass at a Roman church, and sending their children to a Roman school, their Eastern traditions would be lost. Also, even if they attend Mass here, which they can, they will nonetheless be members of the Byzantine Catholic Church. If their son seeks ordination, it needs to be in that church; when their children seek marriage, they can only be married in the Latin rite if they marry a Latin Catholic.

So what else does this mean for this family?

1) Eastern spirituality is different; it's important for them to retain that and connect with it.
2) The way Eastern Churches understand some doctrines is slightly different--not in substance but in formulation. For example, the Holy Spirit's "procession" from the Father, "and/through" the Son.
3) The disciplines of the East are different. Eastern Christians fast more, but it is not under "pain of sin."

Anyway, you might think it would be easy to find things for them to read and study. Not so much. Most of what I could find is written for theologians, not regular folks.

Also, along the way I sought advice from the pastor of the nearest Byzantine Catholic parish, insofar as they will become his parishioners if I receive them into the Church, even though they'll routinely attend Mass here.

Well, I finally put together a plan, and I called the mother today, and we will be getting together soon. I won't claim I did the best job on this so far; I have done what I can, amidst other responsibilities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

'Are we worldly?' (Sunday homily)

These are my notes--they are incomplete. I added in some different illustrations, and I didn't make my points as bluntly as these suggest--because I simply didn't have time to write down everything I wanted to say.

Perhaps if a reader heard me give this homily this weekend, you might offer, in addition to commentary, some mention of any points I made not reflected in these notes--either that you liked, or didn't like, or perhaps didn't understand.

Let’s look at what Saint Paul is saying in the second reading.

Last week, he said that some are “debtors to the flesh” while others “live in the Spirit”: meaning that either we are governed by the Holy Spirit—and Christ-centered—or else we’re rooted in a worldly way of thinking and living.

Are we worldly? Are a lot of Christians today worldly?

I think we know the answer.

Christ our King gives us an audience each Sunday—with lots of times, and that is just Piqua—and how many don’t show up? Not for good reasons—but for the sake of sports or shopping. Is that worldly?

The practice of confession has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Is it really true that people have become a lot more virtuous in the past few decades?

Marriages—when they happen—don’t last. It’s no secret what one of the main uses for the Internet is—and not just other people; us.

Have you ever noticed that at any given time, on TV, you can watch someone prepare food, talk about food, or stuff their faces with vast quantities of food.

Worldly? Living “in the flesh?”

What about our priests. Am I worldly? Yes I am. Pray for your priests and your bishops. We don’t have any special protection from temptation.

(I recall somewhere acknowledging I don't go to confession as often as I should, or pray as well as I should; and my excuse isn't any different from anyone else's: I'm busy. And it's not really a good excuse. I asked everyone to pray for me, and I said I'd get to confession, how about everyone else make the same commitment with me?)

“Worldly” is a good description, I think, of the state of many Christians, and many Catholics.

Paul tells us this week that Creation “groans”—as it awaits full redemption. That redemption comes from Christ—but it comes through the sons and daughters of God.

In other words, from us.

When our lives fully show Christ the world will see something worth seeing.

And there’s no secret about how that happens; and there’s nothing easy about it. It’s living in the Holy Spirit.

That’s what makes our lives fruitful ground for God’s life in us.

OK, what are practical steps?

1. Go to confession. Regularly. If you don’t think you need it, you may find that going a few times you’ll see it differently.
2. Sunday Mass—you’re here, you understand that.
3. Learn your faith. Even 20 years ago, folks could legitimately say, they didn’t know where to go for reading material, or else their busy lives meant they couldn’t come to church for classes or talks or whatever. But with the Internet, a few clicks and you can find good, solid stuff to learn all about your faith. If you don’t know where to start, EWTN has an excellent site. You will find links to keep you busy, and lots of variety. Just 1 hour a week would be a lot.
4. Pray—even a few minutes at the beginning and the end. I don’t say this lightly. This is where I fall down; I’m busy and it’s so easy to say, “God is happy I’m working so hard.” There is no substitute for prayer.

All the ground gets seed and rain, but it doesn’t all produce the same fruit. God pays us the compliment of respecting our freedom.

We can’t do it without the Holy Spirit; but He won’t do it without our willingness.

Here’s a dangerous prayer. It’s risky. Are you ready?

Holy Spirit, I will do whatever you ask. I will go wherever you send me. I will change whatever needs to change in my life. I want to give up whatever doesn’t belong. I want to make Christ my priority. I am willing to do it if you help me do it.