Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Priesthood, the Mass & the Eucharist (Corpus Christi homily)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is Latin;
translated, it means, the Body of Christ.
Until 40 years ago, there was another feast for the Precious Blood of Christ,
which was on July 1.
But really, today, what we are focusing on today is the whole Eucharist –
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you look closely at the readings, they are more about something else:
and that is the priesthood.
Both the Genesis reading and the Gospel mention bread or wine;
but that isn’t the Eucharist – not yet. 

Let’s look at Genesis first. What we do see is a priest:
Melchizedek, who makes an offering of bread and wine.
Now, what really is a priest? A priest has one, essential role:
it is to sanctify the people of God.

A priest is a mediator: a go-between from God to us, and us to God. 
And at the center of that, the priest offers sacrifice.
That’s what Melchizedek did. Notice the psalm we prayed.
It said: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
This psalm is a dialogue between God and King David –
and it is God who says this to David.
But of course, David died; so in what sense is this true?
It was understood as a prophecy: his descendant would be that “priest forever” –
and we know who that is: Jesus Christ!

This is important background for what happens at the Last Supper.
Jesus says to the Apostles: This is my body, this is my blood…
“do this in remembrance of me.”
The Greek word that Paul uses for “remembrance” is very special: 
This not only means “remember,” but more like, 

When God’s People kept the Passover down through the centuries, it was an anamnesis — 
the saving actions of God were made real and present in their midst. 
The word was used in the (Greek) Old Testament to refer to sacrifice. 
So the full sense of what Jesus said to the Apostles is this: 
You are to offer a sacrifice that makes my sacrifice on the Cross real and present, 
wherever you are. 

 And of course, that is what the Holy Mass is.
And if the Apostles offer a sacrifice, that makes them – and their successors – priests. 
We cannot rightly understand the Eucharist without the priesthood. 
In fact, there simply is no Eucharist without the priesthood. 

And so this is why I must now explain some things that we don’t talk about often. 
And I don’t do this to be hard on anyone, but to clarify confusion 
about what we believe as Catholics about the priesthood, and the Mass, and the Eucharist, 
and what the various Protestant churches believe, 
which many of our friends and relatives belong to. 

The sad reality is that when the Protestant Reformation took place, 
every single group that emerged in those days rejected three things 
which we believe Christ taught: first, that the Holy Mass is truly a sacrifice – an anamnesis; second, that there is a sacramental priesthood, handed down through the church; 
and third, that the Eucharist is the true and real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ 
as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches teach. 

Now, I know many times we have conversations,
or we visit folks at their places of worship,
and our Protestant friends will talk about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, in very similar ways. 
Or they’ll come to our Mass, and say, I believe that. 

Now, I know many times we have conversations, or we visit folks at their places of worship, 
and our Protestant friends will talk about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, in very similar ways. 
Or they’ll come to our Mass, and say, I believe that. 
And, I think quite a lot of individual members of these churches do believe things 
about the Eucharist that goes beyond what their churches believe corporately. 
And, I might add, I am not doubting their sincerity, or their devotion, to our Lord. 

Still, there is no getting around the fact that the Christian movements 
that we loosely call Protestant or Evangelical
have fundamentally different beliefs on these matters, 
even if some language sounds similar. 

And this is at the heart of why when we Catholics attend a Protestant worship service, 
we do not receive communion in their churches; and why, when we have Mass,
only Catholics in a state of grace are to receive the Eucharist. 

*(Remember what I said, there are three things here. First is the priesthood. 
Only in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches do you have a sacramental priesthood. 
While the Anglican or Episcopal churches will use the term “priest,” 
if you dig deeper, you’ll find out that the Anglican understanding of their ordained ministers
is essentially the same as that of the other Protestant movements.
Meanwhile, other Christian bodies make no bones about it:
they don’t have priests, because they don’t believe in a priesthood, 
apart from what we all share in baptism. 

(Similarly, you may find the word “Mass” used occasionally
by some other Protestant churches; but not often.
In any case, they don’t believe it’s truly a sacrifice, as we do. 
The leaders of the Protestant movement insisted that there is no continuation, 
or making-present, of the Sacrifice of the Cross; it’s all in the past. 

(And, then, third – and as a result of these first two differences –
among our fellow Christians, there are a wide variety of beliefs about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, even if some language sounds similar. 
After all, we’re reading the same Bible, but reaching very different conclusions.)

Sometimes, we will try to be agreeable, and say, oh well, we all believe about the same thing. 
But consider this. Lots of Lutherans, lots of Evangelicals, lots of Mennonites and others, 
have paid a great price for their own, particular beliefs. Many have died for them. 
It’s not really respectful to suggest that, in the end, 
they sacrificed, or died, over a mere quibble. 

One way to see clearly the difference between how Catholics understand the Eucharist,
and how our Protestant brethren understand communion, is to ask this question:
What happens to the items they use in communion after the Sunday service ends?
What do they do with what remains? 

You see what happens here: the Eucharist is treated with the greatest reverence, 
and placed in the tabernacle; otherwise, what remains is consumed. 
And then, we adore – that is, we give worship 
which only God can be given, to the Eucharist. What does that tell you?
That we mean what we say: this really is Jesus!

But if you visit many of these other churches, rarely will you see a tabernacle.
And many of our fellow Christians will say,
It’s only bread and wine – or grape juice – It’s only a symbol, nothing more. 

So let me conclude with some practical suggestions for ourselves,
in how we approach the Eucharist, so that we can fully express what we believe. 

First, while the bishops in this country allow receiving in the hand as an option,
there is a lot to be said for the traditional and ancient practice
that prevails throughout the world, which is to receive on the tongue.
When I am at the altar, I am careful 
not to allow even small fragments of the Host to be lost.
That’s why we use the patens, and that’s why I carefully wipe them off. 
I do find small fragments there – we use them for a reason. 
So to those who receive in the hand, may I ask:
do you carefully check to see if any small portion
of the sacred Host is left on your hands?

Second, I notice sometimes people will refer to receiving “the Eucharist” in the center,
and then receiving “the wine” over to the side. 
But when you come up for communion, there is no wine up here. 
We know it is the true Blood of Jesus Christ!

Several weeks ago, a first grader asked me: 
how many “bodies” does the bowl you use at Mass, hold? He got it: 
the hosts we distribute ceased to be bread when Jesus, 
 through the priest, called them, “My Body.” And it’s the same for the chalice. 

Of course, some say, it’s only bread and wine. 
And from time to time, Heaven sends a miracle to set us straight. 
Recently in Poland, one such miracle occurred: 
During Mass a host was found bleeding, and upon scientific examination,
it was found to be human flesh. 
Jesus, in his consideration for us, 
allows the Eucharist to keep its prior appearance, 
because the alternative isn’t so nice. 

But Jesus meant what he said: This is My Blood, shed for you. 
Because we believe this, we will bring Jesus to the streets of Russia 
right after the 11 am Mass. I hope you will join us.

* After the 5 pm Mass, I mostly left out this section for brevity's sake.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

God's Pet or God's Spouse (Holy Trinity homily)

Today is the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we talk about our believe that God is a Trinity--
God is Three while still being One--
We always wrestle with trying to explain this,
to ourselves and others.

But let me pose a different question: Why do we believe this?

And the answer is: because Jesus Christ told us this.
In so many places in the Gospels – such as today’s Gospel –
we hear Jesus referring to the Father, and to himself,
and to the Holy Spirit.
Even though he doesn’t use the term, “trinity,”
he makes clear that the Father is God, he himself is God,
and the Holy Spirit is God; yet not three gods, but one God.

So if someone asks you, why do you believe God is a trinity,
the answer is, because Jesus said so.
I believe it because I believe him.

Is it hard to explain exactly how it works? You bet.
But after all, we’re talking about God.
Why shouldn’t God’s nature baffle us?
That’s not the striking thing;
Instead, what’s remarkable is how much
of God’s mystery we can penetrate.

Look around at our world. Why, of all the animals,
is man uniquely so curious?

By all accounts, apes and dolphins are very bright animals.
They seem to like us. I don’t know why, but they do.
Yet they don’t seem overly curious about us.

Could it be that our unique capacity and longing for truth,
is a sign of God’s creation:
that God intends for us to seek to penetrate his mystery?
In other words,
maybe God created us to seek a relationship with him?

Now, we say that sort of thing: having a “relationship” with God.
Yet if we really think about it, does that even make sense?

I fixed breakfast this morning on my stove--
but I don’t have a “relationship” with my stove. Aren’t you glad?

I don’t have a pet--I like pets, but I’m too busy, I’d neglect it.
But for those who have pets, how do you describe that?
There’s a sort of relationship, and it’s real,
but it’s still pretty limited.

But let’s go with that. Is that what our relationship is to God?
Are we his pets?

The answer, if you really think about it, is no.
God gives us freedom you and I don’t give our pets.
But he also asks much more of us than a pet owner
asks of a dog or a cat.

Look at the Scriptures: God has bigger ambitions for us.
He calls us “friends”! The Son calls Mary, his creature, “Mother”!
He calls himself the Bridegroom--and we, his Church, his Bride.

And there it is. Bride and groom. A breathtaking image.
We wouldn’t dare to suggest it,
because it would seem blasphemous,
to suggest that sort of intimacy.
And that’s exactly what Islam accuses Christians of:
Blasphemy, because we state boldly that yes, we can have an intimate relationship with God.

We say it, because the Bible said it. Before Jesus said it,
God said it over and over throughout the Old Testament.

But how? How is this even possible?*

Saint Paul tells us in the second reading:
The Holy Spirit is poured into our lives.

God stoops down, and lifts us up,
into the life and love of the Trinity.

God isn’t a solitary other, infinitely distant from us.
Unapproachable. Unknowable. Always and forever far away.

Couples, you know what it is to strain your relationship.
How do heal it? Talk. Listen. Bend. Forgive.
What do we do with God: we go to him in confession.
We talk. He listens. We bend our stubborn will. He forgives.

In the Eucharist, he gives us his true Presence,
his own Body and Blood.
For us sinners! He came to us!
God the Son gives God’s own life to us!

So a practical person might ask:
OK, but what difference does it make?

It’s the difference between being God’s pet,
and being his intended, his beloved, his spouse.

You see, this explains everything about our Catholic Faith that often seems troublesome.

Why do we do penance? Why deny ourselves?
Why wait for marriage?
Why must marital love be open to life, all the time?
Why can’t marriage be two men or two women?
Why does God have so many rules?

Because we’re not God’s goldfish.
If I had a goldfish, I wouldn’t care about its choices.
But if you or I are engaged to be married--
does our future spouse--God--have reason to care?

You and I could be his Golden Retriever, doing neat tricks.
No. He’s preparing us, remaking us,
to be lifted up to realm of heaven.
To be filled with God’s love. Infinite. Pure.
Bursting with life. Never guarded, restrained, sterile.
More intense than all the stars of all the galaxies.

God chose us as his one and only. Forever.

* After I wrote this, I realized I left out a point I intended to make: namely, that because God himself is a community of love, this makes divine love meaningful. If God were solitary how would God love? But God is three persons, and truly loves; and we are raised up into that communion of love. I added this point when I gave this homily.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The two ways the Holy Spirit helps us (Pentecost homily)

I want to begin with a statement not from today’s readings, 
but from last week, 
when we recalled Jesus’ ascending to his throne in heaven. 
Last week, we heard Jesus say to the Apostles: 
“Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” – 
that power is the Holy Spirit; 
and the giving of that power is what Pentecost is about.

What does this Power do?

In the reading from Paul, he emphasizes power to change – 
the power to be a different person.

Recently I read a book called “Living the Truth in Love” –
it examined issues regarding the attraction
sometimes people of the same sex feel toward each other.

And part of the book included stories of people
who had “lived that life”; they had rejected God,
and in some cases, they were Catholics who rejected their baptism.

But they found their way back to the Faith,
and they found the power to live chaste lives,
according to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
And not feeling empty, because of what they’d given up;
but living full lives, full of God’s love.

That is “power from on high.”

One of the things the men and women I read about emphasized
was important for them was the power of the sacrament of confession. 

These folks, just like most, if not all, of us, know what it is like to try, and fail; 
try, and fail; try and fail again.
And many times, the temptation is to give up.

I know someone – actually, several someones –
who faced an addiction to ugly materials on the Internet.
Same story: always stumbling.
And at one point, he just came to believe
he would never overcome his bad habit.
And for a time, he didn’t even go to confession.

But a funny thing happened.
He may have given up on the power of the Holy Spirit,
but the Holy Spirit didn’t give up on him. He started back,
going to confession.
He looked around for ideas, and ways, to break his pornography habit. 

And step by step, he was able to overcome it, and leave it behind.
As I said, I know several people who can tell that story.

Power from on high.

But I don’t want to make it sound easy to change; it’s not.
It would make things so easy if only the Holy Spirit
would just take over, and change us, while we just watched.
But it doesn’t happen that way.
Peter and the Apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit
only after first making a choice to follow Jesus –
and in most cases, to leave everything behind –
and they had to go through the dark night of the Cross.
And even after that, they were gathered together,
and praying intensely, before the outpouring came.

The Power will come –
but it won’t let us off the hook from doing our part.

When Jesus told the Apostles to pray for that power,
there was something else at work.
He said: “you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem,
in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So this is the other power the Holy Spirit gives us: to bear witness.

That group of believers that was gathered in the upper room,
in Jerusalem, that day, was the Apostles, the Blessed Mother,
and some other believers, 120 people in total.

One hundred and twenty people,
versus the religious establishment of their day.
One hundred and twenty, against the might of the Roman Empire.
A hundred and twenty people, facing the whole world.

Who prevailed? Not the world; but the Power from on High!

The same Holy Spirit who powered the Church 

outward and forward from that day till now, 
is giving his strength to martyrs right now.

If ever you think you can’t find the strength
to speak up for your faith, and take a stand,
think of the Christians who are suffering so terribly
throughout the world right now.
The Holy Spirit is giving them courage, and he will do the same for you, 

if you ask, and if you really want it.

I want to describe two opportunities we will have, in Russia,
to bear witness.
In two weeks it will be Corpus Christi,
and as before, we’ll have a procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

Think of what a powerful statement it makes,
especially to our neighbors who aren’t Catholic,
or who aren’t active in their faith, when they see a huge turnout
to honor our Lord in the Eucharist.

And I want to give a special invitation
to an event for all the men of the parish, of all ages.

As I mentioned in the bulletin, I want to revive an ancient tradition,
in which the parish priest, and the men of the parish,
walk the boundaries of the parish.
The purpose was both to reach out to the people of the parish,
as well as to pray for the parish.

I’m asking men and boys – all ages –
to join me on Friday, June 24, at 5:30 pm.
We’ll meet here,
and then we have transportation out to Redmond Road,
and we’ll walk for 90 minutes.

For anyone who can’t walk the whole way, we’ll have a ride for you.
And while we walk and ride, we will be praying.
Then we’ll return here for a cookout.

Why am I giving this call to men in particular?
Because there is a need for men to provide spiritual leadership,
and this is your invitation.
The task of men is to guard, to guide, and to give.
I am asking you to join me
in praying for everyone in our parish boundaries.
Over several years, we’ll eventually walk the entire 25 miles
it takes to circle the parish. Will you join me?

The power from on high – the Holy Spirit – is still being poured out.
But remember, Jesus was counting on his disciples, then,
to pray and do what the Holy Spirit led them to do.
It’s the same today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Where's Jesus?' Three answers (Ascension homily)

This homily didn't have a text, but I followed a mental outline. It varied from Mass to Mass. What follows is an approximation of what I said at least at one Mass, if not all.

Today we observe the Ascension...I explained how bishops decided to observe on Sunday, although the actual event was on a Thursday, 40 days after the Resurrection.

This feast raises a question: Where's Jesus? He was here, but he ascended. Where is he?

The obvious answer is, "he's in heaven." And that's true, and I want to come back to that. But there are two other answers.

Second answer? He is in the people you and I are sent to serve. I recalled the passage in Matthew 25, with the sheep and goats, and those who feed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc., did it for Jesus; and the opposite with the goats: they did not do these things for Jesus, because they neglected the "least of my brothers." I pointed out that Jesus included those in prison, and people in prison are usually bad people. So there is no limit -- we are told to serve Jesus is every single person, without exception.

I also linked this to the Gospel telling us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our witness of the Gospel has no credibility if we do not meet people's hunger and thirst and so forth.

The third answer, to "where is Jesus?" Is in the Eucharist. And I explained that as important as it is to recognize the Eucharist is Jesus' true and real presence, his Body and Blood, the point of the Eucharist is to unite us with Jesus; so we become part of him. This extends his Mystical Body throughout the world.

And then I circled back and talked about Jesus in heaven; which means, a human being, like us, sits on the throne of heaven. Human nature could not be exalted higher than that. I pointed out Jesus did not disrobe from his humanity when he ascended, but took it with him. And I pointed out the implications...

Human dignity is divine dignity. Every human being, from the first moment of conception to natural death, possesses this dignity. I talked about assaults on life at the beginning, especially disabled children, and also about the spread of "assisted suicide." I pointed out that it is a lie to say these laws are about remedying pain; there are many ways to help people in pain -- sometimes the government gets in the way -- and that the evidence shows more often, people resort to "assiste suicide" because they are sad, discouraged and without hope. And I predicted that if too many doctors and nurses and hospitals refused to go along, government will come back and force doctors and hospitals to provide this "right."

I also explained that the great confrontation, which is now upon us, is what Pope St. John Paul predicted, the confrontation between Church and anti-Church, Gospel and anti-Gospel, and it is about the design and dignity of human nature. At one of the Masses, I talked about torture, and how this is unacceptable because it both degrades the dignity of the one being tortured, as well as those who are tasked to carry it out.

I concluded by talking about our goal -- which is heaven. I don't recall just how I worded my conclusion.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

What is a deacon? (Sunday homily)

This is going to be pretty minimal, I apologize. My homily this past weekend was not much connected to the readings. We had a member of our parish ordained as a deacon on Saturday, and so I explained what a deacon is, the origins of deacons, and how their participation in the sacrament of holy orders is the same as, and distinct from, that of bishops and priests.

I pointed out that deacons, like bishops and priests, receives holy orders. I am a deacon. Archbishop Schnurr is a deacon. All priests and bishops are first ordained deacons.

The word deacon comes from Greek, diakonos, which appears in the New Testament, and means "servant." The Lord Jesus uses this word of himself, as well as telling us that if we would be first, we must be the servant of all.

I recounted the origins from Acts. I explained the meaning of some of the rituals that happened at the Ordination Mass, and what they mean. I pointed out some of the distinct things a deacon does at Mass, and why, such as: proclaiming the Gospel (always), reading the prayers of the faithful, and assisting at the altar.

Sorry, I had rather brief notes, and I can't find them at the moment.