Sunday, May 09, 2021

God's messy icon (Sunday homily)

 I want to start by talking about art – like a portrait or a mosaic; 

or, to use a term I’ll come back to in a moment, an icon.

What I’m describing is more than a snapshot or reproduction.

I can take a photo of you – click, done! Pretty simple. One dimension.

But art – whether with a camera or brush or chisel or something else – 

brings discovery of hidden depths 

and reveals something always there but not seen at first glance.

This is why really beautiful and profound art can seize our attention: 

it leads us into something bottomless in meaning: we stare and stare.

So with that in mind, let me quote something Pope Francis said 

in his encyclical, Amoris Laetitia: 

“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon…

capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

This is a point Pope Saint John Paul II also made:

the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity. 

As awesome as all Creation, the stars of the universe are,

only the human being is made in the, quote, “image and likeness” of God; 

and that image and likeness is most fully revealed, 

not in a solitary human being, 

but when a man and woman are in communion; in a relationship. 

In a word, “family”; which begins with the couple, but – 

now circling back to Pope Francis’ words, 

a couple that “loves and begets life.”

Because a couple that doesn’t love, and isn’t open to life,

is not an icon at all, but the opposite: if you will, an “anti-icon” of God.

Last week I said I was going through each sacrament, so:

this week it is matrimony.

And while this Gospel isn’t focused on marriage, it sure applies:

Because when Jesus talks about love, 

he’s talking about, first, the divine love of the Trinity – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 

and this love reaching out to humanity 

and drawing us up into that divine love and life of God himself.

That’s what Jesus is saying: “as the Father loves me” – 

that’s divine love – “so I love you” – 

Jesus, coming down to our level, and catches us up into that divine love.

And then, if it’s totally clear yet, he says:

This love – human-becoming-divine love, is how we love one another.

Do you have a pet? You love your pet? 

That love is real; but try as you might, 

you can’t lift that faithful companion up to the human level.

And as real as the gap is between us and our pets, 

it’s nothing compared to the infinite distance between us and God.

You and I are not God’s “pets”! 

That would be a lot easier: we get fed, have fun, but no responsibility.

But that’s not God’s plan for us:

you and I are to be lifted up into the full reality of God’s own life.

We don’t have to understand what that means;

only take Jesus at his word that he has nothing less than that for us.

So we come back to the family.

Human beings made in God’s image:

we’re a receptacle, if you will, waiting for the Holy Spirit, 

to bring us all the way into that fullness of life.

And the icon that God painted is the family: father, mother, children.

That’s the lovely account; but we know the less-beautiful reality:

family life isn’t idyllic; 

couples do not endlessly gaze dewy-eyed at each other!

So how can married life be that icon?

And that’s the transformation that grace brings.

Grace is God’s life, poured into our lives, to make us like God;

and don’t be fooled by the pretty language:

grace is messy and painful and sloooow!

So if you find your own, personal journey of grace frustrating?

Fear not! That’s just it works. and the same with family, only moreso.

The struggles – of couples to stay in love, to deepen their love, 

and of parents, trying to be generous in welcoming children – is real.

Holy Matrimony is the messiest of sacraments!

There are so many possible points here, but time won’t allow it.

But first, however challenging, how can this icon of divine love – 

which a couple is – not be about life? So: it’s man and woman. Period.

And, how can that icon not be open to life? 

We use this euphemism, we call it “protection,” right?

Protection from what? From LIFE. 

Another point: isn’t it obvious that 

married couples can’t just coast through,

and – this is hard to say – must not harden their hearts to each other.

God’s destination is indeed beautiful, 

but we all know what ugliness can happen along the way.

And the message here is not – I repeat, IS NOT – 

that one spouse is obliged simply to put up with ugliness and cruelty.

Sometimes things get broken; and we don’t know how to fix them: because we aren’t God. 

That brings us to the Cross. Thank God for the Cross!

The Cross is for all those people 

who have messes that are, let’s say, “un-clean-up-able”;

whose wreckage seems unsalvageable:

because on the Cross, Jesus’ wounds aren’t “fixed,” right? He dies!

They kill him and that seems to be the end. Defeated. Done. Final.

No! He dies but rises again. And notice: he still has his wounds!

So I confess I do not know how some family struggles get healed.

But here’s what you and I both know is true: the Cross is our hope!

In the words of St. Francis, “in dying we are born to eternal life!”

And it is the very messiness of the sacrament of marriage and family that this truth is revealed.

Each of us enters life in a family – and it’s messy;

from the very first moment, and all the way through: messy!

But God chose this reality as the icon that manifest 

how his Divine Love enters and overcomes and transforms.

Thank you mothers; thank you couples, for being the icon of hope!

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Jesus with us is the ultimate healing (Sunday homily)

 You may not have noticed, but every Sunday since Easter, 

we’ve looked at a different sacrament. 

Baptism on Easter; Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday. 

The Holy Eucharist a week later, 

when our second graders made their First Communion. 

Last Sunday, Deacon Ethan Hoying 

gave an outstanding homily on Holy Orders. 

And as he explained, bringing the sacraments to God’s People 

is what bishops, priests and deacons are meant to do, 

because the reason men become priests and deacons 

is to get people to heaven; 

and the sacraments are God’s toolbox for getting to heaven.

So now you’re wondering, what’s this week’s sacrament?

When I thought about this Gospel – it speaks of “pruning,” 

which sounds painful, 

and people being cut off from the life of the vine,

that made me think of what happens when we’re ill.

So as you might guess: 

I’m going to talk about the Sacrament of Anointing

Let’s talk about what it’s like to be really sick.

Until you have been there, it’s hard to appreciate 

what a blow it can be when you lose your health.

Not just that you can’t do something or that you feel bad; 

but you’re cut off from others or from your normal routine. 

In fact, you’re cut off from yourself, as you’ve known yourself.

What do people say? “I don’t feel like myself.”

Every kid knows what that’s like to spend several days in bed, 

while you know your friends are swimming 

or playing baseball or riding their bikes. 

Even two or three days of that is torture.

But, at that age, you assume you’ll get back out there sooner or later.

Later in life, at a certain point, you get laid low, and then you wonder: 

will I get back to who I was? 

Losing that sense of yourself can be devastating,

when you suddenly can’t be who you’ve always been.

You can feel as worthless as branch thrown aside to wither.

So it’s really important to hear what Jesus said and let it sink in; 

and doubly, triply important, when you’re sick or weakened by age:

“Without me you can do nothing.”

As important a gift as good health is, that isn’t what gives us value.

What makes you and me count is that Jesus chose us;

Jesus came for us; Jesus died for us; 

Jesus wants you and me to be part of him, now and forever!

The Sacrament of Anointing is meant for those 

who are facing serious illness, serious threats to their life.

Nowhere does the Church say you must wait until your final breaths; 

but that’s often how people think of this sacrament.

That’s how the movies depict it – 

because a priest will give the sacrament of anointing 

even right at the end. Why?

Because this sacrament is intended for healing.

Physical healing is possible – I’ve seen it happen.

So precisely when things are desperate, 

of course we’ll pray for a miracle. That’s what Christians do. 

So one takeaway here, for everyone; please remember this:

Anyone facing a serious illness or condition can be anointed.

By “serious” I mean, a situation that is dangerous, uncertain.

You don’t have to wait and wait. Call me if you want this sacrament.

This sacrament offers healing; the most important healing 

is knowing Jesus is right there with you.

“I am the Vine,” he says: “you are the branches.”

That’s a very comforting thought, isn’t it? 

Especially when you put that together with the Cross;

Because it means he’s where we are.

You’re in trouble: he’s there; you’re sick, he’s with you.

If you’re dying – and that day lies ahead for everyone – 

You are not alone!

What does Jesus want? “Remain in me,” he tells us.

That is what our Faith is all about.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Why can't a Protestant come to Communion (Part 5)

After I posted a link on Facebook to my series of posts entitled, "Why can't a Protestant come to Communion," I got a question on Facebook about it -- the gist of which was, but didn't Jesus offer himself to everyone? So how is what we do with Holy Communion consistent with that.

So I thought I'd share, here, what my response was, edited a little and hopefully improved as a result:

Let me ask you to examine your premises. You say, "...not sharing Jesus’s body and blood with everyone at Mass [is] ... not what Jesus did... He gave Himself to all who came to Him." But is this true? Did Jesus actually give his Body and Blood to "all who came to him"? And also, how do you, in the year 2021, even know such a thing? You might say, the Bible - but there is a lot the Bible doesn't tell us, so that's not enough. Here's what we do know: that the first Christians did not do what you claim Jesus did. They absolutely did not give the Holy Eucharist to anyone whether they were baptized, whether they were Christians, or not. This we do know very well. 

The early Christians did what Catholics and Orthodox (and many Protestants) do today: admit to the Holy Eucharist those who are baptized and who are "in communion" with the Church. That's what the early Church did. Now, I ask you this: who, presumably, is likely to have a better handle on what Jesus himself wanted, and what the Apostles themselves did: those early Christians? Or you and me, 2,000 years later? I think the answer is obvious: those early Christians are far more likely to be in sync with Jesus and the Apostles, because they were there.

Now, as I said, the Bible does not present itself as answering all the questions about what Jesus said and did; on the contrary, in the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus said and did lots of things that aren't mentioned. These were shared with the Apostles but not written down. 

But let's look at what the Bible does say. Only one time for certain (but maybe 2 or 3 times) Jesus actually gave his Body and Blood to others. That was the Last Supper. And notice what it said: he gave it "to his disciples" -- who he chose carefully beforehand, and specifically invited to that meal. Those disciples had been with him up to 3 years before that event. 

So on that Scriptural record, it is simply not true to say that Jesus gave his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. Not so. He carefully chose a specific group and gathered them and then said, "Take, eat, this is my Body..." You could argue that after the Resurrection, he again shared his Body and Blood with the same group, based on the Gospels, but that can be debated. But what nowhere appears in Scripture is Jesus giving his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. The stories of the sharing of bread and fish is not a sharing to the Holy Eucharist, but a foreshadowing of it. 

Also, remember that "Last" (or really, "First") Supper was a celebration of the Passover, which Jesus remade into the "new and everlasting covenant." It's not clear to English-speakers because we use the term "Easter," but almost all the rest of the Christians in the world call it "Passover"! So it is worthwhile to go into the Bible and the traditions of the Jewish people to discover the roots of Passover. And what you will find was that once again, it wasn't just anyone and everyone who could share in the Passover; you had to be circumcised and become part of the Household of Israel. No, I'm not advocating circumcision! But I'm saying that this goes to your supposition that Jesus shared the Eucharist with everyone and anyone. That's not what the Passover was, and that's not -- from all evidence we have -- how the early Christians understood the new Passover, which we call the Mass.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 4)

Someone might ask, with great feeling, and who are you, "Father Fox, to make these rules?"

My answer: I'm nobody: I didn't make these rules. These originate from the very beginning of the Church (see earlier post). I might just as easily ask you, who are you to RE-make them?

Again, this discussion is often about how terrible "barriers" and "rules" are. Which raises the question -- or two questions (which I'd really like to ask those who sincerely object to this ancient practice of Catholics and other ancient Churches):

1) What rules should there be? Any at all?

2) And who makes them?

You don't like the Catholic Church saying you must be Catholic (Orthodox are allowed too, see Code of Canon Law 844, and there are some other, very rare exceptions) and not in mortal sin. So what should the rule be? 

(Waiting for the answer. Waiting....waiting...waiting.)

There could be a thousand different answers, but they all come down to one of two options: either absolutely anyone can receive the Eucharist...or else, there are some limitations, some person or species to whom the answer is, "Sorry, but no."

And if you think there should be some limit -- or else you believe Muslims, Hindus, atheists can all come to communion -- then why are Catholics terrible for drawing a line with one breath; but with the next, drawing the line is suddenly OK? Why is your line-drawing so much better than that of the early Church, which the Church continues (with, let us be candid, far less rigor)?

So, of course, this leads to the second question, which is, who decides these things? And the Catholic answer is, well, not you; and not me

I started simply to say that the Magisterium decides, and that's mostly-but-not-exactly true; that might imply that the bishops could do what they like; and that's certainly not true. That's why I have emphasized all along that the Church is continuing what the early Church did. If you asked Pope Francis, or any of the bishops, whether they could just decide, tomorrow, that it was time to jettison the long-standing Eucharistic discipline, they would all say, no, that's not simply up to them. It's a complicated question, because we must be faithful to the Apostolic Tradition; we hand on faithfully that which was handed on to us.

Indeed, this is precisely how Saint Paul talks about the Eucharist:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Again, forgive me for putting it baldly, but again I ask: who died and made you boss? Why do you get to set the rules? It's not a rhetorical question. If there are rules, someone must make them, right? Why shouldn't the Catholic Church make the rules for Catholic sacraments? 

Look, I am inspired to see other Christians drawn to the Eucharist, and I want you to have what you want. But we don't ever get to come to God and say, God, I want you on my terms, not yours. 

If you are coming to a Catholic Mass (wonderful! welcome!), and you find yourself wanting to receive the Eucharist, instead of short-circuiting your reflections into, oh how terrible it is that ____ (Pope Francis/"the bishops"/this priest) won't let me have communion, maybe instead ask yourself, why is it so important to me that I receive this sacrament, here? What does this mean to me? What does it mean to these folks around me? 

If you want to share in the Eucharist with Catholics, are you prepared to know exactly what the Eucharist means to Catholics? Don't you think this is a fair thing to consider? Surely you don't think of the Eucharist as a "freebie" that anyone can take? You understand this is central to the entire Catholic Faith? Have you considered that maybe you haven't yet begun to understand what "sharing the Eucharist with Catholics" even means? And if that's true...why shouldn't you wait?

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 3)

Back to the question of the headline: why can't a Protestant (or anyone else who isn't Catholic or Orthodox) come to Holy Communion? Why are Catholics so mean and elitist?

I will answer this way. Suppose you brought me a gift: a big, beautiful box. After I ooh and ahh, I open it up, and my eyes widen to see five or six objects in the box. I start pulling them out one at a time.

The first item I hand back to you. "No, I don't think so."


"I don't like that. I don't want that."

I pull out another item, and scrutinize it. "Hmm. Maybe, we'll see." I pull out another item. "No, not that either," as I hand that back also.

In the end, I keep one or two items and give the rest back to you; your smiles have turned to shock and you struggle for words as I say, "Oh, and I don't really want you, either. But these are nice!"

Now, tell me: in what world would my actions not be the height of rudeness? No one could consider this acceptable.

But understand, dear, dear Protestants: when you come to the Catholic Church, and complain that you don't get to take Holy Communion on your own terms, this is what you are doing.

The Holy Eucharist isn't a thing but a Person, a Divine Person; and we don't merely receive the Eucharistic Lord, we enter into communion with Him. And when you seek to be in communion with Jesus, He is, pardon the expression, a "package deal." Along with the gift of the Eucharist comes all the sacraments; and the Sacrifice of the Mass; and the priesthood; and the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church, and, well, the whole Catholic Church as well. And the moral teaching of the Church, which isn't easy for most of us (any of us) and we all strive to live up to it, and we go to confession as we need to.

So, you want to receive the Eucharist? WONDERFUL! Here's the whole package; no, I'm sorry, it's really rude to say you reject the rest of the package and just want the Eucharist.

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 2)

 As mentioned, I kept thinking about this question, especially after I read some of the comments on the Facebook thread.

The whole thing seemed to start with an assertion -- in a link that I did not follow -- that there was nothing Biblical about the way the Catholic Church handles Holy Communion; namely, that one must be a member of the Church and in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist. This assertion is not correct and it's based on a fallacy in any case. In one of his letters St. Paul talks about the need to discern before approaching the Eucharist; I am not going to say much about that, because so much has been said before on that passage. 

But I will point out the fallacious idea that it somehow proves something if X is or is not referred in Scripture. For one, all that really means is to say, it was mentioned in the Bible in a way that the one making that claim will recognize. So for example, many say that the Immaculate Conception (Mary conceived without original sin) isn't in the Bible; but in fact, it is. But when you start pointing that out, your interlocutor will say something like, oh well, that isn't what that passage  really means...which is moving the goal posts! And it reveals the futility of the whole "is it in the Bible" argument, because that soon becomes a question not of whether it's "in" Scripture, but rather of interpreting Scripture, and who settles those questions. 

It's not nice to be rude, but sometimes a rude question can be useful: when someone says, "show me in the Bible," the correct (if impolite) question is, "who died and made you boss?" My serious point being that so many of our Protestant brethren operate from assumptions that they aren't used to having anyone challenge, and this is one them: the assumption that everything Christians believe is supposed to be in the Bible (which we can refer to as Sola Scriptura). That assumes our Faith begins with the Bible, when in fact, our Faith begins with God's revelation to people, some of which was written down. The Bible is not the source of our Faith; but it certainly is an essential witness to it.

By the way, it was interesting to see another way this appeal to Scripture broke down in that thread: once someone pointed out what St. Paul said about who can receive Holy Communion, someone came back with, oh that's Paul but what about Jesus? Pitting the Apostles against Jesus -- as if the latter is the only one we can trust -- is in every way incoherent. You and I know next to nothing about Jesus apart from the Apostles. They are how you and I know about him. So if we must distrust them...then we have nothing. And who was it who set it up that way? Jesus. He chose not to write his own memoirs, or for that matter, tell anyone to do so (at least, as far as the Bible tells us!). He simply spent a lot of time with them, and entrusted his entire enterprise to them. Either we trust them or we don't; and if we don't, I don't know what is left of Christianity.

Sola Scriptura is not authentic Christianity and it isn't even biblical. So while there are times I might be willing to respond to a question premised on it, it's fair to point out the falsity of the premise and that's what I'm doing here. Why should what the first Christians did with the Holy Eucharist -- and which Catholic and Orthodox still practice -- be condemned because it doesn't measure up to a doctrine invented in service of the polemics needed to justify breaking the unity of the Church in the 1500s? 

It is quite understandable that few Christians of any stripe know this. Nevertheless, a little history is important. 

Martin Luther and the others who rose up around the same time were all arguing for something radical: either a complete reworking of the Church, or else the breaking-apart of the Church. And the natural question to ask was, what can justify such radicalism? Luther, of course, could and did point to abuses; but one can legitimately say, fine, but you're going much further. And Luther himself was put on the spot and asked, would he accept the judgment of an ecumenical council to resolve his concerns definitively? And he refused; he said, "unless I be convinced"; he made his own judgment (and by implication, any Christian's) as final as the teaching office of the Church -- and that teaching office Scripture shows clearly was entrusted to the Apostles, led by Peter, and to their successors. In order for Luther (and others) to justify their drastic action, they had to magnify the crisis they purported to solve; suddenly, it wasn't about modest problems or changes, but in fact, the entirety of Christian doctrine and worship was riddled with error and corruption. You don't justify a revolution with only peripheral problems. And so the result of that revolution was a re-invention of Christianity in many ways.

Fast-forward from the 1500s to now, and there are quite a lot of Christians -- sincere and admirably devoted to Jesus -- whose understanding of the Faith is riddled with lots of presuppositions that never get challenged, like sola scriptura and open communion, and it comes as a real shock to them to be told that what they imagine as authentic Christian beliefs are nothing of the sort.

So, I'll just throw down the gauntlet here as follows:

When the Catholic Church says that one must be "in communion" with the Catholic Church, and in a state of grace ("in communion" for our purposes here meaning, you belong to the Catholic Church), in order to partake of the Holy Eucharist, she is simply continuing what was the practice of Christians from virtually the beginning. 

How do I know? I point to the history of all the ancient churches, including the Orthodox and other ancient churches, and I point to copious ancient writings, and all the liturgical sources we have; anyone who wants to read this can keep him/herself very busy. The ancient practice was, if anything, even more severe: the "Mystery" of the Eucharist was so precious that non believers were dismissed at a certain point, including those preparing to be baptized, and not allowed even to be present! We have many ancient Easter homilies discussing this, and explaining the mysteries to the neophytes, who are able to observe them only after they are baptized and confirmed.

So one perfectly reasonable response to someone who says, why can't non-Catholics come to Holy Communion is to ask, why do you think the practice of Christians at the beginning and from the beginning should be overthrown? (Rude version: "who died and made you boss?") Of course, they will likely not know, or be ready to believe, that this was the early and continuous practice; but you can do as I have done here and say, "it's all there -- go do some reading." On the sidebar is a link to Catholic Answers, and this is their specialty: curating lots of writings from the early Church on these various subjects. You could go to their website as a start.

Why can't a Protestant come to Holy Communion (part 1)

After questions came to me, prompted by a debate that erupted somewhere else on Facebook -- having to do with why we Catholics are so mean and selfish about Holy Communion -- I initially posted what is below (i.e., on April 20). Then, after I actually read some of the comments on another Facebook thread, I gave the matter some additional thought; and the fruits of that will follow this post...

Someone asked me recently, why do you have to be in union with the Church and not in mortal sin, in order to receive the Holy Eucharist?

For the same reason you have to be married, and not have some grave issue unresolved between you and your spouse, in order to have marital relations. Or do you think it's OK to have sexual relations without a true commitment? 

Jesus is our spouse: if you aren't committed to him in his Body, the Church, why do you expect to have the intimacy of sharing his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Imagine approaching a person of the opposite sex and saying, I want to have marital relations with you -- but I do not want to be married to you; because while I like this and that about you, these other things about you? I reject those! Do you think that would work? Do you think it should be acceptable to do that?

So why is it acceptable to approach Jesus and say, yes, I want to have the intimate union of the Eucharist with You, but I do not want to be committed to you! And while I like this and that about You, Jesus, I don't like these things you teach and ask me to observe. I prefer a pick-and-choose approach, how is that, Jesus?

So it's like this: in order to take part in the Holy Eucharist, one must be baptized and believe what the Catholic Church believes. In some rare cases, this can include non-Catholics, but generally not. It includes Orthodox, because in the judgment of the bishops, the issues separating Orthodox and Catholic are minor enough. But many other Christians -- who love Jesus sincerely -- nevertheless have profound differences with the Catholic Faith; including not knowing or believing that the Mass truly is a Sacrifice, that God's grace works through the sacraments, and that the Eucharist really is Jesus' Body and Blood. 

But anyone who wants to is, indeed, welcome to receive the Eucharist! But first things first: believe and be baptized -- or if baptized -- be reconciled with the Church, which is Jesus' Mystical Body. Don't try to be with the spouse before you are married!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Resurrection & the Eucharist (Sunday homily)

 The title of my homily is, “The Resurrection and the Eucharist.”

It’s all bound up together.

Let’s start with the Resurrection. 

To be totally clear, that means Jesus really died,

and his body came back to life. That is what we believe.

Saint Paul says elsewhere in Scripture,

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is worthless.

There is no Christian Faith if this did not actually happen.

Notice also, Jesus says that he has the same “flesh and bones” 

that each of us has. He eats food in front of them so they can realize: 

he’s still human, just as they had known him before.

Now, it is true that after Jesus came back from the grave, 

his body had qualities that you and I don’t have. 

He would appear and disappear for example.

You can explain this by saying, “He’s God,” and that’s true.

But what’s really, really important to pay attention to is this:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

Let me say that again so it sinks in:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

To put it another way: everything Jesus has, we too will have!

You and I will rise from the dead.

We will have our bodies back – new and improve – forever!

No more eyeglasses, no more pills, never again to say, “I’m too old!”

This not only tells us what to look forward to,

it teaches us that our bodies matter right now.

A lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, 

make the mistake of thinking, 

their bodies don’t matter, only their feelings matter.

This feeds so much of the confusion right now,

about male, female, identity, marriage.

But you and I aren’t only made up of feelings:

my body, your body is part-and-parcel of who each of us is.

Of course we wish we could escape our body:

if only I could eat whatever I want?

If only I could stay up late, and not be exhausted the next day.

*(Look at this whole difficulty of gender confusion –

which is a difficult trial for those involved.

But it’s the same idea: the body doesn’t matter, only feelings matter.

(The sad thing is, people are discovering very painfully 

that this is not true.

This doesn’t get reported widely:

So many folks who experience this interior conflict 

will go on and take powerful drugs and have surgery, 

all in order to become the sex their feelings say they really are.

(But it doesn’t work. They remain unhappy, 

or are even more sad and conflicted.)

This is a hard lesson to learn: 

you and I really can’t escape our bodies and ourselves,

and all the challenges and limitations involved.

Every single person experiences some sort of conflict:

my body won’t do what I want; I wish I looked like him, like her. 

I wish I could be young again.

There is no going sideways, there is no going back; 

only forward into the redemption that God has in store for each of us.

There’s something deeper at work here.

All human beings experience this fundamental drive to rise higher,

to become more than we are.

Why is this? Because God made us for eternity and for life with him!

But when people turn away from God, 

they seek that “more” in counterfeit ways that will all fail.

Whether it’s politics, or technology, or pleasure or “self-fulfillment,”

or whatever ways we try to “reinvent” ourselves, 

without Jesus Christ at the center, all these things will fail.

Jesus is the model: he shows himself to us, saying:

this is who you really are, and who you can be!

And he shows us his wounds: you and I have wounds, he understands!

We don’t have to be ashamed of them. Suffering can be redeemed!

And then he says, “you are witnesses of these things.”

One of the powerful ways you and I show others 

that Jesus is real and alive and powerful

is when we show our wounds and how Jesus heals them.

Like Jesus’, our hurts don’t always go away;

they are part of us, but they don’t control us.

Do not be surprised or discouraged 

when you and I pay a price for our witness to Jesus. 

Very rapidly now, that price is going to grow much higher.

The Apostles, the martyrs through the ages, all faced the same.

Why should we expect anything different?

Did I forget to talk about the Holy Eucharist?

Not really. I’ve been talking about the body: Jesus’ body and our body.

What is the Eucharist? Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity;

and what happens when you and I receive Jesus’ Body?

He changes us – our body, our soul – into him! 

Who Jesus is, what we see in Jesus, is what you and I will become: 

the Eucharist will do that to us!

A lot of people think of Holy Communion only as an “it”; 

but we know the truth: the Eucharist is a “who”! Jesus!

When the disciples saw Jesus on that first Easter,

They were overwhelmed. So are we! 

The reality of what happens here is just too big for us to grasp. 

But Jesus says, “Be not afraid!”

Is this only a happy story; or is this the reality that defines all reality? 

Because if Jesus is real – really risen from the dead, and really here, 

his real Body and Blood, right here, for us –

then ours a faith worth giving everything for, even our lives!

In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we receive his Resurrection life, 

his resurrection strength. 

He gives us courage to say, Jesus is real! Jesus is alive!

* Some passages are in parentheses because I'll be giving this homily at the First Communion Mass, and I may leave these sections out. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Doorway to Heaven (Divine Mercy Sunday homily)

 All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 

Now we are at the empty tomb.

The next step on our journey? Heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.

Resurrection -- Easter -- the seven sacraments: 

Christ went through all that he went through, 

because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 

says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, 

and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 

then we “live forever with Christ,” 

and we are “like God for ever, for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 

it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” 

with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, 

“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 

of the deepest human longings, 

the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).

But the key idea is that 

“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 

So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 

Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 

And ask yourself: is that what you want?

Do you want to be with him?

Know this: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.

The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.

If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 

if you wonder if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

Still: you and I have to choose this. 

And that choice we make today – and every day.

We don’t just wander our way to Heaven.

Heaven is a choice.

More than that: heaven isn’t only after death; heaven starts here.

This is what the first reading describes:

God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 

then surely the opposite is true: 

that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

He knew he had done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.

But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.

If Judas went to hell – as I fear he did – 

His hell started for him long before he got there. 

Sadly, a lot of people are in a similar place:

They have decided they cannot change, 

they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.

It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 

The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.

And you get to the point where it doesn’t make you even a little happy;

but you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”

That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I’ve stopped trying.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.

Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 

Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.

That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 

Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 

To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

But, what if I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 

I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again.

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:

“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

Of course, a lot of people get frustrated because,

even after you come from confession, you struggle with the same sins.

Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.

But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.

It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 

Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 

precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. 

No matter what you think, if you keep coming to confession, 

You will change. It will happen. 

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.

He will make you a saint!

But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;

But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.