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.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Sacraments during Covid

This article caught my eye this morning and got me thinking back over the past year. A year ago we were in the midst of the Covid Crisis: public Masses were still forbidden around here, and for funerals, I was obliged to limit attendance to ten people, which was excruciating for the mourners. I recall one funeral when the doors of church were standing open, and in laws and grandchildren of the deceased were standing at the doors.

At the time, I was adamant that I would visit anyone, under any circumstances, to bring any sacrament. It was simply unthinkable to me -- then and now -- that anyone needing the anointing of the sick, confession, or the Holy Eucharist would be denied them. Several times I had to push and push to gain access to hospital rooms; one senior citizen facility was very accommodating. I don't judge; everyone involved was trying to keep people safe. But it was frustrating in the hospitals, because in each case, the patient had Covid and I did not; it was I who was taking the risk! As it happened, with God's grace, I was able to talk my way in each time, and I wore whatever gear they asked me to.

Maybe I was just too stupid, but I was never concerned about my own safety. Maybe I underestimated the risk to myself; I am overweight, so who knows, Covid might be the end of me if I were to get it (if I haven't; for all I know I did have it unawares, as some people report). But it just seemed to me then -- and now -- that this is what I signed up for; and really, this is a pretty good way for a priest to exit this life: "he died because he was visiting the sick." I don't know what death awaits me, but something does -- what is more certain? This might as well be the way I go. And I'm not saying I didn't take precautions; I am simply explaining why I didn't feel any particular fear about Covid.

And, I might add, for the most part, there wasn't any great difficulty. Confession is absolutely no problem; there need be no physical contact, I only need to be present to the penitent (no you can't go to confession over the phone or the Internet). And both the anointing and Holy Communion can be given while wearing masks and gloves. Yes, there is some risk, but let's not overstate things. And I ask once again: you're going to die at some point, what sort of death do you want? What sort of life do you want? Like Richard Blaine, "I'm no good at being noble, but"...

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Christ or Nothing (Easter homily)

 If you are over the age of 40, you may not realize 

just how much the world you see around you 

is not the world those under 20 experience.

I know what you are thinking: but it’s the same world! It is indeed.

However: what is different for a growing number of people, 

especially those who are younger, 

is that more and more people are coming to distrust 

the world around them. 

To doubt more deeply what seems to be real. 

To give up on thinking the world can make sense.

In the 1960s, holding up two fingers like this was “the peace sign.”

In the 1980s, a lot of people had tee shirts 

with a big smiley face that said, “Have a nice day.”

More recently it is the “Coexist” bumper sticker, 

with lots of religious symbols side-by-side.

But I think the symbolic gesture 

that best defines the times ahead is the shrug,

which means, who knows, and who cares?

It’s the exact same sentiment of Pontius Pilate,

when Jesus stood before him, said, “What is truth?”

So if you’re in your 20s or younger, I want to talk to you.

What do people say: “Everyone has his own truth”?

This is the safe thing to say.

But if there are eight billion different “truths” in the world,

For each human soul, then there is no solid truth at all;

And that is a dark world indeed – closed off from hope.

And I ask you: is that really the world you live in?

When you turn the key, why do you assume the car will start?

If you let go of a book, why do you expect it will fall?

And the answer is simple: Truth Exists!

There are those – and they are everywhere –

who seek to confuse us: 

who tell us that male and female aren’t real,

and to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is oppression,

who want to convince you that there is no place to soar,

no foundations to discover beneath us.

They tell us, all that matters are our own desires – 

which we satisfy for a time, and then we are gone.

The meaning of what we do here tonight is this:

You and I will not be seduced, silenced, or defeated:

God is real; this is his world, and you and I belong to Him!

No matter what may discourage you: think of the Cross.

Consider the humiliation of the Son of God, compared with yours?

How triumphant his executioners seemed!

How hopeless his cause must have seemed – no one would listen!

Now, of course, there is a whisper, you can hear it, admit it:

The voice says, “But it’s all fantasy: it’s all made up!”

Really? And why would the Apostles make up this story?

More to the point: why would each of them, one by one, 

face a terrible death for a lie they, themselves, invented?

The choice you and I face is not – as many claim – 

between a God who oppresses us, 

and setting ourselves free to be anything we want.

It might seem so at first; but it is a fraud! 

If there is no Savior, no Truth, no God that exists apart from me,

then all I have is “my truth,” which is no more solid than I am!

And I am locked in the prison of myself, and there is no key.

But thanks be to God that though they tried to seal Jesus in the tomb, they could not! 

He has risen from the dead!

Jesus lives! He is real! 

And he gives each of us a task – not an easy one, 

it was never easy – but it is important: it’s to share in his mission of saving souls.

Nothing is more important!

Tonight we gather in darkness, but we each had a light;

I don’t mean the candles: I mean the light of our own faith, 

Which may not seem like much, but it is ours, 

and we can let it fade; or let the Holy Spirit keep it burning,

and when fed by God’s Fire, nothing can put it out!

Tonight, _________ is going to be baptized.

You don’t have a lit candle yet, because that it is in baptism

That the Light of Christ is given to you for the first time.

And before you can be baptized, you make a choice.

I’ll ask you some questions in a moment, in the back,

But I’ll explain those questions right now:

Do you choose the darkness that has no meaning, 

with Satan as the king of that realm? 

Or do you choose Jesus Christ, who gives you light, who is the Light, 

and who – beginning in baptism and with all the sacraments,

all the way till heaven, is going to turn You into his Light?

To be a saint is to be made Light, a sharer in all Jesus is?

The rest of us have this moment to remember our baptism, 

and whether we made the most of Lent, 

or else we just wandered in here, today:

What do we choose?

Xave, I want to thank you for giving each of us a good example.

And I want to invite you sometime to make a trip down to Piqua, 

and visit St. Boniface Church there. 

To the right side of the altar, you’ll see a picture of a boy, 

a little older than you, but a lot like you.

He was from Mexico and his name was Jose Sanchez.

And like you’re doing tonight, he chose to follow Jesus Christ.

Only you should know that he paid a huge price for his faith.

They took his life; but he knew they really couldn’t,

Because the Light of Christ in him, no one can take away!

And his last words before entering heaven were, “Viva Christo Rey!”

Christ the King LIVES!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

'You are there' (Holy Thursday homily)

 A few years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,

And I had the awesome privilege of walking the streets of Jerusalem 

along the real, original Way of the Cross;

And I was able to be at the place of the Last Supper, 

and the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and the empty tomb.

I was with other priests, and we had Mass – at Calvary! Right there!

Now, because it is God’s work and not merely a human work,

The Mass is the Mass is the Mass, wherever and whenever.

Every single Mass brings us to Calvary – every single one.

Nevertheless, when you and I come to this evening, this time of year, 

if we realize what we’re doing, there is something electric about it.

All of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 

We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 

so that we, like the Apostles, 

can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 

instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 

No one else was present.

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.

God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 

God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 

it helps to recall what happens when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 

but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 

how the place of worship is to be arranged,

how the altar is to be constructed, 

and how the sacrifices are to be offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 

to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 

“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.

Think about that in relation to the Last Supper – and the Mass:

“They saw God and they ate and drank.”

Did you ever wonder why the altar is traditionally elevated?

As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 

on your behalf – I will address our 

“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.

And when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining host of angels adoring Almighty God!

The same angels who saw Calvary happen with amazement.

When some of us were kids, there was a TV show, 

“You are there,” and it took you back to some moment in the past.

But this is way beyond any TV show.

You and I, brothers and sisters, we are there!

At Calvary, and also, in heaven – all at once.

So before offering the sacrifice, the priest acknowledges 

the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.

Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 

and then forward, toward Christ. 

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –

 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.

It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 

go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 

That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 

On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.

In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings

“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.

And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 

face the same way, 

is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.

But the next day, on the Cross, 

he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 

His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 

had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 

to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

But then Jesus took up, not the flesh of the lamb,

But rather, the bread and the wine, and said:

This is my Body, given for you, this is my Blood, 

of the new and eternal covenant – eat and drink!

This was new. No one had ever done that before.

Then on Calvary, on the Cross, he completes the sacrifice.

He takes a last sip of wine, offered on a sponge and says, “

It is finished.”

And after the Resurrection, he showed himself alive,

that’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

We do this sacrifice, as he commanded, in memory of Him.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.

While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.

Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.

This is a Sacrifice: Christ offered himself to the Father.

The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

Also, the separation of body and blood – recalls his death.

When the priest later puts a part of the Sacred Host into the chalice,

That signifies Christ’s Body and Blood being “together” – 

pointing to his Resurrection.

There’s one more detail worth reflecting on.

When this happens, the priest sings, “Mystery of Faith.”

The origin of this part of the prayer is unclear, but – 

It’s kind of like a big, flashing sign that says,

“This, this – right here, this! This is the moment!

This is the mystery; this is pulsing heart of the whole thing!”

After this the priest begs the Father 

to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”

Of course the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 

and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 

Everything in the Old Testament led to this.

This moment – I mean, tonight; and I mean, the Mass; 

and, the moment when Jesus once offered himself;

and, that moment is made present for us here at this Mass –

This moment is the pivot point of all history.

There are so many people who long to be here, but cannot;

Many watch over the Internet.

How sad that there are others who don’t realize what the Mass is.

Tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.

We are there at the Cross.

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.