Sunday, July 25, 2021

Union with Jesus puts you & me on the altar of sacrifice (Sunday homily)

 Let’s drill in on today’s Gospel. 

Specifically, why did Jesus ask the Apostles to provide food?

First, of course, Philip says, it’s impossible.

Next, Andrew finds a boy with his own lunch – a meager offering.

And this, I think, is the key: Jesus wanted something offered.

As you know, I’m doing a series of homilies 

about the Mass and the Eucharist. 

Last week the focus was on how full and intense 

is the unity with Christ that comes in Holy Communion. 

Holy Communion is union.

This Sunday, my focus is on sacrifice.

For there to be a sacrifice, something must be brought and offered.

In the Old Testament, it was lambs, bulls, or fruit of the harvest.  

When it comes to the New Testament sacrifice, 

the essential offering is Jesus himself, 

the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

On Calvary, on Good Friday, this is true: Jesus offers himself.

But this episode in the Gospel is looking beyond Good Friday, 

to the Holy Mass – as we call it – 

that would be offered day by day until he comes again. 

That’s why Jesus is going to talk about bread!

Bread – and wine – aren’t needed for Good Friday.

But they are needed for the Mass, which is the extension of Calvary.

And, the bread and wine – when changed by the Holy Spirit – 

are how you and I receive the flesh and blood of the Passover Lamb.

As the people who Jesus fed in today’s Gospel will say, later,

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

The answer – the only answer – is the sacrifice of the Mass,

Which the Apostles and priests after them were to offer.

So, to be clear: in this episode, the people received ordinary bread, 

which Jesus had miraculously increased in quantity.

This is not yet the Holy Eucharist, which will come after Calvary; 

but this is a foreshadowing of what would come.

Still, some might point to today’s Gospel and say, 

see, Jesus gave to everyone! That’s how Holy Communion should be!

But notice, many of the assembled people weren’t ready.

They wanted to make Jesus an earthly king;

and when he later explains that, in the Eucharist, 

they would eat his flesh and drink his blood, 

many were offended and even left him.

So let’s ask: how can it be good for people 

to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, if they don’t believe? 

And in fact, it is harmful, which is what we’ve always believed: 

to receive the Holy Eucharist without faith, or in a state of mortal sin, 

is a sacrilege and that, itself, is also a mortal sin. 

Saint Paul described it as eating and drinking “damnation” for oneself!

This is why it is so important to go to confession 

before coming to Holy Communion, 

if you are aware of having committed a mortal sin.

So let me make this point. Sometimes someone you know 

may be at Mass and choose not to go to communion. 

Please, please don’t ask any questions. 

You may think it’s helpful to ask what’s going on, 

but that’s a very private matter and it’s better to leave it alone. 

One key thing we must believe before receiving Holy Communion, 

is precisely that you and I are taking part in a real, true sacrifice.

The Mass truly and really is united to the sacrifice of Calvary; 

they are one and the same. 

And now let’s connect what we talked about last Sunday:

You and I are becoming ONE with Jesus, truly, really one.

This begins in baptism, and is the point of all the sacraments.

So when Jesus offers himself, who is also on the altar?

You are! I am!

Later in Mass the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, 

that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable…”

It is your sacrifice; and it is my sacrifice.

But not bread and wine, but rather, what they will become:

Jesus himself! Jesus, the Lamb of God!

So take this seriously: you and I must put ourselves on the altar!

Let me speak personally here.

The pope’s decision a week ago to restrict greatly 

the Traditional Latin Mass 

caused me a lot of hurt and discouragement,

as I know it did many other people. 

I’m getting so many questions and I’m sorry, 

I can’t explain the pope’s thinking, 

beyond what he, himself, has said. 

I don’t want to make surmises 

about any other motives he may have had.

But what occurred to me is that this is a share in the Cross.

Remember, the Cross is unfair; it is undeserved;

and many people find the pope’s action very unfair. Me included.

So what did Jesus do when he was treated unfairly? Say, “I quit?”

No: he offered that unfairness to the Father, 

confident he would be vindicated.

I don’t know how all this will play out, but the only answer 

is to unite ourselves more fully to Jesus on the Cross.

You and I can be confident that God will recognize 

and reward those who are obedient – like Jesus – 

even in great unfairness. Out of his Cross comes life for others, 

and we become that life for others by our own embrace of the Cross.

And remember, if we unite ourselves to Jesus in his death, 

we will be with him, all the way to heaven! That’s the plan.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Holy Communion = Union with God; that's why some can't come to Communion (Sunday homily)

 Last week we began looking at the Mass and the Holy Eucharist; 

and the lesson from last week was this: 

this is all about a bigger plan by God, and without seeing 

that bigger reality, you can’t understand the Eucharist properly.

What is that plan? It is union with God – 

and I mean that in the fullest, fullest sense. 

See, this is the whole controversy right here: 

people want to receive Holy Communion,

but that union-with-God, union-with-his-people, thing? 

Let’s keep that part vague! We can deal with that later.

But that’s the whole point; there is no other point. So you can’t skip it. 

If you or I say we have union with God; 

but we don’t unite to what Jesus says: is that real union?

You have politicians who take precisely that view:

they say, oh we love Jesus and we should be able to receive 

the Eucharist – but we believe Jesus is wrong in what he teaches!

Of course they don’t state it that baldly, but that is their position.

Jesus says, marriage is male and female. They reject that.

Jesus says “Thou shalt not kill,” but they won’t stop abortion;

They even say you and I must pay for it!

So, yes, these politicians are rejecting Jesus’ own words.

How do you take Jesus in the Eucharist while rejecting Him? 

It’s not just politicians. Lots of people want to take Holy Communion, 

but they don’t want to live the way Jesus commands.

And I am not soft-pedaling the challenge of the commandments.

But how can we be in union with Jesus, while not living as he asks?

A third example: people – who aren’t Catholic -- say, I love Jesus!

You should give me Holy Communion!

So you or I ask, well, do you believe this – 

the Sacred Host, the Precious Blood – 

actually and truly are Jesus himself? 

And these folks will get uncomfortable and say, 

what difference does it make, and can’t we skip over that?

And the answer is, the Eucharist is all about unity;

how can there be unity if we aren’t even united 

about WHO the Eucharist IS?

One more case: there are folks who say, Jesus is fine with me – 

but I don’t want to join the Church he founded.

Who would say that to Jesus’ face:

Jesus, I like your head; but the rest of your Body? No!

In all these ways, people want to take the Eucharist 

but they want to sidestep the whole “union with God” part –

Again I remind you…THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!

That’s why it’s called COMMUNION.

So, what the Church has always taught, from the very beginning, 

is that before you and I enter into any of the sacraments, 

there has to be a unity of faith – we believe the same things – 

and a unity of life – we accept and live by the same commandments;

and we do this as a community, or “communion,” called the Church.

There are those who tell you, just go to communion, 

don’t worry about what you believe, 

or about keeping God’s commandments; 

and it doesn’t matter if you belong to the Church Jesus established.

Those who say that, I have to ask: do they believe in hell?

Or do they figure nearly everyone goes to heaven, 

so what difference does it make?

In the second reading, Paul says what he always says:

this is all about the Cross. 

Jesus died to reconcile us to each other and to God. 

If we all go to heaven anyway, why did he do that?

Here are words Jesus never said:

Do what you like, it’ll all work out fine.

The reason it all matters is because this world 

is where we respond to God’s grace 

and by carrying the Cross daily, you and I become heavenly; 

or we don’t let God’s grace change us, and then we lose heaven.

Someone might ask: Am I claiming we have to be perfect

in order to come to Holy Communion? Absolutely not!

What I am saying is that you and I must unite [changed to "bend" in some Masses] our will to Jesus’ 

as best we can; opening ourselves to his grace to do the rest.

So: today’s message: Holy Communion is about union.

Union with God in all ways; union with Jesus on the Cross; 

and union with one another, which is maybe the hardest part of all!

If anyone says, I want Jesus, how do I have Jesus?

Our Catholic answer is, come and meet Jesus in our company.

We will share with you what comes from the Apostles.

Discover who he is, and discover the Church he established.

Count the cost of taking up his Cross as he himself said.

You are welcome to come with us, and be part of us. 

We will share everything with you, 

in this life, and even more, in the life to come!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Pope Francis sharply restricts the Traditional Latin Mass

 As you may know, today in Rome Pope Francis issued a new decree which expressly abrogates all prior permissions regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 liturgical books. Under his new directive, the Traditional Latin Mass can still be offered, but with what appears to be tight restrictions, subject to the permissions of bishops and, it appears, Rome.

At this time, I do not know how this affects the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Remy. As I said a few minutes ago on our Facebook page:

It is with great sadness that I learn Pope Francis has abrogated prior permissions for the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. He has mandated that priests must request permission to continue to offer the Mass according to the older form, and authorized bishops to continue to allow the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass; this morning I sent an urgent email to Archbishop Schnurr requesting permission so that we may continue to have the Traditional Latin Mass as we have done.

I am sure there are many questions and concerns; I really don't know much more than I've shared here. Archbishop Schnurr has always been very favorable toward traditional expressions of the faith, so I am confident he will respond as generously as possible. I suspect he, too, is trying to figure out the implications of this.

I ask that everyone pray for the Holy Father and for what happens now, as I think there will be a great deal of unhappiness and conflict. If you have strong feelings, I strongly urge you to think and pray before offering commentary that may be overheated.

Archbishop Schnurr is, I am sure, scrambling to figure out what permission he can give at this point: does my request for permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass need to be ratified in Rome? Meanwhile, there are Masses planned everywhere, and now everything is in suspense.

While I will greatly limit my own commentary on this for the time being, there is one point I see people making already: that all this was prompted by bad behavior on the part of those who love the Traditional Latin Mass. I think this is terribly unfair. Sure, there are bitter people who behave badly; they are everywhere. 

For the time being, I'm going to refrain from further commentary. It is forseeable that some folks will react in unhelpful ways, and I do not wish to do that myself, or goad anyone into it. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Eucharist is part of a much bigger plan (Sunday homily)

 Over the next five weeks, 

the homilies will be about the Mass and the Eucharist.

Why this topic? The readings over the next few weeks set the stage.

The other reason is because of confusion and misunderstanding 

about the Eucharist, including what receiving Holy Communion means.

Many people have this idea that you can just walk in and take it.

It doesn’t matter what you believe; it doesn’t matter how you live;

you don’t even have to be Catholic. 

This is all too big a topic for one homily, so we’ll do it over five weeks.

Let’s start with today’s readings.

In Paul’s letter, he’s laying out the biggest of big pictures: 

God’s plan for salvation. Maybe you notice Paul goes on and on!

I think he’s struggling to find the right words.

Here’s what Paul is trying to describe:

God’s whole plan – fulfilled in Jesus Christ – is “more”; always more. 

To forgive us, but also more. 

To free us from the power of sin, and more. 

Not only to live forever, but even more. To share heaven – and more!

In the shocking words of St. Augustine and others: 

“God became man so that men might become God.”

We are to be united to God, to be sharers in God’s own nature! 

How do you take this heady, mind-blowing idea, that’s way up here,

and make it concrete and real for ordinary people, for everyone?

The answer is two fold:

First you create a community of people, who share their lives together.

In that shared life, these realities aren’t just abstract, they are lived. 

That’s what the Gospels call “the Church.”

And then, in the shared life of that community, 

God makes himself present on a continual basis, 

transforming people, on the way to the Kingdom.

What does that community share?

In two weeks, we’ll hear Paul answer that: “One faith, one baptism”:

a common body of beliefs, a common way of life.

They also share leaders: the apostles and their successors.  

And they share God’s sharing of his own, divine life: the sacraments:

Now, this is where we have to acknowledge that 

Protestant beliefs take one road, and Catholic and Orthodox teaching – 

which continue what the first Christians believed – takes a different road.

Protestantism, speaking generally, emphasizes individual acts of faith.

The thing is, too much of that and every believer is on his own:

you make your own Christianity; pick-and-choose.

What the early Church emphasized was God’s grace and power

acting through people, through the Church, through the sacraments. 

Without that part, we can go wrong one of two ways. 

One way is to make it all personal: it’s just me-and-God.

The other mistake is to forget that God’s power acts here-and-now;  

then sacraments and worship become mere human rituals, 

not sources of God’s grace.

And guess what most Protestant denominations teach:

sacraments have no – repeat, NO – divine power.

There is no Mass; no Sacrifice; and Holy Communion is only symbolic.

Now, our dear Protestant fellow Christians go part-way here:

they believe in miracles and conversion; they believe in God’s grace.

Where the crucial link is broken is regarding 

how God’s power acts through the Church and the sacraments. 

For example: we believe baptism has divine power and really saves us.

A man becomes a priest and really can act with God’s own power, 

to forgive sins; as a bishop, he teaches with authority, 

and at the altar, make present what Jesus did at the Cross.

So, now let’s turn to today’s Gospel. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice 

that most of Jesus’ time is focused on the Apostles.

He is with them day and night, for about three years.

Most of what he says, he directs to them.

The Apostles are the key to his plan.

See: Christianity isn’t only or even mainly 

about beliefs that we profess; 

if so, all Jesus needed to do was give us a book.

Rather, Christianity is also about relationship

we share a common life with other believers, and in that shared life,

God makes himself present. His power acting through people.

And that is how God begins to bring about what we heard Paul describe.

Notice that Jesus empowers the Apostles 

to do everything they’ve seen him – the Son of God himself – do.

The Apostles are learning to exercise divine power!

And if you say, that’s astounding, I agree:

How do you imagine I felt the first time I offered Holy Mass?

I will tell you: I wanted to crawl under the altar!

So we’re going to talk about the Eucharist for five weeks.

Today’s lesson is this: 

You and I can’t understand the Eucharist apart from the bigger plan. 

To quote St. Paul again:

“To sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.” 

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Loving America as a faithful Catholic (Independence Day homily)

 Since the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday this year, 

part of my homily will be about the meaning of this holiday.

And since it seems like a lot of our fellow Americans 

don’t know the story of our country – 

in many cases they are being given a very distorted version of it – 

I can’t take anything for granted. 

So let’s start with the basics. 

First: to be patriotic is a virtue. 

It is right to love and honor the place of our birth, 

recognizing how much we are given.

This is not a blind love. 

Our country is not perfect, and so it is also right to help our country 

become more godly, to become a “more perfect union.” 

That said: it is wrong to treat good gifts with contempt.

Too many of our fellow Americans seem totally unaware 

of what incredible gifts we have been given 

in our birthright as Americans.

This is due in part to terrible distortions and misrepresentations.

I can only do so much in these few minutes. You can do a lot more.

One action item I strongly urge from this homily 

is for everyone here to discover our history 

and what we have to be grateful for. And to share it!

Parents and grandparents: do not take it for granted 

that everyone knows!

When you see people tearing down statues 

of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson 

and Theodore Roosevelt and others, 

and you have so many people who want to silence and “cancel” 

ideas they don’t like;

Or they try to burn down courthouses in many cities,

or they behave like fools in the U.S. Capitol,

and you have many saying they think socialism is the answer, 

then it’s painfully clear that quite a lot of people 

do not know what they should know about our country.

So: you want to do something positive and not just be unhappy?

Make sure your family knows what we all have in this country.

Today we celebrate the birth of the United States of America; 

because this was the day in 1776 that elected leaders 

from the first 13 states approved the Declaration of Independence. 

When they declared our independence from Great Britain – 

then the world’s superpower – 

it was very uncertain whether they would succeed. 

Our founding fathers pledged 

their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”  

If you have never read the Declaration of Independence, 

or it has been a while, then you should read it.

It is a statement of what our country is about; 

why we exist as a separate nation and what defines us.

Let me quote words that every American 

ought to have written in his or her heart:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 

that all men are created equal, 

that they are endowed by their Creator 

with certain unalienable Rights, 

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, 

deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

No one had ever really said it like this – all in one place.

No nation had ever dedicated itself to this vision;

and if we took these ideas for granted before, let us do so no longer,

because they are under assault everywhere, including here at home.

Part of the birthright of being American is that we are citizens: 

“We the people” have a vote. We have a voice. 

In Hong Kong, they used to be free, 

but now they are being enslaved by communist China. 

In Finland, a member of the Parliament 

referred to what the Bible says about male and female 

and she was charged with a crime.

A few days ago, an American athlete turned her back on the flag 

and complained about how oppressed she is. I don’t know her story. 

What I see is a terrible lack of gratitude, and ignorance. 

If she did that in most places, she’d find out what oppression really is. 

No matter who you are, if you live in the U.S., you won the lottery.

That is not to say you and I and others should not speak out.

There are problems. Is there racism? Yes.

Are their injustices? You bet. 

There desperately need to be changes in our cities 

and many of our public schools. 

And I can mention the prolife issue, 

the growing insanity about marriage and family: 

yes, there are things that need to change!

Getting involved, speaking out, protesting – peacefully – and organizing: 

these are the right things to do, the American things to do. 

But there’s one more layer, the deepest one of all:

You and I are Christians. 

God chose to put us here, in in this place and time.

We are here both to be citizens of this land, 

while also being citizens of God’s Kingdom. 

It is not always easy to do both, that this is our task.

The readings today are really fitting.

We hear about Ezekiel giving a message no one wanted to hear;

the exact same thing happened to our Lord Jesus in the Gospel.

St. Paul talks about the hardships and disrespect he experienced.

Many generations of Americans before us toiled and sacrificed, 

often with their lives, to make this a better country, 

truer to our founding ideas. 

If you and I have to face opposition or criticism or mockery, 

that puts us in a long line of Christian witnesses and, also, patriots.

It is right to love our country; the fullest expression of that love 

is to want the best for America and all our fellow citizens. 

So you and I celebrate so much that is good about our nation;

and we work and pray for the conversion of our country, 

asking, as the song says, “God mend thine every flaw.”