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.”