Sunday, April 30, 2023

Why the Eucharist *has* to be Jesus' Body and Blood (Sunday homily)

 This Sunday is called “Shepherd Sunday” because of the readings.

The Gospel is from Jesus, the Perfect Shepherd, of course; 

but the first reading and the second reading feature Saint Peter, 

an imperfect shepherd.

And that’s what I am! That’s why I find Peter very consoling. 

Since Jesus was able to work with him, 

I am more confident he can work through me.

This Sunday – and this time of year – 

is usually when our second graders come to Holy Communion 

the first time. For you second-graders, I bet you’re nervous. 

It’s going to be just fine! 

Your parents and I will take good care of you. 

You see, that’s our job. That’s what we do as shepherds.

Notice in the Gospel, Jesus talked about other people.

He mentioned a “thief” and a “robber” – 

those are kind of the same thing – and he mentioned a “stranger.”

And Jesus’ point is, he is not any of those things.

Sometimes people think God wants to take things from us.

To take our freedom or to take away things we like to do.

The truth is, Jesus only takes away what hurts us.

Above all, he takes our sins away, otherwise, they will kill us.

Jesus is no thief! He doesn’t steal anything. He gives.

And right here, this is why it is absolutely necessary 

to know that the Holy Eucharist is not a mere symbol, 

and it absolutely is not merely bread or wine. 

Actually, when the priest stands at the altar, 

and Jesus speaks through the priest, 

the bread and wine cease to exist.

In their place are Jesus’ own Body and Blood.

And I was going to say, here is why that is so essential:

Because of what I just said:

Jesus doesn’t come to steal; he comes to give.

And isn’t it obvious that there’s a world of difference 

between saying Jesus gives us bread and wine – versus,

Jesus gives us his own Body and Blood?

Anyone can give you a snack; or a symbol – like a picture.

But that’s not what the Eucharist is.

Jesus gives each of us his whole, entire self.

So when you and I share Holy Communion – 

in faith, in a state of grace – 

then there simply is nothing else to receive.

Jesus giving himself means, he gives everything!

On Christmas, we all love to get lots of presents, right?

It’s wonderful to find yet another one under the tree.

But imagine getting a gift that was so amazing, so awesome, 

you didn’t even want any other gift after that!

That’s what the Holy Eucharist is! Because the Eucharist is Jesus.

Boys and girls, I want to thank you.

You don’t realize how much the rest of us need to be here with you.

We need to be reminded of how wonderful this Gift is.

Your good example today reminds us not to take this for granted.

Not to be casual or sloppy when we take part.

The rest of us need to follow your good example.

You know lots of people are praying for you.

I ask you to pray for me, and the rest of us, 

that each of us will hunger for Jesus the way you do.

And, I want you to know that as important as today is,

it isn’t your First Communion that matters the most.

No: it’s your last Communion. 

What we want is to receive Jesus in the Eucharist 

at the end of our life here, then close our eyes, 

and when we reopen them, we see Jesus!

Of course, none of us knows when that last communion will happen.

So we keep coming. Sunday after Sunday.

You and I need help to stay on track.

And we don’t want to treat Jesus as a stranger.

How can we not keep coming, for the greatest of Gifts?

Sunday, April 23, 2023

No Eucharist without the Mass (Sunday homily)

 In this Gospel about a journey to Emmaus,

there’s so much here to notice.

The last line is so memorable: 

“they recognized him in the breaking of the Bread.”

But don’t miss all that preceded that awakening.

Jesus took pains to focus their gaze on Good Friday.

There’s no Eucharist without the Sacrifice; 

there’s no Eucharist without the Mass.

The blunt truth is that there is widespread misunderstanding 

about the Eucharist and the Mass, 

even among the most active Catholics.

We all know we have a grave obligation 

to attend Mass on the Lord’s Day.

But the point of that obligation is not to receive Communion.

I repeat: receiving Holy Communion is not the point of that.

No, the point is the Mass itself; being here, with each other, 

and being united to Jesus’ sacrifice, 

which happens even if we don’t receive the Eucharist.

This may sound odd, but it really is possible 

to focus on the Eucharist in the wrong way. 

Some people emphasize receiving the Eucharist, 

and forget about the awesome reality of the Mass.

I remember someone asking me – in another parish – 

if I could do more of those 

“really short Masses without all the stuff in the middle.”

In other words, she just wanted a communion service – no Mass!

If you or I key in on the Eucharist 

such that you forget about the Mass,

that is like focusing so much on the child, 

that you forget there must be a mother and father.

No mom plus dad means no baby.

No sacrifice by Jesus means no Eucharist.

Remember that the Eucharist is not so much a “what” as a “Who.”

You and I don’t merely “receive” Communion; we share it.

“Communion” isn’t an object; it is a relationship.

Husband and wife – that is a communion. Friendship is a communion.

The relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit 

is the supreme communion;

and that is what Jesus brings us into through the Eucharist.

I’m sorry to say, 

but I suspect a lot of Catholics just go through the motions.

That includes priests, by the way.

It’s so easy to get too familiar; too casual.

So, I’m just going to say,

if you’re walking up in the line without reflection,

maybe hold back, go deeper, and come another time?

Do you realize the importance of what we’re doing here?

The totality of God’s Plan for salvation is summed up and made present.

Here. For you and me.

Do you realize when you are given the Eucharist, 

you are face-to-face with your Creator? 

Face to face!

This is also a good time to mention something else.

Some folks have asked about the distribution of the Precious Blood.

And my answer is, making that change at Our Lady of Good Hope 

and at St. Henry involves more planning than you may realize. 

In my judgment, now is not a good time to take on that project.

Meanwhile, the Precious Blood is distributed at St. Mary,

at every Mass. So there’s no problem, no waiting.

Further, let me remind people: you receive the Precious Blood 

every single time you share in the Eucharist. Every single time.

Back to my main theme: this isn’t about thing we get, 

but a life that is shared with you and me. God’s own life. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That divine life poured from Jesus’ side on the Cross.

Each and every Mass, we are there.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

What does the Resurrection have to do with us? (Divine Mercy homily)

 Today is Divine Mercy Sunday – 

a designation that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it a few years ago, 

based on the messages Saint Faustina Kowalska received from Jesus; 

so you would expect me to talk about that. 

But it is also the second Sunday of Easter, 

which means it’s about the Resurrection. 

So let’s start there, and connect that to Divine Mercy.

They aren’t separate things; 

because the mercy that we look for from Jesus Christ is only possible, 

it is only real, if the Resurrection is real. 

One reason why the Resurrection matters 

is because it gives us ground for believing Jesus is who he said he is, 

and will do what he said you will do. 

The Resurrection is a reminder 

that we Christians propose a faith not only of ideas, but of facts. 

God became man at a certain time, in a certain place; 

that God-Man walked the earth in Palestine, 

he said things people wrote down, and then, at a certain point, 

he was arrested, beaten, tried, executed…

and on the third day, his body came back to life. 

These are bold claims of fact, which – 

if they are not true, then Christianity is false, 

and you and I should find something else to do on Sundays.

And, if it didn’t happen, 

then surely those first Christians would not be so stupid 

as to pretend that it happened anyway – all the way to being martyred!?

So Thomas’ response in the Gospel makes perfect sense.

You may recall when Jesus told the Apostles that Lazarus had died,

Thomas said, “let’s go die with him.”

But Thomas is not going to die for a rumor.

He wants to be able to say: “I put my hands in his side!”

One more point. 

What Jesus shows us in his risen, glorified body isn’t only about him; it’s about us. 

He shows what you and I can look forward to with confidence.

Jesus not only promised to rise from the dead himself; 

he promised to call us back to life as well. 

You and I will experience the very same – the exact same – resurrection as Jesus. 

Our bodies will, one day, come back to life, 

and our souls and bodies will be reunited. We will live forever. 

A lot of people – including many Christians – 

have gotten the idea that the body doesn’t matter.

Whether it’s what happens to the body after death, 

or the current “transgender” phenomenon that claims identity 

is determined by subjective beliefs, regardless of bodily facts.

This is an interesting intersection of science and faith.

Biology is science; it’s not a set of beliefs.

For us as Christians, we not only accept science,

it is an article of our Faith that our bodies 

are as much who we are as our souls.

God could have created us like angels, without bodies. But he did not.

You and I will have our bodies back, so we always treat them as sacred.

That’s why, even in death, we always bury the deceased in the ground, 

even after cremation.

But don’t worry, when you and I get our bodies back,

We will no longer be subject to the frailties we experience now.

No more eyeglasses, pills or braces.

Now let’s talk about Divine Mercy.

God gives us every reason for hope.

Jesus did not only promise us eternal life, he showed it to us.

This is why we love the words Saint Faustina 

includes on her image of Divine Mercy, 

and we make them our own:

“Jesus, I trust in thee!”

Sunday, April 09, 2023

'I believe in one Metaphor...' (Easter homily)

 Last night, in this church and around the world, 

we celebrated the great Vigil of the Resurrection.

Most people don’t come; it’s not easy, I understand.

I encourage you, next year, plan to come.

The Vigil of the Resurrection illuminates our Faith in a powerful way.

At the center of a long, complicated Mass

comes the baptism, confirmation and first Holy Communion 

of those who were led by God’s grace to make their act of faith.

It is a bracing experience – and humbling – 

to behold men and women and families come to be baptized, 

late on a Saturday night. They could have gone to bed.

Now, on the morning of the Resurrection, you and I are here.

In a moment, we will do something we always do on Easter morning; 

that is, the renewal of our vows of baptism.

You didn’t get a choice when you were baptized as a baby.

But now you do. Let’s reflect a moment. 

In the off chance that what I’m about to say was never clear:

The Resurrection – by which I mean, a dead body coming to life again – 

is not a metaphor.

This time of year, we hear a lot of talk 

about the metaphor of new birth, renewal, winter-to-spring…

supposedly, that’s what the rabbit and the eggs are about.

Look it up later if you get bored.

Also, sometimes people say, oh isn’t it a lovely story?

Just to be clear: we don’t believe in Jesus as a “comforting story.”

Lots of things about the Christian Faith aren’t “comforting.”

Nor does Christianity make things easier. 

A lot of short-cuts are blocked by the Ten Commandments.

No, there is only one reason to believe; and that is, it is true!

So, I might lose someone here, but:

If you say you’re a Christian, 

but you don’t believe the Resurrection really happened, then…

that’s really dumb.

If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity is pointless.

It’s not a metaphor. Jesus really rose from the dead.

Believe it, or don’t believe it, but don’t try to soften it.

It might be nice to have a set of gauzy, pretty, comforting notions 

that make us feel like we live in a Precious Moments calendar.

But when the Apostles met Jesus after he rose, 

that’s not what it was like!

First they scoffed, then they quaked in fear; 

and then they fell to their knees and said, “My Lord and my God!”

I can’t imagine meeting someone who I saw die, and he was alive again. 

But there could be nothing half-way about my reaction, or yours.

Either we are all-out; or all-in.

Right now, being a Catholic puts us 

at sharp right angles to the world around us, 

and it’s difficult. But it was always that way.

They used to feed us to the lions.

Today you and are unwelcome witnesses for human dignity, 

especially at the beginning and the end of life.

We bear witness to the fact of human identity, male and female.

Many seek to discover themselves in themselves.

You and I profess that we can only discover ourselves in our Creator. 

This angularity – the uncomfortableness of being Christian – 

fits with the same angularity, the shock of how Jesus saved us.

It wasn’t soft and pleasant. He died; brutally.

The clarity of that death forecloses any fudging the Resurrection.

Remember: they looked for his wounds.

Of those who met the Resurrected Jesus, 

almost every one of them didn’t want to believe it!

Their lives would have been so much easier if Jesus had stayed dead.

And then in their turn, one by one, 

they were killed because they did not lie, and they could not deny.

So, now, you and I declare our faith.

Not in a story. Not in a metaphor. In the Fact.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

This Easter Vigil is for you (homily)

 As you surely notice, the Vigil of Easter is unlike any other Mass.

It is longer, of course; and it is supposed to be still longer; 

we aren’t using all the readings . . . this year. 

Back in the day, the vigil started much later, and it went until dawn.

The readings trace God’s saving grace in relation to human wandering, 

from the beginning, to Abraham, the Jewish People, 

down to the coming of Jesus.

After all that, in the deep darkness, 

those becoming Christians would be baptized and confirmed, 

and only after that would they participate in the Eucharist.

Now: think about the timing here.

Reception of the Holy Eucharist comes nearly at the end of Mass, 

so the priest showing the Lord to the faithful – saying, 

“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; 

blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb” – 

that would happen just before sunrise.

In other words, it coincides with the Resurrection!

So for you being baptized tonight, this vigil is all for you.

For the rest of us – including those who were baptized 

in other Christian communities, 

and tonight enter into the fullness of the Catholic Faith – 

this is a re-experiencing, a rediscovery of these mysteries.

We call them mysteries, by the way, 

because the Apostle Paul and the first Christians called them that. 

The word “mystery” suggests something hidden and inaccessible; 

and that’s the point: Jesus gives us access!

The veil is torn in two; heaven is open; you and I are born again!

The other thing about a divine mystery 

is that pulling aside one veil doesn’t “solve” it. 

With God’s creation and redemption, there is always more. 

So the long vigil is meant to reinforce 

that exploring this mystery goes on, 

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

That is one reason why – 

although we are baptized and confirmed only once – 

you and I re-encounter these mysteries each year at this time, 

each Lord’s Day, and even every day.

In a few minutes, the deacon and I will lead you to the font.

The Easter Candle, the pillar of fire, goes before you.

Unlike pharaoh who perished in the sea, 

because he hardened his heart, you are led safely through!

In baptism, you die: with Christ.

We all die; but this is the death you and I choose: 

with Jesus, accepting his cross and making it our own.

Every time you make the sign of the cross, 

Every time you bless yourself with holy water, you remind yourself:

I died with Christ, and through him, I will rise again!

So I want to be very clear and serious here:

this moment is a fork in the road, an ending and a beginning.

I will ask you to renounce sin and the vanities of this world.

I will ask you if you believe

in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 

and in the faith given to us through the Apostles.

Before you answer those questions, I must warn you:

to be a Christian has always been costly.

There has always been a tug-of-war 

between the kingdoms of this world, 

the kingdom of our own will, and the kingdom of Jesus.

And if no one ever told you this, I tell you now:

your choice of allegiance to Jesus Christ and his Kingdom,

which is in this world, imperfectly, in his Church:

that choice will cost you, sooner or later.

It may seem over-dramatic to speak of martyrdom; 

we’re in Ohio after all, not ancient Rome!

But martyrdom comes in a thousand small, daily, tedious choices 

long before it becomes some great climactic witness.

Probably none of us will ever stand before a guillotine; 

but every one of us faces the refrigerator, the computer, 

and the emperor that is our own will.

Not a firing squad, but criticism from coworkers, friends and family, 

is what chills our blood and shakes our resolve.

So, why should anyone profess this faith? Why should you?

On behalf of the faithful, some of whom are gathered around you, 

and on my own behalf as a Christian, I testify:

God has acted in time and history.

Jesus, the Son of God, having our same flesh,

revealed to us a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For our salvation, he embraced the Cross. 

He truly died and rose, in his mortal body, from the dead.

He is the judge of all mankind, to whom he offers not only mercy, 

but new life, fullness of life, and union with God, 

in the resurrection and the new world to come.

Jesus, risen from the dead, is the true and faithful witness!

He drew you here and he invites you to life.

Friday, April 07, 2023

The pivot of history (Good Friday homily)

 This day, which stands at the center of our Sacred Three Days,

Is the day of all days.

Good Friday--the Cross--stands at the center of time; 

and all Creation, all history, 

revolves around it as the earth revolves on its axis.

Thus everyone, without exception, 

must come and stand before the Cross. 

That is the meaning of the Final Judgment each human soul will face.

So it is a mercy that God has draws us here, now,

while you and I can still be changed by it.

We see the Cross, and we ask “Why?” 

Be very clear: No one made Jesus do this. 

The Father did not make his Son do this.

Before time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew man would sin. 

God saw it all, 

From the vanity and self-importance,

Wrath and pride, lust and greed and gluttony;

To the cruelty people visit on each other large and small,

From Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao,

To the crack of a whip, the prison of a slum, 

The office of an abortion doctor, 

and all the uncountable forms of our indifference.

Before anything began, God saw it all…

And He went ahead. He chose to create us.

And he chose to become one of us.

Was there no other way but the Cross? 

Of course there was. God chose this way. 

Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—humanity did. 

Had God never become man, 

man would still have faced a cross, but now alone; 

and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”: 

“Any suffering of his, however slight, 

was enough to redeem the human race…” 

The Cross is God’s exclamation mark 

on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.

God did the maximum where the minimum 

would already have been generous!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:

“I tell you that if God had not come down …

and given us the supreme example of sacrifice, 

then it would be possible for fathers and mothers, 

men and women of countless ages, 

to do something greater, it would seem, 

than God himself could do, namely, 

lay down their lives for a friend.”

Why the Cross? 

Consider an amazing image from our late Holy Father,

Pope Saint John Paul the Great:

God came to earth—so man could put God on trial—

so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked, "Could God have justified himself 

before human history, so full of suffering, 

without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history? 

"Obviously, one response could be 

that God does not need to justify himself to man. 

It is enough that he is omnipotent. 

From this perspective everything he does or allows 

must be accepted. 

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and—

to repeat once again—Love, 

desires to justify himself to mankind.

"He is not the Absolute that remains outside 

of the world, indifferent to human suffering. 

He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, 

a God who shares man’s lot 

and participates in his destiny.

"The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity 

with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue. 

He comes to us—offers himself for trial. 

Pilate presides—and we are in that court as jury. 

We found him guilty; we sentenced him to death.

The price is paid. God himself atones. 

God and man are reconciled.

We see the horror of the Cross; we see the horror of human evil; 

and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.

It is God saying “Yes.”

Thursday, April 06, 2023

One eternal moment (Holy Thursday)

 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 worship: 

how the place of worship was to be arranged, the altar 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, at this altar, as your priest and on your behalf,

I will address the God of Sinai.

And when you and I sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining armies of angels adoring Almighty God;

the same angels who beheld 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, really are there!

At Calvary, and in heaven, all at once.

So listen to the Eucharistic Prayer in a few minutes.

This is the prayer that comes from the early Church.

At a certain point, the priest 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.

Realize: every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Of course, you are listening, but it’s not you I’m speaking to;

And at a certain point, it isn’t exactly me, but really Jesus, who speaks.

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 that’s not what happened.

Jesus took up, not the lamb, but rather, 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 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,

and that’s when the Apostles understood; 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.

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

And it isn’t merely past – it is now and eternal.

Jesus is the eternal High Priest.

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.

After you sing, recognizing the mystery of faith before you,

you hear the priest beg the Father 

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

We know, of course, that the Father will accept this Sacrifice;

yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without that acceptance, without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 

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

and, the Upper Room and Calvary and the Resurrection,

and heaven when all is complete –

this is all one eternal “moment” made present at Mass,

and it is the pivot point of all history.

Tonight, you and I are there. 

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.