Thursday, March 28, 2024

'You are there' (Holy Thursday homily)

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

And I walked the real, original Way of the Cross 

through the streets of Jerusalem.

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!

We had Mass at the empty tomb: 

the very stone on which Jesus lay was our altar.

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 Mass brings us to Calvary – every single one.

Nevertheless, when you and I come to this evening, 

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.

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.

To understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 

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

There, God not only gives Moses the Ten Commandments, 

He also explains the details of how they are to worship:  

how the place of worship is to be arranged, 

how the altar is to be constructed, and the sacrifices 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 meet God.

In a few minutes, I will go up to this altar, and on your behalf,

I will address the God of Sinai, our Father.

When we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining the heavenly hosts adoring Almighty God!

The same angels who gazed on Calvary 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.

Brothers and sisters, we are there!

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

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 offerings

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

If you wonder why the priest sometimes faces the same way as the people; or, otherwise, seems to be focused upward, or toward the altar, it is because these words, at this point, are addressed to the Father.

On Thursday evening, that first Mass begins with the Apostles.

The next day, on the Cross, Jesus the true Priest

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 what the Lord did was take in hand, 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 Passover.

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, with Him – to the Father.

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;

all of that 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.

How sad that many Christians, many Catholics, are oblivious to this.

Tonight, we are there: in Jerusalem; at the Cross.

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

This is our week (Palm Sunday)

 Listening to the Gospel we heard--the heart of our Faith --

Makes me fall silent. Maybe you, too.

That’s why we do this every single year.

If you’ve come this far in Lent, 

it may be that you feel you missed the boat.

You can still make Holy Week your Lent.

If you ever said, I wish I knew my Faith better, 

may I suggest that taking time during Holy Week,

to come on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil?

These days will help you go deeper into our Faith,

because this week is the heart of our Faith.

If you wish you’d gone to confession—it’s not too late. 

There are confessions Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

If you are worried about crowds on Easter Sunday, 

the Vigil should have plenty of seats. 

At Our Lady of Good Hope, a group of men, women and children 

will be baptized and confirmed 

and receive Jesus in the Eucharist the first time.

This is his week; it’s our week.

It’s about what we did to the Lord; 

even more, what he did for us.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Not rules but relationship (Sunday homily)

 The first reading is about God’s Law: 

God’s Ten Commandments, God’s “Rules.” 

Rules are necessary, like it or not.

And while we all love to complain about rules, 

the truth is, we actually LOVE rules. 

Why do I say that? Because people will ask me a question,

and I’ll try to explain the Church’s teaching, 

and you know what people come back with?

“Just give me the rule, Father!”

As I said, rules are useful.

To quote the late Father Michael Seger, 

who taught moral theology at the seminary in my time:

“Rules exist to protect values”:

“Thou shalt not kill” protects the value and dignity of human life.

All that said, life is always more than rules!

God came to earth, becoming one of us, 

to invite each of us into a relationship with him.

To know him – not only as Creator, and as Savior, which he is –

But just as much as a brother and a friend.

So now, let me pose a question,

And I hope you’ll work it over in your mind:

Is your Catholic Faith mainly about following rules?

Getting to Mass on time; keeping the communion fast;

no meat on Fridays during Lent;

not going too far on a date, and so forth;

and if you break a rule, then get to confession before communion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking down rules, I’m saying, go further!

If your faith is mainly about rules? You’re missing it!

Our Faith is mainly, crucially, about a relationship!

God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So God is – within Himself, in a way we can’t quite explain – 

a relationship.

Life is a relationship. 

A relationship enabled you to exist.

You never have been an island all to yourself, and you never will be.

Maybe the reason God created the world this way 

was so that his invitation to a relationship with him 

would be amplified and re-echoed in everything we experience; 

to give us every advantage, to have courage to believe, first, 

that a relationship with God is possible…

And then to find it easier to follow the path he gives us 

to that relationship – so we would be successful.

We like rules because they are simpler.

Relationships are much harder.

Lots of people are married – happily, it would seem –

yet they don’t talk very much; 

they don’t spend much time alone as a couple. 

Lots of our children need to talk to their parents: 

so many of our girls are lied to about their value;

so many of both boys and girls are looking at stuff on their phones 

they know is poison, but they don’t know how to stop.

Kids: no one in the world loves you as much as your mom and dad.

Talk to them!

Parents, you know they are scared: so you take the first step.

Relationships take work but they are worth it.

True for friends and family, most true with the God who made you,

and who died on the Cross to save you,

to have a relationship with you forever.

Those money-changers Jesus confronted that day?

They must have been so confused, because, after all:

They were following all the rules!

Don’t just follow the rules: know God!

Talk to him, discover him; make friends!