Saturday, April 27, 2024

'The most important Holy Communion...'

Today*, and for the next four Sundays, till May 12,  

our family of parishes is doing something that may seem just for a few, 

but is actually important to all of us as a spiritual family. 

You and I are welcoming many of our children; to begin sharing in the Most Holy Eucharist. 

Let’s be clear why this is so important – starting with the not-so-important aspects. 

It’s nice that it’s a pretty day and we get to wear special clothes; 

we have parents and grandparents here, and there probably will be a party and presents. 

But we all know these are not the main thing. 

We can celebrate a birthday in the same way, but this is so much more important than a birthday. 

Why? Because Jesus came into the world to give himself to you. To me. 

He did so, first in baptism. He does so in each of the sacraments. 

But notice: marriage usually happens once. Confirmation certainly happens only one time. 

I’ve been ordained a deacon, and a priest, but I probably won’t be a bishop (and I don’t want to be)! 

We can and should come frequently to confession. 

We can receive the anointing many times, but that’s a bittersweet thought, isn’t it?

The Eucharist is meant for us to receive most often; even daily.

Boys and girls, I know you’ve been practicing for this.

I want to invite everyone to focus, not on the peripherals,

But on how reverent and focused our first communicants are.

This is an opportunity to contemplate how each of us receive Jesus.

Do you or I accept the Eucharist as the greatest gift of all,

Or more like how we might accept a can of pop or a napkin?

This is a valuable, delicate glass bowl.

If this were worth, say, $1,000, and I placed it in your hands,

How would you respond? You get the point.

What you’re being given – in your hands or on your tongue – 

is not worth $1000, but a gift of infinite value.

So, one reason First Communion Masses are so important 

is that every year, you and I have a chance to reflect 

on whether we have become too casual. I include myself in this.

Here’s another thing to notice in our first communicants.

Children, I know you and your parents and teachers 

have worked with you to understand what you can about the Eucharist.

You know that what is ordinary bread and wine, 

before it comes to the altar, truly becomes Jesus: 

his true Body and Blood.

It is Jesus himself who does this, through the priest, at the altar.

I would not be surprised to learn you can even explain this pretty well.

And the day will come, as it does for each of us, 

to be ready to tell others, in our words, what we believe and why.

This is valuable, but not the key thing.

What matters more is not how we explain, but how we show our faith.

The faith in your heart shines in your eyes and your actions.

The rest of us, witnessing that, are challenged to imitate your example.

I am challenged to recall 

the first time I offered Holy Mass, on May 25, 2003. 

There have been many thousands of Masses since.

If you are nervous or overwhelmed today, so was I that day!

But you remind me, today, that I need to return, in a sense, 

to that mindset of awe and wonder that can sometimes be lost.

Every one of us needs that.

Let me add this. As important as our first communion is, 

it is not our most important communion.

May I suggest that our most important communion is our FINAL one.

Many times I have brought the Holy Eucharist 

to someone at the hospital or at home, and as I did so, 

I saw that weary child of God close his or her eyes for the last time.

It is because that person wanted Jesus so much, 

That I can say with confidence

That the next time they saw was Jesus – in heaven!

You and I can never know when that last communion will happen.

So, we keep coming, week after week.

He will strengthen that hunger and that love!

One day it will be you, full of years, closing your eyes to this world, 

and receiving the fullest communion with Jesus forever!

This is just the first step. Thank you for letting us share your journey.

* I.e., last Saturday, April 20.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

'The Resurrection and 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.

There are a lot of interesting details about Jesus’ Risen Body,

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 improved, 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 also 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.

This is a lesson that we tend to learn as we get along in years:

you and I really can’t escape our bodies and ourselves,

and all the challenges and limitations involved.

Notice how many people spend so much money and effort 

to hold onto their youth. That is impossible.

It is living an illusion, and it will inevitably fail.

The only way is forward, 

is into the redemption that God has in store for each of us.

As so many of us know from daily experience,

growing older is a path of ever-greater humility, leading to salvation.

We behold Jesus, having suffered, having died, and having risen.

He shows us: this is who you really are, and who you can be!

And very important: he still has his wounds!

You and I carry wounds, and Jesus is like us in that.

Redemption doesn’t mean the bad things in our lives never happened;

rather, redemption means that grace transforms our wounds

from being limitations, to being channels of grace for us and others.

He said to the Apostles, and to us: “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.

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 and Blood?

He changes us – our body, our soul – into him! 

So what is happening right now?

This isn’t about this homily or even the readings.

Those are the warm-up for the main event, which is:

Jesus’ death and resurrection, made present here, for us.

We don’t just think about it, or call it to mind.

God makes it all fully real for us in the Mass, which is a true sacrifice; What happens here at this altar, in our presence,

is what happened in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.

At the very same time, we are also united with the still-to-come:

That resurrection reality to which we are headed,

Where you and I will share the Heavenly Supper of the Lamb.

I cannot emphasize this enough:

As baptized Christians, we are not spectators.

And we must not approach this sharing in Jesus’ sacrifice casually.

Nothing is more solemn. Joyful yet serious. 

If anything is a true “life or death” situation, the Eucharist is:

Eternal life, either embraced or dismissed.

This is why you and I must never receive the Eucharist 

in a state of mortal sin without first going to confession.

This is why we do well to remind ourselves, every possible way, 

of the astounding reality: we are in the very presence of God;

God gives himself to us totally: 

Becoming human, in order to become the Lamb sacrificed, 

and we eat his Body and drink his Blood.

So in a way, I have to apologize. 

Maybe you just wanted a relaxing Sunday, and here I am, laying something very profound before you,

forcing you to deal with it.

But I think that’s what Jesus is already doing.

You and I must always re-ask ourselves:

Are we dealing merely with a happy story; 

or is this the Reality that defines all reality? 

Jesus presents himself not only to the Apostles, but to us:

“You are witnesses of these things.”

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Heaven or hell (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, “It's too hard. 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.