Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Eucharist: It is HIS body and HIS blood - Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today is the Solemnity the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.   A core belief of our Catholic faith is the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Sometimes we may take Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for granted as it is so readily available to us. I heard a story from Matthew Kelly a few years ago really that may help all of us to more deeply appreciate this great gift the Lord has given us. 
There was a priest who formerly was a lay missionary in China over four decades ago. He had heard there were many priests and bishops in China who are imprisoned for not giving control of their churches to the communist government. His time as a missionary brought back a lot of good memories, and he was saddened to hear about the conditions some people in China had to live under. He wondered if the faith still existed under such oppressive conditions limiting the practice of the faith.  He decided to take go on a visit so see if the faith still existed in the village. He wore plain clothes o to help prevent any trouble among the people he visited.  No one knew he was a priest, as he had no contact with the people after his time as a lay missionary.  
The people he visited were very warm and friendly, but there were no signs of faith among the people.  Then, on the second night of his stay he was awakened by a commotion in the house.   He got up to find out what was going on and was told, “We are going to the wall”.  He asked an old woman there what “the wall” was.   She smiled as said, “come and see for yourself”. The priest dressed quickly and left with about a dozen people.  As they walked to a remote wooded area deep in the woods of surrounding hills, several others joined them along the way.  
By the time they arrived there were about 120 men, woman, and children.   The priest noticed there were men up in trees around the perimeter that appeared to be on the lookout.   In the clearing there were remains of an old decaying building.  The old women who invited him to come smiled and seemed excited, as were the other people, but the priest was very was scared.  As they approached the wall everyone knelt down. An old man approached the wall, pulled out a brick, and reached in into the opening to remove a metal vessel with a glass window, and inside it was the Eucharist.  All of the people knelt silently for an hour in prayer in great wonder at the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. An hour later the old man returned the Eucharist and all went back quietly to their homes.           
On the way back the priest asked why were there people in the trees. He was told they were on the lookout for government authorities who would imprison anyone caught practicing the Catholic faith.  The priest was overjoyed to see how strong a faith still existed in these people who were under so much oppression for their faith.  What would cause these 120 people to leave their homes in the middle of the night risk their lives?  Their belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and His Real Presence in the Eucharist. 
This Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a time to reflect on this gift that God has given us and to renew our sense reverence and wonder in Jesus’ sacrifice and presence in the Eucharist. When we come to Mass we participate in Christ’s sacrifice.   The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is something very important that is often overlooked. St. Paul tells us that each time we receive the Eucharist we “proclaim the death of the Lord”. This is symbolized when the priest and deacon elevates the host and chalice of wine separately as an offering of Christ’s body and blood to the Father at the prayers of Eucharistic prayer.  In this part of the Mass we are called to solemnly remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.  
We also experience Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharistic under the appearance
of bread and wine offered at the Last Supper.  In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear Christ’s words, “This is my body” and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood”. Jesus meant what he said:  It is His body and His blood.  When the priest speaks the words of consecration, the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood, a process referred to as transubstantiation.  This is a mystery of faith that that all Catholics are to accept and believe.  Later on in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest breaks off a small piece of the host and drops it in the wine.  This represents the restoration of the Body and Blood in the Resurrected Christ. We are able to participate in the Pascal Mystery of Christ, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, each time we come to Mass.
We receive the entirety of Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity when receive either the Precious Body or Precious Blood. He becomes part of us, and we become part of him.  The Eucharist is spiritual nourishment to help us carry out the Lord’s command to love God & our neighbor.  Christ also commands us to, “do this in memory of me”, which is a call to continually celebrate the Eucharist, keeping His presence always among us. That’s why we come together each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist as a community  
In returning to the opening story, the priest revealed who he was the following day.   The villagers were overjoyed.  They told him there had not been a Mass in their village in over 10 years.   They shared with him that during this time period in absence of the Mass being celebrated, they would go to the wall each week so they could spend an hour with Jesus.   Later that day the priest celebrated a Mass for them.  The entire community was able to receive the Eucharist for the first time in 10 years and some for their first time ever.  In his later years the priest said this experience was the highlight of his priesthood.
            Being with the Lord each Sunday and receiving him in the Eucharist to spiritually nourish us is blessing we need not take for granted.  We are especially blessed, as we can be in presence of the Lord each day by attending Mass, or stopping by the chapel at almost any time. If we’re having a rough day we’re blessed to be able to spend some time being with Jesus in the chapel sharing our troubles.  This can really bring us a sense of peace.  We can also just spend some time being with the Lord in appreciation for the gift he has given us.  I pray that we can all experience the wonder of being in Christ’s presence at each celebration of the Eucharist, just like the people did in the remote Chinese village in the story we heard today. 
   



                                                 

Love one another, 5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

As school ends and summer approaches many of us have travel on our minds. Some of us will be traveling close to home, going to a state park in Brown County or a lake in Bloomington Maybe some of you are will be seeking adventure or excitement, hiking in the Rocky Mountains or riding thrill rides at King’s Island in Cincinnati. A relaxing time on the beach in Florida, doing nothing, may be just what some of you are planning. Where ever you travel take you, you’re bound to experience a few difficulties, delays, missed connections, or bad weather. If so, try to endure them patiently with love, as they’re probably nothing compared to the challenges that Paul and Barnabas endured to spread the Gospel.
During the Easter season we hear from the Book of Acts and the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles.   Today Paul and Barnabas are returning from their success in making new disciples in Derbe.   Through the collaboration of their unique God given gifts, they were able to bring faith to many of the Gentiles.  They returned to cities they previously visited, to lift their spirits of new disciples with the good news to help them persevere in their faith.  They also spoke of hardships they endured in order to enter the kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas endured risks of rejection, imprisonment, beatings, and even death to spread the Gospel. These new disciples were at risk as well.  To support the new disciples, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, priests and deacons, in Churches to teach and administer the sacraments and the grace to help endure their trials.  Continuing on, Paul and Barnabas went out too many more cities to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
            The second reading from Revelations offers a vision that Paul and Barnabas could share with Gentiles.   A vision is presented of the old heaven and earth passing away and new heaven and earth appearing without a sea.   The sea was a symbol for chaos and death, and its absence represents peace. A New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, which represents Church.  The old Jerusalem was the center of worship for Jews.  The new Jerusalem would be for all the People of God.   Jesus resurrection conquered death in the old Jerusalem, so he could bring life to all people.   The author refers to the New Jerusalem, “prepared as for a bride for her husband”, which is the Church and Christ.  This image of a marriage represents a permanent relationship of God with his people forever.  What did the New Jerusalem have to offer?  No more death or morning, wailing or pain with the hope of eternal life in the kingdom of God.    The old world of death and destruction had passed away.   In the dangerous first century world of Roman domination, this offered much hope for the Gentiles.  It provides hope for us now as well!
             So how does this new Jerusalem come about?     Through love!  Not love as the world defines it, but as the way Jesus gave it to us.   Jesus showed his love for us and the Father by making the supreme act of love: obediently following the Father’s will in giving his life.  This opened up the gate of heaven for all of us. 
Jesus gives us the new commandment: To love one another.    People will know we are his disciples if we love one another.    The love that Jesus gave us is the sacrificial love offered for the good of others.   How do we show our love?   
In John 15:9-10, Jesus tells us, “Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”   By keeping the Commandments, living the Beatitudes, and following the teachings of the Church we can remain in the love of Jesus, and love one another.   If we follow the God’s Commandments and the Church’s teachings, it can be very hard.  
Many of them are contrary to the culture we live in.   In following them we will endure hardships and be persecuted.    But the Church, the New Jerusalem, was given to us by Christ, so that we death reigns no more and we can have life.   If we can let go of our ego, and are open to the Holy Spirit, we can seek to understand these teachings and the life they give us, eternal life!
When we show charity to our neighbor, we are loving them.  Loving others helps us bear fruit and leads to the joy of eternal life.   The fruit of charity is joy, peace, and mercy.  Don’t we all want more of this in our lives?  Joy is a good word to remember to how be loving.  The letters in joy can remind us of the priority for our love, J for Jesus, O for others, and Y for yourself.    The CCC states on how we can be loving: charity demands us to seek doing good for the other and fraternal correction, it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested, it is friendship and communion.  In loving others, we will encounter people who live contrary God’s commandments and the Church’s teaching. They may view the Church and its members as a threat.  But if we encounter them with dignity and respect, and accompany them in a loving way, as friends, they can come to know Jesus through us and possibly enter his Church.
So as your travel takes you to places close by or far away this summer, please remember to love one another as Jesus calls us to.   If you encounter hardships in travel, take them in stride, be patient, kind, and loving.          By doing so, you’ll be known as Jesus’ disciple and may even make new disciples for Christ just like Barnabas and Paul did.
             
            

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Service, Obedience, Mercy - Passion Sunday, Year C

As we enter into Holy Week, Luke’s account of the Passion provides us with the perfect model of Christian discipleship:  being a humble servant, obedience to God’s will, and extending mercy and forgiveness.   There’s quite a bit to absorb in the Passion story. It would be good idea to take some time to read and reflect on it throughout Holy Week.    As I reflected on the Passion, Jesus’ acts of mercy really stood out to me.   He was ministering to others, while being persecuted and crucified.
There are three acts of mercy that I’d like to point out.  First, Jesus healed the ear of the servant that was cut off by Peter’s sword.   He also forgave his executioners stating, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.   Jesus was merciful to those who were persecuting him. 
As Jesus hung on the cross, the repentant criminal, also known as St. Dismas, asked
Jesus, “to remember him when he comes into his kingdom”. Jesus responds, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.    St. Dismas does something very important: he was repentant and asks Jesus for mercy.   While Jesus was dying, he offers his mercy to a man who admittedly was justly condemned. 
This is a beautiful example of Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will, offering his life for us, so we may have eternal life.    Jesus didn’t come to condemn and judge. He came to serve, offering his own life as a sacrifice, so we could receive mercy and be welcomed into Paradise. St. Dismas offers a good example for us to follow: to humbly approach Jesus in repentance, and ask for his mercy.
As we enter into Holy Week let’s be instruments of God’s mercy.   There are many people who stay away from the Church because they feel like they’re not worthy of God’s mercy.  So if you know someone who’s been away from the Church, invite them back to receive God’s mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation. Also invite them to attend Holy week services.   Holy Thursday’s foot washing is a beautiful witness of Jesus humble service extending his love and mercy.  Pray for those who’ve felt they’re not worthy of God’s mercy. Last, ask yourself if there is someone that you could be merciful to as well.    Let’s ask for the grace to be merciful to others as we continue on to receive the Eucharist.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Homily, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - Be quiet and listen to Him


Prayer is one of the disciplines we practice during Lent to help bring about a transformation to make us more Christ like. Being quiet of the is one thoughts that Fr. Steve gave us for this season to focus on God in prayer. 
       This week our Scripture readings gives us some examples of mystical encounters with God.    It’s something that we don’t really think about in our busy and noisy world.   We have too many distractions to realize the encounters we may have where heaven meets earth.   In addition to the noise, our Western culture is skeptical that these can really happen at all. But if we spend some quiet time in prayer, we can become aware of God entering our world and the power of transforming it into the Kingdom of Heaven.
            Does God enter our world, like we hear about in today’s Scriptures? A few years ago I had a unique experience with a homeless person that may have been one of these.   I was walking back from my lunch downtown and running late for a meeting.   I usually encountered homeless people on the way and would keep same change in my pocket to help them out.  I would try engage in conversation when offering them money in order to show them some dignity.   But on this one particular day I didn’t have time.  I left late for lunch and had to hurry back for a meeting. I was across the street from my office just in time for the meeting, when a man riding a bike came straight over to me and said, “I’m hungry, and haven’t eaten for 3 days, can you spare a few dollars to help me out?”  My thought was no way, I’m late for a meeting and have no change today, but something nagged at me to help.   There was a convenience store on the corner, so I offered to buy him some lunch.  He didn’t want much, just a hot dog and soft drink and, was very grateful.  In leaving I offered short quick prayer for things to get better, as I really had to go.  He responded looking me straight in the eyes, offering a prayer for my wife, two daughters, and son, along with a blessing. This really caught me off guard as I never mentioned anything about my family to him.  In thinking about it later in the day I wondered, was this homeless man a mystical encounter with Christ?
            In the Scripture today, we have two experiences of God directly entering our world.   In the first reading God establishes a covenant with Abram due to his faith.  God tells him his descendants would be more numerous than the stars and also gave him land to live in.  This covenant is made by God in the darkness on the mountain through the mysterious action of the smoking fire pot and flaming torch passing through Abram’s offering.  God chose to enter into world through the faith of Abram.
            In the Gospel, Peter, James, and John went up with Jesus to the mountain to pray.   Going up on the mountain is a sign of being close to God. Here Jesus’ face changes
appearance and his clothing became dazzlingly white.   He speaks with Moses and Elijah about his passion, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem.     Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets that foretold of the new covenant Jesus would establish: everlasting life through faith in him as the Son of God. Up to this encounter, Peter and the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ healings and miracles, but they were not exactly sure who he was. On the mountain, Jesus appears in his glorified body. The cloud that appears is the presence of the Holy Spirit. The voice of the Father proclaims who Jesus is, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
The Transfiguration, the revelation of Jesus in his glorified body, is accounted for in the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark.   God chooses to enter the world at various times.  This Trinitarian encounter for the disciples was for them to believe who Jesus is, the Son of God.  It’s also provided for us to believe today as well. God the Father reveals who Jesus is, and also gives us direction of what to do: Listen to him.   
How can we listen to Jesus?  Through the quiet of prayer.   Spending time with Scripture is an excellent way of encountering Jesus in prayer in this busy world.  It’s one of the primary ways God speaks to us.  Scripture tells us the story of the God’s covenants he’s established with his people throughout time, with the final everlasting covenant established in Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.  The glorified body of Jesus revealed in the Transfiguration is what we hope for in our own bodies if we believe in him.    St. Paul tells us that “he will change our lowly body to conform with his body.”   We may have many struggles with our earthly bodies that fail due to age and disease, but we have the hope of being restored to a glorified body in heaven through our faith in Jesus.
We can encounter Jesus by quietly listening to him praying with Scripture. This us opens us up to the presence of God in our world.  When we listen to Jesus we can be transformed to make the Kingdom of heaven present here.   It also opens us up to encounters with the presence of him through the body of Christ, maybe even like I the one I had a few year ago.   May this Lent be a good time for you to be with the Lord by listening quietly to Jesus in prayer.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, Sixth week Ordinary Time, 2/17/19


Blessed are those who are weeping, for you will laugh.  This line from the Gospel really impacted me in light of the disturbing news we all heard today or earlier this week.   Today, it’s hard to imagine being able to laugh.  Many of us are in a state of mourning.    We may be experiencing a range of emotions: sadness, anger, disappointment, confusion.    Some of us may just be numb, and find it hard to process.   How could we laugh in such a challenging situation?

The words from the prophet Jeremiah were striking in regards to how some of us may feel: He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.  This sounds like a lifeless, depressing place to be in.   The Israelites that Jeremiah was prophesying to were in a place where there seemed to be little hope.  They were in captivity of a nation that was far from their God.  They may have felt like their God had turned away from them.   We may feel much like they did.

But the second half of Jeremiah offers some words of hope:  Blessed are they who trust in the Lord:    He is like a tree planted besides waters that stretches out its roots to the stream.   IT FEARS NOT THE HEAT WHEN IT COMES: IT LEAVES STAY GREEN; IN THE YEAR OF DROUGHT IT SHOWS NO DISTRESS, BUT STILL BEARS FRUIT.

There is some encouragement in the words of the prophet.   If we trust in the Lord, we’ll be blessed.   God will show us his favor.  Being blessed doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any trouble.  That won’t happen until meet God in his Eternal Kingdom.     As Christians, we will still encounter troubled times, because we are living in an imperfect world.   But if we trust in the Lord he will help us to endure the trails.

We will experience fleeting glimpses of Gods of Heavenly Kingdom in this life.  Through Christ’s Church, his Word and sacraments will remain with us to sustain us till he returns.  Our faith tells us there is much more to hope for, by trusting in the Lord, where we hope for eternal peace in His Kingdom.
           
Returning to today’s Gospel, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Plain of blessing and
woes.   In the blessings, we hear of people who are in distress, the poor, hungry, sad, and those hated due to their faith in Jesus.   Why would he say they are blessed?   Not because of the condition they are in, but to let them know that God shows them favor. He tells them their present condition will be reversed, which gives hope: they will laugh, be satisfied, and receive their reward in God’s Kingdom.

Those who are suffering cry out to God for help.    God does not want his people to suffer.   Eventually their suffering will pass.  When it will pass, we don’t know.  That’s a great mystery, but by trusting in God it will help us in enduring our trials.
           
Jesus directs the woes to those who have no distress. They are the rich, the full, those who laugh, and are spoken well of.  They have little need for God, as they find all their happiness in the world. They’re satisfied for now, but are missing eternal satisfaction by ignoring a relationship with God.
           
For most of us, in times of distress, we will turn to God for help.  Some of us may thinking with the troubles in our Church, where can we turn? It’s important to remember that Jesus left us his Church to spread the Good News of his salvation and sustain until he returns.    The ministers of His Church, clergy, religious, and lay people, are human, and may humans make mistakes.

Unfortunately a very small few may cause harm.    This is very sad and we pray to God this won’t happen.  We especially pray for healing to those who’ve been hurt.  But, please keep in mind, that the Church is much more than the very few individuals who have committed offenses.  The overwhelming majority of clergy, religious, and lay ministers are doing much good to faithfully lead the Body of Christ through prayer, sacraments, spiritual support, teaching, and acts of charity to show love for our neighbor.

So what can we do when we are weeping?   Head the words of the prophet Jeremiah, and put our trust in God relying on our faith to sustain us. Jesus’ presence through his sacraments, especially the Eucharist, provide graces to nourish us.   By remaining committed to receiving the sacraments it will give us strength to sustain through this challenging time.  Prayer is also very helpful, especially when situations are out of our control.  Some situations must be entrusted to God.  If your struggling with what to pray, turn to the Psalms, the prayers Jesus prayed.  We can pray on our own, and also in community as the Body of Christ.  We’ll have a prayer service Monday night from 6-7 pm for this purpose.   There are also opportunities throughout the week to attend Mass, pray in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays, and pray the Rosary on Saturday mornings.  So please pray to the Holy Spirit for all parties involved in this difficult situation that the truth prevails.

As the Body of Christ, our prayers and works of mercy can be offered to bring about healing.   Blessed is the one who trusts in Lord.