In the Gospel from this Sunday we are faced with a seemingly impossible command from Jesus, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” On the surface this command seems absolutely unattainable, we are human beings after all with flaws and sins, so how are we supposed to achieve perfection? In order to get what Jesus is actually saying we have to understand that He is not using the word perfection in the same way that we use the word. The greek word used here is τέλειος, which is derived from the greek word τέλος, meaning end or goal. The τέλος of a thing is that which it is made for, its purpose. For example, the τέλος of a winter sleigh is to be ridden over snow pulled by a horse. So a perfect sleigh, using the word τέλειος, is a sleigh that is able to be ridden on snow well, regardless of whether the sleigh itself has physical flaws. It may have dents and scratches on it, but if the sleigh rides well, it is perfect; it is fully achieving its purpose of existence. So when Jesus is calling each and every one of us to perfection, He is calling us not to somehow correct all of our flaws to be perfect (even though this is a continual process in the moral life), He calls us to be the men and women He created us to be, to attain the goal of who we were made to be: saints. Read more
Recently TripAdvisor released the top 25 destination spots in the United States for 2015. Among the list are New York City, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, Seattle, among others. Sadly Gillette, WY did not make the list of vacation spots in America. 6 years ago I traveled to one of these places, Orlando, Florida to attend the national FOCUS Conference. FOCUS is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and that year they held their national convention in Orlando that year. This was before I was in seminary and I was still at the South Dakota School of Mines/Technology in Rapid City and very active in the Newman Center, so a group of us traveled to Orlando Florida for the FOCUS convention. While at the conference, it was pointed out to me the awesome wonder of the city itself. And 6 years later Orlando continues to impress. Orlando had over 60 million people visit the city last year alone, which places Orlando as the most visited city in the nation. Now it’s important to look at the reasons why Orlando is such a wonder of a city. If you take a moment to think about it, what was Orlando before Disneyworld and the Harry Potter theme parks and the upcoming Star Wars theme park? Orlando was a swamp. It was a cesspool of diseases including malaria and probably smelled pretty terrible. Nobody would ever want to visit a place like that. But what happened? People changed it into an impressive city worthy of over 60 million visitors last year. Orlando was transformed from a cesspool of disease into the most visited city in the nation in 2014. Another city on the list, Las Vegas, Nevada, has a similar story. Today Las Vegas is the 4th top destination spot in the nation, but before Las Vegas became the notable city it is today, Las Vegas was a desert where nobody would ever want to go to visit. Las Vegas was also transformed by the people who built it from a desert, devoid of life, into a huge city full of life that people want to go visit. If these remarkable transformations of cities happen through the work and dedication of simple people, how much more so can God, who is our heavenly Father and is all-good and all-powerful, do for us gathered here tonight? Read more
If you look at a picture of an iceberg, you will see a small part of the iceberg above the water with the rest of the iceberg beneath the surface of the water, unseen. Today’s Gospel that I just proclaimed can be seen just like that iceberg. We see the surface of the story, Jesus heals a blind man, but beneath the surface there is a vast amount of meaning and depth that is unseen from the surface. Today I hope to break the surface of the water with you and reveal just one main aspect of the hidden depth of this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the man, blind from birth. Read more
If you’ve been to Starbucks recently you will have noticed that they have brought out their typical holiday themed cups, since Christmas is just around the corner, except something is different this year. This year Starbucks opted for a simple red design with no symbols on the cup whatsoever. This move has caused a bit of controversy throughout America with some people claiming that Starbucks is waging a war against Christmas by not including anything explicitly relating to Christmas on their holiday-themed cups. Now, regardless of what’s going on under the surface at Starbucks, these cups bring out an interesting point. They are a way of acknowledging the Christmas Season implicitly without doing it explicitly (the Christmas Season, by the way, does not actually start until Christmas itself, but the Advent Season is fast approaching and is only one week away!). These red cups are a symbol that winter is approaching and the Christmas season is near but they say it in a way that is silent, as if they would offend people by being loud about the fact that Christmas is near. And this very fact has actually offended many people so much that they are boycotting Starbucks. And so, looking beyond the way we may or may not feel about the red Starbucks cups to a bigger picture, these cups provide us something to really pray with and meditate on today, as we celebrate the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Christ is the king of the universe, but is Christ the king of my universe? Am I a Catholic in name only; am I a Catholic only implicitly out of fear of offending other people like the Starbucks red cups? Or is Christ really the King of my universe and I am living out my faith explicitly and loudly as a member of His kingdom? Read more
I often get asked how I heard God’s call in my life to be a priest.The answer to that question is not simple nor is it short, and I won’t spend hours telling you my story today, as I’m sure many of you will be thankful for. So, today, I’m going to share a few of the highlights of my story since my story not only relates to the scripture readings we just heard proclaimed today but also to each and every one of us gathered here at Mass. Read more
Three summers ago I spent the summer in Omaha, NE at Creighton University attending a program called the Institute for Priestly formation. It was a summer devoted to growing in my spiritual life and deepening my relationship with the Lord. I took some spirituality classes and was also involved in pastoral work. I spent two days a week ministering at a place called “On With Life,” which is a rehabilitation center for those people who have suffered a severe brain trauma. I was terrified when I first went there because the question I kept asking was, “How am I supposed to minister to these people, who many of them cannot even acknowledge my presence because they’re in a coma or non-responsive? How can I reveal God’s love to them?” I was scared and didn’t know what to do. In our culture our worth is defined by how much we can “do” or how much we can “accomplish.” I had to face the reality that I couldn’t “do” anything for them, rather I was forced to learn what it meant to just “be” with them. The experience was full of blessings for me. I learned how to just be with them, and did things like sing karaoke and play the Nintendo Wii with them and they, in turn, would respond with a smile or a squeeze of their hand. I found that as I was ministering to them, they were also ministering to me. As I was revealing their dignity and worth as human persons, they were showing me my worth as a human person too. They loved me for being me, and I learned how to love them for being them. The experience revealed to me profoundly the deep worth and dignity that all human persons have, no matter what their state in life: the unborn child, the boy with autism, the teenage girl who is struggling with bullying, the brain coma patient, the elderly… all are supremely important because each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Read more
When I was growing up on the ranch in Wyoming, my family would take summer vacations out to Wisconsin. My dad’s family grew up there on a dairy farm and every summer we have a huge family reunion because my Dad has 8 brothers and sisters, all of whom get along great. That meant that, as a kid, vacations meant 3 days of travel one way with 2 nights at motels with swimming pools and the Olive Garden for supper. Needless to say I loved vacations as a kid. During those days of travel, though, my parents, rather than let me and my brothers get absorbed in our Gameboys, they tried to engage our minds and hearts by teaching us the Baltimore Catechism, which some of you may remember. My brother and I would groan when, inevitably, Mom would pull out the Baltimore Catechism and force us to think and learn about our Catholic Faith. One trip in particular, we spent upwards of an hour discussing whether it was better to be burned at the stake or commit a mortal sin. My brother, Greg, and I asserted that you could just go to confession if you committed a mortal sin and therefore it was better than being burnt at the stake; Dad and Mom, however, kept trying to impart on us the reality and seriousness of mortal sin and that it would be better not to sin and to actually be burnt at the stake. Ultimately they succeeded in this because all these years later I still remember that day on the road with the Baltimore Catechism and took to heart the seriousness of sin and now would agree that it would be better to be burnt at the stake rather than commit a mortal sin. My parents took their vocation as parents seriously and didn’t just let us kids play our Gameboys on our road trips, but taught us the fundamentals of the faith that we strived to live as a family.
This is important because each and every one of us is called to follow Jesus, but not only to follow Jesus, but to invite and teach others how to follow Him as well, and in a particular way within our own families, especially parents. In today’s Gospel we heard of one of the many times when Jesus teaches his disciples about the true nature of faith. Jesus predicts his Passion and death on the cross, which is the second of three times he does this, and his disciples, once again, cannot understand what Jesus is saying. They couldn’t understand it because the messiah they thought was coming would never be killed by men, like Jesus predicted, but the messiah would be like a military leader and conquer the Romans and bring a new kingdom to the earth. So, rather than try to understand Jesus, the disciples, rather like children, began to bicker amongst themselves on who was the greatest and Jesus, like a patient parent, sits down to teach them. He teaches them by placing a child in their midst. A child in the time of Jesus was, legally, considered a nobody; they had no legal status. Jesus was teaching his disciples that to receive a child meant that one must lovingly accept and care for the nobodies of society: the lowly and those who cannot repay them, much like children. Jesus identifies with the lowly, the poor and the disadvantaged. The one who receives the poor receives Jesus Himself, and not only Jesus, but God the Father as well. Jesus is found in a special way in the poor and it is our call as Christians to not seek the esteem of others, but to care for those who cannot esteem us at all. That is the Christian life! Caring for our fellow brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, all along the road to eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Notice, Jesus didn’t teach his disciples about how his death, which they didn’t understand, Jesus rather taught them how to act, which would lead the disciples to grow in humility and would help them fully accept their mission as apostles after Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of the apostles go on to teach the faith to the nations after Jesus’ death and resurrection because of their great faith and humble obedience to their Lord, Jesus Christ.
The task of the apostles is the same for all of us: to grow in humility and to be apostles to our world, to teach the world about Jesus, beginning within our own families. The family is the primary school in which saints are formed. Jesus, himself, was part of a family with Joseph and Mary and shows us the importance of the family in our world. Jesus was obedient to his parents and grew in wisdom in his humanity (Luke 2:51-52). God created families to be a reflection of the communion of life and love that exists in the Holy Trinity, between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The union between husband and wife allows them to participate in God’s creative act and from their love comes forth children. The family that is formed is more than just simply having more children, St. John Paul II reminds us that families are “enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and the world” (Familiaris Consortio, 28). Parents, by revealing and showing their children how to live a life a faith, will impact the whole world through their children as they go out into the world to do the same. This affirms the supreme importance of the family unit in our world today, a unit that has been attacked and degraded by divorce and so-called “gay marriage” in our secular world. The family unit, with a father and a mother, is to be the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) where the children meet Christ, grow in virtue, and are prepared for the vocation God calls them to. Parents, then, are the primary teachers of the faith to their children, even if the children attend a Catholic school like our very own St. Vincent de Paul School; parents are still the primary teachers of the faith. In the family, children learn about the love of God, his generosity, goodness and mercy in and through the examples of their own parents. This also means that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children about the sacraments as they prepare for them. Again, just because a child goes to Catholic school does not mean that his or her parents are “off the hook” so to speak, but parents must be active in the education of their children along with the Catholic school education. This also means that we, as the adults in the parish, must know our faith well. We must know who God is and encounter Him daily through prayer and the sacraments to be able to teach others, especially the children, how to know and love God. For how can we expect the children to understand God when we don’t? How can we expect the children to live the Catholic faith after they leave home for college if we, as the adults, don’t practice and live our faith? Our homes must be the domestic church where God is not just in the spare room, hidden away, but where He is active in every part of our lives where everyone, parents and children both, continue to learn and deepen their faith. That is our challenge in this increasingly secular world: to be the witness to the immense power of the love of God in and through our families. As you may recall from the homily last week, the Archdiocese of Denver is re-ordering the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order. This means that all children will receive baptism, then confirmation, then first Holy Communion, in that order, just like it was for most of the history of the Catholic Church until recently in the early 20th century. With this new system in the Archdiocese, Confirmation and first Holy Communion will be given in the third grade. The Archdiocese of Denver will take five years to make this transition, using a step-down process that will result in all children receiving Confirmation and First Eucharist in the third grade by the year 2020. The big question that many will have in this move is whether third graders are old enough to receive confirmation and the answer is “Yes! Of course!” Confirmation was never meant to be a sacrament given only if you knew “enough” but is a sacrament given freely by God to give us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to live our lives more easily in union with Him. Age is not actually a factor like many think it is. Additionally, a child in the third grade would be adequately prepared to receive Confirmation because his or her parents, as primary teachers of the faith, would help prepare their children for the reception of the sacrament. Receiving Confirmation earlier will give the grace of the Sacrament to these children earlier, helping them to live more faithfully, especially in the tough years of junior high and high school.
So whether you pull out the Baltimore Catechism like my parents did or not, I strongly encourage you to step up and be the first teachers of your children about God. Teach your children about the love of God by talking with them and teaching them, but also by your own example of prayer and self-sacrifice. Also teach them about the sacraments that they are preparing to receive so that they receive them with an open heart. And lastly, don’t forget to pray with and for them. I ask that you join the Archbishop and the entire Archdiocese of Denver to pray daily for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and “fear of the Lord” upon all of us.
Today we have a very sobering and serious passage from the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew’s Gospel, this is the fifth of five major discourses, or speeches, that Jesus gives to his followers. In this specific speech that we only heard a part of leading into Jesus’ Passion and death, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times, about Eschatology and this parable is directed specifically at his disciples. And so to us as well as priests and future priests. That means we should pay close attention to it. Jesus uses the parable of two servants in the household of God to illustrate his point about the end times. The first servant is the faithful and prudent servant who is in charge of his Master’s household to distribute food to the people at the proper time. This servant is seen in the clergy, specifically bishops and priests who are in charge of the household of God, the Church, and who provide the sacramental ministry to the people of God, principally in giving the people the bread of life in the Eucharist. The servant: the bishop or the priest, who ministers to the people with and for Jesus, not for himself, will be blessed when the Master, who is Jesus himself, comes at the end of time. This is the servant who will gain eternal life. The second servant, then, is symbolic of those who live life for themselves and not for God. This servant, in seeing the Master not coming, beats his fellow servants and drinks with drunkards all out of his desire to live selfishly. This servant will be severely punished when the Master comes at an unknown hour at the end times, his punishment more severe than the English implies. In Greek the literal translation is that the Master would “cut him in two,” basically the master will dismember him as punishment. It is there in hell where he will spend eternity wailing and grinding his teeth. The seriousness of what is at stake here, eternal life, is obvious due to the seriousness of the punishment inflicted.
So we have these two servants as models for us, and obviously we want to live in accord with the first servant, but how exactly do we go about doing this? How do we live as the faithful and prudent servant? There are many ways that we go about doing this each and every day, but I’m going to offer you one way this morning: prayer. I cannot stress enough the importance of prayer in our journey towards holiness and living a life for God and not for ourselves. Our relationship with God is what will sustain us, it is Him who will give us the grace to live a life of virtue for Him and for our brothers, and it is with His grace that we will gain eternal life like the faithful and prudent servant.
To my SY brothers: you are given an awesome gift in this year. You have the ability to grow deeply in your relationship with God in prayer this year. Take advantage of that and learn to pray well. To my brothers not in SY: make prayer your priority. Start your day in prayer and give your holy hour priority. Prayer is what will sustain us in the life of virtue as Christians.
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Monica who exemplifies the importance of prayer. She is the mother of St. Augustine and prayed constantly for her son’s conversion. St. Augustine was living a selfish, disordered life before he had a conversion, and his conversion is accredited to the prayers of his mother. Augustine is one of the great Church Fathers and this is largely due to his mother’s unceasing prayers. St. Monica is also known for the conversion of her pagan husband before he died because of her prayers as well. So, too, can prayer help convert our hearts to a deeper love of Christ each and every day. And like St. Augustine, each of us have that same sort of mom in our lives. She might be our own biological mom, like my mom who prays constantly for me and has recently discovered emoticons on her iPhone to keep telling me through little hearts and praying hands in a text message that she is praying for me. Thanks Mom. But even if we don’t have our biological mom praying for us, each of us has Mary our Blessed Mother, always praying for us and our daily conversion to live as the faithful and prudent servant. Even if we cease praying, she never ceases praying for us! So as we continue with our Eucharist today, I invite you to renew your commitment to prayer, pray for the grace to live like the faithful and prudent servant as a future priest ministering to others, to live selflessly for others. Pray for each other, that together as seminarians we may grow in holiness and live our lives for Jesus. And pray to Mary and ask for her intercession to help us grow in the holiness that Jesus desires for each of us, so that when the Master comes at the end of time we may be blessed with eternal life.
|The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Photo Credit: Daniel Ciucci
Today we continue with our hearing of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the “Bread of Life Discourse” as it’s called that we began two weeks ago and will continue for another couple of Sundays. Recall where we’ve been. Two weeks ago we heard of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus then walks on the sea and crosses over with his disciples to the other side. The crowds follow him because they are hungry. Jesus teaches them to look for food that does not perish but will bring eternal life. That is where we pick up today. Today Jesus reaches the heart of his teaching on the bread of life, the Eucharist, his own body and blood when He says today, “I am the living bread came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Now what exactly does Jesus mean by this? Jesus is telling the crowds that He is going to bring life to all by becoming the bread of life through His own flesh, His own body which we are to eat. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, which Jesus will institute at the Last Supper before His death and resurrection.
So how are we to understand what Jesus means? There are two different ways to understand what Jesus is saying here. The first is the typical protestant view that Jesus was only speaking symbolically. When He referred to His flesh as bread for the life of the world, he was only speaking in metaphors and wasn’t being literal. But this interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that Jesus never says that the bread of life is like His flesh and body either here or at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Jesus says “This is my body” and “This is my blood” not “This is a symbol of my body” or “This is like my blood.” The second way of understanding what Jesus means is to see that Jesus isn’t speaking symbolically, but literally; the bread of life, the Eucharist, is Jesus’ literal body and blood. While Jesus does use many metaphors to describe himself like referring to himself as the gate, the good shepherd, the vine, among others, He always goes on to clarify what he means by them (see John 10:9, 10:11, 15:1). Not here. Here in this Gospel Jesus doesn’t clarify, he just re-emphasizes the fact that He is the Bread of Life. He goes on to say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (John 6:53). This causes quarreling among the Jews who couldn’t accept the literal message Jesus was giving (as you will hear this in next Sunday’s Gospel). If Jesus was speaking only symbolically, it would be easy to accept the teaching, just like Jesus’ many other metaphors. But the fact that Jesus’ teaching caused quarreling reveals that Jesus was not speaking symbolically, but literally; Jesus’ body is the bread of life for the world which we are to eat literally, a teaching that is quite confusing and hard to accept, seen clearly in the Jews’ negative response.
So why is the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ literal body and blood important for us? Because in this great Sacrament of the Eucharist we have both the source and summit of our Christian life (CCC 1324). In the Eucharist we encounter Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for each and every one of us.
So to help us understand I want to take a moment to step back and look at true, authentic love and how we, as humans, experience it. As physical creatures having both a body and a soul, we, as humans, experience love in and through our bodies. When you love someone you want to touch them, don’t you? Just think about it. Whether it’s a father or mother cradling their newborn child out of pure love to a young couple holding hands, sharing a good night kiss at the end of a date, we touch those whom we love as a revelation of that love. Even a stranger will experience this because most of us will shake hands with them. But the closer we know someone, the more we will touch them. I’ll hug my family and close friends but I probably won’t hug the stranger I meet at Andi’s Coffee House, but I will shake their hands, still acknowledging them as a human person in authentic love. Showing love through human touch is part of what makes us human. We are made for love and intimacy in and through our bodies. We are made to give of our very bodies in love to another. Married couples will understand this the best since they give their whole self to their spouse each and every day as an incredibly beautiful witness to the power of authentic love, one that reflects Jesus’ love for all of humanity through the Church.
So if we, by our very nature, are made for love and intimacy, how do we experience that with God, who is love itself and yet isn’t a physical body that we can approach and relate to and love as a human being? We experience this kind of intimacy with Jesus because He first did come in a body, through the incarnation when Jesus became man on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. Jesus loved us in and through His body, giving His whole self to us through His passion and death on the cross for our salvation. Additionally, Jesus, who is God and who loves us so very much, left us a way to experience that same love He has for us even after He ascended bodily into heaven after His resurrection from the dead, now 2,000 plus years later. He did this through the institution of the Eucharist. Before he was given up to death he took bread, gave thanks, raised His eyes to heaven and said, “Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” And similarly He took the cup of wine saying, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a way for all of us to experience His body in and through the Eucharist. Jesus’ body and blood is fully present in the bread and wine at each and every Celebration of the Eucharist. It is in receiving the Eucharist into our bodies that we are able to experience Jesus’ love for us in and through our bodies too.
|Jesus’ love in the Eucharist presented to the Father
at my diaconate ordination.
This is what Jesus is teaching us through this chapter in John’s Gospel. Jesus is quite literally the bread of life, come down from heaven to bring His life to everyone out of His great love for us. In and through the Eucharist He can touch each one of us with His love. We are to experience His love in a bodily way because we are bodily creatures and that is how we experience love as human beings. By eating Jesus’ flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we receive into our bodies the great love Jesus has for us through His body. This is a hard teaching that drove many Jews away from Jesus and prevents Protestants from experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ’s love for us and yet this is exactly what is at the heart of our Catholic faith. If we truly understood how great Jesus’ love is for us accessible through the Eucharist, our Churches would be packed each and every Sunday. As it is, many times the Eucharist is pushed aside and the focus at Mass is placed in the quality of the preaching, or the excitement of the music. If that is our focus at Mass we are missing out on the greatest love we can ever experience right here in the Eucharist, even if the experience of receiving the Eucharist is not necessarily life changing and the hosts taste simply like bread. In Jesus’ great love for us, He wants us to feel comfortable approaching Him in the Eucharist and to help with that God hides his divinity in the bread. Because if we truly saw the awesome glory of God’s love radiating out of the bread and from the tabernacle we would want to hide. We would feel unworthy of such great and awesome love and resist approaching the God who loves us. Jesus’ divinity is hidden within the Eucharist and yet that same love is still just as present, just as awesome, just as great. Jesus hides himself so we don’t have to. We approach the Eucharist as one who hungers for God’s love and receives it in a very real and bodily way. And that awesome, radiant, explosive love is contained in each and every crumb in the Eucharist. One crumb, one drop of blood that is consecrated on that altar is enough to save the world. Jesus gave his whole self to us and when we truly know that we cannot help but give our whole selves back to him. We are made for intimacy with Jesus! Intimacy with Jesus is found in and through the Eucharist.
|My first bodily experience of Jesus’ love
in the Eucharist.
As part of my ministry as a deacon here in Sheridan county this summer, which unfortunately comes to an end after this weekend, I have been privileged and blessed to visit the sick in the hospital and bring them the Eucharist since they are unable to come to Mass. During my first visit to the hospital in my first week here I encountered a woman who had a “NPO” (withhold oral foods: “nothing by mouth”) sign above her door. I had no idea what that meant and went in to talk to her anyways. We chatted for a bit and I asked her if she would like to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and she said yes. We had to call in the nurse to check if that was okay because I learned that “NPO” meant that she couldn’t receive food through her mouth. The nurse said that a small amount was perfectly fine so we went ahead and prayed and she received Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist. Her reaction was so beautiful, it was one of complete tranquility and happiness. She thanked me and told me that was the first substantial food she’d had in weeks and remarked that it was a great blessing to have her first substantial food be the Body of Our Lord Himself! Her faith was an inspiration to me because she knew that she was experiencing Jesus’ love through that tiny piece of the Eucharist she was able to eat.
|Receiving the Eucharist at the first Mass of Thanksgiving
of a newly ordained priest friend, Rev. Joe McLagan.
And so, my friends, as we approach the Eucharist today, I invite you to see the Eucharist in a new way. See Jesus’ radiant love descend upon the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer and believe that Jesus’ true body and blood are contained within it just like the woman in the hospital did. Know that if you feel unworthy of God’s love, that is okay, we aren’t worthy of His love because of our sinfulness and yet God loves us anyways. He continually calls to conversion and wants us to come back to him. If you find yourself in the state of sin, go to the sacrament of confession first to receive Jesus’ love and mercy in the forgiveness of sins so that when you receive the Eucharist, Jesus’ love will not encounter barriers within your heart. God loves us so much and gives us his whole life for us, contained in the Eucharist. If you’ve never let Jesus truly love you before, do that today. Let Jesus love you and experience that love in the Eucharist.
Today we did not hear from the Gospel of Mark like we have been doing for most of this liturgical year. Today we heard from the Gospel of John. We began in the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and will continue to follow this single chapter for the next four Sundays. This single chapter of John’s Gospel is so important that we devote five Sundays to it, every third year during the summer. The reason for doing so is because John’s Gospel does not have an institution narrative; John does not have a narrative account of the Last Supper, where Jesus institutes the Eucharist, a topic so important to us as Catholics that we refer to the Eucharist as “the source and the summit of the Christian life.” Rather, John chapter six, what we began today, is where John has written a deeply rich teaching on the Eucharist, typically referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” which I hope to start to unpack with you today. Today’s miracle story sets up the teaching that will come in the following weeks. As such, we don’t want to rush through this chapter, but we, as the Catholic Church, want to take 5 whole weeks to go through it so we can pray with it and let John’s teaching move our hearts to a deeper faith and love in Jesus through the Eucharist.
So today’s story we heard with Jesus and his miraculous feeding of the 5,000 is a story already probably familiar to us, but I want to challenge you to look at it deeper with me. St. John puts this story at the beginning of his teaching on the Eucharist and so this story helps not only in understanding the Eucharist but also helps in understanding the Mass. So this morning I am going to walk through this story with you and show how it relates to and reveals the deeper meaning behind the sacrifice of the Mass. The story begins with Jesus going up the mountain. This action of Jesus that has a great significance. It symbolizes an encounter with God, which would recall the events in the Old Testament, in particular that of Moses beholding God on Mt. Sinai, the heart of Old Testament revelation of God. Recall that at that time, Moses, in the book of Exodus, had just led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt when he went up the mountain to encounter God and receive from God the book of The Law, the Ten Commandments. Moses encountered the Lord in a very real way and today John is showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses began. Whereas Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land, Jesus is preparing to lead the people of God out of slavery of sin and death into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus goes up the mountain today not to encounter God, for He is God! Rather his disciples encounter Him when they go up the mountain with Jesus. This is what happens each and every time we come to Mass. We “go up the mountain” so to speak, we go to the Church to encounter God in a very real way, just like Moses did on Mt. Sinai and the disciples did today, trusting that God will lead us out of slavery of sin to the life of grace.
After Jesus goes up the mountain, He sits down with his disciples. This simple gesture also has significance. This gesture is one of a teacher with his students. In the ancient world, a teacher sat and taught rather than stood behind a podium like we would typically think of today. This is still seen today at Masses with the Bishop when he preaches the homily from his chair, not from the ambo. This moment of Jesus with his disciples is symbolic of the Liturgy of the Word. The disciples sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him and learn about the kingdom of heaven. So, too, do we when we come to Mass. We begin by sitting, as students and disciples, at Jesus’ feet to hear and learn from Jesus, the teacher, through His Word in the Scriptures. That is what we are doing right at this very moment! We just listened as the Word was proclaimed through the Readings and also through my proclamation of the Gospel. And, through the grace of my own diaconate ordination I am standing before you as minister of Christ Himself teaching you in this homily, just as Jesus taught his disciples.
The Gospel story continues and we hear that Jesus sees the crowd and he knows that they are hungry. But Jesus sees deeper than their physical hunger, He knows that they are also spiritually hungry. They are looking not only for physical nourishment, but also for meaning in their life and are coming to Jesus in search of that meaning. Jesus sets out to feed them and Philip points out that there are so many people and not enough money to feed each just a little. And this is my favorite version of this miracle story because at this point, the apostle whom I am named after, Andrew, gets to play a role in the story. Often I think Andrew is overshadowed by his brother, Simon Peter, but not today! Andrew jumps in and points out a young boy who has some barley loaves and two fish, an amount that is obviously not enough to satisfy 5,000 people and yet Jesus isn’t concerned at all! This directly echoes what we heard in the first reading with the prophet Elisha. Elisha fed a crowd of people with just a few barley loaves as well. The miracle of Elisha directly foreshadows what Jesus did today and the dialogue between Jesus, Philip, and Andrew point out the enormity of the miracle about to occur.
At this point in the story, the events have shifted to reflect the second part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus has the crowd recline and then he took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to the people until they had their fill. The words and actions of Jesus are a direct allusion to the Last supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Each priest at Mass during the Eucharistic prayer follows Jesus’ words and actions seen here and at the Last Supper. The other accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make the words even more explicitly tied to the narration of the Last Supper, unlike John today. The key point here is this miracle story in all the Gospels directly foreshadow the later institution of the Eucharist. It is intimately connected to what Jesus will do at the Last Supper. Also an interesting note is that in John’s Gospel, Jesus Himself is the only one who distributes the bread to the people, unlike in the other Gospel accounts. St. John does this to highlight Jesus as the ultimate source of that bread from Heaven, Jesus Himself is the bread of life that will be given in the Eucharist, a point that will be expanded on in the rest of this chapter in St. John’s gospel. The people listened and learned from Jesus and are now being physically and spiritually fed by Him as the ultimate source of the life and were satisfied.
The same thing happens to us each and every time we go to Mass. When we gather at Mass each Sunday, like the multitude of people with Jesus, we, too, are hungry. We are looking for meaning in our lives, meaning for our pain and suffering, meaning for our joys. We are looking to be filled with authentic love and fulfillment in the only place it can really be found, in Jesus Christ himself. We are hungry and we come to Mass to be fed by Jesus in Word and in the Eucharist. In the Mass we sit with Jesus and learn from Him as his disciples in the Liturgy of the Word. And like the small boy, we bring what little we have to Jesus, seen in just a little amount of bread and wine that we use in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And just like in the gospel, that small amount seems too small to feed the amount of people at Mass each day, and yet what happens? Fr. Brian, who is acting in the person of Christ, will take the bread, give thanks, and distribute it to us. That bread will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ Himself, not symbolically, but actually. The essence of the bread and wine will change into Christ all the while keeping the physical characteristics of bread and wine. We will then receive the Eucharist and our souls will be completely satisfied because we have received God Himself. The people in the gospel today ate and were satisfied because God Himself nourished their souls, not just their stomachs. Today at Mass, Jesus will do the same for us. The final part of the story tells how after the people ate and were satisfied, the disciples gathered the leftover fragments so none would go to waste. This is also seen in the Mass. After communion we will gather the fragments of the Eucharist and place them in the Tabernacle so they do not go to waste but can be a way of encounter with the Lord. Jesus is brought to the sick and homebound because of this and since Jesus is truly in the tabernacle it is always a good practice to stop by and visit him in the Eucharist as often as we are able.
And so my friends, as we gather here together today, as we climb the mountain for an encounter with the Lord at this Mass, I encourage you to follow the example of the disciples today. Sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him by listening to His Word in scripture each and every day. Acknowledge your hunger for God in every aspect of your life. Life may be extremely challenging right now or perhaps God has blessed you with very few hardships. No matter what situation you have in your life, however, nothing on this earth can ever truly satisfy our hearts except the Lord and His love. So, come receive Him in the sacraments as often as you are able to, in daily Mass in the Eucharist where He will satisfy your spiritual hunger, but also receive Him in the beautiful gift of confession where our sins are forgiven no matter how greatly we have sinned. Only once we have received the Lord in Word and Sacrament will we be able to go forth from Mass to proclaim the Kingdom of God to all those whom we will encounter.
Take a moment to consider this question: Are you an Apostle of Jesus Christ? My hope is that each one of you said “yes” and if you didn’t then I hope that by the end of my homily you will. We are all apostles of Jesus Christ. Now you might pause for a second and say, “Well Deacon Andrew, don’t you know that there were only 12 apostles?” And you’d be right! There were only 12 apostles; in fact the Gospel last Wednesday listed all 12 of them. But I am referring to the broader definition of the word apostle. Let me break down exactly what that means for you.
The word apostle in the original Greek language comes from the verb “apostello” which literally means “to send out.” So “apostles” are those who are “sent out.” With this in mind, we can see that Jesus “sent out” his apostles to proclaim the kingdom of God exactly as he “sends us out” to proclaim the kingdom of God in our world today. And this call to be an apostle comes to each and every one of us not matter what our background is, whether we are ordained clergy or ranchers outside of Sheridan. To understand this call, it is helpful to take a look at the prophet Amos, whom we heard in the first reading today.
Not much is actually known about the man Amos other than what he wrote in his book. As we heard by Amos himself, he was shepherd and he also cultivated sycamore trees, not exactly a lofty career! He definitely was not a well-educated man and yet, God himself called Amos to be a prophet. Amos shows through his call that the spiritual gifts given by God are more important than rigorous academic training. Amos lived in southern Israel during the time period of the split kingdoms, with the kingdom of Israel to the north and the kingdom of Judah to the south. God called Amos to leave his home in the south to prophesy to the people in the north. Many in the northern kingdom were choosing things that went against God’s plan for their lives. Excessive wealth in the northern kingdom led to them living extravagant lifestyles with little to no concern for the poor. Sexual immorality and idolatry were also prevalent. It was to these people that many of Amos’ words were addressed. Amos condemned the exploitation of the poor and defenseless by the rich, additionally condemning their actions of sexual immorality and acts of idolatry.
Amos was an apostle, he was “sent out” by God to preach to the people in the northern kingdom in an attempt to get them to reform their lives. Many did not like it and thought he was prophesying just to receive monetary compensation from the wealth of the North and chose to disregard him. Amos preached not to receive any sort of compensation, but because he knew that following God and doing what God asked led to fulfillment and prosperity and wanted that for the people he prophesied to.
Amos’ situation echoes our current social and cultural situation closer than one might think. Our relativistic society, not unlike the Norther kingdom of Israel at the time, is choosing many things that go against God’s plan for our lives: contraception, abortion, and especially recently, the Supreme Court approval of so called Gay marriage, are just some of the many examples. God is calling each and every one of us to be an apostle, like Amos to preach the Gospel of Truth in love to encourage those in our world to reform their lives, to choose what will lead them to fulfillment in God rather than away from it. And just as Amos didn’t have academic training for his ministry, neither do we necessarily need it, although it most certainly helps. Profession is also irrelevant, Amos was a simple shepherd and still was a prophet. Amos was challenged by the authority of his day, and so will we when we proclaim the Truth. Amos was just a normal guy called by God to be his prophet, so too are each and every one of us called to be God’s apostles in our world.
But how exactly do we do this? Jesus, in the Gospel we heard today, shows us. Today Jesus sent out his apostles two by two to participate in the mission of Jesus. Before he does this, however, it is crucial to note that Jesus didn’t just arbitrarily pick 12 random guys to send out, but He picked those who had already been with him for some time. Before the apostles were sent out, they needed time to be with Jesus first (see Mark 3:14). They needed to listen to him, learn from Him, and love him with their whole hearts before they could then go out to others revealing that same life-changing love found in the encounter with Jesus. It is only after they have spent this time with Jesus does He send them out two by two. This is important as well, they were not called to be apostles alone, but rather are part of a community. Jesus, in sending his apostles out two by two, sent them out as little units of Christian communities where they could support one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. An isolated apostle risks discouragement, danger, and temptation. The apostles were meant to support each other in their ministry.
Jesus then goes on to instruct his apostles to take nothing for journey other than the clothes on their back sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. This is a seemingly weird command, but it shows us the attitude one must have as an apostle. By doing this, the apostles learned to place their trust solely on God for providing for them. They focused on doing God’s work with the promise that God would provide for their daily needs. The apostles didn’t rely on themselves but rather called forth hospitality from the people to whom they ministered, which also serves a purpose. The people themselves were able to grow in charity and hospitality. The poverty of the apostles also meant that they had less distractions and could focus solely on their mission, since they were not concerned with material things. And lastly the lack of material possessions lent credibility to the Gospel that the apostles preached, since this poverty showed that the apostles were preaching out of pure conviction of their faith in Jesus Christ and not for desire of gain, which, if we remember, some accused Amos of doing.
Jesus then instructs his apostles on what to do if the people welcome them or not and equates that welcome as if it were with Christ himself. The stakes of accepting or refusing the gospel are high, eternal life is at stake. If the people welcome the apostles, they welcome Christ. Shaking the dust from one’s feet when the apostle is unwelcome is a solemn warning against that household and a sign of their refusal of the gospel. It is also a reminder for the apostle himself to not be discouraged by the resistance they will face, they shake the dust from their feet and move on.
So what does that mean for us as apostles of Jesus? These same principles are true for us here today. With us too, before we can be sent out to proclaim the Truth, we must first know and love Jesus. Jesus, who is Truth Himself, must first radically change our life and our hearts because we’ve spent time with Him in prayer, the sacraments, and in ministry, growing to love Him above our very lives. This has to happen before we can authentically bring others to Jesus. We cannot give what we do not have, so we must know Jesus personally before we can help others encounter Him personally. So this means spending time with Jesus daily, in prayer, in adoration, in daily Mass if you are able, in the sacraments, in acts of charity towards our co-workers or family, all the while growing deeper in the relationship of love with Jesus. Then will we be sent out as apostles to the world.
But just like the apostles, we are not meant to be alone. We are all part of the Body of Christ here in our local Church community and within the Universal Church throughout the world. The Christian life is always done within this community of believers. And within that community we are called to support one another, pray for one another, love one another, and help each other remain steadfast in the Truth, no matter what opposition from the world we may encounter.
We are also called not to rely on ourselves, but rely on God for everything. Does that mean leave your home and go be a missionary taking no possessions with you? Probably not, but some may be called to that, I know plenty of missionaries that do a similar thing. What it does mean is that everything you do must be firmly rooted in God as your source of strength, not yourself. And as an apostle we will encounter those who welcome us and those who reject us, especially in our culture today. It is important to do like the apostles today and to preach the fullness of the Truth always in love, no matter what. And if they reject the gospel, we will shake the dust from our feet as a sign of their refusal and don’t let their refusal discourage us from preaching the gospel, the gospel will reach more than we think as long as we keep living out the faith.
So today we may feel like Amos, a simple shepherd sent to preach repentance in a hostile world, but that’s ok! Know that we are not alone in the Body of Christ and know that God, in His love, chose each and every one of us specifically for this. We were chosen by Him before the world began to be holy as His apostles, as St. Paul reminds us today. With the gift of the Holy Spirit as our strength and guide we trust in Him and continue to journey toward eternal life as Jesus’ apostles. So as we approach the Eucharist today, pray for the grace of a deeper faith and love in Jesus. Pray for the grace of fortitude, to remain steadfast in the Truth no matter what the opposition. Pray for the grace to be the apostle of Jesus Christ He has chosen you to be!
If I were to give a title for my homily today I would call it “Holy Order.” What I mean by that is that everything that God created has an order. Everything is arranged in such a way that it has a purpose, an end. In the natural world we see that animals and plants are made to grow and live and die to help others grow and live. Now the natural end of plants and animals is death, but when God created mankind he gave us something more, He gave us a supernatural end, life eternal in heaven. God has revealed us this through Jesus Christ. Jesus himself told us, “I came that they might have life and have it to the full.” So everything that God created for mankind is meant to help us live fully and reach that end, eternal life in heaven. But often this goes wrong in our world because of human sinfulness. The book of Wisdom today captures this dynamic succinctly. The author of the book of Wisdom reminds us that God did not create death. He is referring to a spiritual death, an alienation from God, rather than just a physical death, because our own experience tells us that all things die eventually, and it would be contradictory to say God didn’t create natural death when all things naturally die. That means then for the person who has no sin, natural death is not a problem, just look at the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her “death” is referred to as the dormition of Mary or the falling asleep of Mary, after which she was assumed into Heaven. She had no sin and had no fear of natural death; rather she fell asleep and entered eternal life. This is what God desires for us, but as we can see very clearly in our world today, sin exists, and so too spiritual death that it causes. The book of Wisdom goes on to clarify this truth. The author tells us that God created man to be imperishable, a reference to the end or goal of mankind, that God created us for, eternal life, but that spiritual death entered the world through the envy of the devil. This is the death that God did not create, but sin did. This spiritual death, this alienation and separation from God, prevents humanity from reaching eternal life that God created us for. This whole passage in Wisdom echoes the book of Genesis, where envy was what Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve to desire to be like Gods themselves and choose what is good and evil rather than trusting and following God’s own created order of things.
Have you noticed our culture’s obsession with zombies and ghosts in recent years? Turn on the TV and “The Walking Dead” is currently showing and there is “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy channel. Look to books and we have such books as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or “The Shining” by Stephen King. Even many recent video games attempt to portray zombies and ghosts in an attempt to give its players a thrill. We would do well to reflect a bit on this odd fascination of our culture. What makes zombies and ghosts so scary and yet oddly fascinating to us? To answer this question I’m going to get a bit technical into a fundamental aspect of humanity, which is also something that is crucial to our Catholic faith. This is a concept called hylomorphism. To put it a bit more simply, this is the truth that each human person is both a body and a soul; we have a physical body, but we also have a soul that is the spiritual aspect of our human nature. You could say that each of us is an embodied soul or you could say an ensouled body. This does not mean that our soul somehow drives and controls our body, like a person would drive and control a car; rather this means that to be human, fundamentally, we must have both a material body and a spiritual soul, together, joined in what we would call a “hylomorphic” way, which is a fancy way of saying that the body and soul are both united so completely that this union is necessary to be alive. This is attested to in the book of Genesis on the creation of man when it reads: “…the Lord God formed man from the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gn 2:7). So back to Zombies and ghosts for a moment. Both phenomenon show a lacking of something fundamental to humanity. Zombies are bodies without souls and ghosts are souls without bodies. We find them scary and oddly fascinating because we inherently know that something is wrong with them. Something is not quite right about them, something not quite human.
So today, when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, they too saw something odd and scary. They did not recognize Jesus and could only conclude that the phenomenon they saw was a ghost! But Jesus reveals to them that he is neither a zombie nor a ghost, he is something greater: he is resurrected in his body, both body and soul! And if there was any doubt, he proves it to his disciples. He invites them to physically touch his hands and his feet, but he goes further and does something very strange. He eats a piece of baked fish in front of them. This may seem very odd, but it was a way for Jesus to show the disciples that he, who had died, had truly risen in his body. He couldn’t eat food without a body, and yet he does just that. Also, Jesus’ resurrected body was different than his normal body, since his disciples obviously didn’t recognize him by his sight. His body is transformed, as prefigured by His transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus is, however, recognized in the breaking of the bread by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, which is traditionally considered the first Eucharist, and also now in his eating of the fish, which would have invoked the memory of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with bread and fish earlier in His ministry (Lk 9:16), which also foreshadows the Eucharist. This action of eating by Jesus makes his disciples witnesses to his resurrection in his body and now they are able to go out and proclaim the resurrected Jesus to the nations.
This event is important to us because Jesus’ resurrection reveals our destiny as well. We profess each Sunday that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” and often we may not realize fully what that means. At the end of time, we will be resurrected in our bodies in what is called the general resurrection with the good rising to life and the evil to judgment. Our faith reveals that this resurrection will be analogous to Jesus’ own resurrection. We will not become zombies or ghosts, we won’t be just souls without bodies, or bodies without souls, but rather our resurrected bodies will be our same bodies WITH our souls. Bodies and souls are meant to be united, unlike what we see in zombies and ghosts, and this unification is what we profess will happen at the end of time. Additionally, our bodies will also transformed, patterned off of Christ himself in his own resurrection. They will be made holy by grace without defects and we will dwell with God in heaven in eternal happiness.
And this is the grace we pray for profoundly within this Mass. In the opening prayer this morning, the collect, we prayed that “we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.” And as we move into the Eucharist, which is the focal point for us today, Fr. Jim will pray over the gifts: “grant also that the gifts we bring may bear fruit in perpetual happiness.” The rejoicing of the day of resurrection…bearing fruit in perpetual happiness…that is what is revealed in Jesus’ resurrection as our destiny too. And the Eucharist is our path to that destiny. One of the saints in the early Church, St. Irenaeus says, “When our bodies partake of the Eucharist, they are no longer corruptible, as they have the hope of eternal Resurrection.” The Eucharist is the participation in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and should be the focal point of our entire life. Life is meaningless if it will end in nothingness. But our faith tells us is this is not so! Our destiny is to dwell in perpetual happiness with God in heaven where we will be resurrected too. And God, to prove Himself to us, gives us the Eucharist to lead us on the way. It is the Eucharist that we, like the disciples, get to see and touch the resurrected Jesus. Rather than watching Jesus eat a piece of fish, we get to eat his flesh in the Eucharist, sharing in His life. It is in the Eucharist that we are united to Christ and are sustained on the way to our eternal destiny with Him in the resurrection of the dead.
But we also know that the Eucharist alone is not enough to get us to heaven, we can still choose to freely reject God and end up in eternal punishment by our own choice. This was Peter and John’s concern in the other scripture readings we heard proclaimed today. Peter reminds the Jews that they were the ones who delivered Jesus up to death, but that they were not necessarily lost because of it. They only needed to repent and turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness. In the 1st letter of John, John tells us how we are able to turn back to God when we sin. Jesus. Jesus is our advocate. He is the “expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And this, of course, is found in the sacrament of confession, where the priest is Jesus Christ himself within the sacrament. Jesus, in the priest, is advocating on our behalf to forgive sins and help us turn back to God so that we can journey onward toward our eternal destiny of happiness in heaven.
So, as we continue in Mass today, I invite you to let the resurrected Jesus encounter you in the Eucharist. Let us remember that our destiny is one of resurrection, like that of Christ Himself, not like a zombie or a ghost, but our actual bodies resurrected with our souls. Let us approach the Eucharist worthily and remember that even when we fall short in sin, Jesus is our advocate in the sacrament of confession to help us back to Him and to a life of grace. And with great hope and joy for that resurrection and eternal life promised by Jesus in the Eucharist, let us go forth to proclaim that same truth to all we meet by our words and by our lives.
My friends, good morning! And Happy Easter! I welcome you here today to celebrate the greatest solemnity mankind will ever celebrate: the Feast of the Merciful Love of God, which we call Easter. This great solemnity we celebrate today reveals fundamentally who God is and our relationship to Him. Easter reveals to us that God is not some wrathful God, who is bent on punishing us for our sins, but rather that He is so full of mercy and love that He sent his only Son to die on the Cross for us, which we remembered through the liturgy these past few days. On Thursday we remembered Jesus offering his body and blood in the Eucharist for the fist time. And just a couple days ago, on Good Friday, we recalled the horrible death of Jesus upon the cross. The death that we all deserved because of our sins. But Jesus himself bore that punishment of sin so that we didn’t have to. Jesus died in place of us, so that we might not ever be separated from the love of God, he re-opened the gates of heaven to mankind. And yesterday we waited with the small glimmer of hope that Jesus who had died would rise again. And that, my friends, is what we celebrate today, the fulfillment of that hope. We celebrate Christ’s victory over death by His resurrection on this Easter Sunday morning.
And so, this morning, I have a question for you: What drew you here to Mass today? ….. some of you might be thinking “Nothing drew me here, it was more like being dragged!” Well, ok… then what drew the one who dragged you? Why is coming to Mass on this Easter Sunday important to you?
Here’s another question I want you to ponder: What drew Mary Magdalene to the tomb that first Easter Morning? Notice that in the Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first one to approach the tomb, the apostles were not with her. And she came so early that it was still dark! Maybe she was an early riser like many of you here who always come to the 7:30am Mass…or maybe it was something more. What drew her so powerfully to the tomb of Jesus that she didn’t even wait for daylight to come? The answer lies in looking deeper into Mary Magdalene’s life. In the Gospel of Mark, Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene was the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (Mk: 16:9). Also, according to Tradition, Mary Magdalene is the same woman who was caught in adultery and whom the Pharisees wanted to stone. And rather than condemning her like the Pharisees, Jesus forgave her sins and told her to sin no more. The one who is forgiven abundantly loves abundantly! And Mary Magdalene had been forgiven a lot and she couldn’t help but love Jesus greatly because of it. She couldn’t stay away from Him. She even watched his crucifixion and felt His loss so dramatically that she went to his tomb looking for him before anyone else did. Mary Magdalene felt the merciful love of God in her heart and couldn’t live without it.
So, why is Jesus, who is so important to Mary Magdalene, often irrelevant to us?
We can come up with many reasons why something is irrelevant to us, and I’m going to focus on three reasons. First, something is irrelevant to us if it’s not real. This would be like stating that a time machine is irrelevant to us because it’s fictional. And since it has no basis in reality, a time machine is, ultimately, irrelevant to us, however entertaining such stories containing them are portrayed. Sin and our sinfulness, on the other hand are very real and must not be considered irrelevant to us. Consequently, the need for a Savior to save us from those sins should also be very relevant to us. The second reason something is irrelevant to us is that it is historically irrelevant. This would be saying that the Pony Express is irrelevant to us because it is historically out of date and meaningless to us today, which is very true. Jesus, on the other hand, even though he lived, died, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago is not out-of-date and is very relevant today. As much as we think the latest technology, like the newest iPhone, is relevant to us, it will eventually fade into history becoming irrelevant. Jesus, on the other hand, is God and is never irrelevant to us. Technology, for as much as it can and does advance our lives, will never be able to forgive sins, but Jesus, who lived millennia ago, can and still does, as long as we seek Him! Jesus should always be more relevant to us than the passing technology we surround ourselves with. And the third reason something is irrelevant to us if we don’t think we need it. How often do we, as a culture, think that we don’t need a savior? So often we don’t know Jesus as our savior, because we don’t realize we need to be saved. But all we have to do is look at our culture to realize how sick and in need of a physician it is! ISIS, murder, abortions, euthanasia, and a progressively “me” centered society are all prime examples. Our world is sick and suffering, even though it claims that it isn’t. Our wold claims that it doesn’t need a savior, that Jesus is just some morally upright guy who lived 2,000 years ago and that He is irrelevant to us today. My brothers and sisters, Jesus has never been more relevant that He is right now! Never have we needed him more than now. We must become like Mary Magdalene who was willing to recognize her need for forgiveness and for a savior. We must be willing to seek out the remedy only found in Jesus, as she did. We must experience God’s merciful love so deeply that we can’t live without it.
Today, there is no more relevant message, no message more important for you to hear than this: God loves you and desires to forgive you! This message was so important that He was willing to suffer, die and be buried to show you that no sin can keep you from Him if only you will come back. Do you feel Him drawing you?
My friends, God loves you profoundly! He rose from the dead today, this Easter morning, to show us all that His Merciful love is invincible. Death itself was conquered by His love. Don’t you feel drawn to His merciful love?
Yes, my friends, Jesus is Risen! He suffered, died and rose to show us that He is not only our Savior but also to show us His undying, invincible, infinite love! It is this love that draws us here today, like Mary Magdalene, to the empty tomb. And it is this love that draws us here Sunday after Sunday, to be with Him again at the Last Supper and to receive the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His love. We come back week after week to be with Him on Calvary, as He shows us the unforgettable sign of His merciful love for us. And we are drawn back, each Sunday, to be reminded by the empty tomb, of Jesus’ Infinite, Invincible love. He is drawing us all here to His love. He is drawing YOU! Will you come?
Yesterday I drove up to YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park because the junior high kids from my diocese, the Diocese of Cheyenne, WY were on a retreat there and I was able to join them for part of the day including Mass and lunch. As I was driving up there I saw a sign for the YMCA and it said: “YMCA: Are We There Yet?” and it gave additional driving directions to the YMCA. The sign got me thinking…Are We There Yet? At this point in Lent, the 5thSunday of Lent, I often find myself asking that same question. Are we there yet? Is it Easter yet? Surely Lent must be almost over. But in even asking that question it implies that I have forgotten why we are even in Lent to begin with. If Lent is a time simply to endure and get through, then why do we do it? That attitude implies that Lent has no purpose, which, of course, is false. And so, my friends, today is a good day to call to mind our destination in Lent, the “why” to Lent. The destination of Lent is what we approach to celebrate in just a couple weeks, the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, or to put it another way, the institution of the new and eternal covenant between God and man. And so today we will delve into that mystery and unpack it.
First up, is Jeremiah who helps us begin to understand this mystery. He prophesies about a “new covenant” that the Lord will make with the house of Israel. Now those to whom Jeremiah was prophesying would have heard the word “covenant” and they would have immediately thought of the covenants of the Old Testament: the covenants God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, through King David. And it is important to understand this word, covenant. A covenant is a formal, solemn, binding pact between two parties. In many ways, it is similar to a contract. But the covenants of God are more than that. God’s covenants are not merely an exchange of goods as if God will give us something in exchange for us giving something back to God, as in a contract. Rather, God, in making those covenants in the Old Testament wanted to share His life with His people Israel, and Israel was meant to share life with God. Covenants entail the sharing of life between the two parties; and a marriage covenant is what should come to mind here. Now we all know how the covenants in the Old Testament turned out, Israel kept failing to keep up the promises they made in the covenants; they kept worshiping false Gods and turning away from God with whom they were in this covenant relationship. Jeremiah is prophesying during this time of Israel repeatedly breaking their covenant with God and Jeremiah says something incredibly profound, he says, “The days are coming, says the lord, when I will make a newcovenant with the house of Israel…it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And this is the covenant that will be fulfilled in Jesus centuries after Jeremiah said these words. Just think of the words Jesus says during the last supper and the words we hear at each Mass when the priest holds up the chalice:
take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
It is through Jesus’ act of sacrifice and shedding of his blood that institute this new covenant with all of humanity. Through His death, Jesus enacts a new covenant with us that brings all of us back into relationship with God. Jesus, being fully God and fully Man was the only one to be able to do this perfectly, unlike sinful Israel. Jesus acted on behalf of mankind in his own humanity and since Jesus is also fully God He is able to keep this covenant perfectly in place of mankind. And we, by virtue of sharing humanity with Jesus, are brought into the new covenant, we are brought into an exchange of life with God. And this is the life we enter into through our baptism. We are all part of the new and eternal covenant.
So what do we do with this truth? In other words, now what? Well, we must live out that covenant relationship we have with God. God loves us by sending His only Son to die for us and we must love him back similarly with our whole being. And Jesus is the example to follow here in how exactly to do that. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us about Jesus’ obedience to the Father, which led to His suffering and death. And his suffering is the source of eternal salvation because it is the institution of the new covenant as I’ve already mentioned. The key point here is the word obedience. It comes from two Latin words meaning, “to listen to.” And listening implies a relationship, as opposed to simply hearing. I can hear the cars on University Boulevard and it can be completely by accident. But, listening implies intentionality. I am intentionally choosing to listen to someone and not just hearing them by accident. In being obedient to the Father, Jesus was intentionally listening to Him and intentionally choosing to do what the Father asked him, because he was in relationship with Him. So we, too, are to be “obedient” to God. This is not something merely external, but we are called to listen to God because we, also, are in a covenant relationship with Him. We are called not to be obedient to ourselves, but to God, meaning we must die to ourselves and let God be the reason for our actions, not our own whims. This is what Jesus means when he says today, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” If we live only for ourselves and don’t live in obedience to God, our lives are ultimately meaningless. A selfish life does not bear fruit; all we need to do is look at some of the people in Hollywood for examples. But if we die to self and live for God, we will bear fruit in our lives, as is seen in the lives of the saints. Now this obedience can be lived in many different ways, and today I’ll offer you only three suggestions. Firstly, you can only listen to God and be obedient to Him if you actively dialogue with him. So Sunday Mass should be your top priority because this is a key moment in which we, as Catholics, converse with God each week. Secondly, you can listen to God speak to you through His Word in the scriptures, so devoting daily time for private prayer with the Bible would be a great way to listen to God in your daily life. And my third and final suggestion: frequent the sacrament of confession. We all fall short in our relationship with God, we all choose ourselves over God too often and need the sacrament to restore us in that covenant relationship God desires for us. We all need help in dying to ourselves.
And so, my friends, as we approach Holy Week, I encourage you not to ask, “Are we there yet?” but rather to recall the awesome gift that Jesus gave us in his sacrifice and death on the cross: a new and eternal covenant for us with God, an eternal exchange of life with God. Remember that we are living that covenant relationship with God and live these last few weeks of Lent “listening” to God in obedience out of love, through Mass, through prayer and through the sacraments. Let us embrace these last days of Lent and draw closer to God, and not merely endure these last days of Lent.
1. Fasting and Penance are meaningless without God.
2. With God, all sacrifice is infused with joy.
So first we must look at the real meaning of fasting and penance and this is exactly what Isaiah addresses today. The Israelites were fasting, but they were not fasting for God. At this point in Israel’s history, fasts were not focused on piety and worship of God, but were almost like holidays where the people gathered together. But with the unstable social and economic situation, most likely right after the Babylonian Exile, these occasions for fasting, rather than bringing the people closer to God in worship, led them to fight with one another. In effect, their fasting was ultimately meaningless. Isaiah reminds the people that God is the reason for fasting and tells them how to keep God at the heart of fasting, by doing corporal works of mercy, focusing their actions on others, not themselves. So for us as well, serving Christ in others and not serving ourselves is exactly the kind of attitude we must have when we fast and do penance, because these acts are not simply isolated acts only affecting ourselves, but rather we can use our acts of fasting and penance to pray and help those around us. And these acts done in union with God bring us closer to God because they are a concrete way of saying to God, “God, I love you more than I love myself.” And this love, in turn, brings joy.
Jesus clearly articulates this kind of joy when he addresses the Pharisees today. The disciples cannot mourn because they are in the very presence of the bridegroom, Jesus himself! Jesus uses wedding imagery, calling himself the bridegroom to invoke the sense of the joy and elation that is real when one is in union with Christ. This is the same joy we are invited to enter into when we draw close to Christ, and in a special way we are invited to deepen this union with Christ during lent. We are called by Jesus to be in relationship with him, which brings joy to everything we do, including our acts of fasting and penance for Him.
And so, my brothers, I want to encourage you to remember two things as we journey through lent towards Holy Week:
1. Fasting and Penance are meaningless without God. Don’t focus on your sacrifice as something you are forced to do, like I did as a kid, but as something you do for God, out of love.
2. Remember to let joy infuse your acts of penance and sacrifice because of Jesus, the bridegroom, whom you are in relationship with. Make this lent a true sacrifice of joy.