The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

In the summer of my first year of seminary, the diocese sent me to Mexico to learn Spanish.  This time next week, I’ll be wishing that worked a lot better than it did!  I have forgotten, unfortunately, a lot of what I learned, but I’ll never forget the first day.  The first day was a Sunday, and we flew into Mexico City, got picked up by the school, and then introduced to the families we would be living with.  The people I was going to live with assumed correctly that I wouldn’t have been to Mass yet, so on the way home we went to Mass at the cathedral in Cuernavaca.  So I’m attending Mass with only my high school Spanish, and the little bit of liturgical Spanish I picked up from when we used Spanish in Mass at seminary.  A lot of what I heard, I didn’t understand, but there was one thing I couldn’t miss, and that was the Eucharist.

In our second reading today, Saint Paul says, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”  No matter where we live or what language we speak, we are one body in Christ, who gives himself completely to us … all of us.  We try to symbolize that in lots of ways in the liturgy: saying the same prayers, singing the same songs, even holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer.  All of that is nice, but the most important way that we show our unity is when we come to the altar and receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, who gave himself so that we may be one in him, and may have the strength to follow him to heaven one day.

One of the greatest joys for me the last six and a half years here at Notre Dame has been celebrating that with you.  Whether it was daily Mass or Sunday Mass, or a First Communion, a wedding or a funeral, or even Christmas or Easter Mass, all of that has been a great privilege to celebrate with you.

Now over these last years here at Notre Dame, I’ve learned a lot.  And I’ve even learned from Father Venard, and so I want to include a joke at this point in my homily!  The new pastor arrived at his parish, and as he was unpacking and putting things into the desk in his office, he found a note attached to three envelopes in a little bundle.  The envelopes were numbered one to three.  They were from the priest he was replacing and the note said that if ever things got bad and there was a little storm, he should open an envelope, beginning with the first.  He chuckled a bit, and set them aside, and things went so well that he almost forgot about them.  Until there was a controversy.  Things were getting ugly, and he remembered the envelopes and decided to open the first.  It said, very simply, “Blame me, your predecessor.”  So he did.  He blamed the priest before him, and everyone accepted that, and they moved on.  But eventually there was another controversy, and so he decided to open the second envelope.  It said, “Blame the pastoral council.”  So that’s what he did.  He blamed the pastoral council and things blew over and they moved on.  But, after a little while, there was a third controversy, so in desperation, he opened the last of the envelopes.  This note was a little longer than the others, but the first line really got his attention: “Prepare three envelopes.”

I won’t be leaving three envelopes for Father David, but I do want to leave you with three things.  The first is thanks.  I don’t know how I can ever express my gratitude enough.  So many of you have been with me in good times and bad, and have supported me and taught me and worked with me and made me a better priest and a better man in Christ.  I have worked with some of the finest people I’ve ever known on our parish staff, on our parish council, finance council, school board, buildings and grounds and most recently on the capital campaign.  I have enjoyed rolling up my sleeves with you on service day, singing with you at the Christmas Concert, and serving with the many fine people who help me make the Liturgy happen here each week.  You have brought me soup when I was sick, and cookies when I needed joy, and asked about my family and made them feel part of the family here.  Many wise priests have told me that you never forget the first parish where you were a pastor, and I am certain they are right.  I will never forget you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The second thing I want to leave you with is an apology.  I know there are days that I haven’t been at my finest for many reasons.  So if you’ve encountered me when I’ve been preoccupied or grumpy or frustrated, if ever I have been less than Christ to you, please know that I am so sorry.

And finally I want to leave you with a gift.  This one is one that maybe you’ve picked up along the way, because I talk about it a lot.  The children know it by heart.  And that gift is that God loves you more than anything.  All of you together, and each of you individually, are loved so much by God that he sent his Son into the world to bring us all home to heaven one day.  He loves us so much that he could not bear to live without us, so he sent his Son to die in our place, and rise up over death so that we could have life.  If that’s the only thing you remember about God, let it be that: that God loves you.  And if the only thing you remember about me is that I told you that, it will be more than enough.

God loves you, and I love you too.  I won’t forget you, you’ll always be in my prayers, and I hope I’ll be in yours.  We will always be one body in Christ.  And because of that, I don’t say goodbye; I just say I love you.  And I look forward to that great day when, as Saint Benedict wrote, we all go together to everlasting life.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

If you’ve ever travelled abroad, to a country where English is not the spoken language, maybe you’ve had this experience.  I travelled to Mexico when I was in seminary to learn Spanish.  The first day I was there, we went to Mass at the local Cathedral.  Even though at that point my Spanish was pretty sketchy, still I recognized the Mass.  That’s because we celebrate it in the same way, with the same words – albeit in a different language – everywhere on earth.  In the Eucharist, we are one.  “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”  That’s what St. Paul tells the Corinthians today, and we are meant to hear it as well.  We are called to unity with one another as we gather around the Altar to partake of the one Body of Christ.

We may express our unity in many ways in the Mass.  We all sing the same songs.  We all stand or sit together.  We might all join hands at the Lord’s Prayer.  And those are all okay things, but they are not what unites us.  They put us on a somewhat equal footing, but that can happen in all kinds of gatherings.  The one thing that unites us at this gathering, the experience we have here that we don’t have in any other situation, is the Eucharist.  The Eucharist unites us in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where all division must necessarily cease.  The Eucharist is the celebration of our unity par excellence.

Having said that, there are obvious ways in which we can notice that we are not, in fact, one.  The Eucharist, which is the celebration of our unity, can often remind us in a very stark and disheartening way, of the ways that we remain divided with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The most obvious of these ways is the way that we Catholics remain divided with our Protestant brothers and sisters, and in fact, they with each other as well.  The proliferation of Christian denominations is something we can soft-petal as “different strokes for different folks,” but is in fact a rather sad reminder that the Church that Jesus founded and intended to be one is in fact fragmented in ways that it seems can only be overcome by a miracle.  In our Creed we profess a Church that is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”  By “catholic” here, we may indeed mean “universal” but that does not, of course, mean that we are in fact one.

Another thing that divides all of us from one another is sin.  Mortal sin separates us not only from God, not only from those we have wronged, but also from the Church and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we have sinned greatly, we are not permitted in good conscience to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, because we cannot dare to pretend to be one with those we have separated ourselves from through mortal sin.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” Jesus says to us today.  When we remain in him, we also remain united to one another through Christ.  This is what God wants for his Church, so today we must recommit ourselves to unity, real unity.  So if you have not been to Confession in a while, make it a priority to do that in the next week or so that you can be one with us at the Table of the Lord.  And at Communion today, we must all make it our prayer that the many things that divide us might soon melt away so that we can all become one in the real way the Jesus meant for us.

“I am the living bread that 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.

On this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we pray that every person may one day come to share in the flesh of our Savior, given for the life of the world, and we pray that his great desire might come to pass: that we may be one.

Friday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time: Christian Unity

Today’s readings (Mass for the school children)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his Apostles.  These are the men who will be closest to him and will follow after him throughout his ministry on earth.  Even though these men weren’t the most popular people in the area, even though they weren’t wealthy, even though they may not even have been the smartest, he called them to do something very special.  During the time they followed him, they learned from Jesus how to live the Gospel, how to bring God’s love to others.  After Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, it was up to them, then, to continue to bring that Gospel message to every person on earth.  These men became the Church.

This week is the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity.  During this week we remember that Christ came to found one and only one Church – Jesus didn’t send the apostles out with different messages, it was just one message and just one Gospel, so just one Church.  But sadly, over time, people have messed that up through our sin and pride.  Now there are many kinds of Churches.  There are Catholics and Methodists and Episcopalians and so many more.  You may have friends or family members who are not Catholic, but Christians of other denominations like this.  These are all good people, all our brothers and sisters, but Jesus never meant for us to be apart.

The good news that we celebrate this week is that some of that is changing.  Slowly, but surely.  Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists are beginning to come to agreement on an essential teaching about how we are saved.  Orthodox and Catholics are beginning to talk about Eucharist and the role of the pope.  Even Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together in many ways to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

We still have a long way to go, but these steps are signs of progress.  We focus on what we all believe in: a loving God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the hope of eternal life because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our common Baptism and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.  From these we can begin our prayer for unity, that, as Jesus always intended, we may all be one.  Just as he called those Twelve Apostles, he now calls us to reach out to those who are not one with us and to tell them how much God loves them.  And he calls us always to pray that we would be one Church, one Body in Christ.

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time: Christian Unity

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenging some age-old practices.  He is not saying that fasting is a bad thing, but instead he is saying that something new is going on.  He has come to usher in a new age, and fasting is inappropriate while he is there bringing it in!

Today is the beginning of the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity.  This week we remember that Christ came to found one and only one Church and, sadly, we have messed that up through our own sin and pride.  But this week we also celebrate that some of that is changing.  Slowly, but surely.  Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists are beginning to come to agreement on what “justification by faith” means.  Orthodox and Catholics are beginning to talk about Eucharist and the role of the pope.  Even Catholics and Evangelicals are coming to trust each other more, and have come together in many ways to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

We still have a long way to go, but these steps are signs of progress.  We focus on what we all believe in: a loving, Trinitarian God, salvation in Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our common Baptism and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.  From these we can begin our prayer for unity, that, as Christ desired, we may all be one.  The bridegroom is among us, even in our fractured state, and doing something new, something wonderful, something life-changing.  There is new wine and new wineskins; for that we can all be grateful.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent: Come, O King of all the Nations

Today’s readings

We hear a similar song from Hannah and Mary today. In fact, many Biblical scholars suggest that the song of Mary we heard in today’s Gospel is a restatement of the song of Hannah that we have in today’s psalm. Whether or not that is true, it is clear that both women give birth to a child by the grace of God, and both women’s sons are destined for greatness. Samuel’s strength is a foreshadowing of the strength of Jesus Christ who will overcome sin and death.

Samuel becomes a great king, but it is Jesus who becomes King of all the Nations, which is the title of Jesus we celebrate in the “O Antiphons” today. The verse from vespers prays, “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

Today we anxiously await the strength of Christ, King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart. He alone can save us from our sins. He alone can unify the hearts of all humankind, putting to an end, once and for all, the sad divisions that keep us from the communion we were always meant to have with one another.

And so we pray, Come, O King of all the nations.  Come, be our strength, be the One who leads us in the ways of righteousness, be the joy of every heart that seeks you.  Help us to find the peace that only you can bring.  Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly and do not delay!

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

A lack of unity will kill us all. Jesus knew this, and so did St. Paul. In fact, St. Paul used a lack of unity among the Jews to save his own life. He knew that the Pharisees, of which he was one, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and angels and spirit. He knew that the Sadducees did not (which is why they are sad, you see…). When Paul appealed to the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead, he got them on their side, and the skirmish that ensued caused the commander to whisk Paul to safety. He was not to die this day; the Lord had other plans for him.

As Jesus gets ready for his own death in the gospel reading today, he prays for the unity of the first disciples. He knew that they would be challenged greatly by the world, because they were no longer of the world. They belonged to God now, and that would be the source of their unity. That unity would keep them together and ensure that a reasoned, unified message would be proclaimed throughout the world and throughout the ages. That was the only way the gospel could be proclaimed to every creature on earth.

In our day, unity is just as critical as it ever was. We still believe in ONE holy, catholic and apostolic church. We believe that Jesus came to found just ONE church, and that the fragmentations that exist among us are the result of sinfulness and broken humanity. We need to be people who witness to the joy of our faith so that we can bind up all that disunity and become once again one people, healed of all divisions. We are called to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, so that we can witness to all the world the saving power of our one, almighty God.

Ss. Cornelius & Cyprian

Today’s readings

St. Cornelius was ordained as the Bishop of Rome in 251.  The Bishop of Rome is what we now call the Pope, so you can see the significance of his position.  His major contribution was to defend the faith against the Novatian schismatics, a group who denied the readmission of those who had lapsed in the faith by being made to perform a ritual sacrifice to pagan gods, under the threat of death by the Roman Emperor.  St. Cyprian was a brother bishop who helped him in this struggle.  Both men were subsequently martyred for the faith.  Cornelius died in exile in 253, and Cyprian was beheaded in 258.

The focus of both men was to preserve church unity during a time when there was much oppression against the church.  They could well echo St. Paul’s call for unity in today’s first reading: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”  They reached out to those who repented of their lapse in faith and earnestly desired once again to be one with the church.

Cyprian wrote to Cornelius, “Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle (that is, St. Paul) praised in your community.  He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons.  Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of the brethren.”

In this year when our parish is focusing on welcoming then, we must also strive to focus on unity.  We are all one body in Christ.