Sunday Homily delivered 19 August 2018
Do you remember the Great Jubilee Year of 2000? JPII was Pope. The theme was "Open Wide the Doors to Christ!" I was in graduate school and I had developed the habit of weekly adoration, early Thursday morning. And one Thursday morning in February of 2000, the Lord spoke to me, clearly decisively but softly: “You are called to be my priest.” Christ put the desire for the holy priesthood in my heart, in adoration.
For me, the Holy Eucharist was (and is) the centerpiece of my existence, my way of deep communion with God, a deep source of grace and mercy. Over time, I came to know, to be convinced and convicted that Jesus was present in the Eucharist. God who took flesh made himself true food for his people.
In the Gospel, again we hear, that the Jews mumble, quarrel, doubt. Almost every week now during the Bread of Life Discourse. Today they say to themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" … and we hear Jesus assure them: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” I knew this to be true and I wanted to bring Christ to others.
In 2002 I began formation – just as the Boston scandal was breaking. In 2009 I was ordained a priest. Now it is 2018. I say that to indicate that my entire existence and formation as a seminarian and priest has been under the cloud of sin and scandal caused by my brother priests...and now bishops!
But the bedrock of my vocation and its place of deepest resonance has always been the eucharist.
My vocation was born from the eucharist.
My love for the church is born from the eucharist.
My priesthood originates in the eucharist, in this true bread from heaven.
Thanks be to God, I have a deep faith and unwavering hope in the presence of God in our midst, which is the holy Eucharist.
Over these past weeks we have learned that even the bishops have been a grave source of sin and scandal, for the priests and laity alike. May the Lord judge them justly.
Bishop Robert Barron put it well when he wrote recently (08/09/18) “The devil is characterized as “the enemy of the human race” and particularly the enemy of the Church. I challenge anyone to come up with a more devastatingly effective strategy for attacking the mystical body of Christ than the abuse of children and young people by priests. This sin had countless direct victims of course, but it also crippled the Church financially, undercut vocations, caused people to lose confidence in Christianity, dramatically compromised attempts at evangelization, etc., etc. It was a diabolical masterpiece.”
Right on target. We have not been able to keep the enemy at the gates. The enemy is in the castle, influencing and sabotaging the highest levels of the Church.
My message today for us is twofold:
(1) First we must not lose hope. Never lose hope. The eucharist is Jesus' promise to remain with His Bride the Church until He returns again on the clouds at the final judgment. And the Lord keeps his promises.
So, if your faith is wavering. If you are feeling doubtful or unnerved or despairing or beside yourself with the horror and shock of recent news, I invite you humbly to seek consolation and strength in the same source that – for me has been an oasis and a font of living water in troubling times. I invite you to take refuge in the Eucharist.
(2) We must not murmur and grumble to ourselves. The Gospel teaches us that it is a poison of its own. By all means, speak out! Raise your voices. As a church, a faithful body, we must take concrete and positive action to address what ails us.
One thing I humbly submit is that we write to the bishops and insist that the laity be deeply and substantially involved in the review of these matters. We must avoid any appearance of a good-ol'-boy club. And the way to do that is to have expert trusted faithful laity involved in the review and execution of whatever new oversight is being planned.
In conclusion, a prayer. One of the most beautiful prayers for the Eucharist is the Anima Christi, meaning “Soul of Christ” Let's pray it together now. I have rewritten it a bit, so we are not praying for only ourselves but for the whole Church.
Soul of Christ, sanctify your Church // Body of Christ, save your Church
Blood of Christ, refresh your Church // Water from the side of Christ, wash your church // Passion of Christ, strengthen your church // O good Jesus, hear our cry // Within Thy wounds hide your church // Suffer us not to be separated from Thee // From the malignant enemy defend us // At the hour of our death call us // And bid us come unto Thee // That with the saints, we may praise Thee, Forever and ever. / Amen.
Meditation and Melted Wax
Last week we ventured to speak of prayer. I presented five common forms of prayer: praise, adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving (yielding the memory aid: PAPIT or PITAPor whatever combo helps!) And I offered a one sentence prayer, both beautiful and rich with history: “O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” This week, let's wade a few more steps into the ocean of prayer. (Citations from: Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) nn. 2700-2724.)
Prayer can be divided classically into vocal and mental . Vocal means words uttered, normally one's own words in speech to God. Mental implies that one's mind is engaged. Since, prayer is a raising of one's mind/heart to God, no prayer is purely vocal. A danger exists, however, that with our words we may not engage the heart, especially with words composed by others, with rote or memorized prayers, such as novenas and the like. Bottom line: always seek to engage the heart and mind in a loving attitude to God.
Mental Prayer is sometimes divided between meditation and contemplation .
CCC. 2705 “ Meditation is above all a quest.” Meditation is active; it engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Meditation is often helped with the words of Sacred Scripture or the writings of the Saints, or gazing on holy images like icons.
Contemplation on the other hand is more receptive, passive. CCC. 2713 “Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty.” After we seek out God, then we sit with what He has revealed to us.
Saint John Marie Vianney, teaching his people on prayer wrote: “Prayer is nothing else but union with God.… In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart…. My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us…. Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts. O, how I love these noble souls!” (From his Catechetical Instructions.) The images of fused bits of wax and the fish in water are both lovely depictions of union in contemplative prayer.
Contemplation can move beyond a specific practice and become an orientation of life, a fundamental attitude, or an approach to the whole of existence. When John Marie refers to prayer as a fish in water, he is referring to this cultivated prayerful disposition. Imagine a fish caught on the line, struggling to breathe with no water. Air is useless; water is required for life. Now consider our air, and the ease of our breathing. Yet many times a day, I take the air for granted! So engaged in tasks, I do not think about breathing. It's automatic.
Well, the Holy Trinity is our air. We need the Father, Son and Spirit to survive. We depend on them the way we need air, just as a fish needs water. Yet, they can fade into the backdrop and go unnoticed. We can forget that their existence makes our existence possible, just as I can forget that good oxygen-rich air makes my existence possible. I invite you to spend some time this week breathing in deeply the reality of our dependence on God.
May God bless you and may Mother Mary lead you into the heart of her Son!