Homily The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Cycle C May 29, 2016

It’s a good weekend for a cookout. As expected, with no surprise, the hot weather came out of nowhere. Florida’s weather traveled up to Massachusetts. Either way, it’s a good three days to have a cookout somewhere in this weekend time frame. To enjoy the food we find delicious and fulfilling. Doing so on Memorial Day weekend when we remember our loved ones who have entered eternal life. We’ll all be joining them soon.

So what we have here on Memorial Day weekend is the combination of food and eternity. A weekend of eating hot dogs and hamburgers, while placing some flowers in memory of family members and friends who have gone to their eternal reward, we pray. If we’re ever going to have a secular holiday match up time-wise with the Feast of Corpus Christi, then I would say we have perfect timing this year.

Corpus Christi, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is also a remembrance; “Do this in memory of me,” by way of food and everlasting life…”For my flesh is true food,” the Lord says elsewhere in John. It’s interesting to think that, from a theological standpoint, that what many of us will do this weekend is a copy and a shadow of Jesus’ free gift of himself to each of us. To match up our chosen activities this weekend with the words of Christ regarding the Eucharist. The eating, and the remembering of our loved ones in eternity by visiting their resting place in a cemetery, has a much deeper spiritual meaning than what we live on the surface.

I’m not saying that when you eat that loaded hot dog with mustard, relish, onions, sauerkraut, and whatever else you can fit in the bun, that we should say, “This is the Eucharist.” Because it isn’t. Just like in the Gospel, where Jesus has his own cookout, separating them into fifties, feeding them bread and fish. That’s not the Eucharist. But it is a shadow of the Eucharist in that Jesus is the One who commands his Disciples to feed the hungry crowd. As always in his public ministry, he’s setting them up for later on when they will feed the members of the Church the Body and Blood of their Lord.

If Jesus sends the crowd away, like the Disciples want him to; “Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions.” If the Lord gives in to their request at this time, then they will also send people away in the future when it really counts. And that’s not what the Church does. If anyone goes away from the Eucharist, they will leave on their own, like so many sadly have done.

However, in this Gospel, Jesus has a set of eyes for his future gift to us. By keeping the crowd there, the Lord teaches us to stay put, because the food gets better. A million times better.

So how is Memorial Day weekend connected to the Eucharist and what we believe about seeing our loved ones again? Listen to the words of St. Paul today: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Every time we process forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the fullness of the Eucharist which is received in the reception of the host, or the Precious Blood alone. Every time we receive the Eucharist our actions of receiving and consuming proclaim the death of Jesus. I bet most of us didn’t know that. “Is that one of the statements I’m making when I’m receiving Communion?” Yes, it is. You’re proclaiming the death of the Lord. Not embarrassed by it. Proclaiming it! Why would we want to proclaim anyone’s death? It sounds morbid and distasteful. It sounds really strange, this language of Paul.

But this is why the Eucharist is so unique, and such a heavenly blessing for us Catholics. Because when we consume the Risen Lord, we can brag about his death. It’s easy to brag about our accomplishments. Or the accomplishments of others. I’ve heard more people brag about David Ortiz this year than brag about the One who died for them on the Cross. Brag about his death. Because his death led to his resurrection. When the Eucharist is received with the eyes of faith, then we can boast in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has removed the sting from death.

This is the deeper meaning of eating hot dogs and hamburgers, and whatever else you like to grill, and remembering our loved ones on Memorial Day weekend.

The actions we go about performing, actions that correspond to the meaning of secular celebrations…if those actions build up our families and communities, if those actions give us hope, if there is a pure and holy satisfaction experienced in those actions, then there is always a deeper meaning connected to our Christian faith.

So the actions of eating at a cookout, remembering those who have died and gone before us marked with the sign of faith, planting flowers, spreading some mustard, slicing the steak, placing a small American flag at the grave of a parent or relative who is a Veteran, or even one who is not a veteran…all these actions that symbolize Memorial Day, are actions that invite us to look at and recognize what happens at this altar. Where death becomes life; where the one Son of God brings the food of salvation to the world; where the food we consume will raise us to the gates of heaven; where the sorrow of death becomes the joy of eternal life; where the community of believers eat from the same menu, just like in the Gospel, they all ate bread and fish; where Jesus feeds us his very self.

“Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus commands them. It’s like he’s telling them, and us, “See the deeper meaning with all these thousands of people. Let’s have a Memorial Day cookout. Gather them into fifties. Feed them. Let’s talk about how death has lost the game. And know that all these actions point to something much greater.”

It’s a pleasant reminder that a shadow of the Eucharist we receive is found in the routine of daily living, most notably Memorial Day.

Homily Pentecost Sunday Cycle C May 15, 2016

Word. Actions. Forgiveness.

In our 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard the familiar story of the original Pentecost. The original Confirmation, if you will. Where the Spirit of God came to rest upon the heads of the Apostles. It’s a recorded event by St. Luke that emphasizes the importance of word. Of speaking. And that words matter. We’re seeing that play out as the Presidential contest moves along in our country.

In this recorded scene in Acts, however, what we have here is not politics. For politics is not the highest form of word, which will disappoint more than a few people who cannot get enough of talk radio or cable news, two other forms of word that fall short. However, there have been some Presidents down through history who have spoken some very enlightened speeches. Such as the Gettysburg Address, or, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Even though such profound speeches and words have been made by our political leaders over the life of our nation, such talks are not the highest form of words and communication, with all due respect to all those gifted political speakers.

The Acts of the Apostles, the holy word of God, in this recorded event, takes us into the room to give us an on-site insight as to the highest form of word for the human tongue. That being the word of God in every language that is spoken. We are to make the word of God the center of our speaking in order to reach our potential in vocabulary and proclamation.

The Apostles get wild with their tongues, in the best of ways. The tongues of fire create a group of firefighters for the Lord. Their firefighting is to knock down the false and dangerous fires of the Devil, who wishes to bring us to eternal flames, and speak the fires of truth that God has made known to us in the Scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ.

Our speaking and our words are not to be driven first and foremost by political speech. Any political speech we put forth is to be driven first and foremost by the word of God. The primary purpose and mission of the Apostles is to speak the message of Christ, in the midst of a political world. To speak the words of the Savior of the world, and let politics treat them as it may. Which will lead to their martyrdom.

The heart of this first reading is word. God’s word is to set the pace for our lives.

After the words of Pentecost is action. Words are to be backed up. Words without action are empty words. The word of God spoken in our lives without actions that bespeak the presence of God are empty. Christians are not meant to be empty.

In the 2nd reading from Paul to the Corinthians, we heard the words, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” In other words, the Spirit of God is the wind and force and the breath that brings out the best in us. Don’t ever take credit for actions that produce good results. If you think you’re the best 2nd grade teacher in Worcester, or the best kindergarten teacher in Worcester, give thanks to God for such gifts. Those actions are centered in the Spirit moving us to reach our potential of love and goodness. And such actions are not limited to healthy people who can go to the gym 5 times a week. Or can walk around Indian Lake many days.

I’ve seen the manifestation of the Spirit in more people who are restricted by their physical capacity, or those who are gravely ill, walking the walk of death, perform more good actions than those who are healthy. The reason for that? Maybe the Spirit has a deeper presence in those who are suffering. It makes sense to me and what I’ve seen as a priest.

But what St. Paul is telling the Corinthian believers is that all of us have been given the Spirit to be manifested in our actions. Different actions, but the same Spirit. The same power behind those actions of love and goodness. Please don’t ever doubt the Spirit’s presence in your life. Show the world that God is in you, and working through you. The manifestation of the Spirit is to be a showoff…for God. Showing off for God is the highest form of action.

After word and action comes forgiveness in the Gospel for Pentecost. Forgiveness and mercy must walk with us every day. Don’t ever let them get far away from you. There are times when we need them quickly.

The reason for forgiveness is because we mess up in our words and actions. After giving them his peace in the Upper Room, Jesus then gives the Apostles authority to forgive and retain sins. What does this have to do with us? Whereas the authority to sacramentally forgive is given to the priesthood, they also need to forgive one another because of words and actions between them. Truth is, these guys are a group of misfits who are Apostles. Tell me they didn’t have to forgive Thomas after he didn’t believe them when they told him they saw the Risen Lord! Does it offend us when we speak the truth to someone and they don’t believe us? Of course it does.

Forgiveness is not outside the celebration of Pentecost. It is very much at the heart of it. This virtue should never be far away from us. Or, non-existent in our lives.

Word. Actions. Forgiveness. A three-fold way of understanding the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives. Embrace the Spirit, and let Him do his work through you.

Homily 7th Sunday of Easter Cycle C May 8, 2016

The sting of death for loved ones is the worst stings we can experience in our lives. When we lose someone we love to death, the finality of their physical presence to us is complete. The absence in our hearts is very real. And any rituals and habits we had with them when they were alive will most likely continues for a time after they’ve been lowered into their resting place.

I remember well the many times I went to visit my mother at Notre Dame Longterm Care on Plantation Street over the last few years of her life. I remember I visited so many times, driving up Plantation Street from Interstate 290, taking a right turn into the long driveway, seeing a flock of wild turkeys walking around, drive down back to the Longterm Care building, parking, and walking into the back area where she was cared for so well in a section now called the Harmony Unit, where they care for those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

I also remember all too well after she died in 2008, that whenever I was driving up Plantation St. coming off I-290, whether I was headed to Mercadante Funeral Home for a wake service, or driving up to UMass Hospital for a call on a night where I was the fill-in Chaplain, whenever I drove by the entrance to the driveway for Notre Dame, my car wanted to take a right turn onto the property, as well as my heart and my brain. It took a little while to break the habit and ritual of the right hand turn into Notre Dame Longterm Care.

The sting of death is real, we all know. The separation and absence are real too. But the habits, the rituals, the heart and the mind take some time to adjust to the reality of a loved one who has entered eternity.

Jesus’ prayer in this Gospel is so powerful. If you have some time during the day, read it again. I call it The Prayer of One. There was an old song from the group Three Dog Night – I’m dating myself – with the line, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” That’s the human way only of seeing the number one. Aloneness. Solitary, as in solitary confinement, a punishment. Except if you’re a monk…then it’s a gift. Single – I have to remind people I’m married to the Church so they don’t feel bad for me, and that you are my children. Even if you’re older than me!

But Jesus uses the number one with a very different meaning, where loneliness and singularity are not part of the number. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one.” “And I have I given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus’ one is not solitary confinement, or being alone or single. Our Lord’s Prayer of One is an entire group of believers. A group of believers with a common goal of living and sharing the Good News that Christ is alive and well.

What does Jesus’ Prayer of One have to do with those we have loved and lost? A couple things.

First, we know the absence is real. We don’t pretend or play games with the truth. We accept the truth and address it. But as we draw close to the end of the Easter season and why we celebrate this holiest of seasons each year, the Risen Lord makes a promise to us that the absence is temporary, and not permanent. We still address the reality of grief and mourning. To avoid that is to put up walls, and pretend like life is the same as before, when it is not.

What stings the most is that the oneness we had between ourselves and those who have died has been broken. Our Lord’s Resurrection promises a fix to the brokenness. Another word for this spiritual fix is hope. Christians live in hope. Yes, we live also in grief, pain, and suffering, like everyone else. There’s no distinction between Christians and others when it comes to grief and suffering. Our distinction from others is hope. The hope that our oneness will be reunited and recreated in Christ Jesus our Lord. His oneness is us being together as one.

Second, Jesus’ Prayer of One, which is a prayer not only for his Apostles, but for all people, is a prayer of consummation. Of coming together.

I sort of chuckle at people who want their mansion in heaven, but they want to put “Do not disturb” sign on the outside of the front door. Or, they want their mansion on one side of heaven and the mansion of the sibling they couldn’t stand on the other side of heaven. Keep them as far apart in eternity as they were in this life. Which is anything but the oneness of Christ. People are really strange.

I have bad news for those who want that separation; in heaven there is no separation; there is only oneness with Christ, and everyone else. If that disappoints those who want separation eternally from former enemies, then there’s only one other eternal place to be. It ends in double hockey sticks. And it’s not Purgatory, because that’s a temporary stop.

The oneness of Christ is an abode, we pray, for millions and billions of souls over the history of humanity. There are those who refuse such love. But many more who seek it.

The Prayer of One spoken by our Lord on this final Sunday of Easter gives us hope. Hope that all is made one in him alone, doing away with the sting of death. We share in his meaning of one through faith and good works. It’s anything but a lonely number in the glory and joy of heaven.

 

 

Homily The Ascension of our Lord May 5, 2016

“Lazarus, I called you out of the tomb after 4 days, to the joy and celebration of your two sisters, Martha and Mary, who were filled with grief at your death. I called you out, Lazarus, to reveal to all within eyesight that I am the Resurrection and the Life. You, my friend Lazarus, were chosen by God to be my student, my disciple, to show I have power over death. And that you need not ever fear what I have destroyed and trampled under my feet.

                But that’s not good enough, Lazarus. That’s not good enough for you and what I did for you. What’s good enough and what fulfills this whole issue of life and death is that I go before you. Not just to the grave, but to heaven. Lazarus, you will die again. And when you do, I don’t want your grave to be your final place of existence. I want your soul to come to me first. As well as the souls of your sisters Martha and Mary. As well as the souls of every human person.

                Lazarus, you are the honor roll student of the first stage of my gifts, of your soul coming to me. I offer to you and to all the gift of eternal peace, which could not be found in your tomb, Lazarus.”

                Where did these words of Jesus come from? Luke tells us that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany.” Bethany is the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, Jesus’ very dear friends. What Luke doesn’t tell us is that Jesus probably stopped by their house, or maybe Lazarus and his sisters met the Lord somewhere on the outskirts of town, making a final visit to his devoted friends before being taken up. He looked Lazarus right square in the eyes and spoke this conversation we just heard.

                The Feast of the Ascension is a celebration centered on God’s infinite love for us by way of preparing for us a banquet of fine food and choice wines. Who wouldn’t want to be present at a banquet of fine food and choice wines? It sounds like Italy…lots of fine food, especially pasta, and many choice wines.

                The celebration of this day, and why it’s such a big deal for us, even though this is probably the least attended Holy Day throughout the Church year, the big deal is that it’s centered in our death. And the deaths of those we love. That’s a big deal. If Jesus did not return to his rightful place in heaven, interceding on our behalf, then neither do we ascend – not even our souls – at the moment we close our eyes from this world.

                What Jesus did with Lazarus, where he went to wake him up, would have little, if any, significance, if we stay only in the grave when we die. Jesus goes before us to prepare a place for us. From the Annunciation of Jesus in the womb of Mary, to the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, I would call this holy event we celebrate today the deepest act of love that Jesus performs on our behalf. This Feast Day opens the door for our soul first, then our bodies later, to know God’s peace, and not the misery of the grave.

                Bethany is ground zero for our appearance before the Lord. Our eternal presence with Jesus goes through Bethany. What happened with Lazarus and his tomb is connected to the place where Jesus ascends. What ensures that Lazarus being raised was not a one-time show for others is the Ascension of our Lord. Jesus doesn’t do shows. He does eternal life. And that’s the joy of this day for us.