Homily: 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Beyond these two points, however, I’ve been blessed by trying to grow in relationship with these folks who, like me, seek to know, love, and serve God, through the ministry of the Gospel. As I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve always been impressed by the radical simplicity of the message that most of them proclaim, which often points to two things that they see as most important: 1) that they are completely committed to authentically living their faith, and 2) that they have a great sense of urgency about their call to bring others to Christ. As Christians they are excited and on fire for Christ and so feel a great sense of urgency to bring Him to others, especially those who are un-churched. As Christians on fire for Christ, they are also deeply committed to living out their convictions as authentically as possible: that is, they strive to remain as true to the movements of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Sacred Scripture in their daily lives as they were when the Holy Spirit first moved them to faith. I have to say, I admire them for both of these things.
It reminds me of what we know about the early Church from Sacred Scriptures. When we read the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul, we see that sense of urgency that the Apostles had when spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. They knew not when Christ would return, but they thought it would be soon and so wasted no time in fulfilling their mission to bring Christ to the world. These men and women were moved by the Spirit of God to faith and so strove to live that faith authentically by remaining docile to the Spirit even as they sought to quickly spread God’s Word. They often called on the Holy Spirit in prayer. And when men and women approached them with expressions of faith, they would call down the Holy Spirit upon them by laying hands on them. And when they sent others out on mission they would do the same thing, calling the Holy Spirit down on those men and women to guide them and strengthen them in their work. This is an action with which we are familiar today, though perhaps only a few of us would know that it has a name: that is, Epiclesis.
In fact, our whole sacramental life is peppered with Epiclesis. In Baptism, the priest extends his hands over the Baptismal waters and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them, praying that they may cleanse those to be baptized from all stain of sin. In Confirmation, the bishop or priest extends his hands over those to be confirmed, calling the Holy Spirit down upon them and praying that the Holy Spirit will fill them with his seven-fold gift of grace. And, yes, in the Eucharist, the priest extends his hands over the gifts of bread and wine presented on the altar and calls the Holy Spirit down upon them, asking that they be made into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. And all of this to remind us that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that grace is made available to us. /// Yet, Epiclesis is not magic. The priest does not “command God” as if he has some power over His grace. Epiclesis, rather, is an act of faith by all of us: that is, it is an act of opening ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. God is always ready to pour out the grace of the Holy Spirit in us. These acts of Epiclesis make us open to receive it.
You know, when it comes to the doctrine of the Eucharist, I’ve found that Catholics generally fall into one of two categories: those who at some level struggle with believing it completely (and that includes those who are convicted of its truth) and those who, frankly, just don’t care enough to bother. This is because the doctrine of the Eucharist is, well, difficult to swallow (pun intended). On first hearing it, we might all have reacted as those ancient Jews reacted, asking “Who is this guy? How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Yet when we understand the Eucharist as Epiclesis, we can begin to see how our senses have been deceived and how what still looks like ordinary bread and wine has now become the Body and Blood of Christ, Our Lord. Yet, so many of us continue to struggle to believe or, on the flipside, just dismiss it completely.
My brothers and sisters, whether you continue to struggle to believe in the truth about the Eucharist or you never bothered even to try, the fact of the matter is that God wants you to know the truth about the Eucharist. Now, I can stand here and talk to you until I am blue in the face about all of the reasons why we should believe, but until each of us takes the initiative to pray to God and to ask him to reveal this truth to us, any conviction (or lack thereof) that we may have will only be in our minds: it will never be in our hearts. As professed followers of Christ, this cannot be. If we are to be authentic followers of Christ, then we must be convicted of this truth in our hearts, because, as our retired Holy Father Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said:
Without the Eucharist the Church simply would not exist. It is the Eucharist in fact that makes a human community a mystery of communion, able to bring God to the world and the world to God. The Holy Spirit, which transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, also transforms into members of the Body of Christ those who receive it with faith, so that the Church is truly the sacrament of the unity of men with God and of men with each other.Therefore, my brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we pray to God to remove all doubts we may have about the Eucharist, that we call down the Holy Spirit upon us either to renew our conviction or to “help our unbelief.” And it is so imperative that before we go any further in this liturgy, we are going to pray here together, each of us asking in our hearts for God to show us the truth that he has taught us about the Eucharist—that it is the real Body and real Blood of his Son, Jesus—and that we may know this truth always in our hearts.
What I will model for you here is just an example of one way you can make this prayer. I invite you to use it or any other style of prayer with which you feel comfortable as you pray each day for the grace of the Holy Spirit to know more deeply the truth about this most central mystery of our faith and so inspire in you the joyful desire and a sense of urgency to bring others to an encounter with that truth… an encounter with Christ, Our Savior. And now I invite you all to kneel if you are able and to pray for this grace.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – August 12th, 2018