Monday, June 27, 2011

The feast of Corpus Christi

This is my homily for the feast of Corpus Christi: June 26, 2011. Given at St. Mary and St. Ambrose parishes, Anderson, IN.

As Americans, we know that we can be pretty pragmatic. We like things to fit into structures and routines so that we really don’t have to think about them. As a result, things that we do frequently become common or ordinary to us and we oftentimes forget how important they really are to us. Consider our morning breakfast: a couple of pieces of toast or perhaps a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee and we’re on our way. Yet, it throws our whole day off, doesn’t it, if we find we’ve run out of bread or someone finished the last bowl of our favorite cereal. We just feel better if it remains the same, day in and day out, and we don’t realize how important it is to us until we don’t have it anymore.

In today’s first reading, we hear Moses reminding the Israelite people, who had been wandering in the desert for forty years after leaving Egypt, about what a miracle it was for them to have the manna as food for their journey. Way back at the beginning of their journey, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and against God after they were led out into the desert from Egypt because they had no source of food to sustain them during their exodus. God responded and promised “bread from heaven,” the manna that appeared each morning like dew across the ground. Each day the Israelites would gather enough to feed their family for the day and on the next day—faithfully, for forty years—more would appear. If you could imagine what it would be like to eat the same food every day for forty years straight, you might understand that the Israelites began to take this blessing for granted. The manna, as miraculous as it was, had become common and the Israelites had come to take it for granted.

I would venture to say that some of us here might experience a similar problem. Many of us have been parishioners here for a long time: perhaps some of us even for forty-plus years. We know what mass we attend and where we generally sit (I say “generally” because there are always those “floaters” who sometimes end up in our seats, right?), the music perhaps is somewhat predictable and we generally know what to expect from the experience—I mean, the mass is the mass, right? And it all becomes very routine for us. Even though every week we are called here to worship God and to receive his body, blood, soul and divinity in the form of bread and wine—the true bread come down from heaven—we nonetheless sometimes find ourselves looking forward more to the opportunity to meet with friends or on the flipside considering it a chore to be drudged through so that we can get on with the rest of our day. Because we come here every week and because the mass—by design, by the way—generally looks and feels the same, it has become familiar to us and perhaps we forget what a miracle it is to be called here to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we look back again at the Israelites and Moses’ speech from the first reading today, we recognize one important fact. In spite of all of their years of taking it for granted, God never once failed to provide it for them. For forty years the Israelites wandered, grumbled, and wandered some more and in all of that time God never failed to provide them with that miraculous bread from heaven. The manna, therefore, was their viaticum—which literally translates to “on the way with you”, but less formally means “food for the journey.” Manna was the miraculous “bread from heaven” that sustained them on their way and was their reminder of God’s providential presence with them throughout it all.

In giving us this great feast of Corpus Christi, the Church is doing what Moses did for the Israelites a few thousand years ago. It is reminding us of what a miracle it is that we are called here every week and have the opportunity to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the form of bread and wine. It is a reminder that, even if we sometimes take it for granted, God will never fail to give us the Eucharist, our viaticum, our “food for the journey.” And this is so important for us to remember. Not just because it is food—obviously the little portion that we receive is not much to satisfy us—nor only because it is spiritual food—which of course it is—but primarily because it is our intimate connection with God. God gave the Israelites bread for their bodies, but the manna, however, was just that, bread. The bread that God provides us in the Eucharist is both bread for our bodies and spiritual food to nourish us on our journey, but because it is the Body and Blood of Jesus, our Lord, it is also a participation in the intimate communion that is God, which we celebrated last week in the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The Body and Blood of Jesus is the fulfillment of what the manna of the ancient Israelites foreshadowed. It is the sacrament of God’s presence intended to effect our communion with God, until that day when we cross over from this life into the land promised to us, God’s heavenly kingdom.

My brothers and sisters, the real, sacramental presence of God—the Body Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ—in the species of bread and wine is the most perfect gift that God has given us. It is the sign of God’s presence with us, even in the midst of our worst afflictions. Many people today, much like the people of ancient Israel, often want extraordinary signs that God is with them in their affliction. What I want you all to realize today, however, is that God has given us such a sign. Yet, in his great condescension to us he has allowed this extraordinary sign to be experienced by us as ordinary. I realize that sometimes when we are in the midst of our worst afflictions, we want—we feel we need—the clouds to part and a voice to come from the sky saying, “It’s ok, I am with you.” We want to see Jesus face to face and have him put his arm around us and say, “I know that this is hard, but look I haven’t left you.” But what I am telling you is that God has done that for us. Every time that we walk into a church and mass is being celebrated, or even if we only get a glimpse of that red candle flickering in the corner—we can know that God has not abandoned us, that he is with us. Thus, in the midst of our worst afflictions, God calls us to run to him in the Blessed Sacrament. He calls us to receive him as often as possible so that his presence may comfort us and strengthen us for the journey. This is why he sent his Son to us and this is why Jesus instituted this great sacrament. He did it for us.

Moses needed to remind the people of Israel that the sign of God’s providential care was something right under their noses: the miraculous bread from heaven that they received every day. Today, the Church gives us this great feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ to remind us of the same thing and more. The Blessed Sacrament that we receive ordinarily from this altar is the sign of God’s providential care as we wander as pilgrims on this earth. It is also the bread that will strengthen us to remain steadfast in faith through all of our trials. Most importantly, it is our intimate connection to God, who desires communion with us.

As we continue to plow head-long back into the “routine” of ordinary time, let us strive to remember what an extraordinary gift it is that God has given us, the invitation, as Saint Paul says, “to participate in the body and blood of Christ,” and let us strive to celebrate this gift as extraordinary, even amidst our ordinary participation in it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The first week after "the change"

Greetings and thank you to all of you who have prayed so fervantly for me. I meant to post something earlier this week, but simply did not have the time to. As it turns out my first week as a deacon has been a pretty busy one.
After preaching my first homily on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, I saw my family off as they returned to Illinois. Upon arriving in Anderson, I was greeted by Fr. Bob who promptly informed me that I had a funeral on Wednesday. Fr. Bob, you see, was leaving for the annual priest convocation on Monday and so as it turns out, I was the "pastor" of the Anderson parishes for the week!
I had already been informed that I would preside at the 6th grade graduation at St. Ambrose that Monday, so I had to prepare a homily for that. I had two communion services scheduled and now this funeral (obviously, for each, I would need a homily). I also found myself making all of the hospital visits. Needless to say, I quickly found out why being the pastor keeps one quite busy.
Some folks have asked me what it feels like to be a deacon and all that I can tell them is, "normal." I've been preparing for this for years and so aside from my change in responsibilities/capabilities I really don't feel a whole lot different. But I think that is really good because I think that means that "putting on" the clerical state, well, just fits.
This weekend we have celebrated the ordination of four men from our diocese. I've been with these men for five years and it is such a joy to see them ordained to the priesthood. As I was kneeling by the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer at the Ordination Mass, I was moved as I heard these four men reciting the words of institution for the first time. They are living signs that God wants the Eucharist and all the other sacraments to continue for some time to come. What a great day for the Church and for us all.
After completing the circuit of First Masses of Thanksgiving for the four newly ordained priests, I will be joining a group of young people from St. Mary's in Anderson for a Catholic Heart Work Camp in Toledo, OH. Please pray for our safety and that this experience will lead us to a deeper and more profound experience of God. I'll post again after my return!
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us! Verso l'alto!