Archive for the ‘Real Presence’ Category

The Saints Speak of the Holy Eucharist

May 30, 2018

“If the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.”  —St. Pope Pius X

“Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.”  —St. Francis of Assisi

“One single Mass gives more honor to God than all the penances of the Saints, the labors of the Apostles, the sufferings of the martyrs, and even the burning love of the Blessed Mother of God.”  —St. Alphonsus Liguori

“All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”  —St. John Vianney

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of love; it signifies love, it produces love.”  —St. Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is a never-ending sacrifice. It is the Sacrament of love, the supreme love, the act of love.”  —St. Katherine Drexel

“The Eucharist is that love which surpasses all loves in Heaven and on earth.”  —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“The Eucharist is Divine Love made visible in the Sacred Host!”   —St. Teresa of Calcutta

“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.”   —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

“The Eucharist is a fire which inflames us.”  —St. John Damascene

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.”   —St. Pope John Paul II, quoting Vatican II

“The Eucharist is the supreme proof of the love of Jesus. After this, there is nothing more but Heaven itself.”  —St. Peter Julian Eymard


Visiting Our Eucharistic Lord

July 11, 2017

In every Catholic church around the world, Jesus sits within the tabernacle like a king upon his throne, waiting to receive anyone who would approach him with their praises, thanksgivings, and requests. Whether they stop inside for a just few minutes or spend a full “holy hour” in his presence, our Lord delights in the companionship of those who lovingly seek his audience.

St. Josemaria Escriva said, “When you approach the tabernacle, remember that He has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” Escriva’s contemporary, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, remarked, “People ask me: ‘What will convert America and save the world?’ My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.

In order to facilitate more of these beautiful and powerful encounters with Christ, St. Paul’s Church has begun keeping its church doors open until 7:00 PM daily. Come by to visit the Lord after work or school, or amidst your errands around town. (Please contact Father if you are willing to keylessly lock the church during the seven o’clock hour on particular evenings each week.)

St. Faustina Kowalska records Jesus telling her, “Behold, for you I have established a throne of mercy on earth — the tabernacle — and from this throne I desire to enter into your heart. I am not surrounded by a retinue of guards. You can come to me at any moment, at any time; I want to speak to you and I desire to grant you grace.” He waits for you. So come, let us adore him.

Aphantasia — A Corpus Christi Homily

June 5, 2016

Aphantasia (Greek for “without fantasy”) has been written about since 1880 but it has recently gained increased attention. To understand what I am talking about, picture a red triangle, a horse running, or the house where you grew up. With a moment’s attention you can see them in your mind. However, people with  Aphantasia are incapable of voluntarily forming images in their mind’s-eye.

Blake, a successful 30-year-old software engineer only recently learned he experienced the world differently from others. He relates a conversation similar to this with a Facebook friend:

—If I ask you to imagine a beach, how would you describe what happens in your mind?
    —Uhh, I imagine a beach. What?
—Like, the idea of a beach. Right?
    —Well, there are waves, sand. Umbrellas. It’s a relaxing picture. Are you okay?
— But it’s not actually a picture? There’s no visual component, right?
    —Yes, there is, in my mind. What are you talking about?
—Is it in color?
—How often do your thoughts have a visual element?
    —A thousand times a day?
—Oh, my goodness…

An African BeachIf someone were to ask Blake to “imagine a beach,” he could ruminate on the concept of a beach: it has sand, waves, heat, sun. He could recognize a beach when he saw one, but even if he were standing on a beach he could not recreate or remember the image with his eyes closed.

Philip is a 42-year old photographer from Toronto. He is happily married, but he cannot conjure up his wife’s face (or any other image) in his mind’s eye. He was recently listening to a podcast presenter describing aphantasia. He says it came as a complete surprise, “I was like ‘what do you mean? People do that?’” He thought it was a joke so he checked with his four-year old daughter. “I asked her whether she could picture an apple in her mind, she said ‘yeah, it’s green’. I was shocked.

A 2009 survey of 2,500 people suggests that aphantasia is the experience of about 2% of people. So far, I have found it in two of my friends, including  a fellow priest. He tells me that when our spiritual director in seminary would tells us to prayerfully picture ourselves, say, at the table of the Last Supper he thought it was just a metaphor. He was surprised to learn that when people “counted sheep” to fall asleep that was more than just a figure of speech.

Disbelief is a common response when people on either side of this phenomena hear that other people do no experience the world like themselves. (“That’s impossible. You’re lying. You’re pulling my leg.”) However, unless we happen to carry around an MRI machine, we have to take our friend at his or her word in order to know the truth. And here we come to the connection with this Feast of Corpus Christi.

An extraordinary experience at the center of our Faith is founded upon a trust in our friend Jesus Christ’s testimony. At the Last Supper, Jesus does not say, “This is like my body,” or “This symbolizes or represents my body.” He says, “This is my body.” Around the year 150 AD, St. Justin Martyr described what early Christians everywhere believed about these words:

“The apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “Do this in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood” … “This food is called among us the Eucharist… For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

Princess Grace (Kelly) Receives The Holy EucharistThe Church has always proclaimed and worshiped Jesus Christ as truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. This belief has been confirmed for us throughout the centuries. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would lead us to all truth and remind us of all that he told us, has reaffirmed this teaching in Councils of the Church. Jesus has also allowed Eucharistic miracles to unveil this mystery we cannot normally perceive. For instance, at the Miracle of Lanciano in eighth century AD, a priest who was doubting Jesus’ Real Presence witnessed the bread become flesh and the wine become blood (which coagulated and broke into five globules in the chalice) as he said the words of consecration. In 1971, scientific analysis indicated that, as at similar miracles, the Host was human cardiac muscle. Who would go through such trouble when a fraudster’s more convenient use of pig’s flesh would have been undetectable? The truth is that Jesus gives us his heart in the Eucharist, along with his whole self. You can go to Lanciano, Italy and behold this Host today.

For many Christians, the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic commemoration, a ritual that remembers him. But if Jesus is everywhere, then he is nowhere. It then impossible to physically draw near to him any place on earth. Unless you are blessed with a vision of Jesus, you can never see him with your eyes or touch him in your flesh until after your death and resurrection. But with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, “Behold, I am with you always…

If you have always enjoyed mental images, or if you have received the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion since you were a child, then you may not appreciate the gift you have. If you experience aphantasia, or if you have never believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then you may not even know what you are missing. So for our non-Catholic family and friends, tell them about this treasure—Jesus wants them to receive him, too. And for ourselves, let us truly appreciate the incredible gift that we are blessed to receive.

Stained Glass Symbols — The Host & Chalice

February 8, 2014

Host and Chalice - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WIA Symbol of Christ’s Death

Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist Host and chalice, yet the Host and chalice are symbolic as well. At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” Then he took a chalice of wine and said, “This is the chalice of my blood… which will be poured out for you…” When a living creature’s blood is separated from its broken body, death naturally follows. Though Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are fully present in every fragment of the Host and in every drop of the chalice, the symbolic separation of Jesus’ body and blood points to his sacrificial death.

Jesus Christ’s Holy Mass

April 25, 2013

“The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” —St. Thomas Aquinas

“Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.” —St. Francis of Assisi

“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” —St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

“One single Mass gives more honor to God than all the penances of the Saints, the labors of the Apostles, the sufferings of the martyrs, and even the burning love of the Blessed Mother of God.” —St. Alphonsus Liguori

“All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.” —St. John Vianney

 “If the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.” —St. Pope Pius X

 “Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you–for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.” —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Bread of Angels — Wednesday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

Here at St. John’s, on the wall behind me, there is painted an angel holding a banner which says, “Ecce Panis Angelorum.” This is a Latin phrase. “Ecce” means “behold,” “panis” means “the bread,” and “angelorum” translates to “of the angels.” And thus the phrase goes, “Ecce Panis Angelorum; Behold the bread of angels.” This idea comes from Psalm 78, the psalm we heard today, which says of the Manna and the Israelites in the desert, “Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance.” 

Why was the Manna in the desert was called the bread of angels? Extra-Biblical Jewish tradition suggested that the Manna bread actually nourished the angels. The Manna also came down from Heaven for the benefit of men and came through the mediation of angels. Of course, the Manna prefigures the Eucharist, which nourishes us through the deserts of this life toward the Promised Land. The Eucharist is really Jesus Christ who came down from Heaven for mankind. The angels are indeed nourished by this bread, Jesus Christ, for their lives are sustained thorough Him. We also receive the New Testament Manna with the help of the angels. As we say in Eucharistic Prayer I: “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” It has been said that if angels could envy us, it would be for our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The angels do more for us than we realize. We should remember to thank them; for getting us out of bed to come to Mass this morning, for assisting us here in our prayers, and for assisting us in our daily lives. Lovingly invite them, give them the permission, to do more in your lives. (They’re probably just waiting for you to ask.) Let us ask their intercession and at this Mass, together with the angels who surround us, let us delight in the bread of angels.

Testimony To The Real Presence — Corpus Christi—Year A

July 18, 2011

Jesus Christ is truly present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This is called the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is true that Jesus is present whenever the scriptures are read, or wherever two or three are gathered in his name, but the Holy Eucharist is His presence in the fullest sense, for this is Jesus Christ Himself. Some people accuse the Catholic Church of making up this idea during the Middle Ages or something, but Catholics have always believed in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in Eucharist, unceasingly, in every age of the Church. For example, around 110 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and a prisoner in chains, wrote this on the way to his martyrdom in Rome:

“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ…; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible”

Based upon rumors, the Romans despised and persecuted the early Christians and accused them of many things without understanding. The Christians were accused of atheism, because they refused to worship the pagan gods. The Christians were accused of incest, perhaps because others misunderstood the Christians’ love for each other as “brothers and sisters.” And, most interestingly, the Christians were falsely accused of cannibalistic feasts, of eating the flesh and blood of their offspring. Around 150 A.D., to help dispel rumors and to quell Roman hated, St. Justin Martyr wrote an open letter to the emperor explaining the actual beliefs of Christians. One of the things Justin touches upon is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. He writes:

“Not as common bread nor common drink do we receive [this Eucharist]; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, …is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus”

Where did the early Christians get this idea? The Real Presence was taught them by the apostles and through the Holy Scriptures. For example, in today’s second reading, the Apostle St. Paul mentions the Real Presence to the Corinthian Christians as a given, as a settled matter. Paul says:  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Is Paul only speaking symbolically? Well, a little later, He warns them, “…Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” Both the apostles and Scripture agree that Jesus Christ was the source of this belief. St. Paul writes the Corinthians:

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

The first three Gospels relate these words from the Last Supper as well, but the Gospel of John presents the subject differently. Jesus’ words of institution do not appear in John’s Gospel. (Perhaps St. John, writing His Gospel last, thought it wasn’t necessary to repeat them.) Yet John gives the words of Jesus where He emphatically teaches the truth of the Real Presence. In today’s gospel reading from the sixth chapter of John, Jesus tells followers that they will need to eat the bread which is His flesh six times. And the word used several times in this passage is not the normal Greek word for eating, but a more literal Greek verb, which means “to munch” or “to gnaw.” He says, “…My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” John’s gospel tells us that “many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” and, “as a result of this, many of his disciples … no longer accompanied him.” And Jesus let them go because they had heard Him right. As hard as it was to believe, they were called to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Curiously, there are Christian groups who take a very literal approach to everything in the Book of Genesis, yet who switch to a symbolic interpretation to what Jesus says six times in today’s Gospel.

Did you know that there have been Eucharistic miracles affirming the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist throughout the centuries? For instance, consecrated hosts forming drops of blood, hosts transforming into human heart muscle, or hosts which remain perfectly preserved after hundreds of years. In fact, this feast of Corpus Christ was established by Pope Urban IV after one such Eucharistic miracle in 1263. Some Christian groups have beliefs about communion which bear some resemblances to the Catholic belief in the Real Presence; but Eucharistic miracles are not heard of within Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran communions.

Did you know that Satanic worshipers affirm the truth of the Real Presence? When they seek out hosts to abuse and misuse in profoundly depraved ways, it is the Holy Communion of the Catholic Church that they seek to steal for use in “Black Masses.” Andrew, a friend of mine from seminary, used to spend his summers at a parish in Paris, France. There he met a former satanic worshiper who had returned to the Lord and the Catholic Church. Andrew asked him whether it was true that Satanists could sense the difference between a consecrated and unconsecrated Host. His Parisian friend informed Andrew this was true, that he and others used to identify consecrated hosts out of a line up as something of a test. How did he know which one was consecrated? Andrew’s friend answered, “You could tell which one was the Lord because that was the one you felt hatred towards.” If Satanists can believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then why can’t every Catholic?

When I was a boy I had good teachers in the faith. When they taught us about the Real Presence I asked, “Do we really, really believe that?” I mean I could understand a symbolic understanding. Thinking of the Eucharist as a symbol like the American flag, which reminds us of our blessings and of sacrifices made for our freedom, that came easily to me. However, my catechists challenged me when they assured me, “We really do believe that the bread and wine really, really becomes Him.” I researched whether the whole Church taught this, and found that it did. I studied whether the Church had always taught this, and discovered they had through the ages. I explored whether Scripture supported the belief in the Real Presence, and indeed, it did. Yet there was still an important piece missing.

When I was a boy, I would look around at the faces of other people at Mass and, though looks can be deceiving, they didn’t look as if they were kneeling before God Almighty. But then our parish got a new pastor, Fr. Paul Gitter. When he celebrated the Mass you could tell that he believed that he was holding Jesus in his hands. Because I knew that he believed, I could too. For the sake of our families and our neighbors, it is important that we give witness to our belief in the Real Presence, too.

[From here, I encouraged everyone to attend Marshfield’s Corpus Christi procession, June 26, 2011 with our bishop. More than 200 people processed on that beautiful Sunday, from Sacred Heart to Our Lady of Peace, witnessing to their belief in Jesus Christ as truly present in the Holy Eucharist.]

The Way, Truth, & Life — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 22, 2011

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading us to God the Father. Like Jesus Himself, the Mass contains the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus. First, we journey on the Way to Jesus, then we come to the Truth of Jesus, finally we join in the Life of Jesus.

The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, for God is the beginning and end of everything. Next, we confess our unworthiness to approach the Lord, asking mercy for our sins, so that we may dare to take this journey to God. The, from the Holy Scriptures, we hear of God’s words and deeds among the Old Testament peoples and within the New Testament Church. In this, we learn of the providential way that God has prepared throughout time for us to encounter Jesus Christ today. Just as the journey on this Way through history leads to Jesus Christ, so the liturgy of the Word leads to the Gospel. Certainly, Jesus Christ the Word of God is present throughout the entire Word of God which is Sacred Scripture, but for the reading of the Gospel, we all stand up for Him and sing “Alleluia,” “Praise the Lord,” because we have come to Jesus Christ and He is more fully present among us in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading proclaims Jesus, who is the Truth. The homily that follows proclaims that the Truth matters for us here and now and demands our personal response. To this call, we answer with the Creed, proclaiming our faith in who God is and what He has done for us. In the Creed, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus, the Truth. In the prayers of the faithful, we petition the Lord for our needs and concerns, saying in so many words, “Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven! Let us share you life! Give us your life!” At Mass, the Way leads to the Truth, and from the Truth we long for God’s Life. At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word leads to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The presentation of the gifts is not merely about moving around cash and bread and water and wine. The presentation of the gifts is about the presentation of everything that we have, and everything that we are, to God. We lift up our hearts to be one with our sacrifice. Amidst praises to the Father, the one life-giving sacrifice of the Last Supper, of the cross, and of Heaven becomes present here to us. We join in offering this sacrifice through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to God the Father in Heaven.

Through this offered sacrifice, we join in God’s Life. We pray “Our Father,” because uniting with the paschal mystery, the great Easter deeds of Jesus, gives us life as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then we share with one another the sign of peace, the loving peace that is possessed by God’s holy ones. Finally, at the climax, we partake of Jesus Christ, Life Himself, most truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

Sometimes people say, “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Father, I know that you say all this important and wonderful stuff is going on, but I don’t see it and I don’t feel it. The Mass is boring for me.” I understand. When I was a boy, I made a point of going to the bathroom (sometimes twice) during every Mass, just to break up the monotony. When I would see the priest cleaning the dishes at the altar—that was a good sign, because it meant that the Mass was almost done. I didn’t really know what was happening at Mass, so I really didn’t believe in what was happening at Mass. But as I grew older I began to learn what was happening, and as I grew in faith I began to believe in what was happening, and my experience of the Mass was transformed.

People who say that the Mass is boring resemble St. Phillip in something he said to Jesus at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper: “Master, (we don’t see or feel the presence of God the Father,) show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Whoever has been to Mass has encountered my mysteries.) How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (How can you say, ‘The Mass is boring?’)” The awesome mystical realities of the Mass are true, and real, and present and active at every Mass we attend, whether we see them, or feel them, or believe in them, or not.

Jesus Christ and the Holy Mass contain the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we shall receive from them according to our faith. Let us pray, that at this Mass and every Mass, we may be as fully present to Jesus Christ and His mysteries as they are to us at every Mass.

C.S. Lewis on Our Immortality & Potential Glory

August 14, 2010

From The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere Latitat [Latin, “truly hides”]—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Real Presence — Corpus Christi

June 7, 2010

I once came across a story on the internet that went something like this: A Catholic man is giving his Muslim friend a tour of his Catholic Church. He shows him the holy water at the door and how we bless ourselves with it. He points out the stained glass windows and the stations of the cross, explaining how these present the majore events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He shows him the statues and the crucifix and finally the tabernacle.

“That’s the tabernacle. Inside that box is the Eucharist. It looks like flat, white bread, but it is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and God.”

The Muslim man looks at the tabernacle, pauses in thought, looks at his friend, and says, “If I believed that God was really present in that box, I wouldn’t let my face come off of the floor.”

Whose approach towards God is the right one: the Catholic’s or the Muslim’s? When we come up to receive communion we do not crawl up on our faces, but should we?

Christians relate to God as we do because of the way Jesus Christ related to us. With the incarnation, God came to us on our level, as one of us. Jesus did not want his disciples to regard him with terror. He invited them to be His friends, and to relate to Him as their Brother. He taught us to call His Father “our Father,” and he made us temples the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives us unprecedented intimacy with God and we are “free to worship Him without fear.”

Yet, there is some truth in the saying that familiarity breeds contempt. When we come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, how well do we prepare ourselves to receive Him? How much do we do to appreciate this priceless gift? This morning I would like to give some ways we can do this better.

Before we even leave home there is a way for us to prepare ourselves. Think of it this way: if you were going to be on TV and seen by a millions, what would you wear? If the president of the United States (whoever he happened to be) were coming to your town, and you were chosen to officially welcome him, how would you dress? At Mass we are not seen by millions, but by billions of angels and saints, and we more than just the president of the greatest country in the world, we meet the King of the universe. When we come to Mass we should wear our Sunday best.

When you arrive at church before Mass begins resist the temptation to just wait out the time until the priest comes out. Take the opportunity to prepare yourself with prayer. At the beginning of the liturgy there are some things we do to tune us into the liturgy, such as the penitential rite and the opening prayer, but if you have not prepared yourself before the Mass begins these will probably just flash by you.

When you get to your pew, say to Jesus, “Lord, I’m sorry for my sins. Please have mercy on me. Please help me to be as fully present as you are present. Help me to receive everything you want me give me in this Mass. I raise up my intention for this Mass you along with all I love and everything I am. Thank you for calling me to know you, and for everything.”

During the Mass, especially when Jesus is on the altar, his throne, we should give Him our full attention. Religious devotion is about more than mere appearances, but shouldn’t we expect a fervent devotion inside to be reflected on the outside?

When I was growing up and beginning to look at my faith more critically, I wondered if we really believed in the Real Presence. I mean, the symbolic understanding, that’s easy—like how the flag reminds us of America, but do we really, really think that’s Him? My CCD teachers insisted that’s what we believed and I found scriptural and historical evidence that Christians had always believed it.  Yet, when I looked around at other people at Mass it didn’t seem like they believed they were in the presence of God. Then an important thing happened. A new pastor came to our parish and when he celebrated the Mass you could tell that he believed he held something (Someone) precious in his hands. That priest was Father Paul Gitter, whom you know well.

During the Mass, give God your whole self. Express your devotion. Whenever you sing, don’t just do it because that’s what everyone else is doing—make it an offering, a gift, a prayer. When you are praying to the Father, raise you eyes to Him. When you are speaking to Jesus, turn you eyes to Him. Smile at Him in the cup and on the paten. Celebrate every Mass as if it were your first, your last, and your only.

After you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, open yourself to receive everything that He wants to offer you. In His private revelations to St. Faustina Kowaska (through whom we received the Divine Mercy devotion celebrated throughout the Church) Jesus said many people receive Him and then forget about Him. “My great delight is to unite Myself with souls,” He said. “When I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object” (Diary of St. Faustina, #1385) After you receive Him, and kneel down in the pew, ask that you would receive from Him every grace He wants to give you with Himself. And remember to tell Him, “Thank you,” and, “I love you.” It’s the least that we can do.

When we leave church after Mass, let us not think that we have left Gift we have received behind us. Jesus also told St. Faustina that when we receive the Eucharist He remains in our souls until we receive Him again, provided that we do not cast Him out through serious, grave sin. He remains with us and provides what we need to serve Him.  We only have to remain open and mindful towards Him.

Jesus feeds us His Body and Blood because He wants us to be extensions of Himself. We the Body of Christ. We are His arms, His hands, and His eyes, ears, and mouth in the world. First, He transforms the bread and wine. Next, He transforms us. And then, He transforms the world. When ‘the Mass is ended,’ that’s just the beginning.

In a few moments we are going to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Let us prepare ourselves and open ourselves to receive this most incredible Gift.

For an Extraordinary Marriage — Wedding of Andrew and Laura Foreki

March 3, 2010

I would like to begin this homily today by sharing with you the extraordinary story of how this boy, Andrew, met this girl, Laura. Picture Andrew, walking one morning across the University of Wisconsin campus in the deep cold of winter. He is on his way to Chadborn Hall where a prayer group is meeting for their twice-weekly 7:30 rosary. 

He walks into the room where the group is meeting and casts his eyes, for the very first time, upon a drowsy-eyed coed named Laura. And can you guess what Andrew said to himself when his eyes saw Laura for the very first time? That’s right. He said to himself, “Oh, I don’t know who that is.” This reaction, of course, is to be expected, since Andrew and Laura didn’t know each other prior to being introduced a few moments later.

Now Andrew’s first impression is not what makes this an extraordinary story. Did you notice what was the extra-ordinary part? Here it is: Here we have two college students, getting up, out of warm beds, on a cold day, to pray a rosary, at 7:30 in the morning! Now, you have to understand, in College Student Time, this is like getting up at 4:30 AM. Your typical college student doesn’t get up any earlier than he has to, but these two got up… to pray. For this and a thousand other reasons, I think you will all agree with me, that we have here two extra-ordinary people, from whom we good reason to expect an extraordinary marriage.

Do you two want to ensure you share an extraordinary marriage together? Then there are three things that I, as an ordained servant of Jesus Christ, believe that you should do.

First, like Tobit and his wife Sarah in our first reading, you should pray together. Of course you must pray individually. And of course you must pray with your children once they come. But you also need to pray together. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated.  Just hold each others’ hands a few moments before you part for work, or stand, or kneel, at your bedside, like Tobit and Sarah did, and speak aloud from your hearts to God. Ask blessings for each other, and give thanks for all the blessing you have received, and close you prayer by saying, “Amen, amen.”

Some couples find this kind of prayer too intimidating, or too personal, to be attempted; for our prayers express our most intimate selves, our fears, our hopes, our pains, our joys, our deepest longings. If you pray honestly in this way, nothing will be hidden between you. Today you will vow to give yourselves completely to each other. Do you want to be truly and totally one? Then pray together. Through marriage you will share of one flesh, if but pray together and you will also share of one spirit. Pray together and you will share an extraordinary marriage as one flesh with one soul. So please, pray together.

The second thing you should do for an extraordinary marriage is to come to Mass. Come to Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. Come, and be moved by the beauty of architecture and songs. Come, and be strengthened by the experience of Christian fellowship. Come, and be inspired by the eloquence of Gospel preaching.

No doubt some people hear this and think to themselves, “That sounds great… But our church is ugly and the songs are dumb and hard to sing. And our community is little more than a gathering of strangers. And our priest always gives the same boring homilies.” Which all boils down to saying, I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Then hear this, even if everything else is lacking at Mass, Jesus Christ is always here for us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. At Mass, the one sacrifice of Calvary and the Last Supper are made truly present to us for us to receive their power.

At Mass Jesus Christ shows us the perfect spousal love that He calls each of us to imitate. Jesus never called himself “the bachelor.” No, He joyfully called himself “the bridegroom” and eagerly seeks to unite himself to His bride. On the cross, naked without shame, He consummates this union with her, giving himself freely, fully, fruitfully, and forever… freely, fully, fruitfully, and forever. Do you want your union with each other to be free, fully, fruitful, and forever? Then come to Mass to learn the pattern of how Christ loves us and draw from the power He offers us through communion with Him. His is the pattern and the power for an extraordinary marriage. So please, come to Mass.

The third and final thing you should do for an extraordinary marriage is to be salt and light in the world. What does this mean? Being salt and light means that your Christianity should show. As Jesus says, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Your good deeds should stand out in the world. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” If the world never judges you to be radical in any aspect of your Christian life, then you’re not doing it right. Then you’re not yet living as salt and light–you’re not yet living like the saints. For example, everyone loves their friends, but who loves their enemies and prayers for them? Most people pray, but who spends a long time to be with God every day. Many people can give when times are prosperous, but who gives generously when times are tight? Such things as this are what it means to be the light and the salt of the world. Light is different than the darkness, and salt makes the ordinary flavorful.

Clearly, you two are salt and light already, for who goes on weekend retreats to know God better? Or who drives to Washington D.C. to march for life? Or who goes down to Louisiana to volunteer for Hurricane relief? Or who get up at 7:30 in the morning to pray the Rosary? So, please keep on being salt and light, and your marriage will be extraordinary.

Years from now, I don’t expect that you will remember much from this homily, but I hope you remember these three things: Pray together, come to Mass, and be salt and light and you will have an extraordinary marriage.

[Preached as a deacon for my sister’s wedding,  November 22, 2008]

Approaching God — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

February 11, 2010

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah hears the angels praising God at the temple with words like those we proclaim at every Mass: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”

What do these words mean?  First, the Jews did not have adverbs for “very,” “most,” or “infinitely” in Hebrew, so if they wanted to say something was very heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy.”  If they wanted to say something was most heavy or (if it were possible) infinitely heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy, heavy.”  So when Isaiah hears the angels call God “holy, holy, holy,” they are praising His perfection, transcendence, and goodness to the highest degree.

Why is God called “the LORD of hosts?” A host is an army, or a large group of persons. In this case, God’s army of angelic  persons is referred to. Our God is holy and wields unsurpassed power. The earth is filled with his glory.

Isaiah behold this sight and becomes very afraid. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In the Old Testament people thought that no human being could look upon God and live.

Then an angel, one of the seraphim, fly down, takes an ember with tongs from the altar (for the Jews sacrificed animals as burnt-offerings at the temple) and touches Isaiah’s mouth. “See,” the angel says, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” God asks whom He can send to be His prophet, and now Isaiah has the courage to say “Here I am, send me!”

Imagine if, at communion time, people would line up and come before the priest to have a red hot coal touched to their lips or tongue? Priest: “The holiness of God.” Communicant: “Amen… Ou!” I imagine the communion line would be much shorter.

This is the bread that we will be offering at this Mass to become the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s flat because it unleavened, just like the bread at the Jewish Passover meal and as at Jesus’ Last Supper.  Leaven, or yeast, is bacteria which grows and makes our bread fluffy. The Jews were to keep leaven, which symbolized sin, out of their Passover bread.

Like all of the other sacraments, the Lord’s choice to use bread has symbolic meaning.  Take baptism, for example: water cleanses us and gives us life.  Similarly, bread gives us life and becomes one with us. No wonder Jesus chose it to be his symbol for the Eucharist. The very use of bread invites us to receive him.  The symbol of bread speaks, “Come, do not be afraid. I am here to be received by you and to become one with you.” We tend to forget what an unprecedented privilege this is.

In the Old Covenant, Jews could always pray to God, for ‘all the earth was filled with his glory,’ but they you wanted to go where the Lord was most present on earth they had to go to one place, the temple in Jerusalem.  And even when they got there they did not enter in where the Lord was most present, the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest would go, and only once a year at that. The faithful would worship in the courts outside the temple.  It would be like us coming to church today to stand and pray from the parking lot. Instead, we have the privilege to stand and worship the Lord here in His sanctuary, and not only do we see the Most Holy Lord with our own eyes, but we actually receive Him in the Most Holy Sacrament.

The wonder and the privilege and the awe of this new intimacy with God at the Eucharist could not have been lost upon the early Christians, who were converts from Judaism. Do we approach the Lord with a healthy fear of the Lord, which is called the beginning to wisdom? This fear is not terror, which would cause us to hide ourselves from the Lord. It is a reverence which honors the Giver who is the Gift.

We all sin from week to week, but if our sins are minor, or venial, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in the Eucharist. Receiving this sacrament with contrition forgives our venial sins. On the other hand, if we are aware of serious, or grave sins on our souls, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in another sacrament first, the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation.

In the second reading we heard St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, reminding them of what he ‘handed on to them as of first importance as he had also received it.’ Later in the letter he reminds them of something else in a similar way:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment…”

Before we approach the Eucharist let us examine ourselves first, and if we have serious unconfessed sins, from even years ago, let us present ourselves for Jesus’ needed forgiveness in confession first. Ask yourself, do I care more about others’ opinions of me, or about the opinion of the Lord (who sees all things)?

Whenever we come to Christ in the Eucharist let us approach Him as the earliest Christians did, with wonder, awe, and holy fear. Let us have that reverence which honors the Giver who gives Himself as a Gift to us.

Saying Amen — Golden Mass

December 26, 2009

Can you guess what word I’m thinking of? It’s a Hebrew word… it’s four letters long… and you’ll say it seven times in this (weekday) Mass. Have you got it?  I’ll give you one more hint… It starts with “A” and ends with “Men.” That’s right… “Amen.”

What do we mean when we say “amen”? Sometimes we say “amen” as a declaration of our faith. In this case our “amen” translates to us saying, “I believe it; this is true.” The sign of the cross, the Gloria, and the Creed all end with “amen’s” by which we declare, “This is true.”

At other times, we say “amen” to entrust our prayers (and ourselves) to God. Whenever we come to the end of our prayers, whether we’re alone or in a group, we always conclude by saying “amen.” With this “amen” we are saying, “Please, Lord, let this be done for us.”

What do we mean when we say “amen”? We’re saying “This is true,” as a confident profession of our faith, or we’re entrusting our prayers to God, saying, “Let this be done for us, Lord, according to your will.” That is what we’re saying when we say “Amen.”

Now here’s another riddle… Who was the first Christian, by which I mean, the first person to believe in Jesus Christ? You might be thinking it was John the Baptist, or one of Jesus’ apostles, but it wasn’t. Mary was the first Christian; she was the first person to believe in Jesus Christ. (Adam and Eve believed in the Redeemer, but they did not know His name.)

The angel announced to Mary, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. …and He will be called the Son of the Most High.’ And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

In a word, Mary said “Amen,” in both senses, to the angel’s message: “I believe it, Lord; let this be done.” With this word, the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh within her. Jesus the Christ was small within her, but truly present as God and man. Imagine the joy Mary must have experienced as she thought of His presence within her.

Just minutes from now, you will stand before a Eucharistic minister who will say to you, “The Body of Christ.” And you will answer “Amen,” like Mary answered the angel. “Amen, Lord, I believe you that are truly present in the Eucharist,” and, “Amen, Lord, let this be done to me, let me become your body; your presence in the world.”

With this word, you will receive the Christ; small within you, but truly present as God and man. When you return to your pew today consider Jesus’ presence within you and ask Mary that you be given a taste of her joy from the day the Lord first dwelt in her.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

Fifteen years ago this summer, a movie hit theaters about a man with a below average intelligence who lives an above average life. Forrest Gump was the biggest movie of 1994, won the Oscar for Best Picture, and it is still entertaining to watch today.

When someone would ask Forrest, “Are you stupid or somethin’,” he would politely answer, “Stupid is as stupid does, sir.”

I have to admit that years passed before I mentioned to my dad that I really didn’t know what those words meant, which made me feel pretty stupid, but then my father taught me. “Stupid is as stupid does” means that even if you’re very intelligent, if you do foolish things, then you’re a fool. On the other hand, if you’re not that bright (like Forrest), but you act with wisdom (like Forrest did), then you are wise.

You can see this illustrated in the lives of Forrest’s friends: Jenny and Lt. Dan. They both have I.Q.’s well above Forrest’s, but they waste many years of their lives on foolishness. Lt. Dan isolates himself in the big city. He’s lost in bitter, alcoholic, self-indulgence. Jenny, goes out wandering far and wide to find happiness. She’s lost exploring all the romantic and chemical imposters of happiness. But, what eventually saves them both, what brings them both back, is Forrest’s steadfast love for them; his loving and generous gift of himself.

Forrest didn’t realize it, but his love was drawing his friends to wisdom and life. He’s like Lady Wisdom in the first reading. She joyfully calls and welcomes everyone to her feast:

“Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance, in the way of understanding.”

Wisdom speaks to us today, but where is this meal prepared for us?

Before answering that, we first turn to today’s Gospel, where Jesus tells the people that they must eat his flesh and drink His blood. And He really means it too. In relating the teaching of Jesus today, John’s Gospel employs a Greek word over and over again, which is translated for us as “to eat” or “to feed.” However, the word’s meaning in the Greek is more literal than that; it means “to munch” or “to gnaw.” Therefore, more accurate translations of Jesus’ words would be this:

“Whoever ‘munches’ my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” and, “Whoever ‘gnaws’ my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

The meal where we do this, is here, at the Mass. At Mass we truly receive, alive and whole, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Where is wisdom’s feast for us? It is here, at the Mass. At Mass we grow in wisdom whenever we worthily receive the Eucharistic Christ, because when we receive Him, we become more like Him. As Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” We also grow in wisdom at Mass by hearing God’s teachings, through the Scriptures and the preaching we hear.

But something that you may never have ever realized, something you may never have been told, is that we can also grow in wisdom at Mass through witnessing the example of Jesus Christ set before us. At the Last Supper, Jesus offers up His body and blood, and tells His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He wants us to do what He is doing. This means that we are not only to continue celebrating the Mass until He comes again. We are to imitate, in our own lives, the sacrifice we see.

We are all called to steadfast love, for God and for other people, by making a loving, and generous gift of ourselves each day for them. Christ commands us to make a sacrificial offering of ourselves for those we work for, for those we care for, for those we love, for those we happen to be around, for Him and for all people. By this sacrifice, our sacrifice united with Christ’s own sacrifice, we will be saved, and we will help to save others, too, by drawing them to wisdom and life.

As Forrest Gump would say, “You don’t have to be a smart man to know what love is.” At Mass, Jesus teaches us wisdom; He shows us what love looks like.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Some people respond, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Yes, Jesus is indeed the son of Mary, and the adopted son of Joseph. But Jesus also came down from heaven, just as He said.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread … whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give, is my flesh….” Some people respond, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” They take Jesus at His word, and conclude this must mean cannibalism.

Yes, Jesus insists, they must indeed eat His flesh. But Jesus will not make them cannibals, giving them a portion of his dead flesh to eat. He will offer, as food to them, His entire, living person: His body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Jesus says, “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body.” Some people respond, “This has to be symbolic.”

Yes, there is symbolism here. For instance, to separate something’s body from its blood is a symbol of death And Jesus’ decision to use food and drink is also symbolic. It indicates how important this sacrament is for our spiritual life. But the Eucharist is not just a symbol; it is Christ’s Real Presence.

We are not idolaters. We do not worship bread. We do not worship bread and Christ. We worship Jesus Christ, really present, under the appearances of bread and wine. This is the truth we have celebrated for 20 centuries. This is the faith of the Church. This is the teaching of the Scriptures. This is the joy of the saints.

Some people say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And many of Christ’s disciples separate themselves from Him. Jesus says to his apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” But St. Peter responds with faith, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Let not your faces blush with shame at this mystery of the Eucharist. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.