25 August 2007

Homily - 26 August 2007

One of the precepts of the Catholic Church, one of the basic requirements to be a faithful Catholic, is to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday and holyday, though, undoubtedly, not all of us attended Mass on August 15th. This we all know and, having come to the Mass, most of us receive the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord at least once a week, but are we really aware of who it is that we eat?

Every week we are invited to the banquet of the Lamb; indeed, we are commanded to come as faithful followers of him who sacrificed himself for us. We come here, to the altar of the Lord, where “Christ is the food that is eaten and drunk.”[1]

Because it is Christ himself that we eat and drink we must come to the Mass prepared, with hearts ready to welcome him, and free of mortal sin. This is a most serious matter for each us of because, as Saint Paul admonishes us:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup 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” (I Corinthians 11:27-29).
How, then, do we prepare to receive the Eucharist? First and foremost, we should come to the Mass with sufficient time to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome him, to spend in prayer before the Mass begins. We might well read the sacred readings before Mass begins to hear them more attentively when they are proclaimed and expounded upon. We should visit the Lord in the sacrament of Penance on a regular basis to be strengthened by his grace as we struggle against venial sin, and we should seek out a priest immediately when we are conscious of mortal sin and beg him to hear our confession.

Anyone who comes to the Mass conscious of a mortal sin that has not been confessed in kind and in number must not receive the Holy Eucharist, else they eat and drink judgment. Anyone who comes to the Mass as the procession begins – or, worse, after it has begun – ought not to receive the Holy Eucharist, because they have not come prepared. They have come to eat his Body and drink his Blood, but they have not come worthily. Do you not recognize who it is that you will receive? Where is your love for his Body and Blood? Anyone who truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to follow him will come to the Mass ready to receive him and open to his grace, mercy and love.

Whenever we come to Mass unprepared to receive the Lord, to commune with him, we are his hidden enemies. We become those to whom the Lord will say, “I do not know where you are from” (Luke 13:25). In reply, we will say to him, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets” and he will answer us, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers” (Luke 13:26-27)! When we come to him unprepared we do not come in love and in this way we become his enemies who will be tossed out where “there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28).

Simply consider the irony of this situation. The Lord calls us to partake of his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and, as Saint Augustine says, we

[do] not value [our] food very highly, and yet it was with reference to it that [we] said [we] belonged to Christ. Christ is the food that is eaten and drunk. Even Christ’s enemies eat and drink him. The faithful know the lamb without spot on which they feed, if only they fed on it in such a way that they are not liable to punishment!
These words should not lead us to despair of God’s mercy, but should inspire us to seek it all the more!

It is true that from time to time we are delayed in arriving at Mass early for legitimate reasons and for reasons out of our control and unforeseen, yet these surely do not occur every week, do they? No, of course not! If we are in the habit of arriving at Mass just in the nick of time, we must change our ways and demonstrate our love for the Lord and our desire to be in communion with him by preparing our hearts in a worthy manner. How many of us, if we were to meet the president of the United States, would arrive with only moments to spare? Surely none of us would do so, and yet we somehow convince ourselves that it is okay to do so when the King of kings and the Lord of lords wishes to see us? This is ludicrous!

Even so, “strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13). The Lord wants us to approach him worthily that we might be known by him and that he might be known by us, and for this reason the Lord says, “Some of these [men] I will take as priests” (Isaiah 66:21). He gives us his peace so that we might be healed and strengthened by his grace.

We must now ask the question: What is a priest? The priest is the one through whom the “mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time.”[2] The priest is the one who does what the Lord tells him, this is why the priest is the one whom the Lord takes as his own. The priest is “set aside” for sacred service; he is given wholly to the Lord.

We know that “no one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel.”[3] He must be chosen and called by Christ, and he must respond generously, joyfully and lovingly. Indeed, “no one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4).

The priests of Jesus Christ are “truly ‘slaves of Christ’ (cf. Romans 1.1), in the image of him who freely took the ‘form of a slave’ for us (Philippians 2:7). Because the word and grace of which they are ministers are not their own, but are given to them by Christ for the sake of others, they must become the slaves of all.”[4] Priests become the slaves of all through the sacraments they administer and the doctrine that they teach.

Every man whom the Lord calls to be his priest, whom he takes to himself, is called in a personal way by the Lord who says, “You, follow me” (John 21:22). He calls them personally “in order to be a personal witness…, to bear personal responsibility before him who gives the mission, acting ‘in his person’ and for other persons.”[5]

The primary mission, then, of the priest is to make present for all people in every age and place the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the Eucharistic celebration and to forgive sins in the name of Christ and of his Church. The Lord takes men to himself as priests to carry out his mission, so that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Let each of us, then, seek out his priests to receive the grace the Lord wishes to give us through them. Let us pray for our priests, that they may be faithful servants of Christ and true imitators of him. Let us pray for our young men, that they hear the call of the Lord and respond generously to him, offering to him their lives and their love in service to God and men.

Through the service of his priests, we will each come to know the Lord, we will recognize him on whom we feed, and we will be known by him and welcomed into his heavenly kingdom where we will feast at the wedding banquet of the Lamb forever. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 308A.6, in Arthur A. Just, Jr., ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture: New Testament III: Luke (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 230.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1536.
[3] CCC, 875.
[4] CCC 876.
[5] CCC 878.

12 comments:

  1. Oh my!
    Father, please let us know the responses for this one.

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  2. No responses yet, though I do expect they won't all be positive.

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  3. Strong words. But I'm glad that you said them. Again, awesome.

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  4. It needs to be said. Good job, as usual.

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  5. Excellent, just perfect.
    Thank God for the priests with backbones.
    (I'll bet you will hear from a lot of people with kids. There are many couples in my parish with more than 5 kids, and interestingly, I've never once seen any of these families late for Mass. Not one time. It's not how many kids you have, it's what time you leave the house.)

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  6. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Okay, Father, you were expecting some dissent; I will respectfully offer a brief dissent. Yes, it is ideal for people to arrive to Mass early, pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and calm their thoughts before Mass begins. Agreed. Yet people have a wide variety of circumstances with which they must cope -- including teens and toddlers, and yes, sometimes spouses, who are not quick out the door on a Sunday morning. Do those folks all count as the "hidden enemies" of Christ, as you put it? Surely it IS possible (even desirable) for people to pray on Sunday morning before they even set foot in church, and how do you know that the person who steps into the pew as the first song begins hasn't been praying in the car for twenty minutes on their way to Mass?

    I wonder if God really calls on us to try to guess the state of anyone's soul based on such superficial criteria. Terming someone who shows up at Mass to worship God -- and who fully intends to carry that love of God out into their life outside of the church building -- a "hidden enemy" of Chirst's strikes me as uncharitable. In today's Gospel, Jesus calls (as far as I can see) for his followers to partake in a genuine, deep-down relationship with him. Perhaps a few of the folks who step into church a minute late actually DO have such a relationship, even if you or I can't see what they've done to prepare. Me, I'd rather give them the benefit of the doubt rather than label them a hidden enemy of the Lord.

    Many people fear being judged when they show up at church -- not by God (because they know well the state of their relationship with the Lord), but by those with whom they share the pew. I'd rather not give those folks yet another reason to stay away from God's house.

    Steve

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  7. Your points are well taken, Steve, and I think I mentioned them when I said that there were times that we are unintentionally late for reasons beyond our control.

    As for the toddlers, Ma Beck put it best.

    In the middle of the homily yeseterday evening, seven people came in at the same time and walked halfway up the aisle and plopped right into the pew. No genuflection. No bow. No sign of reverence or love whatever. They simply sat down. It is to these, and the habitual latecomers, that this homily is addressed.

    At the parish we have anywhere between 150 and 200 people who show up with one minute to spare every weekend. Many of them no they are late and should be earlier. One of them - who is always walking in with the procession - thanked me for the homily and told me she'd try to do better.

    The overwhelming majority of the people who come late have no legitmate reason; it is laziness, pure and simple.

    Growing up, there were 8 of us to get to church, and we lived fifteen minutes away. Nevertheless, we always arrived as the bells were tolling, giving the ten minute notice.

    It becomes, in the end, a matter of priority, because the same people who show up to our Masses as the procession begins or after, are the very same people who arrive half an hour early to a basketball game. This is not right.

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  8. I knew it had to be because of something that had happened in front of your own eyes - I knew this post didn't come from nowhere.

    I have been late to Mass - sometimes you just can't help it - babies mess themselves up in various ways, some event is wrecking traffic on your route (today for me it was the Chicago Triathlon. So I left ONE HOUR early. It's a 20 minute drive, at most), or worse, a terrible accident has occurred.
    We've ALL been there. But I think Father is not addressing those of us who have "accidentally" been late - he's addressing those people who show up during the Gospel, march right on up to the front pew, cross themselves like they're swatting away mosquitoes, and have a seat.
    Every. single. Sunday.
    This is unfair of them. It's unfair to disrupt or distract Father, who is, after all, only human. It's unfair to distract praying parishioners. It's mostly unfair to Christ, who deserves at least as much respect as the latest summer blockbuster movie of the Cubs game, for which we'd NEVER be late.
    ;)

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  9. At the parishes I have been too, the usher holds the latecomers until after the homily. Then they are shown to a seat. At our parish at least, we were taught it impolite to disrupt the Mass due to tardiness.

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  10. pa beck5:34 PM

    I don't know why anyone would take exception to being "called out" for being late to Mass. I am also for more mention of those who leave immediately after taking communion. Just leave for church just 10 minutes earlier. This really isn't too much to ask. After all Jesus DESERVES better respect than showing up late or leaving early. He was beaten up and nailed to a cross to suffer a painful death for us ALL, so we should be showing him a huge amount of respect and gratitude. Whenever I think about getting in a hurry to leave or looking at my watch during a long Mass, all I have to do is look at Jesus on the cross and that gets my mind straight.

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  11. Anonymous11:27 PM

    With all due respect, Father, I wouldn't show up at all to see the President, much less early (not even if he was bringing me a lifetime supply of ice cold Diet Coke).

    It wasn't a comfortable homily to hear because of the subject, but I can't blame a guy for trying to save my Immortal Soul.

    Beth U.

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