11 June 2024

Homily - 9 June 2024 - The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The beginning is always connected to the end and the end is always necessarily connected to the beginning. If we look closely at the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis we perceive an understanding of the world and of the cosmos very different from that of other religions and of our own secular age. This understanding of creation gives us a more insightful recognition of what it means to be human. The understanding of the high dignity of every man, woman, and child – and why that dignity has been marred – is essential to understanding both Judaism and Christianity.

What do we find if we consider these eight verses we have heard from the third chapter of Genesis? If we go back just a little, we find the context in which these verses occur: Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). They were forbidden to eat of this tree on pain of the loss of their deathless state: “From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Genesis 2:17).

Detail, The Creation of Adam and Eve, etc., Add MS 10546, f. 5v

Now, having eaten of that tree, our first parents recognized their nakedness, which is to say they lost their innocence. Saint Augustine put it this way:

…they saw that they were naked, but with eyes asquint, to which the simplicity signified by nakedness seemed something to be ashamed of. And so, as they were no longer simple, they made themselves aprons from fig leaves, to cover their private parts, that is to conceal their simplicity, of which cunning pride was now ashamed.[1]

And because they were ashamed they hid from God, they tried to conceal themselves from God; the combination of their pride and shame something convinced such a ridiculous notion – hiding from God - was possible.

It is fair to say Adam and Eve rejected their state of original innocence and threw it away. Because they lost that simple innocence in which they were made, they came to fear God, which is why

Man is always in need of liberation from his fears and his sins. Man must ceaselessly learn or relearn that God is not his enemy, but his infinitely good Creator. Man needs to know that his life has a meaning, and that he is awaited, at the conclusion of his earthly sojourn, so as to share for ever in Christ's glory in heaven.[2]

 

If we are to encounter God when he comes toward us, we must let go of our pride and shame.

But how is it you and I share in the consequences of the original sin of our first parents?

Why do we have evil, pain, suffering, alienation, loneliness, and death? God is not the author of moral evil and human suffering. Death was not in God’s design for man. He did not make the world bent and broken in this way. Darkness descended as a result of Adam’s sin. He was given dominion, and his disobedience had dire consequences. Choices have legs and walk around, so to speak. Satan sneered in wicked glee as he watched death overshadow what God had seen as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As Wisdom says, “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom 2:24).[3]

Before any of us objects that we are part of the devil’s party, have I ever resisted or opposed God’s will? The answer is certainly yes, which means we are not fully part of God’s party. Adam and Eve rejected God’s will; we, too, reject God’s will. Just as we inherit physical – and even some emotional – traits from our parents, so we have inherited a spiritual fallenness from Adam and Eve.

At the very moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s will through disobedience,

…a spiritual death took place instantly, a separation between man and his God; a second death also began to work in mankind, a physical death in which the body is separated from soul. Other “deaths” also were at work: separation of man from man – Adam blames Eve. Later, Cain kills Abel, and a separation of man from himself so now he lies to and deceives himself; he has fear, loneliness, and psychological problems. Man is separated from nature – harmony with creation is broken, and the physical world now turns a hostile face to mankind. As a result of man’s sin, even the physical creation is cursed and suffers.[4]

Many people find themselves asking why so many tragedies and heart-breaking stories are heard every day – things such as bullying or the abandonment of a child. The answer is simple, even if not quite satisfactory: sin. Men, women, and children choose to listen to the deceptions of the Evil One and close their minds and hearts to God.

If the story simply stopped here, we might be tempted to despair, which is “only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”[5] But we know how the story ends; we cannot fall into despair because the end is full of hope. We do indeed see the end beyond all doubt, but not as the despairing do. The end, as we said, is contained in the beginning: “…he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The one who strikes at the head is certainly stronger, more powerful, than the one who strikes at the foot. “The colorful imagery foretells a future conflict between the devil and a man born of a woman,”[6] the man Jesus, the Second Adam, born of the Second Eve, Mary. It is what the ancients called the protoevangelium, the first Gospel or even the source of the Gospel. At the very moment mortality doomed humanity, God foresaw the restoration of mankind’s dignity.

There is yet more of the end contained in this beginning, something much more than a mere literary device.

Here in a garden Adam and Eve brought about death at the tree of life through their disobedience. Someday in another garden (Jn 19:41), the Last Adam (I Cor 15:45) and the New Eve will bring about life (I Cor 15:22) at the tree of death (Gal 3:13) through their obedience.[7]

This turn of events brims with hope and brings great comfort to those who ponder it, for it contains the unmistakable profundity of the merciful love of God.

All of this speaks to the purpose of human life, to the very meaning at the core of our existence. We were made to live in communion with God. We have rejected that communion with the Creator. Yet God does not leave us in this state, but goes to great lengths to make a way for us to have communion with him again. We must not reject or resist the means our salvation – the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus – but must embrace it and him and all that he commands us.

If you want to know why you exist, if you want to know the purpose for which you were born, it is this: “increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”[8] Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. If we live in this way we shall walk again in the garden with God; we shall be with him in paradise forever. Amen.



[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, On Genesis, II.23n

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the French Bishops, 14 September 2008.

[3] Steve Ray, Genesis: A Bible Study Guide and Commentary (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2023), 69.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.

[6] Steve Ray, Genesis, 71.

[7] Ibid.

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 310 To Camilla Unwin, 20 May 1969.

02 June 2024

Homily - The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ - On the Mystery of Communion

Dear brothers and sisters,

We have today the great joy of witnessing the reception of Caitlin Mahoney into the full communion of the Catholic Church, as well as sealing with the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation. We also have the great joy of witnessing the incorporation of Gentry Mahoney into the Body of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism. We do this in the midst of the liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. The notion of communion is at the heart of each of these celebrations.

Caitlin, in a few moments, you will make your profession of faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church will receive you gladly as a member of the Baptized because, as Saint Paul says, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Your communion with the Body of Christ began when you were baptized into a Baptist profession of faith. It was in this community that you came to know and love Christ Jesus; today you respond to the Lord’s call to enter more deeply into the knowledge and love of him by receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the grace of her Baptism is strengthened and through the reception of the Eucharist. This morning the Lord will complete your incorporation, your initiation, into his Body, the Church, even as he begins Gentry’s incorporation and initiation into his Body.

A new movie called Wildcat playing now in some theaters can help us understand the Eucharist more deeply. Wildcat is about the life of the Catholic author Flannery O’Connor who died of lupus at the age of 39 in 1964. She lived in the deep south where anti-Catholic sentiments were and remain strong. Her stories, though often intentionally gritty and uncompromising as regards the painful realities of life, are imbued with a forceful Catholic ethos.

The movie portrays a dinner party at which Flannery spoke very bluntly about the mystery of the Eucharist. This is how she recounts it in one of her letters:

I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy… She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. …I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say… Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the “most portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.[1]

The more polite among us might say she spoke too forcefully, but she said nothing wrong or incorrect. “In its bluntness, clarity, and directness, Flannery O’Connor’s remark is one of the best statements of the Catholic difference in regard to the Eucharist.”[2]

Here we might well ask why Flannery was right to say, “if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” If what appears to be bread and wine is merely a symbol of the Body and Blood of the Lord shed and offered out of love for us, then we commit idolatry when we kneel before it and it is rightly consigned to hell. But if what appears to be bread and wine has actually become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus through the power of his own words spoken by the priest, then it really is the inexependable center of all existence for it is God himself; it cannot be consigned to hell. Because Jesus cannot command us to do anything immoral or idolatrous, we have the certainty that the Eucharist – the good gift – is what he says it is: his very self, given to the Father and to us in love. This is why those who call the Eucharist nothing more than a symbol break communion with his Body and “call Our Lord a fraud to His face.”[3]

When Saint Augustine spoke about the reception of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion, he said something rather profound:

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God's right. So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?" My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: "Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it" (I Corinthians 12:27). If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear "The body of Christ," you reply "Amen." Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your "Amen" may ring true![4]

In order for our Amen to ring true we must be in union with Christ and with his Body, the Church he established; we must be in communion with him and his members. How do we enter into this union? Saint Paul speaks of being baptized into Christ as the means by which we are united to Christ (cf. Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27).

Later Christian communities rejected the universal Church’s ancient biblical and perennial teaching on the reality of the Eucharist, that it is not just a symbol but is actually the very Body and Blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ. This departure from the teaching of the Apostles was a great tragedy and wounded the Body of Christ.

Being united to him necessarily means being united to the members of his Body, the Church. This is why the Catholic Church does not have what others call an “open communion;” it is why not everyone is allowed to receive the Eucharist. The reason for this is not to exclude others but to recognize the differences in beliefs. The word “communion” means “union with”; and to say “Amen” to “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ” is to profess belief that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol. It is also to profess faith in what the Catholic Church teaches in terms of beliefs and morality.

Those who do not believe what we believe may not receive the Eucharist because they are not in union with us, and we do not want to make them liars in the house of God; we want to affirm their integrity. Similarly, Catholics who attend a Protestant service are not able to receive their communion because we are not in union with them, and we do not want to be liars in the house of God; we want to keep our integrity. We should each implore the Lord that his people will again be one flock under one shepherd, that the communion of his Body will be restored.

Caitlin, of your own free will you have asked to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. You have made your decision after careful thought under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I now invite you to come forward with your sponsor and in the presence of this community to profess the Catholic faith. In this faith you will be one with us for the first time at the Eucharistic table of the Lord Jesus, the sign of the Church’s unity. May your Amen and ours always ring true.



[1] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. Sally Fitzgerald, ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 124-125.

[2] Robert Barron, This Is My Body: A Call to Eucharistic Revival (Elk Grove Village, Illinois: Word on Fire, 2023), 69-70.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 250 To Michael Tolkien, 1 November 1963. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (New York: William Morrow, 2023), 475.

[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.