Sunday, August 26, 2018

Do You Also Want to Leave?

The Catholic Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018. Gospel – John 6:60-69. Theme: Do You Also Want to Leave?

The great St. Augustine of Hippo never tired of teaching that the phrase, Body of Christ, referred to two awesome realities. First, it described the reality the flesh & blood of Jesus Christ, given to us under the appearances of the consecrated Eucharist. Secondly, it described the Church, the community of believers who make-up the Body of Christ on earth. And so, he taught that at Holy Communion when we hear the words, “the Body of Christ”, our “Amen” should mean that we firmly believe that the Eucharist is the very flesh and blood of Jesus AND that we believe the Church, the community of Jesus’ disciples, is the expression of his Risen Presence of earth.

The Sunday Gospels for the past several weeks have all been from John 6, revealing to us, bit by bit, the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. At the very same time that we have been hearing these Gospels, the news over the past several weeks has been informing us, bit by bit, of the horrible revelations of abuse by some priests and the scandalous cover-up of this abuse by some bishops of our Church. I think it is extremely important as we ponder these two things to keep in mind that double definition of the Body of Christ from St. Augustine.

Why do I say that? Because just as some disciples in Jesus’ day became scandalized over the reality of the Eucharistic-Body of Christ and left his company, so today because of the reality of scandals within the Church-Body of Christ, some disciples are again finding it too hard to accept and are tempted to leave His company.  You know, it’s hard to fault either group of disciples, whether they be the ones 2,000 years ago scandalized by the teaching on the Eucharist or the ones of today scandalized by the revelations of corruption and crime, because in both cases it takes faith to stay, faith to believe what you cannot see. But in both cases – be it the Body of the Eucharist or the Body of the Church – we need to trust in the word and person of Jesus.

Just as we need to trust to believe that the Eucharist is Christ’s very flesh and blood, so we also need to trust in what He has said about His Church, especially in these times when the heinous crimes and scandalous sins of some of its leaders are being revealed.  Jesus said that He would be present and act through His Body of baptized people, the Church.  Through them, through us, He would continue to preach His Gospel, celebrate His sacraments, and carry on His ministry especially among the poor and needy.

And throughout the history of the Church, the members of the Body of Christ have had to deal with false shepherds and fake Christians.  When you read the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, you see that right from the beginning that there were some rascals, liars, power-grabbers and trouble-makers among them.  But the faithful disciples refused to abandon the Body of Christ. They had confidence in Jesus’ promise to be with His Church always.  Their trust was never in the leadership of the Church, but always and only in Jesus of Nazareth, God-come-in-the-flesh, crucified for our sins and risen from the dead. 

In the midst of all the horrible news about Church leadership these days, perhaps some Catholics hear Jesus asking them the same question that He put before the Apostles in today’s Gospel:  "Do you also want to leave?"  I pray that everyone’s reply is the same as we heard from St. Peter, who realized that there was no better option than Jesus Christ: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Betrayal by Bishops and Priests

The Catholic Liturgy for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 19, 2018. Gospel – John 6:51-58. Theme: The Scandal of Bishops & Priests

As I was praying and pondering over liturgical readings this past week in order to prepare for today’s homily, the terrible news broke out from Pennsylvania about the Grand Jury investigation.  Just as I was starting to recover from the recent shocking revelations about former Cardinal McCarrick of Washigton D.C., the report over the abuse of children, along with the gross cover-up by some of the bishops, slapped me in the face, This is all something that I am sure most of you have heard quite a bit about that by now.

As a man, as a husband and father, and as an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church I am sickened, angry, disgusted, and overwhelmed. It’s difficult enough to hear these horrid stories when they come out one at a time and over time, but it is nearly paralyzing to have to receive them all at once – 70 years’ worth of stories all packed together as if they just occurred yesterday. It’s too much to bear. I feel like I am suffocating, drowning in an ocean of sickness and destruction.

And if the abuse of innocence and the ruining of young lives itself wasn’t bad enough, we come to find out that some bishops, men called to lead, feed and shepherd the flock, chose deception, legal gymnastics, corruption of truth and abuse of authority to cover-up the foul acts perpetrated by some priests. All in the name of protecting power, prestige and position! It’s nauseating and disgusting.  

And yes, I am quite aware that those priests who abused and those bishops who connived are by no means in the majority, but that doesn’t make all this any easier to hear. And it really makes no difference at all to those who have been abused and harassed, does it?  Their lives are forever changed.  And sadly, I do not think this outrage is limited to 6 dioceses in Pennsylvania. What will we find out when this same kind of scrutiny comes to our own state, to our own dioceses?

But this is not the message I wish to proclaim today. It is just something that I HAD to say. Something I needed to hear myself speak out loud to you. And I think it is also something you needed to hear me say out loud. No, the message I want you to take away from this liturgy is quite different and it is this:

Do not let the sins of these priests and bishops produce more victims by robbing you of your relationship with Jesus Christ through his Catholic Church! Our faith has always been, and always will be, in the Person and Message of Jesus Christ.  It has never been in any human being no matter who he is, not even the holiest of popes! Not in any saint! Not in any famous religious leader or personality.

Take to heart the hopeful words in today’s gospel and do not let the sins of others rob you of the Eucharist, the reception of the Jesus’ very flesh and blood by which we become intimately one with Him!  Do not let the infidelity of some stop you from being faithful members of the Catholic Church started by Jesus Christ.  The apostles did not leave Jesus because of the betrayal of Judas. Instead they ended up becoming even closer to Him.  We need to do the same.

For 2,000 years, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church has withstood enemies from outside itself and traitors from within its own ranks. And yet it still preaches the gospel of Jesus, still celebrates the sacraments He gave us, and still carries out countless works of mercy through the ministry of many loving and dedicated bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laypeople!  The terrible fire we have to pass through now will helps cleanse the Church on earth from corruption in its leadership. But in the meantime, each one of us can console the agonizing Heart of Jesus and promote the goodness that it still found within His Church, by renewing and deepening our own personal commitment and relationship with Him, our Lord, our Savior and our Brother.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Soul Food

The Catholic Liturgy for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 12, 2018. Gospel – John 6:41-51. Theme: Soul Food.

As I was reflecting on today’s gospel, in which Jesus says he will satisfy our deepest hunger, I thought of what St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said when asked to compare her work in the USA to that in India. She said: “Hunger in America is so much deeper and so much worse than in India.  It is the hunger of the soul. The hunger for God and for love. There is so much wealth but also so much spiritual poverty, so much spiritual hunger.”

Was Mother Teresa right in saying that we who are satisfied materially are in reality starving and dying spiritually? I think so and I also think facts bear it out. Well-fed but spiritually-hungry America, with all we have at our disposal to satisfy our physical needs, has among the highest rate of addiction in the world.  Is there a connection?

Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 said that AA had success where other programs failed because AA was the first to see that addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual remedy. It happens because for some reason, real or perceived, people come to believe they are not loved, not valuable, not worthwhile. They have lost a sense of meaning and of purpose in life. The pain of this spiritual hunger is too great and so they reach out for whatever will promise to satisfy, to fill that space within us that God and love are meant to occupy.

I think that this is very much like when we are really physically hungry and we’ll grab whatever food is at hand. Junk food is so fast and easy and provides instant gratification but not much real nutrition.  It satisfies the hunger for a time, but does nothing to truly nourish us, to promote our growth and health for the long-term.

My experience with 12-Step Recovery, both for myself and with others, shows that this very same principle of the body applies also to our souls, to our spiritual hunger.  When we are starving spiritually we’ll grab for anything that promises to give meaning and love to our lives; we will reach out for anything that might fill the God-shaped hole within us and satisfy the hunger. And in today’s culture we have all kinds of spiritual junk food that can seem appealing by making false promises about filling us up.
·       Alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, shopping, gambling, food and other forms of addiction.
·       Compulsive work, materialistic greed, excessive fitness and obsession with a perfect body, and whatever else makes the false promise of personal satisfaction.

These all hold out a fake hope of meeting our spiritual needs… when in fact, it’s quite the opposite… they make the hunger worse and lead to spiritual starvation and death, for they come from darkness.
But today’s Gospel is full of hope as it reminds us that God our Father draws us to Jesus, to the Bread of Life come down from Heaven, that truly satisfies our deepest spiritual hunger. He is Bread, spiritual nourishment, in the Word He speaks to us and He is Bread, spiritual nourishment, in the Eucharistic Food He gives to us.  It is by encountering the Risen Lord Jesus in the Mass that we can truly satisfy our deepest spiritual hunger. That is, if we come to Mass with the same kind of mindfulness and awareness that we give to our physical hunger.

When it comes to feeding our bodies, we take great care to learn what is good for us, as well we should: we shop for it mindful of proper nutrition, prepare it thoughtfully and eat it gratefully.  And it seems to me that the same should be true about our approach to spiritual nourishment.

We need to be mindful and realize that the Mass is so much more than just Bible readings and prayers that we can find in other places or say on our own. For 2,000 years it has been the sacred gathering of God’s holy people and He has promised to be personally present among us when we gather for it. Catholics in various nations over the centuries, and even today, have literally risked their lives to attend Mass.

We need to prepare for Mass carefully, perhaps by taking a missalette home or going online to take a look at the Sunday readings. In this way, we have a better chance of hearing the message that God wants us to receive through the Scriptures. He wishes to feed our minds with His Word and satisfy our spiritual hunger for meaning and truth.

And lastly, we need to partake of the Living Heavenly Bread gratefully, receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ with trust in God’s love. Through the celebration of the Eucharist we are somehow brought into the supernatural spiritual realm, coming face-to-face with the mysterious reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And by receiving the Eucharist we are somehow made part of that mystery and are promised eternal life.

As we now move on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let’s ask God for the grace to identify and properly feed the particular spiritual hunger deep inside each one of us. And as we approach Holy Communion, let’s take this hunger to Jesus with joyful trust in His words that closed today’s Gospel: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.