18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] 2 August 2015 “Source of Lasting Love”
[This homily was delivered to the Sunday Mass Community at St. John Fisher College the Sunday following the Mass of Resurrection for Fr. Joseph Lanzalaco, C.S.B., Director of Campus Ministry]
With hearts still hurting, we gather. The sting still fresh. For grief has no timeline; it’s stages – no particular order. That we gather however is sign of healing and this Sunday, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, beckons us back to the work at hand. For reality waits for no man – priest or pope, pauper or prince. Yet, even as time moves on, in our grieving the Lord is present to comfort in ways we might not even be aware. In the starkness of this space, banners of celebration now down, we are reminded our hearts seem a little more empty; but the Lord says to us He is present in our midst to heal the broken-hearted and fill us with His goodness. In that tabernacle, in a few moments on this altar, at this ambo in the Word we have heard, HE is present.
As one of the songs we so often sing says, “Bread of Life, Hope of the World – source of lasting love.” Present to us now. This resoundingly echoes in the readings we hear today – readings which bear the same words we heard proclaimed at Fr. Joe’s Mass of Resurrection on Wednesday: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life – The bread from heaven come down for the salvation of the world.”
Week two of four weeks that speak of manna and eating, being fed with food from heaven, bread of life, never to hunger or thirst again. Yet I get ahead of myself…
Before we look at those words I want us to study the words from our second reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians. For within the Bread of Life is a duplicity of purpose: clearly it is for the hungry – to feed us, nourish us, become part of us. It is also to lead us to a path of righteousness: Paul says in Corinthians, “let no one eat of it unworthily.” Immediately I think we all go, “Oh, conditions…I’m not good with conditions.” Or “Gee, I’m not worthy,” or “Am I worthy?” Ever wonder why we begin every Mass expressing our unworthiness and asking with penitent hearts for God’s gracious mercy? “Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy” is not some empty, archaic formula but one of this moment that brings us into the Lord’s very presence at the Mass. Or maybe you wondered why we are encouraged to go to sacramental confession before even getting here? Or why we plead one final time just before we receive this Bread of Life and Source of Lasting Love: “Lord, I am NOT worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the words, and my soul shall be healed.” Fr. Joe had the superbly beautiful gift of helping us come to grips with our unworthiness in very non-obtrusive ways. But under that gift was a complete devotion to the mercy of Christ present in the sacraments. A devotion that is now for us to carry on for ourselves. As we approach the sacraments let us do so with our hearts believing in our worthiness like he believed in our worthiness. Turn to these words every Mass and joyfully accept God’s mercy and love.
I digress for a moment but this was an important aside so that we might understand the words of St. Paul in that second reading where he implores us:
“you must no longer live as the Gentiles [unbelievers] do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
This is the Duplicity of the Eucharist: Feed, Nourish, Become part of us AND lead us to this path of righteousness. Even when I feel most unworthy….ESPECIALLY WHEN I FEEL MOST UNWORTHY. I turn to your infinite mercy, I come to your precious body and blood for strength, comfort, encouragement, then I do the best I can at putting away my old self and turning from deceitful things; renewing my mind in you and seeking God’s way in righteousness and holiness. This is the circle of life for the Christian. This is what it means to be Catholic.
In the gospel, seeing his miracles, (remember last week – feeding 5000) everyone is looking to Jesus, “Tell us what we can do to accomplish the works of God.” Jesus reminds them and us, not to look to the sky for signs and wonders….what we need is right in front of us every time we gather for Mass. The Bread of Life come down from heaven. Made manifest in our midst. Offered to us that we may never hunger or thirst. Offered to us as our very salvation. What can we do? Jesus answers with a single word, “BELIEVE.” St. Paul further expounds on what our response to this gracious gift must be. Not just believe but turn from sin. In seminary I had a professor who said, “the Amen of the people (our response) is the most important part of Mass.” While I don’t literally concur with that statement, I understand what I believe his meaning was in making it: So glorious is what we are offered in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, it demands of us a response. That is why when we come up to receive, we say firmly; definitively, “AMEN” “So Be It.”
At Fr. Joe’s Mass the other day I had this little nun come up to receive the precious blood from me. I said, “The Blood of Christ.” She looked me right in the eyes and replied, “I BELIEVE IT!!!” I almost jumped out of my alb. So direct. So convincing her response to what she was offered. I tell my students our response, our “CONSENT” and “INTENT” are everything. In an article I was asked to write for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I offered this prayer:
“Today Lord God, I CONSENT to having you in my life – to be in a personal and intimate relationship with you. And, I INTEND, through your Holy Word and the teaching of your Holy Church, to seek your will for me in all things, big and small. Through the aid of the Holy Spirit shape my choices to be sound and allow my conscience to be clear. Further, I turn to the grace of your sacraments to nourish my soul, comfort my spirit and empower me to live worthily of you.”
This is the Mass. This is the duplicity of the Eucharist – what it means to receive the Bread of Life, Hope for the World, Source of Lasting Love; and to respond to it. This is what Fr. Joe celebrated every day of his life. And it is what we are called to do every day of ours.