The uncompromising, extreme call of Jesus

Luke 9:51-62

Extreme things are very popular these days.  Extreme sports are all the rage.  Even food is extreme.  One manufacturer of Nacho chips has released a whole line of chips with extreme flavors.  If you are in the shopping aisle and the choice is between the extreme chips and the regular ones, you would have to take the extreme flavors.  I know I would feel pretty weak if I didn't  my ego would definitely take a hit.  Society’s obsession with all things extreme is more than just a marketing gimmick.

Many people go to extreme lengths in different areas of their life and we respect them for this.  We admire individuals that are radical in the way they pursue their career, hobbies or interests.  I once read an autobiography from a NAVY SEAL, a type of elite soldier, that explained in detail their training regimen.  It was shocking the see the commitment of these individuals: early mornings, constant work-outs, strict diet, and physical pain.  When I compared myself to these NAVY SEALS I couldn’t help but feel like a wimp. We could consider many other examples. Think of the sacrifices people in business often make in order to pursue their goals.  Or consider the endless training made by athletes to excel in their sport.  Even think of artists who often live a life full of radical choices for the sake of their art.  Many people go to extreme lengths in the way they pursue their career, hobbies or interests and we tend to admire them for this.

Though we see the need for radicality is various areas of life, we tend to think it is OK to accept a soft kind of Christianity.  Although we can appreciate that other areas in our life must be demanding, we can get uncomfortable affirming that following Jesus is likewise demanding. Let me illustrate this. Imagine for a moment that your goal is to become a great hockey player. If this is the case, you readily will go to early morning practices, spend a lot of money on equipment and make many other sacrifices.  Though we accept this is necessary to get good at hockey, we can become hesitant or resentful when the Church asks us to come to Mass each Sunday, go to confession and give money to the poor, things necessary to grow into a good follower of Christ.  We have grown accustomed to thinking that Christianity should be undemanding. Many have openly said that Christianity is something for weak people, a kind of crutch.  Karl Marx famously said that it was the “opiate of the masses”. Just look how Christians are represented on television.  There is the famous example of Ned Flanders, the Christian in the TV show “The Simpsons”.  This character always comes across as weak, a push-over, definitely no NAVY SEAL.  Though we tend to see the need for radicality in various areas of life, we tend to think Christianity is undemanding and soft.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that following Him is requires great sacrifice.  Christianity is not for the faint of heart but requires total commitment, it is radical and extreme.  We are called to love Jesus and follow Him without counting the costs.  In the Gospel Jesus is fighting against a kind of soft Christianity, one that does not demand much from us.  Someone says they will follow Him but only after they bury their father.  The person who said this did not just have their Father pass away.  It is a way of saying:, “ok Jesus I will follow you when I am older, now I am busy”.  A modern day equivalent are those who put off getting involved in the Church or Christianity until after they are retired.  Their schedule does not allow it at the moment.  Jesus is also clear that following Him is not for those who want a life free from difficulties.  Just as Jesus had “nowhere” to rest His head, we Christians need to accept a certain amount of risk, challenge and uncertainty in our life.  As Pope Francis has recently said, “the Church is not a health-spa”.  According to Jesus, following Him is far from being a crutch for the weak.  Christianity is demanding, challenging, something that takes our whole being and commitment.  The saints best understood this, they realized that Christianity was something extreme.

Today, perhaps more than any time, following Jesus is a very radical proposition because it means that we are often going against social trends. Being a Catholic today requires us to make sacrifices we will often be going against the current of popular opinion.  The extreme nature of Christianity is most clearly born out in the lives of the martyrs, those who have given their lives for Jesus. It is important to recognize that the past 100 years there have been more martyrs than ever before.  But what about the rest of us? For us too, Christianity needs to be lived in a radical way.  Jesus’ demand that we forgive our enemy is an extreme action, especially in a world bent on revenge.  In our busy and noisy world choosing to take time each day to pray to God in silence is a demanding proposition.  Striving to live the Christian vision of sexuality is a very radical decision.  As more and more families find their weekends busy and packed, making the choice to prioritize going to Mass and go each Sunday, even if it means sacrificing other activities, is a radical choice.  Working to build a world that is more just and peaceful rather than getting swept along in the flow of consumerism and materialism is an extreme thing to do. Following Jesus today demands dedication, courage and that we make sacrifices, it is by no means a crutch for the weak.

In Greek the word for conversion is metanoia.  Metanoia literally means “change of mind”.  Today I invite each of us to make such a change of mind.  Too often we think that Christianity is something undemanding, soft and unchallenging. We need to remember that the life Jesus calls us to demands total commitment and all our energies.  It is something extreme indeed.  Today let us make this change of mind.

Making our cross a crucifix

Luke 9:18-24

Let us begin by considering a few questions.  What is the one thing that is part of the life of every human being?  What is the one thing common to all human experience?  Did you answer “suffering”?  We all suffer.  Suffering can have many causes, physical, emotional, or because of relationships, but all people for all time and in all places have suffered.  Next, what do you think is common with the way that all people deal with suffering?  I think that all people share this common thread in the way they deal with suffering: they want it to go away.  This is only natural.  All people, regardless of when or where they lived have had to suffer.  All people have also looked for ways to remove this suffering from their life. 

This holds true for the Jewish people at the time of Jesus because they were suffering as a nation and were looking for a way out.  At this time, the people of Israel were undergoing a communal suffering for which they desperately sought relief.  For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of the Jewish people at the time of Christ.  Throughout history God has promised you, as a people, a land. But throughout history you have been occupied time and time again: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Greeks.  Now the most recent occupiers are the Romans.  This is a great cause of sufferings and you want it to go away.  You are seeking liberation from this suffering.  In particular, many are expecting God to send a political liberator: the Messiah.  This Messiah, or anointed one, is expected to expel the Romans from your land, through force if necessary, and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus simply did not fit the bill of this kind of political liberator.  In the gospel we see this.  Jesus asks who people think that He is.  A prophet? Sure. The Messiah? Only Peter recognizes Jesus as this.  The people were expecting the Messiah to liberate them, to free them from the suffering caused by oppression from the Romans.  But Jesus did not fit this bill.  The Jews at the time of Jesus were suffering and looking for relief.

We are very much the same: we look for a Messiah who can take away our suffering.  Today we think the same way as the Jews at the time of Jesus: we each have our different struggles and suffering and we seek for someone who can take it all away.  We can see this fact just by the type of movies that are popular.  Recently another Superman movie has been released.  This movie is in fact just another in a long line of super-hero movies which all seem to have the same premise.  First we find people who are suffering.  Maybe it is a kind of personal suffering, like an illness or individual tragedy, or a communal suffering, like an entire city is under siege by a criminal.  These people desperately want their suffering removed.  Enter the superhero.  This hero, whether it be Superman, Spider-man or Batman, always comes to remove suffering.  The superhero is the kind of Messiah that the Jews at the time of Christ were expecting.  The fact that these movies are so popular proves that we have this desire: in our suffering we desperately seek someone to remove the cause of suffering from our life.

Jesus, however, did not come to remove our suffering but to give it value.  Christ came not so that we wouldn't have to suffer anymore, but rather He transformed suffering so that it now has great meaning and purpose in our life.  In today’s gospel Jesus makes it clear that both He and His followers should expect to suffer: if we want to follow Him we must take up our cross and follow Him.  Jesus does not come to take away our suffering.  Jesus does forever change suffering by giving it value and meaning.  By His own suffering and death Jesus saved the world.  With Jesus, suffering now has redemptive value.  Our suffering too can have value; it can help bring ourselves and others closer to God.  Suffering does this in two ways. First, when we or someone we love suffers it often leads us to call on God for help because we realize that there is something outside our control.  We realize that we need God.  Because of this, times of suffering can be moments of conversion.  Secondly, suffering has value because when we unite our sufferings with Jesus we can help bring other people closer to God, even those we do not know.  Like it was for Jesus, our suffering can be redemptive.  When we accept our suffering and out of love “offer it up” for others, we, like Jesus can help bring people closer to God through our suffering.  Jesus did not come to take away suffering but to give it value and meaning.

We all need to learn to suffer well.  In our life it takes time to accept and deal with our suffering as Jesus intended.  Suffering is not of itself good.  As we know suffering can have an incredibly crushing effect on people’s lives.  We should not go seeking out suffering, but when suffering enters our life we need to learn how to suffer as Christ intended, so that our suffering can be redemptive, so that it can bring ourselves and others closer to God.  I think that there are two ways we can do this.  First, we need to ask Jesus to be close to us during our times of suffering.  We have to ask for His help to accept our suffering and to cope with it.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a wonderful expression to describe this.  He said, “we need to make our cross a crucifix”.  We cannot suffer alone.  We need ask Jesus to be with us.  Second, I think it can be very helpful to offer our suffering for someone in particular. When we suffer we can accept it and ask that God uses this suffering to help or to bless someone in particular.  For example we can pray that God uses our suffering to help a family member who is far from the Church or someone we know is passing through a difficult time.  We can also offer our suffering for people we do not know.  I have heard of people who offer their sufferings for poor children or for priests who are passing through difficult times.  By inviting Jesus into our suffering and by offering our suffering for someone in particular, we can learn over time how to suffer well.

Suffering is a universal part of the human experience.  We cannot avoid it.  Jesus did not come to take away our suffering.  He came to give our suffering value and meaning.  Through our suffering He wants us to participate in the redemption of mankind.  Today, let us try to look at our life and identify a particular suffering that we are having difficulty accepting.  Let us invite Jesus into this suffering and offer it for someone or some group in particular.  In this way we can make our cross a crucifix.

Being a bright light of love and mercy

As Christians we are to be the “light of the world”.  By our love for God and others we are to be lights shining on those around us.  You could say that each of us is supposed to be a light-bulb.  You have probably noticed that some Christians shine brighter than others.  When we look at our own life, we can probably see that at times our light has been quite dim, at other times more bright.  It is as though we are connected to one of those “dimmer switches”.  You know, those light switches that allow you to control the intensity of the light in a room.  In today’s gospel, Jesus seems to be explaining how we can adjust the dimmer switch in our spiritual life. He is explaining how we can increase the intensity with which we love God and our neighbor.  There seems to be a few steps to turning up the dimmer switch on our Christian life.

The first step is to acknowledge that we are sinners.  If we do not recognize that we are sinners then our dimmer switch is forever off.  Each one of us has done things that have damaged our relationship with God and others.  For example, in the first reading we heard about King David, a man who was specially chosen by God. Even with all his gifts and accomplishments, David was a sinner through and through, he was an adulterer and a murderer and he acknowledged this.  Even the great saints recognized they were sinners.  Mother Teresa had a wonderful expression that highlights this.  She would say that before going to confession, she entered the confessional “a sinner with sin”.  After the confession she left the confessional “a sinner without sin”.  She always thought of herself as a sinner. The reality is that we are all sinners and we should just acknowledge this fact.

The second step is to realize that the damage done by our sin has been repaired by Jesus.    St. Catherine of Sienna had a great analogy to describe the effects of sin on our life and how Jesus has remedied the situation.  She explained that because of our sin there is a great chasm that separates us from God.  In between this abyss there flows a mighty river.  Whatever we try, we cannot on our own do anything to cross the river and get back to God.  Our sin has caused damage to our relationship with God that we cannot fix.  Because of our sin we owe God a debt that we can never repay on our own.  How then do we cross this abyss to be unified with God?  St. Catherine explains that it is only on account of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Cross of Jesus is the bridge that connects us back to God.  Jesus has paid the debt we owe God.  The damage that sin has caused to our relationship to God can only be repaired by Jesus.

We love God to the extent that we realize how much He has done for us, that he has paid our huge debt in full.  The woman in today’s Gospel loved Jesus so much because she realized how much she required His mercy. If our love for God is a light-bulb, then our dimmer-switch is how much we recognize the gift God has given us.  The other day I was in the kindergarten class during the class’ Father’s day celebration.  I will be honest; I went because I heard there would be ice-cream.  The students were all there doing activities with their dads.  It was awesome to watch how the kids interacted with their fathers.  They all had so much love and appreciation for their dads.  For each student no one in the world could compare with how great their dad was. I think the kids love their dads in this way because they realize all that their dads have done for them:  how they always provide for them, care for them, are there when they need them.  Somehow when we get older, we lose this appreciation for our fathers.  We forget their many sacrifices.  We run this same risk with the way we view our heavenly Father. Do we realize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us?  That He sent His son to die for us.  The more we let this truth sink in, the more we appreciate what God has done for us, the more we will love Him.

The more we realize how generous God has been in showing us mercy, the more we will show mercy to others.  If the mercy and compassion we show to others is a light-bulb, then our dimmer switch is how much we realize that God has first forgiven us.  The Pharisee in today’s gospel is so quick to judge the woman because he does not see himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy.  Because he does not realize that God has forgiven his debt, he is unable to show compassion to the woman.  Though we should never approve of sin, we need to show patience and compassion for those who struggle with sin.  Just think of how patient God is with us.  When we are generous in showing mercy and compassion to those who struggle we help lead them closer to Jesus.  When I was at the seminary, my spiritual director was an old monk who has since passed away.  He often repeated a saying that struck me.  Whenever he would talk about people who have fallen into sin, no matter how great, he would always say “there go I but for the grace of God”.  He showed such great compassion to those who sinned because he was so aware of how much mercy God had shown Him throughout his life.  The more we realize how much we have been forgiven by God, the less stingy we will be in showing mercy to others.

Today we have the opportunity to look at our life and see if we are truly being a light to others.  How brightly does our love of God and others shine?  Are we compassionate and merciful to others or are we judgmental?  If our bulb is a bit dim, perhaps we need to increase the intensity on our dimmer switch.  Today let us do this by turning to our heavenly Father with great gratitude for all the mercy and forgiveness He has shown us, especially by sending us the gift on His only Son.

Learn to say "no" to make your "yes" really "yes"

Matthew 5:33-37

Politicians seem to have a bad reputation for not doing what they say. They are known for making promises they cannot keep and for saying things just to please people.  We need to make sure that we do not fall into the same trap.

It is very important that we be trustworthy and sincere.  People should believe what we say.  An extreme example of someone who was not trustworthy is the boy from the story The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  This boy repeatedly tried to trick the villagers into thinking that a wolf was attacking his flock when in reality there was no wolf.  Eventually the villagers caught on that he was not being truthful.  When a wolf really did attack the flock and the boy sought help, no one believed him and so no one came to his aid.  What the boy said was no longer worth anything.  Sometimes when people realize that those around them no longer believe what they say, they try to swear by some higher authority in order to lend credence to their words. People “swear to God” that they are telling the truth.  We are called to be trustworthy in what we say.  We should not have to appeal to some higher authority for people to believe us.  In this way we imitate God.  God is always truthful; He does what He says he will.  We find a great example in the creation story in the Book of Genesis.  There God says “let there be light” and there was light.  He means what He says and He does what He says.  When we are trustworthy and sincere we imitate God.

Sometimes we end up saying things we do not mean or making promises we cannot keep because we do not want to offend others.  Sometimes we fall into the trap of insincerity because we do not want to hurt the feelings of others.  Something that comes to mind immediately is that when people ask us for their help it can be very difficult to say “no” to them.  We have this desire to make everyone happy and we do not want the other person to feel hurt.  Because of this we often agree to do something we cannot do or really do not want to do.  This can often happen to me at the parish.  People will ask if I can help with something and before I even think if I really can, I hear myself saying “yes”. Sometimes I realize later that I have double-booked myself or have committed to doing something I cannot really do.  I am then forced to go back on my word.  My “yes” becomes a “no”.  People can then feel more offended and hurt than if I had just said “no” in the first place.  Learning to say “no” to people is a difficult task, but if we want to be people who are sincere and trustworthy, it is something that we must do sometimes.  We have to avoid falling into the trap of saying things we do not mean or making promises we cannot keep because we do not want to offend others.

Jesus calls us to be people of our word.  We should mean what we say and do what we mean.  Today let us take a look at the way we speak to see if our “yes” really means “yes” and our “no” really “no”.  In particular let see that we do not fall into the trap of saying things we do not mean or agreeing to do things we cannot do just because we do not want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Love makes us more human, lust dehumanizes

Matthew 5: 27-32

In today’s gospel, Jesus is using some incredibly serious language in order to warn us from succumbing to lust.  “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out” – this is very severe language.  Why is lust such a dangerous sin?  Lust is so dangerous because it is in the opposite of love.  Lust has the opposite effect on us as individuals when compared to love.  Love humanizes whereas lust dehumanizes us and those around us.

When we love, we are focused on the person we love.  True loves draws you outside of yourself and leads you to make yourself a gift to the one you love.  When you love someone you want to look out for the good of that person. We can think of many examples.  A mother naturally desires to care for her child and sacrifices herself in order to do this.  Love is what makes a mother wake up in the middle of the night to care for her crying child.  A father wants to protect, provide for and nurture his children regardless of the costs to himself.  Because of the love a teacher has for her students, she will sacrifice many hours to help them learn and to become all they have been called to be.  When we love, we imitate Jesus who laid down His life out of love for us.  Imitating Christ, the perfect human being, makes us more human.  Therefore the more we love the more human we become.  Love leads us to make ourselves a gift to those we love.

In lust we are focused on ourselves.  When we lust after somebody, we are not concerned with what is best for the other person, rather we are only concerned with gratifying ourselves.  Unlike love which draws us out of ourselves to focus on others, lust turns us in on ourselves. Lusting after someone turns them into a thing that we must possess.  When we lust we become like Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  Gollum was totally preoccupied with the ring.  It consumed him.  He had to have it.  Gollum’s desire for the ring destroyed his life.  Likewise when we lust after someone we dehumanize both them and ourselves.  The person we lust after becomes our “ring” and we, like Gollum, become totally turned in on ourselves, unable to focus on anything else in the world.  Lust destroys us, as Gollum’s desire for the ring destroyed him.  When we lust we become less human.  Lust is the opposite of love because it turns us in on ourselves.

Today’s gospel presents us challenge for us to examine and evaluate our relationships with others.  We can look at our relationships today and ask ourselves the simple question: in this relationship, am I more concerned with what I can give or with what I can receive from the other person?

Anger: good or bad?

Matthew 5: 20-26
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When I was young I used to play a game called “Don’t get angry”.  For many of us it seems like the name of this game describes our motto for how we approach the issue of anger.  We believe that we simply cannot get angry.  Is this really true though?  Is it bad to be angry?  When does anger become a sin?

It is important to understand that the emotion of anger is not a sin.  At first I had a hard time appreciating this until someone asked me once, “did Jesus ever get angry”?  I had to concede that in fact Jesus did get angry, for example when He cleansed the temple.  The emotion of anger is normal.  We should feel angry sometimes.  Anger is the natural reaction to a perceived injustice.  When we see injustice in the world, such as Jesus did when He saw how people were treating the Temple, the house of God, we should feel angry.  There are moments in our life when it is important to feel angry and we should not suppress this emotion.  In fact, if we went through life never feeling angry, then something would probably be wrong.  To feel angry at times can be a good thing and is not necessarily sinful.

The emotion of anger becomes problematic when it leads to hatred.  There is an appropriate way to deal with anger.  First we want to be sure that what we are angry about is truly an injustice.  If it is not, then perhaps we need to adjust our attitude.  If there is truly an injustice, the correct thing to do is to work to rectify the injustice.  Often, however, we deal with our anger in a destructive way, transforming it into hate.  When this happens, this normal and healthy emotion is transformed into a serious sin against charity.  In today’s gospel Jesus is speaking strongly against this.  Often we become angry at someone and we call them names, we speak badly about them or we are unforgiving.  When we respond to anger in this way, it is harmful and sinful.  Such uncontrolled anger, especially when it leads to desires for revenge, destroys peace.  When we deal with anger inappropriately, it leads us away from God and is sinful.

Today’s Gospel is invites us to reflect on how we respond to feelings of anger.  We need to find a balance.  Thinking that we should never get angry is not a Christian attitude.  The emotion of anger should lead us to take positive action to rectify injustice.   Is this the case in our life?  Let us look at our life and see if there are particular relationships are circumstances in which our emotions of anger lead us to hate or seek revenge.

How Jesus raises us from the dead

Luke 7:11-17

When I was a child, my favorite book was “The Velveteen Rabbit”.  Many of you have probably heard this book, maybe you have read this book to your children or grandchildren.  This story is about a toy, a stuffed rabbit, who belongs to a young boy.  Throughout the whole story the rabbit has one great desire: to become fully alive.  During the story we learn that the rabbit can only become alive through love, the love of the little boy to whom it belongs.  This story helps us better understand today's readings. As we will see, in our life, each of us should share the desire of the velveteen rabbit, the desire to be fully alive.

In today’s gospel we discover that Jesus restores life out of love.  Because of His love, Jesus gives life to the dead man.  Try to picture this scene.  You are standing on a dirt road outside the main gate of a walled city.  You see a large group coming out of the city passing through the gate.  You can see that they are carrying a platform on which there is the corpse of a young man.  Beside the platform, clinging to it is a woman wailing.  She is the mother of the man.  She is inconsolable because her only son has died.  It is as though her own life has ended because with her son dead she will have no one to provide for her.  Suddenly you see Jesus approach the platform.  He is visibly moved and goes straight for the grieving mother.  Jesus’ love for the woman is evident in the way He speaks with her, trying to console her.  Jesus’ words surprises all those present: Jesus tells the corpse to get up.  Everyone’s surprise is turned to shock and amazement with what happens next: the dead man arises, he has been raised from the dead.  Two points are clear from this scene: 1) Jesus has the power to give life to the dead and 2) He does so out of love, in this case, love for the grieving mother.  In today’s gospel we discover that Jesus restores life out of love.

Though each of us here is physically alive, at times we can be spiritually dead.  Even though are bodies are healthy, our souls may be sick and dying.  We are all meant to carry within us the life of God.  We call this Divine life grace.  Here on earth, grace fills us with faith, hope and joy.  It helps us to be a better person.  When we die, it is because of this grace in our souls that we are able to live with God forever in heaven.  When we sin, we either damage this Divine life within our soul or banish is from our souls altogether.  Sin robs us of life, both here on earth and eternal life with God in heaven.  At some time in our life, we have all probably experienced the crippling effects of sin.  It robs us of freedom, joy and peace.  This is particularly true when sin becomes a habit, a kind of addiction.  There are many examples.  A work-aholism in which we work so much we neglect our relationships with family members and God.  A consumerism in which we find the only way we can feel good about ourselves is by buying more stuff.  The internet has made addiction even more common whether it be addiction to social media, gambling or pornography.  Because of addiction to sin, we run the risk of being spiritually dying even though in body we may appear to be healthy.

Jesus has the power to restore our spiritual life.  Because of His love for us, Christ desires to give us back our spiritual life.  As a society we are very much aware of the importance of physical health.  We strive to maintain it.  If we lose health, we try to restore it by all means, even spiritual.  If you watch a program from a tele-evangelist, you find it is full of people seeking to be healed physically.  Though we recognize the importance of physical health, we sometimes ignore spiritual health, something that is so much more important.  Though we should pray for those who are physically ill and rejoice when healing is given, we forget that to be spiritually healed is much more important than a physical healing.  To be raise from a physical death, such as the case we see in the gospel, is nowhere near as important or miraculous as to be given life after a spiritual death.  In the second reading we are presented with such a spiritual resurrection.  St. Paul had been stuck in a sinful and destructive pattern of behavior  through his pride he was persecuting the followers of Christ.  His actions brought death to others and spiritual death to himself.  All this changed when Paul encountered Jesus Christ.  At this moment he was spiritually raised from death to life.  His life changed forever.  Only Jesus could have worked such a miracle.  Jesus alone has the power to restore our spiritual life.

It is up to us to seek the life-restoring power of Christ.  Jesus forces His life-changing power on no one.  What if I told you that there was a way for each of us to be raised from spiritual death?  What if I told you that it was easy and only took five minutes?  Would you do it?  In His love, Jesus has made his life-restoring powers readily available to us in the sacrament of confession.  Sin robs us of the gift of Divine life, it causes a spiritual death in our soul.  Confession forgives our sins and gives us back the gift of Divine life.  It is truly spiritual resurrection.  A huge gift, readily available.  Yet we tend not to take advantage of it.  Yes I know, confession can be embarrassing and a bit awkward, I feel the same way when I go to confession.  But is shouldn’t be this way.  In confession we encounter the loving, healing presence of Jesus Christ.  No one is judging us.  No one is taking notes on what we say.  Jesus desperately wants to give us the gift of life through the sacrament of confession.  Will we let Him?  It has never been easier to take advantage of this gift.  You can always come before Mass at St. Matthews.  If that is not convenient, you go to the Archdiocese website,, you can look at other parishes close by to find times for confession.  Christ loves us and desperately wants to raise us from spiritual death to life, but we must seek His help. 

The Velveteen rabbit desperately wanted to be alive.  In the end, love gave life to the rabbit.  Jesus loves us and wants to give us life, but do we have this same desire which motivated the Velveteen Rabbit?  Do we want to be a fully alive, both physically and spiritually health?  Or are we satisfied to be physically alive and spiritually dead?  To be a kind of spiritual zombie?  Jesus has both the power and the desire to raise us to life.  Let us allow Jesus to restore us to life by going to the sacrament of confession soon. 

"You are what you eat" - Corpus Christi

1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17

“You are what you eat”.  What we eat has a concrete effect on our life.  If we eat wholesome nutritious food, we will probably be healthier and have more energy as we go about our tasks.  On the other hand, if we just ate chips and ice-cream all day – something I would never do, well, rarely – then we would probably be quite unhealthy and feel lethargic and lack-luster as we went through the day.  You are what you eat.  Today, as we celebrate Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Jesus, we should consider the meaning of this phrase in our life.  How should receiving the Eucharist change the way we live?  In order to consider this, we must start by being clear about what it is that we actually eat when we consume the Eucharist.

A surprising number of Catholics do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.  Numerous Catholics do not think that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.  Exact statistics differ depending on the study.  CARA Institute in Georgetown University found that among Catholics in America, about 6 in 10 Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  So what do the other 4 in 10 believe about the Eucharist?  They hold that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is a symbol of Jesus, but that Jesus is not really present.  To support their opinion, some would refer to the 2nd reading we have heard from St. Paul’s account of the Last Supper.  In particular, they would emphasize that Jesus is telling us to receive the Eucharist in “remembrance if Him”.  When we come together to at Mass, we somehow “remember” Jesus.  We express our attachment to Him, His sacrifice and His teachings.  We remember Jesus but He is not really present in the bread and wine.  A surprising number Catholics do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.

Having a correct understanding of what is meant by the term “remembrance” in our 2nd reading helps us to understand what the Eucharist is.  If we appreciate the meaning of “remembrance” in the Jewish context we will know what is happening at Mass.  Jesus and all His followers were Jews.  Their understanding of “remembrance” was not the same as our own.  If I look at a picture from an old holiday, I “remember” the experience by thinking about where I was, who was with me, the memory may evoke a certain emotion.  For Jews at the time of Christ, “remembering” meant much more, it was a very loaded term.  For example, at each Passover, the Jews remembered the Exodus, when God freed them from slavery in Egypt.  When Jews “remembered” the Exodus, they did not simply understand that they were thinking about it and celebrating the event.  They believed that they were made actually present at the Exodus; they were actually participating at an event that occurred over 1000 years before.  They were present at the Exodus, God was freeing them personally and they were given the invitation to follow God anew in their lives.  Having a correct understanding of what Jesus meant by “do this in remembrance of me” helps us to know what the Eucharist truly is.

When we receive Holy Communion, we are really receiving Jesus.  The Eucharist is really, truly Jesus.  When Jesus said “do this in memory of me”, He meant this in the Jewish sense of the term.  Jesus followers understood that when they “did this in memory of Jesus”, when they celebrated the Mass, they were really present again at the Passion and Death of Jesus.  At every Mass, we believe that we are really made present at the one sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary nearly 2000 years ago.   You know the song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  We should answer “Yes, I was there!”; every Mass I am there. Because of this, when we do “this in remembrance of Jesus” He really becomes present in our midst.  At the moment of the consecration, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Catholics have always believed this.  The idea that the Eucharist is merely a symbol did not come until much later, more than 1000 years after the death of Christ.  The Catholic belief about the Eucharist is not easy to believe, as Jesus Himself said, “it is a difficult teaching”.  But I believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist because He told us He would be.  There is no mistaking what Jesus meant by “do this in remembrance of me” and I take Him at His word.  When we receive Holy Communion, we are really, truly receiving Jesus.

Consuming the Eucharist transforms us to become more like Christ.  Pope Leo the Great, who lived in the 5th century said it this way: "Our sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other purpose than to transform us into that which we receive".  We are what we eat.  This has significance for us both as a community and as individuals.  As a community, when we receive the Eucharist we are transformed into the Body of Christ.  We become one body.  Receiving the Eucharist should concretely make us more united as a community.  We should want to spend time with one another after Mass and outside of Sunday Mass in various parish groups.  Leaving Mass and getting frustrated with one another as we try to leave the parking lot is contrary to the unity that the Eucharist should create in us.  As individuals, receiving the Eucharist should concretely transform our lives.  We should begin to act more like Jesus.  Love like Him.  Be patient like Him.  Be humble like Him. Serve like Him.  People should be able to tell by the way we act that we follow Jesus Christ.  Consuming the Eucharist transforms us to become more like Christ.

Our bodies need good food to grow, remain strong and to work as they are designed to work.  In today’s Gospel Jesus recognized this need and fed the multitude.  Likewise as Christians we are meant to grow and transform to be more and more like Jesus.  To meet this goal, we too need a special food.  Jesus too recognizes this need and at this very Mass gives us the Eucharist, the gift of His very self.  During the Mass today, let us in a particular way re-affirm our faith in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  At the moment of consecration let us say deep within our heart, “Jesus I believe that this is you”, and ask Him to unite us as a community and grow more like Him in the way we act.