Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of St. Raymond, Joliet
12 August 2018
This weekend, we continue our trek through John 6: the Bread of Life Discourse.
Let’s read the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians again:
“Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us.”
Thankfully, this is not an election year. But pretty soon, we’ll be hearing all about which politicians claim to be Catholic, and which ones really are or aren’t, and there’ll be all sorts of interviews with bishops and priests about why such and such a candidate should not be admitted to holy communion because of their stance on a whole range of hot-button issues.
This might be the fuddy-duddy young priest in me coming out a little bit, but I wonder if we talk enough about readiness to receive the Eucharist when we come to Mass. As we’ve said in recent weeks, if our belief in the Eucharist is wrong, and that really is only a Nilla Wafer, then I’ll argue that there’s no way the Church would still exist. People don’t die for Nilla Wafers, and Nilla Wafers don’t give millions of people the resolve to endure the persecutions of Diocletian and Nero in Rome or of Hitler or of ISIS.
If there are people in the world who roundly and firmly reject the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and they still attend Mass, I’d hope they wouldn’t receive the Eucharist. The word we all say when we receive, “AMEN”, means “I believe that” or “So be it.” So if you don’t believe, but you still receive and say AMEN, then you’re lying.
For the rest of us, we all struggle at times with this teaching because there is so little physical proof for it. It still looks and tastes like bread and wine. As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospels, sometimes a thing is hard to be known as it is, but good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit.
Look at the people who are earnestly striving to live the best Christian life they possibly can, they people who are attentive to their habits and virtues and vices and sins, and the people who choose to stay in the fight and navigate their lives
The people who receive unreadily or unworthily, who have no relationship with Christ or who are content in their sins.
There is gladness on the faces of the one, and life is simply a lament for the other.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord 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.
Paul is saying that the Eucharist should never be received willy-nilly, as if it were simply a Nilla Wafer. He tells us that it is possible to receive the Lord “unworthily” and that “a person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.”
What makes a person unworthy of eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus?
If you remember nothing else from our time together, remember this: sin always wounds. Major sins, called mortal sins, and lighter sins, called venial sins, are all sins, they are all action which harm our ability to relate with God and with other people; that is, sin makes it very difficult for us to carry out the two greatest commandments, love of God and love of neighbor. Sin, likewise, creates a kind of woundedness within us, and sin often functions in a kind of spiral, so that one sin leads to another which leads to another which leads to another and eventually it becomes difficult to stop a particular sin, and to start loving God and others in a right, self-giving relationship.
Our own habits of sin are always a response to some kind of lack. I am an emotional eater, for example, so when I am feeling unloved, or unwanted, or anxious, I get in the car and go to McDonald’s. Everyone experiences the same basic needs as humans: things like love, acceptance, affirmation, companionship, beauty, joy, pleasure, etc…and one or more of these is lacking from our lives in a major way we consciously or subconsciously begin to compensate.
Maybe we drink a little more, spend a little more time on the internet, play a little more Fortnite, eat maybe just one more ice cream sundae, have an extra can of pop, let ourselves be a little less friendly, maybe stay in bed just one hour more.
None of those things, of course, are bad in themselves, but you see who they are oriented toward, the one who will benefit from them: ourselves. Sin is primarily a choosing our own good over the will of God and the good of our brothers and sisters; it is the opposite of love.
So when I am feeling the lack of those things I mentioned earlier, and I begin to eat, I almost always do it by myself. Gluttony. So now I’m overeating and I’m doing it alone because I’m feeling shame about overeating. But because I’m feeling shameful and thus unworthy of connection with other people (because I fear they might judge me or call me fat) I become standoffish; so now, I’m gluttonous and angry. Because I’m being standoffish, the other priests in the house don’t want to talk to me, and I blame them because of course they don’t know or care what I’m going through so I guess I’ll just take care of myself. Gluttony, anger, pride.
Since I’m taking care of myself, and I’m feeling shameful and angry and lonely, as I loaf on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto V when there are checks to sign and people to visit, my mind begins to wander to things it shouldn’t wander to, and I think about the lives of other people who are so happy and put together and how all my friends are going back to seminary and I’m just sitting here being totally misunderstood by everyone around me.
So that’s gluttony, anger, pride, sloth, lust, envy. And if you consider that I’ve been retail therapy-ing on Amazon this whole time, there’s Greed.
Look, all seven deadly sins in one afternoon. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but it’s not so difficult to conceive, is it?
When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit. We make God sad! All he wants is to be with us, for us to be one with him, that we might become like him, and sin is our way of telling him that we’re just not interested.
Genuine conversion from sin looks like something, and it’s more than just prayer. It’s foundation is prayer! But the journey is more than just prayer. It’s prayer AND action; faith AND works, remember?
The greatest source of strength we have in our fight against sin is the grace of the living Jesus, risen and in our midst, that we receive in the Eucharist. If you’re not worthy to receive him today, then get your butt to confession and experience the healing and PEACE that God desires to show you as his son or daughter.
The great news for the Christian is this: we are never, ever, ever, ever for any reason at all stuck in our sins if we believe that Jesus has risen, and therefore has conquered sin once and for all.
Let’s begin, maybe for the thousandth time, the long journey of holiness. But this time, let’s do it together.