6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Conclusion of Men’s Conference and Parish Mass
St. Joseph Parish, Half-Way
Feb. 15, 2020
As many of you know, today St. Joseph’s hosted a men’s conference, a day of reflection on the faith and fellowship. For us who took part in this conference, this is a concluding Mass. In fact, participants in the men’s conference might be tempted to think of this Mass as a way of “winding down” the day. But we know that just the opposite is true; Mass is actually the highpoint of this day, just as it should be the highpoint of our week. The Eucharist isn’t the same as just going to church services. It’s not just a matter of words but the gift of Jesus to his Church; Jesus gave us the Eucharist at the Last Supper on the night before he died. When we come to Mass, Christ speaks to us in the Scriptures. We share in a deeply spiritual and real way in the Sacrifice Jesus offered on the Cross. And we encounter Jesus himself as we receive him in Holy Communion, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity… …and if we really believe this, we will never miss Mass on Sunday.
As you know, Mass attendance is declining in the United States and sadly, in some places, here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Some of our fellow Catholics will cite their anger of the scandals in the Church – and while they have a right be angry, that right doesn’t include being absent from Mass! Others have just gotten out of the habit of going to Mass on Sunday. After all, we’re working harder and longer than ever and weekends might be the only time to sleep in, watch sports, or play golf. And some of our fellow Catholics say they no longer believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist … they think that the consecrated host is merely a symbol, a reminder of Christ, rather than being in actual truth and reality the Body and Blood of Christ.
Dear friends, we’ve got a lot of work to do…beginning with ourselves. Might we need a refresher course on what the Eucharist really is? A refresher on what is happening before our eyes when we come to Mass? A wake-up call on the need to reprioritize how we use our time? What about the bad effects of our missing Mass on our families? We are signaling to our spouses, children, grandchildren and colleagues that we think of Mass as an option but not really necessary for our lives. Pretty soon they will start thinking of the Mass in just the same way. But the Church has always taught us differently. The Mass is the “source and summit” of our lives in Christ … it’s the source of the graces we need to live as true followers of Christ and it is that high point, that summit, wherein our lives are offered to God the Father in union with Christ, the Great High Priest, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And, let’s face it: If we don’t offer our lives to God the Father, we will inevitably offer them to something or someone else who is not God, someone or something that will never satisfy the deep spiritual longings in the depths of our hearts.
In fact, this afternoon’s Scripture readings challenge us in three ways to address those deep and persistent longings in the depth of our souls, those persistent questions about the meaning and direction of our lives, longings and questions that cannot be addressed adequately apart unless we are men and women of the Eucharist.
The first challenge comes from the Book of Sirach, our first reading. It asks the simple question – what is the direction of our lives? Sometimes we go through life without looking at the big picture. We can get stuck in the routine, almost like going through the motions, or we make decisions as if one decision isn’t connected with all the others. As a result, we see the trees but not the forest. Sirach urges us to see the forest, that is, the pattern and direction of our lives. Are we habitually keeping the commandments? Are we becoming holier and more virtuous day by day? Are we becoming more and more like Christ or are we treading water? Sirach says, “Before man are life and death, good and evil. Whichever he chooses (over the course of a lifetime) shall be given to him.” In other words, we have in our power to choose our own destiny. When we come to the Eucharist every week, it’s like shining a spotlight on our lives. God’s Word helps us see where we’ve been and where we need to go and the Eucharist gives us the strength to go there … including making big changes when necessary.
The second is challenge is really an extension of the first. It’s about the goal of our lives, the destination of our life’s journey. St. Paul tells us that the world as we know it is passing away. The world that is around us is real but it won’t last forever. It’s not enough to lead a good comfortable life in this world. Instead we have to live our life here on earth like those who are destined for heaven. Those who keep their eyes fixed on heaven while living in this world are wise. Those who put all their hopes in whatever’s next on this earth are foolish. So we need to ask if, in fact, we see heaven as the true goal and destination of our lives. And heaven is not a slam-dunk. We cannot presume it. We don’t have a default position somewhere in us that gets us there no matter what. God is merciful and he wants us to be saved and has done everything to bring that about, but, dear friends, we’ve got to want to go there! So we need to ask if we live our ordinary daily lives with a supernatural outlook or are we pretty much confined to the problems and stresses of this world? Paul tells us that ‘eye has not seen nor has ear heard’ what God in his love ‘has prepared for those who love him.’ That’s where we need to be headed and that’s where the Eucharist takes us. Because when we celebrate the Eucharist, we participate in the Liturgy of Heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand surrounded by the angels and saints. In other words, if we don’t like going to Mass, we won’t like heaven very much. Heaven is one long liturgy, a protracted heavenly celebration of God’s redeeming love!
Finally, Scripture challenges us to ask ourselves what do we need to be like to be ready for heaven, to love as Christ did, to love like the great saints, and even the angels. Today’s readings remind us to keep the commandments but not like automatons, those who are mindlessly taking orders and marching along through life. Rather, in today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that it’s not enough just to keep the Commandments; rather, we must also undergo a process of interior purification. So, it’s not enough to refrain from killing someone who harms us, we must also refrain from being angry or carrying a grudge. It’s not enough to refrain from adultery but we must always refrain from lust. It’s not enough to go to Mass and make a sacrificial offering; before doing so you and I need to forgive anyone who has harmed or offended us. That is why at the beginning of Mass we pray the penitential rite, asking for the forgiveness of our sins that we might celebrate worthily. That is why the Mass prayers so frequently mention ‘the forgiveness of sins’ most especially the words of consecration the priest utters over the wine such that it becomes the Lord’s Precious Blood … the Lord’s blood is poured out “for the forgiveness of sins”. That is also why Eucharist and Confession are joined at the hip. We can’t have one without the other!
Dear brothers, thank you for taking time to take part in this important day, and dear friends, I thank you all for taking seriously your spiritual lives and your role as spouses and role models for your children. May God give us all the grace and vision to know where our lives are headed, what the true destination of our lives really is, and how, even now, we are to prepare ourselves to share God’s love without any shadow of sin or death. We cannot answer those questions apart from the Eucharist for as the early Christian martyrs used to say, “sine Domenico, non possumus” – without the Sunday Eucharist, it’s not possible to be who we should be and to go where we should be going.
And may God bless us and keep us always in his love.