Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Greatest Treasure - Homily for the 19th Sunday in OT

When I was ordained, my hands were anointed with sacred chrism—which is that wonderfully scented oil. Right after this happens, my hands were wrapped in a cloth—called a maniturgium (that’s Latin for hand towel). I didn’t simply wipe my hands, but I pressed them into the cloth, kind of how we did when we were in kindergarten. As I did this, the maniturgium became scented with sacred chrism and two hands were printed into the cloth.

There is a tradition that this cloth is given to a priest’s mom at the very first Mass that the priest offers. So, at my first Mass I gave this to my mom.

Now, there is an (apocryphal) story that goes along with this. The story goes like this: When my mom dies, the maniturgiam will be wrapped around her hands and she will be buried with it. When she comes to the gates of heaven to meet Our Lord for judgment, Jesus will ask her: “How did you love me here on earth?” To which my mom will unfold the cloth with my hands and say, “I gave you my son for a priest.”

When I told this story for the first time, it was to my mom as I was handing her the maniturgium. Everyone was crying. I told her that this wasn’t a golden ticket into heaven—that she still had to be holy.

But it did speak to the very depths of all of our souls: we want the very best for those we love. I want heaven for my mom because that is the very best.

Heaven. It’s probably not the first word that we think of when we come to Mass. But this is what it’s all about. The Eucharist is about eternal life, about heaven.

Note how many times Jesus talks about heaven in just the ten short verses of the Gospel here.
            I am the bread that came down from heaven.

            whoever eats this bread will live forever;

            I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die [that is, live]

            and I will raise Him on the last day.

Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal […] life 
I am the bread of […] life 

            the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world

Wow! Do you see? Jesus gives us the Eucharist so that we might have eternal life. Heaven.

He wants the very best for us. He loves us. It is this food, this living bread, that is going to bring us there. After all, if it was by eating that Adam and Eve brought death into the world, wouldn’t it be fitting that our Lord should have us eat so as to enter into eternal life?

Yes, this is why on the night before Jesus died, He took bread and said, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. This is my body, which will be given up for you.”

The Eucharist, therefore, is our greatest treasure. For 2,000 years the Eucharist has been given to hungry souls, longing to be filled with Jesus. On the battlefields in Europe, Catholic priests were seen giving the Eucharist; in hidden church-homes in China, priests and faithful quietly praying and receiving the Eucharist; in the great cathedral basilicas of Rome, grand celebrations of the Eucharist; century after century, from the ancient churches through the barbarian invasions, the Eucharist; the miracle at Lanciano, the devotion of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Eucharistic processions in a world of doubt-filled protest: the Eucharist; the one thing for which the angels could be jealous of us, the Eucharist. Second graders in veils and suits, the sick in their beds, the quiet adoration chapel awaiting a soul to come visit in the quiet hours of the night, the Eucharist.

Every day and at every moment there is a Holy Mass being offered, the gift of God’s eternal life being given to the world.

Isn’t this beautiful?

I think of Father Walter Ciszek—American. He felt called to do missionary work in Poland and Russia. During his work, he was captured by the communists and sent to a prison camp in Siberia. There was no church there. There was no wine. He was placed in solitary confinement and tortured. Was he ever going to receive the Eucharist again?

He received bread from his captors and a good Samaritan gave him “medicine for his belly”—that was the wine—and there Father Ciszek in his cell in Siberia, held the crumbs of bread and a couple drops of wine in his hand and said the Mass. Before he consumed the Eucharist, he would lay down on the floor with his hand outstretched, simply adoring the Lord for hours.

The Eucharist: our greatest treasure.

It is for this reason, that you will see me genuflecting when I enter into the Church—because there lives the Eucharist. “My Lord, I believe” is what I say as I put my knee to the ground. “My God and my king!”—at whose name every knee must bend.

Before I receive the Eucharist, I bow profoundly and I receive Him with great care and devotion. And in my heart, after I receive Him, I say thank you—because that’s at least common courtesy. But He is giving me eternal life, so I pray fervently as though eternal life depended on it. Because it does.

You’ll notice how us priests spend time purifying the chalices. We do this with affection because that’s Jesus.

You’ll notice that we don’t throw the Eucharist away but we preserve this treasure by placing Him in the tabernacle. Because that’s Jesus.

When a chalice spills (God forbid, but when it does), you will see me kneeling and carefully taking white linens and soaking up the precious body and blood of our Lord as though I was soaking up Jesus’ blood from His scourging at the pillar. Because, really, that’s exactly whose blood is really there.

It is for this reason, to consecrate and to hold and to give to you the very source of eternal life, that my hands were anointed. (I would have our extraordinary ministers remember this—or any of us who take communion in the hand—that my hands had to be anointed before I could hold the Eucharist in my hands).

And so I must admit: the genuflecting, the vestments, the bows, the meticulous cleaning of the chalices, keeping the leftovers in the tabernacle, and my hands being anointed —none of this matters … unless this really is Jesus. Unless this actually connects with what is most important: that is, eternal life.

If the Eucharist was not Jesus, then the only things that would matter would be the preaching and the music and what people we saw and what they were wearing. And it wouldn’t matter whether we genuflected or whether the priest was reverent and holy. Shoot, it wouldn’t even matter if we had priests… or even the Eucharist at all.

But if it is..... if it really is Jesus... then it is definitely connected to eternal life.

It’s because it is connected to eternal life that so many who have fallen away long for it; they miss it. I have had so many conversations at weddings and at funerals with people who have fallen away—and they fell away because all sorts of things (sins of the clergy, sins of the people, … or maybe because life just happened and they didn’t know how to come back)—I’ve had so many conversations ... and I've started to ask a simple question:

Don't you miss it? Don't you miss the Eucharist?

And they do. They really do. I can see it in their eyes. And many say so with their lips.

Come back. Eternal life is here. Heaven is here. Jesus wants the very best for you.

For all of us who are here, treasure this. Don’t let yourself fall away and become a statistic. Genuflect. Bow. Dress well. Pray fervently. Arrive early. Stay late. Treat the Eucharist as though your eternal life depended on it.

Because it does.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Father, your homilies always renew within me of the treasures of our catholic faith and allow me to see things in a new light.