A very blessed Father’s day to all of you dads out there. Thank you for your sacrifices and inspiration that you give to your family and to all of us. Be assured of my prayers for you in a particular way at today’s Mass. We also pray for our dads who have passed on from this life. May they be received by our heavenly Father into the joy of His kingdom. For those who did not know their dad or had a tumultuous relationship, may our Lord bring healing to all hearts. And, finally, to those dads who feel as they haven’t been good dads, may our Lord show you His graces in your life and give you a renewed strength in the life to which He has called you.
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In addition to Father’s Day, today is Corpus Christi, a great solemnity in the universal Church and it is about this which I will speak today—and I’ll circle back around to Father’s Day.
This great celebration of Corpus Christi is a celebration of the Holy Eucharist: Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity given to us here at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After three years with me, you have heard this message several times.
There is a teaching of the Church, however, that is often misunderstood and which, I think, we should spend some time exploring today—and that is the teaching about how some people cannot receive the Eucharist. It seems like it is a harsh and exclusive teaching, so let’s explore that. In order to do that, let’s look at an equally harsh-looking and exclusive-seeming scripture passage.
It’s the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman (see Mt 15:21-28). The woman, who is not Jewish, has a daughter who is in need of healing. The woman comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal her. Jesus responds by saying “It is not good to take the bread of the children and feed it to the dogs.”
Ok, at face value, it seems like Jesus is being very harsh, cruel even. But I also know that Jesus is God and God is love. So, I’m conflicted: what is going on here?
I prayed hard about this and here is the light I received: the emphasis is not firstly on the dogs, but on the bread of the children. Our first reaction is to say, “Hey, Jesus, you called her a dog.” But, the first emphasis is on the bread of the children: when Jesus says this is “the bread of the children,” He is saying that this is bread that He’s worked for, bread that is for His family, bread that has value and for a family who is valuable to Him. In other words, the emphasis is on the value of the bread—it is not common bread; it is valuable.
Therefore, He says the dogs part. And by that, He means: “I don’t just give this bread to anyone, even less do I just throw it away—like to dogs. Because dogs consume without thinking. They don’t know the value of this bread. I want someone who will think and love me in return; someone who will become part of my family.” In other words, when Jesus says the dogs part, He is giving the woman a chance to respond to a very important question, namely: “Do you understand the value of this bread? Do you wish to become part of my family?” After all, she is not Jewish.
Thus, Jesus’ words are not harsh, but a loving teaching—a teaching about the value of the bread and an invitation to enter into a deeper communion with Him and His family.
Hence, when she cries out with understanding—that is, when she says “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table” (yes, Lord, I understand that this is very valuable bread; I understand that I am not part of your family, but I long to be part of it)—when she responds with understanding and love, Jesus heals her daughter.
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The Catholic Church follows the lead of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, when she too teaches her children the value of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not just the “bread of the children,” but the “bread of angels.” Heavenly bread greater than that miraculous manna bread. It is bread given on the night before Jesus dies, bread (as we hear in John’s Gospel) without which we have no eternal life. Truly, if this bread is from heaven and is connected to eternal life, this is no ordinary bread! Indeed, Jesus says it is His flesh for the life of the world.
Even the crumbs, as the Syrophoenian woman acknowledges, have great value. You will notice, therefore, that Catholic Churches have linens on the altar which are folded at the end of Holy Communion—these linens, called corporals, are to catch those crumbs. You’ll notice, too, that the priests and holy deacons take all of the chalices to the back credence table after Holy Communion and pour water in them and then consume that water. We don’t simply pour the water down the drain—even less do we pour the Blood of Christ down the drain. No, every drop is consumed, because it is Jesus! We have sacred vessels of gold to alert us that this is not an ordinary meal. We even have a special sink in the back of church called a Sacrarium that is used when we wash the chalices and ciboria. And the leftovers—we place all of the hosts (which are Jesus)—we place Him in the tabernacle. “This is my Body, given up for you” Jesus said as He held the bread at the Last Supper. No ordinary meal, no ordinary bread.
If it was ordinary bread, we wouldn’t care. We would do like many of our Protestant brothers and sisters—good people, very good people—we would do like they would do: we wouldn’t always have communion every Sunday. We would focus on the music and the preaching—both of which are very important, but a mere moon in comparison to the sun of glory which is the Eucharist. If this was ordinary bread, we would just gather the leftovers and put them back into plastic bags and store them in some drawer somewhere as non-denominational churches do. We wouldn’t have priests and lay faithful dying to protect the Eucharist from desecration. We wouldn’t have any care about who receives and in what manner they receive and so on. Yes, we could do whatever we wanted.
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But Jesus says, it is not good to take this bread of the children and to “feed it to the dogs.” In other words, “I don’t want you to consume without thought or without love. I love you. Do you love me? Do you hunger for me?”
Hence, the Church, for all of her 2,000+ year history now, has reminded us that if we receive without thinking or without desire, we profit little. We find this in Sacred Scripture, too, when Paul admonished the Corinthians in his first letter to them (chapter 11). So, we must spiritually hunger for this.
We must also desire to be in Jesus’ family—for it is the bread of the children. Jesus is saying to us: “I want you to be in communion with me, with my children, with my family.”
Following the Good Shepherd, the Church reminds us that two basic requirements for communion in the family of God are that we are not in a state of mortal sin and that we haven’t left His Body, the Church (cf. 1 Cor 11). Those who are in a state of mortal sin or those who have protested against her by being part of a denomination that protested against her, are not in communion with this family, the Church. If we are not one in this Body, we cannot receive The Body.
So, when the Church says that some people cannot receive, she is not doing so to be exclusive, but to do what Jesus did: 1) to alert us to the tremendous (indeed, divine) value of this unordinary bread and 2) to invite us into a deeper communion with His family, the one Body, the fullness of which is the Catholic Church (precisely because she has the Eucharist).
The Church, therefore, is not a social club, nor is the Eucharist the token of acceptance. No, the Eucharist is Jesus and the Church exists precisely to bring this uncommon bread to the world.
Those in mortal sin, therefore, need to come to their senses as the Prodigal Son did and return to the Father’s house—the confessional—and so be brought back into communion with the family. Our world is trying to convince us that we aren’t hungry for God. But, yeah, when kids eat junk food before dinner, kids feel that they don’t need dinner. A comfortable world doesn’t think it needs God. Intentionally skipping Mass (not for illness, but while on vacay) is mortal because we’re saying that we don’t hunger for God and that the world is enough. And that hurts. We need to repent. And our Father who loves us takes us back in an instant! He threw an uncommon feast for the Son!
On the other side of the coin, if a Protestant recognizes the value of this uncommon bread, the Eucharist, to them we say: Welcome Home! Come, enter into this family. Become Catholic. We have been praying for you and we cannot wait to be one with you at this great celebration!
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Let me conclude, then, by returning to fathers on this Father’s Day. One of the principle duties of fathers is to show and teach their children by word and action the true value of things. I hope that, as a priest, I have done this for you in the way that I offer the Holy Mass and in the way that I live during the other days of the week. But, as good as I hope my example is, it is not enough.
St. Therese of Lisieux once commented that “I learned more about the Eucharist from my dad than I did from the priest.” She wasn’t talking bad about the priest—she was talking about how important her dad, her hero was to her faith. Her dad, St. Louis Martin, revealed the true value of the Eucharist to his daughter, Therese, by the way he kneeled, by the way he dressed for Mass, by the way He talked about the Mass, by the way he prayed and then lived the other days after Mass. He was a man of piety—that is, someone who loved and revered holy things—and a man of devotion.
Our Church as a whole needs to reclaim that word, “Devotion.” It means not simply to attend to or to occasionally think or love, but to be devoted—to be consumed by this, to be committed, thinking and loving God and neighbor day in and day out. It’s what separates us from the dogs.
We must not be afraid, therefore, to speak about these hard teachings or to kneel as we receive and so on. It helps us. And it helps the world and our children to see that Someone important is here. And that I need Him. We all need Him. We hunger for Him.
And, really, that’s all our heavenly Father asks of us—just like any father asks of his child—that we be devoted and love him. After all, our heavenly Father loves us. Loves us so much that He gives us His everything, day in and day out; He gives us our daily bread; He gives us Jesus, His very life. Like any father, all he wants are those simple words: “Thank you, dad. I love you.”