Sunday, June 3, 2018

Out from the Clearance Bin - Homily for Corpus Christi (2018)

This weekend, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi-- that's Latin for "The Body of Christ." It is a celebration of God having given us the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ present here in the Eucharist.

One of the joys of being assigned to a parish with a school is that I get to see the children and their reaction to the Eucharist. For example, on Tuesdays we have Eucharistic Adoration here. This is where we place a gold object, called a monstrance, on the altar (monstrance from the Latin "to show"). In this monstrance, there is a window and, behind the window, you can see the host, the Eucharist. When people come to Eucharistic Adoration, they come to see and to adore Jesus present in the host. There's no need to recite lengthy prayers or to "do" anything. It is enough to just be with Jesus.

The kids, for their part, often kneel in the pews and some of them move up to the floor in front of the pews where they sit or kneel. But it's pretty cool to see what they do. I see them close their eyes in prayer; others sit criss-cross and just look up at Jesus; once, I saw a child blow a kiss to Jesus. It's very beautiful.

Children, I think, have a sense that Jesus is here. A mom of our parish recently told me that her little one whispers in her ear at communion time: the little one says, "Mom, my mouth is watering. I want Jesus." Indeed, I have a memory from my childhood-- I was about 4 or 5. I remember the priest giving out communion from the ciborium (that is the gold object that holds the Eucharist-- from the Latin "cibus" meaning "food"-- a ciborium is a food container...)-- I remember the priest giving out communion and I wondered how it was that he never ran out of hosts. I knew the story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and I just presumed that when Father gave out one host, another miraculously reappeared in the ciborium!

I will admit: in hindsight, I know that I am very blessed that, from a very young age, I always believed or at least intuited that there was something miraculous going on here. I knew it wasn't about the preaching (thank God!) nor the music. Mass wasn't a meeting on Sundays. It was something special-- Jesus was here. And something miraculous and transcendent was going on-- something out of the ordinary.

I'm blessed in that I've never really doubted this. Sure, I've had temptations just like anyone else, but I always believed. What I found interesting, however, is that the moments of temptation typically came in those moments when I was in a hurry or preoccupied with some other project. I started to wonder why this was.

The conclusion I came to was this: there is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it. Let me repeat that: there is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it.

That's kind of heady, so let me explain.

Say that you want to buy a pair of shoes and you find the pair you want in the clearance bin. Ok, so they're twenty bucks, but they were the ones you were looking for. -- But they were in the clearance bin. We start to think: what's wrong with them? why are they on clearance? why did no one else want them? are they knock offs? are they damaged? and so on.

Let's say that you go to the store again and this time you buy a pair of shoes, but this time you spend $120 on them. A pretty fine pair of shoes for that cost. Indeed, you are going to take care of those $120 shoes. They cost $120-- so you're not going to walk through the mud in them or give them to your dog to chew on and so on. No, you're going to take care of them.

Here's the point: our human nature will take care of the shoes that cost $120 much more than those that cost $20-- even if they are the exact same pair of shoes. In other words, it doesn't matter so much about the shoes so much as how much you spend on them. If you spent a lot on that pair, you're going to take care of it much more than the one you got from the clearance bin. There is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it.

The same can be said about our faith.

So, for example, it is no secret that some converts to the Catholic faith are more zealous and evangelical than some cradle Catholics. Why is this? Take, for example, a Baptist who is becoming Catholic. She may lose her friends over this; or her parents; she will definitely lose her Baptist worshipping community (some who may even accuse her of idolatry when she talks about worshipping the Eucharist). But she feels called to the Eucharist. So, to help explain to her family and friends and community, she starts reading and studying and forming ways to articulate. And, probably during all of this, the way that she is living is changing, too.

This-- this Eucharist, the very Thing that makes Catholics different than all Christian denominations-- this is costing her a lot. And precisely because it cost her so much-- much more than those $120 shoes-- she is going to value it so much more than those for whom this faith cost them nothing.

What does this mean for us?

I think it means that we need to raise the bar when it comes to our spiritual life and Eucharistic devotion. Here's what I mean by that. After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, there was a kind of experiment in the Church that thought that, if we lowered the bar when it came to morality, to what was expected at Mass, and so on-- that if we lowered the bar, more people would become Catholic.

But if you look at how many parishes have closed and how many people are no longer Catholic-- well, I think you can see that this particular experiment has failed.

The question is why?

The answer is: because at the very heart of our religion is the belief that love costs. We believe in Jesus Christ, who is God, and that He loved us even unto the Cross-- and that cost Him His life. It is this same Jesus that then turned to us and said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must lay down his life, pick up his cross daily, and follow me." In other words, if you love, there is a cost.

In past centuries, the laws of the Catholic Church helped Her children to remember this fact and actually to live it out. For example, many of you remember that, when it came to fasting before receiving communion, it wasn't an hour-- it was from midnight. You had to make it from midnight all the way to after Sunday morning Mass. (Which is why you didn't see too many Sunday evening Masses. And the word "breakfast" literally comes from this: Break Fast). You would literally feel a little pain before and even during Mass.

Our culture is so averted to cost that when the Church even begins to mention the costs required for Holy Communion (like, being free from mortal sin and a practicing Catholic), people get upset. But precisely because there is no cost, so many have such a little value of the Eucharist.

Now, this is not a complaining homily about how things have changed from the 1960s. That's not the point.

The point is that, when we were children, we found it quite easy to believe and to love Jesus in the Eucharist. We didn't have anything else pulling us away from valuing this. But then there came dating. And then college and studies. And responsibilities like a job and bills and family and so on. And we are pulled in many directions. Because things became complicated, we now had to choose-- and whatever we chose would cost us those things that we didn't choose. If I chose work on Sunday, it would cost me the Eucharist. If I chose the Eucharist, it would cost me the extra sleep on Sunday, etc.

To battle the temptation and to grown in a greater faith and love in Jesus here-- we have to raise the bar and, in a sense, we have to have this cost us more. I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about Monsignor Orf. Monsignor Orf-- he's a priest that came from our parish. He's about 90 years old. He offers Mass with me once in a while. Now, I have bad knees-- I can't imagine his, being 90 years old, but he tells me they aren't all that great. And yet, he genuflects to Jesus here. And when Monsignor genuflects, I hear a little grunt of pain-- it hurts.

There's the cost of love.

I don't know the specifics of how God wants to raise the bar of your spiritual life and Eucharistic devotion, but maybe it starts with a devoted genuflection. Maybe it means kneeling without putting your butt on the pew to rest. Maybe it means making a good act of faith when you come up the line. Maybe it's the commitment to Sunday Mass every Sunday. Maybe the cost is dressing nicely instead of casual. Maybe the cost is telling your employer that you can't work on Sundays anymore. I don't know what it is for you-- but can you imagine that person whom God is asking to tell their employer that Sunday Mass is more important than work on Sundays? Or the churches in Syria that are being destroyed and yet the people still come?

Can you imagine how much they value the Eucharist? They can look up at the Lord and say, "Jesus, I took that great chance, Lord, to be here with you."

It was a little Cross; but believe how much the Lord will bless that!

We must not lower the bar, but raise it. It makes our faith all the more firm; it makes our communion all the more sweet; it makes our worship all the more intense; it makes our community all the more vibrant. It makes us all like children again, kneeling in prayer, telling Jesus that we love Him and blowing Him kisses.