Monthly Archives: June 2013

Christianity Without the Cross? — Homily Sunday June 23rd

The symbol of our faith is not a smiley face.  It is not a heart with LOL next to it.  It is a crucifix.  Ever thought about that more than a few seconds? 

Image

If you look at pictures of Jesus, he is often pointing to his heart, which is often crowned with thorns and bleeding.  Of course, the symbol of our faith is a crucifix, which has hanging on it a God that has been crucified.  If you were not raised as a Christian and particularly a Catholic, some people have made comments on how morbid these images are—how much they are focused on pain, suffering, and even torture.  What are we to make of these charges?  Is there any truth to them?  How can we understand them?  Have you ever really even thought about it?  If you are Buddhist, there are no such images.  Muslims do not have a crucified Muhammed that they worship.  So what is the deal with this?

The cross began to be used as a primary Christian symbol fairly regularly as early as the middle of the second century.  And do we absolutely have to look at the cross as our primary symbol?  Is that some sort of rule of our church?  Well, not exactly.  But just because we might not like it, we can’t cast it aside, either. 

Some people view the sacred heart of Jesus as perhaps a better symbol for our faith.  Pope Pius XII once wrote in an official encyclical, “the Heart of the Incarnate Word is deservedly and rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that threefold love with which the divine Redeemer unceasingly loves His eternal Father and all mankind.”  That’s a pretty high authority.  It’s simply something to consider.

But the problem might be how we view the cross.  Historically speaking, was it an instrument of torture?  Yes it was?  But have we forgotten why Jesus hung there?  It was all because of love.  In our first reading Zechariah actually prophesies of the day when the savior will be pierced, and gives us a reason for it: 

On that day there shall be open to the house of David

and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.”

It is to purify us from our sin.  Someone had to pay for it, and it seems that we were incapable of doing so anymore.  So God did it for us.  That makes the cross seem infinitely more beautiful, doesn’t it? 

I remember one time I visited a woman who had a special needs child.  She was constantly attending to his needs 24/7.  It seemed like such a tragedy that he had to live that way—trapped in his own body almost—and that she had to go through such effort to take care of him.  My heart went out to them both.  And I mentioned to her how much of a tragedy it seemed to me.  She quietly replied, “I once looked at it that way, Father.  But now I look at caring for my child as the most wonderful opportunity for me to show possible 

I stood corrected.

Suffering need not be ugly.  The cross need not be morbid.

But the cross is still the cross.  The savior still bled and died on it.  It’s still hard to take.  We humans don’t really like looking at sin and death, do we?  We have hospitals and nursing homes where we hide our sick and elderly, taking it far from the sight of everyday life.  And the people that work in those places do very wonderful work, but it used to be that our sick and elderly were daily in our homes and we couldn’t help but see how frail the human condition is.  And what about sin?  Our world doesn’t even believe in sin anymore.  Everybody is ok and everything is ok, and just about everything but the most obvious crimes seems to be permissible.  The cross reminds us that there is an ugliness to sin and death.  The cross reminds us that there is a price to pay for that ugliness, and that is not something that this world wants to be reminded of.  Can we emphasize the sin and the suffering too much?  Absolutely we can.  And there have been times in our church when we have done this.  What is more important is the unsurpassable love of Christ, his peace, his joy, and his redemption.  But we cannot forget the cross.

I would like to focus specifically on what Jesus says in the gospel today so that we might understand it better.  I wanted to focus on it so that I would understand it better.  Jesus says,

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself

and take up his cross daily and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

The first thing that I want to make note of is that in the first part of the gospel, Jesus is addressing only the apostles.  But then the line right before the one I just read you says, “Then Jesus said to everybody…”  This is not just an exhortation to priests and apostles, this is a rule for everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.

First of all, Jesus says whoever does not pick up his cross DAILY will not find him.  Now what is our cross?  I guess our cross is that mission that we have been given by God, which sometimes causes us to suffer in order to prove our love for him and for those around us.  This is not a mission that we chose ourselves, but something that has been given to us.  What is that?  That is your cross.

Then Jesus says that in our to follow him, we must deny ourselves.  Now I like to be precise when I figure out these sayings of Jesus.  The Greek word for deny is ARNASASTHO from the Greek word arnaomai.  It literally means “to say no to,” or “to deny.”  So Jesus is literally saying, “Unless you say no to yourself” you cannot follow him.  How does someone say “no” to himself?  This is intimately tied with picking up your cross.  There are many paths that we might follow in this life, most of them selfish.  Most of them so that we can avoid pain, feel pleasure, win money or fame or comfort.  Well, Jesus is asking us to say “no” to those paths in order to follow the one that leads to him—to eternal life—we can’t forget heaven, people.  Here is a test question:  Can I look in the mirror at the end of the day and say that I said “no” to doing and thinking some things because I wanted to say “yes” to following Jesus?  If not, there might be a problem.

The final saying follows from the first two:  Jesus actually says that the one who loses or destroys his own soul for his sake will actually save it.  Very strong words.  Ultimately, Jesus is talking about the concept of SURRENDER here.  Isn’t that what happens when we lose a battle?  We surrender to the stronger person or entity, hoping that the terms they set down will actually save us—if we didn’t think the victor would save us, we would fight to the death rather than surrender, wouldn’t we?  This is what we do in the spiritual life.  There is a great battle, and it’s right in the middle of our hearts between our true self that serves God and others and our false self that serves only itself.  In order to save ourselves, we surrender to the stronger party—God.  And he has given us his terms—the commandments, the sermon on the mount, the sacraments.  And if we obey his terms, he will have mercy and WE WILL BE SAVED.  Do we think we can save ourselves?  Do we think we can break down heaven’s gates when we die?  Let’s try to admit that there has been a great spiritual battle and WE LOST.  Jesus gives us merciful terms of surrender 

Pope Francis recently said in a homily, “But a Church that denies its martyrs, because it does not know that martyrs are needed for Churches’ the journey towards the Cross. A Church that only thinks about triumphs, successes, does not know that rule of Jesus: the rule of triumph through failure, human failure, the failure of the Cross. And this is a temptation that we all have.”  He tells us to beware of a Christianity without the cross.  Even Ghandi, who wasn’t even a Christian, declared that one of the deadly sins is “the idea of worship without suffering.”  And why?  Because suffering one of the most real proofs of love—suffering is the proof that when the going gets tough, we won’t get going. 

Of course, at a certain point, the question is NOT whether we like all this business about the cross, or denying ourselves—sometimes we act as if this is the case.  Sometimes we act as if religion is like a big buffet and we pick out what we like and throw aside what we don’t like.  At a certain point, the question that we need to wrestle with is simply “Is it TRUE or not?”  If we keep the image of a buffet, I can recall that Jesus said something about that.  I think he said about at least four times in different ways, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you?”  The thorny question is not whether we like this or don’t like it, but whether it is true or not true. 

And if it’s true, then we had better do it.  And if it’s not, then WHY ARE YOU HERE?  Jesus asks the disciples today in the gospel, “Who do you say that I am?”  So who DO we say that he is?  If he is God, have we forgotten the terms of surrender?  To deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Feast of Corpus Christi: Can the Bible help us Believe in It More Faithfully?

Image

 

Not before mass–still no 

Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the most holy Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is an older feast instituted in the Middle Ages, and is usually accompanied in many countries and parishes by a Eucharistic procession right after mass, which we will have at the end of the 5:30 p.m. mass.  But why should we celebrate it?  Why parade around a host that is originally made of bread?  Well, as good Catholics we all know that during the mass the bread becomes no longer bread, but the body of Christ.  I would like to take the opportunity to talk about this teaching again, hopefully giving us more confidence in it.  I’ve done it before, but because the Eucharist is so central, it stands repeating over and over again until Jesus comes again.

In John, chapter 6, he calls himself the bread from heaven at least four times and tells us three times that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us.  Y’all, this is a point that Jesus is really HAMMERING.  There is virtually no other theme in the entire Gospel where Jesus repeats himself so much about a single thing.  Now, when a teacher repeats himself, he is trying to make a point about something that is important.  All good teachers do this.  I think it is safe to say that the Son of God is THE teacher, not just A teacher.  So when HE repeats himself so much, we had better stand up and take notice that he wants to make a VERY IMPORTANT POINT.  The point he wants to make is that he is the new manna.  The point that he wants to make is that he gives his flesh and blood for the life of all who come to the table to eat.  Other Christian faiths have no problem in saying that Jesus is speaking symbolically here about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, because if they don’t say at LEAST that, then they are not being scriptural.  The references here are quite obvious, and so is the Last Supper where he says, “Take and eat, this is my body.”  HOW COULD WE MISINTERPRET THAT, Y’ALL?????

I want to focus on what Jesus meant when he said that he is the “bread from heaven.”  Let us recognize something from the outset.  Let me reread one of the lines that we just heard from the Gospel:  “the Jews quarreled among themselves and said, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  My friends, it was a problem for them to believe and it is still a problem for some of us.  It is not an easy teaching.  The Lord himself recognizes this.  But he teaches it all the same.  Faith believes in something difficult and unseen so that we might in the end be saved by that belief. 

O.K.  Bread from heaven.  New manna.  Here we go.  What does that mean?

If Jesus is the bread from heaven and the new manna, you first have to know what the old manna was.  If some of this is review for some of you, I apologize.  But even for those of you who already know it, going over the basics again should never get old.  As most of you know, the Jews were held in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years—approximately 400 to be more precise, but there is dispute on that matter.  The time of this Jewish captivity would have been around 1,500 b.c..  Western civilization had not even begun as we know it.  The cultures of Greece and Rome had not yet arisen and would not arise for another 700 years.  The great cultures of this time period were the Mayan in the west, the Chinese in the East and the Indian and Egyptian cultures in the Near East. 

Again, as you should already know, the patriarch Moses with God’s blessing helped to free the Jewish slaves from Egypt.  If you don’t about this from studying the bible, you should at least know something about this from seeing either the cartoon movie about it or Charleton Heston’s classic.  The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years before they found the promised land, but during that 40 years they went through many trials.  As a matter of fact, it was mostly their fault that they wandered in the desert for so long because of three things:  1) not trusting in God, 2) worshipping false idols other than God, and 3) complaining against God.  Had they not done this, then the lord would have established them in their homes much earlier.  Perhaps this might be a lesson for us.  Are we doing one or several of those three things, and then wondering why we don’t have more peace? 

Ok.  I haven’t forgotten about the manna.  During this 40 year period of wandering, the Jews complained against God for not having enough food.  In answer to their complaint, God rained down manna from heaven for them each morning.  I will take the description of the manna straight from the Book of Exodus itself.  It was described as a “fine, flake like thing.”  It was also described as “white, like coriander seed,” that came with the dew in the early morning.  NOW ISN’T THAT INTERESTING??  The early manna is described like a fine, thin white wafer.  Does that sound familiar to you?  Do you think that it just might be possible that God was preparing his people for the mystery of the Eucharist that would come in Jesus Christ, and that you will be receiving in the next 20 minutes in a fine, thin white wafer?  SHOCKING!!!

Do you know what else they did.  They took those white wafers from heaven and they put them in the ark of the covenant and worshipped it because that is where God was most present.  That should sound familiar to us Catholics as well.  We put our manna from heaven into that tabernacale—another word for it is an ark—and worship the bread of God’s presence.  SHOCKING!  We’re not making this stuff up.  The truth of what we are doing is riddled all throughout scripture. 

Another thing that I want you to notice is this:  the manna came along with the DEW every morning.  If you haven’t noticed, the new translation of Eucharistic prayer #2 refers to this beautiful fact.  I will use Eucharistic prayer in just a moment for that very reason.  You will hear me say, ““Make holy these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”  That isn’t just beautiful poetry.  It refers directly to the fact that the Eucharist is the new manna, and instead of coming to us with the dewfall of the morning, it comes to us now through the dewfall of the Holy Spirit through the hands of the priest.  SHOCKING.

The main point is that the Lord gave his people food for the journey.  The Lord liberated the people from slavery, but he didn’t just leave them orphaned.  He also fed them as they went on that journey.  One of the things that we should take note of regarding Jesus is how much does he fulfill the Old Testament prophecies.  We have to remember that Jesus was Jewish.  God chose the Jews in a special way to be the bearers of his commandments and his word, so the Messiah would be a man who would fulfill the Jewish laws and prophecies.  Let me recite to you one of those prophecies. It is from Baruch 2:  “And it will happen one day that the Messiah will be revealed.  And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will rain down again from heaven, and they will eat of it, because these are the ones who have arrived at the consummation of all time.” 

In other words, it was prophesied that the New Messiah would bring the new manna—the new bread from Heaven.  And this is precisely what Jesus is saying that his flesh and blood is.  THAT is the great curve ball.  No one would have guessed, not even the Jews, that the new manna might be Jesus’s flesh and blood.  And yet that is what Jesus claims that it is. 

My friends, we haven’t even touched on how Jesus is the lamb of the Passover.  We haven’t even touched on how in the feeding of the five thousand, which he does directly before his teaching on the new manna, that he is trying to prepare the people for his teaching on the Eucharist.  We hear about this in our gospel today.  We hear that when Jesus was about to multiply the loaves, he took the loaves, said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the people.  These exact four Greek verbs – took the loaves, blessed, broke and gave – are the exact same four Greek verbs that Jesus uses at the last Supper – Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, broke them and gave them.   Y’all are all awere what I am about to say:  SHOCKING!! ARE WE TO THINK THAT IS MERELY COINCIDENTAL?  There is so much here.  The full teaching on it is so theologically rich and so beautiful that I personally do not believe that it could have been made up by a human mind, but only by the will of a God who wants to be so close to us that he humbles himself to be consumed by us that he might live inside us. 

But will WE humble ourselves to come to the table to be sustained.  Kelly Pease, a Christian singer, has a song called “there is Life” that is one of my favorite Christian songs of all time.  The refrain goes like this:

There is life on the other side

For those who are brave enough to walk through this valley wide

There is life

There is joy in him who leads us through pain

For those who will come to the table to be sustained

There is joy, there is life, here in my suffering.

 

I love the song because it’s real.  It does not dress up the fact that this life is a difficult.  Christianity does not take away your pain, but it does give it some meaning. The second reading from St. Paul begs us not to go to the table of alcohol, sex, or following our own ignorant opinions, because there are so many times that we go to the table of the world and eat it’s food because we think that it will make us feel better.  And it actually might—for a day.  Maybe even a week.  But what about for tomorrow?  What about day after day?  What about for life everlasting?  That food will not save you.  OUR HEARTS KNOW THIS.  But THIS food will.  But you need to humble yourself, put aside your doubts, and come to the table to be sustained first.

And that’s what Jesus meant by saying that he was the new manna from Heaven.  That’s why we eat his flesh and drink his blood.  And THAT is why we celebrate the Feat of Corpus Christi.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized