Choosing the Lord in Marriage and in the Eucharist

August 27, 2006

Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1: Josh. 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Reading 2: Eph. 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32
Gospel: Jn. 6:60-69
Link to Readings

By Father Roger J. Landry

1) Today’s readings could not be possibly more dramatic—or more relevant for us. They bring us face-to-face with the fact that each of us, like the Israelites in Shechem and the disciples in Capharnaum, are called to make a choice, a choice for or against the God who has already chosen us, for or against the God who created us, loved us from the beginning, revealed Himself to us, sent His only Son to die for us, blessed us in innumerable ways, and prepared a place for us in heaven. In theory, the choice is simple: Who would choose against God? But in practice, such a choice is challenging and hard,
because by its nature, it demands fidelity each day, in each decision, in all the various aspects of our life. Today’s readings are a gift to help us to choose well.

2) In the first reading, Joshua assembles all of the tribes of Israel in Shechem and makes the following proposal to them: “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We learn several important things from this confrontation:

a) No man MORALLY is an atheist or an agnostic—We either choose to serve the true God to the extent He has revealed Himself to us, or we end up serving something else, either our own egos, or the god of money, or control (power), or sexuality. We see this in the life of the people of Israel. Either they worshipped the Lord, or they returned to worshipping the golden calf (a mixture of both animal and money worship), or Baal (the middle-eastern god of sexuality) or nature, in one of various forms. We’re always serving something, or someone, by our actions. Those who often tell Catholics, “Don’t try to
force your values on me” are the very ones who want us and society at large to live by their values. Joshua demands that we be up front and explicit about whom we’re serving.

b) We have no choice but to choose. Joshua realized that God had created the Israelites, as He has created every human being, FREE, so that we might use that freedom to LOVE—to love God and to love others and ourselves as God does. But in creating us free, God also gave us the capacity to sin, to choose against God, to choose against love. Freedom is a great gift, but it is also a TASK. Being free, we must choose, and we have the responsibility to choose well.

c) Past choices are not enough. It was one thing for the Israelites to choose the Lord when He started working tremendous miracles to free them from slavery in Egypt, or parted the Red Sea, or fed them miraculously with heavenly manna and water from the rock, or when He led them visibly in the pillar of cloud. But now they had to choose again. They had just crossed into the Promised Land and God was going to have them fight to obtain it, led by Joshua. They were going to be fighting against great odds, completely dependent upon God’s power and instructions. They needed faith in God and hence Joshua, on
behalf of God, was forcing them to renew that choice. “Decide today whom you will serve.” They couldn’t live on their past choices. Just like a husband can’t say to his wife, “I was faithful last year,” so a follower of God needs always to be faithful in the present, especially when temptations arise. In every choice, we need to be expressing our fidelity.

d) The choice for God is the choice against other gods. The Israelites couldn’t serve both the true God and the gods their ancestors worshipped. Jesus said the same thing 1300 years later: “A man cannot serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and mammon.” A groom today who says yes to one woman is in fact saying no to all three billion other eligible females on the planet. If he’s not in fact saying no to them, then he’s really not saying “yes” to God and to his wife, and—not to get into here the grounds for a declaration of nullity—God would not join them in marriage. To choose God means to reject idolatry and put everything in our lives at God’s service.

3) We see these principles at work in the Gospel in Jesus’ teaching about the reality of the Eucharist, as well as in the second reading, in St. Paul’s teaching on the nature of Christian love and marriage. In the Gospel, Jesus presents the disciples with a choice that was even starker than Joshua’s to the Israelites. After Jesus had said that unless a person gnaws on His flesh and drinks His blood, he has no life in him, many of the DISCIPLES remarked, “This teaching is hard; how can anyone take it seriously?” Many of them broke away and would not remain in Jesus’ company any longer. These were Jesus’ disciples, who had watched Him cure the sick, expel demons, even raise people from the dead, and whose hearts had burned when He preached. Even though they had chosen Him in the past, even though they seemed to have faith in Him, they now had had too much and walked away. Jesus presented them with a choice and they rejected Him. And Jesus, who had created them free, allowed them to make that disastrous choice. Notice that He didn’t run after them and say, “You misunderstood me; I was really only talking metaphorically.” No, He knew that they had understood Him accurately—that they really had to chew His flesh and drink His blood—but they were unwilling to accept that reality. They were unwilling to believe.

Rather than watering down this reality to try to get them back, Jesus instead turned to the Twelve, those closest to Him, and let them know that they too had to choose: “Do you also wish to go away?” The words of Jesus probably didn’t make any more sense to the Twelve than they did to the others who were walking away. The words would only make sense one year later when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, took bread and changed it into His body and took wine and changed it into His blood and allowed his apostles for the first time to eat His flesh and drink His blood. But Peter, even before the Last Supper, trusted IN WHAT JESUS SAID because he TRUSTED IN JESUS, the Truth Incarnate, who could not lie. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter realized that the choice for God is the choice to trust in what He says, to base one’s life on Him, to put into practice what He asks. Peter realized that to walk away from Jesus meant to walk toward someone or something else. But he knew that Jesus had the words of eternal life, and so Peter chose Jesus again.

4) Jesus was showing us clearly that HIS choice is that we know the truth—about the Eucharist, about its relationship to eternal life, about Who He is—and choose to base our lives on that truth. He clearly was not interested in numbers for number’s sake, as He watched most of His disciples, for whom He was going to die one year later, abandon Him. He came to give witness to the truth, and they were not willing to accept it. How it must have pained the Good Shepherd, though, to watch the sheep for whom He would lay down his life, abandoning Him over the teaching of the Eucharist, the summit of His self-giving
love! How His heart must break still today when so many of those who call themselves His disciples do not take His words about the Eucharist seriously! We’re talking of course about the vast majority of Protestants, who do not accept Jesus’ teachings on the Eucharist, and do not have the Eucharist because they do not have priests who alone can confect the Eucharist in the person of Christ.

But how Jesus’ heart must break, too, over the Catholics who do not make practical choices in accordance with the incredible TREASURE that is the Eucharist, in terms of Mass attendance, or the state of their soul in receiving the Lord, or in terms of how often they come to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. If Jesus were to ask us today, “Do you also wish to go away?,” or “Are you in a hurry to get out of here?” or “Do you wish to change your lives to become more and more like me whom you have the AWESOME privilege to receive today?,” how would we respond? That is, in fact, the choice we
have, which is implicit in every Communion. We’re either going toward Jesus, trying to put His Words of everlasting life into practice, or we’re in fact going away. There are no plateaus in our following of the Lord: we’re either going up hill with Him, or sliding downhill. We cannot keep our options open by failing to choose, because failing to choose God is already a choice. Today the Lord wants to help us to choose Him, to decide to act on His life-giving words, and to imitate the self-giving love we receive in this sacrament.

5) For most Catholics one of the most important ways the Lord calls us to imitate his love is in the sacrament of marriage, which is the subject of the second reading. St. Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy.” Christ calls all husbands to the type of love we see in the Eucharist, which comes from Christ’s self-giving in the Last Supper and on the Cross. He calls them to lay down their lives for their wives and their children, in order to make them holy. Most husband and fathers I know, including my own father, would willingly take a bullet for their spouse or their children if it ever came to it. But sometimes those bullets come in the form of making the time to pray with your family, setting a good example, doing whatever necessary to help make your wife and children holy. That’s the love to which Christ calls husbands. That is their mission. What about women? St. Paul says, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” To be sub-missive for St. Paul means to be literally sub-missio, under the mission of the husband. That mission is to lay down your life for the one you love, to make the one you love holy. Wives are called to share this mission and to respond to the husband’s efforts in this regard just as the Church, the bride of Christ, responds to Christ the Bridegroom.

6) Christian marriage is meant to be a sign to the world of the love that exists in the marriage between Christ and the Church. The essential truths about Christian marriage all derive from the truth about the marriage between Christ and His Bride. Because Christ will never divorce His Bride, Christian marriage is indissoluble. Because Christ is always faithful, human spouses are called to the same fidelity. And because the marriage between the divine Bridegroom and the Church produces abundant fruit in acts of love, so Christian couples are called to be fruitful, literally “making love.” That’s why the Holy Father says that the greatest help for Christian couples to be faithful to their vocation to image the love of God is to come to Christ in the Eucharist. If you ever go to the ancient basilicas of Rome, like St. Peter’s, you’ll see a huge baldachino over the main altar. There are normally canopies over beds. The reason why there is a canopy over the main altar is because the altar is the marriage bed where the marital union between Christ and the Church is consummated. What happens when a marriage is consummated? The bride literally takes within herself the flesh and blood of the husband, they become one flesh, and that one-flesh union is capable of giving new life. So in the Eucharist, we, the Bride of Christ, receive within us the flesh and blood of the divine Bridegroom, Jesus. We become one with him and are called to bear fruit in acts of love with Him the whole day long. For Christian married couples to be faithful and especially for them to grow as Christ calls them, they need to come as often as possible to THIS marriage bed (the altar), where they will receive within the Lord’s own strength and love so that they might love each other as Christ loves the Church, as Christ loves them.

7) God created us free so that we might love. Today that same Lord places before us the choice to love as he calls us to, to go to Him who has the words of eternal life, and to be sent by Him in peace, to love and serve the Lord in everything and in everyone. “Choose today whom you will serve.” With Joshua, with Peter, with all the saints in heaven, may we choose wisely, to serve and love the Lord in this life and be happy with Him forever in the next!

Father Roger J. Landry is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, MA and Executive Editor of The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River. An archive of his homilies and articles is found at catholicpreaching.com.

This is adapted from one of Fr. Landry’s recent homilies.

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Real Presence

August 20, 2006

Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1: Prov. 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Reading 2: Eph. 5:15-20
Gospel: Jn. 6:51-58
Link to Readings

By Most Reverend Victor Galeone

In October 1972, a charter flight from Uruguay was crossing the Andes Mountains to Chile. It never reached its destination. All forty passengers on board were presumed dead. But 72 days later, 16 emerged alive to tell how they had survived on the snowcapped slope where their plane had crashed. The world was stunned to learn their story. For food, they had eaten the flesh of the passengers who had died in the crash.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ listeners are likewise stunned to learn the incredible promise that He makes: One day He will give a special bread for them to eat, a bread that in reality will be His own flesh. Is it any wonder that they object, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Before examining the Lord’s reply, let’s place today’s Gospel passage in its proper context of John, chapter six. There’s a unified theme closely linking the three parts of this chapter.

The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 by multiplying five small loaves of bread. Normally, bread results from a long and tedious process—beginning with spring planting and ending in an oven. But Jesus’ simple blessing dispenses with both time and effort. His action is a resounding declaration: “I can suspend the laws of nature for BREAD!”

Later that night, while the disciples are struggling to steer their boat on the storm-swept sea, Jesus comes walking towards them on the surface of the water. This is the strangest of all the Gospel miracles. To walk on water seems to smack of what occurs in pagan myths. What’s the point? A most important one, actually: The law of gravity mandates that weighty objects seek their rest at the lowest possible level. By preventing His body from sinking, Jesus was implicitly declaring: “I can suspend the laws of nature for my BODY.”

The next day, some of the crowd that had been fed came to Jesus on the other side of the lake in order to make him their “bread king.” Jesus used the occasion to promise that someday He would give a special BREAD that would be His own BODY (Jn. 6:51).

In short, when Jesus fed those hungry thousands with only five small loaves, He proved, “I can do what I want with bread.” By walking on the water, He confirmed, “I can do what I want with my body.” That afternoon, He drew the logical conclusion: “Someday, I will give a special bread that in reality is my body.”

When did Jesus fulfill the awesome promise He made that afternoon? At the Last Supper, when He blessed the bread and wine saying: “Take, eat. This is my body. . . .Take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

For almost 2,000 years the Church has firmly taught that whenever the priest at Mass does what Jesus did at the Last Supper, the bread and wine are changed in substance to the Lord’s true flesh and blood, even though the accidentals (that is, appearance or properties) of the bread and wine remain. Does this seem incredible? Perhaps the following illustration might shed some light on this marvel:

You grasp an iron bar. How do you know that it’s iron? From its weight, its color, and its hardness. But in outer space, the bar becomes weightless, and in a blast furnace it becomes a red-hot liquid. Is it still iron? Yes, of course, for its substance remains the same. Only the accidentals (weight, color, hardness) have changed.*

In the blast furnace of God’s love at Mass, the reverse of this takes place. The accidentals of the bread and wine stay the same; the substance changes into the Lord’s own body and blood. This marvelous change the Church calls transubstantiation.

Ever since that afternoon of the promise at Capernaum, many have refused to take Jesus at His word. Some have said that the Eucharist onlyrepresents Him, just as the Stars and Stripes represent our country. However, someone who burns our country’s flag is charged with desecrating the flag, not our country. But in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul emphatically states: “Whoever eats this bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27, emphasis added).

Furthermore, if Jesus had meant a mere symbolic eating of His flesh, why did He allow His listeners to take Him so literally? Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, whenever Jesus’ listeners had understood Him incorrectly, the misunderstanding was corrected at once.

For example, in John 2, Jesus told the chief priests—who were standing in the Temple courtyard—“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The chief priests thought He meant the temple of stone. So the Evangelist added the clarification that Jesus was referring to the temple of His risen body.

In the next chapter, when Nicodemus concluded that Jesus had in mind a physical rebirth (“Surely, a grown man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born”), Jesus pointed out that He had meant a spiritual rebirth.

And in the eleventh chapter, when the disciples thought that Jesus wanted to awaken Lazarus from natural slumber, He had to specify that He had meant the sleep of death.

But when His listeners at Capernaum objected, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” far from correcting any misunderstanding, Jesus went on to reinforce His statement by adding that they had to drink His blood as well—something utterly abhorrent to a devout Jew!

When they refused to accept this “intolerable teaching,” Jesus allowed them to walk off and leave Him. He did not call them back so that He might restate His message to make it more palatable, by rationalizing: “Wait, you’re misunderstanding me! I’m only referring to a symbolic eating of my flesh.” No, He turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you want to leave me, too?” Why was Jesus prepared to risk so much—even the loss of His chosen twelve? The only possible answer is that the presence He spoke of was not symbolic but real.

I fear that this homily has been more an affair of the head than of the heart. Recent surveys indicate that many Catholics are entertaining serious doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. So I wanted to use this occasion to reinforce what the Church has taught from the very beginning. A serious examination of the sixth chapter of John leaves no room for doubt that Jesus is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist—the Sacrament of His Love.

Love demands union. The greater the love, the more intimate is the union desired. The lover longs to be joined to the beloved—in thought, in letters, in phone conversations, in physical presence, and ultimately—in spousal love—through the love embrace between husband and wife. So much does Jesus love us that He conceals himself under what looks like bread in order to ravish us in the love embrace of Holy Communion!

Such was the meaning of one of the early Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, when he wrote: “How many of you say, I would like to see his face, his garments, his sandals. You do see him, you touch him, you eat him. He gives himself to you, not only that you may see him—but also to be your food and your nourishment.”

_______

*As used in this analogy, “substance” does not refer to the chemical substance of the iron bar or of the bread. Rather, it refers to the basic reality of the thing, i.e., what it is in itself. You might not recognize me if I don a disguise, but I still remain the person I was—my substance remains unchanged.

The Most Reverend Victor Galeone is Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.

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Learning from Our Lady

August 15, 2006

Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption

Reading 1: Rev. 11:19a, 12:1–6a, 10ab
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 45:10, 11, 12, 16
Reading 2: 1 Cor. 15:20–27
Gospel: Lk. 1: 39–56
Link to Readings

By Father Nicholas L. Gregoris

The great medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of the epic work La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), believed that in all of creation the face of Mary most resembled that of Christ. Our late beloved Holy Father, John Paul II, named 2003 “The Year of the Rosary,” issuing an Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he urged us to contemplate the face of Christ in the school of Mary, an exhortation
reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra in Czestochowa, Poland, on May 26, 2006.

Each year the Solemnity of the Assumption helps us to do precisely that by focusing our attention on the fourth glorious mystery of the Most Holy Rosary, which is certainly not an easy mystery to comprehend. Pope Benedict XVI, however, assists us quite admirably when he writes:

The Holy Virgin, completely united with Christ was assumed into heavenly glory in her entire person. In this too, the Mother resembled her Son very closely, leading the way for us. Alongside Jesus, the New Adam . . . Our Lady, the New Eve, appears as “the beginning and image of the Church,” sign of certain hope for all Christians on their earthly pilgrimage.

Our Lady’s bodily Assumption is both an historical event and a mystery of faith that has consequences for us in the here and now. The truths that this dogma embodies should act as guideposts for our pilgrimage of faith until at last, filled with hope and love, we will sleep the sleep of peace and discover beyond the grandeur of all creation what an awesome thing it is “to fall into the hands of the living God.” Thus, we will come into the eternal embrace of God, whom the poet Francis Thompson called the “Hound of Heaven.”

The dogma of the Assumption is inexorably linked both to our belief in the resurrection of the body and to a distinctly Catholic-Christian theology of the body, as Pope John Paul II so wonderfully envisioned and taught it. Furthermore, the dogma of the Assumption can speak volumes to the events and needs of our times as we continue to live in a hedonistic culture that is tinged with Neo-Gnosticism (gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”), a heretical philosophical and theological system that carves out a complete dichotomy or radical dualism between body and soul, matter and spirit.

Consequently, how much more significant is the Catholic theology of the body encapsulated in the dogma of the Assumption which today’s Sacred Liturgy
celebrates! For the dogma of the Assumption, defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950, celebrates the beauty and dignity of the human body-soul composite created in God’s image and likeness, redeemed by Christ’s Most Precious Blood, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This dogma teaches us that the body is not the prisoner of the soul, as the Greek philosopher Plato taught, but rather that the totality of the human being bears within itself the seed, hope and bright promise of immortality as intended for us by our loving and providential Creator.

What lessons would the Church have us learn today? Capitalizing on today’s date, permit me to highlight fifteen.

1. It is important to distinguish Mary’s bodily Assumption from Our Lord’s Ascension. In so doing, we will come to understand better our own hope in the Resurrection. The main difference lies in the fact that Mary’s Assumption was a passive experience which the Blessed Virgin underwent in accord with the power of divine grace drawing her upward, while Our Lord actively ascended into heaven according to His innate power as the Son of God.

Like Mary, we cannot get to heaven on our own steam; we need God’s grace, contrary to what the heretic Pelagius, a fifth-century British monk, taught and for which he was readily condemned by the likes of St. Augustine of Hippo.

2. Like Mary, we are created, saved, and sanctified by grace. We, like Mary, have a special place prepared for us in heaven from the foundation of the world. Therefore, how grateful we ought to be for the gift of our human life and for the gift of eternal salvation won for us by Our Lord’s Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. What holy anxiety should fill us body and soul to arrive in Heaven where we belong and where “God is all in all”!

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, summarizes for us what this holy anxiety concerning the Resurrection and eternal life in heaven is all about when he writes:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (8:18–24)

3. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we have the ideal opportunity to experience within ourselves the fruits of the Redemption, and to unite patiently the sufferings of our bodies and souls to those of the God-Man, crucified and risen. Together with St. Paul, we are confident that Jesus, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20) “the firstborn among many brethren” (cf. Rom. 8:29), wills that we who belong to Him shall each be
resurrected in the proper order. Who, then, better than Mary, belonging to Jesus first and foremost as His virgin mother undefiled and perfect disciple, full of grace, should have merited to finish her earthly course so as to become the first beneficiary of Our Lord’s Resurrection by being assumed, body and soul, into the glories of heaven?

4. Today we must thank God that the Blessed Virgin Mary assumed into heaven is forever at enmity with Satan, interceding on our behalf, as was already predicted of her in the so-called Protoevangelium or “First Gospel” contained in the prophetic text of Genesis 3:15. Mary, the New Eve, the mother of all the living, that is to say, the mother of all the children of God faithful to the new and everlasting covenant of her Divine Son, is that “great
portent in the sky,” described in Revelation 12.

5. The Virgin Mary is that woman par excellence clothed with the sun, with the moon under feet, and crowned with twelve stars. Thus, we address our Blessed Mother in prayer with such beautiful titles as Queen of Apostles, Daughter of Zion, Ark of the Covenant, and Mother of the Church. We ask that she accompany us, so that, like her, we may finish our earthly pilgrimage of faith, overcoming every temptation of the Evil One, in order to enjoy the beatific vision, body and soul, crowned with glory and honor.

6. If we fail to take all of this into consideration as we ought, then we run the risk of disregarding both the body and the soul as the Neo-Gnostics do, whether they realize it or not. How important it is, therefore, to understand that article of the Creed in which we profess our faith in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day, the day of our final judgment. Furthermore, if we Catholics took more seriously the prospect of our own bodily resurrection by living lives of holiness in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we would take even greater steps toward transforming our present culture of death into a culture of life, a civilization of truth and love.

7. Yet again, if we were to emulate more closely Mary’s purity in body and soul, then perhaps we could more effectively advance the “new evangelization,” the true “knowledge” of the Gospel against Neo-Gnosticism, a Neo-Gnosticism that is the underbelly of the New Age Movement and The Da Vinci Code; a Neo-Gnosticism that is so in vogue these days because it tells us that we can do with our bodies whatever we want, using our bodies however it pleases us because they are deemed unimportant; a Neo-Gnosticism, therefore, that promotes everything from gross body-piercing and tattoos to embryonic stem cell research, from cloning, the harvesting and trafficking of human body parts to belief in nirvana, reincarnation, the transmigration of souls, and the futile hope that men will somehow cease being men in the after-life in order to be transformed into angels; a Neo-Gnosticism that replaces hope in the resurrection after the examples of Jesus and Mary by conjuring up images of future man as a type of superhero endowed with immortality; a Neo-Gnosticism that amounts to a vain search for immortality, destroying the baptismal font for the sake of a narcissistic glance into a mythological fountain of eternal youth in this valley of tears.

8. There is precedence for assumption-like experiences in the Old Testament—those of Enoch and Elijah, the latter being dramatically swept up into Heaven while riding on a fiery chariot. Our Protestant brethren should also find the doctrine of the Assumption a little easier to accept when they reflect on Paul’s description of what some of them regard as the doctrine of the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. What may in fact happen to some Christians at the time of Our Lord’s Second Coming or Parousia has already happened to Mary by means of a prevenient grace.

9. The Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are like two sides of the same coin. If it was appropriate in the divine plan of salvation that the mother of the Incarnate Son of God should be free from original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of St. Anne in view of the infinite merits of Christ’s Passion, then should it not also be appropriate that Mary would be the first human being to share, body and soul, in the glories of her Son’s Resurrection?

10. The Preface of today’s Mass explicates this theology further: “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.” In Psalm 16 we read, “Because you did not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you allow your faithful one to undergo corruption. You will show me the path to life, the fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”

This text, of course, applies, first and foremost, to Our Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord and Savior, but it applies most appropriately to Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, who was Jesus’ most faithful disciple even after He ascended to be seated at the right hand of the Father. At the wedding feast of Cana, on Calvary, and in the upper room on the Feast of Pentecost, Our Blessed Lord consecrated Mary’s fiat, her unwavering yes to God’s will and law in her daily life, and so constituted her the spiritual mother of His Mystical Body, the Church. Once again, the Preface for today’s Mass is instructive: “You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation.”

11. The truth of our Blessed Mother’s Assumption relates most especially to our concerns about the dignity of the human body, the dignity of human sexuality—integral to our existence—the fundamental dignity of human life from conception to natural death, as well as respect for the dead. Indeed, Mary’s bodily Assumption is a tremendous bulwark of the Church’s teaching against prostitution, pornography, masturbation, fornication, artificial contraception, abortion, partial-birth abortion, infanticide, adultery, divorce and re-marriage, sexual abuse (especially of children and spouses), homosexual activity, same-sex “marriages,” euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, terrorism, genocide, any perversion and violence that corrupts the way we think about and treat our physical bodies and those of other people on this side of the veil of eternity. In a word, Mary’s Assumption teaches us the essence of what it means not to belong to ourselves but to Another because we have been bought with a price, namely her Son’s blood, and thus we have an obligation to glorify God in our bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20).

12. By living out the full meaning of Mary’s glorious bodily Assumption in our own lives, we will join our voices to that anti-satanic voice that shouts out from heaven’s height, “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God and all authority for His Christ,” until, according to the vision of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20–27, God will “put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.”

13. The dogma of the Assumption reminds us that Mary has rightly taken her place at the right hand of her Son. This truth we can infer from our reading of today’s responsorial Psalm. It is likewise related to the figure of the queen mother standing at the right hand of King Solomon in 1 Kings 2:19 (and also mentioned in 1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chron. 15:16).

14. The Blessed Virgin is that signum magnum, that “great sign” in the sky, that most splendid of icons who represents a faithful Israel and the spotless Bride of Christ, the Church Triumphant, in relationship to the Triune God of all mercy and every consolation, for indeed as St. Elizabeth declared in our Gospel passage, “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk. 1:45).

15. On this Solemnity of the Assumption, may our souls together with Mary’s proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and our spirits, united to her spirit, exult in God our Savior, for in this sacred banquet the Lord indeed looks upon our lowliness and the lowliness of our gifts. Regarding not our sins but the faith of His Church, He raises us up, exalting us in such a way that the Eucharist becomes for us a pledge of future glory. In His infinite love and mercy, He satisfies our hunger and thirst, filling our emptiness with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation, with the gifts of His own Body and Blood first formed in Mary’s spotless and virginal womb.

May Mary our heavenly Mother and Queen, the most blessed among all women and full of grace, be blessed by all generations to come. May she pray for us now and at the hour of our death, so that on the Last Day we too might stand next to her in the elysian fields of Heaven.

There we hope to be gathered together definitively as pupils in Mary’s school to praise the blessed fruit of her womb for His great mercy, to thank Him for the great things He has done for us in every generation.

In that Marian school, surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (cf. Heb. 12:1), may we be filled with perfect divine knowledge as we take safe refuge under her maternal mantle. On that day, may the beautiful expression of Latin antiquity be perfectly fulfilled in us and for us beyond all earthly imagining, “Et in Arcadia ego,” “And I am in Arcadia,” that is to say, “I am in Paradise!”

Father Nicholas L. Gregoris, a member of the Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum in Rome and serves as the managing editor of The Catholic Response. He is the author of The Daughter of Eve Unfallen: Mary in the Theology and Spirituality of John Henry Newman, published by Newman House Press. He is likewise the translator and editor of Father Giovanni Velocci’s book Prayer in Newman , just released by Newman House Press.

Homily Archive

Life or Death?

August 13, 2006

Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading 2: Eph. 4:30-5:2
Gospel: Jn. 6:41-51
Link to Readings

By Father James Bromwich

The Gospel is ultimately about a decision. We are compelled by Our Lord to make a decision. Who can come face to face with Jesus and not be forced to make a choice? There are only two options open to us: life or death.

Jesus identifies Himself as the Bread of Life, as giving His flesh for the life of the world. When we choose Jesus, therefore, we choose life (eternally!). When we decide against Jesus, we choose death. In fact, a deliberate, conscious decision against Our Blessed Lord is to turn to Satan, a murderer and liar from the beginning.

In our culture today, these decisions have become stark, indeed. Abortion is the most obvious choice against the Lord of Life. But there is another issue increasingly plaguing us: embryonic stem-cell research.

If the Lord is in fact the Lord of Life, the Author of all life, the Creator, and we are His creatures, the recipients of His love, then we must refer all such life and death issues—contraception, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, and the like—to the Father of us all.

The primary premise we must lay down (one you have heard from the pulpit many times) is the fact of the imago Dei; that is, we have been created in the image of God. This fact is key to our Catholic spirituality. God created us. He created us to be good. He created us to grow and develop and worship Him and love Him, just as He has loved us. We are to be fruitful and multiply and participate in God’s creative love, educating our children in God’s law, thus increasing the number of children giving praise to God. Likewise, we are to love God’s other children, our neighbors, just as He loves us. And because God created us in His image and likeness, His being is present in each of us (though certainly not in His entirety). This is why people around the world seek God (in various ways and called by various names). This is why people from all over the world, even of very different cultures, can agree on the truth of basic moral principles (even they do not always follow them). We have much in common because we are all from the same God and Father and His “law” (the law of love) is written in our hearts.

With this as a very basic and brief foundation, we can draw some conclusions about life and its inherent worth. If indeed we are created by God, created in His image, with His law written in our hearts, then we must conclude that every human life has inherent dignity—the dignity given by God Himself. We could go so far as to say that the dignity of every human life is “written on each human’s very being” by virtue of his or her existence.

Objectively, then, every human being has worth by the very fact of his or her existence as a human being because he or she has been created by God and for God. Therefore, since God is infinite, all-powerful, and the Creator of all, there are no finite circumstances that can mitigate this inherent, God-given worth of every human being. Therefore, the fact that someone is poor does not make him worth less than his rich neighbor. Someone who is African-American is not worth less than his Caucasian neighbor. Someone who is in poor health has the same worth as a healthy person. These are all circumstances that cannot determine our worth as human beings, since our dignity comes from God.

In the current debate on embryonic stem-cell research, those arguing in favor of this research have clearly stated their belief that an embryo does not have the same moral standing as other human beings, especially those people needing the research for a cure (such as those with diabetes). We can only surmise their conclusions are drawn from flawed reasoning that believes that either the embryo is not human and thus has no standing in the human family, or that circumstances can reduce a human being’s worth.

In the first case, claiming that a human embryo is not human would require quite a bit of scientific gymnastics and denial. The science here is well-known and accepted. At the time of fertilization, the mother’s egg, with half of her DNA (23 chromosomes) join with the father’s sperm, with half of his DNA (23 chromosomes) to form one new, completely unique human being with 46 chromosomes and his or her own complete and unique DNA, a DNA that will independently direct its own development (depending on the mother for nutrition and protection). This is the status of a human embryo, so you see how difficult it is to deny the embryo’s humanity. And if the embryo is indeed human, its worth is objective and from God.

In the second case of flawed reasoning, proponents of embryonic research argue that an embryo is not fully developed, therefore has less worth than a fully developed person. Or they believe that because these are “discarded” (left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures), they have less worth than humans who are “wanted.” This is a frightening path to be traveling. If the worth of human beings is determined by their circumstances rather than their inherent worth as creatures of God, who decides this worth? Who sets the criterion? If today, an undeveloped human embryo is of no worth because it is undeveloped and unwanted, will the undeveloped, undernourished child on the streets of Brazil have no worth and be subject to a death sentence and experimentation? You
better believe that if society decides to base the worth of human beings on our circumstances in life rather than the objective criterion of being God’s creatures created in His image, we are in deep trouble. Who will decide that you no longer have worth and are needed for scientific research, or are costing the health care system too much money? When God is left out of the equation, violence soon fills the void.

Jesus gave His flesh for the life of the world. Pray friends, that we may see Christ in all people, especially the most vulnerable. Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit through disrespect, even the death, of his most vulnerable children. Let our decision be for life.

“So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.”

Fr. James Bromwich is a priest of the Diocese of Louisville, Kentucky.

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“This Is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

August 6, 2006

Readings for the Transfiguration of the Lord

Reading 1: Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
Reading 2: 2 Pet. 1:16-19
Gospel: Mk. 9: 2-10
Link to Readings

By Father Robert Pecotte

Who has everlasting dominion, glory, and kingship, so much so that all peoples, nations, and languages serve Him? Who is it that shines brighter than the midday sun on the mountain top? Who? Is it a political figure, a political body, a non-governmental-organization (NGO), a corporation, a person in the media, or the media itself?

Our Scripture readings just told us that Jesus is the answer to the above questions. But do you really believe that? These questions are not about some superficial knowledge of Scripture or about factual knowledge of the faith. Rather, they are questions about how we live our lives—how we think, what we desire, and how we act each and every moment. They are about whom we turn to for answers to problems that face us, that face the nation, that face the world.

Why is Mark’s Gospel paired with the vision of Daniel? The prophet Daniel (whose name means “God is my Judge”) is blessed with the vision of God’s salvation of the world. He sees the coming of God in glory. He sees God’s plan to send His Son to mankind at the end of time, when Jesus (the one like a Son of man) will come as the just judge on the clouds of heaven (recall that Daniel literally means “God is my Judge”!)

A number of important events occur prior to Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor that are essential to our understanding of this incredible moment in salvation history. The Transfiguration is preceded by multiple miracles: Notable, Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the four thousand, and he healed a blind man. He also warned the disciples about the false teachings of Herod and the Pharisees. (In the Old Testament, the multiplication of the loaves and fish is paralleled by Elijah, who multiplied the oil and flour for the widow and her son. Jesus’ warning is paralleled by Moses, who gave the
Law to the people who had been under the burdensome rule of Pharaoh and Egypt’s false gods.) Jesus Himself elicits Peter’s proclamation of Jesus being the longed-for messiah and the Son of God. Then, immediately afterward, Jesus foretells His death and Resurrection (which are less than a year away) and says to His disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34.) He continues:

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mk 8:38–9:1).

Aha! Here Jesus Himself speaks of the Son of Man coming with divine judgement surrounded by his Father’s glory and the holy angels, just like in the first reading from Daniel. Furthermore, Jesus means to back up His words that the coming of the kingdom of God in power will be revealed to a select few before they die.

Six days later Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor. The fact that this occurs six days later is not an accident, for on the sixth day man was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:24–2:1). Jesus is about to reveal God’s perfect image in man and man perfectly in the image and likeness of God Himself in glory. Jesus’ face begins to shine like the sun and His clothes become white as light, and then Moses and Elijah appear on either side of Him. The chosen three are in awe, and Peter says the obvious: “Wow! It’s great to be here!”

Then, when it seems that it couldn’t get any better, it gets better. The Shekinah cloud of God’s glory, which is a sign of His majestic presence, casts its shadow over the group. The Father says from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” This event is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that some, namely Peter, James, and John, would not taste death before they saw God’s kingdom in power. Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus’ appearance returns to its original semblance, that of a man.

Moses and Elijah are both symbolic of what they did: Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets; when combined, they symbolize the Old Covenant. Their conversation with Jesus points to Him being the fulfillment of the Covenant. Then God the Father claims Jesus as His own beloved Son to whom they are to listen (and that means obey). In other words, they are not to listen to the men who represent Moses and the Prophets (the Scribes and Pharisees), nor the priests, nor Herod who claims to be king. Remember Jesus saying to them only six days before that they are to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod?

Elijah and Moses both disappear and only Jesus remains . . . think about that—both Elijah and Moses disappear and only Jesus remains! Their covenant is now the Old Covenant, for Jesus is the New Covenant. He is the one who is to be obeyed. Moses, Elijah, and God the Father are His witnesses before the apostles. The covenant that Moses and Elijah represent is fulfilled in Jesus, who is the beloved Son of the Father and the Son of Man
who is the judge of the world at the end of time.

Jesus is Lord. He and only He has dominion over all creation, seen and unseen. He is the one to whom the Father bears witness and the one who perfectly bears witness to the Father. It is God the Father who commands us, “Listen to Him.” Only He is the beloved Son; all of us are sons through our sacramental union with Him. In short, only in Jesus Christ are we brought to God in glory. (And this is prefigured when the apostles are overshadowed by God in glory as they behold the glorified face of Christ on the mountain.)

Who has dominion? Who is the answer to the questions that lie in the heart of all peoples everywhere (Who am I? What am I? Why am I?) Jesus Christ! No government or corporation or media personality; no earthly knowledge nor amount of science or technology is the answer to the world’s needs and desires. Jesus is the only true answer. Who among our leaders is proclaiming that truth? Think about it. No Jesus equals no peace. So, who is the solution to the current, ongoing and never ending crisis in the Middle East? Is it Mahomet or Moses? No, it’s Jesus, the only beloved Son of the Father. So, are we listening to Him? The answer lies with our actions: If we listen to Him, then we obey Him. Are you?

Fr. Robert Pecotte is a priest of the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota.

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