Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Thursday - Be Not Afraid to Be Fully Catholic

This homily was given at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
in Corpus Christi, TX, April 17th, 2014, for the celebration of
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper
If you have trouble listening, click here.

On this most sacred night we celebrate with joy the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, that our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed took bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, THIS IS MY BODY.  He took wine and said, “THIS IS MY BLOOD.”  

Because Jesus is not merely the prophet, or teacher of God, not just born of divine grace, but actually the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, because He is God from God, when he spoke these words, he was creating something new.  Just like when He spoke the words “Let there be light,” and light was created. He said, “THIS IS MY BODY,” and “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME,” at that moment he created, or we say instituted, this, the Most Holy Sacrament of His Love and with it the ingenious invention of Love by which the Eucharist is given to us - through the Sacred Priesthood.

Tonight’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the first of three days, that is for us one sacred liturgy, or the Sacred Triduum, where we remember and call to mind the most important moment of our salvation, when Jesus offered Himself as a Eucharistic Victim, then began immediately to enter into his sufferings in the garden, his betrayal and arrest, his overnight incarceration, his rejection and abandonment by his closest friends and apostles, which we will commemorate tonight by a procession to the altar of repose, where we ought to spend a moment with Jesus thinking about the time he spent imprisoned for us that we may be made free.

Tomorrow, on Good Friday, all day we should be thinking about once again living through his trial, his torturous scourging, the mockery of his kingship with the crown of thorns, his condemnation, his rejection and revilement by the crowds, his way of the Cross, his Crucifixion and glorious death after bitter hours of suffering on the Cross.

Saturday night we will celebrate the Easter Vigil, entering the church in darkness and pondering on the events of salvation through the readings. Then with the service of light and the singing of the Alleluia, we will celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Savior, triumphing over the world, the flesh, the devil, sin, and death.

As we go through this Sacred Triduum, let us remember that it is through the sacred liturgy the work of our redemption is accomplished, that we do not just remember or commemorate what Jesus did for us, but by participating in Sacrament of the Eucharist, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Death and Resurrection of Christ will be carried out in us in a new and powerful way.

In all of this we ought to come to a more intimate and profound awareness that God loves each of us personally, and the key to unlocking each moment of his passion, death, and resurrection - is that he did it for me.  He gave himself in the Eucharist and Priesthood FOR ME.  He suffered FOR ME.  He died FOR ME.  He rose FOR ME.

Tonight let us see that Jesus wants to cement and institute in our lives anew the Most Holy Eucharist.  Let us pause to reflect for a moment on the meaning of the Sacred Priesthood and the Eucharist.

A few years ago I was getting a few things at the H-E-B over on Leopard and Neuces here in Corpus Christi, TX. I was walking by the checkout lane and a woman saw my gray robe that I wear and gave me that look.  You know that look.  She obviously wanted to say something to me. I wasn’t sure if she was curious or confused, so I approached her and she blurted out in a kind of irritated way, “So…what are you?”

I prayed to the Holy Spirit so that He would be the one to answer her question.  Then I was surprised to hear myself say, “I AM CELIBATE.  I am dressed like this to remind people that God loves them and want to be in a relationship with them.”   Her face was full of contempt and she said with disgust, “Oh! Yeah I guess so,” and motioned to me to get going as if I were a bad smell she didn’t like.

A television producer of a secular reporting show approached a well known media priest asking for help putting together a show which would investigate, “why so many priests are depressed.”  A few young men told his parish community that they were seriously thinking about becoming priests.  Some of the people were horrified at the idea and tried to talk them out of it telling them that priesthood is “sad and lonely existence” and that it is a “negative and unsatisfying life.”

With all the negative anti-catholic anti-priest press lately, a picture has been painted of priesthood that would assume it is a sad and lonely life that would attract psychologically unhealthy men.

Not long ago priesthood was thought of as a noble choice for a young man, one that require great manly virility, strength, practice of heroic virtue, something not for the faint hearted or weak kneed, but a privileged calling.  Although many were called, few were chosen.  Only a select few of upright conscience and keen faith could answer this lofty vocation.  Many parents and communities were proud to have their sons’ moral fiber cut of the clerical cloth.  It meant they were doing a good job as parents. It meant that a parish was fruitful in faith, and that a people was producing men of outstanding character.
Living in the UK and traveling many European countries for the past three years, I cannot count the times I have been sneered at, scoffed, or how many parents have sought to protect their children from me as I walked by, as if I were some kind of monster.  The public sector paints a dreary picture of priesthood.  As if it were a dying race of disillusioned, stale-hearted, dysfunctional men, who must be disturbed to continue in such a foul profession.

YET…despite all this.
-There has been a 16% increase in vocations since 1995, a 10% increase since 2005.  In this diocese of Corpus Christi the number of men studying for the priesthood has increased by 20% in the past few years alone.
-A study that involved 36 diocese and over 3700 priests in 2004 and 2009, in the wake of the scandals that rocked the priesthood actually asked priests, “Are you happy?”  The results were staggering. 
-92.5% of all priests were very happy with the decision to become a priest. Out of average Americans, only 45% could say the same. 
-90% of all priests reported fulfilling relationships and satisfying friendships with other priests and laity. 
-75% found celibacy to be a positive part of their lives, which goes against the deception of dissent or dissatisfaction by the media. 
-Despite the hype of bishops not siding with priests in investigations, over 75% said they enjoyed a good relationship with their diocesan bishop.-The psychological well being of priests scored very high and priests are scored a higher well being than most Americans
Let’s keep in mind here, what is meant by happiness is a clinical, psychological, and objective well being of person.  Particularly what is called a Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) which measures depression, anxiety, and distress caused by bodily dysfunction, which is a "highly sensitive screen for psychiatric disorders and psychological integration.”

I remember taking a very extensive psychological test called the MMPI, shortly before my profession of perpetual celibacy.  The psychiatrist who interviewed me, was looking at the results and her face had a surprised look on it and she had a funny smile.  For a moment, I was sure she was going to say, “Yep, it is just as we thought, you are totally nuts!” Actually she said, “Wow, I don’t know if I have ever come across anyone who is as happy as you are!”  I knew I was happy being a celibate, religious missionary, but no idea that I was measurably psychologically happy in my own skin.

But why are priests so happy?

The reasons priests gave, had to do with their spiritual lives:
-“The strongest predictor of priestly happiness was the priest's own sense of inner peace.” 
-“The research confirmed the importance of a number of traditional aspects to the spiritual lives of priests such as devotion to Mary, theological and spiritual reading, private prayer, Sacrament of Penance, Liturgy of the Hours, obedience to religious authority, and attending priest gatherings. All of these common elements of priestly spirituality correlated significantly with a priest's relationship to God. In addition, one of the most common comments made by priests was the centrality of the Eucharist and other sacraments in their lives.”
Theologically, the reason priests are so happy could be said this way…

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body.”  

Who was He speaking to, primarily?  First and foremost, the Lord Jesus was speaking to God the Father.  It was the Father who received the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus as a sacrifice.  The Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the mystery of suffering that this inaugurated, was primarily a gift of expiation to God.  Secondly, He was offering His Body and Blood to the Church, that it could be fed by His Love.

When the priest says these very same words of Jesus, he is speaking in Persona Christi. The priest is offering again to the Father that same sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus, and once again, offering the Eucharist to nourish and build up the Church, so that the faithful may be given, “a foretaste of heaven, a pledge of future glory.”

HOWEVER!!!!!  The priest is not only speaking in Persona Christi.  Although he speaks primarily in the Person of Christ, he is ALSO speaking secondarily in persona sui, in his own person - he himself, as a man, as a human being is also speaking these words and offering NOT ONLY the Body of Christ to the Father.  He offers his very own body to God.  In that sacred moment, Jesus Christ joins the manhood of the priest to His own Sacred Manhood and offers them both totally to the Eternal Father.

So, what happens when you offer your own body to God, to pure Love itself?  What happens when you gift your entire being, your heart of hearts, all your fears, hopes, joys, anxieties, all your time, energy, emotions, thoughts, all your life, your body, your all, your soul, and humanity?  FREEDOM!!!!

The deepest urge, the most powerful longing, the most consuming hunger in the depths of our humanity is FOR GOD!  A sign of this, an expression of this desire is felt as the desire for sexual union with the Other.  Celibacy is a very potent sign that the deepest longing we have is God almighty.  As St Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God!”

This is something that celibacy teaches married life, or as J.R.R. Tolkein told his son in a letter

The breviary that the priest prays is said to be “the extension of the Eucharistic Sacrifice” (CCC 1178) throughout the day.  So the priest not only offers himself to God once a week but through daily Mass, daily Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, praying the Liturgy of Hours, the daily Rosary, and other spiritual practices - he offers his body to God many times a day. 

Also, like the Lord Jesus, the priest doesn’t just say the words of consecration to God, he is also saying them to a particular group of people, who actually hear him say the words.  He says to the people, “This is my body, this is my heart, my time, my attention, my thoughts, my feelings - this is my life offered for you, People of God!” The Eucharist brings about for the priest a very deep bond with the people, and makes for very deep and meaningful relationships.

I remember my first year of priesthood, as I would lay my head down on my pillow at night amazed at the sheer depth and richness of emotional content, the vast spectrum of meaningful exchanges I had in just one day was overwhelming.  I felt as if I was experiencing the depth and quality of significant experiences in one day that the average man would have in a month.

This is why studies show that most priests report that they have a high quality of happy and meaningful human relationships, because the Eucharist and the faith community that it generates is a kind of super-charged love fest, where the human heart can love and be loved intensely on a daily basis.  This kind of happy life is extremely attractive.

Last week I attended the ordination of seven deacons and visited a Major Seminary.  I can assure you that these men are not only good candidates for priesthood, but they are also some of the greatest men I have ever met.  They are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, they were great achievers in professional world yet exuded humility with a gentle and upbuilding sense of humor, creative, athletic, virile, strong yet sensitive, extremely well balanced, well rounded, thoughtful, eager to encounter good in everything, to find beauty everywhere, and most important - of keen moral conscience - they were very pure-hearted.  And all of them were there because of their personal and living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist.

It is clear that some of the greatest men of our time are being attracted to the Sacred Priesthood.  Here I am not talking just about the stories of professional baseball, football, soccer players, or great scientists, lawyers, doctors, or college professors who are now being attracted to the priesthood.  I am speaking about men who live very holy and self-sacrificial lives - living saints - the greatest men of our time.

What is interesting here is to see this pattern statistically.  The studies of why priests are happy show that the same pattern of those great men who became priests in the World War II era, whom the author of this study calls, “spiritual grandfathers” of the young men today.  They have the same scores psychologically and emotionally, but also the same kind of reasons why they are so happy - traditional devotions and practices that help center a man’s life on the Eucharistic Jesus.

The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s were a kind of dark age in the Church, reflected in the psychological dip in well being of priests, lessening of satisfaction with the priesthood, and dip in priestly vocations.  It appears that the past twenty years have been marked by coming out of this darkness.

So Church of God, if we are now experiencing a renewal in the Sacred Priesthood, what should that say to you?

Get off the defensive.  Stop thinking of the Church as dying, or weak, or somehow so sad and pathetic.  Stop listening to the loud minority of lying mouths that tell us we should be cowering like a bunch of fearful old fools.

Start listening to the Holy Spirit, who teaches us as Pope Emeritus Benedict taught us that, “The Church is alive!  The Church is Young!”

Listen to our holy father, Pope Francis, who is also telling us to get off the defensive.  Get on the offensive to claim this world for Jesus Christ. Pope Francis has said, 

“We should stop thinking that being Catholic is defending a position….The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow…The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful. It needs nearness, proximity…The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Pope Francis’ reform of the Church could be said in one simple phrase:



Get rid of the hypocrisy.  Get rid of all the fluff. Focus on what is essential. Focus on Jesus in the Eucharist and the rest will take care of itself.

I dare say a happy priest is a very clear proclamation of this.

A happy Catholic says this without even opening his mouth.  He radiates the Church’s warmth.  He reveals that the Church is a hospital for the sick, a home for the poor, God’s response to the needy, the consolation of the afflicted and the afflicter of the comfortable in self-satisfaction.  A happy Catholic reveals that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ is God’s response to all this modern world’s aches and pains, the solution to the greed that has destroyed our economy, the ordering of society’s mess, the peace for which the people of our time are desperately seeking.

How to become a happy Catholic?

Simply follow the same thing that makes a happy priest.

Frequent. Intense. Contact. With Jesus in the Eucharist.

Practically speaking this is very easy here at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

1.  Mass 
Sunday - God gave you 7 days and only asks for 1
God gave you 168 hours and only asks for 1
If the source of happiness is here, why just once a week, why not once a day?

2. Eucharistic Adoration
There is Eucharistic Adoration from Tuesday to 9am - 6pm and every First Friday 7-8pm.
Effects of Eucharistic Adoration:
1.  Increased Mass attendance and Confessions.
2.  Increase in priestly and religious vocations.
3.  The return of fallen-away Catholics and conversions to the faith.
4.  "Personal sanctification and the sanctification of all Catholic action." (Pope Pius XII)
5.  Marriages restored.
6.  Greater unity.
7.  Inner peace.
8.  Decrease of crime rate in local neighborhood.
9.  Building up of a Gospel Culture

3.  Frequent Confession - How often do you need to clean up your body, once a year.
Clean up your soul at least once a month. 

4.  Make the Church the center of your family and social life
-The community center that Fr James built here?  What is it for? So that the Eucharist becomes the center of the local community. The basketball court, the playground, the stage with the little booths for fiestas?  So that faith is put back in the center of our lives. This is how it used to be. It is the beginning of a happy community life, a happy family life, a happy marriage.  When God is number 1 everything else falls into place.

5.  Go out and invite more to become happy

Finally, a priest, a catholic, a community, are not happy if they are closed in on themselves. We must be an inviting community - to share the Good News with everyone we meet. We become a proclamation of joy.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe help us to become truly happy by becoming totally centered on her beloved Son the in the Most Holy Eucharist.

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