Notes for Homilist

The next two weekends I will not be preaching. This Saturday I will be going to Steubenville for the Priest & Deacon Conference and the following weekend Fr. Brian Albright, M.M. will be preaching at all Masses at Holy Family. It is nice to have two weekends free from the pressure of preparing and delivering a homily. At the same time I cannot resist offering a few notes to homilists who use this website as a resource.

First about the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ). It speaks to the heart of the crisis in our Catholic Church. All that has gone wrong can be traced to the lack of reverence for the Eucharist. We have devalued what Vatican II calls the "source and summit" of our faith. Everything else is ultimately tied in with the Eucharist: the Godhead of Jesus, the divine authority of the church, salvation thru the sacraments, not to mention the priesthood and vocations.

For us priests there is a peculiar danger. We handle the Body and Blood of Christ so much that we can lose our sense of awe, even our faith. We've all laughed at the scrupulosity of some of our predecessors, but have we not fallen into a casual approach to the mystery? I know I have. The only remedy is prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and greater humility in celebrating the Mass. It is not my Mass. Jesus is the celebrant; we are weak and sinful instruments.

We also must remind our people about this mystery. As St. Paul says, if we eat and drink without recognizing the Body of Christ, it does not bring salvation but condemnation. (see I Cor. 11:29) Sometimes I hear people complain that Hispanics attend Mass without going to communion. That is a genuine pastoral concern, but I am reluctant to simply tell them to imitate our U.S. practice. Are we really examining ourselves before coming forward? How aware are we of Who we are receiving?

It is impossible to know what is in a person's heart when he comes to communion. However, external reverence can assist in bringing about inner reverence. On the other hand casual posture can diminish interior attentiveness.

One great danger in this regard is communion in the hand. It is not so much that we are "handling" Jesus. That could be done with great tenderness as St. Anthony showed when Jesus came to him in the humble form of an infant. But handling without reverence loses all affection and becomes a put-down or worse.

And we have to face the cultural fact that in our society the food we handle is second rate. It is finger food, a snack, fast food. It is not valued for nutrition, but just to fill us up so we can get on to more important things. Or maybe we use it as comfort food that we eat distractedly while conversing or watching TV. All of those subconscious associations are present when we take the Body of Christ in our hands. Our Vatican II reforms emphasized the Mass as a sacred meal, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, but let's face it, our form of receiving makes it look more like a trip to MacDonald's.

I'm not saying it is wrong to receive communion in the hand. But those who receive that way should be made aware of the pitfalls. Perhaps they can be overcome by meditating on Simeon's awe in holding the child Jesus. But it is not enough to simply tell people, "that's the way they did it in the early church," or "that's how the apostles received at the Last Supper." They had some things going for them that we do not. And perhaps more to the point, in terms of irreverence, we have things going against us that were unimaginable in the primitive church.

Finally a word in favor of communion on the tongue. This is the preferred form of most of the immigrant Catholics who are filling our churches. We should not discourage them or others who chose that way. Like communion in the hand, it has its particular cultural associations. Some of them are humbling: we feed infants and the infirm. But it can also signify a certain kind of confidence and affection. A few weeks back a priest friend and I celebrated his ordination anniversary with a crab dinner. I was a little more adept at cracking than he was, so to even things out I cracked some for him, dipped it in the melted butter and placed it directly in his mouth. He did not mind. What he said was "thanks" each time I brought a morsel to his tongue.

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Second, a note about the gospel for June 13: Jesus sends out his apostles because the people were troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd. Then he tells us to pray for laborers because the harvest is great and the workers are few.

This is a wonderful opportunity to remind people to pray for vocations and give them the encouraging news that our prayers are beginning to be answered. Not only has there been a worldwide increase in priests every year during the last decade, but we are also finally seeing an upswing in the number of seminarians in the U.S.

But as priests we should not forget the insight of St. Gregory the Great. He said that when we pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers, it applies first and foremost to those of us who are already priests. St. Gregory lamented that while there are many priests, there are few workers! Therefore, he says, pray that the Lord will send out the priests we already have to gather the harvest of souls. I think often of Bishop Sheen's words to priests, "We have souls at our fingertips." It is a question of praying to the Lord to give us the energy and enthusiasm to bring them in.

Here at Holy Family those who make a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament have drawn names of priests to pray for. This is a much more valuable than comparing priests or developing plans for a church without priests. The former is a sin against the eighth commandment (Catechism 2477) and the latter a contradiction in terms. What we need to do is pray for the flesh and blood laborers Jesus has already assigned to the harvest.

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From Archives (Corpus Christi, Year A):

2014: Like Someone Dying of Hunger
2011: Afflicted with Hunger
2008: Who May Receive Communion?
2005: Reverence for Eucharist
2002: Broken Bread
1999: Notes for Homilist

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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