Bottom line: Our material existence is good and, like a diamond, it is forever. God likes matter. He invented it.
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter. As I have mentioned to you, Easter is not a single day, it is a season that lasts seven weeks. We have fifty days to explore together the meaning of the resurrection. This Sunday I would like talk about an implication of the resurrection that might at first surprise you: Because Jesus rose bodily from the dead he invites us to not just a spiritual relationship with him, but also to a physical or material relationship.
We know well that Jesus calls us to a spiritual relationship: By the gift of faith, by accepting him as Lord and Savior, by the daily walk of prayer. We can hardly ask for anything more. Nevertheless, especially during the Easter season we see that our relationship to Jesus has a material as well as spiritual dimension:
After rising from the dead, Jesus shows the Apostles his five wounds: hands, feet and side. Jesus says to Thomas, "Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails." In today's Gospel Jesus insists that he is not a disembodied spirit, "Touch me and see...a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you can see I have." Then he takes a piece of baked fish and eats it in front of them. We later hear about Jesus preparing a meal for them.
Jesus does all this with a purpose. For us to have a physical union with him - specifically through a meal. Here is how early Christians describe that meal:
"It is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given under the symbol of bread and his blood is given under the symbol of wine... Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as St. Peter says, in the divine nature."*
"Having his body and blood in our members." Yes, we accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior - but that has to include physically accepting Jesus. "Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man you shall not have life within you." (John 6:53)
C.S. Lewis put it this way: "God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it."**
So, our relationship to Jesus includes a physical dimension. Something similar applies to our relationship to fellow Christians. Last Sunday we read that the early Christians gathered for prayer, teaching and breaking of the bread. Then it adds, "There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they would distribute to each according to need."
Sometimes people say they don't like to hear so much about money. Heck, I would never have to mention money if we followed the example of the early Christians. But I am not asking you to sell your home, only to return to the Lord the first fruits. If the Lord has blessed you with a job or an income, consider giving five per cent to your parish and five percent to other charities.
Of that second five percent, each year we ask you to give one percent for work of the Archdiocese - for Archbishop Sartain who is successor of the Apostles here in Western Washington. It is not a tax or a legal obligation. Some give less, other more. One suggestion is to consider giving one dollar a day for pastoral care that the Archdiocese does in our name.
I am speaking about financial giving because it is a significant part of our relationship with Jesus and with each other. Your donations make a huge difference, but what matters most is what we are doing now: Coming to Mass, our physical presence to Jesus and to one another. Going for a walk and thinking beautiful thoughts is wonderful, but it can never replace physical presence. We not only have spiritual relationship to each other, but also a material one.
For sure our bodies are burdensome. We get tired, we get sick. Still, our bodies are not a cage we escape from. Our bodies will die, but like a seed dying they will take a new form. Jesus promises much more than the survival of the soul. As we say each Sunday: "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come."***
So, in God's eyes, matter is not second rate. During this Easter season, we see that the Risen Jesus insists on his physical reality - and he invites us into a material relationship with him by receiving his body and blood. Likewise, we have a material relationship with each other which we express, for example, by physical presence and financial sharing. Our material existence is good and, like a diamond, it is forever. God likes matter. He invented it.**** Amen.
*From the Jerusalem Catecheses
**Here is a fuller quote (from Mere Christianity):
That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or - if they think there is not - at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ - life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ - life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts - that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution - a biological or superbiological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.
***I like to imagine seeing my mom again. When I was growing up, I never thought of my mom as beautiful. When she was raising us six kids, she had more important things on her mind. But since then - and especially since my mom's death - I have seen pictures of her when she was young. I thought, "Gosh, mom was pretty." How wonderful to see her radiant again and to say, "ma, you look gorgeous."
****For well thought out (and entertaining) explanation of how our view of the human person applies to the issues of contraception and same sex attraction, I recommend From Love, By Love, For Love by Fr. Michael Schmitz
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