Eucharistic Prayer II: “The Fount of All Holiness”

Out in St. Peters, Missouri, we’re pretty familiar with the Missouri River, although usually from above as we sit in traffic on the Blanchette Bridge.  What’s interesting about the Missouri River is that although the portion that we see is so large, it has it’s origin at Brower’s Spring, all the way up in the mountains of Montana.  The massive river that we see comes from something unseen to us, but inexhaustible!  That spring is a powerful force!

Brower’s Spring, Montana

The image of a spring is a great one for our faith.  We’ve been looking at Eucharistic Prayer II, and one of the very first lines is, “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.”  This reference to a fount is found throughout scripture, and should make us think of that powerful spring.  We’re invited to envision God’s grace like a spring or fountain, gushing forth and giving us power, life, and refreshment.

Sacrosactum Concilium, the document on the Sacred Liturgy written at the Second Vatican Council, talks about it this way: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, and at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows.” (10)  The whole purpose of what we’re doing on Sunday – between the singing, the spoken responses, the colorful vestments, the boring homily, and of course, the Eucharist – is to bring us closer to Christ.  Even after we walk out those squeaky doors, our works of charity for others are ultimately aimed to bring us back to the altar, to that most intimate moment of union with God!

But even as all that is going on, Christ pours out his grace on us, like an unending, inexhaustible fountain, empowering us to grow in our relationship with him, and to be better disciples of him by the things we do for others.  Like that fount hidden away in the Montana mountains that gives way to a powerful river, God’s unseen grace pours into us, giving us the ability to do the most powerful thing on earth – give of ourselves.

The fount of holiness is a neat image, and one that can be powerful for us, especially when we feel weak.  So the next time you pray the Eucharistic Prayer, try to make that effort to actively be open to God’s grace, letting the roaring waters of that fount of holiness rush over you!

Homily From the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Alan Grant, my childhood hero

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up?  To be honest, I can’t remember for myself.  For a while, I wanted to be a paleontologist or archaeologist, mostly because as a kid, I loved dinosaurs.  But after that, I wanted to be a baseball player, and then a teacher, and then, of course, a priest.  I offered to pitch for the Cardinals this year, but they didn’t need me, so…  Maybe you had those dreams of success when you were younger too – to be an astronaut or a firefighter or maybe even a lawyer.  It’s one thing to think about success in the future, but it’s another to figure out how to get there, right?  You might set goals of greatness for yourself, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to achieve greatness.  The world would tell us to try to push for success by trampling over others, exerting our authority and abilities over them.  So in a sense, finding success can be a scary and possibly selfish thing.

In the Gospels, the apostles are on their way to Capernaum, and they’re chatting as they travel.  And when they arrive, Jesus asks them what they were talking about, and they’re embarrassed.  They suspect that their interest in who will be the greatest and the most successful will be too self-centered for Jesus, and that they’ll get chewed out like Peter did in last week’s gospel.  But it’s kind of interesting what Jesus says.  He doesn’t tell them that they shouldn’t desire to be successful or to do great things.  He doesn’t condemn them for this normal impulse.  It’s completely human to want to succeed, right?

He doesn’t scold them, but he teaches them what true success, true greatness really is.  True success isn’t about trampling over others to achieve fame and fortune and power.  Rather, true success is gained by being a servant.  It’s done by serving others’ needs, making others happy, reaching out to the weak and needy.  Jesus doesn’t tell them not to strive for great things, but teaches them how to strive for great things.

He gives this great example to us about success as receiving a child.  He’s teaching us that we should take care of others as we might a child.  Now let’s think about this.  There are some parents that are a little…competitive.  We’ve probably all had experiences of dads yelling at the referees or umpires at a family sporting event.  But what Jesus is trying to point out is that parents generally don’t compete with their children.  You don’t see a dad sack his 7 year old son playing football and then get up and gloat and celebrate like an NFL linebacker.  You don’t see a mom charge the mound when her daughter pitches a little inside playing softball.  A parent’s role isn’t to get ahead of their children, but to give of themselves for the success of their children.  That’s why I think it’s great to see families come to Mass.  The parents are red-eyed, falling asleep, or struggling to control the kids while at the same time, trying to get something out of the homily.  But they are doing it anyway, sacrificing and giving of themselves for the sake of their children.  That’s how we’re called as Christians to achieve success – not by competition, but by giving of ourselves.

That’s the real meaning of stewardship.  Some people think that stewardship committees in a parish or business are all about the money.  But really, that’s only a part.  Real stewardship isn’t about the money, per se, but it’s about recognizing the gifts that God gives us, and giving of ourselves for others, just as we would give of ourselves to receive a child.  It’s important that we discern what it is that we give of ourselves.  For some, God is asking for the sharing of more time and dedication in service to the parish or community.  For others, God is asking them to share a gift, whether it’s graphics designing or cooking turkey sandwiches as the Craft Bazaar.  For others, God is calling them to share what they have earned through tithing, so as to support our mission for those in need.  Stewardship is different for all.  The most important thing we can do with regard to stewardship is to pray and discnern what it is that God is asking of us, and then to challenge ourselves to give generously and sacrificially from our heart, just as Christ did for us on the Cross.

Success definitely isn’t a bad thing.  But what’s important for us is how we get there, and what we do with what’s given to us.  Ultimately, we know that we have God to thank for what we have, and we try to measure our success by the gift of ourselves to others.  As we approach this altar, where God gives of himself to give us the greatest gift of all, let us strive to do likewise, and to give generously from our hearts out of love for God and others.

The Roman Missal: The History of Eucharistic Prayer II

There are five words that most well-informed Mass-goers are excited to hear: “Lord, you are holy indeed…”  Yep, that’s the beginning of the second Eucharistic Prayer, which just so happens to be the shortest one!  Because it’s so short, and because the themes are fairly general, it is the most commonly used Eucharistic Prayer for weekday Masses when some people have to go to work.  (See!  We make Mass shorter during the week!  You should come to that too!)  But at the same time, Eucharistic Prayer II has a very interesting history and some beautiful imagery, which makes it an important part of our prayer.

Since the 7th century, the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass remained relatively unchanged, and we can still see it today (adapted, yes, but mostly intact) in the first Eucharistic Prayer, called the Roman Canon.  After 1965, however, it was decided to investigate and produce some new Eucharistic Prayers (also known as a fancy Greek word, anaphoras.  Sorry, I just feel like I keep writing “Eucharistic Prayers” over and over again).

One of these was Eucharistic Prayer II.  So in a way, it is new, but at the same time, it is very old.  It is based off of the anaphora in an ancient document called the Apostolic Tradition, supposedly written by Hippolytus of Rome in the 3rd century.

Oddly enough, Hippolytus was actually an anti-pope, meaning that he was a falsely elected and self-declared pope, while the real pope was Callistus I.  He was trying to convince people that he was the real pope, the one in line with the Christian tradition, even from the time of the apostles.  The beauty of it is this: by the very fact that this causes him to sit down and write out this tradition, we end up learning more from him than many other writers about Mass in the early Church!

One part of the document is a detailed description of Mass, and, if it is truly authentic and from this time period, it shows us what Mass was like for Christians in the 200’s AD!  Eucharistic Prayer II tries to rediscover these roots, and much of the wording today closely mirrors what was written way back when!  I guess that shows you God’s sense of humor: that the Holy Spirit can work through a false pope in the 3rd century to deepen our prayer in the 21st century!

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to pick out some of the most beautiful parts of Eucharistic Prayer II and try to explain these images for your prayer!  Stay tuned!

Homily From the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Taxidermy has always been a rather disturbing thing for me.  You know, I’m fine with mounted fish or deer heads on a wall as a trophy.  That’s kind of interesting.  But what I don’t get is when people will stuff their household pets.  It’s kind of crazy that your old household pet is sitting in your living room in an endless stare.  Taxidermy is an interesting science, because an untrained eye might believe that that fish was alive, or that deer was alive, or that pheasant was alive, but to put it in the words of international Youtube celebrity and legendary taxidermist, Chuck Testa, “NOPE.  They’re not.  They’re dead.”  Taxidermy of course is meant to make something look alive, but really, it’s pretty clear to us if we look closely that, NOPE, it’s dead.  It’s stuck in a dramatic pose that no wild animal makes for more than 5 seconds, it doesn’t breath, it doesn’t smell, it doesn’t do anything!  So what’s the connection to faith?  Well, stay with me, but sometimes we can taxidermize our faith.  We do what we can to make it look like it’s alive, but in reality, NOPE, it’s dead, or at least it’s not as alive as we know it should be.

We face some challenging questions today in our readings, and it forces us to answer, “Is my faith alive?”  Now for many of us, that’s the reason we come here today in the first place!  We want to make an effort to follow Christ.  We would probably say that our faith is alive and not dead, right?  But the interesting thing is, St. James was speaking to the very same kind of people.  He was speaking to people who went to Mass every Sunday, who were in the minority of religious practice in his society.  And yet he challenged them to ask that question, “Is my faith alive?”

In the Gospel, we see Jesus asking that age-old question, “Who do people say that I am?”  And as we hear, St. Peter professes his faith in Jesus, calling him the Christ, the anointed one of God.  It would seem to us that Peter’s faith was alive, right?  But as soon as Jesus starts explaining what his mission as the Christ would entail – rejection, suffering, death, and the other difficult parts of his ministry – Peter objects.  He can’t stand it.  And so Jesus drops the hammer on him for his lack of faith.  He even calls him Satan, which, coming from Jesus, is a pretty big deal!  Peter had faith, but maybe it wasn’t as alive as he had assumed.  He was willing to follow Christ through the really nice things – heart-warming stories of healing and successful preaching.  Maybe at the miracles of the feeding of the 5000, Peter, like any good priest, was along for the food!  He was willing to follow when it was easy, but he wasn’t willing to follow Jesus through the coldness of rejection and suffering and death.  Now, it wasn’t as though Peter had a dead faith, but he definitely had room to grow, and he had gotten too comfortable with where he was.

The Christian life is not based on what some people call a “fundamental option”, where we gradually develop a basic orientation for or against God, and we can kind of “lock in” our salvation.  This line of thinking would say that the little things that we do or don’t do for God or others have no effect on our fundamental choice for or against God.  Thinking this way means that the only way we can turn away from God is if we commit a horrible, horrible sin like being a murderer or a jewel thief, and even then, it might be ok as long as we’re doing it for children or if we pray beforehand.  See?  It’s when we think like this when we’re becoming too comfortable.  Sin is out there, brothers and sisters, and sadly, it’s a lot more common than we’re probably like to think.  It’s Satan’s job to tear us away from Christ, to keep us from living lives that give him glory, and business is booming.

The Christian life is a rigorous one, a daily challenge.  If we’re not being challenged to do more, we’re not doing it right.  A strong, vibrant, mature faith, which fills us with real Christian joy and wisdom can only be acquired through the test of fire.  We don’t have real fidelity to God unless that faith is producing works of fidelity.  Lots of people who have fallen away from their Catholic faith say that it is because Christianity is a religion of hypocrites.  People go to church one day, but then follow it with lives that are really no different than anyone else.

That’s the challenging question that our readings offer us today – is our faith alive?  A faith that is alive, a faith that deeply impacts the way that we live, a faith that will ultimately lead us to the deep meaning and happiness that God wants us to experience starts right her and now.  There’s a simple practice that can help us with that – not fish oil tablets or organic acai berries.  It’s a simple practice of prayer at the end of the day call the examination of conscience.  All it consists of is 5 to 10 minutes of quiet reflection and silence.  You don’t even need to do it in church!  You can do it from the comfort of your own bed at night.  But try going through the commandments or the beatitudes step by step to see if you were faithful to each one that day.  It might be tempting to say, “Nope, I didn’t kill, steal, or commit adultery today!  I’m good!”  But look deeper at your life.  Maybe I didn’t kill anyone physically today, but did I do damage to their reputation?  Examine your key relationships and responsibilities and see if you have lived them with maturity and true Christian purpose.  And then at the conclusion, thank God for the blessings of the day, ask pardon for your failures, and make that resolution to live a life of faith that is alive tomorrow.

As we celebrate this Mass today, we’re challenged to look at our lives of faith.  Are we alive with Christ?  Or have we taxidermized our faith, growing comfortable with a faith that appear real, but with no life, no substance to it.  Let us turn to the Lord, and invite him into our hearts through the Holy Eucharist, asking him to breath life into us, and to make us his devoted disciples today.

Homily From Patriot Day, September 11, 2012

How many people here remember September 11?  Actually, I think the oldest students here were only 4 or 5 when it happened, which, even though I’m young, still makes me feel old.  I can only imagine what someone a little older than me must be thinking (i.e. Fr. Don…)  Probably most of the adults here remember, and might even remember where we were when we first heard about it.  There’s something about extreme instances of tragedy or emotion that makes it stick in your mind.  I remember where I was.  I was waiting for my Junior year Spanish class to start at Saint Louis U. High.  Someone came in and mentioned that there had been a big accident in New York, and there was a lot of commotion in the halls, so we turned on the classroom TV and tuned into the news.  I remember all the terrible images there on the TV – smoke and flames and confusion.  It was pretty clear by the time we learned what had happened that it wasn’t an accident, it was terrorism.  It was an act of hatred.  So what was my first reaction?  “Someone is going to pay for this.”  “Someone is going down.”  “Someone is going to be punished for this.”  In my anger, I wanted to respond to hatred with hatred, and violence with violence, and there were a lot of other people like me throughout the country.

But what is it that Jesus teaches us in the Gospel today?  He says, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”  What?  Are you kidding me?  When we get hurt, when someone treats us bad, we want to hurt them back, right?  But what is Jesus asking of us?  To meet violence with concern.  To meet pain with compassion.  To meet aggression with support.  To meet hatred with love.  In the midst of all that pain and hurt that we might experience in our lives, no matter who’s fault, we’re called to service.

We remember a lot of examples of service today.  In New York we had Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, who climbed 34 stories to do whatever was needed to help people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  We have Officer Richard Rodriguez of the New York Police Department, who was credited with saving many lives before he was killed when the south tower collapsed.  We have Fr. Mike Judge, the New York fire chaplain, who offered prayers and aid for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead before he himself was killed.  Look at out guests with us here today.  We are joined by firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency workers, military men and women.  They encounter pain and suffering every single day – it’s part of their job.  But as Jesus calls us to, they do what they can to respond in service to our community and our country.  And we thank you for that service today.

Today is an opportunity for us.  It’s an opportunity to remember the service and the sacrifice of those who found themselves offering service 11 years ago, and to be grateful for their service.  But it’s also an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves too to being people of the Gospel, that even in the face of tragedy and pain and hatred, we will strive to servants of others.

The Roman Missal: Eucharistic Prayers

Well, summer is over, and you know what that means…it’s time to start writing bulletin articles again!  Ok, so maybe that’s not the first thing you think of with Labor Day, but the mind of a priest can be a strange thing indeed.

I’ve been writing about things in our weekly encounters with Christ at Sunday Mass for about a year now: first the new translation with all of its fun and interesting details, followed by the “secret prayers” of the Mass, the ones we usually don’t even know are going on.  Now, I’d like to move on to that part which you might feel you’re overly familiar with – the Eucharistic Prayers.

This is one of those parts of the Mass that if we’re not careful, can feel drawn out or overlooked.  It can seem like the priest is just up there reading.  The kids are starting to get antsy.  Those 19th century kneelers are starting to get uncomfortable.  You begin to notice that we’re creeping towards kickoff.  All of this, combined with an atmosphere of quiet on the part of the congregation can make it feel like there’s not as much interaction.  But really, this is the most important part of the Mass, and, believe it or not, it’s the most active as well!

We pray the Eucharistic Prayer together with the whole Trinity.  The priest leads the congregation in prayer, which we can hear very clearly with the little introductions at the beginning (“The Lord be with you…”, “Lift up your hearts…”, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God…”).  Together, we’re offering praise and sacrifice to God the Father.  Actually, if you are a grammar fiend, you will notice that grammatically, almost all of the Eucharistic Prayer is directed toward the Father.  It is a sacrifice of praise offered to the Father, just as Jesus offered himself to the Father on the Cross.  This sacrifice is really an oblation, one of those new words we find sprinkled throughout the Mass.  An oblation is a gift from the core of our hearts offered to God.  Incidentally, my dictionary even defines “oblation” with reference to the Eucharist!  Score one for Catholicism!

So what is this sacrifice?  Well, it is none other than the Body and Blood of the Son, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  And this sacrifice is offered in the Holy Spirit (the 3rd Person), meaning that it’s the Holy Spirit that makes it all happen.  At one point in the Eucharistic Prayer, we have the epiclesis, where the Church begs for the power of the Holy Spirit to consecrate and transform that gift we’ve presented with human hands, so that they might be offered through divine hands to the Father.

That’s some pretty amazing stuff, and it can really help us to get more out of Mass if we understand what it is that we’re praying.  So to help make it more active and meaningful, the next part of my writings will be focused on the Eucharistic Prayers.  There are a bunch of them: the four main ones, two more Reconciliation ones, and four more for “various needs and occasions”.  All that being said, I’m going to focus on the big three: Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), II, and III.  Stay tuned!

Homily From the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

One of my personal dreams is to one day have one of those automatic Roomba vacuum cleaner robots.  I found one on the internet the other, and listen to this: it removes up to 98% of dirt, dust, and debris (Debris?  What, are you shooting off fireworks in your bedroom or something?).  It is self-adjusting, so it can navigate around rooms, under furniture, and around walls, even into corners.  It actually uses optical and acoustic sensors to identify dirtier areas so it can spend more time cleaning them.  It has an anti-fringe setting, so it avoids cords, carpet fringes, and tassles, so it won’t destroy my cinctures if I leave them lying around.  And then it even goes back to it’s charging station when it needs to rest.  What a great machine, right?  You just set it up, and let it go.  It doesn’t whine or complain, it doesn’t make you self-conscious when it’s cleaning in your room, and the best part – you don’t have to clean anything!  You set it up, set it to the correct settings, and it does exactly what you tell it just because you said so!

I wonder if there is a part of us that sees discipleship in the same way.  You know, Jesus gives us his teachings, and then we have to go out, do the stuff, and finish the job.  Discipleship, or friendship with Jesus becomes something robotic.  We follow simply because it’s what we’re supposed to do.  But Jesus doesn’t want robots, not even Roomba vacuum robots – he wants friends.

Why do so many of the disciples in the Gospel decide to stop following Jesus after his explanation of the Eucharist that we’ve been hearing these past few weeks – the Bread of Life discourse from John, Chapter 6?  Well, this touches on one of the greatest mysteries of our existence – the mystery of human freedom.  Somewhere, somehow, God put into the deepest recesses of our hearts a freedom to accept or reject faith in him.  Faith is a gift, and like any gift, it can be accepted or rejected.  We can’t manufacture faith in God, but it’s a choice that depends on us, just as it did for Jesus’ disciples – “Do you also want to leave?”  We know that God is the creator of heaven and earth, the Lord of life and history, but he refuses to impose himself on our hearts.

Try to imagine how painful that must be for God.  Think back to your earliest days of high school, when you had that awkward moment of trying to make new friends.  You extend yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and you have no control over whether you’re accepted or rejected.  Now think of Jesus.  Picture his expression as he spoke those words to his apostles: “Do you also want to leave?”  Imagine his eyes as they looked into the faces of those twelve.  He had handpicked them – they were his companions and his friends, and he cared deeply for them.  He had opened his heart to them as he did the other followers in speaking the truth about being the Bread of Life, and as others had said, “No thanks,” giving up on him, he looked to his twelve closest friends.  Would they abandon him too?  And today, he looks at each of us the same way today.  How incredible!  He is humbling himself, waiting to see what our response is.  The God of the universe is powerless in the face of our freedom.  And he doesn’t want heartless slaves or mindless robots that simply follow directions – he wants friends.

Brothers and sisters, this happens at every Mass.  We have an opportunity to respond in any way we choose to that question, “Do you also want to leave.”  How do we answer?  Here’s a couple answers.  “Depends, how long are you going to be?”  “Um, let me check my calendar to see if I can make it that day.”  “Meh, I guess I’ll stay, as long as you promise it will be interesting or entertaining.”  “I don’t know, who else is going to be there?”  But what about this one: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

It’s so easy to see Mass as just something that we have to do.  It becomes something to get over with, something to punch the card and sit it out.  I hate to even bring this up, because it can be very uncomfortable, but it becomes even normal to arrive late or leave early for Mass.  I certainly understand that all of us are busy people with lots of things to do and places to go.  There are lots of activities and responsibilities to attend to, and I for one am happy you’re here and genuinely try to assume that people have emergencies to attend to when this happens.  But if that’s something you struggle with, I would challenge you to maybe examine that in your life.  I’m not asking you to change for me, or because it’s something that is expected of us by the laws of the parish or the Church.  I would invite you to think about it, and any struggles we have in our practice of faith, as a response to Christ.  Mass isn’t something that we do simply because we’re supposed to.  It’s an encounter with Jesus, who makes himself vulnerable to you, and it’s our response of friendship back to him.

So here’s a question for us all to ponder today: “How would I characterize my relationship with God?”  Or better yet, “How would a casual observer characterize my relationship with God?”  Is my relationship something that is mechanical, robotic, or routine?  Or is it a real friendship – a living, ongoing, dynamic, and personal exchange, a life characterized by personal and authentic prayer?  Don’t worry, God won’t reject you if you’ve fallen into routine, and Lord knows we’ve all been there at one point or another.  It’s not as though God gets pouty if we’re neglecting him in some way or another – he’s far too generous for that.  But He would certainly wish that it could be a friendship, both for Him and for you.

Today, we sit in the Lord’s presence, as he unfolds his teaching and his friendship to us in his Word and in his Body and Blood.  He presents it before our free will to embrace or reject it, asking us the same question he asked the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?”  Let us, who follow Christ as his Church, respond by giving him our who hearts, saying together with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.”