Homily From the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It’s kind of interesting the questions I get as a priest.  10 years ago, probably the most complicated question I could answer with authority is “Who is playing second base for the Cardinals this evening?” (The answer, by the way, was Fernando Viña.)  Now the questions are more complex: “Why doesn’t the Church believe in divorce?  Why do I have to get an annulment?  Why doesn’t the Church believe in artificial contraception?  Why does the Church believe what it believes about homosexuality?”  And my favorite, “Why do we have to go to a year’s worth of classes with you just to use the All Saints church for our wedding?”  Sometimes, these questions get a little antagonistic or rough, but I think most people just want to understand.

There are times when I wish I could just have them go and talk to Jesus about it to get them off my back!  You explain the non-refundable payment for reserving the church for their wedding, Jesus!  But I have a feeling that if all these different people came at Jesus with all these different questions, it would look a lot like the Gospel today.  Like the people who ask these questions, the Pharisees come because they want to know.  And I have a feeling that Jesus would say the same thing to them today that he did back then.  He doesn’t do it by explaining a dogmatic statement, but he starts with, “From the beginning of creation…”  Whoah!  Hold on to your shorts, people, because we’re going way back!  Close your Bibles, and open them up again on page 1 with the Book of Genesis!

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There are actually two accounts of creation in Genesis.  The 7 days of creation that everyone is familiar with is the first.  The one Jesus is referring to today is the second, with God creating man out of the clay of the ground.  In an incredibly poetic and beautiful scene, God then breathes into the man’s nostrils the breath of life.  Now, in the second account, it’s only after God creates Adam that he creates all the other things.  Why?  Because they are all a gift to him: the lush gardens, the beautiful streams, the shining oceans, the varieties of animals.  But what’s interesting is that despite the beauty of these gifts, the more Adam walked around and enjoyed these things, the more he felt alone.  Sure, he gets to call the animals anything he wants, but none of them ever call back to him.  I’m sure you know what I mean here.  If you’ve got a dog, you know that you can love the dog all you want, pet it all you want, put it in ridiculous Halloween costumes, feed it bistro-inspired dog food.  But ultimately, you know that it never turns to you and thanks you.  It never asks you how your day was.  It never tells you it loves you.  The same was true with Adam.  The deep spiritual relationship was what Adam was lacking, because there was nothing like him in the world.

So God sees Adam’s depressing Facebook status, and says, “I will create a suitable partner for the man.”  Adam didn’t ask for this, and he didn’t get to design the woman however he wanted.  Rather, through all the animals, God awakened within him the keen awareness of his need for someone else – for a relationship.  And so when God does create the woman, when Adam sees her standing before him, he sees a body like his, but different.  And he realizes that he is created for this woman, and that she is created for him.  Blessed John Paul II called this the “spousal meaning of the body.”  Try to imagine the first time Adam saw Eve.  After seeing water buffalo after water buffalo for what must have seemed like ages, he sees her standing there, and she must have been the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  And so he looks on her, gazes upon her – not judgmentally, not lustfully, not as an object to be exploited, but as more than that – and they see each other as God created them.  They are made for each other, to give of themselves for each other.  How true that is!  Masculinity and femininity are made for each other – not to take out the trash, not to fulfill base desires, but for the mutual self-giving and receiving of each other.  In short, they were created for communion.

And it’s for this reason, Jesus tells us, that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So when people ask if the Church hates or looks down on sexuality, uh…the answer is no, not at all.  Sexuality has dignity!  Not only is it a good thing, but a holy thing – the very thing we were created for!  Real sexuality is a desire for union, not the lust after bodily needs.  Animals are drawn together from carnal or uncontrollable instincts, but human beings are drawn together for communion!  What greater example of this, what greater image of this, than marriage.  Obviously, the Church understands marriage as a sacrament, a channel of grace and a participation in the life of God, but it’s kind of the proto-sacrament.  It was a sacrament before sacraments were cool!

But the Pharisees point out that there is a flaw in the equation, and as Jesus says, it was never supposed to be this way, but was harmed like most other perfect things in the world by evil.  There are so many good and holy people in our parish who are suffering in their marriages – separated, divorced, going through the annulment process.  It may be one spouse’s fault, it may be the other spouse’s fault, or it may be nobody’s fault – but they’re suffering.  And that’s not right.  As Jesus told us, that was not the way that things were supposed to be.  Marriages suffer from the presence of evil in the world – there’s no other way to put it.  And I think it’s important that we have a special place in our hearts for these people whose marriages suffer.  They need our support, they need our love, and they need our prayers.

It’s crazy how well evil is able to manipulate the good in our world.  If you look around to movies or TV shows or the internet or advertizing, you can see this clear as day.  Mutual self-gift has been reduced to self-gratification.  The body is no longer seen as a thing of beauty and holiness, but things like music have reduced it to meat.  It has become an object to attract buyers, a means to make money for clothing companies everywhere.  And even the styles of clothing reduce men and women from God’s creation to an object of lust, and a temptation against others’ purity.  Things in our world are no longer about communion, but about letting the good times roll.  How did this happen?  How did people forget all this?

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Well, I for one think that people are a lot smarter than they let on.  I think that somewhere inside the deepest part of the soul, people have an innate understanding that it doesn’t make sense to love and to take for oneself at the same time.  Normally, I try to make my homilies at least sort of practical.  But not today – partly because I’m running out of time, but mostly because of the ideal.  I want to place the ideal of marriage, the ideal of creation, and the ideal of communion before you as a reminder and a challenge.  Remember that ideal of love.  Even when the kids are screaming or crying in the cart at the grocery store, remember that ideal of love.  Even when your gutters overflow, your basement floods, or your front porch collapses, remember that ideal of love.  Even when you’re on a completely different work schedule than your spouse and you only get to see them for an hour or two a day, remember that ideal of love.  People know that the ideal of marriage exists, but it’s tough, and people need more than just an ideal – people need witnesses.  They need the example of your marriages as a mystery of self-giving love.  They need the example of your marriages as a union with God.  They need the example of your marriages as life-giving, love-giving, and lasting communion with each other.

We need you!  We the single, we the celibate, we the youth, we the separated, we the divorced, we the widowed, we the Church need you.  As we celebrate this great mystery of communion in the Eucharist today, my prayer is that you see what it is that you represent, and respond to it.  May you have the courage and strength to give witness to the presence of God in the union of husband and wife in marriage.

Eucharistic Prayer II: “To be in your presence, and minister to you.”

One of the questions that I get every once in a while is, “Why should I go to Mass at all?  God is everywhere, so as long as I pray every so often and be generally a good person, do I need to go to Mass every week?”  It’s actually a good question, and in some ways, I think Eucharistic Prayer II gives us a pretty good answer.

After the consecration, the priest prays, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”  It’s kind of hidden away in the rest of the prayer, but has a very important meaning with two parts.

The first part is about being in God’s presence.  Now, if you think about it, we’re in God’s presence all the time, right?  God is omnipresent, and is with us every moment of every day.  But there’s something special about being in God’s presence at Mass.  I came across a blog called Grumbling and Gratitude by a neuroscience grad student named Jessica, who had a profound experience of this prayer at Mass.  She pointed out that “being in Mass is only partially about being in his presence.  By devoting time to sit quietly and pay attention to God, I’m showing that I want to be near him.” (By the way, pray for Jessica!  She’s thinking of becoming Catholic!)

Think about it like this: a husband and wife live together and are with each other all the time, but regular “date nights” are still important to foster that relationship as special time together.  Jessica said, “My relationship with God is the same way; He luckily already knows me, but I need to dedicate time to know him.”

God is present in a special way at Mass, however.  Even though God is everywhere, we’re particularly in his real presence in the tabernacle.  We’re in the same room (physically) as Jesus!  That’s awesome!  And that leads us to the second half of this prayer, which is ministering to him.

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This word packs a lot of meaning, especially in a church.  Each of us are there to minister to Jesus, but not necessarily in the same way.  The priest, for example, ministers in a special way because of his priesthood.  So the work “ministry” in a technical sense applies to his service.  But let’s think about this word in the context of the Gospel of Matthew.  After Jesus was tempted in the desert, “angels came and ministered to him.” (4:11)  Now, were they wearing vestments and swinging incense?  Maybe.  But what the Gospel is getting at is the angels attending to his needs.  They were serving him.  That’s how we can “minister” to Christ – by worshipping and exalting him in the context of the Mass!

God doesn’t want us to roll out of bed grudgingly for Mass on Sundays.  We should realize that it is truly a blessing to be able to worship, and to be in God’s presence and worship him.  When you wake up tired and grumpy on a Sunday, think back to this prayer.  It’s not that I have to go to Mass, but that I get to go to Mass!