The Real Meal Deal

During the years that I was in pastoral ministry it was not unusual to hear people express that they weren’t “being fed” at their local church. This realization often led the person to seek another congregation or denomination where it was hoped the spiritual nurture and nourishment that he or she sought would be found.

Since the focus of worship in most churches is the sermon—where the Word of God is expounded—the ability of the pastor or homilist to challenge and keep the hearer’s attention is of paramount importance. I remember all too well agonizing over sermon preparation knowing that my sermon had the potential to be totally forgettable, or to the other extreme, life changing.

With 33 years of ministry and many more total years in worship services I found it hard not to critique the sermons that I heard offered up. Even after coming into the Catholic Church I found myself using the same criteria. That is not to say that the sermon or homily is not important in the Catholic Church, but it is not the centerpiece of the Mass as the sermon is to the Protestant worship experience.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1324) states: The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” This necessitated a shift in perspective for me, away from the centrality of the sermon or exposition of the God’s Word, as important as that is, to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharist, celebrating the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine.

What I have discovered to my great joy is that I don’t leave church not feeling fed. The homily may be short, even lacking in presentation, but the privilege of receiving our Lord—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—is true food (John 6:55). It is the real meal deal!

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The Real Meal Deal

We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

We Have Been Given a Trust

Strangely Comforted

I went to bed Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning to the news reports that former Papal Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo María Viganò had written an eleven-page letter that among other things claimed that Pope Francis knew about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and actually lifted sanctions placed against him by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In the midst of this growing scandal, this was another severe blow, one that left me feeling extremely raw.

As Charlotte and I walked across the street to go to Mass yesterday morning, I felt strangely comforted. We were going not to sing songs in worship (although we did), or to hear a sermon (we heard one of the best I’ve heard–more about that in a moment), or even to enjoy fellowship (several congratulated us on our 40th anniversary). We went to Mass with the full assurance that we would have an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, and He never fails us there!

The readings for the day, not chosen at random by our priest, or a worship team, but from the lectionary that was determined by being the year 2018 were right on target. Below are specific portions that our pastor referred to in his homily.

Joshua 24–[Joshua said]: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River of the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The people answered, “We also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Psalm 34–“The LORD has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry. The LORD confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”

Ephesians 5–“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

John 6–As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

We have deep appreciation for our pastor, Fr. Timothy E. Byerley, starting his third year at St. Peter’s parish in Merchantville, New Jersey. I can only imagine the burden and sorrow in his heart as he stood before the people he loves and serves…the day after!

In his homily he reminded us that like the people of Israel, we too have to choose this day whom we will serve. And just as in the time of the psalmist God is close to the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit (those who have been abused). Jesus is committed to a pure and holy church and the revelations that are coming forth are evidence that Jesus will get what He wants–a pure and holy church. Finally, to whom shall we go? Fr. Tim reminded us that there is no where else that we can encounter Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. That’s the same conclusion that Peter and the other apostles had come to.

His final words to us was a commitment that St. Peter’s parish would seek to be a holy and pure church, that while much uncertainty and purging would go on, we would seek to be a people of prayer and purity. As we stood to declare our faith in the Nicene Creed I couldn’t hold back the tears!

I am strangely comforted!

Strangely Comforted

Why I’m Staying Put

Unless you have been stranded on a deserted island, you know that the news coming out of Chile, Honduras and now the United States, reveals that another chapter of scandal and cover up has emerged in the Roman Catholic Church. Is this a repeat of 2002 when the epicenter of abuse was the archdiocese of Boston? And wasn’t that supposed to be behind us once the United States Catholic Council of Bishops (USCCB) introduced the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

Well, it’s back! And if you have read this blog over the past two weeks you know that I have written a good deal about how I am processing this. So my purpose here is not to rehash the details or to try to give a reason why it happened and what we need to do. Rather I want to answer the question that I have been asked, “What do you stay put?”

I entered the Church with my wife Charlotte at Easter 2016. I am no more than a toddler when it comes to being Catholic, even though I have a long history as a Christian. In these two plus years I have been blessed with wonderful priests, with the Sacraments, and with the two-millennia history of the Church that Jesus founded upon the Apostles.

I am frustrated. I am angry. I find myself with knots in my stomach. I pray. I cry. I have written my bishop. I go to daily Mass. And I receive Jesus–Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity every day in the Eucharist. Every day the priest raises the host, the bread, now the Body of Christ, and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” And together with the priest and the people I say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

And then I receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I can’t ever give this up! That’s why I’m staying put.

 

Why I’m Staying Put

The Curé of Ars

One hundred twenty-three (123) weeks ago today my wife and I entered the Catholic Church. This past Monday we traveled to Zanesville, OH, to tape our story for the television program “Journey Home” that airs on the Catholic cable station EWTN.

When we first entered the Church there were many questions about our journey and I tried to answer some of them through this blog. About 15 months ago I made the last entry. I don’t know how many times since that I have thought about taking it up again, but didn’t.

It seems appropriate on this day that Catholics celebrate the life, ministry and sainthood of Fr. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, that I would return to this and recommit myself to this mode of communication.

John Vianney lived in France from 1786-1859. He was four years old when the French Revolution forever changed the face of France and altered drastically religious life for the French. It was a time when priests had to go into hiding and put their lives in danger to serve and administer the Sacraments to their parishioners. John felt the effects of this turmoil; it hindered his education, to the point that when he later entered seminary to prepare for the priesthood he struggled due to a subpar educational preparation.

Eventually as a priest he was assigned to the small village of Ars where he spent 40 years as the parish pastor. John dedicated himself to the renewal of spiritual life of those in his sphere of ministry. Daily he would spend 11 to 12 hours hearing confessions. By 1855, 20,000 pilgrims traveled annually to Ars to be ministered to by Fr. Vianney. When he died over 300 priests and 6,000 people attended his funeral.

As Catholics we believe that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. In a world that is constantly shifting, even as our faith and our Church is challenged on a daily basis, we can receive graces and strength from receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus, even daily, in the Mass.

St. John Vianney said, “If we could comprehend all the good things contained in Holy Communion, nothing more would be wanting to content the heart of man”.

This morning at the Mass, as in every Mass, after the celebrant declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of Lamb,” we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jesus in the Eucharist–there is nothing more needed to content our hearts!

The Curé of Ars

Blessed Assurance

Yesterday I had an experience that brought two distinct parts of my life experience together in a very special way. I have had the privilege over the past several months to facilitate the “Breaking Open of the Word” each Sunday during the noon Mass at my home parish of Good Shepherd. What that means is that following the homily the catechumens, who are preparing to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, are called forward and blessed in prayer, and then leave the Mass to further “break open the Word” they have just heard. I love to hear them respond to God’s Word read and exposited each week.

The experience yesterday was a very important step in their Christian pilgrimage. The six catechumens from Good Shepherd, along with hundreds of others of the New York Archdiocese, gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the Rite of Election. Here, every catechumen joins his or her godparent to be offically welcomed by the bishop to receive the sacraments after they have gone through the Scrutinies during the Lenten season. I was there as a godparent to one of the catechumens and was honored to walk forward with her as she was called to sign her name in the Book of the Elect.

The Scrutinies (examinations) are “very special rites…celebrated on the middle three Sundays of Lent, at liturgies where the Elect are present. The Elect are those in our midst who are preparing for Baptism. Part of their journey to the (baptismal) font is that they have been received among us, the Rite of Acceptance, and they have been enrolled in the Book of the Elect in the Rite of Election” as described above.

There is a such a strong sense that while this is an individual decision made by each person, each person is also part of something much bigger than themselves, present with hundreds of others, but also present with millions of Christ-followers stretching back over 2000 years! I was taken with the liturgy and the ceremony spoken in three languages: English, Spanish and Mandarin, a liturgy and ceremony that have not always been a part of my faith experience. Yet my heart was filled with praise that I too am part of this amazing “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7).

As the service came to a close we were invited to sing the recessional hymn. There in the beautiful and cavernous expanse that is St. Patrick’s the cantor and organist led us in singing in three languages the great Gospel hymn of my childhood, “Blessed Assurance,” written by Fanny J. Crosby and composed by Phoebe Palmer Knapp. In that moment the wonderful faith expression of my parents and grandparents came together with the beauty of my faith expression in the historic Catholic Church.

  1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

    • Refrain:
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long;
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long.
  2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
    Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
    Angels, descending, bring from above
    Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
  3. Perfect submission, all is at rest,
    I in my Savior am happy and blest,
    Watching and waiting, looking above,
    Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

All glory, praise and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

 

Blessed Assurance