Tag Archives: Divine Presence

EPIPHANY 2017

A female parishioner of mine told me shortly after one long-ago New Year’s Day that she was giving up everything! She smiled, I laughed, curious to know what “everything” meant. She said that what she was giving up was New Year’s resolutions themselves – except for one.

And then she explained: “The one resolution I’m making is to try harder than I have tried in my whole life to keep aware of the presence of God wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I think that will cover everything else.”

I read these words somewhere: “In a sense, each one of us had a star stop and come to rest over the place where we were baptized, for in that instant we became Christ for others…Let us pray that the presence of Christ will be manifested through us to a world longing for peace and justice.”

The clever, intriguing story that carries the Spirit’s message for us today, the commemoration of the Epiphany of Jesus, has an interesting twist that is really the essence of the message. Not only were the fabled wise men non-Jews; they were also pagans who were practicing a forbidden craft: consulting the stars in expectation of superhuman information and wisdom, a popular form of superstition even today. They claimed that it was through that very practice, condemned by the Jews, that they had found their way to the Jewish Messiah!

St. Matthew, in his Gospel, from which we heard the Good News today, is in a way scolding his fellow Jews, challenging them with the obvious fact that God had allowed Jesus to be recognized and presented to the world, not only through faithful Jews, but also by persons such as these pagan sojourners who embraced the truth when they saw it, no matter what had led them to it.

That is what we are baptized into. The sacrament does not initiate us into a narrow, exclusive community of religious members who think and worship in the same way. It doesn’t set boundaries that we the faithful are commanded to observe. On the contrary, it sends us out toward and beyond the horizon to tell the world, in everything we say and do, that God is pure, unconditional love and that we humans will be happy here on earth only to the extent that we live and act in love – and all that that includes and implies. Our baptism does not caution us to seek out and to associate with only those who share our faith and our understanding of God, but with all persons of whatever — and of no — religion who are of good will and who live in love. The reason for that is that the Spirit of God is in them, too, and speaks to us through them as well.

As I think back over my life and recall some of the outstanding persons whose charity to others, whose generosity and kindness, whose simple, childlike trust stood in stark contrast to the cleverness of the supposedly educated and sophisticated, it is so clear to me that in them, too (maybe in them especially), without their ever intending or knowing it, I saw God.

That woman was right: there is no New Year’s resolution that outranks the determination to remain aware of that divine presence in every situation.

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CORPUS CHRISTI 2016

We don’t get theological technicalities from Jesus; he speaks plainly, most often in simple stories whose meanings are clear.  From that consistent style of his, we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made the simple parting gesture of love, in which he said, “Remember me. And don’t ever forget that I’ll be with you always.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: Jesus’ desire and his plan to be with us in a unique way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other not only when they are face to face, body to body. They can be thousands of miles apart and be really present to each other in many ways.  The sound of a melody, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or a letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, are but a few examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that there is a personal presence of Jesus in Eucharist – not merely in the transformed bread and wine, but in the entire Eucharistic event.

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so precious, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their normal usage.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality, but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We must content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

I am not aware of Jesus ever asking to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in return for his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up and out above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we still have the presence of mind to reflect on their most precious treasures, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with unprecedented gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?

 

HOMILY FOR CORPUS CHRISTI 2015

We don’t get theological discourses from Jesus; he speaks plainly, commonly, most often using simple stories to make his meaning clear.  Judging from that consistent style of his, I think we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made a parting gesture of love, a way of saying, “Remember me. Don’t ever forget that I am with you always, because you are my friends.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: his being with us in a unique and immediately recognizable way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other in ways other than physical.  They can be thousands of miles apart and yet be present to one another.  The sound of a melody dear to both, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, a familiar place: these are examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that Jesus is uniquely present to all who seek him in the sacrament of Eucharist. 

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their primary, conventional usage, and therefore inevitably suggest a kind of cannibalism.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We are left to content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which, I maintain, can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

Jesus does not ask to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in response to his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

The popular bumper sticker urges us in another context, “Keep It Simple.”  We would do well to apply that advice here as we contemplate and honor the risen Jesus in Eucharist.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, usually to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we are still able to reflect on their highlights, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with deep gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?