Here's my homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time regarding the importance of Christ's presence to us in the Eucharist.
You can find the readings on which this homily is based linked HERE
One of the things that has been the most difficult to deal with during the pandemic
...is the way that reasonable and necessary precautions to preserve our health and save lives
...things we need to do for each other
...denies us of each other’s presence.
So presence matters.
Christian faith centers around “presence”.
Sensing the presence of God
...with God incarnate and present among us as Jesus of Nazareth
...with us still
...is a fundamental of Christian faith.
Our faith tells us that when we worship together each Sunday, Christ is present to us in three ways
...in the body of assembled faithful
...in the Word proclaimed
...and in a particularly personal and intimate way in the bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
Each presents differently.
If we are alone in an empty Church we know it.
A full one at prayer is different
...the difference is the presence of others, each of which Saint Paul reminds us present in a body that is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Same with the Word proclaimed.
Reading it in silence alone at home is one thing, hearing at the same time, especially the Gospel narrating for us what Christ himself did, said and what happened to him is different.
The rest of the week we are each mostly in different places, but in this short time are present to Christ...listening to him together.
And then there is the Eucharist, when according to our faith, it all “gets physical”
...where in the consecrated bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, is uniquely present to us.
The term for this being the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist”.
A challenging aspect of our time is that fewer and fewer Catholics indicate that they believe this basic teaching of faith.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that there was such skepticism “from the beginning”.
Today we hear him speak of himself to others as the “bread come down from heaven” for “the life of the world”
This engendered some murmuring among the crowd. I’ll bet it did.
They don’t recognize the presence of God in Christ present before them in the flesh...never mind this bread business.
And so it is still today.
It is tempting to many these days to see the Eucharist as a kind of beautiful symbolic gesture
...one that makes us feel more bonded to Him and each other
...one that we can find some comfort and strength in
...all true enough
...but as for Him being “really” present there, for many that’s a bridge too far.
Books have been written about why that bridge isn’t too far
...but I’ll just offer two basic notions that we all know to be true.
First, appearances and reality can differ
...and second, not everything that is “real” can be perceived by our senses.
These ideas are validated by our experience nearly every day.
Our faith challenges us to see them operative here.
It’s also good here to ponder the powerful witness of three strong 20th century women of faith on this point.
Flannery O'Connor when she was still a young and unknown writer was invited to a kind of coming out Manhattan dinner party and was seated next to one of the grand dames of the New York literary scene.
Knowing that O'Connor was a Catholic, this venerable lady remarked that the Eucharist was just such a beautiful religious symbol
...to which Flannery O'Connor is said to have replied “Well if all it is a symbol then I say to hell with it.”
History doesn’t record who at the table gagged on that one.
Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, spent much of her adult life living among and providing accompaniment, hospitality and sustenance to the poor on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
A life that has the cause of her sainthood underway.
Her presence among them was fundamental to her Gospel calling, her work for peace, and for justice for the poor.
Priests visiting often celebrated Mass for the community at her Catholic Worker House.
Once in her presence, a young “radical” priest used a coffee cup and saucer for the consecration, rather than a chalice and paten.
After Mass she is said to have admonished the priest and had the cup and saucer taken away and buried.
Day felt that since it had held the Body and Blood of Christ it would not be fitting to return it to its previous use.
And finally, Mother Teresa, whose own daily spirituality and that of her sisters had the Eucharist in a central place. She urged them often to stay close to the Lord in the sacrament.
She told them if they could not see the Lord present to them in the form of the bread on the altar they would not be able to see Him in the “distressing disguise” of the poor that they served each day.
So the reality of presence mattered to the faith and witness of these powerfully faithful women.
So it should to us too.
Maybe this pandemic can help us to gain a greater appreciation of the importance of presence
...not only of the presence of each other
...but the Lord “really” present to us here as well.