28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 13, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s Gospel tells us a story of gratitude and ingratitude.
Jesus cures 10 lepers, but for some reason
only one—the foreigner, the Samaritan—comes back to thank Him.
So Jesus says:
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
This seems a pretty natural question till you stop and think about it:
why does Jesus criticize the other 9
who probably went on to the temple to show themselves to the priest
just like Jesus told them to,
and in doing so they probably also gave thanks to God?
The thing is, Jesus is trying to make several important points.
First, He’s saying that it is He, Jesus,
who is both the God who cured them
and the God to whom they should come to give thanks.
But He also makes a second point
—one that the leper probably didn’t understand,
but one that was not lost on the apostles,
at least as they looked back on it later.
He’s saying not only is He God,
but He is also the new priest that they should come to.
He’s the priest of the new covenant because He offers the new sacrifice,
His sacrifice on the Cross,
that saves them not merely from leprosy, but from every evil,
and offers them new and eternal life.
The new priest who gave His Church a means
to continue to come to Him and share in His sacrifice
as He took bread and wine and said to His apostles:
“this is my body given up for you…”
“this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new covenant.”
All this wasn’t lost on the apostles and the early Church:
they clearly saw that Christ had used this powerful miracle
to teach us the necessity of appreciating
the life-giving power of His Cross and the Eucharist.
And so St. Luke makes the point to record in his Gospel
that the Samaritan
“fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him,”
and that Jesus said:
“none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God”
But of course in his original Greek text
St. Luke used the Greek word for “thanksgiving”
which is “Euchariston”
in a not so subtle way of pointing out that this whole miracle
points to thanksgiving for the “Euchariston”—the Eucharist.
Today, polls tell us that 72% of Catholics don’t believe
in the true meaning of the Eucharist:
that it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ,
and a re-presentation of the one salvific sacrifice of the Cross.
Not quite 9 out of 10, like with the lepers,
but I imagine if we threw in those who
fail to truly be grateful for this gift,
to receive Him reverently and with sincere faith in Holy Communion
we’d easily be out to be at 9 out of 10.
Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith in Jesus saved him.
But Catholics, myself included,
repeatedly fail to have faith in Jesus and His words
that “this is my body.”
And even when we believe, how often do fail to imitate the Samaritan
and come to Jesus to thank Him for this miracle.
Most of the time our failures are slight
and we recover quickly to reverence and faith.
But sometimes our failure leads to neglecting the Eucharist,
and even to sacrilegious behavior.
It’s even led some to view receiving Holy Communion
as a “right” that no one can deny you:
to a mentality that once you’ve been baptized a Catholic,
it doesn’t matter what you do or say,
you can always receive Communion.
Now, it is true that there is an immediate and direct connection
between Baptism and Eucharist.
We see this in today’s readings—particularly the 1st reading and the Gospel,
in the stories of the healing of the lepers.
The sacramental symbolism is vivid.
The cleansing of the leprosy is the washing away of sins in Baptism.
Naaman plunges 7 times into the waters of the Jordan:
7 being symbolic of the seven sacraments opened to us through baptism
and the Jordan being the river of Jesus’ own baptism,
pointing to Jesus Himself as the one who “cleanses” the lepers
—just as it is Christ Himself who cleanses us
in the waters of baptism.
And finally, once cleansed they offer thanks to God:
Naaman by offering sacrifice a to God,
the Samaritan in the Gospel by coming to Jesus,
again, pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus
which we call the “thanksgiving”
–to the Eucharist.
So we see the direct connection between Baptism and the Eucharist:
the cleansing of Baptism prepares us for the Eucharist,
And while Baptism does give birth to a right to receive Communion,
it is not an absolute right:
some forget that we have to keep our baptismal purity
if we are going to come to Jesus in the Eucharist.
How utterly perverse it would have been if the leper had been cured,
but then had willfully re-contracted leprosy,
and then returned to Jesus.
Grave or mortal sin is a choice to return to being spiritual lepers,
and so makes giving thanks to Jesus non-sensical.
So then how can a baptized Catholic in the state of mortal sin
expect to receive Holy Communion?
As St. Paul sternly warns us elsewhere in scripture:
“Whoever…eats the bread or drinks the cup …in an unworthy manner
will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
So it has been the constant teaching of the Church
that if a baptized Catholic commits a “grave” or “mortal” sin,
- a sin that cuts us off from God’s eternal life—
he cannot receive Holy Communion
until he has been cleansed of that sin and so restored to God’s life
by the absolution of the sacrament of penance,
which the early Church Fathers said was “like a second baptism.”
Now, the Church doesn’t want to be the “mortal sin police,”
publicly denying Communion to all sorts of people.
Even if we did, priests don’t usually know who has unconfessed mortal sins.
The only “mortal sin police” in that case is you policing yourself:
“Let a man examine himself,” as St. Paul says.
So before Communion, each Catholic must examine himself,
and if you have a mortal sin that you have not gone to confession for
you must deny yourself communion.
But not all sins work that way.
Some sins are so public and clearly grave,
that they require some sort of public repentance
before the sinner can be given Communion.
So the law of the Church explicitly provides:
“Those …who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,
are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”
Notice, it doesn’t say they “shouldn’t go” to Communion,
it says they “are not to be admitted.”
In other words, the burden of denying Communion shifts from the individual self
to the priest:
the priest is forbidden to give Communion in these cases.
Now, the “rule” here isn’t so much to punish the sinner,
as it is mainly meant for the good of the rest of us.
Because if someone who stubbornly persists in publicly committing mortal sins
and then receives Holy Communion,
other good people might start to think those mortal sins
weren’t so mortal after all.
And these same good people
might start to think the Church doesn’t really mean
all those wonderful things it says about the Eucharist.
This is what we call the “sin of scandal”
—confusing people about what is true or false, right or wrong.
So for the good of the innocent,
no one, no priest, deacon or extraordinary minister
—not even a bishop or cardinal—
is ever allowed to give Holy Communion to
“Those …who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin…”
This month of October is “Respect Life Month.”
This reminds us that of a common example of a manifest public grave sinner,
the Catholic pro-abortion politician.
These politicians often claim that Catholic Baptism gives them
an absolute right to receive Communion.
They are terribly confused.
Let us be clear: as Pope St. John Paul wrote in Evangelium Vitae:
“direct abortion…always constitutes a grave moral disorder,
since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”
So it is clear that Catholic politicians who publicly support
the so-called right to abortion
are in fact “obstinately persist[ing] in manifest grave sin,”
and “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”
The tradition and the law are clear, and the Popes have been clear.
There is no doubt.
Now, the question has also come up
about ordinary Catholics who simply vote for pro-abortion politicians.
No one knows who you voted for, and even if you tell people,
it almost never becomes well known.
So normally these folks cannot be called public sinners
so a priest can’t deny them Communion.
But is voting for a pro-abort, nevertheless, still a mortal sin
that would require that the voter deny himself Communion?
First, it’s clear that it is definitely a mortal sin to vote for a candidate
specifically because he’s pro-abortion.
But what if a pro-life Catholic
votes for a pro-abortion candidate instead of a pro-life candidate
for some reason other than abortion?
For example, if a Catholic voter votes for a pro-abort because he’ll do a better job
in providing health care, or caring for the poor, or dealing with immigration?
The only time this would be in any way morally permissible,
is if there were what the Church calls “proportionate [grave] reasons.”
In other words, the second issue, or issues,
would have to be objectively just as important and grave and widespread
Think about this: it has to be objective: not based on feelings, or irrational fear.
And it must be equally grave:
but what could be equally as terrible as killing a little baby?
The economy? Universal health care? Immigration?
—I can’t even begin to see that.
And it has to be just as widespread:
an average of over 1.3 million babies have been aborted in America
every year since 1973!
What other thing this equivalent evil is that widespread?
Now, maybe, if a pro-life candidate
came out in favor of the nuclear annihilation of Iran.
Or if a candidate opposed killing unborn babies in abortion
but supported the killing of illegal immigrants when we catch them.
Okay, in my opinion, those would be proportionate to abortion
and you might morally vote for a pro-abort over the pro-lifer.
But in reality, nothing like that is at issue in any elections today.
In short, voting for or supporting a pro-abortion candidate
instead of a pro-life candidate
is almost always a mortal sin,
and anyone who commits this sin
must deny themselves Holy Communion
until they have repented and been cleansed
by the grace of sacramental of confession.
Some wonder why the bishops aren’t enforcing these “laws” more clearly.
Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of suffering your negative reaction.
I know I am.
But in today’s Gospel Jesus says:
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
And as St. Paul tells us in the second reading:
“such is [the] gospel, for which I am suffering,
even to the point of chains….
But the word of God is not chained.”
For a priest–or anyone else–to deny the Church’s constant teaching by silence
—even out of fear—
is simply to try to chain the word of God and to deny Jesus.
And as St. Paul says: “If we deny Him, He will deny us.”
Now, as we move deeper into the mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass,
open your hearts to appreciate
the power of Christ and the magnificent gift He gives us here.
Follow the example of the Samaritan leper:
have faith in the power of Jesus and in His word,
And like the Samaritan,
come before the altar and “fall at the feet of Jesus and give Him thanks.”