20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 16, 2015
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 16, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Imagine if you will, a grown man, a professional, more or less well educated,
maybe with graduate degrees, maybe even a doctorate or two,
everyday putting on a white bib, dressing in a long white floor length robe,
a rope around his waist,
and a long green silk poncho to cover almost his entire body.
That sounds pretty silly, and to a lot of people, it is.
Unless of course you’re a Catholic, or maybe an Orthodox or Anglican Christian.
To Catholics the external signs like the priest’s vestments are very important
–they have a meaning.
The exterior signs of Catholic worship are meant to express or to foster
the interior life of worship,
and they’re meaningless and useless if they don’t.
And that’s the way with all of the Christian life.
If I kill someone in cold blood, but I say, “I love that person,”
most people probably wouldn’t believe me.
Anytime our external actions don’t correspond with or effect
our internal dispositions or beliefs,
we become, in some sense, hypocrites and liars.
The seven sacraments are external signs given to us by Christ
that express an internal or spiritual reality
and move us to a participation in that spiritual reality.
So what appears to be a mere piece of bread is really the flesh of Christ:
Christ uses a sign of life-giving and nourishing food
to give us his own body,
to come to us and enter into us
giving us his own spiritual life and strength.
And in the liturgy which the Church gives us
there are also external non-sacramental signs.
For example: we stand sometimes, and kneel at others.
Sometimes we sing out loud, and some times we remain silent.
But the exterior sign of standing out of respect for the gospel means very little
if you have no internal respect or honor for the Gospel.
Kneeling is a sign of adoration, but means nothing if you don’t really adore.
And the wonderful exterior sign of singing isn’t a sign of love or praise of God
unless our hearts sing along.
And the beautiful sign of the words of the prayers we say
means nothing if those words don’t reflect the thoughts and sensitivities
of our minds and hearts—or at least move us in their direction.
Scripture tells us in the Book of Isaiah:
“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far away from me.”
And the Psalms tell us:
“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
But then it goes on to say:
“The sacrifice acceptable to you is a contrite spirit;
a humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.”
In the sacrifice of the Mass our actions should reflect
what our hearts believe and experience,
as well as remind us of what we should believe and experience.
As most of you know, the 2nd Vatican Council in the early 60’s
called for a reform of the liturgy
which was intended, in part,
to bring about a deeper participation by the laity in the Mass:
“a full, conscious, and active participation.”
Sometimes this sense of participation is very difficult to achieve,
or is greatly misunderstood.
Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the externals
that we forget about what’s going on in the heart,
or what’s not going on.
Sometimes we can take the externals for granted so they neither
come from the heart nor move the heart to Christ.
The Council talked about the importance of the people taking part in
acclamations, responses, hymns, gestures and reverent silence.
But it did this in the context of the notion of
a full and conscious active participation,
a participation rooted in interior participation.
Now sometimes when we’re sitting in the pews,
we might have tendency look at the priest
or the other people moving around in the sanctuary or in the choir
and think, “now those are the people who participate.”
But what if you can’t sing or read well in public?
Does that mean you participate any less?
You know, I can tell you from first hand experience
that sometimes it’s very challenging to really actively participate
when you’re probably the most externally active participant in the Mass
It’s very difficult for me sometimes to concentrate on what I’m doing
–to fully consciously participate in the mystery I celebrate.
Sometimes it’s because of other people:
…a few years ago I was doing a baptism at a Sunday Mass:
as soon as I began my homily…
…the baby I was about to baptize, began to cry.
Actually, she didn’t cry: she screamed, for 15 minutes:
she didn’t stop until the moment I finished preaching.
Now, to some, it might have seemed
like she was participating in the Mass for 15 minutes, but she wasn’t really.
And I seemed like I was participating… but where was my mind and heart?
Sometimes it’s difficult to for me to concentrate at Mass because of me:
maybe sometimes you’ll see me at the chair during the readings,
maybe not responding to the psalm,
because I’m already thinking ahead about what I want to say in the homily.
That’s not where I’m supposed to be,
but its easy to be distracted by my own thoughts.
Sometimes it’s the awesomeness of what’s going on in the Mass itself
—it’s hard to believe, impossible, but true.
For example in today’s gospel,
the people start to quarrel among themselves, saying:
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat.”
It’s easy to come to Mass and externally say “amen”
when the priest says “the body of Christ”,
but its not quite so easy to believe that with all of our hearts.
I remember the first time I actively participated in the Mass as a priest
–at my first Mass.
Imagine, if you could hold a piece of bread, or a cup of wine, in your hands,
and yet stand in the place of Christ, and say for him,
“this is my body” “this is my blood.”
–and the bread and wine immediately becomes
the real body and blood of Jesus Christ
—the flesh of Jesus that is true food,
and the blood of Jesus that is true drink.
Christ crucified, and risen, and seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven.
It was so hard to fathom the reality of what I was doing:
the mystery unfolding, literally, in my hands
–and it still is.
And yet for you in the pew, it’s not so different:
you get to eat this same flesh and blood of Christ.
He enters into you, physically, externally,
as you enter into to him spiritually, and internally.
Today, St. Paul tells us, we should praise God and give him thanks,
we should in fact sing his praise,
but we should to do it first, as he says” in your hearts.”
In our hearts.
In the Gospel Jesus tells us:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
Remaining in Christ…..dwelling in Christ, and Christ dwelling in us.
When we take the flesh of Christ–this external reality of his presence
–and take it into ourselves by externally eating it,
and then internally opening our hearts to him,
the exterior bread of life transforms our interior life
allowing our hearts to participate in the interior life of Christ himself.
The transformation is in our hearts first, but it doesn’t stop there.
The transformation is a participation of our whole life in the life of Christ.
So just as the heart pumps life-bearing blood into all of the members of the body,
the interior life pours the life of Christ into all of our actions
–the interior participation transforms the exterior actions,
so that they manifest this new real participation in the life of Christ.
Us remaining in him, and him remaining in us.
For the last, 5 years I’ve been in this parish
I’ve truly been deeply impressed with the outward signs
of piety and devotion among the parishioners.
But I wouldn’t be impressed at all
if I didn’t think that those outward signs
were expressing a true inner devotion.
I believe they do
—but I also believe that there is infinite room for deepening that devotion,
because there is an infinite love in the God
we receive in the Bread that comes down from heaven.
When we come to Mass it is very important that we participate externally:
that we say the prayers, respond to the priest, sing the hymns,
sit in silence…
stand, kneel and bow our heads.
But that external participation is only valuable to the extent
it fosters internal participation
and is transformed by internal participation.
It does no good to sing, if you don’t sing with your heart.
It does no good to kneel, if you don’t kneel in true adoration.
No good to just remain silent and perfectly still,
if you don’t remain silent with Christ,
who wants to dwell in your heart
and in your entire life.
You can eat the bread of life,
you can participate in coming to receive communion,
but if you don’t open your heart
you will never fully participate–in heart and in deed–
in the infinite and eternal life
Jesus offers you in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
As we now move forward into the mystery of the Eucharist,
as you try to understand the profound meaning
of what and who you behold and receive….
consider also what your posture means.
Think about the words you pray, and the songs you sing.
Give internal meaning to the external signs of faith,
and let the exterior signs of faith move you to interior belief.
Open your heart to Christ, remaining in him as he remains in you.
Actively participate in this Holy Mass–fully and consciously
–so that you may actively participate
in the life Christ gives us in the mystery of the Bread of Life.