Video and Text: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021
Homily starts at timestamp 21:40
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 17, 2021
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
I was thinking of preaching about the events going on in Washington
last week and this coming week, and all the troubles confronting us.
But most of what I want to say about that I said in my homilies of the 10th
and on St. Raymond’s feast.
Today I want to talk about something even more important,
something that can both lift us above those troubles
and help us to do what we must in confronting them.
And that is: Sunday Mass.
During Advent and Christmas we saw a noticeable, sometimes dramatic,
increase in Mass attendance—both in person and online.
But with Christmas now behind us,
we see a whole lot fewer people, at least until Easter.
Why is it that so many Catholics don’t come to Mass every Sunday,
whether now virtually by watching livestream, or, especially, in person?
Of course there are a lot of different answers.
In this year of COVID the obvious answer for many is they are being careful.
And that is understandable, at least for many.
But that doesn’t explain the fact that a lot of Catholics
don’t even bother to try to participate in Sunday Mass
by watching the livestream.
And it doesn’t explain why even in the best of times
only about 30% of Catholics in the U.S. go to Mass every Sunday.
Some will tell you they don’t come
because the Bible doesn’t say we have to go to Mass on Sunday.
It’s true, the requirement to go to Catholic Mass on Sunday isn’t in the Bible
–the third commandment only says: “Keep holy the Sabbath Day.”
But let me tell you what is in the Bible:
today we read: “Jesus…said: “You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas” – which is translated Peter.”
Jesus called Simon “Peter” which means “Rock”
and would later explain,
“and on this rock I will build my church, and ….
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
And Peter, or rather his successors, the Popes,
have for centuries bound us to going to Mass on Sundays.
It’s not a commandment, but it is what we call a “precept of the Church.”
And it is a mortal sin to disobey it.
Of course, right now it’s not —we have a special dispensation from the Bishop
that lifts the requirement during the COVID shutdown.
But the fact that the Church normally does require it should tell us
that regardless of the grave technical obligation,
the Church believes it is extremely important to come to Sunday Mass.
Still, some would say, but why—why is it so important?
One reason is that the 10 Commandments require us to “keep the Sabbath Holy.”
Unfortunately, if we didn’t go to Mass, most of us
wouldn’t do anything at all to keep it holy.
By requiring we go to Mass, the Church causes us to center the whole day around God,
—even though it’s only 1 hour it affects all of our plans for the rest of the day.
But more importantly, by coming together, even if only virtually,
to celebrate the same Mass celebrated by 100’s of millions all over the world.
we remind ourselves and the world
that there is one Christ, one faith one baptism, one Church
and that this oneness, this unity, must stay with us week in and week out, in everything aspect of our lives.
Some offer other excuses for not coming to Mass every Sunday.
They say, “I just don’t enjoy going to Mass.”
To them I quote the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“What are you looking for?”
What is it that you’re expecting to find at Mass?
Some want to be entertained with lively music or beautiful Gregorian chant,
or by an erudite or funny priest.
Some want the priest to tell them how great they are,
or they want their fellow parishioners to be particularly welcoming.
And when they don’t get what they’re looking for
they become like Samuel in today’s first reading:
they fall asleep “in the temple of the LORD.”
But when Jesus asks Andrew and John: “What are you looking for?”
all they say is
“Teacher, where are you staying?”
They’re don’t have a set of demands or expectations,
all they want is to be with the “teacher”
so He can teach them what He has to teach them.
So the Gospel continues:
“[Jesus] said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with Him that day.”
You shouldn’t come here today to be entertained,
but because Jesus is here.
Yes, I know, Jesus is God, so in a certain sense He’s everywhere.
But ever since Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem
God has made it clear that His temple was a special place of His presence —a place he wanted His people to come to,
away from all distractions,
just to be with Him, in His house.
Because He knew that wherever we go there are all sorts of things to
distract us from recognizing His presence.
And Jesus also knew this, and repeatedly went to the Temple Himself
to be with His Father —even though He was never really not with the Father wherever He was.
Remember how the Gospels tell us “he was filled with zeal for his Father’s house”
as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip?
And we come here and to other Catholic Churches on Sunday
because Jesus is here, like He is nowhere else.
He’s here in His People gathered as His Body, as St. Paul tells us today.
And He’s here especially in His Word proclaimed in the Gospels
and in the preaching of the priest.
And so you come here listen to Him, as Andrew and John did.
You come here to the temple, like Samuel when he finally wakes up, to say:
“Speak, [Lord,] your servant is listening.”
Sometimes people tell me, but Father, the homilies are too long or boring.
But in all the rambling of your priests is it not possible to recognize something of the echo of the voice of God.
And even if you can’t hear Jesus in what I say,
or in the assembly of the Church
hear Him in His own words in the Gospel, as it says:
“He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw ….and …stayed with Him.
Hear Him calling you to come to see Him and to stay with Him here.
Because here, and only here, do we see Him truly present in the Eucharist.
“This is my body” Jesus said at the last Supper.
His body is in the tabernacle, right now.
And the bread on the altar will soon truly become His body.
Here and only here at Holy Mass can we truly say
–as the Gospel begins today, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
as He offers himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for our sins.
“‘Come and see’….So they went and saw.”
Finally, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a 1000 times:
Father, I just don’t get anything out of Mass.
Let’s think about that: I don’t GET ANYTHING out of Mass.
Again, I have to ask: “What are you looking for?”
Because you see, it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.
And it’s not about what the priest or choir or the congregation give us,
but what we give to Jesus
and what He gives to us.
In a few minutes I’ll say to you:
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”
and you’ll respond: “it is right and just.”
This is what we come here to do:
to give God thanks!
We drag our lazy bodies out of bed or off the couch,
and sit and stand and kneel and bow and sing and pray out loud
in order, as St. Paul says, to: “glorify God in your body.”
And we come, as the Psalm says today,
to “announce his justice in the vast assembly…”
And it is “right and just” to do so.
But that’s not all we come to give.
I’ll also say to you:
“Lift up your hearts to the Lord”
and you’ll respond: “We lift them up to the Lord.”
Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re saying here.
A lot of people think this is simply an expression of joy
—our hearts are lifted up.
But that’s not at all what we mean.
In the Old Testament, the highest form of worship
was the ritual sacrifice of an animal or grain.
But these sacrifices were primarily symbolic
of the sacrifice of the person:
you gave the life of the animal to God
to symbolize that you were giving your own life
completely and totally to God.
Unfortunately, over time people started just going through the motions:
offering the animal or bread as if that would placate God.
So we read in today’s Psalm :
“Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
…and your law is within my heart!”
So today our sacrifice of bread and wine,
is meaningless if it doesn’t truly represents a gift of ourselves to God,
unless we lift up not bread and wine
but “Lift up our hearts to the Lord.”
And we lift up our hearts not by simply saying so
but by uniting ourselves, and conforming our hearts,
to Christ and His teaching, and to His Church.
Still, the gift of ourselves is very small thing,
and not very much to offer God
in thanks for the many gifts He has given us.
And so Jesus, in His infinite love for us,
takes our tiny gift and unites it to His own.
He perfects our thanksgiving by joining it with His thanksgiving,
and transforms our symbolic gifts of bread and wine
into the sacrifice the Lamb of God,
His very own body and blood in the Eucharist.
And then He unites us to Himself as gives Himself to us in Holy Communion.
This is amazing!
Where else could you find anything like this?
How could we think even the most entertaining choir,
the most welcoming congregation,
or even the most moving preacher could even touch this?
Much less, praying at home alone, or, God forbid, going to a soccer game?
And as you leave here today I pray that just as Andrew went to Peter
you will go to your own brothers and sister
and bring them back with you next Sunday to this holy temple,
even if they can only do so virtually,
to stay with the Lord for an hour or so, to be united with His Church,
to listen His word, and to lift up their very hearts to Him,
and to be transformed by the grace of the Most Holy Sacrifice Mass.
Ask them: “What are you looking for?”
And promise them: “Come, and you will see.”