|St. James Church & Statue in Medugorje|
As you may have heard, I had the joy of spending the last week and a half on pilgrimage in Rome and Medugorje. Medugorje, as you likely heard from Fr. Mark, is a place where the Blessed Mother has been appearing for over 30 years now to a small group of people and giving messages to them and those who are gathered there with them when she appears. When we first arrived there we sat down and listened to Ivan, one of the visionaries, speak about the story of Our Lady and about the general theme of the messages. One of the things he pointed out was that the messages that the Blessed Mother is giving are not new revelations but are simply repetition of things that she has said before in previous apparitions. She repeats herself, Ivan said, because we, her children are in such great need of keeping in mind what are the truly important things in this life.
Speaking for my own experience, it is easy to get caught up in so many things going on around us, even good things like activities here at the parish, that I can lose sight of the big picture because I'm so focused on the many details that need to be tended to. For that reason I find it a grace to be reminded from time to time about what is important. Though I may already know it and speak about it to others, I can easily forget to apply it in my life.
In the Gospel today we hear the Lord using a similar method of repetition to get His point across as well, and to show the importance of the teaching that He is giving. The Jewish people struggle to grasp the mystery of the Eucharist, but Our Lord explicitly states six times that they must truly eat His Flesh and drink His Blood to have eternal life. He repeats and clarifies to be sure that the people understood and received well the gift He was to give. In light of this, it seems right to pause today and call to mind once again the basics for receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion. Seeing you come forward to receive Our Lord as reverently as you do each week leads me to believe that most, if not all, of what I say will not be entirely new to you. I simply desire to bring to mind once again, for myself included, the miracle taking place in our midst.
The first thing is that we ought to come hungry to receive Christ. In a physical sense we are required by the Church to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion. This is partly so that we honor the Body of the Lord by not mixing with other substances, including gum we're chewing or food we' e eaten recently. Taking it to a spiritual level, the hunger we experience from fasting is meant to remind us of the reality that it is Christ alone who can bring true fulfillment. The world around us tells us that we can be fulfilled by having lots of nice possessions, having sexual freedom and simply doing what feels good at the moment, but the reality is that those things leave us empty. Fasting helps to remind the soul of this reality.
Second is that in order to receive Holy Communion well, we must be in a state of grace. Sin isn't a popular topic today because it can makes us feel shame, which is what should happen when we offend God. But the reality is that sin exists and if we have committed a grave sin or mortal sin, we are not in communion with God because we have turned our back on Him and sought our own desires. To receive communion in such a state is to lie to God and to yourself, and is a mortal sin itself. So before we come we ought to examine ourselves to ensure we are in a state of grace. The question is what constitutes mortal sin. Common examples are living in a marriage not blessed by the Church, intentionally skipping Sunday Mass, engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage, the use of pornography and the intentional abuse of alcohol to get drunk. If one finds themselves in such a state, they ought to, ought of love for God and care for their soul, not receive Holy Communion before they have been reconciled through the Sacrament of Confession.
The third point is to be mindful that it is the Lord whom we are receiving in Holy Communion. Thus when we come forward, the norm is to make a profound bow out of respect for the Lord who is in front of us. Also, in receiving Holy Communion, we ought to actually receive it. Rather than reach out and taking the host we ought to receive it by making a sort of throne to ensure that the host does not fall to the ground. This reception not only helps us to show reverence for the Body of the Lord, but it also helps us to be mindful that the Eucharist is not something we deserve but that it is a gift we are blessed to receive. Also, something that can be a source of much more meditation is the reality that even the smallest piece of a host is still fully Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. So if we receive we ought to look after we receive the host to see if there are any particles remaining. And as we look at our hand to see if there is any of Christ there, we ought similarly begin to look at our lives and begin to look for where Christ might be found among us – even in the smallest of ways.
In the end, most of this is likely stuff we have heard before. But just because we’ve heard it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hear it again from time to time to remind ourselves of the reality of the Eucharist and the disposition of heart with which we ought to approach Holy Communion. May we today and every day be found worthy to receive Our Lord and by this gift be found worthy to enter one day into that Heavenly Feast where all the angels and saints await us.