Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making A Place

Readings for Sunday, June 22/ Corpus Christi:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

While you all know that I’m leaving for my new assignment next week on July 1, some of you may have noticed that I have actually been gone for a couple of weeks already. The Lord put it on my heart a few months back that I ought to go to Combermere, Ontario to visit the Madonna House Apostolate there. I had no idea why I should go, what happened there, or what the Lord might have up His sleeve, but I decided to follow what I believed to be His voice and went. I arrived right at dinnertime and was welcomed into the dining hall. I found an open seat next to a lady named Maureen from Buffalo, NY and we began chatting. I sheepishly confessed that I had no idea what the Madonna House was even about and that I had driven all that way on a hunch, and I asked her, “What exactly happens here?” Looking around at the hundred or so people around me and seeing the numerous buildings on the property, I was expecting a litany of jobs and ministries. Instead, she simply said, “Well, Father, we make a place for God.” I asked for clarification on what exactly that meant but she let me know that I would simply have to learn it throughout the week. And you know what – I did. In the midst of my daily work of prepping veggies, cutting & stacking firewood, and repairing chapel pews, I found God. Being a priest for three years now I should have already done so! And indeed I had, but this was a new experience, a new encounter that the week and the work helped to facilitate. And it was all because rather than giving me a list of things, Maureen’s voice just cycled through my mind all week long “we make a place for God.” It was so simple. And yet so profound.

This week we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. You know well that I would love nothing other than to sit here with you for the next three hours or so and talk about the topic because there is so much to be said. We could talk about the theology, the connections between the old Temple and our church here, ancient and modern liturgy, the Manna and the Eucharist, and a whole host of others things. But I know you don’t want that to happen, and even more I know that the Lord doesn’t want that to happen. All week as I was thinking about this homily, the many theological concepts kept coming up the Lord continued to speak to my heart in prayer saying, “Just be simple.” And the simple truth about this feast is that the Eucharist we come to celebrate and receive is not bread and wine as it appears, but is the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our God. When we let that reality really sink into our hearts it changes things. All of us know that the Church says it’s His Body and Blood, but the more we let it move from the intellect to the heart, the more it becomes the center and everything else takes second place because we realize it is GOD that comes to us. The God who created the universe billions of years ago, who created Adam & Eve thousands of years ago, who knows every hair on our head (especially those of us who are running a bit short of those!), and who knit us together in our mother’s womb – that God humbles Himself, and comes in what seems to be a simple piece of bread and place Himself in our hands, on our tongue. GOD! It’s so simple and yet the greatest minds cannot fully grasp this mystery.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
There’s another thing that’s on my mind lately that is simple in it’s own right: did you know that there are only 69 days until LSU Football starts up again!? That’s less than 10 weeks! I don’t normally preach about it much in my homilies but I love LSU football and always have. There’s just something about Saturday Night in Death Valley – or any time in Death Valley, really – that just energizes me. And you know as well as I that for most of us there is a sort of ritual that takes place. I get on my purple & gold shirt, or at least my hat to wear with my cassock. On the way to the stadium I crank up the LSU Fighting Tiger Band CD and get pumped up for the game. Of course you gotta get there early because there is tailgating to be had. And sometimes I walk down to the hill and watch the band pass by and feel the beat of drum line and hear the blare of the horns for the Pre-game Salute that gives me goose bumps every time. And then we all go in and see one of the greatest secular liturgies on the face of the earth! Did you know that LSU Football is liturgy? Think about it – when the defense stops the opposing team on third down, what happens? Everyone in the stadium starts to worship the defense (bowing down with arms raised out in mock worship). There are specific chants to chant and you can’t not sing along to Callin’ Baton Rouge. We all know the proper times to sit or stand, clap or yell. And then afterward we all hop in our cars and listen to the postgame in the traffic on the way home as they talk about what happened and look forward to what is coming up. The whole thing is energizing and filled with great intensity and much intentionality. But what hit me was this: what if you and I lived with that same intensity and intentionality for the Eucharist?

What would happen if we all consciously put on our special clothes for the big trip to church? What would happen if on the way here we listened to good spiritual music or even sat in silence to prepare our hearts to meet God? What would happen is we showed up a couple of hours early for Mass so that we could come and read over the scriptures, get familiar with the prayers of the Mass and prepare for the music that would be sung? What if when we came into Church we all genuflected and let our knees hit the ground because it is really God we’re genuflecting to? What if we let our bodies really speak to our hearts about the actions we do – the bowing, standing, kneeling – all for a purpose that heightens our spirit? What if we sang as loud here as we scream at the game? We’d have to install straps over the roof because we’d blow it off with all the noise! What if as we prepare for Holy Communion we spoke to the Lord about what our heart needs most? We yell all the time at the players and coaches on the field and they can’t even hear us. Why not speak to the God who can? What would happen if we reverently receive the Lord in our hands or on our tongue, recognizing the gift we have received. And what if rather than bolting out as quickly as possible we stayed until the end of Mass and even stuck around to pray afterwards for a few moments, like when the team sings the Alma Mater in front of the student section? What if when we left the Church we were full of excitement like we had just beaten Alabama? What if the ride home and the conversation at meals was about the homily, readings, or some new aspect that struck us in the Mass or what we look forward to next time? What if we lived our lives like that for every Mass?

The simple truth is the 2000 years ago God the Father gave you and I the greatest gift we could ever receive in the person of His Son Jesus. He humbled Himself, took on our flesh, worked quietly for thirty years, and preached publically for three. The end of His life brought His crucifixion and death on the Cross, then the Resurrection and Ascension, but before that He gave us the Eucharist so that the words spoken to the Apostles before His Ascension would be true: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” He has kept His promised and remained here with us at every moment. He rests here in the tabernacle out of love for us. When we receive Holy Communion, we are able to enter into that Love. By some great mystery, the Eucharist acts as a door into the Heart of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has made a place for us there. The question, are we willing to make a place for Him in ours?