Fr. Paul's Homily
Leprosy is a brutal disease, not only because of the terrible loss of limbs and de-figurement, but especially because of the tremendous isolation that results. This isolation was even more severe in Jesus’ day because of the lack of good medical knowledge concerning this disease, now called Hansen’s Disease. While today we know that it is contagious in only a limited manner, in Jesus’ day they believed it was contagious through all contact.
I was reading a story this week about an American doctor who was working in a leprosy clinic in India. A bright young man was brought into his office one day and as the doctor spoke with the man (who obviously had the disease of leprosy), the doctor placed his hand on the man’s shoulder. He shuddered and immediately began to cry. Thinking he had offended the man or cross a cultural taboo, the doctor asked if he had done something wrong? The young man responded through his tears that it was the first time in years that anyone had voluntarily touched him.
When Jesus healed the man with leprosy, the Scriptures say, “And Jesus reached out and touched the man.” As we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are asked today that we not only believe in Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist, but that we allow Christ’s Presence to transform us. As St. Augustine said, “We are called to become what we receive.” So, let’s talk about being Christ.
We believe that Jesus Christ comes to us in the Eucharist. We believe that he is truly present to us under the signs of Bread and Wine; we believe in his Real Presence, not simply a symbolic presence.
Most of us have received the Holy Communion since we were children and sometimes we can become numb to this amazing Gift. We come to Mass preoccupied with worries; we daydream through the Scriptures; we absentmindedly come up to receive Communion. I do not say this to judge anyone, but only to remind us that we can far too easily take for granted this tremendous Gift of Jesus to us.
Where I find the gift most appreciated is in the hearts of those people who are awaiting Communion…members of our RCIA. As people move through the months of preparation for the Catholic faith, one can see the increase desire to be baptized and confirmed. But I especially see the desire for Eucharist grow. Sunday after Sunday they have sat in the pews, coming forward to receive a blessing. They feel the separation from the rest of the community and they want to be one with us, as they become one with Christ. Receiving the Eucharist becomes a sign of that oneness. When I hear a member of the RCIA tell me that they “ache” to receive Holy Communion, I am challenged to open my own heart more deeply to this powerful gift. Do I ache to receive the Lord in Holy Communion? Maybe I have become complacent to this gift.
Holy Communion is given to us so that we may be transformed into the Presence of Christ in the world. In other words, we are called be become the Body of Christ in the world today; to live as Christ’s hands, heart, feet and mind. I would like to allow our Gospel today, the feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus, to guide us in allowing ourselves to be used by Christ in his mission on the earth.
In the gospel story, the Lord has been preaching and healing for a crowd of thousands. Being in a deserted place, the apostles become concerned that Jesus needs to send these folks away so that they can find food. They tell Jesus to do something; but Jesus returns the question and tells them to do something, “Give them food yourselves.” They realize that bringing the concern to Jesus does not excuse them from responsibility.
Jesus has the disciples have people sit down in groups of 50. He then takes the food that they have brought, five loaves and two fishes, he blesses, breaks and gives it to the disciples to distributed. All ate and were satisfied and 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered.
There are several steps here:
- The disciples identified the issue.
- In bringing the issue to Jesus they were asked to participate in the solution.
- They brought what they had and cooperative with his directives.
- Christ works a miracle with their help.
Let’s look at these steps.
First, we, like the disciples, need to be able to identify the issue and bring it to the Lord. Last week we prayed for the family of Jose Alberto Ruiz who was killed in a senseless act of violence. We prayed also for an end to violence in our city. The issue is violence, people killing people, creating fear in many areas of our city. This is a huge issue for our city and we need to bring it to the Lord.
Second, we need to realize that in bringing the issue to the Lord, we are being asked to help in the solution. Sometimes we might view prayer as a way of ‘washing our hands of the issue’. What we fail to realize is that God works through people and social structures, and therefore solutions to violence will occur when human beings are willing to be a part of the solutions. As in the Gospel today when Jesus wanted the help of the apostles, so he wants our help. When we pray for an end to violence, we are also saying, “Lord, I am willing to allow you to work through me to bring about peace in our city.” Our reaction might very well be, “I can’t remove the violence from our city.” We think that because an issue is huge, I cannot do anything, just like the disciples were overwhelmed in trying to feed the 5,000. The question is not, “Can I remove violence from our city?” The question is, “Am I willing allow God to use me in finding a solution?” Are we?
Third, we are called to bring what we have to the Lord and follow his directives. For the disciples, they were able to bring five loaves and two fish, hardly enough to meet the hunger needs of 5,000. Yet, Jesus worked with what they had. The disciples also carried out Jesus’ directives of helping the crowd to sit down, distributing the food and collection the leftovers. Jesus, with the help if the disciples, were able to bring about a powerful miracle!
So, what can I bring to the Lord to help the issue of violence in our city? How can I allow Christ to work through me? Well, we can begin by removing all violence from our own lives, either by word or action. Am violent with others around me? Do I use rhetoric that is violent by being angry, demeaning or hostile? Violence begins in human hearts and we do not want our own hearts to be contaminated by violence.
Am I willing to search for solutions? We know that increase of poverty will lead to more crime. How do we work to decrease poverty? Do I support better bus service to areas where people frequently do not have vehicles to drive? It is hard to hold a job when you don’t have a car and there is no bus service. Do I support forms of job training? How do I support education in the crime ridden areas of our city? We have the power of the vote. We have the power of our voice.
Finally, believe in the power of Christ working through us. We are not helpless, because Christ is not helpless. Jesus was able to do amazing things through the apostles, especially after the resurrection. He wants to work through us. I think this has already happened with the entire community of Holy Spirit coming together to replace the violence of Jose Alberto’s death with the power of a community that chooses to respond with love, not vengeance. This Christian community of Holy Spirit seeks to transform violence into hope, faith and love.
My friends, most of us will receive Holy Communion this weekend. Once again we will step forward and respond “Amen” to the minister’s statement, “The Body of Christ.” Let us do so with faith and reverence. Then, I ask that you allow the Communion to transform you; to remake your heart; to become Jesus Christ.