Sunday, June 26, 2011

Feast of Corpus Christi - Homily

Today is my favorite feast of the liturgical year: the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate God's amazing gift to us of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. I wish I could give an exposition or deep reflection of the beauty and richness of the Eucharist. But, I need to address a big problem in our Church regarding the Eucharist: Sunday Mass attendance. The drop in Mass attendance is staggering, to say the least. In 1958, a Gallop poll found that about 75% of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday. Now, less than 25% go every week. That is incredible. It is incredibly sad. Consistent with those numbers is the results of a survey from years ago that 70% of Catholics don't believe in the Eucharist. I believe that people don't believe because they don't know the Gospel passage we just heard, John 6...they don't know the teaching on the Eucharist.

There are a variety of reasons why Mass attendance has declined so dramatically in the past 50 years. The first one I offer is the sins of the Church…of bishops, priests, and religious. The Eucharist has hardly been preached about for the past 30 years or so; we just haven’t heard it talked about. I mention the Eucharist every time because it always relates to the readings and to our lives. Then, we have the sins that we've been reading in the papers the past ten years - the sexual abuse scandals. Priests and religious have also committed verbal abuse that have driven people away. I have worked with many people who came back after being away because they had had a bad experience with a priest. One of the first things I do is to apologize to them on behalf of the Church and beg for forgiveness. It is heroic that they and anyone who has been abused in any way are back.

Another percentage of Catholics stop coming to Mass because of some of the teachings of the Church. It's like the scene in today's Gospel where Jesus lays out the teaching on the Eucharist (and by the way, He teaches more on the Eucharist than any other teaching). Many of the disciples quarrel or grumble about the Lord's teaching. Then, they leave Him over the teaching, as if to say that they know better than God. Many Catholics have done the same thing. They have quarreled or grumbled about the Church's teaching on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, or other moral issues. They have left the Church over these teachings, as if to say they know better than the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Then, there are a percentage of Catholics who have simply fallen away. I'm convinced that there are many Catholics at GW who have simply fallen out of the habit of going to Mass. We are trying to invite them back.

The scariest part of all this for me as a priest - the thing that is foremost in my mind when it comes to Catholics who don't go to Mass - is what Christ says in today's Gospel, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you". He is talking about grace...sanctifying grace that we need to get to Heaven. We need the grace of the Eucharist to have life now and forever. We need to receive the Eucharist if we want to go to Heaven. I worry about Catholics who don't receive the Eucharist. I worry about their salvation. I worry that their souls are in grave danger.

So, this is the problem. What is the solution? The Eucharist. The solution to the problem is to re-present the teaching on the Eucharist. When parents ask me how to get their big kids back to Church, I tell them to talk to their kids about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is when it gets personal and real. It is not just bread and wine, it is the Body and Blood of Christ! It is a person! When people get it about the Eucharist, it changes everything. It changes the way they approach Mass. If they've left the state of Grace due to mortal sin, they go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion. They dress appropriately for Mass. They arrive on time and maybe even early. They stay until the final blessing and maybe even a few minutes after Mass to give thanks. And, they actually pray during Holy Communion, realizing that they have Jesus in them.

The Real Presence affects their whole lives. They realize that the Eucharist is real, that Christ is really there. If He is there in the Eucharist, He is there in Confession and all the sacraments. He becomes a real part of their moral lives. Living charity, chastity, and all the virtues becomes even more real. They have heard Him say to them, "this is my body", and so they try to give their bodies to Him. They try to make Him a real part of their lives as He has made Himself such a real part of their lives in the Eucharist.

So, I ask you to help me and all priests in inviting people back to Mass. You can do a bigger and better job of this than we can. Don't be afraid to tell them that the Mass is mainly about the Eucharist, and that they need to receive the Eucharist if they want to get to Heaven. I have done this with many, many people -including 10 year old kids- and they get it. It is an invitation to receive eternal life...NOW and forever. It is an invitation to receive the happiness, joy, and peace that the Eucharist brings. It is an invitation to thank God for all of our blessings, especially Christ on the Cross and present in the Eucharist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And like the priest at the church I attended this a.m. said - It is only the Catholic Christian who can receive what is offered in the Eucharist. You will not find it in any other place, any other church, or any other religion.

Praise God for the Eucharist! Praise God for priests!