Sunday, May 25, 2008

God Works in Mysterious Ways

(Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ-Year A; This homily was given 24 & 25 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read John 6:51-58)

I am sure you have heard the expression: “God works in mysterious ways.” So often when God reveals Himself in our lives, when He guides us through this life and into eternal life, He works in powerful, beautiful, and mysterious ways. The Feast of Corpus Christi that we celebrate this weekend is no exception.

The story of our feast goes back 800 years and begins with one woman (one little girl to be precise). Her name was Juliana and she grew up in the city of Liège in Belgium. At the age of five she became an orphan and was sent to a nearby Monastery to live with the Augustinian nuns at Mount Cornillon. She eventually joined the order.

When she was sixteen she began to receive extraordinary visions. She saw a full moon, darkened in one place, where there appeared to be a piece missing. She had no idea what that vision meant. Eventually God revealed to her that the moon represented the Church’s Liturgical Year and the piece missing was a feast that He wanted in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Of course, she was helpless to accomplish such a task.

After nearly twenty years she confided in a nearby priest, the Archdeacon of Liège, Jacques Pantaleon. He believed what she shared with him but was equally powerless, in his position, to do anything about it.

After Juliana’s death, Jacques Pantaleon became the Archbishop of Jerusalem, sent there by the Pope to bring unity and peace to a place that was in a great deal of distress. Several years later he returned to Rome and soon after his arrival the Pope there died. The Cardinals in Rome then elected him the new Vicar of Christ.

Jacques Pantaleon became Pope Urban IV, an elderly but well accomplished Pontiff who lived only three years after his election. In that brief time he did two things that touch our lives in a particular way today:

Firstly, he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, remembering young Juliana and her extraordinary visions.

Next, he commissioned a young Dominican priest named Thomas to compose the office (the music and prayers) for the celebration of the feast. We know him today as St. Thomas Aquinas, and the hymns he composed—Pange Lingua (the final two stanzas of which are the Tantum Ergo), Verbum Supernum (the final two stanzas of which are the O Salutaris Hostia) and the Adoro Te Devote—are still popular and cherished today.

This great feast, and some of the greatest music our Church has ever heard, all began with a five year old orphan in Liège! God does indeed work in powerful, beautiful and mysterious ways.

But the God who works so magnificently and mysteriously in the lives of Juliana, Pope Urban IV, and St. Thomas Aquinas, works in the same way in our own lives.

In fact, that mysterious vision of Juliana—the one of a full moon with a piece missing—is a beautiful image for each one of us. We are all created with an empty space, a piece missing, which only God can fill. No matter what we try to stuff into that place, nothing else will ever work but God. He alone can satisfy the deepest longing and yearning of our hearts.

St. Augustine said it well when he prayed: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

That deepest yearning and longing we have is something that God alone can fulfill, and today we celebrate the truth that He has done so. In the Holy Eucharist God meets us at the point of our greatest need: our desire and hunger for Him. In all the places that God makes Himself known to us and gives us Himself, the Eucharist is preeminent. It is the Sacrament and the encounter with the living God Himself, and the foretaste of eternal life.

Christ tells us in the Gospel of St. John this weekend:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
—John 6:53

Do we really believe that? Do our lives as Catholics reflect this great truth and the life-giving power of the Eucharist? He continues:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.
—John 6:54

In heaven we will live in union with Christ, physically and spiritually, for all eternity. Today we taste here on earth that eternal life of heaven in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist has the power to transform our lives, to re-invigorate our families, to renew our communities and bring new life to the world we live in.

Then why doesn’t it?

In November of 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a reflection on the importance of worthily receiving Christ in the Eucharist called, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper”. That reflection spoke about the power of Christ in the Eucharist and the personal effects we experience when we receive such a tremendous gift.

But it also mentioned the preparation that God expects of us, and the way we should be living on a daily basis in order for those effects to occur as God intends. It is possible to make the reception of Holy Communion fruitless, not because of God but because of us!

Specifically, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper,” mentioned three things that should be a part of our daily lives.

The first is Christian prayer and the daily reading of Scripture. Do we take time each day to be alone with God in prayer? Do we listen to the words of God in the Bible, and allow God to shape and mold our understanding or reality? Do we listen to what He is saying to us in the Scriptures and then respond to that word in prayer. It is in daily prayer that we grow in intimacy with God as we prepare to meet Him here in the Eucharist.

Secondly, we are called to faithfully live out our vocation wherever God has called us to be. Whether we are married, single, a religious brother or sister, or ordained, God calls us to be faithful day in and day out, to love Him and our neighbor. That is not easy to do…and when we fail…and we will—no one is perfect in loving God the way He calls us to, and in loving those around us; we all fall short—but when we fail, then we have to be mindful of the third requirement in the life of the Christian: Daily repentance and Reconciliation.

We are called to live lives of repentance. When we get to the end of the day, we humbly acknowledge those places where we have failed to love God and neighbor, and we say we are sorry. We seek His mercy and forgiveness in our lives on a daily basis.

If we have committed any grave sins then we need to seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which He gave us for that very purpose. “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper,” names several “thoughts, actions, and omissions” which would constitute “grave matter” and would require one who has knowingly sinned in that way to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion:

Failing to worship God by missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation without a serious reason, such as sickness or the absence of a priest.

Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage.

Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name.

Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography.

Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else.

These are all serious sins that would need to be forgiven in Confession before receiving the Eucharist. Regular confession, in fact, is one of the most effective ways of living a repentant life.

Daily prayer and Scripture, living faithfully our vocation, and living lives of repentance: When these practices are a part of our daily lives, then Christ can work powerfully in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and accomplish so much more than we could imagine.

God wants to unite Himself to us in this Sacrament and make us the holy men and women we have always been called to be. That is the goal of the Christian life; not to be decent people, or as good as the person next to us, or as nice as the person across the street. No, we are called to be saints…which brings me back to Juliana of Liège.

Later on, after her death, she became Blessed Juliana of Cornillon, and in 1869 she was canonized St. Juliana by Pope Pius IX. In the same way, that young Dominican priest became St. Thomas Aquinas. These were ordinary men and women who were touched by Christ in an extraordinary way in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. God works in extraordinary, powerful and mysterious ways.

How will He work in us on this Feast of Corpus Christi, in this coming week, and all throughout our Christian lives?