20th Sunday - homily
When I was young, I worked as a rectory aide at my parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda. For four hours every Thursday, I answered the phones, answered the door, and locked the Church. It was a pretty good gig: I made $7 cash plus two Cokes! The highlight was whenever the priest would come to visit me or check in. I was at the far end of the rectory, so I would always hear the priest coming. This gave me time to straighten myself up, turn off the TV, and look holy or something. One night during the summer, I heard a priest coming to see me. I got myself in order and then he popped in. He was wearing a t-shirt, swimming trunks, a funny hat, and had a towel draped over his shoulder. He said, “Hi, I’m Father Wells, the new priest”. “Hi”, I said. “I’m going to a pool party. You wanna go?”, he asked. “I have to answer the phones”, I replied, kind of mystified that he would even ask. “Ok, see ya later”, he said. Then, he was gone. I was thinking to myself, ‘what just happened? Who was that?’
That was Father Wells. We hit it off after that and for many years remained good friends. We reunited years later when he was the pastor of St Mark’s in Hyattsville and I was helping out with the youth group there. We hung out quite often for golf, with friends, vacations, and Church events. He was a great priest – very faithful, holy, brilliant, and a ton of fun. I would pick his brain all the time, trying to gain some of his wisdom. One day - I remember it so clearly – we were sitting in his office, shooting the breeze. At one point, I said, “well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is just a symbol”. “What?”, he said, with a look of total shock. Now, this was a man who completely believed in the Eucharist – that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. “It’s a symbol?”, I said shakily. Then, he said something that changed my life: “Greg, this is my body means this is my body”.
After 21 years of going to Church every Sunday and after 12 plus years of Catholic education, this was the first time I really ever heard the teaching about the Eucharist. It finally hit me. So, I had to pursue it. I started to go to daily Mass (in addition to Sunday) to hear the words I had heard so many times before. In hearing those words anew and in seeing the faith of the priest and people, I realized that this is for real. It really is the Body and Blood of Christ! I also started going to Eucharistic Adoration which they had perpetually at St Marks. What was going on was a relationship. I was entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ who is truly present in the Eucharist. And so, I began to say to Him, “Lord, you gave me your life, I want to give you my life”. It was not long after that that thoughts of the priesthood began to enter my mind and heart. The funny thing was when I went to tell Fr Wells that I was “sort of, kinda having some thoughts, maybe, about the priesthood”, He said, “Can you hold on?”, and then picked up the phone, called the vocations director, and said “Hey, Mark, it’s Tom. Yeah, we got one”! (A year later, I was in the seminary).
My vocation came from the Eucharist; the Eucharist is the source of my vocation. It is the center of my vocation. I have dedicated my priesthood to the Eucharist. I have dedicated my ministry to the Eucharist. So often in ministry, I refer to these lines from today’s Gospel. When kids ask me, “why do we have to go to Mass every Sunday?”. I’ll say it’s mainly to receive the Eucharist. I’ll ask them if they want to go to Heaven. They’ll immediately respond with “Uh huh, uh huh”. Then, I’ll tell them that Jesus said we need to receive the Eucharist at Mass if we want to go to Heaven. My point is based on John 6, verses 53-54: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. We need the grace of the Eucharist and Baptism to get to Heaven, to have eternal life.
Now, the Eucharist is not just our ticket to Heaven. It is our chance to have Heaven on Earth: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. That means that in a few minutes we will have Heaven dwelling within us because we will have Jesus dwelling within us, and Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven. At that moment, we will have the happiness, joy, peace, and all the things of Heaven in our bodies and souls.
Finally, it is not just about what we get from the Eucharist. It’s about what the Eucharist helps us to do. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that, “whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit”. He makes it clear in today’s Gospel that the best way to remain in Him and Him in us is in the Eucharist. So, if we remain in Him and Him in us in the Eucharist, we will live fruitful lives. We will live the lives we truly want to live. If any of us is struggling with faith or virtue, we should go to Eucharist. It will help us to bear much fruit.
May each of make the Eucharist C.O.O.L. (center of our lives). May we center our lives on the Eucharist, bear much fruit, and have eternal life through the Eucharist.