Sunday, June 22, 2014

Priesthood and the Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi (replaces 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

            Two years ago today, I received the greatest gift of my life—being ordained a priest.
It was a blessing on Friday to participate in another ordination as Fr. Blake Rozier and Fr. Tim Lange were ordained priests.  Praise God, we added two more young priests (Fr. Blake is 25 and Fr. Tim is 26!) to our diocese and have now ordained eleven men in the last three years.  God has been very good to us!  While we have an influx of young priests, we always need more.  I hope every boy and young man will at least think about the priesthood as it is the best life I could imagine.
While I was at the ordination I was reminded of many powerful moments from two years ago.  I recall the joy of being surrounded by my family, friends and faithful.  I felt strength in the unity of the priests of our diocese.  I was humbled to lie prostrate while everyone chanted the Litany of Saints, at the same time feeling empowered by the prayers of God’s people.  Most of all, I remember the awesome and humbling opportunity to utter the words of Jesus Christ at the consecration of the Eucharist.
Getting through seminary was no easy task.  In fact, I consider my six years there as one of the greatest and most challenging endeavors I have ever undertaken.  There was a ton of academics and I think I received over 200 credits through this time.  Additionally, we were formed to be good men and this included countless conferences, lectures, meetings with advisors and learning from my classmates and friends.  We had regular spiritual direction, retreats and grew in daily prayer.  Finally, we had many opportunities to grow in pastoral ministry in hospitals, parishes, schools and families.
After I presided at Mass for the first time and heard my first Confession I told people, “I would go through six years of seminary all over again just to say one Mass or hear another Confession.”  I still would.  (Though I am glad I don’t have to!)
One of the most powerful lines I heard in seminary came from a bishop.  I can’t remember who he was, or the context in which he was speaking, but I clearly remember what he said.  He told us that he had been to Mass every day for the last forty years or so.  He then gave the date of the last Mass he missed and said, “I still regret missing Mass that day.”
What a powerful inspiration to the devotion to Mass!
I am especially proud of the love you have for Mass by coming each week or even daily.  During these summer months I encourage you to come to Mass more often.  If you have never been to a daily Mass please come.  You will be inspired by the number of men and women who meet the Lord each day.
I can speak for myself, Fr. Rich, our two new priests, and priests in general—without the Eucharist I would not be a priest.  We would not be priests if what goes on at the altar every day isn’t real.
Yet the Real Presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood is one of the clearest teachings in scripture: “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.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  I wonder how any Christian could fail to understand Christ’s teaching in this regard.  Whether at the literal or spiritual level, analyzing the Greek text or simply using common sense (the Jews quarreled over what they thought was bizarre and disciples left Jesus and he didn’t bring them back), Jesus’ teaching is obvious.
And Jesus’ offering his Body and Blood didn’t come out of nowhere.  Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the sign of the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert: “This [Jesus’ Body and Blood] is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  While the Israelites were fed physically, they still died.  When we eat Jesus’ Body and Blood we eat the food that nourishes for all eternity.  While we, too, die physically, the Eucharist prepares us to live for ever.
Before every Mass I offer the same prayer:
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass;
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your last Mass;
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your only Mass.
As we gather on the feast of Corpus Christi—the Body and Blood of Christ—come to the altar as if it were your first time ever.  Enter into Mass today as if it will be the last Mass you will ever attend.  Pray and focus as if this is the only Mass you will celebrate.

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