Homily for January 2018 – Year of the Eucharist
Psalm 25:1, 4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
The Jews were called to be the people of God. What we call the Old Testament was the Hebrew Scriptures to them. What they called the Torah, what we know as the Pentateuch (the first five books, attributed to Moses), held the highest status. There are also the prophetic writings as well as the narrative books that tell the story of God and his people from the time Joshua led them across the Jordan River leading up to the time of Jesus.
The scriptures revealed God’s way to them. Our psalm tonight is the 25th psalm and it refers to God’s ways (paths/truth) no less than six times in thirteen lines. If one is to be faithful to God, one must learn God’s ways.
Of course, we know that the truth is the Jews didn’t always follow God. They strayed numerous times. God allowed to them to choose their own way but when they strayed, they faced consequences.
One of the times the Jews strayed was in the 7th & 8th century B.C. So, God allowed them to be defeated by the Babylonians. Many were taken into Exile. Our first reading is written at the end of the Exile.
It is the same reading we heard recently on Epiphany. Isaiah speaks to the Jews of how the light of the Lord again shines on them as God forgives them and sets them free.
They are to live as children of God and be examples to others. Isaiah writes, “Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning.” They were to show the light they had received to others.
I mention the Epiphany because visit of the magi is the part of the Christmas story that reveals the gospel message will ultimately be for all, not just the Jews. From the Epiphany story, we recall how it was the Magi who were Gentiles rather than King Herod, a Jew, who recognized the grace of what was going on.
Jesus Christ came first to the Jews but then the gospel was taken to the Gentiles. Our whole Christian Church is founded upon Jesus as its one foundation. We are to unite through Jesus as “One Lord, one faith, one birth!” (quote from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation.)
Beginning with the Apostles, the Church as we know it began to grow and spread the gospel message. It was centered on Christ but people’s different views caused some division.
We see this in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He calls them to “agree” and “that there be no divisions among” them. Yet, there are “rivalries among” them. Some say they belong to Paul, others Apollos, and still others Cephas.
Now, while there is also going to be differences of human opinion, we need to put the focus on God’s ways. Are we living as Christ calls us? Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 6:5 when he says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind” and Leviticus 19:18 when he calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Who exactly is our neighbor?
For the Jews, it was narrowly defined and centered on other Jews. To lead us to understand that everyone is our neighbor, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Yet, it was not the priest or the Levite who stopped to help the man who had falling victim to the robbers. It was the Samaritan who showed love for his neighbor.
2,000 thousand years later are we doing any better about divisions? First, while gone are the Roman and Greek “false” gods, there are still numerous religions besides Christianity. There are the Jews and the Muslims who share the God of Abraham with us. There are also Buddhists, Hindus, and various tribal religions to name a few.
Even within Christianity we have Catholics, Episcopals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists,….the list goes on.
And let us not forget the agnostics who question the existence of God as well as the atheists who deny the existence of God. We have moved from Psalm 25 where God’s ways were desired to what we call “relativism” today that says there is no one truth. Anything goes as long as you don’t hurt someone else.
I can’t possibly address all these differences tonight. Tonight, I want to focus on Christian unity. Tomorrow is January 18th when we began a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that will end on January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. We ask God to bring us together in unity.
In a society where relativism is growing and many say religion is solely a private matter, it is hard to have genuine dialogue about our faith, our commonalities as well as our differences, but dialogue is exactly what we need.
We need to ask ourselves what is the goal of Christian dialogue. Some might seek more understanding of other denominations without expecting any real change. Others might want to say we should dialogue and then reach a “compromise” on a common belief.
We should not and must not water down our faith. Genuine dialogue is not about proving who is right. The purpose of dialogue goes back to Psalm 25 where God’s ways are what we seek.
I firmly believe our Catholic Church flows from the days of the Church that began at Jesus’ Resurrection. Central in our belief is the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Our belief that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus is based on what we read in the Bible of the Last Supper. Jesus himself says “this is my Body…this is my Blood.” While we find this is found in the Bible and has been the teaching of the Church from the beginning, it is not a common belief to all Christian denominations.
As Catholics, we believe in transubstantiation where the bread and wine are permanently changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I’ve heard of denominations that speak of “consubstantiation” where Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine during the prayers but does not remain present afterwards. And, of course, there are Christian denominations who see Communion only as a remembering of the past.
As we come here for this holy hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is at the very center of why we are here tonight. In fact, the document Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council describes the Eucharist as the source and summit of who we are as Catholics.
So, out of genuine love for God and for our neighbor, let us pray for genuine dialogue between Christians and that all may know the presence of God that we find in the Blessed Sacrament that we see on our altar.