Category Archives: Faith

Poor in Spirit

Dear Folks

In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough), Jesus starts by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).” If you ask a lot of Christians what that means, most will not have an answer.

Matthew 8, immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, begins with two healings. First is a leper. This guy was poor, absolutely poor. He could offer Jesus literally nothing in return for a favor. He has no money, no contacts, and couldn’t even offer Him his coat if he had one (it would be infected). He was completely dependent on Jesus’ mercy. The second miracle is the centurion’s servant. This centurion was, in the world’s terms, probably the richest, most powerful, most important person who had ever been in Capernaum. Furthermore, he had been good to the residents, and had built a very large synagogue (bigger than such a small community could normally afford), and so might easily be thinking that everyone in town owed him a favor. If anyone could be expected to approach Jesus with a sense of entitlement to special treatment, it was him. And yet we see the opposite. When Jesus says he will come and cure the servant, the centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof (Matt 8:8).” This is, perhaps, the greatest expression in the Bible, and we repeat it every Mass. He approached Jesus, not with a sense of entitlement, but of humility, as a beggar. He was not poor, but he was poor in spirit.

Contrast with Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4. The people there thought that since Jesus had grown up there, they were entitled to see some miracles. When Jesus told them they weren’t they got quite nasty. When people approach Jesus with a sense of entitlement it does not go well.

Our Gospel today tells the story of a servant who had been plowing the field or tending sheep all day (Luke 17:7-10) comes home, and, instead of being able to relax and eat, still has to make and serve dinner for the master.

In C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” he says, “Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied (Letter 21).” We can believe that after all we have done and all we have suffered, we should have things go our way for a while, but things don’t go as well. There is not just a sense of disappointment, but a sense that we have been wronged. Sometimes people do wrong us, but when there is nothing we can do to correct the situation, holding on to the resentment will harm and not help us. We recognize the truth, but must work toward healing. We can feel wronged that God has not done what we wanted. We can decide we deserve better from God after all we have done and all we have gone through. We are all reminded today that however much we do for God, He doesn’t owe us anything. Ephesians 2:1-10 makes that point very powerfully. If we worked 29 hours a day, 11 days a week 64 weeks a year for a million years, we could not earn a moment of heaven.

When we approach God, we are confident that he will respond because of His infinite love, not because we are entitled. A disciple does not tell God that we will follow so far and no farther, or we will follow only if our conditions are met. We do not know what discipleship will demand in the future, but we are called to follow wherever it leads. I find He will send some consolations and encouragements to keep us from getting totally discouraged, but not always when and how much we think He should.

We ask for the strength to follow without limits, and with a willing heart.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Stewarding the Gift of Faith

Dear Folks,

A theme of the Gospel readings from Luke this fall is our response to God’s gifts. God has given us the most wonderful gift of the Catholic faith, and this is a good time to ask how we

are stewarding that gift. Many who were raised Catholic have been sacramentalized but not evangelized, with what Pope Benedict called “The torpor of a Christianity of mere sacramentalism, little different from magic, and not productive of the faith that comes from hearing (From Theological Highlights of Vatican II).” That is so sad when we think of what can be.

It’s not just a matter of accumulating tidbits of information but developing a Catholic perspective and a Catholic imagination. In the words of “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission” by the University of Mary, “Christians don’t see some things differently than others: they see everything differently in the light of the extraordinary drama they have come to understand.” We follow God’s teaching, not because God is standing over us to

smite us the minute we step out of line, but because it is the fullest, most free, most ultimately satisfying way to live, and because the more we grow in our love for God, the more we want to please Him. Moral principles are not rules arbitrarily imposed upon us,

but revelation of how to live out our dignity. The challenge is to learn and share this great treasure.

We have so many resources now for everyone to be able to learn more about the Catholic faith. At Saints CJM, we have access to Formed.org, and many others do as well. That makes available a huge treasure of books, video, and movies of every description. [I really wish that everyone everyone everyone would watch Trent Horn’s one hour talk “How to Talk about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions.” If we want to make headway, we don’t start with appeals to religion or tradition, but humanity, and why would society privilege a certain type of relationship.] There are so many wonderful books, study programs, even YouTube videos, and anyone can do little bits when we get a moment. We are surrounded by tremendous wealth.

Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Luke 12:48b).” Read Luke 12:41-48 if you dare.

Our Gospel reading this Sunday is about the rich man and Lazarus, and the rich man had been abundantly blessed with material goods, and did nothing to share with poor Lazarus, who lay dying outside his gate. The Gospels are pretty fierce about the mandate for Christians to address physical poverty. Now, what about the poverty of spirit? We have been so richly blessed with the treasures of our Catholic faith, and the world is full of people suffering and dying because they don’t have this truth (Show hands, who thinks the world would be a better place with more Jesus in people’s lives?). What will God say to us if we decide it’s not our job to help share the goodness, beauty, and truth of Jesus and His story with the world?

I know people are horrifically busy, overwhelmed, and tired from the other demands of life. If you can only do a tiny, little bit but do it with all you have, that is huge in the Gospel perspective. Remember the story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4). The critical thing is that we recognize the great need to do what we can and be ready to tell God that we did the very best we knew how. He will take care of the rest.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Church in Transition

Dear Folks,

I think it is safe to say we are going through transition. The shortage of priests is getting people’s attention, but also the fact that most people who were raised Catholic are not practicing the Catholic faith, even minimally, in any measurable way. Our society is

getting more and more hostile to some core Christian values, and we don’t know how far that will go (there is no natural limit).

People point to various reasons why people leave the Church, but we must always remember the other side of that question: they were not given enough reason to stay. If you take away one thought from me today, let it be this:

Many, many people think the Catholic faith is much less than it is, and it doesn’t take much to get them to leave because they don’t think it matters that much anyway. Now there have been generations who were taught that way, and we are seeing the

results. If they had a semi-decent appreciation of the awesome gift of the Catholic faith, for the magnificent and unique gift of the Eucharist, you couldn’t pry them loose with a crowbar. Turning that around is a central factor in setting the course for our future.

As we seek to fix this, there is a challenge. There is polarization in the Church, and that is a major problem. I think Satan laughs himself silly every time he can get Christians fighting

Christians, and he has had much cause to laugh of late. To reduce some complex issues to simple categories, we can speak of traditionalists and progressives, each with a different set

of emphases and priorities. This is often coming up in how people think we should celebrate Mass.

Before Vatican II, there was tremendous emphasis on the other-worldly nature of the Mass, on reverence, on how is was unique and transcendent it was. The problem was that people

often had a sense of being disconnected from it, even while present. After Vatican II, there were a number of changes, not all of them called for by the council. There was a greater

sense of the importance of participating, on the community dimension, on making the mystery easily accessible. The problem was that some people often thought of the Mass as just another gathering, to be judged according to how it makes us feel and what kind of experience they have.

Coming off the lock-down, many are saying they have decided they like to do their Sunday morning prayers in their jammies in their beanbag chair with their hot chocolate. The big tragedy is not that they have stopped coming, but that they had so little sense about this in the first place.

We need to connect people as powerfully as possible with the divine mystery, a key component is how we celebrate Mass. Vatican II did teach that people should be taught to understand really well what is happening and why, and encouraged to full, conscious, active participation. The council also said that people should be able to sing or say at least those parts of the Mass that pertain to them. This does a number of things. It helps set apart the

liturgy from other activities: Folks, this is different from everything else we do, and we must be conscious of that. That is part of having a sense of the sacred. It requires more effort to learn and understand, and there is merit in that. It also unites us with people all over the world. If people are gathered from other countries with other languages, we can all pray together. Even if that doesn’t happen to us on a regular basis, it reminds us that Church

is much larger than us and helps us put ourselves in perspective. We also focus on music that is different from secular music, that is faithful to what is being celebrated, and pulls something from deep inside us.

Some people are unhappy because we are being more traditional. Some people are unhappy because we are not being much more traditional. One thing is fairly certain: we will not get

through this without dealing with things we don’t like. I think that’s part of why God calls us to be Church: this is about something larger than us.

The adventure continues.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

35 Years of Priesthood

Dear Folks,

I have been a priest for thirty-five years now. It has been quite an adventure.

“Are you resolved, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral order, as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?” We are not to be free-lancers; we are part of a team. There can be disagreement that can be frustrating, but I think God planned it that way.

“Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us, for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people?”

“Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?” This is perhaps the most underestimated aspect of the work of the Church. Many don’t know enough about their faith to maintain it in the face of attacks from the world, or even questions they naturally ask as adults. Many learned a version of the faith that made them think that the Catholic faith doesn’t make much difference, and there is no reason to learn more. Our succeeding as Church absolutely depends on our learning lots and lots about the faith. I’m learning as fast as I can, given the realities of my life.

“Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of His people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?” First and foremost, our lives are meant to be an offering to God: this is what I have done with what You gave me, Lord.

As a priest, I deal with the most important issues that exist, the things that go to the center of the human person, the things that affect someone’s life forever (yes, literally forever). I have the privilege and the challenge of regular intimate contact with the most sacred, most profound mysteries. The challenge, of course, is the temptation to forget how amazing and powerful they are and treat them in a matter-of-fact manner. This requires constant care. I have had so many different experiences. I have been to hospitals, psychiatric wards, jails, prisons, rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, schools, and other places I can’t think of. I have been with people in their happiest moments and their saddest moments. Helping people through the most important moments of their lives is a unique privilege.

I have had a sharp learning curve. I look back in horror at some of the mistakes I’ve made. I remind myself that God knew all about me when He called me, and somehow decided it was worth it to have me around. Someone once said, “Remember God has incorporated your stupidity into His plan.” I find that wonderfully comforting. I’m not responsible for where I started, but I’m responsible for where I go from there. Priesthood has been such a great opportunity to learn and to grow, and I can’t imagine what I would be like now if I weren’t a priest.

I have dealt with all sorts of people. Some are the kindest, most generous, holiest people who are an inspiration to be with. Some are very hard and painful to deal with. Some are quite broken. Some demonstrate incredible gifts, and some have not discovered theirs yet. Everyone is someone I can learn from.

The Church is undergoing major transition now, and how we react is going to make a great difference for our future. I see signs that there will be major difficulties but also potential to accomplish great things. This is an exciting time to be a priest. It is an exciting time to be a Catholic.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Leading in Our World

Dear Folks,

What does it mean to be part of the royal family of God? Last week I wrote about Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, and how we are to participate in those three roles as well, or perhaps, how Jesus exercises those roles through us. I think in these days we need to think more about the royal role, in which we are called to be leaders in this world.

In the book “Leadership Without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz, he says that a leader points to the reality that calls for adaptive change and keeps the conversation focused on the

relevant issues.

We can tell the story of the Gospel, and also the story of how the world looks through the Gospel lens. This involves a vision of what it is to be human, and what makes for a good life. How many people think it’s important to have a good life? What does that even mean?

Have we thought about it? I would suggest that many (most?) people presume the question has been answered and charge ahead focused on immediate issues without regard to the

larger picture.

There are always tensions between Christian belief and the accepted beliefs of society. Right now, there is tremendous, fierce tension on the understanding of being male and female, on the meaning of sex, on the meaning of family, and the sanctity of

life. These are all connected, and the Catholic understanding shows to live that leads to human flourishing.

Mary Eberstadt in her book “Adam and Eve After the Pill” tells about how the sexual revolution has done great harm, but even though there are mountains of data, people refuse to recognize it. She compares it to the days of the Soviet Union, when there was a huge amount of evidence that their system caused tremendous human suffering, but so many refused to acknowledge it. There is a great “will to disbelieve.” I would also recommend “The Truth Overruled” by Ryan T. Anderson, which goes into more detail about the fierce resistance that meets any dissent.

As long as people look at their identity being all about their feelings, people will not be able to develop a solid sense of self, and a profound and stable vision for life becomes harder and harder. As long as people look at sex as a toy, it will facilitate treating other people as toys, easy to use and discard. Conceiving children becomes an inconvenience rather than a vocation, and life without abortion become unthinkable. If marriage is whatever we feel like it being, it will not have a solid foundation, and we lose the central crucible for forming people to be part of civilization. Our society has so much violence, so much anger, so much loneliness, so much misery. I’m reminded of Mahatma Ghandhi being asked what he thought of western civilization, and he said, “I think it would be a good idea.”

If we share the beautiful truth about how God made us for love, and what love really is (as in not a feeling but a decision) how the way we share ourselves is central to the good life.

This leads to an understanding of the authentic gift of self and the fullness of human life. We can recognize our feelings and know that they are important, but they can come and go and can mislead us. We can present a vision of what marriage is that will lead to a

society that flourishes. The conversation might start with some questions, like “Why does human life matter?” “What is marriage and why does it matter?” “Is loving a person different from loving ice cream?” Who knows what will follow from that?

By developing our ability to present the Catholic faith, the Catholic vision of how Jesus reveals to us what it means to be human and being able to do it in a compelling and inspiring way, we can be leader in the world.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Prophet Priest and King

Dear Folks,

In “Sign of Contradiction” by Pope John Paul II, he speaks of the three “munera” (offices, functions, duties) of Christ: to teach, to sanctify, and to rule. “Christ is alive in the Church as prophet, priest and king, thanks to the share in these functions enjoyed by the whole people of God” (Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 10-12; 31).

As prophet we are called to witness to the truth according to our own vocation. He emphasizes that people have a right to the truth, and many forces seek to deny it to us. He speaks about how the world will often manipulate the truth by disseminating some aspects and suppressing others (He said this in 1976; I wonder what he would say now). If we are going to proclaim the truth effectively in this complex world, Jesus’ advice that we be “cunning as serpents and innocent as doves” (See Matt 10:16) is as relevant as ever.

I have spoken a great deal about exercising the priestly function, offering our work and ourselves to the Father united with Jesus’ gift of Self. Also, we consecrate the world by praying for it and by work that develops creation so that it better helps people and show His glory.

The regal function requires special attention. How are Christians called to exercise leadership in the world without “forcing our religion on others” (an accusation frequently and often carelessly made)?

All laws and all governments are forcing certain practices on people based on some idea of what is right and what is wrong. People with little sense of history and philosophy often presume their basic ideas of right and wrong objective and obvious to everyone (and have always been), so that they can boldly assert and expect everyone else to recognize them, as well as condemn people in the past for not practicing them. They then believe that other ideas are biased and irrational, and if they are put forward by a Christian, they are religious beliefs and have no place in public policy. However, many of their ideas were not accepted or even heard of for much of human history. A strong case can be made that many of the moral beliefs that are now taken for granted would not be with us if it were not for the work of Christians. The notion that the life of a peasant is sacred in the same way as the life of an aristocrat or even the emperor would have seemed like madness in most of the ancient world. It was the Judeo – Christian tradition that made possible what was later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights … include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Christianity gets much criticism for not immediately abolishing slavery, as if it should have been obvious from the beginning. However, the notion that slavery was wrong pretty much did not exist until it percolated up from Christian thought. Of course, overturning millennia of human practice did not happen quickly or easily. It required many years of persuasion, but they could not persuade everyone. A pivotal moment in persuasion was when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written by the Christian woman Harriet Beecher Stowe. It aroused empathy for slaves, showed the horror of their situation, and shifted the conversation. It was not definitive, however. In the Civil War, they overpowered the forces that were pro-choice on slave holding, and those who profited from the slave industry lost power. Perhaps when slavery was abolished it became possible for more people to believe that society could work without this “peculiar institution.”

I have much more to say, but it will have to wait. How will history look back on Christians today? I hope it will show us tirelessly pushing to protect the lives, the dignity, and the rights of all people. We shall see.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Sign of Contradiction

Dear Folks,

Last year and this year, my retreat was about going through Pope Saint John Paul’s book “Sign of Contradiction.” This book is the text of talks he gave at a retreat for Pope Saint Paul VI and his cardinals in 1976. He talks about encountering Jesus, who is a “sign of contradiction” or a “sign that will be contradicted” according to the prophecy of Simeon in the temple (Lk 2:34 the Presentation in the Temple). This sign calls for a response, and this response shows who we are and forms us. Whenever people encounter Jesus, they are tested.

The glory of the universe points to the glory of God, but there is an ambiguity. In the midst of the beauty and goodness, there is ugliness and harm. We decide how we will respond, and the Holy Father says it is not determined by the proportions of good and bad we have experienced, but something within us, perhaps grace. (Further reflection on this can be found in Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”).

We go to the story of Adam and Eve: Satan presents God as a rival, someone trying to keep them from the best possible life, and Satan presents himself as a Prometheus figure. In Greek mythology, the gods of Olympus decided to keep fire from humans, so they didn’t rise too high. Prometheus defied the gods and brought people fire, enabling civilization. We can see that the devil has had considerable success in convincing people that sin will bring us a better life. I have heard practicing Catholics describing a food as being so delicious it was sinful. C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters” develops this idea in some interesting ways.

Satan is, of course lying. The world was created according to the Word, and Satin brings anti-Word and anti-Gospel. This leads us to anti-Love. Jesus stands in contradiction to this. Jesus’ love for the Father and His Love for us overcame His natural self-love, so He was willing to die on the cross for us. “The Cross justifies us before God and justifies God before us.” If Jesus believed it was worth that to save us, how can we say anything is too much to ask of us to follow Him? Our complaints against God fade away in the face of the cross. “God wants for man the joy of choosing God, the choice that suffering teaches us to make.”

Jesus reveals to us the meaning of what it is to be human. As we seek to understand ourselves, we start with “Who is Jesus?” Jesus is the one who gave Himself in love, at the cost of great suffering. We exercise our humanity most fully when we choose to give ourselves in love, even at great cost. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind (John 9:39).” In a dark room everything looks the same. When a light is shone, we can distinguish. In our Gospel this Sunday (Luke 12: 49-53), Jesus warns that He will bring division. The more Jesus clarifies, the more people will choose for or against Him. When we truly encounter Jesus, life is different. Be warned.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Ready for Jesus

Dear Folks,

Our Gospel today talks about being ready at any moment to meet Jesus. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ – you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’ But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).”

Life is full of things we can neither predict nor control. If things have been steady for a while, there is danger that we will think we can count on things just continuing. Life can change in an instant. Empires can rise and fall with amazing rapidity.

Two books come to mind. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard talks about the human tendency to think we are entitled not to be affected by change, and how we can choose to stay stuck or to adapt. “Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo speaks of how life is changing faster and faster, compared to previous centuries. He recommends resilience. St. Paul understood resilience: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living abundance and in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me (Philippians 4:11b-13).” Our relationship with God gives us something to cling to when the storm hits, and the stronger that relationship, the more powerfully it can carry us through the turmoil.

That brings us to Treasure in heaven. Luke 12 talks about giving alms and talks about a prudent (phronimos) steward who is found doing God’s work when the Lord comes (which could be any time).

Matthew 6 talks about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and that we must be careful not to do it for the wrong reasons. Story of the rich young man Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30 all tell of Jesus saying that giving alms will bring us treasure in heaven.

With all those in mind, it might be worth rereading the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16:1-13, and understand Jesus is talking about stewardship that builds treasure in heaven.

There is a point I want to emphasize really hard: this is not about buying heavenly bitcoin. If we ever reduce Christianity to a business transaction, we have missed the point. Christianity is a love relationship with God, and the more powerful the relationship, the more joyfully we encounter our beloved. Heaven is consummating our relationship with God, and the more our hearts are by our discipleship here, the more we are open to that love in heaven. How do we get our hearts widened? Love relationships stretch us by being attentive to the presence of our beloved (as in prayer), choosing our beloved over other goods (as in fasting), and doing things to please our beloved (as in almsgiving).

May our desire for God ever grow, and enable us to seek first His Kingdom.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

What Really Matters

Dear Folks,
What is truly important? Much talk in our society now presumes that what is most important is getting what we desire at the moment, and we decide our own values arbitrarily. Christianity teaches that we need to learn what is valuable and be transformed to grow in appreciation of it. The problem is that in our sinful state, our desires can often lead us astray. What is bad can often look like something really, really good. We can lock ourselves into a lesser form of life than what God has for us, and it can easily betray us. Daniel Mattson was talking to a priests’ gathering and spoke of his old life saying, “I was as happy as I knew how to be.” And then he traded that for life according to God’s plan, and is very, very glad he did. What God has for us is always more than what the world can give us, though it may carry greater challenges. Mattson also told the story of a class that went to a planetarium and the show included pictures of stars on the ceiling rotating. Everyone felt like the room was spinning, but it was really standing still. The instructor said, “Your feelings are important, but they don’t always tell you the truth.”
The Scriptures talk about the danger of valuing the wrong things and learning what is truly important. “How long, O people will you be hard of heart? Why do you love what is worthless, chase after lies (Psalm 4:3)?” “Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain (Psalm 24:3-4).” “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 9- 10).”
Many people have a hard time with Catholic teaching because they try to fit pieces of Christian belief and practice into the framework of the world’s life vision. It’s like trying to put pieces from one puzzle into another puzzle. They don’t fit. According to “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission” by University of Mary, “Christians don’t see some things differently than others: they see everything differently in the light of the extraordinary drama they have come to understand.” Unfortunately, many Catholics have been taught bits of doctrine and practice, but not the larger framework (Jeff Cavins calls this “a heap of Catholicism”).
In the Catholic vision, everything is connected to everything else. God created the universe, and made it good, but it is not the greatest good. He made the human race in His image and likeness and made us male and female for a reason. We are made to be a part of something greater than ourselves, to give ourselves in love, to spend ourselves for something greater than ourselves according to the way we were created. We are called to respect the life and dignity of every human being. We are called to family, community, and participation. We are called to meaningful work. We are called to use things that pass away to help us seek things that are eternal. The more we learn about this vision, the more Catholic teaching makes sense, and everything fits together. Then “we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming (see Ephesians 4:14).”
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Praying the Eucharistic Prayer

Dear Folks,

Our readings today talk about the power of prayer. We know that praying better is not about building technique to be able to manipulate God (an unworthy enterprise that always fails

anyway), but about bringing more and more of ourselves to God, that we may be all His. Part of that is understanding and being more conscious of what we are praying. The Mass, of course, is

our central prayer, and it is good to understand it more and more. Today I’m going to unpack the third Eucharistic prayer. We pray it very often, but perhaps most people don’t give a lot of thought to what we are really saying.

The liturgy of the Eucharist begins with gathering and bringing forward the gifts which represent all we have done with what God has given us. As the bread and wine are placed on the altar, we

intentionally offer ourselves with them, that we may be consecrated.

We pray the prayer over the gifts, then there is the preface, with praises God for His gifts to us. Then comes the Holy, Holy, the hymn with which we unite with the heavenly liturgy (see Isaiah

6 and Revelation 4).

Then we start the Eucharistic prayer proper, and number three begins with praising God for His holiness and the work of creation, and then says how creation is meant to praise Him. God

gathers us to Himself so that “from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name (see Malachi 1:11).”

Then we ask for the Holy Spirit to “graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is called the “epiclesis” the calling upon, and it is worthy of extra note.

Then we get to the words of institution, recounting what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper, giving Himself sacramentally as He would give Himself on the Cross. This is worthy of extra

special note, and we respond to the moment with proclaiming the mystery of faith.

Next, we speak of celebrating the memorial of the pascal mystery by which we are saved. We remember that in the Bible, remembering means something stronger than we are used to:

making a past event present and effective. (If you read Genesis 8:1; 1Samuel 1:19; Jeremiah 31:34; Luke 1:54 and 72 in that light, I think it will make sense). And we gratefully offer “this holy and living sacrifice.” Jesus died once and will never die again, but His sacrifice has an eternal power, and He allows us to unite ourselves to that sacrifice that we “make become one body, one spirit in Christ.” As we asked for the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into

the body and blood of Christ, so we ask the Holy Spirit to transform us into the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; and Ephesians 4:1-16). We seek to be ever more perfectly the Body of Christ, and the body that is offered to the Father (see John 17: 20-21; and perhaps 1Corinthians 15:25-28). We ask, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect” and we mention the saints. Heaven is receiving God’s love and loving Him in return brought to infinity, and that is being an eternal offering to Him. “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of

all the world,” and we pray that the power of Jesus’ Sacrifice continue to transform the people of the world, both those gathered and those scattered throughout the world. Then we pray for those

who have died. Finally comes the doxology: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

Responding with the Great Amen, the people join in saying the whole prayer. We offer all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This is our faith: God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, gathers a sinful people to Himself by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, and makes us a part of that union of self-gift, which is heaven

for all eternity, and we want everyone to share in it. To quote an old beer commercial, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Blessings

Fr. Jim