Homily of Bishop Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin, at Knock Shrine, National Novena, Sunday 19 August 2012
“God continues to call all people into a living, loving relationship with Himself and with each other. Our happiness in this life and eternity will come not from what we have, not from things material but from our relationship with God and with each other.” – Bishop Jones
The Eucharist Forms Community
The theme of our recent International Eucharistic Congress was “The Eucharist Communion with Christ and with one another”. All of us who were privileged to participate in the Congress experienced a great sense of community as Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious and lay people gathered most days for the celebration of the Eucharist. And in the celebration of the Eucharist each day God was drawing us closer to Himself and to each other in Christ.
Memory of Mass Growing Up At Home
I have very happy memories of Mass in our own parish Church every Sunday as I grew up at home. There was such a warm welcome from the people when you returned from boarding school. I can still remember the great sense of belonging and security as you knelt surrounded by the big strong men of the parish. And in every Mass when the priest raised the Host at the consecration and later the chalice the whole congregation proclaimed with one voice. “My Lord and My God”. That was a very sacred moment in every Mass. I feel so sad that so many young people today are deprived of that experience of Community and of God.
Parishes in the Very Early Church
Today as we read the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 we discover that from the very beginning parishes were very much communities of Faith, of prayer and of love. We believe that in His everlasting love for us God calls us through baptism into the Family of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Let us reflect on what the Acts of the Apostles had to say about the very first parishes.
Acts 2: 38 – 47
Peter had addressed the people on Pentecost Sunday and the Acts of the Apostles goes on to say: “they were convinced by his arguments. They accepted what He said and were baptized. These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to their prayers”. So we see that as a community united in baptism they were a Community of Faith because they remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles. They were united by their shared faith in Jesus and all He stood for as taught by the apostles.
A Community of Prayer
They were also a community of Prayer because they went to the temple to pray and met in each other’s house for ‘the breaking of the bread” which was the Eucharist.
A Community of Love
Finally in Chapter 4 of the Acts Saint Luke tells us that none of their members were ever in want. All those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money from them to present to the Apostles. It was then distributed to any members who might be in need – a Community of Care.
The Call of the International Eucharistic Congress
The International Eucharistic Congress is calling not only Irish parishes but every parish in the world to become more and more communities of Faith, Communities of Prayer and Communities of Care. And in the theme it chose “The Eucharistic, Communion with Christ and with One Another” the Congress is reminding us that it is through the Eucharist that God is drawing all of us closer to Himself and to each other in Christ.
Need For Community
We live in a world that desperately needs the powerful witness and experience of Community. So many people today are alienated from Church and State. We live in a very divided world because of language, race, ethnicity, gender religion, politics, ideologies, personal history, temperament etc. And of course we live in a world of liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Buddhists, pro-life and pro-choice, feminists and traditionalists. We find it difficult at times to realise in our hearts that God loves all people as He loves us and we are sometimes tempted to distrust and demonise those who are different. God continues to call all people into a living, loving relationship with Himself and with each other. Our happiness in this life and eternity will come not from what we have, not from things material but from our relationship with God and with each other.
Challenges to Form Community
And so today we reflect a little more how our celebration of the Eucharist helps to form our Church as a Community.
Church Not An Institution
Today people who are hostile to the Church love to identify it as an institution. Indeed we recently heard people from within the Church identifying it as an institution and claiming that the institution is interested only in its own protection and survival. Of course every community needs structures to survive. I remember students of our parish requesting the use of the Community Centre on Friday nights for meetings and recreation. We were delighted to facilitate them. That night I called before they left and suggested they form a committee to plan the next night. No they didn’t want the bother of a committee. Of course without a committee there was no gathering on the following Friday night. Yes structures are needed. The Church needs Parish Councils, Diocesan Councils, Conferences of Bishops and Congregations in Rome to take responsibility for all the major interests of the Church like education, Liturgy, Sacraments and priesthood but those structures are not the Church – they exist to facilitate the growth of the Church as a Community of Faith, a Community of Prayer and a Community of Care.
God Reveals His Love Through Covenants
In the Old Testament beginning with Moses on Mount Sinai God revealed His love for His people through covenants. He entered into agreements, arrangements called covenants with His people – that He would always be their God and they would be His people. Moses sealed the covenant by sprinkling the blood of sacrificed-animals on the altar which represented God and on the people. This gesture expressed the Communion of Life that God was establishing between Himself and the people.
When God wished to make the final, everlasting covenant with His people He reconciled us to Himself and to each other through the passion, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. This time His covenant with His people was sealed not by the blood of animals but by the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
In the consecration of every Mass we hear the words – “Take this all of you and drink from it for this is the chalice of My blood – the blood of the new and eternal covenant”. Every time we come to Mass, every time we unite ourselves and our offerings with the offering of Jesus we are renewing this new and eternal covenant with God – we are pledging the fidelity of our love or more accurately God is drawing us closer to Himself and to each other as a community through the passion, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
Therefore every time we hear the word covenant in the words of consecration we should renew our love for God and for each other in Christ. Yes, we are strengthened, renewed and nourished as a community every time we gather for the Eucharist.
Mass Begins with A Gathering
It is Jesus Christ who presides at every Mass through the person of the priest. It is He who loves us first by assembling or gathering us for the Mass. Our coming together is not just by chance or by our own choice and our gathering begins as we leave home for Mass. Our people long ago said their prayers on the way as they walked to Mass. We still have some of their beautiful Irish prayers. People come from different homes, different backgrounds, different families but as God gathers us around the altar He is deepening and strengthening our love for Himself and for each other in Christ. We are gathering to renew our covenant of Love in Christ.
Sign of the Cross
When we are finally assembled for Mass. We begin with the sign of the Cross. As we say the words we realise that we are not outsiders. We have been called through Baptism to share in the life and love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Indeed from the very beginning of Mass we are being strengthened as a Community of Faith, Prayer and Care
The Liturgy Of The Word
The Liturgy of the Word speaks to our hearts when it is proclaimed at Mass. And we must listen not only with our ears but with our hearts to the Word of God. People who love each other listen with their hearts to each other. Remember how Jesus reprimanded the disciples on their way to Emmaus for not allowing the Word of God to nourish their Faith. Then He opened for them the Scriptures and they would say afterwards did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scripture to us. They were depressed when they looked at life without the light of Scripture and with eyes that had no Faith. The Word of God spoken to our hearts in Mass helps to deepen and strengthen our faith and hope as a community.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
It is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist that we renew our love and gratitude to God as a community and offer our lives to the Father through Jesus. Indeed in every Eucharist we pray for our unity and community. In Eucharistic Prayer II we humbly pray “that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit”.
As we receive Holy Communion God is drawing us closer to Himself and each other though the bread that is broken and the blood that is shed for our salvation. This is the food that nourishes within us the life of baptism which nourishes us and leads us through life and death into eternal life and love.
Parish – A Community of Care
We have reflected on how the celebration of the Holy Eucharist forms us and strengthens us as a Community of Faith and of Prayer. Now let us reflect on how God wishes us to live through the week as a community of care.
At Mass we can share great love and care for each other by having stewards in the church to welcome God’s people, give them missalettes or bulletins and show them to their seats. We can also show our love for each other by the way we wait after Mass and share some time and friendship with parishioners and especially with strangers or new comers to the parish. But our greatest challenge as a community of care is how we reach out to those who are poor or lonely or rejected or homeless. These are the people with whom Jesus loved to share food and friendship. He wanted to heal their wounded hearts and help them rediscover a sense of their own dignity and self-esteem.
Washing of Feet
It is interesting that Saint John is the only Apostle who did not tell us about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Indeed He described how Jesus took a towel and basin and washed the feet of the Apostles. Yes Saint John did not talk about the Institution of the Eucharist but he illustrated by the washing of the feet what the Eucharist is all about – Service. God is calling us individually but especially as communities to care for each other and especially for the poor, the lonely and rejected. The Eucharist is essentially about the total self-sacrifice of Jesus who gave up everything that was precious to Him namely His own life for the salvation of us, His brothers and sisters.
Jesus was put to death not because He taught some theology that was at variance with the Jewish Faith in His time. He was not put to death because He demanded to be recognised as God. No, Jesus was put to death because He was founding a community, a way of life that was so radical and so threatening to the status quo, that they wanted to get rid of Him. His way of life was based on the commandment to “Love one another as I have loved You”. For Jesus this meant the total self-giving of Himself for others and He wished for nothing less from his Community of Apostles.
Care and Responsibility of Parish
I believe Societies like Saint Vincent De Paul do heroic work for the poor, the homeless and rejected. However there is always the danger that when someone or some organisation takes on responsibility the rest of us stand back and leave the total responsibility to that person or organisation.
As a parish, as a Community of Care we have a huge responsibility to care for each other and especially for the poor. Therefore the care of the poor, the lonely, the homeless and the outcasts should be on the Agenda for every meeting of every Parish Pastoral Council.
The Witness of the Caring Community
At the Last Supper Jesus prayed to the Father “Father may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (John 17: 21). Jesus is praying that the witness of love in our parishes will touch the hearts of those who do not belong and lead them to Christ.
Communities Where Everyone Belongs
Yes the Eucharist calls us and strengthens us to go forth and as parishes to build communities where everyone from the unborn to the oldest person, from the weakest to the strongest, from the poorest to the richest experiences a sense of belonging, of being wanted, of being accepted and of being loved – where the dignity of every single person is respected and revered – communities from which no one is excluded.
Our Parishes Must Be Motivated By Love
Mother Teresa said God was not calling us to do great things in this world but to do small things every day with great love. Sometimes we give money to the poor and homeless on the street and pass on. Sometimes we give money at home and then close the door and walk away. She would say, if there is no love it would be better not to give because gifts without love hurt the dignity and the self-esteem of the person. I love the lines: “They drew a circle and shut him out, a drunk, a rebel, a lay about. But love and I had the will to win we drew a circle and let him in”.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life. For Irish people it was always the Mass that mattered. The faith of our people in the Eucharist is written in the ruins and the rocks of ancient churches in every parish. Those few lines of poetry by Father Redmond S.J. in his Book “The Amazing Sacrament” say it all;
“Ruins, the grass is high
Here Christ arrived, passed by.
Here Mass was said
The Church across the way
Here Christ comes every day
Here the Mass is said
Until that sacred hour
When Christ returns in power
The Mass will still be said
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