Words cannot express how grateful I am to Fr. Tony for allowing me to be the celebrant for these liturgies. It’s my first year of priesthood and so it is a great gift to be able to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper where we remember these mysteries: 1) the institution of the priesthood, 2) the institution of the Eucharist, and 3) Christ’s example of Christian charity.
We hear in our Gospel that Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. Christ gave everything he had to those whom he loved. Christ’s love is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Christ’s love is freely given. Christ was not forced to offer his life for us, but he allowed it for our sake. Christ’s love was total. Christ offered his whole self for us in dying for us on the cross. Christ’s love is always faithful. There is nothing we can do that would make Christ abandon us. Christ’s suffering and death proves to us, that no matter how far away we go from God, Jesus will be there. There is no experience we can have that Christ himself hasn’t experienced. Christ’s love is fruitful. Out of his self-sacrificing love, the Church was born. Christ indeed has loved us to the end.
And its this kind of love that Christ has called His priests to love the Church. In the letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul challenges married couples to love each other as Christ has loved the Church. And so, Priests, are called to love the Church as Christ has loved the Church. And here is the underlying, the foundational reason for priestly celibacy. Just as married couples are called to love each other with a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful, so too are priests called to love the church freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. The whole life of the priest is to be an offering of loving service for all of you – God’s holy people. Saint John Paul II explains this very well, “The Good Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep” and this “refer[s]” specifically “to the Sacrifice of the Cross, to the definitive act of Christ’s Priesthood”. Then he asks, “Do these words not tell us that [the vocation of the priest] is a singular solicitude for the salvation of our neighbor?” The priest’s vocation is to imitate Christ’s loving service completely.
Christ came to this world to be an icon of God’s love in the world. Priests are called to be an extension of that ministry. But so is everyone here. All of us are called to love as God loves. So how do we do that? We do that by participating in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. A couple of weeks ago we had our parish mission. Many of you attended and found Deacon Harold a great inspiration. And I think, he said something very insightful about the Eucharist. He said to all of us, “Your children need to hear that what happens at the Eucharist actually makes sense in the world.” In other words, they need to see it lived out in each of us to understand the great depth of God’s love poured out in the Eucharist in their own lives.
Deacon Harold’s insightful statement about the Eucharist is a challenge for all of us. If a priest, for example, does not love as Christ loves, that lays his life down for God’s people, then that priest can become a block for people to understand the reality of Eucharistic love in their life. A couple of weeks ago, I received a text from our parish secretary, saying that there was a woman who needed to be anointed and that it was urgent; usually means a person is nearing the end of their life. I wish I could tell you that when I received that text, I responded immediately and selflessly, Yes! But it was my day off and I was just about to leave the rectory and to meet a family that I am close with for dinner. But thankfully, with God’s grace, I responded, “I’ll go anoint this person, but I won’t look like a priest!” And so I went… and I received one of the greatest gifts of my priesthood that day. I arrived and the husband of the lady who is nearing the end of her life welcomed me graciously, and said: “Father, thank you so much for coming.” Then I talked with him and his wife, discovered that they have been happily married for 63 years. Then I prayed with them and anointed her. At this moment I was getting ready to leave and the lady grabbed my hand and said, “Father, you were a gift from God for me today.” I think Jesus knew I needed a little reminder that day about who I am called to lay my life down for. On this day, when I was tempted to live selfishly, this woman looked at me with the face of Christ and said, “you were a gift from God.”
So it’s important for priests to strive to live their lives in such a way that they represent the mysteries we celebrate today. And Deacon Harold’s words remind us that its just as important for all of us to live “Eucharistic Life” – a life of loving service, in order for it to matter in our world today. When I think about the best example of someone who lives a Eucharistic life it is my Mother. Most of you know that my parents are divorced. I was 21 when they separated. After the divorce, my Mom got a second job with one goal in mind. She wanted to be able to keep our family house so that all of us children could come home from college and be together during the holidays. To this day, my Mom works between 60-80 hours a week. The only reason is sacrificial love.
Here’s the point: The Eucharist matters. It truly does matter. And if all of us here are going to believe that the Eucharist matters, we have to respond to Jesus’ call to love as he loves, in other words, to the demands of Christian charity. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is as if we are standing at the foot of the cross where Jesus pours out his life for us all. And so when we receive the Eucharist, Jesus pours his life and love into his heart. All of us here are members of the Catholic Church. As members of the Church, we are a real sacrament of the Gospel in the world. After we receive the Eucharist at Mass, after we meditate on Christ’s sacrificial love for us, we are called to be concrete signs of his love in the world. May the Eucharist we receive tonight strengthen us to lay down our lives in love for others. The Eucharist matters. Christ particular love for you matters.
In Christ’s love,