As we know, the coronavirus pandemic as impacted everything, and so if you are listening to me right now, you know its impact on the church – that we are not gathered in the same physical space. Many of you are joining us in a spiritual way from your homes. A day that ought to be one of celebration, is in some ways a day of mourning. Mourning that we are not here together celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. No doubt there is some sadness for all of us.
Because of this, I have been wondering, as I am sure many of you are as well, was all this necessary? Was it the right call to cancel masses, or was it not? You are not alone. I have wondered the same… We have all wondered this. I do not have an answer for you. What I know in my heart is this: All those in authority, both civil leaders and ecclesial leaders, legitimately believe these actions are necessary. Amid all this questioning I have found consolation in the words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In this book, “Behold the pierced one,” he reflects on the ancient practice of the Church to “fast” from the Eucharist on Good Friday, where the people together would make a spiritual communion. This is not the current practice today. But – as Benedict points out – this “ancient fast” reminded the early church this profound truth: The Eucharist is a Gift. The Eucharist is a Gift.
Benedict reflecting on this ancient practice wrote, “The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?” In some ways this time of separation reminds us what we may easily forget or take for granted – that the Eucharist is a Gift. Benedict XVI is saying what we all know, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I think of a young child who has been given a toy at Christmas. And after months of playing with it, the toy is forgotten. It remains forgotten until a younger sibling comes along and begins to play with it. What happens? Many parents know an argument often ensues between the siblings. Why? Because to the one whom the toy belongs, they remember how much they miss the toy – they miss the gift, and they want it back.
The same is happening now for us. We’ve had complete access to the Eucharist. Now, the fact that we can’t receive communion, reminds us how much we truly hunger for it. And so, even though we are in some ways grieving as we experience the lack of the sacrament in our lives, this experience can lead us to a greater gratitude to God for the gift of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a gift because it is simultaneously the greatest sacrifice, the most intimate experience of love, and the banquet of believers.
The Eucharist is the one sacrifice. Benedict tells us, that a fast from the Eucharist, “would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.” And this healing, the atonement made for us in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is why it’s important to remember that the Eucharist comes to us from an altar. An altar is a place of sacrifice. In our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus loved his own and he loved them to the end. Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Jesus sacrificed everything for us to show us how much we are worth. Our worth and dignity is signified by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That is what God is willing to pay for us. So let us never doubt our worth, because we are worth the sacrifice of Jesus.
The Eucharist is the place of intimate communion. It is the Sacrament of Love. In our Gospel this evening, Jesus says to the disciples, You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. But just two chapters later, we hear from Jesus, I know longer call you slaves, but I call you friends. Remain in my love. The Eucharist, the experience of communion, is the same reminder for us. Jesus calls us his friends. Jesus, through the Eucharist, continues to remind us the intimate bond of friendship he wants and desires to have with each of us. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love, because it is spiritual nourishment for our intimate friendship with Christ.
Finally, the Eucharist is a gift because it connects us with each other. This is why, the altar is not just an altar. It is also a table. It is a banquet table, that gathers friends, sisters, brothers, and family. This table is the experience of communion with one another. And this is also why we miss it so much right now. We miss the communion that we share with each other. We miss our connectedness. But, we are still connected in prayer. The priests of our diocese continue to pray for the people of God at Mass. We continue to be connected because we see Eucharistic love – fraternal charity – being lived out especially right now during this pandemic. Think of all the professional athletes who have given money to arena workers who are struggling without work, or Amway our local company from Ada that made thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer for local hospitals as a gift, or some of our car companies now making masks or ventilators items scarce and greatly needed right now. The world right now is connected and supporting one another through works of charity. This is the mark of charity that ought to remain visible especially amongst Christians. We live not as individuals, but mindful that we are one human family, united in the bond of Christ’s love – the Mystical Body of Christ.
I think many of us could never have imagined a world that we would be unable to celebrate Mass together. But this is something, many Christians throughout the world do experience. And they don’t experience it because of disease. They experience it due to a lack of priests. Our Church, and specifically our diocese, need generous hearts to say yes to a vocational call to the priesthood. Today we experience the lack of public worship due to a virus, I pray we never experience a lack of public celebration of the sacraments due to a lack of priests. Right now, we not only recognize the gift of the Eucharist in our lives and our hunger for God, but we also remember the gift of holy orders, that God continues to feed his sheep through the ministry of priesthood. And so we join in the prayer of Jesus The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. And so tonight, we give God thanks and praise for the priesthood, and especially we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. May we allow this “Eucharistic fast” to strengthen our gratitude for the greatest gift imaginable; the love of Christ out-poured in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In Christ’s Love and Friendship,