Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A funeral homily for Tim Smith

All of us probably have mixed emotions today.  We are glad that Tim's suffering is over.  But, we have also lost a father, a brother, a grandfather, a great grandfather, a friend.  And we realize that we won't have Tim to talk with, drink with, argue with, or just to hang out with.  This funeral mass is intended to help us let go of Tim and to pray for him.  
I met Tim at our Christ Renews His Parish men's retreat last September.  He could barely breathe.  He was scheduled to have chemotherapy the next week, which he wasn't looking forward to.  He was physically, mentally, and spiritually down.
Over that weekend, Tim's spirits were lifted.  He went to confession and communion.  He also connected with a group of men who would continue to support him for the next nine months.  And over the next few months as his condition deteriorated, he reconnected with his family. 
When Tim decided to attend this retreat, he wasn't regularly attending church and he didn't have any close friends in the parish.  But, in late August, he ran into someone he had worked with many years earlier.  Led by the Holy Spirit, she asked Tim to attend the upcoming weekend.  And, surprisingly, he accepted. 
Jesus, in his great love for us, is always calling us to him.  Even if we have drifted away from him, he still continues to call us back.  Often, we either don't recognize the call or ignore it.  Sometimes, like with Tim, we accept the call and he is waiting for us with open arms.
Today's mass is meant to be joyful and happy.  Now, a funeral mass might seem like a strange place to talk about joy and happiness.  But, if we truly believe in eternal life, then this is the perfect setting to speak of happiness. Death for those who are following Jesus isn’t meant to be a sad event.  Instead, it is a transition from the trials and suffering of this life to eternal joy with Jesus in heaven.
The Latin word for blessed in today’s Gospel, can also be translated as ‘happy’.   So, Jesus is telling us nine different ways to be happy.  He says: “Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, happy are the merciful, happy are the pure in heart, happy are the peacemakers, happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and happy are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely in my account.”
Some of these ways to be happy are not what we would expect.  To understand this teaching of Jesus, these beatitudes, we need to better understand what happiness is.  Today, many associate happiness with “having a good time” that is, pleasure or comfort.  But, long term happiness is spiritual and moral and not emotional and pleasurable.   The saints in heaven are supremely happy, because they’re with God, the source of all happiness.  Happiness, then, is joyful, flowing from the love of God.  The one thing we all desire is joy.  Jesus tells us in the beatitudes how to find true joy and happiness.   
Happiness in heaven is what we all are striving for, but we might not realize it.  We might look for happiness in the things of this world, like money or power or pleasure or honor.  But, eventually, even if we achieve some of these things, we come to realize that they only satisfy us for a short time and then we look for more.  Ultimately, we are looking for the joy which only God can offer us.
As I talked to Tim over the last few months, I was always impressed that he seemed at peace with his suffering.  He didn't complain that his lungs were a mess.  Instead, he appreciated the time that he was able to spend with family and friends before his rapidly approaching death.   Last Saturday, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Tim's trials and suffering came to an end.   Now, he has transitioned from the trials of this life to eternal life.   
For Tim, this is a joyful day.  His pain from his disease is over.  His time of trial on this earth has ended.  The suffering that he endured over the last few months likely gave him a ticket straight to heaven.  And he is probably giving direction to some angels right now. 
All of us are dying.  For some, death will come in days or months.  For most, it will be many years.  We all will take this journey from life through death to everlasting life or everlasting death.   Even Jesus, the Son of God, made this journey.  Out of love for us, he came to earth just like us and died like we all must die.  Jesus death and resurrection provide hope and consolation to all of us.  He has shown us the way to everlasting life. 

I pray that we will bear our trials and suffering with grace and perseverance as Tim did. I pray that all of us here and especially Chris, Melissa, and Kathleen will find hope and courage during this difficult time. And I pray that we all will experience God’s love and will find true joy and happiness in this life and in eternal life.    

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spritual eyesight

In today's Gospel, Jesus cured the beggar of his blindness.  Many people were familiar with the beggar who was at the city gate.  So, they were surprised when suddenly he could see.  This miracle caused disagreement about who this Jesus was.   The Pharisees said this man Jesus is not from God.  But the beggar said he is a prophet

Our eyesight is very important to us and most of us see pretty well.  I wouldn't be able to read the Gospel and this homily if I didn't see well.  But it is only important during our short lifetime here on earth,  maybe 100 years.

But, what about our spiritual eyesight?  This impacts our eternal life - forever and ever.  Do we know Jesus and his church?  Do we believe the truths that Jesus and his church teaches?  Even the hard truths?

Jesus cured the spiritual eyesight of the beggar.  The beggar said: "I do believe, Lord."   Our spiritual eyesight, on the other hand, probably has a number of blind spots.  There might be some areas where we always follow His commandments and fully understand the teachings of Jesus' church.  For example, we might not have any problem with the seventh commandment "Thou shalt not steal" because we don't have any interest in stealing.    But, there probably are other commandments and teachings which we struggle with and maybe even tend to ignore.  These are our spiritual blind spots. Many struggle with the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and how it impacts our lives.  We might agree with some teachings of the church in the area of human sexuality but disagree with others.

Our blind spots are likely areas where the secular world and Jesus' church disagree.  We hear day in and day out what the secular world (that is, the devil) is saying.  Eventually, after being brainwashed by movies, TV, sports figures, politicians, and even our friends, we bend our beliefs to match theirs.  One blind spot for many Catholics is contraception.  In fact, the majority of Catholics reject this teaching of Jesus' church and agree with our society.  Some would say "How can artificial contraception be wrong, everybody does it, our church needs to get with the times"?
For many years, I had a blind spot in this area.   For many years,  I followed the teachings of the church based upon obedience but not trust.  This worked fine for me until I was in my early thirties.  Then, after we had our fourth child with our oldest just 6 1/2, I seriously questioned the church's teaching on contraception.  I thought: surely the church doesn't expect me to have a lot more children.  How am I going to send them all to college?  How is my wife going to take care of all of them while I am trying to pay the ever increasing bills?  In short, I was following my plan for life and things seemed to be falling apart.  I was blinded by my pride and just couldn't see that I was wrong and needed to let go and let God - to trust in Him. 

Gradually, over the next few months, with my wife's help, I began to pray and to study on this topic.  My wife and I took some natural family planning classes and we began to understand and to accept the teachings of the church.  Eventually, we were moved by the Holy Spirit to have another child.  
Truly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to embrace this difficult Church teaching.  I swallowed my pride and humbly decided to trust Jesus and his church with our childbearing.

In the movie, A Few Good Men,   Jack Nickelson says to Tom Cruise "You can't handle the truth!"  I think that would apply to me during my struggles with contraception and to many Catholics today.  We have been blinded.  We just can't handle the truth because we have accepted our society's lies.   
How do we improve our spiritual eyesight?  It takes time.  It doesn't happen overnight.  We need an infusion of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Deacon Ralph talked about this at our recent mission.  We need to repent of our sins.  We need to get to know Jesus and his church through prayer, scripture study and the sacraments,  especially the Eucharist.  And we need fellowship with other Catholics on the journey.  We should join a small group of men and women and share our spiritual journeys with each other.  We are all in this together.  It is a difficult road that we travel but the reward, eternal life with the father, is well worth the effort.

Who are you following - Jesus towards eternal life or satan, the prince of the world, towards eternal death?   It's your choice and Jesus will respect your free will, your choice. 

Let us pray:  O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things.  Amen

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Are you joyful or happy and what is the difference?

As you enter the doors of our church, you see the Latin phrase "Introibo ad altare Dei"  which translates "I will go unto the altar of God".  Certainly, as we celebrate mass, we are at the altar of God, especially during the consecration.  The rest of that phrase is: "to God who gives joy to my youth."  Are we feeling joy right now as we sit before the altar of God?  And, if we are not feeling joy, why aren't we?  What keeps us from experiencing joy?
Spiritual joy is different from the conventional concept of happiness.  Happiness depends on what happens in our lives, as well as those circumstances, people, and events over which we often have little  control.  It is fleeting and usually short term in nature.  Real joy, however, is that constant, abiding, and personal relationship with God that we experience when we do His will as loving servants.  This joy may often be expressed through our enthusiastic demeanor, laughter, humor, or cheerful attitude. 
Most of us are pursuing happiness instead of joy.  We yearn to satisfy the deep longing of our hearts but frequently confuse joy and happiness. 
Joy is a loving, warm sense of an intimate relationship with God.  Authentic joy is a spiritual and biblical concept.  Joy is the second of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot have joy without love. 
Happiness, on the other hand, lasts a short time.  We tend to pursue happiness and avoid pain.  PBS conducted a survey a while back asking people what was their greatest desire.  Almost ninety percent answered: "I want to be happy."  Like most people, I also want to be happy.  I love it when the Reds or Bengals win, when my children and grandchildren do well, and when my arthritis isn't bothering me too much.  Unfortunately, that happiness doesn't last.
In today's Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."
True joy comes from serving God.   If we serve mammon, that is money and possessions, we will be disappointed and frustrated by our constant search for happiness.
In 2004, over 1000 priests were surveyed.  The main question asked was : "How happy are you in your priesthood?"   Over 90% of the priests responded that they were very happy.  In 2009, another survey of over 2000 priests was conducted and again over 90% agreed that they were happy.  When the priests were asked the source of their happiness, they answered that that their spiritual life was the cause of their inner peace, well-being, and personal joy. 
How can we increase and maintain our joy?  Since joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we should receive it gratefully, accept it humbly, and then share our joy with others.
We can increase our joy in several ways.  Receiving the Holy Eucharist at Mass is the most intimate way to experience a joyful relationship with Christ.  If possible, we should attend daily mass so that we can experience this spiritual joy every day.
The anticipation of eternal life in heaven is another way that we experience joy.  Whenever we have doubts about our faith, our family, or our nation, we can take great consolation in the promise of Christ that we are destined to live forever with Him.
Trusting God is another important element in our spiritual joy.  Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?"   We would all be much more joyful if we could take these words to heart and stop worrying. 
And finally, prayer and meditation leads us to spiritual joy.  in his first letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul tells us: "Rejoice always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
The key to finding spiritual joy is knowing God's will for us and then surrendering to His will.  This can be a difficult challenge, especially for us men, since we reject the idea of surrender.  We pride ourselves on being self-sufficient, self-reliant and totally independent.  Pride is what prevents us from completely abandoning ourselves to God's will, but when we do, God will reward us with peace and joy. 

 "O Lord, give me the wisdom to know your will, the courage to accept it, and the strength to do it.  Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sacrifice and love

For my freshman year in college, I borrowed the tuition money from my father.  About ten years' later, he called and requested that I repay him as soon as possible.  At the time, this was  difficult for me financially with two small children and a third on the way.  I paid him the money as he requested. But, it didn't sit well with me and I didn't talk to him for over a year. 
Eventually, my wife told me that I needed to forgive him.  She said that my unforgiveness was hurting me.  So, I swallowed my pride and called him and patched things up.
Many years later, when he was moved into a retirement home, he asked me to handle his finances.  As I reviewed his finances, I realized that his only income was from social security.  In fact, for many years, the three of them, my mother, father, and sister were living on his meager social security income.  Then, I felt guilty that I was so upset at having to pay back my loan many years earlier.  If I had known how little money they had, I would have willingly helped them out. 
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist said: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  This is the first time in the Gospels that Christ is called the “Lamb of God”.    Also, John the Evangelist used this title twenty-nine times in the Book of Revelation.  This image of a sacrificial lamb would have been familiar to the Jews of the time. 
The primary holy day for Jews is the Passover.  In the Passover ceremony, each family sacrifices and eats a lamb to recall the night when the firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death by putting the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. The Passover lamb signifies God's merciful and saving love.  The prophets described the Messiah as a lamb who went silently to the slaughter, to take the sins of his people upon himself and wipe them away.   
The book of Revelation reveals to us that Jesus is victorious and glorious in heaven as the slain lamb, surrounded by saints, martyrs and virgins, who render him the praise and glory due him as God. Before distributing Holy Communion the priest says "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".  This encourages us to be grateful to our Lord for sacrificing for us.
Today, not too many people describe themselves or those they admire as lambs.  They are more likely to be described as lions.  We don't often think of sacrificing for others.  When my dad asked me for money, I wasn't thinking about sacrificing for him  but of taking care of my needs.
When I hear the word 'lamb' outside of the context of mass, I think of a meek animal and sacrifice.  Normally, you wouldn't associate either weak or sacrifice with God.  You would expect God to be called a lion instead of being referred to as a lamb.
Referring to Jesus as the "Lamb of God" in the first appearance of his public life foretold what was to come- His sacrifice on the cross.  And it also provides an example for us to follow in our relationships.  We are meant to relate to each other as lambs, not as lions.  We are meant to love each other with a sacrificial love, not a love which possesses or dominates another. 
We see examples of sacrifice all around us.  We see the sacrifices of mothers and fathers as they raise their children.  We see the sacrifices of soldiers and police and fire personnel as they put their lives on the line for us.  And we see the sacrifices of priests and religious who choose a chaste life to serve God and His church.
Sacrificing is hard.  It is natural to put ourselves first and hard to put someone else first.  And yet, that is what we are asked to do.  True, lasting love requires sacrifice.  Jesus showed us the way and encourages us daily to follow him. 
Today, as the priest raises the host and says the words : "Behold the Lamb of God" ponder the humility and sacrifice of Jesus in becoming man and then submitting to be crucified.  Then, in the spirit of Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrifice in some small way today for someone you love.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

After the Gatlinburg file

 John the Baptist was in prison. His blunt preaching had made him powerful enemies, especially Herod, whom he had criticized for committing adultery.  John: was the messenger who was preparing Jesus’ way with his fiery rhetoric and warnings to repent.

John was confident and bold.  Then he was thrown into prison and now he is losing hope. From what he has been hearing about Jesus, he’s beginning to have doubts about him. Jesus isn’t fiery, as John expected. So, John tells his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”’

The news funneling back to John was that Jesus was eating with the tax collectors. Jesus wasn’t condemning sinners but was sitting down to meals with them and making God’s forgiveness easily available to them. Jesus was even encouraging people to forgive their enemies. Things hadn’t worked out the way John expected and now he’s locked up in prison facing death.

When things don't work out the way we expect them to, we can become discouraged.  It can even cause us to lose faith.  We, like John the Baptist, can ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?"

About two weeks' ago, my wife and I were at our vacation home about ten miles east of Gatlinburg.  It was my birthday and I had just eaten some awesome wet coconut cake for desert.  I knew that there were fires in the national park.  But these fires were at least fifteen miles away, so I wasn't concerned. 

Then I heard a siren outside and went out to check on it.  Outside, I saw a fire in the brush just down the hill from our house.  It was being driven by high winds towards our house.  We quickly gathered up just a few things, abandoned our house and headed down the mountain to safety.

As happened to us, things can change quickly.  We can get discouraged when we lose things that are close to us.  We had owned our vacation home for over ten years.  It was a relaxing getaway for us, our children's families, and our friends.  Now, it is destroyed.  We might ask:  "Where is God in all of this. Or why do bad things happen to good people."

The day after the fire was a beautiful seventy degree day in the Gatlinburg area.  It was a good day for the firefighters to get the many fires in the area under control.  Twice during the day, we visited the command post for the firefighters.  We saw several firefighters sleeping from exhaustion after many hours on the job.  One firefighter was overcome with tears at the destruction that he had seen.  Seeing their courage and their determination, made me proud and thankful for these brave young men.

We asked the firefighter in charge if he had any word about our house.  He checked his lists of houses which were destroyed and those which were safe, and didn't find our house on either one.  So, they sent a scout up the hill to check on it.  About fifteen minutes later, he radioed in that our house was down, it was destroyed.  I think they felt worse about this than we did.

As we wondered around the area, we met people whose primary residence was destroyed and others who had no insurance.  We heard stories of some who were missing family members.  Clearly, we were blessed that we had only lost a vacation home.  We were both safe and we had our primary residence in Lebanon to return to.  Many other people weren't so fortunate.

The compassion of the people that we met in the Gatlinburg area was heartwarming.  Virtually every person told us that they would pray for us.  And after we posted on Facebook, we received support from our family and friends who mourned our loss with us.

When bad things happen, it is natural to mourn and to question, even to question God.  But, over time we begin to see the love and support of the people who are with us on our journey.  It seems to me that a disaster, like fires in the Gatlinburg area, brings out the best in many people.  We see the compassion, the caring, the love for each other that is part of our human nature.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  Through each other, we feel His love for us when we are down and discouraged.

Today is Gaudate Sunday.  It is a time for rejoicing and just two weeks until Christmas, the birth of the Christ child.  All of us have reasons to rejoice today.  For me, I rejoice in my family and friends and for the care and compassion of the many supportive people that I have encountered over the last few weeks.  Rejoice in the Lord always in good times and in bad. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

After Tuesday's election surprise, continue to pray for our nation

Sunday's Gospel was written about 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It describes what happened to Jesus’ followers: they were thrown out of their synagogues, imprisoned and brought before civil authorities, all because they were followers of Christ. This reading must have encouraged and comforted them, as it might comfort us. When our world collapses, or events raise our fears, these words help us see opportunities to live out of our faith and witness to others. As Jesus tells us:  the endings, difficulties and persecutions because of our faith “will lead to your giving testimony.” At the darkest times, suffering can provide opportunities for us to express our hope.  Those around us might ask us, “Where do you get your strength from?” or “What makes you so hopeful?” Just as Jesus said, this will “lead to your giving witness.”

Jesus predicted “the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Luke’s readers would know that what Jesus said had come true. Less than 40 years after Jesus died, the Romans destroyed the Temple, looted it and took its treasures back to Rome.  Early Christians, hearing Jesus’ prediction and knowing what had happened, could be confident when Jesus said: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

After the resurrection, Jesus did not leave his disciples on their own during difficult times. He would be with them and enable them to persevere. He told them: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  When we read the story of the early church in Acts of the Apostles we see how Jesus’ words were fulfilled. His disciples were “handed over” to authorities, arrested, and gave testimony “before kings and governors,” just as Jesus had anticipated.  And, they also manifested a wisdom that confounded their persecutors, as Jesus had promised.
Christians are persecuted in our current time and in our nation.  We can be reassured that even as we suffer for our faith Jesus has not left us on our own. We have the confidence of Jesus’ words that he will give his followers wisdom to witness to him and the strength to persevere. Through all the trials Christians have had to endure, his promises have held: he has been with us and we will be safe for all eternity in him. Jesus’ words are as relevant for us now as they were for his disciples.
In our nation today, it is unlikely that a foreign power will come in and destroy our churches as occurred when the Romans destroyed the temple in the first century.  Instead, the threat to our churches comes from within.  Clearly, strong forces in our nation want to discredit and divide the Catholic Church.  That was the motive behind the attack on religious freedom in the HHS mandate several years ago.  And it is also the motive behind the support for partial birth abortion and the defense of Planned Parenthood as they continue to abort babies and to sell baby parts.  Then, last Tuesday we witnessed the surprise election of a candidate who promises change.  We don't know what sort of change to expect from our newly elected president.  We can only pray that he can unite the country over the next four years.
In last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, a Catholic editorial writer who often seems to mimic my thoughts, wrote:  "God is in charge of history.  He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better.  But he is an actor in history also.  He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to." 
I can only add: The answer for our nation is found in Jesus and in his kingdom.  I'd encourage all of us to pray for our nation that it become once again one nation under God.

God bless  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Two different holy communions

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith.  It’s what makes us Catholic and makes us different from most other faiths.  Also, this belief affects every aspect of our worship and it should impact how we live our life. 
I'll start by giving some of my background and explaining why I am so passionate about our church and so convinced that it proclaims the truth.  I'll be talking about church teaching in two areas, which initially might not seem related, contraception and the Eucharist.  I'm not trying to condemn or to judge anyone.  As I'll describe, I've struggled with the issue of contraception.  But, I have been very blessed that I have been led to the truth and now will attempt to explain this to you as I describe my spiritual journey.
I grew up on the west side of Cincinnati in a area which was about 90% Catholic.  I went to a Catholic grade school and a Catholic high school.  Then, I attended UC in Engineering where I met my wife Kathleen.  She was, and is a very strong Catholic and this attracted me to her.
My personality is that of a rule follower and this worked well for me.  I always went to Sunday mass and followed the teaching of the Church.  This was all that I knew and I was very comfortable with it.
After college, Kathleen and I got married.  Then, I went to graduate school and spent several years in the Air Force.  Now, it was the early seventies and I had managed to get through the sixties without having a major faith crises.  I was a Sunday Catholic with a basic understanding of my faith.  But, I didn't have a personal relationship with Jesus and my faith hadn't really been tested. 
Kathleen's faith was a little stronger than mine was.  Also, she had embraced natural childbirth, breastfeeding, natural mothering, and eventually natural family planning.  Even though this might seem very normal today, it was very unusual in the early seventies.  When our oldest, Tim, was born in 1971, I can still remember Kathleen telling the hospital staff at the Army hospital in Hawaii that I had to be with her in labor because she was relying on me to help with her Lamaze breathing techniques.  Eventually, they did let me into the labor room, but absolutely refused to let me in the delivery room.
After we moved to Lebanon, we had our second, Lynn, in 1973, and our third child, Andrew, in 1976.  When Kathleen became pregnant with Michael in early 1977, we faced our first faith crises.  We were both 31 years old and now were expecting our fourth child.  We were practicing Natural family planning, based upon reading a book.  But we missed reading a critical chapter and were now faced with an unexpected pregnancy.  How many children would we have?  How can the church not allow us to use contraceptives?  Was this church teaching going to ruin our marriage?  And how could we possibly expect to send all of these children to college?
For a short time after Michael was born, we decided to use a contraceptive.  While it wasn't difficult to find a priest who said that this was OK, it didn't seem right, especially to Kathleen.  So, we decided to take a course from Couple to Couple League in Natural Family Planning.  We found out that, when properly used, it was 99% effective in postponing pregnancy.  Also, we learned that less than 5% of couples who practice NFP get divorced versus 50% of couples who contracept.   
This all lead me to learn more about this topic so that I could understand why the church recommended this and why it was so effective.  I read the encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) which was written the same month we were married.  I also read several outstanding books on this topic including one written by Janet Smith who is a staunch defender of church teaching.  A few years' later I read Pope Saint John Paul's Theology of the Body which further explains the church's teaching on human sexuality.
In short, I eventually realized that I was wrong in thinking that this teaching was bad for married couples.  I realized that the church, lead by the Holy Spirit, was right in this critical but controversial area.  I realized that the marital act, the union of husband and wife, is meant to be a holy communion, a renewal of the marriage covenant, free from any barriers to life.  So, what does contraception and this church teaching have to do with the Eucharist and this controversial teaching of our church.  Now, let me talk about the Eucharist.
Jesus tells us in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
This is a remarkable claim.  Jesus claims that he will give his own flesh as our food, so that we might enter into that divine life.  We will remain men but we will have the life of God within us.  No wonder his claims caused his listeners to argue among themselves and still cause disagreements today. 
His disciples struggled with this teaching. They quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  This was the perfect opportunity for Him to say, “Wait a minute, what I really meant was that bread and wine will just be symbols of my body and blood."
Instead, Jesus continued: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
Jesus doesn’t water down his claim.  On the contrary, he reiterates the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  Seven times throughout his speech he repeats that his flesh is to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by those who wish to have eternal life.  His listeners understood him to mean what he said.  Many of them didn’t accept it, and abandoned him. 
After most of his disciples left him, Jesus said to His apostles:  “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Many Catholics live their lives as if they don’t believe it.  Our faith must be strong to believe that during the consecration of the mass bread and wine actually become Christ’s body and blood.  We believe that Jesus left us when he ascended into heaven but he remains with us in the form of bread and wine until he comes again at the end of time.  He accomplishes this great mystery through his Church, through the authority passed down from Peter and the apostles to our pope and bishops.
For many years, I didn’t appreciate what I was receiving, Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity.    I could have gone to daily mass but only began to do this in the last ten years.  And I still have trouble comprehending this great mystery.  How can that host be Jesus Christ?  How is this possible?  I am an engineer by background and a very logical person.  But, I cannot prove that that consecrated host is Jesus Christ and I also cannot prove that it isn’t.  I just have to accept it by faith. 

So, tonight, I am talking about two different holy communions, two sacraments, two mysteries.  There is the holy communion of husband and wife in the marital act.  When this act is truly free, total, faithful and fruitful, it is a renewal of the promises that we made when we are married, a renewal of our marriage covenant.  Then, there is the Holy Communion with Jesus when we receive him body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.  Jesus gives himself to his bride, the church freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.  Each of these holy communions is controversial, each is counter cultural.  Most non-Catholics don't believe in either of these.  Many Catholics believe in the Eucharist but don't accept the church's teaching on contraception.  If this is what you believe, I'll ask you to ponder if our church, led by the Holy Spirit, can really be half right and half wrong.  In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus passes divine authority to his bride, the church when he says: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."   Our church is truly the bride of Christ and our leaders carry his authority which has been passed down for 2000 years.  It is a church led by sinners, as we all are, which consecrates the Eucharist and is guided by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith, including its teaching on contraception.