The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 3

This is the third and final talk of the Morning of Reflection for our parish's Ministers to the Sick.

Part 1 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 1

and 

Part 2 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 2

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In the Liturgy the Church teaches that God is present in many different ways.

First of all, He is present in us as we come together and process to His altar, joined as one in song and praise. This is what is so unique about that procession, for it is the gathering time, when all present come together for a single purpose. And as Jesus told us, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

God is present, too, in His Word, proclaimed from the ambo, for Jesus is the Word of God, the eternal Word, the Revealed Word.

And most importantly, God is present in the Eucharist, as the Church says, par excellence. The Eucharist is Jesus' Real Presence, His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

I've always liked Pope Benedict's comment on this in his book, Called to Communion:
"Communion...is the event of gathering in which the Lord joins us to one another...The Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated, where the Lord himself never ceases to be found anew; in the Eucharist the Church is most compactly herself - in all places, yet one only, just as he is one only" [P.37].
Now, I'd like you to consider this multiple, yet one, manifestation of God's Presence in the Liturgy as it applies to your calling.

When you visit someone, and do so in Jesus' Name, you are called to share His revealed Word through Scripture, and finally to offer His Real Presence through the Eucharist. In truth, then, God's Presence follows you through that door to a home or hospital room. He is with you and those you serve in every way, for you are a "God-Bearer." You are a herald of Jesus Christ, of God's Word - His Revealed Word and His Incarnate Word. In fact those you serve can look at you as you enter and shout, "Here comes Jesus!" for you are carrying Him and you are carrying His healing Presence.

Let me tell you a story...a true story revealed to me by one of our parishioners.

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Not long ago she came to me after daily Mass to thank me for visiting her husband in the hospital a few days before he died.  Well, for me it was nothing special, something I'm often asked to do - a welcome part of what my wife, Diane, and I do as hospital chaplains .

But then she told me something about herself.

She had suffered from depression for years, an illness that had made her life extremely difficult. It often struck her suddenly, as if a heavy weight were lowered onto her shoulders followed by an almost overwhelming sadness that would bring her to tears.

As her husband's health deteriorated, her bouts of depression seemed to increase in both severity and frequency. It was all she could do to try to care for him while trying to fend off this monster attacking her.

One Sunday morning, a day when her husband was feeling a little better and had decided to join her at Mass, she said her depression was particularly severe. But they made it to Mass and as she settled into the pew next to her husband, she silently thanked God for letting her be there. The weight seemed to lift and she was able to listen to the readings and the homily.

The priest spoke about the Eucharist, the power of the Bread of Life, the power to lift up those in need. She then told me, "Approaching the ministers to receive Christ's Body and Blood, I could think only of Him. All I could do was thank Him and repeat those words from the day's Gospel, the words of John the Baptist: 'He must increase; I must decrease.'"

She went on to say that as she received her Lord she was suddenly filled with joy, and even her ailing husband recognized the change in her that morning. "It was as if God were forming me anew so I could deal with the challenges I faced. I now turn to Him in joy and prayer throughout the day, thanking Him for His Healing Presence, thanking Him for giving me the strength to go on. Even if my depression returns, with His Presence I can bear my sufferings, but in the meantime I praise God that He has offered me healing and an abundance of live-giving grace."

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Now, my question you all of you: Was this event in this one woman's life a miracle?

Maybe at this point it would be useful here to define a miracle. It's really any effect perceptible by the senses, produced by God which surpasses the powers of nature.
Most folks think only of physical miracles, like the healing miracles we encounter in the Gospel.

But there are also what the Church calls moral miracles. These are demonstrations of heroic virtue on the part of people like St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz.

And we also recognize intellectual miracles in which God seems to infuse knowledge in certain special people like St. Catherine of Siena, the illiterate Doctor of the Church whose writings, filled with worldly and spiritual wisdom, were read by popes and princes.

Yes, miracles abound, despite the fact that so many today don't even like to consider their possibility. Those who think this way tend also to deny the miracles we encounter in the Gospel. You see, they must deny the Gospel, because if Jesus Christ performed all those miracles during his earthly life, then as the Resurrected Jesus He must still be doing them.

After all, He's still with us, right here on earth, just as He promised: "I am with you always, until the end of the age." And if He's still with us, and indeed He is, then He's still doing the miraculous among us.

Going back to the Gospel, specifically John's Gospel, we find that John calls Jesus' miracles something else. He calls them "signs." And what does a sign do? It points to something else, something greater than itself.

We have a sign in front of our church that tells folks that the building on this property is St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. The sign isn't the church, is it? No, it points to something far greater than itself. And that's exactly what the miracles in the Gospel do.

Jesus associated those miracles, those signs, with His teachings. It was those signs that made what they pointed to believable.

If this property here were just a big empty lot, that sign out front wouldn't be very believable would it? Where's the church?

By the way, this is actually an article of our faith, something that as Catholics we are called to believe: miracles are necessary to make God's revelation credible. Did you get that? Miracles aren't just God having fun. They're not capricious acts designed to shock and surprise. Miracles are necessary because they make God's revelation credible.

It's also important to realize that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, worked these miracles through His humanity. His spoken word healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. The touch of His human hands brought the dead daughter of the synagogue official back to life [Mk 5:41]. And even a touch of His garment healed the woman who had long suffered from hemorrhage [Mk 5:27-29]. Yes Jesus acts divinely but always through His human nature.

One thing to note: Jesus sometimes didn't perform miracles in certain places. Why? Because of the people's lack of faith.

And so to understand miracles we must recognize the importance of these two elements: faith and humanity. If all this is true, how does Jesus continue His miraculous work in the world? To answer that, we must turn to the Real Presence. What is it?

The Real Presence is Jesus Christ, true God and true man. It is the same Jesus Christ who fed the five thousand with only a few loaves and fishes; the same Jesus Christ who called the long-dead Lazarus from the tomb' the same Jesus Christ who calmed the raging sea with only a word.

I can recall my elder daughter, when she was just a teen, saying to me, "Dad, isn't it amazing that Jesus is still with us today, still in His human body, still with His wounds, still the same flesh and blood, still here with us? Isn't that amazing?" Yes, it is - the same Jesus Christ who told Thomas to touch His hands and His side and believe.

While He was on earth Jesus worked the miraculous for those who believed, for those who had accepted the gift of faith. The others, even those who had witnessed the miraculous, turned away in disbelief. And the same applies today. Those who believe in Jesus Real Presence on earth recognize this Presence in the Eucharist, in the fullness of His humanity.  And they also believe that His human nature is united with the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Those who witnessed Jesus Christ on earth had only to believe that this man they saw before them was the Son of God Incarnate. Today we are called to believe that what looks like bread and tastes like wine is the Son of God who became the Son of Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.

And because faith is the condition for the miraculous work of Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that faith in the Eucharistic Real Presence should rewarded by miracles of every kind.

I think of the parishioner whose healing I described earlier, a healing that came to her through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Hers was by no means unique.

All that we find recorded in the Gospels about the miraculous cures performed by Jesus have been duplicated many times over by similar signs and wonders through the Holy Eucharist. And when it comes to moral miracles of the sort typified by so many saints and their heroic virtue, perhaps we don't pay much attention to those that occur around us today.

One of the real problems today is how many Catholics don't believe in the real power of the sacraments.  Too many go through the motions, but expect little or nothing.  They don't expect their prayers to be answered and don't really expect the sacraments to have any major effect in their lives.

This all stems from a lack of faith and obedience. But God, in His goodness and mercy, occasionally gives us glimpses of what He can and will do through the power of the sacraments. And when it comes to moral miracles, I have witnessed some miraculous conversions through devotion of the faithful to the Blessed Sacrament.

Let me give you just one example. Married for 50 years this faithful Catholic woman had an agnostic husband who despised the Church. I'll just call them Shirley and Ben. Because Ben was so hostile to all things Christian and especially the Catholic Church, Shirley avoided even mentioning religion in his presence.

The parish had a perpetual adoration chapel that she visited every day after morning Mass. There she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for Ben's conversion. But Shirley died suddenly and Ben was devastated. But because he knew the depth of her faith and because of his love for her, he arranged for a vigil, funeral Mass, and cemetery committal.

At the vigil, our pastor and I were consoling him when our pastor simply said to him, "Ben, I think it's time. Do you want to become a Catholic?"

Ben seemed shocked by the question, but then wiped the tears from his cheek and said quietly, "Yes."

Six months later Ben also died, but by then he had been baptized and confirmed, and had received the Blessed Sacrament daily.

Whenever I think of that couple I realize the value of perseverance in prayer, especially prayer that stems from the deepest humility.

Shirley never asked that she witness Ben's conversion. No, her prayer was always for God's glory, not hers. It calls to mind those words that begin Psalm 115:
"Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1]
This too was a miracle, a moral miracle, but also a miracle of healing, for it healed a man of his brokenness, his broken heart and his broken soul. And it all happened thanks to the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ on earth, and the humble, prayerful intercession of a single person.

Do you see how much you and I need the power that Jesus Christ confers through His presence in the Holy Eucharist?
If we believe in the Eucharistic Presence and practice our faith as Christ demands of those who love Him, we will receive miraculous graces beyond the capacity of the human will to practice.

I look to Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and elsewhere through the world and am simply astonished by the depth of faith evidenced by the thousands who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.

We live in an age of martyrs, an age that rivals the first centuries of Christianity. As Tertullian said early in the third century: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Today's martyrs are beacons of hope, miraculous signs pointing to something far greater than themselves, pointing to the One they follow, the One who gave His life for the salvation of all humanity.

In Chapter 6 of John's Gospel, Jesus tells a very skeptical crowd:
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" [Jn 6:51].
In revealing this, Jesus proclaims His sacrificial act of redemption, His laying down of His life for us. And in doing so He offers us the gift of eternal life. In other words, He lays down His life so we can have eternal life.

The question for us, then, is do also we lay down our lives in willing sacrifice or do we lead lives of pleasure, pride, selfishness or willfulness? Paradoxically, our search for happiness in all these things leads only to grief. Our refusal to lay down our lives in sacrifice to God and others is the root of our unhappiness, anxiety, fear and despair.

This is why we need the Eucharist in our lives. When we receive Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, we receive the saving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That one, full, final sacrifice is made real and present for our forgiveness and healing.

Do you share this with those you serve, preparing them to expect God working in their lives? In this ministry of ours we carry the Eucharistic miracle to others. Do you believe that? Do you let those you serve know of the power of the Eucharist to heal bodies and minds and hearts and souls?

The one place on earth where our confused human minds can always be enlightened by the mind of God is in the presence of God incarnate in the Blessed Sacrament. How today's overly educated world needs to know this, a world that believes it is smarter than the God it no longer needs, in which it no longer believes.

How often in the Gospel did Jesus restore sight to the blind?  This was just a prelude to phenomenal miracles our Eucharistic Savior performs for those who come to Him and say, "Lord I am blind; help me see."

I suppose my last question to you is this: Do you expect Eucharistic miracles?

Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, teach us the wonders you want to work for us.  Lead us to your presence in the Holy Eucharist to work miracles of body of will and especially of mind because dear Jesus the Holy Eucharist is You and You are our God. And with God nothing is impossible. Amen.

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Here are a few question to mull over in your small groups:

1. What miracles have you witnessed or experienced in your life? Did the Eucharist play a role? How?

2. How have you addressed the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus with those you serve?

3. How can you help those you serve deepen their faith in Christ’s Eucharistic Presence and their expectation of miracles?

4. Have you seen changes in those you serve as a result of their deepening faith in the Eucharist?

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