April 16, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-8.
Welcome, welcome! Welcome to our regular parishioners, to those visiting from out of town, and to those who don’t regularly attend Catholic Mass. We’re glad you’re here with us.
This is the day of the year when we go looking for the Body of Christ, but when we get to where we expect to find it, it’s not there. Today, on the holiest day of the year!
And that’s why, today, even more than any other day, we welcome you. We are reminded in an especially vivid way today, that the Body of Christ is present in our gathering. WE are the Body of Christ. Your presence today makes us more fully the Body of Christ we profess to be.
Like many new priests, I was a bit overwhelmed last summer by the actions I’m supposed to do while leading everyone in praying specific words of the Eucharistic Prayer. The actions we priests perform are called “rubrics,” from the tradition going back centuries that the instructions are written in red ink. My aunt and uncle realized the anxiety I would be feeling, so they bought me a special coffee mug for my ordination. It simply says, “Say the black. Do the red.”
The words and the rubrics make a big deal about four elementary verbs associated with what Jesus did at the Last Supper. On the night before he died, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with his disciples. At every Jewish ritual meal, the main points are the blessing and the sharing. The blessing recognizes that this bread is set apart for holy things. The sharing is a sign of communion with one another. For the Jewish ritual, the taking and the breaking are of secondary importance. You can’t give the bread to others unless you break it, and it’s hard to break the bread unless you take it into your hands.
I think most of us understand the cosmic significance of the breaking. On Holy Thursday, as he held the bread, Jesus proclaimed, “This is my body.” And less than 24 hours later, his body was broken open in a horrific, graphic way.
Today, our Easter joy arises from the fact that the blessing, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is shared with us. But here’s the rub, the mystery that we Christians wrestle with: like the bread blessed at the Jewish meal, the blessings of Christ cannot be fully shared with us until after Christ has been broken.
For us Catholics, the Eucharist is one of the central mysteries of our faith. We ponder it throughout our lives, hopefully occasionally gaining insights about the cosmic reality in which we participate. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is somehow really, truly present in this bread and wine, present body and soul, spirit and divinity. That’s amazing, profound, scary, and awesome, but that’s only the half of it. We believe that through baptism WE are the Body of Christ. We, like the bread at the Last Supper, and like the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, are blessed, we are graced, we are set apart for holy things. And we somehow must recognize our brokenness before we can share our blessings with others.
Last night, there were nine people with us who – like 300 other people in East Tennessee and like untold thousands throughout the world – became fully initiated Catholics. Why would anyone choose to become Catholic as an adult? Well, my experience over the past several years is that adults desiring to become Catholic recognize better than most people their own brokenness. They also possess a fire to share themselves with others. My experience of these nine men and women over the past six and a half months is that they recognize that they are blessed, that they are broken, and that they are called to share themselves with others.
When we present the gifts of bread and wine at Mass, they represent all that we are. Each of us is a single grain of wheat or an individual grape that has died to itself and has been crushed so that it may be combined with others in a way that can never be undone. The bread and the wine represent our gifts and our flaws, our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our failings. And, then, through the miracle of the Eucharist, they are transformed.
Jesus Christ is blessed. Jesus Christ was broken. Jesus Christ shares himself with us. In the Eucharist, we are transformed into the body of Jesus Christ.
We are blessed. We are broken. We share ourselves with one another.
But what about that first verb? How are we “taken”?
In my first few months as a priest, I struggled to understand why the Eucharistic Prayer emphasizes that Jesus took the bread? Then, last fall, a parishioner lent me a five-CD course by a Capuchin friar named Dan Crosby, called Becoming the Eucharist We Celebrate. And finally, Fr. Crosby put it in terms that made sense to me: think of being “taken” as being chosen. When the priest takes the bread and the wine into his hands, it’s reminder of what Jesus said at the Last Supper: “It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you.” Each of us has been called by God to a unique vocation, but somehow, inexplicably, it is only together that we can carry out our individual vocations. The Eucharist is our covenant with one another. The Eucharist is our covenant with God.
Today, we celebrate another central mystery of our faith: the resurrection. Do you notice how unusual the gospel reading tonight was? It is one of the few days of the year when Jesus Christ is not visible. Last year at a Bible study, one of the grad students complained how the gospel stories of Easter are not nearly as compelling to him because they don’t focus on Jesus in the same way as the rest of the gospels. Dr. Ruth and I responded with warm smiles. The gospel stories after Good Friday aren’t about Jesus in the same way as the rest of the gospel stories: they’re about other people coming to recognize they are sharers in the mission of God, sharers in the mission of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis has been remarkably consistent in calling each and every baptized Christian to share in the mission of Jesus Christ. He has given us countless examples in his words and actions of being focused outwards instead of focused inwards. But the quotation of his I’d like to share with you is from the previous month. He says:
We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.
We, like the disciples, have come to know Jesus Christ as our savior so that we can have life in abundance. We have been chosen by God. We are blessed. We are broken. But we only have life in abundance when we share our vocation, our blessings, and our brokenness with others.