instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 24, 2015

On a homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

I finally synced up with our new parochial vicar this past Sunday, attending a Mass at which he preached. (The only other Mass he presided at and I assisted at, the deacon preached.)

He was ordained a couple of months ago, and he's still getting the hang of the delivery. I'd say he also needs to work on tightening up his homily, but other than a now-deceased Dominican priest who made three points (no more, no less) in five minutes (no more, no less) at every Sunday Mass, every homilist I've heard needs to work on tightening up his homily.

Still, I did get a few things -- no more and no less than three, in fact -- out of the homily.

1. Our parochial vicar preached that the Church is here to get us to heaven. I chewed on that a bit, since it could be said that the Church is here to preach the Gospel to every living creature. Of course, the Church isn't like a wildfire, which burns and moves on; it brings the Gospel to a place and remains there, burning (more or less). There is a maintenance and a mission to the Church. I settled on bringing the two views together by recognizing that the Church is here, as in here in this church, to get us, as in the half-pagans we remain, to heaven, which wouldn't be such a chore if we were fully evangelized.

2. Christ is needed so we can give ourselves fully, yet remain fully ourselves.The priest left off the second part, but I don't think the first part is quite true by itself. People can give themselves fully to others by purely natural means, but then they become less of themselves. That's the complaint against "be submissive to your husbands," that for a man to be head of his wife she has to lose her own head. That's not what happens when Christ is involved, though. He surrenders everything He has to the Father, just as the Father gives everything He has to the Son; neither is diminished, and in fact from this mutual, complete (though not identical) surrender proceeds the Holy Spirit. The same happens to us when we surrender ourselves to the Father through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. We become like Christ, so like Him that we share in His Eternal Sonship, and that is precisely who we were created to be. One way we have been given to surrender to God is through the submission and sacrificial love of a sacramental marriage. A natural marriage, a marriage without Christ, can involve submission and sacrificial love, of course, but the best a person can do in such a marriage is give back part or all of what the other spouse has given. It lacks the divine fecundity (unless the Divine Free Will decides otherwise) for a spouse to give fully and remain full. Anyone in a sacramental marriage who hasn't given themselves fully -- or who has the habit of yoyoing between giving and taking back (and why are you looking at me?) -- should get cracking. This sacramental, matrimonial surrender is an act of faith (that Christ and His Church can be made present in the domestic Church) and hope (for mutual salvation) and love (of each other and of Christ).

3. The Eucharist is nuptial. The priest said Pope Benedict has written about how the Eucharist relates to Christ's marriage to the Church. That may seem a bit rich, with sacraments being each other, but it certainly fits with the Bread of Life Discourse and St. Paul's
For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.... This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the re-presentation of Christ's offering the flesh of His physical body for, and to, the flesh of His mystical body, the Church. The eternal banquet that is the wedding feast between Christ and His Church is inseparable from the paschal sacrifice on the cross from which flows the graces and merits that give rise to the Church, and that enable our own individual membership in that body that is both Christ's body and His bride.

I think the so what here has two parts. First, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we receive a wedding gift from Christ. As a wedding gift, it's not given to us as individuals, but to us as the Church. The union with God that is the primary fruit of the Eucharist is also a union with the Church and each of her individual members.  What is the most personal and intimate communion with Jesus is at the same time an altogether corporate and public moment.

Second, as disciples we imitate our Master. The imitation is most obvious, I suppose, with husbands who "should love their wives as their own bodies," and hand over their own bodies for their wives, but the pattern -- offering ourselves to God, then offering our now-blessed selves to others -- extends to everyone whom the Father has given us as individuals to love.