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The Sacrament of Love

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Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The audio podcast will not be available this Sunday

This Sunday’s gospel passage reminds us once again of God’s unconditional love for us.  When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick” (Matthew 14: 14).  In essence, Christianity is an on-going love story.  It is a love story about God’s unconditional love for you and me.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds” (Matthew 14: 19).  The feeding of the multitude is a concrete manifestation of God’s unconditional love for humanity.  Jesus cannot send the crowds away hungry.  His unconditional love compels him to provide for their needs.

As we pray together in this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm: “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145: 15-16).

However, the miracle of the loaves and fishes directs our attention to the miracle of the Eucharist.  Jesus’ miracle is a foretaste of the greatest of all miracles, the miracle of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is the sacrament of love.  The Eucharist allows us to experience his unconditional love.  He loves us so much, that he cannot leave us.

When people are in love they always have pictures of those whom they love in a very special way.  True love is unconditional.  The true love of spouses for each other and their children knows no boundaries.  Parents always have pictures of their children, and children, when they leave home, always have pictures of their parents.  Anyone who is truly in love always, in some way or another, always has pictures of those who are unconditionally loved.

When Jesus ascended to the Father, it would have been very simple for him merely to leave us with a record of all that he had said and done; however, he could not contain his love within the confines of time and space.  Because of his unconditional love, he had to remain with us.  The Eucharist is not a symbol, it is a reality.  Jesus is truly with us.

Romano Guardini once wrote: “The Holy Eucharist is the final link in the sacred chain of life-giving nourishment reaching from the remoteness of God into the here and now of human existence” (The Lord 238-239).

Do you understand why this is so?

The Eucharist is the most perfect of the seven sacraments.  God dispenses sanctifying grace through all of the sacraments.  Moreover, not only is the Eucharist an aqueduct of divine life, the Eucharist is God himself!

“The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained. This presence is called real – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be real too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1374).

Transubstantiation means “change of substance,” or “change of reality.”

When the priest repeats the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, the bread is no longer bread, and the wine is no longer wine.  Instead, the entire substance of the bread and the entire substance of the wine have been changed into the substance of The Body and Blood of Christ.

Look at the tabernacle.  Our Lord is truly there.  He looks at you and cries out: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!  Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?”  (Isaiah 55: 1-2)

It is here, at the altar, it is here at the tabernacle that we encounter the God of unconditional love.  It is through the Eucharist that we truly experience love.  This is why the Eucharist is called the sacrament of love.

What would happen if you were in a prolonged situation where you did not have the regular availability of a priest?  What would happen if even Sunday Mass was no longer accessible?

Many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world experience these kinds of terrible situations.  One example can be found in the life of Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

Francis was a Catholic priest from Vietnam.  He was ordained a priest, became a bishop in 1975, and later was chosen to be a cardinal.  Only a few months after his appointment as bishop, he was arrested by the Vietnamese government for thirteen years.   Nine of those thirteen years were spent in solitary confinement!

During the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II invited the Cardinal to direct the annual Lenten spiritual exercises for himself and the Curia.  The collection of meditations that were delivered make up an amazing book entitled Testimony of Hope.

In one of the meditations, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, movingly describes what it was like not to have the Eucharist readily available and what he had to do to celebrate Mass.

“When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands.  The next day, I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, toothpaste…I wrote, ‘Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomachache.’  The faithful understood right away.

They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘medicine for stomachaches.’  They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity.  The police asked me, ‘You have stomachaches?  Yes.  Here’s some medicine for you.’

I will never be able to express my great joy!  Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass.  This was my altar, and this was my cathedral!  It was true medicine for soul and body, ‘Medicine of immortality, remedy so as not to die but to have life always in Jesus’, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says.

Each time I celebrate the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice.  Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, and eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine.  Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!” (p. 131)