On Obligation and Consistency

Yesterday I read an article online titled, “10 Reasons American go to Church — and 9 reasons they don’t.” It wasn’t just for Catholics, but nonetheless as a former journalist and a theologian I found it to be a fascinating read.

One reason included was particularly relevant for today, 31% of go to Church because, “they feel obligated to go.”

Given that the study was for more than just Catholics, and certainly not merely in reference to today’s feast, I suspect that number might be quite a bit higher for those of us gathered here on this holy day of obligation, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This poses for us two questions worthy of consideration:

  1. Why do we as Catholics have these holy days of obligation to begin with?
  2. What’s so special about this particular feast, the Assumption?

The key to understanding both of these questions is consistency, or in other words, as the Gospel tells us this evening, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

So why does the Church have this Holy Day of Obligation? The Church’s mission is help us all get to heaven. So she names these holy days, and has other “rules,” not so she can be some sort of evil controlling dictator, but rather so that she can carry our her mission in helping us get to heaven. In that regard she is being true to herself, true to her mission, she is consistent.

It’s easy for us to get busy, especially this week with school starting up again. Even I as the priest can be tempted to point out that there is the Back to School BBQ tonight and a parish council meeting, and can forget what matters most. It’s easy to get distracted from our faith with a wide variety of things that are going on in our personal lives, in our families, and even in our country or world. So many of us have been talking about how with school starting up we can get back to the regular routine. Even Sunday Mass can become a part of our routine to the point that it can begin to seem somewhat empty. So in having these holy days of obligation, while they may appear to be an inconvenience,  the Church is consistent in her taking times every so often to interrupt our routine, our schedules, our busyness and remind us of the eternal. Thus the holy day of obligation is not so much a burden, but rather a gift, which throws us off and gives us a chance to remember God, a chance to recalibrate our lives and our priorities.

In the end, the reason the Church has these holy days of obligation is so that we can grow closer to God. Interestingly enough, 81% of respondents to that survey said the reason they went to Church was just that, “to grow closer to God.” For those of you wondering 59% go for the sermons, and it was even less for Catholics.

So regardless of our motivations for showing up, how does the feast of the Assumption help us to grow closer to God? Despite the false critiques, we as Catholics do not believe Mary is God.

Rather, there is an old latin phrase which helps us understand today’s feast. Ad Iesum per Mariam. To Jesus through Mary. Mary’s role is to lead us to Christ, to God.

She is consistent in doing just that, leading us to Jesus, from her very Immaculate Conception, until now her Assumption into heaven. We teach that she was Assumed into heaven because it is consistent with her whole life, conceived and lived in purity, without sin, and pointing us to Christ. She was immaculately conceived, so that her body could give life to Jesus. Throughout her life, she is always accompanying Jesus, and leading us to him. Now as she is assumed into heaven, she once again points to where he is now, where we ought to want to go.

Even today, she brings us here in her name, so that we can receive her Son in the Eucharist. Not just because obligated to do so by the Church, but rather because we want to be closer to God. She wants us to be closer to God. There is no closer we can be to him than to literally receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. So instead of being inconvenienced or obligated out of guilt this day, we rejoice that we have a Church who is consistent in her teaching in helping us get to heaven and Mary who is consistent in bringing us closer to Christ. Ad Iesum per Mariam.

Immaculate Conception Church
August 15, 2018 A.D. – Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.

On Chairs, Gucci Bags, and the Eucharist

green wooden chair on white surface
Photo by Paula Schmidt on Pexels.com

When I taught high school I used to have the students bring in news articles about the topic of the week. The week on the Eucharist, one student brought in an article about Eucharistic miracles. The article spoke about the historical miracles, such as Orvieto, but also contemporary cases under scientific study.

This led one student to proclaim, “Whoa! If that happened in front of me, I would totally believe! It would be the only thing I would ever want! Like I would go to Mass every day!”

She reminds me of the disciples in today’s Gospel, who after having been present at the feeding of the 5,000 turn to Jesus and ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?”

I told her, “but it has happened in front of you! At every Mass the bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ. And these other miracles have happened, they’re real, what difference does it make if they happened in front of you or not”

This of course led the class collectively to point out that, “yeah, but at your Masses it doesn’t turn into the actual Body and Blood of Christ, like in the miracles, it still tastes and looks like bread and wine.”

Ahh. Good. Now we are getting somewhere. They had correctly pointed out one of the biggest mysteries and most difficult things to understand about our faith. One that many of us wrestle with our entire lives.

Now to help, I want us all to engage in a little exercise. Don’t worry! It’s not physical. I want you all to think of a chair. Perhaps this morning in your house you sat a chair in the kitchen at breakfast. Perhaps you went out to lunch and you might have sat in a low chair or a high chair. Maybe you’re aiming for or have already earned the proverbial corner office, with it matching big chair. At school you have different kind of chairs too. Kindergartners sit in smaller ones than the seniors. Maybe in your tv room you have a favorite chair? When we go outside we have folding chairs. Those of you at least as old as me remember those really hot chairs at Cardinals games at Old Busch when they still had astroturf, they were so hot you could fry an egg, or yourself in them? I suppose at Royals games you could actually fry an egg, because they seats are empty!”

Anyway, so many different kinds of chairs. Some are made of wood, metal, plastic. Some have cloth cushions, others don’t. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. But all of them have something in common, their, “chairness.” While they might have different attributes or qualities, none of them is more or less of a chair. It’s not more or less of a chair because it’s at the Cardinals or the Royal stadium, you might get to enjoy a better product at one, but the chairs are equal in their “chairness.” You can even change or modify some of those characteristics, for instance, add a cushion, paint it a different color, re-stain the wood on an old chair from the thrift store, reupholster a chair, add wheels etc. No matter what, the “chairness” doesn’t go away.

When it comes to Mass, and the changing of bread and wine, the big word, transubstantiation, it’s the opposite. The characteristics of the bread and wine, its color, shape and taste, don’t change. Rather its “breadness” or its “wineness” change into the Body and Blood of Christ.

So what? Why does that even matter? Why does the Church insist on this teaching and make such a fuss about it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that it’s symbol or a reminder of Jesus’ body and blood? It seems like a lot of extra hassle for the Church, like she could just save her time and focus on something else instead.

After further discussion, the same girl who made statement about the Eucharistic miracles added, “wait so the reason the Church teaches it’s not just a symbol, but the real deal, the body and blood of Jesus is because that would be like me wanting a knock off instead of a real Gucci bag?”

While I’ll admit it wasn’t the analogy or explanation that first came to my head, I was left to agree with the student.

At every Mass the priest, repeating the words of Christ at the Last Supper says, “Do this in memory of me.” He doesn’t say, do a knock off of this in memory of me, or do a symbol of this in memory of me. He says, do THIS in memory of me. When the Apostles heard those words, they in the early Church began do just this, the Mass, what we are doing right now. There are accounts from the time of the formation of the Bible describing the Mass, with all of the same elements we have today. So when they heard Christ say those words, this is how they understood them, this is how the Church has carried them on through the years.

Furthermore, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to seek after the food of eternal life, not a symbol or a knock off, the store-brand imitation of that food, but THE food of eternal life.

At the end of the Gospel he says, I AM the bread of life. Again, not a symbol of me or a knock off of me, but I AM. That is why it matters that the Church continue to teach this hard and difficult mystery.  In the Gospel Jesus tells us that the he will give us this food of eternal life. The Church is continuing the mission of Christ on Earth by bringing us his body and blood.

I am not pretending that it’s easy to understand, grasp or believe. In fact if you think about it, almost all of the recorded Eucharistic miracles took place when the priest had doubts about the true presence. It’s a challenge for us as individuals, but a gift that Church continues to provide nonetheless.

So each time we come to this altar it is an opportunity to enter deeper into that great mystery of the Eucharist, in that way to grow in relationship with God. He doesn’t give us anything less than his very self, so that we may have eternal life. Every time we approach this altar it’s an opportunity for us to be nourished by the bread of life, to strive for the food of eternal life.

Immaculate Conception Church
August 5, 2018 A.D. – 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.

How Do I Explain to My Kids Why We Have to Go to Mass Every Sunday? 

Last month I teamed up with Peanut Butter & Grace to launch a new series for Catholic parents, “Brick by Brick with Fr. Brooke.”

In the series I attempt to help parents teach the Catholic faith to their children.

In the second episode I wrestle with the following question:

How Do I Explain to My Kids Why We Have to Go to Mass Every Sunday? 

Here’s the video answer:

Here’s an accompanying article I wrote as well.

It’s still a new project, so it will take time to grow and develop. If you found this answer useful, please consider sharing the video. It’s also on Facebook, FYI.

Daily Reflection: 11 May 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

In today’s readings from Acts of the Apostles we once again here of their travels. As schools finish up the year around the country, a lot of us turn our attention towards planning our summer vacations.

Rest and relaxation are very important elements to a well balanced Catholic Christian life. However, it’s also important to remember that just because we are on vacation doesn’t mean we get a break from our vocation to holiness.

One thing that strikes me is that we will check a dozen web sites so we can end up saving $10 on a hotel room, but do we even bother to check one for Mass times?

We would never think of leaving the house without at least checking (and probably buying tickets) flight times, but we forget to look up Mass times.

I have found in my travels that attending Mass in a foreign country, language or culture can actually be a great grace and growth in our relationship with God thriugh the universality of the Church.

Daily Reflection: 6 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

At the ordination of priests the Psalm typically sung at the Mass is Psalm 110, which reminds us, “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.” That is to say that we believe that once a man is ordained, he remains a priest forever, for eternity. The Catechism, citing the Council of Trent and Vatican II, reminds us that the sacrament of Holy Orders, leaves an, “indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.” (CCC 1582).

While one’s ordination is eternal, every year, throughout the entire world, priests gather with their bishop to celebrate the Chrism Mass, in which they publicly renew their priestly commitment to serve to the people of God. It is in this way that the priests can particularly live out the command found in today’s first reading, “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”

In our diocese, the Diocese of Jefferson City, the Chrism Mass is tonight at 5:30 at the Cathedral, all are invited to come and join us. If you live elsewhere, “check your local listings.”

Wherever you may be, please pray for us priests, God knows we need all the help and support we can get. Thank you for all that you do.

 

The Eucharist: Adult Ed Resources – 10 April 2017

Since next week is Holy Week, I had to make some adjustments to the class schedule. In my conversations with those attending the class, also because it is Holy Week, we decided it would be appropriate to spend the class speaking about the Mass and the Eucharist.

Therefore the class on the Eucharist will be: Monday April 10, 2017 at 7:00 PM in the Sacred Heart Activity Building.

In past weeks I’ve compiled various texts from throughout the history of the Church on the various topics. Thankfully, the Church has also done this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you read the Catechism carefully, you will note that the majority of it is not original material, but rather a compilation of many sources from the earliest days of the Church all the way through Vatican II and beyond. I do not believe that I can do this any better than the Church has already done. Therefore this week the readings all come from the Catechism. The Catechism dedicates paragraphs 1322-1419 to the Eucharist. I have selected the paragraphs listed below to focus on for our class:

If you own your own copy of the Catechism, then you can look the paragraphs up yourselves. If you don’t own a copy, then you can click on the links above to navigate directly to the relevant paragraphs as published on the Vatican web site.

The reason I did not compile the texts into a .pdf has to do with the formatting of all the sources and the amount of time this would take.

I look forward to seeing you all on Monday evening.

Reminder there is NO CLASS this Thursday, April 6, 2017, due to the Chrism Mass, which of course you are all invited to attend.

Lastly, if you want a little preview of Monday’s class, here’s a homily I gave on the topic a few years ago.