Even More on John 6 and Sandwiches

Falafel_sandwich
Falafel in a pita!

Why do we eat? We get hungry, and we eat to stave-off starvation. Plus, hopefully we find the experience pleasant. Also, we can commune with our fellowman very fruitfully over a meal together. The common meal makes the family.

Now, what if bodily death meant The End? The End of all this eating?

We nourish our bodies daily, but to what purpose—if bodily death means a total Sayonara? After all, our bodily death comes inevitably—no matter how well, and how sociably, we eat. Why stave off starvation then? If death means The End, then the whole business of staving off starvation for a few short, seventy or eighty years seems like a pathetic, desperate exercise in futility.

And if bodily death spells Todo Finito, then why try to eat well? Why cook well? Why try to make eating pleasant? I guess you could answer: Because tomorrow we will die, so let’s enjoy today with good savors on our tongues! But that seems empty and pathetic, too. The sweetness of a good meal loses its appeal when we think of ourselves as mere random conglomerations of chemicals.

paniniAnd if bodily death ends everything, then why eat together? Why build a family or friendships? None of it will last; our loves will die with our bodies. If bodily death means Tutto Chiuso.

My point is: The idea that bodily death ends everything—that idea is foreign to our experience of eating. The entire human enterprise of the table: it presumes that eternity somehow lies within our grasp. Somehow; we can’t conceive exactly how. But we know that human communion over dinner touches eternity somehow.

In other words, we feed on material food, yes—because we are material boys and girls. But we feed also on love, and on hope for friendship lasting forever. Hope and love make human meals human, as opposed to animal trough sessions.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to restore and fulfill human life. Yes, He brought something altogether new to the world. But His newness is not foreign to our human ways. His newness brings about the perfection of our present stumbles and flawed attempts at the greatness that fundamentally does belong to us.

We need to feed on the resurrected, immortal Body of Christ in order to eat anything else in peace. When we eat His Body with a clear conscience, what nourishment do we receive? How about the assurance of the hope that love lasts forever? How about: Eternal Life?

When we have that kind of confident hope, every plate of tamales, every lasagna, every bowl of pho we share means the coming of the Kingdom of God.

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More on John 6, Sandwiches, Etc

The holy angels have no bodies. They “feed on” truth, on God, by gazing upon Him with their purely spiritual minds.

Ecce Agnus DeiWe human beings, on the other hand, feed on truth and bread, since we have souls and bodies. We need both truth and bread to survive and thrive. Without this nourishment, we perish.

God feeds on nothing other than Himself; He possesses infinite life. He is obviously immortal—He’s eternal, the eternal source of all life–spiritual life and material life.

We understand from Holy Scripture that God formed mankind from the dust of the earth for the sake of giving us immortal life. Originally He made us to feed on the truth, and on the material largess of the earth–without ever experiencing the disintegration of the flesh.

But we disobeyed His law and fell away from the eternal source of life, leaving us to face the struggle to survive and the dissolution of our bodies back into dust.

God, infinitely merciful, became a man Himself, to unite our flesh with His life-giving power. He underwent our bodily death in His flesh. Then He conquered that death, rising again to a life no longer limited in any way by struggle or impending death.

But that’s not all: His work of uniting His death-conquering life with our flesh included the institution of the Mass and the Church. By instituting the Mass He instituted the Church, and vice-versa. The Mass is the life of the Church.

And the Mass is the way, perfectly suited to our human nature, by which we can feed on God. We cannot feed on Him like the angels do, since we do not see Him with spiritual eyes like they do. We need a bodily way to feed on the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of the Christ. That way is: the Holy Mass.

John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?

_________________

*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

How does He give us His Flesh to Eat?

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52)  …Click for Español.

They asked this perfectly reasonable question after the Lord Jesus had said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

bassano last supperHe will give His flesh that the world may have life, as opposed to death.

Without this gift–the Body of Christ–the world languishes in death.

Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors.

We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.

So the Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh that gives life beyond the grave. The Christ of God gives life. He conquers death in His Body—not just for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh.

Jesus says that His flesh is true food and His blood true drink, and that this food and drink, this sustenance, gives the true life–eternal life, not subject to death. This food involves eternal, divine “nourishment,” if we might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” the Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.

Now, back in the synagogue in Capernaum, the inquiring listeners asked: How? How can this man give us His flesh to eat?

Let’s treat this as a forthright and honest question, rather than as a rhetorical attack. Let’s break the question down into its parts.

“This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is God. This particular Nazarene carpenter possesses death-conquering divine life. That’s the decisive fact here. He looks like a Galilean man. He is a Galilean man. He is like all other men in every way, except sin. Also: He is Almighty God.

So the question suddenly becomes: How can this God-man give us His flesh to eat? Now the question no longer has a dismissive ring to it. God, after all, has made the cosmos out of nothing, by an act of creation which we cannot imagine. So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. He can. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing.

priestBut how?

Well, we know the history. Last Supper, first Mass, endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry, the handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to the How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.

But there’s more. How can the God-man give us His flesh for us to eat?

Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we would not seem to be equipped to consume the living flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating sandwiches. We have no natural disposition to consume the living flesh of the High Priest of the heavenly tabernacle.

So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…

1. The bread and wine we present become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words.

2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of food and drink, so that we may consume and be fortified by it, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.
In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as an edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.

And this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness: Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. Amazing, yes. But let’s consider the precedent…

He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I willingly die so that men have life.

So, likewise, in the Blessed Sacrament: He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.

But He maintains this silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth. The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life. He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy.

He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.

Hungry?

snickers hungry

God gives bread from heaven.  Jesus Christ, His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.

It’s not cannibalism, because He lives.  And we don’t transform the food from heaven into our substance, like we do with hamburgers and salads and stuff.  With the Food from heaven, the digestive process works in the other direction.  He assimilates us to Himself.  We become a part of the Body that we eat, when we receive Holy Communion.

Now, we Catholics love the world.  We love the people of the world.  We hope for a better future, even in this life–a better human future for the earth.  Not naively:  We don’t hide our eyes from the effects of original sin.  But we nonetheless believe in the fundamental goodness and beauty of man, the paragon of all animals, who God has made little less than the angels.

But I think we can qualify our admiration for mankind by saying:  We believe in the fundamental goodness of man, when he receives adequate nourishment.  We’ve all seen the Snickers ads.  When man begins to starve, he grows desperate.  Reason goes out the window.  Same thing can go for whole communities, when there’s no food.  We become a tragic, disfigured version of ourselves.  A whole nation can lose the ability to think straight.

Now, what about a starvation diet of the Bread from Heaven?  When our beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord absent themselves from the sacred assembly?  They wind up spiritually starved, for lack of divine nourishment.  Can we expect rational thought, calm restraint, and sanity, under such circumstances?  Hardly.

Praise the Lord, when it comes to the heavenly Bread, we don’t face scarcity in these parts.  Yes, we have a priest shortage in our diocese.  But every county has at least one Sunday Mass.  No one need starve.

Let’s make sure that we keep ourselves well fed, so that we can stay healthy and maintain our calm, rational composure.  Then, we will have the strength and clarity of mind to help our poor brothers and sisters who, for some strange reason, see fit to starve themselves, rather than make a good confession and come to the table to eat the Body of Christ.

John 6, St. Augustine, Confirmation

 

After feeding the 5,000, Christ withdrew to mountain solitude.  Because the people wanted to carry Him off and crown Him king.

Let’s hear St. Augustine on this…

He who feared to be made a king was a king, reigning eternally with the Father.  He was a king not made by men, but making men kings, in the kingdom foretold by the prophets.  Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, who are members of His kingdom, incorporated therein by His Word.

This kingdom will be made manifest after the Last Judgment, when the brightness of the saints will be revealed.  The disciples and the multitude, however, thought He had come to reign now.  They would have taken Him by force to make Him king, which would have anticipated His time.  But His time is a secret.

st-augustineWe could spend all day discussing these few Augustinian sentences.  But let’s focus on something that we could easily pass over, and which is especially important during these days of our young people receiving Confirmation.

Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, members of His kingdom.

We have to focus on the fact that, for St. Augustine, the word Christ was of course not simply an empty title for Jesus.  It means:  The Anointed.  The Anointed is, according to the Old Testament, a king.  The anointing in this case is not mere oil, but the Holy Spirit—of Whom oil is perhaps the most potent symbol.

The Incarnation means that people who believe in God believe in Christ, a man crowned with God. God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is the God-man’s Crown.  And that same Crown adorns the brows of those who believe—“Christ”-ians, Anointedians, anointed with God the Holy Spirit.

It’s all invisible.  For now.  It will become visible precisely when God wills it so.  In the meantime, we see the invisible crown in the honesty, fortitude, generosity, faith, and hopefulness of the “Christ”-ians who wear it.

 

Fleshy Sunday Readings

I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Holy Mass on Sunday. Hopefully we can receive the paradox as an invitation.

“This saying is hard,” they murmured. “Who can accept it?”

Which saying? The one we heard last Sunday. “My flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. The one who feeds on Me will have life because of me.”

Christ, the man, flesh and blood, born of the womb of Mary. He possesses divine life, eternally flowing into Him from the Father. Infinite life. The Holy Spirit, Who has breathed life into everything that lives. This particular Galilean fellow, made of bones and cells and stuff, just like us. He gives His body and blood as the gift of divine life for us. The Holy Spirit gives life–through the flesh and blood of Christ.

Earth Wind and FireOk: A hard saying, which demands faith in the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, the Holy Eucharist. He anticipated that His words would shock some of us into disbelief.

A few weeks ago, an aspiring Catholic came to see me to discuss the possibility of coming into full communion with the Church. He has attended Mass with his dear Catholic wife every Sunday for 35 years. But this man’s Presbyterian sensibilities couldn’t quite feature the idea that God would have us eat somebody’s body and drink his blood.

The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings. Anybody catch St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? “A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.”

The fact that sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together, inseparably–like root beer and foam go together, or chips and salsa, or music and dancing–these are flesh-and-blood facts of life, brought to us by God Himself. Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way–maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.

In a similar way, “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” come as simple Christian facts of life. Christ Himself said these words. It’s not as if Catholic priests made the whole thing up. We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman, any more than we made up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We don’t see it as our job to “engineer” the meaning of those words. We simply believe them, holding back no part of our minds from our unequivocal belief. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, we know we will never understand at all.

priest_jesus_massAnyway: taken all together, the facts of life, given by God in today’s readings: fleshy. Altogether fleshy. Husband and wife: one, inseparable flesh. Holy Communion: Christ’s flesh and blood to eat and drink. Almighty God does not despise human flesh. To the contrary, He has embraced it more intimately than we can conceive.

Hence, the paradox: In the same breath with which the Lord lays down these stunning affirmations of intense fleshiness, He also says, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I speak to you are spirit and life.”

The flesh has life. The flesh even has life to give. But the flesh itself is not ‘life.’ God wills to give us life in these muscles and bones of ours. He wills that we receive our lives through our parents’ flesh and bones. He wills that we receive eternal life through His incarnate Son’s living flesh.

But our life is not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is not even just earth, wind, and fire.

Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. Immeasurably greater even than Earth, Wind, and Fire were, when they jammed “September,” in their prime.

God is so pure and spiritual that we cannot begin to imagine, cannot begin to conceive. He is the Beauty of everything beautiful, the Truth of everything true. He is our goal. God, purely God, awesomely, mysteriously God.

Everything Christ ever said has one fundamental meaning for us: that we would never shoot for anything less than God Himself.

So: we have flesh and blood, which came from our parents’ flesh and blood, nourished with divine life by Christ’s flesh and blood. And, in this flesh and blood, we strive for God.

Rolling into Roanoke on John 6

The ancient Israelites grumbled in the desert. The heat got to them. And thirst. And hunger. They preferred slavery in Egypt. They did not like the trial of endurance on which Moses had led them.

“Promised Land? Sure. But we don’t see it. We see nothing but parched desert sand.” So the Lord worked his ancient prodigies to help them. Water from the rock, manna from heaven. Even delicious quail.

quail-dinnerAnyone ever enjoyed quail? I only had the opportunity once. Not a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak. But very flavorful.

Anyway, the crowds followed Christ after He miraculously fed 5,000 men and their families, with five loaves and two fish, as we heard at Mass last week. These people who followed Jesus: they had the ancient miracles on their minds.

Moses gave the people bread from heaven. When that happened, the grumblers started to believe–the complaining liberated slaves. They saw the sign from heaven, and they believed. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Lord Jesus had accomplished a similar great miracle. Thousands fed to satisfaction. Seemed like the same ancient power had come to the Israelites’ aid again, like in the desert. Could the Nazarene carpenter be the new Moses? A great prophet? A liberator?

Christ knew their thoughts. He knew the crowd that followed Him liked the idea of free food. But He wanted to lift them up from their baser motives and purfity their intentions. He knew that, deep down, they sought God.

“What can we do to accomplish God’s works?” they asked. They liked to fill their hungry bellies, but they liked the idea of serving God more. Hopefully that describes us, too. Who doesn’t like to eat? But obeying God aways comes first.

What do we do to do work of God? Lord Jesus says, “Believe.” Our first act of obedience; our first act of service to God: believing. Marching hungry and thirsty through the desert might strike us as challenging. But believing, through thick and thin, requires even more. Believing in God and believing in the Christ that God has sent. Focusing our interior eyes on Jesus Christ, on His Mystery, which transcends everything we think we know–seeing everything else by the light of Christ–that gets every bit as hard as slogging through a desert sometimes.

So He works for us an even greater sign than His ancient feeding of the 5,000. He gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He gives us Himself, when we come together and celebrate Holy Mass. The Bread of Life, come down from heaven to give life to the world.

taubman museum in roanoke[Material of local interest follows…]

I take it as a great privilege and a sacred responsibility to have been made the pastor here [at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke.] I know that Fr. Matt feels the same way about being parochial vicar. We have the honor of celebrating Mass for you. We come together; we believe. And the Lord feeds us and refreshes us. With Himself. Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. What kind of priest am I? The kind who can’t belive that I get to say the words of consecration and bring the Incarnate Word of God into the world, as our food.

I’ve been a priest for twelve years. For the past four, I was the pastor in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. For the past two years, I also cared for the school here as the chaplain.

Raise your hand if you already know Fr. Matt Kiehl from his Masses this past month… Fr. Matt will take over as chaplain at Roanoke Catholic.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of St. Gerard’s parish… Down Orange Ave. Fr. Matt and I together have the responsibility for these two parishes, St. Andrews and St. Gerard. Seven Masses, each weekend, between us. In these two beautiful churches, full of inspiring people. It’s not a “parish cluster,” in case you were wondering. Not a parish cluster. It’s just that the two parishes have the same pastor and the same parochial vicar.

We will have years to get to know each other. Roanoke’s as close to heaven as you can get on this earth, so I’m fixing to stay here as long as I can. I’m looking forward very much to the years we will have together. These pastoral assignments start kind of like arranged marriages in rural India. I promise to do my best to be a good husband.

For right now, let’s respond to Christ’s words to us with the faith He asks for. Let’s declare, by our devotion, that we believe, and that we want to receive the Bread from heaven always. He will feed us with this Bread as we make our pilgrim way. He will refresh us in our thirstiest moments.

The Promised Land to which we journey–it is real. Roanoke seems altogether wonderful to me, but the Promised Land–the land of true justice, of peace, of genuine fulfillment and happiness–the Promised Land of light without darkness, where death no longer has its sting, where love doesn’t end–the Promised Land which we read about at the very end of the Bible–it exists. It’s real.

The Lord feeds us with His own Body. We unworthy priests bring the Bread from heaven to earth, so that we can eat and drink, and restore our strength as we make our way. I’m glad that we will be making our way together.

Signs of Divine Power on US 220

[Homily of your unworthy servant, saying goodbye to my beloved parishes of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph]

If you have a sharp memory, you may recall that our three-year cycle for Sunday gospel readings has one special late-summertime twist.

The years when we read from St. Mark’s gospel at Sunday Mass are called Year… B. St. Mark had a unique virtue in his gospel writing, namely brevity. His gospel doesn’t quite fill a whole year’s worth of Sundays.

So, during Year B, from late July to the end of August, we take a detour from Mark to John. We read one of the longer chapters of the New Testament. The chapter about the Bread of Life, come down from heaven; about ‘he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood will live forever;’ the chapter that concludes with St. Peter humbly declaring to Christ, “Leave You, Lord? To whom shall we go?”

Christ in Capernaum
Christ in Capernaum
Right. John 6. It all starts with the Feeding of the 5,000. Then the chapter continues for four more Sunday Masses

It’s my favorite interlude in the three-year cycle of readings. It presents the wonderful opportunity to reflect on the most-famous miracle of Christ, and then segue into His Presence with us in the Holy Mass. These five weeks stand wide open, like an invitation from the Lord to preach a little series of homilies. Today would be the day to start the series. Except…

My best friend in high-school and I competed with each other in many things. Grades. Sports. But the thing we competed about most was: which of us loved his mother more. Maybe that sounds totally cheesy, but it’s true. Then, when we were 22, Eric lost his mother to cancer.

Brave, eloquent man that he is, he got up to speak at her funeral. The scene seared itself into my memory forever: The picture of him standing there by himself in the front of the dingy synagogue. The sound of his strong voice, valiantly mastering itself. He said, “Anyone who knows me knows that for me to be standing here like this… is destroying me.”

That was a lot worse than a transfer from one parish to another, to be sure. But standing here, having to say goodbye… If you know me, you know that this is kinda destroying me.

We read in the Holy Gospels how the Lord Jesus promised that miraculous signs would accompany the ministry of the Apostles. The Apostles then proceeded to work miracles, as we read in the New Testament.

Recently I had an argument with a brother Christian about the continuation of the apostolic ministry in the Church. The Apostles, of course, chose successors for themselves, to carry on their mission. An unbroken succession extends from St. Peter and the original Apostles to the pope and bishops of today.

This is a hard fact to argue with. But my Protestant friend disputed the legitimacy of what we Catholics call the ‘apostolic succession’ on these grounds: I don’t see the miracles. He said that he doesn’t see the pope and bishops accomplishing miraculous healings, or handling snakes, or drinking poison and not dying.

silver roanoke starNow, if he checked the list of promised signs in the New Testament, he might find that the biggest one is: speaking in all the tongues of the earth. And the Catholic Church, frumpy as She may be, does have the only claim, among all human institutions, to that. Does anyone speak all the languages of the earth? Yes, the Catholic Church does. No one else can say that.

But let’s leave that aside. Let’s stay more local.

What I really wanted to say to my friend is: You don’t see miraculous signs in the Church? Well, then, you don’t see what I see, man. You haven’t had the privileged point-of-view that I have had these past four years.

The miraculous sign of people, in an age of isolation, coming together. The miraculous sign of brother- and sister-Christians, in an age of selfishness, thinking of others first and making real sacrifices for them. The miraculous sign of the up-and-coming generation, in an age of relativism and self-indulgence, striving to find God’s truth and live by it.

The miraculous sign of good, competent, talented people, putting up with a feckless dweeb of a pastor, co-operating with him in spite of how impossible he is. And making beautiful things happen under this roof, week in and week out, in spite of the cluelessness of the guy in charge.

These are signs of divine power. You, my dear faithful people, have been working them for as long as I have known you. No doubt you will continue to work them, for the glory of God.

I’ll shut up now. If any good has come from my babblings up here, may the glory be God’s. I came here because Jesus Christ, speaking through Bishop, sent me here. And now the Lord, speaking through Bishop, is sending me to Roanoke. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

To Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, the divine Lamb, the Crucified, the Victor over death, the fountainhead of life and love, the Alpha, the Omega, the Name above every other name, the King of kings and Lord of lords; our brother, our Redeemer; the Heart of our hearts: to Him be glory and praise, in the Church on earth and in heaven, now and forever.

Roanoke Catholic School 125th Anniversary Homily

Roanoke Catholic School

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)

I am not especially good at anything in particular. I do very much enjoy running.

My dear fifth- and sixth graders, I think I was your age when I discovered that I love running. My father ran a 10K, and there was a “Fun Run” for the kids. About a mile or so. I got it into my head that I would run the Fun Run. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit when it was over, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Now, at such a ripe young age of ten, the idea of trying to run a mile in less than five minutes never even entered my wee mind. It was when I was your age, dear eighth graders, that I first met the most demanding man I have ever known in my life. My high-school track coach.

The immortal Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant
The immortal Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant
The feeling that I was about to vomit …it happened again. A lot. Through many merciless workouts presided-over by Coach Grant.

Then, when I was your age, dear 10th graders, all the stars aligned. It was a crisp spring afternoon. I never owned a pair of racing spikes, but that day one of the seniors on the team had a new pair, so he lent me his old ones. Our meet was held at the school with the finest track in the conference. And I managed to run a mile in 4:56. I guess I have been basking in the quiet glory of that moment ever since.

My point is: I started in one place, a place where the idea of running a sub-five-minute mile didn’t even exist. Then Coach Grant kicked the butts of all his runners into the kind of shape that none of us had ever imagined we could be in. A whole new kind of accomplishment lay within my grasp. I had a new horizon. Thanks to workouts that seemed designed to kill, I managed to reach the goal.

Seems to me that this is what “education” is. We start in one place, where the world is hemmed-in and small, even though we might not even realize it. Then someone generous gives us exercises to do, which we do not want to do.

But, by doing them anyway, we wake up one day, and the world is bigger, wider, brighter, and more interesting. Not only that. Now, thanks to all the toilsome work I have done under the guidance of someone who wants to see me succeed, I actually have the mental and psychological strength to accomplish something beautiful and impressive in this grand world.

For 125 years, right here on this lovely little plateau, teachers have been giving homework. For 125 years, students have been saying to themselves, “I really do not feel like doing all this homework.” For 125 years, parents of Roanoke Catholic students have been hollering in the house, “Have you done your homework yet?” And for 125 years, students here have been getting smarter, and more creative, and more interesting, and more capable.

But that is not all. Sub-five-minute miles come and go. Truth is, all our successes in this world come and go. Smarter and more creative and more capable—all of these can be for the good, but they can also be for the bad.

There is yet another horizon.

little last supperLike I said, when I was 10, I didn’t even know what running a sub-five-minute mile meant. When I was 15, I ran one. When you’re 14, it feels like endless studying and tons of homework. When you’re 23, you realize it means that now you have some skills that you can use to make the world better. The whole time, while you’re a pilgrim on earth, you wonder, What’s the meaning of life? And Jesus Christ answers: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.

There is yet another horizon of ‘education.’ And there is only one coach, only one teacher who can lead us to it, help us reach it, carry us there: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, Who says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Who says: Give, and more will be given to you. Who says: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. Who says: Repent of your sins, and believe.

This school rightfully takes pride in all of our success as an educational institution. We commit ourselves to upholding the high standards that have been set by all the Roanoke-Catholic students and teachers and parents and coaches and administrators and staff that have gone before us. This is a celebration of the horizons of success that have opened up in this world for all the people who have come together here to form this institution.

But, above all, we praise and bless and adore our Father in heaven, Who has made us His children in Christ. Roanoke Catholic School has a lot of impressive ambitions. But the most important of them all is: We want to give glory to our heavenly Father.

We say we believe that Christ feeds us with His very own Body and Blood from the altar. That’s the faith of the Catholic Church; that’s the faith of Roanoke Catholic School. The world might think we’re crazy for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we don’t care. We believe it anyway.

This isn’t just an excellent school with an illustrious 125-year history. This isn’t just a place of academic and extra-curricular success. This is a place where we meet Christ, the Son of God. This is a place where we learn from Him as His disciples, where we seek His mercy, and where we grow strong in spirit by feeding on His Body and Blood. We have a lot of grand horizons. But the most important one is: Eternal life with God.