Both the widow in our first reading and the widow in the gospel seem to have nothing. One has no food and is about to die and the other has only two small coins. Yet both of them are willing to give up even the little that they have. What amazing trust these women have in God! They have figured out the secret: God will not be outdone in generosity. In today’s homily I share a couple stories from the World Series and the subway where I encountered people who also found this secret.
Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews uses language describing the priesthood of the Old Testament and the offering of animal sacrifices. God taught his people over the course of centuries that sin required sacrifice to make atonement. The priests of the Old Testament offered various sacrifices including animals in atonement for sins. The problem with these sacrifices was that the priests offering them were themselves sinners and the animals weren’t really capable of taking away sins.
In the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t do away with the idea of priests and sacrifice. Rather he perfects the old law and shows us a deeper meaning. Jesus is sinless and has no need to offer sacrifice first for his own sins and then for others. He is the perfect priest. Then, in an amazing development, the sacrifice he offers is also perfect because he offers himself. No longer are imperfect lambs offered over and over, but the perfect Lamb of God becomes the perfect sacrifice that once and for all takes away the sins of the world.
This is what we are doing when we come to Mass. This is how our sins today are taken away by the one sacrifice of the Lamb of God 2000 years ago. This is why the Mass has traditionally and rightly been called, “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
We don’t like suffering. We often go to great lengths to avoid even the smallest suffering. Despite our attempts, suffering will eventually come, and normally with some frequency. The key is knowing what to do with suffering when it comes.
Today’s homily looks at the various sources of suffering and what our response should be to each of these. When we know the secret, suffering need not harm us and can actually make us spiritually powerful. We accept, we endure, we even embrace suffering…and we never despair.
This has been an amazing week having the Holy Father here in the historic cities of our country. There are so many unforgettable memories that I will have of this visit. Today’s homily ties some of my experiences together with the message in our readings today.
I have heard so many people excited this week and emotionally moved by the Holy Father. The real question is, “Now what?” It is not enough to “like” the Pope or to feel happy thoughts about him. We have to act. If the Pope’s visit doesn’t result in our living more faithfully as disciples of Jesus then it will have no lasting value. Pope Francis himself gave us our marching orders at the Mass in Washington: “Go out… announce the Gospel… always moving forward”
Now that the Holy Father has given us such a beautiful example of a missionary going out, it’s our turn. We too must go out. If we want this visit to really make a difference, then we’ve to to go out and announce the Gospel, always moving forward.
It’s been an amazing couple of days here in Washington as Pope Francis has just completed his visit. Despite attempts to overly politicize this visit, Pope Francis showed us once again that the Church is neither liberal, nor conservative, but Catholic. I will never forget the images today of the Pope in the House of Representatives with two Catholics sitting behind him as the heads of our government. It was a proud day for American Catholics.
Now that the Holy Father is safely in New York, things are starting to quiet down here. As such, I took some time to reflect on these past days and share some thoughts of what it was like to be here.
All of Washington is excited now that we have one additional, famous resident. Pope Francis arrived this afternoon and is staying down the road from me tonight. I’m looking forward to celebrating Mass with him tomorrow. All this focus on the Holy Father reminded me of an interview I did for EWTN’s “Vocation Boom” show shortly after Francis became Pope. I never actually posted the audio before, so what better time could there be?
The original air date was 10/5/2013, but it’s amazing how not much has changed from my thoughts at that time. So, here is my tribute to Pope Francis and a little bit about my own vocation.
In preparation for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis released a letter expressing his desire to give priests some special abilities to minister to those seeking forgiveness for having participated in an abortion. He also had some special instructions for those who would go to a priest of the Society of St. Pius X for confession. Because these issues involve some complexities of canon law, there has been some confusion. Hopefully this video can clear a few things up.
Today we went to visit the swamp mentioned in yesterday’s homily. It’s not a swamp anymore, but actually a small town in it’s own right. This is where St. Francis was given his first church by the Benedictines. That little church, called the Portiuncula or “Little Portion,” is today preserved inside the much larger church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, St. Mary of the Angels.
Just behind the Portiuncula church is a little chapel that makes the spot where St. Francis died. Inside are a piece of the cloth from his religious habit, symbol of poverty, and also the cincture that he wore about his waist to symbolize chastity.
After spending the morning at St. Mary of the Angels we came back up into the city and visited the Basilica of St. Francis. The heart of this church is the crypt that contains the body of St. Francis and his early Franciscan brothers. At the time St. Francis died, this area was outside the city and really a sort of dump. This is where St. Francis personally chose to be buried. Today it is a beautiful pilgrim site for the thousands who come each year to venerate the relics of the “little poor man” of Assisi.
In the afternoon we took a special trip up the large hill behind the town of Assisi to the hermitage built by St. Francis. He and the brothers would often come up here and stay alone in complete silence for months at a time. It was such a beautiful and peaceful place that you could see why he wouldn’t want to come down.
After a long day of tracing the footsteps of St. Francis, I had some time to spend praying back at the Basilica. The church is very famous for its frescoes. One of them is considered by those who knew Francis to be the one that most looks like the saint appeared in life. A great way to end to the day.
Upon arriving in Assisi we were blessed to be able to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis, right near the tomb of the saint. The readings of the day speak of the need for us to remove a “log” from our own eyes before we can see to remove a “splinter” from someone else’s eye. I use this image to illustrate how St. Francis found that the comfort of Assisi and his worldly possessions seemed to block his vision of God. The life Francis was living was not bad, but he famously left his comfortable life in search of something more.
Although he left Assisi, he didn’t go far. In fact, he went right down the hill the town was built on and settled in the swamp below where the Benedictines had given him a little run-down church. Here an amazing thing happened. People saw Francis down in the swamp. Some of course made fun of him, but others started to wonder why he was so happy and they weren’t. People began to go down to the swamp and follow Francis, most famously St. Clare. From this beginning, the Franciscan order has reached the entire world.
Is God maybe calling you to leave comfort behind and follow him in a new way? Whatever fears you might have, it’s time to remove whatever the log might be in your eye so that, like St. Francis, you too can see clearly the joy to which God is calling you.
Today was a travel day from San Giovanni Rotondo to our home the next few nights, Assisi. On the way we stopped in the town of Lanciano to visit what is probably the most famous Eucharistic miracle in the history of the Church. As Catholics know, when a validly ordained priest says the words of institution (This is my body; this is my blood) over ordinary bread and wine, they become truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This of course is the greatest miracle we can experience on earth. By God’s design, normally only the substance, the reality, of the bread and wine change, while the outward appearances and properties remain unchanged.
As I said, it is “normally” the case that the Eucharist continues to look like bread and wine. However, there have been a number of times in history when God has allowed not only the substance of the bread and wine to change at the Mass, but also the outward appearances. This is what we mean by a Eucharistic Miracle. Such a miracle took place in the 8th century in Lanciano when a priest celebrating Mass began to have doubts about whether the Eucharist was truly the body and blood of Jesus. As a gift to help his faith, God allowed the appearances of the bread and wine to change at the moment in the Mass when the priest consecrated them.
To the amazement of the priest and all those present, the host in his hand turned into a piece of living flesh, later found to be human heart tissue. The wine in the chalice became living human blood. The elements from that Mass have remained without preservatives of any kind to the present day. Modern scientific tests revealed the following facts:
- The Flesh is real Flesh. The Blood is real Blood.
- The Flesh and the Blood belong to the human species.
- The Flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
- In the Flesh we see present in section: the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium.
- The Flesh is a “HEART” complete in its essential structure.
- The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).
- In the Blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of the fresh normal blood.
- In the Blood there were also found these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.
- The preservation of the Flesh and of the Blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
I first learned about the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano when I was in college. A teacher gave me a picture of it. When I went to work after graduating, I kept this picture on my desk. It was sort of what you might call a “Eucharist trap,” knowing that people would often come by my desk, see the picture, and inevitably ask, “So, what’s in the picture?” Thus opened a nice opportunity to talk about the Eucharist and why everyone should be Catholic!
We were blessed in that we got to spend our holy hour today in the church where the Eucharistic miracle is kept. With Jesus on the altar sacramentally present in the Eucharist, and the miracle reserved behind the altar, we were in a pretty special place. Although, both times that I’ve been here, I have to say that it also made me very much aware that Jesus is always present in the Eucharist. It’s nice to see that God allows miracles every now and then, but I came away again with the peaceful reassurance that I get to see Jesus every day in the Eucharist and that, in itself, is an amazing miracle. Lanciano is nice, but it really just reminded me that I guess I don’t really doubt the truth of what happens at Mass.