Sunday, May 31, 2015

Called to Something Deeper (Part 2 of 3)

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Last week I ended the Pentecost homily asking you two very straightforward questions:
1)   How is your spiritual life?
2)   How much time do you spend in prayer?
I pray that you reflected on these questions because as we seek to deepen our relationship with God on this Trinity Sunday, we have to get to know who God is.  God is constantly seeking us out.  In the first reading, Moses asks the Israelites, “What God has spoken to us or taken a people to himself?”  His love for us transcends time and space as he intervenes in our history so that we might know how much he loves us.  We are his chosen people, but we are chosen for something deeper: to enter into the mystery of God’s life which is the life of the Holy Trinity, a community of divine love.  I’m going to let Pope Benedict XVI help me out the rest of the way as I share with you the words that he preached 6 years ago on the Trinity: (His words are in italics.  My words are not.)

[The Trinity is] three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is wholly and only love, the purest, infinite and eternal love.
We know this from the scriptures particularly 1 John 4:8.  The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.  The communication or the relation of that love is the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon us.

He does not live in splendid solitude but rather is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated.
Since God is love and love is not love unless it is given, this statement of the Holy Father makes perfect sense.  This Divine Being of Love is constantly in a state of giving.  First he gives us life in creation, then he gives us the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, then he gives us the life-giving Spirit which is his presence with us always as we hear Jesus say at the end of today’s gospel.  This love is constantly communicated to us in different ways as Jesus continues to give himself to us in the Eucharist.  Now, Pope Benedict starts to get a little scientific to bring the point home:

To a certain extent we can perceive this by observing both the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; and the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles. The "name" of the Blessed Trinity is, in a certain sense, imprinted upon all things because all that exists, down to the last particle, is in relation; in this way we catch a glimpse of God as relationship and ultimately, Creator Love. All things derive from love, aspire to love and move impelled by love
God is a relationship.  He is Creator Love.  From the tiniest molecule to the biggest of stars, all bear the imprint of the loving hand of God.  And then when he creates human beings, he creates us to love as he loves, to be drawn by love, to be affected by love, and to share this love with others.

The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: love alone makes us happy because we live in a relationship, and we live to love and to be loved. Borrowing an analogy from biology, we could say that imprinted upon his "genome", the human being bears a profound mark of the Trinity, of God as Love." (Angelus, June 7, 2009)
Whether we like it or not, whether we love Him or not, or whether we admit it or not, we do live in a relationship with God.  Even if we reject him through sin or by choice, we are still relating to God because we, for whatever foolish reason, have rejected the love of Love Itself.  Yet for those who accept this love and share this love, we nod our heads when we hear the Holy Father say that love alone makes us happy.  This love comes from God.  Even if it comes from another human being, that love is simply a reflection of God’s love for us.  In married life, it is the love of God poured out into the hearts of husband and wife as they share this life sacramentally.  We were created to love and we do indeed “live to love and to be loved.”  That is why God does not live in solitude.  He lives in a constant state of love: three Persons giving love, one God.  And this love has been imprinted on our very souls as we are called to one day live in this relationship, this community of love.  But as we wait here on earth to enter fully into this mystery of love that is the Holy Trinity, we as Catholics have unique and exclusive access to enter deeper into the life of the Trinity…

and I will what that is in next week’s homily…

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Called to Something Deeper (Part 1 of 3)

"Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth." (Psalm 104:30)

"Bend the stubborn heart and will." (Pentecost Sequence)

Catholics are supposed to be odd.  They are supposed to stand out in the crowd.  The followers of Jesus Christ must be just that: followers who proclaim that He is Lord in thought, word, and deed.  That is the first thing the apostles did upon receiving the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost morning.  They went out and proclaimed Jesus Christ.  In talking to a former student the other day, she was telling me about an experience she had with a co-worker who called her a "spiritual" Catholic.  Huh?  I had never heard of such a thing.  A Catholic is a Catholic, but because my former student is a lay woman who goes to daily Mass, prays her rosary, says the Angelus and goes to church more than once a week, we now have to put an adjective to quantify what type of Catholic she is?  I personally have never cared for putting adjectives in front of the word "Catholic" like devout Catholic or conservative Catholic or liberal Catholic or marginal Catholic.  We are not a political party.  We are ONE, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit that unites us and makes us one.  Yet that story of the "spiritual" catholic label has been with me in prayer over the last two days.

The Spirit is calling you to something deeper this Pentecost Sunday.  Being spiritual is almost a prerequisite to being Catholic.  We have to be attuned to the promptings of the Spirit.  We have to let the Spirit guide us to a deeper life of prayer.  Every good thought, word, deed and prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading that no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).  So we welcome the outpouring of the Spirit upon us today so that the Spirit may lead us to the truth and to a deeper spiritual life.  Except at times we don't want to be lead to something deeper because it requires commitment on our part.  During the Pentecost Sequence, we pray to the Spirit: "Bend the stubborn heart and will."  We are definitely stubborn when it comes to our spiritual lives.  God wants us to go in one direction while we want to go in another.  Yet the Spirit still moves us, bends us, molds us, and fashions us into the image of our Lord Jesus.  The symbol of fire is present in the first reading when the Spirit came down on the apostles.  Fire purifies, takes down the old so that the new may have room to grow.  That is why we pray during the responsorial psalm today: "Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth." 

This is what we need: renewal!  We need to go deeper and go where the Spirit is leading us no matter where our stubborn will wants to take us.  Always be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and there is only one way to go deeper and be ever attentive to those promptings: through prayer.  So I want to leave you with  two questions and then I will pick up where I left off next week because this homily is going to preached in three parts over the next three Sundays.  Think about and pray about these questions because on this day the Holy Spirit wants you to go deeper and experience the fullness of what it means to be Catholic:

1) How is your spiritual life?

2) How much time do you dedicate to daily prayer (and how much of that time do you spend it before the Blessed Sacrament)?

(Part 2 next week)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Priest Says Goodbye to David Letterman

A one inch Sony Watchman.  I needed to get one during my last year of college seminary.  The walls in our dorm were paper thin and the year before I had heard the seniors laughing with delight after our 11pm curfew.  The next morning I would hear them at breakfast asking, "Did you see Letterman last night?"  Of course, we weren't supposed to have TV's in our room, but for my last year of seminary, I was determined to walk over to the K-Mart at the corner and spend the $99 so that I could barely afford to get me a one inch Sony Watchman so that I watch Letterman every night.  Since we were seniors the Dean of Discipline had kind of like a "nod/nod-wink/wink" understanding that we were watching the same thing he was at 11:30p.  Seminary was not easy but after homework and prayers, going to sleep with a smile was so important.
When I was a kid, I loved staying over at my grandparent's house in the summer because that meant I could stay up late and watch Johnny Carson.  He delivered his monologues with great ease and interviewed guest like a king presiding over his royal court.  On some nights when I was particularly daring, I would stay up a little bit longer, just because I could, and watch this odd thing called "Late Night" with some guy called David Letterman.  I was too young back in the 80's to understand his comedy.  I was a straight laced kid who liked the order and pacing of Carson, and then on came Letterman with his oddball comedy, stupid pet tricks and plus, he was in New York (which back then I abhorred because of the dark images of the city streets they would run in and out of commercial, the New York Jets, and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man).  The only thing I liked about New York was the Yankees.  But who knew that years later when I was in college seminary, on a one inch Sony Watchman, a gap toothed loon from Indiana would make me love the greatest on earth and would help me get through seminary.  I've always told people that I really didn't become a teenager until I entered seminary.  I really didn't rebel against anything until I was further into seminary, and when I was a 21 year old senior, I began to relate to the rebel of late night comedy.  I loved watching things being thrown from the roof of the Ed Sullivan theater unto 53rd street.  I loved watching him turn New York into one of the characters of his show.  I loved watching him eschew the ridiculous side of politics and celebrity.  But on one April night in 1997 when I needed something to smile about, I laughed till my sides hurt (quite literally) when Dave tried to stuff guys dressed as bunnies into a New York City H&R Block.  This was genius!
He would try thing again some years later during the Spiderman craze when he would try to stuff as many Spidermans as he could into a Jamba Juice.  I laughed even harder.
I still remember lying in bed in an almost fetal position because I literally could not stop laughing.  (Incidentally, I showed this clip to my 8th grade students the other day and to my surprise they laughed almost as hard as I did.  Comedy is comedy after all, and what's more, they pulled this trick on our IT director when they played "How many 8th graders can we stuff into the IT director's office?" I was so proud.)

My favorite Letterman tradition was his Christmas episode which was the last episode taped before he went on Christmas vacation.  Since 1998, the episode had the same format: random movie star, Jay Thomas, and music from Darlene Love.  Jay Thomas would come on to tell what Letterman calls "the greatest talk show story ever" or quite simply "The Lone Ranger Story".  It is epic.  Then after the story is told, both Letterman and Thomas would proceed to hurl footballs at the Late Show Christmas Tree which was adorned at the top with a model of the Empire State Building holding up a gigantic meatball. Whoever knocked off the meatball with a football won.  And the Christmas show would always close with Darlene Love belting out "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" year after year.
David Letterman was also the only celebrity I have written a fan letter too.  Well, if you could call it that.  While I was on pastoral year in 2000, Dave had quintuple bypass surgery.  Questions swirled about whether or not he would return.  On the old AOL, there was a button that would send Dave get well wishes, and I remember writing, "Praying for you, Dave.  Please get well soon.  God bless you, Manny Alvarez."  Of course he would come back, and with a haircut!, and proceeded to make the subsequent 2000 Election funnier than it was.

Soon after that election came what for me was Dave's finest hour and one of the greatest moments in television history.  On September 18, 2001, when we were all reeling from the attack of 9/11, I sat in my room and watched as Letterman became the first late night comic to come back to work.  What all of us saw was a reflection of ourselves: a shaken man, a shaken American who hadn't quite come to grips with what we experienced.  At that point, which one of us had?  So he opened his show without fanfare or grand introductions, a waving American flag opened the program and then the camera panned to Dave sitting at his desk, not standing on the stage like he would for his monologue, and he did what most of us wanted to do and needed to do, he vented.  And in doing so, slowly helped us start to laugh again:
Of course, like all of us, Letterman was a flawed man, and his scandals of 6 years ago almost derailed him.  But he pressed on.  I don't think he was quite the same after 9/11.  After I was ordained a priest, I saw less and less of him.  He seemed to be going through the motions.  Fewer groundbreaking stunts.  No more stuffing animals or superheroes into New York establishments.  Dave also began to get a little too political, and even more cynical than he already was.  The joy, the zaniness, the unpredictability just wasn't there.  When I was transferred to Parkland in 2009 and found I had time on my hands after prayer at 11:30p, I did the unthinkable and started watching (gulp!) Leno.  This only lasted five months thankfully, but at that time his monologues were frankly better than Dave's.

So with the advent of Netflix and Youtube and reading or praying, I stopped going to sleep watching Dave.  Then in April 2014, 17 years after he sent bunnies into an H&R Block, Mr. Letterman announced he was retiring this year.  I thought back to all those moments mentioned above, and a year later, last month to be precise, when I took a week off after Easter, I began watching the last episodes of the Late Show with David Letterman.  I have not missed an episode in the last month.  The joy was back.  The tributes and flashbacks were incredible.  The music sublime.  And the celebrity interviews, with his favorite guests of course, were funnier than ever and a bit touching as each came by to say goodbye.  I would always tune in when Julia Roberts came on because the two of them had remarkable chemistry for two so incredible different people and in her last appearance a week ago, she articulated perfectly Dave's approach to guests who are "celebrities" without really accomplishing much (see: Hiltons, Kardashians, Beiber, etc.).  She was worried about her first appearance in 1989 because as she told Dave, "stupid people annoy you."  For evidence just watch his infamous interview with a bearded Joaquin Phoenix.  Yes, the joy was back the last two months and each night at 11:30p, it was just like I was back in seminary (except with a bigger TV) and I was back to watching Dave making me laugh.

I could go on and on (and seeing my word count, I have), but this much is true, David Letterman (and a lot of prayer of course) helped me get through those long seminary days when things were rough and when I really needed a good laugh before falling asleep. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and during a infamous seminary sketch show back in 1998, we put on a "Late Show" and yes, I was lucky enough to play Dave with a Taco Bell bit and Top Ten List. All I needed was gap teeth and a "bad toupee".  I discovered that night amidst all those laughs of how important it was to bring joy to others when preaching the gospel.  It is important to laugh. And it is important to laugh at yourself, and I guess I have Dave to thank for that for that.  Now that will be gone when the big man signs off at 12:37am tonight.  Flaws and all, I have them too, thank you David Letterman for allowing me to laugh and for making it just a bit easier getting though seminary so that I can stand in front of my own audience to do what I do best: preach the gospel (and sometimes get a laugh or two.)  #ThanksDave

(One last thing: I traveled to New York City for the first time in 2003 and walked by the Ed Sullivan Theater with my parents right as they were letting people in for a taping of that night's show.  I took a picture under the marquee and then a Late Show employee approached me and asked if I wanted to go in because they had one spot left in the audience.  I politely declined as to not leave my parents on their own in New York City.  Wait?  I did what?  Who was I kidding?  They weren't my kids!  They were my parents!  I regret very few things in life.  Declining a ticket to see The Late Show with David Letterman is one of them.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What Do We Do Now?

“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:10-11)

What an amazing two weeks we’ve had here in our parish!  Since the beginning of the month, we’ve had First Communions, a magnificent concert, a myriad of school events, a Confirmation Retreat, and of course the ordinations and First Mass last week.  Everyone around here from the pastor on down has been running at 100 mph moving from one thing to the next.  Then yesterday afternoon after 2 First Communion Masses and a wedding, at least for me, everything stopped.  I didn’t have any evening Masses.  I had nothing on my schedule.  I was in my residence and thought, “well what do I do now?”  So I went over to the chapel and started praying about today’s feast of the Ascension and thinking about the apostles.  They spent three years with Jesus.  Then they spent 40 days with the Risen Lord listening to him, starting to understand the things he taught and the things he did.  He was always with them and then after three years and 40 days, he went back to the Father.  They kept looking towards the sky but he wasn’t there.  The earthly ministry of Jesus, the going from town to town with him, the feasts with him, all the things they did with him were now over.  What now? 

What I did last night is sort of what the apostles did after the Ascension.  They went back to the Upper Room to pray.  The same place where Jesus gave them his Body and Blood, washed their feet, and appeared to them on Easter.   The two verses that immediately follow today’s first reading say: “When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:13-14).”  They were waiting and praying for coming the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate next week on Pentecost Sunday.

So what does this mean for all of us?  I know many of you are listening to me (or reading this) and thinking, “Father, I don’t have free time with my job and children. I don’t remember the last time I found myself with nothing to do and asking myself `what now?’”  That’s a fair question, but Jesus lays out the challenge of today’s feast for us in the gospel when he instructs the disciples to go preach the gospel.  We may not have free time with nothing to do, but we always have time to live out the gospel and to preach it through our words and actions.  We may be living a hectic life, but we still need to make time to slow down to catch our breath and reconnect ourselves with our Lord in prayer.  You see, this time that the disciples had between Ascension and Pentecost was a blessed time in which they were together with our Blessed Mother in prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit because after Pentecost…BANG! they went, Sprit-driven, to do what Jesus commanded which was to preach the gospel to every creature.  Jesus was no longer physically with them, but he promised the presence of the Spirit.  So I invite you over the next week, to slow down at some point, and pray for the coming of the Spirit just as the apostles and Mary did in that Upper Room.  Pray that the Spirit may enlighten you and show you clearly what the will of God is in your life.  It’s ok to look up in the sky every now and then to recognize that God is up there looking down at us, but eventually, like the apostles, we have to stop gazing at the clouds and realize that we got a whole world to evangelize.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Laying Down Your Life: The Homily of the First Mass of Father Michael Garcia

(This weekend I was honored to preach at the first Mass of a young man who was ordained on Saturday.  This is a singular honor.  This homily was preached at the First Mass of Father Michael Garcia...oh, and Happy Mother's Day!)

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Two weeks ago, our Holy Father Pope Francis ordained 19 men to the priesthood at St. Peter’s Basilica.  As he began his homily, he looked out at these men and in an uncharacteristically soft voice said: “These our sons have been called to the dignity of the priesthood.”  Today we gather in this beautiful church of St. Agatha because this morning one of her sons was ordained and elevated to the dignity of the priesthood.  Father Michael did not seek this honor by himself, for the Lord reminds us in today’s gospel: “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”  From this parish, from one of our beloved families, this son of ours was called by Christ the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for his friends.  He was called because Christ in his loving kindness listened to your prayers.  This parish has always prayed fervently for vocations especially under the leadership of one of Father Marco’s predecessors, Bishop Felipe Estevez.  Fifteen years ago, I came to this parish as a seminarian and met the Garcia family.  Father Estevez had a great love for them because this family lived that love that Jesus describes in the gospel.  Deacon Carlos led our Post-Confirmation youth group who did so many great things for this community, and it is there that I met an 11 year old Michael: quiet, reserved, faithful to his service at the altar and to his prayers.  He was too young to join the vocation prayer groups that Father Estevez would convene.  These groups yielded many religious vocations.  Not coincidentally, but providentially, during that time, this parish began Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  It was Father Estevez’s fervent belief that a parish dedicated to adoration of the Lord would yield vocations, as Jesus tells us “so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”  Our God listened to our prayers and the future bishop’s hopes have been realized because today the garden of prayer that he planted has yielded the great fruit of a priest.

Allow me if you will, to draw a parallel between an experience I had during my pastoral year here and an experience that I had with Father Michael when he was doing his pastoral year in St. Gregory’s.  Father Estevez would always instill in us the vital importance of spending time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament even if that meant carving out a portion of your daily schedule to do this.  Regularly you would find him around 3pm deep in prayer in the chapel.  Back at the priest’s house, Father Estevez and I would regularly meet late at night after a long day’s work in the chapel.  No words were exchanged, but the bonds of priestly fraternity were strengthened there before the Blessed Sacrament.  Three years ago, Michael was assigned to me at St. Gregory’s where we also had a chapel in our residence.  One evening after some event, I was sitting in the chapel reciting my night prayers when Michael walked in to do the same.  I forget how much time went by, but again not a word was spoken.  We walked out of the chapel at different times, and later that evening Michael texted me to say how great it was to pray together as brothers in Christ.  He felt what I felt with Father Estevez all those years ago.  Our ministry, our priestly fraternity that you experienced this morning when your brother priests offered you the kiss of peace, our brotherhood is strengthened when you spend time on your knees before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Wear out you shoes by kneeling in prayer.  My father is probably as demanding as your father, and for as long as I can remember he has always needled me about how worn out the tips of my shoes are.  It wasn’t until recently that he noticed an old religious priest whose shoes looked similar to mine.  He pointed this out to this old, wise priest and the priest responded, “this is a sign that your son spends time in prayer.”  Be faithful to your prayers, be faithful to the Divine Office, be faithful to the prayers you offer at Mass, but be faithful to your personal time with Jesus.  Without this, a priest cannot succeed much less be holy which is what the people you were ordained to serve deserve.  Like Bishop Estevez, never be ashamed to let your people see you in prayer because the people of God want their priests to have their time alone with Christ the Good Shepherd.  Pope Benedict XVI, who I know is a spiritual hero to Father Michael, once said:  “So I would urge you sincerely to regard this as the fundamental task [of your priestly life]: to be with him, to learn to keep your gaze on him, to practice listening to him, and to get to know the Lord more and in prayer and in the patient reading of Holy Scripture.”

This morning was filled with emotion for all of us who have seen you grow up.  The Ordination Rite is ripe with symbols, but I want to focus on one aspect which ties into today’s gospel of laying down your life for your friends.  We saw this tangibly when you prostrated yourself along with your brothers on the marble floor of the cathedral, but the sign I want to focus on is the anointing of your hands and your reception of the chalice.  You were anointed for God’s people just as Aaron was anointed and as Pope Francis points out, the people long to be anointed as you were and when you can’t give it to them they will take from you the very last drop.  But going back to Pope Benedict, this moment of the Ordination Rite of anointing has always moved him.  Back when he was ordained, the new priest’s hands were bound after they were anointed and they received the chalice with the hands still bound.  The Pope Emeritus recalls:  “The chalice—that recalled to mind Jesus’s question to the brothers James and John: `Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?’ (Mk 10:38).  The Eucharistic chalice, core of the priestly life always recalls this saying.  And then the hands bound together, anointed with the Messianic ointment of the chrism…The hands bound together are an expression of powerlessness, of the renunciation of power.  They are placed in his hands; they are placed on the chalice.  One could say that this shows simply that the Eucharist is the core of the priestly life.  But the Eucharist is more than a rite, than liturgy.  It is a form of life.  The hands are bound together; I no longer belong to myself.  I belong to him and through him to others.”

There is no greater love.  You have laid down your life for your friends just as our Lord did.  You no longer belong to yourself, to your family, or even to this parish.  You now belong to him and through him to all the people you will serve in St. Louis and beyond.  To all the lives you will touch.  To all the mouths you will feed from this altar.  To all the souls you will absolve.  To all the sick you will anoint.  You belong to Christ and to them.  There is no greater love than what we witnessed this morning and what we are about to witness in a few moments when Father Michael acting in person Christi capitis will offer up the Divine Sacrifice for the very first time and in so doing, as you will do every time you offer this sacrifice: with Christ, you offer up your very self just as the Lord did on Calvary.  Live the life of Christ always recalling the words you heard when you received the chalice this morning:
Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God,
understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate,
and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lessons From First Communion

(Didn't preach this Sunday, but this gospel and this homily that I preached three years ago were as if I had preached it this morning.  Enjoy!)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  (John 5:15)

Yesterday was First Communion Day here at the parish.  The kids were so excited to receive Jesus for the very first time in the Eucharist.  They came all decked out in white with hoards of family in tow.  This occasion prompted me to recall my own First Communion back in the spring of 1984 at Divine Providence Church in Sweetwater.  I was so excited that morning.  When I was younger I would go up with my parents in the communion procession and would always ask them when I could receive.  Well, it was finally time and I couldn’t contain my excitement except that during the reading of the gospel I started to sway back and forth and began to get very light headed.  I made a beeline to my parents who along with my catechist took my into the sacristy where they discovered that the reason I was dizzy was because I did not have breakfast that morning.  They gave me a cup of water and sent me right out where I paid close attention to the Mass.  Even at that young age, I knew that when we started to say the Our Father that Communion time was drawing near and that the Kiss of Peace brought us even closer!  I received my First Communion with great joy and then went back to my seat to give thanks to the Lord for finally allowing me to receive him.   It was a great day!  My entire family was there and do you know what we did after the Mass to celebrate:  we went to McDonald’s!  Because, really?  What else does a kid want?  Yesterday, I heard about people having communion parties at Morton’s and The Capital Grille.  Sometimes I wonder if the parties are more for the adults than for the honored children, but I digress.  I was happy with my Egg McMuffin (still love those!) and our weekly trip to the Keys right after.  Life was simpler back then as were our First Communions and our simple and innocent relationship with God when we made the time to thank him for his loving presence.

As I was watching the children receive the Lord yesterday, they all went back to their pews and knelt down in intense prayer.  They were taught, as we were, to say a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus right after receiving communion.  Unfortunately as we grow older, our minds start to wander, we get distracted easier, and the private prayer of thanksgiving after communion becomes an afterthought that is often said in the parking lot, if at all. We have much to learn from the children.  Think back today to your own First Communion and how excited you were to finally being one with Jesus. That’s what today’s gospel is all about:  “Remain in me as I remain in you.”  Jesus makes his dwelling in us, but so often we don’t give him the time befitting our Lord to savor and thank him for his presence.  In order to be good Christians, we must be rooted in Christ.  That is why this metaphor of the vine is so appropriate.  We are united to him in this Eucharist and if we remain in him we produce much fruit.  If we cut ourselves off from the vine and from this blessed communion that we partake in too soon, our Lord’s words are very blunt:  “Without me you can do nothing.”  That is why it pains me to see people walking out of Mass as early as the Kiss of Peace or right after they have received Communion.  Is what is waiting for us out there more important than what we are doing in here? (Sick relatives and rare emergencies excluded of course.)  We have unfortunately brought our “drive thru” culture into this sacred space.  We don’t make time to bask in the presence of the Lord after we receive him.  We don’t make the time to strengthen that bond between the Lord and us.  How can we possibly produce fruit if the branches are so quick to detach themselves from the vine? Yesterday, I read a quote from St. Maximilian Kolbe who said, “The culmination of the Mass is not the consecration, but Communion.”  This is what we came for.  This is WHO we came for.  Yes, we have a lot to learn from our children who were so intense in their post communion prayers.  They knew that they were at last one with Jesus.  May we recover that sense of wonder and awe that these children have when they approach the altar of the Lord.  It is here where we unite ourselves more closely to Christ where we remain in him as he remains in us.  We need this bond to produce the fruit that he expects from us.  We need this nourishment because without him we can do nothing.