Homilies for August 2018

The Assumption of the Blessed Mother by Titian

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—August 5, 2018  
Readings:  Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080518.cfm  

This week we find ourselves continuing our journey through John chapter six. You may recall that in last week’s Gospel, we read the very beginning of John six and the miracle of the loaves and fish. Here we saw a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. And you may also recall that at the end of last week’s Gospel, Jesus was aware that the people were going to carry him off and make him king, so he left to be alone on the mountain.

Today’s Gospel begins with the people realizing that Jesus has left, and they are determined to find him. And so they get into boats and follow him to Capernaum. Once they arrive there, they ask a relatively simple question of him: “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus could simply answer their question, but he doesn’t. Instead, he cuts to the chase and calls them out. He tells them that they have come back to him not because of the signs—John’s term for miracles—but rather because they are hungry and they want more food. And here is where Jesus begins a rather stunning discussion that will be the cause of great debate among the people who came to see him that day, and will in turn be the cause of great debate among the people of our time as well.

Jesus tells them that they should work for food that endures for eternal life. And so we must ask ourselves—as no doubt the people in today’s Gospel asked themselves—what is this food that endures for eternal life? But before they can ask him this, he answers it for them: this food is food that the Son of Man will give them. It’s not food that he’s already given them, like the loaves and fish that they just had the day before. No, it is food that he will give them at a later time.

After this he tells them that in order to accomplish the works of God, they must believe in the one he sent. And how true this is. Jesus is about to reveal something to them that could never be understood if not seen through the eyes of faith. He is going to tell them about the Eucharist. Even today we cannot fully comprehend the meaning of the Eucharist if not through the eyes of faith.

The people then ask him for a sign so that they can believe. But didn’t they just get a sign in the miracle of the fish and loaves? Was that not enough of a sign for them? Truth be told, many of us fall into the same way of thinking when we try to hold God accountable to give us something we want while at the same time conveniently forgetting about all that he has already given us.

They mention to Jesus the manna in the desert, the bread from heaven that was given to their ancestors. In fact, we read about the giving of the manna in our First Reading from Exodus. This bread from heaven, it seems, was indeed a sign that they could believe in.

And this is where the great discourse of the bread of life begins, and the point where Jesus begins to reveal to the people the wonder of the Eucharist. He tells them quite plainly: he, Jesus Christ, is the bread of life.

This would have been nonsensical to anyone who heard it and did not have faith. In fact, it turns out that it was very hard for many of his own disciples to accept even though they did have faith. We will hear more about that in the weeks to come. But is it any different for us today? Just look at how many Catholics fail to believe in the real presence. It cannot be fully explained or rationalized; it must be accepted in faith. Faith first in Jesus himself, who is the Son of God, and faith next in that he gave us the Eucharist, explained that it is his body and blood, and asked that we repeat what he did in memory of him. And repeat it we have, for some 2,000 years now.

Could it be a coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means, “House of Bread”? Of course, it is not a coincidence. Jesus was from the House of Bread and he is in fact the bread of life.

And he is just warming up. Next week and in the weeks that follow, as we continue in John six, Jesus will tell them again that he is the bread of life and that those who eat this bread will live forever. He will be graphic in his words, and there will be controversy. Many will leave him.

I don’t think that we will ever fully understand why Jesus chose to share himself with us as he does in the Eucharist. At least not while we live on this side of heaven. But I do know that the early Church Fathers were 100% united in their stance that the Eucharist is in fact the body and blood of Christ, and we do well to listen to them.

Do you believe that Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven? Do you believe in his real presence in the Eucharist?

This is indeed a difficult teaching, and it can only be comprehended if we are willing to first put our faith in the one that God sent. We need not look for signs like the people in today’s Gospel. We already have tremendous signs of his divinity. It’s not proof that is needed, but faith.

In the words of Elton Trueblood, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” This is the level of faith that is needed to begin to comprehend the depth and breadth of the Eucharist. Pray for this faith as you contemplate today’s Gospel and prepare for the continuing of the message in the weeks ahead.

Possible Point to Emphasize: To begin to comprehend the Eucharist, we must first believe in him who God sent.

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—August 12, 2018
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 4:30—5:2;  Jn 6:41-51.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081218.cfm

Today, we continue our journey through John, chapter six, taking off from where we finished last week. In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus telling the crowd that they must have faith in the one whom the Father has sent, as he was preparing them for something that would be very hard for them to accept. And then he told them that he—he himself—was the bread of life.

The people with him at that point most likely had no idea what he was talking about. How could this possibly make sense?

And this is where we pick up in today’s Gospel. The people are confused. They do not understand what he means when he says that he is bread, nor do they understand how he can say that he came down from heaven when many of the people there knew his parents.

It is quite understandable that they would be confused. They are hearing this rather bizarre dialogue for the first time. When we read it today, we can understand it in light of the Eucharist. But the Eucharist was given to us at the last supper, and this has not yet occurred at the time of this Gospel passage. So one can only assume that the people present were at best confused, and it is possible that some even considered Jesus to be “a few cards short of a full deck”.

Jesus begins by addressing the question of his coming from heaven. He makes statements to the people that speak to his divinity. He tells them that he, Jesus, will raise up believers on the last day. He tells them that he has seen God the Father. And he tells them that they who believe in him will have eternal life.

This is quite a series of statements. To those who did not believe in his divinity, it would have been considered blasphemy. He was equating himself with God the Father.

Had he stopped here, there would have been ample room for people to argue with him. But he goes on to say things that may well have been considered even more difficult to accept than what he has already said.

He first tells them, once again, that he is the “bread of life,” and that whoever eats this bread will live forever. And again there would have been confusion over what he means by calling himself “bread”. But then he makes a statement that amplifies the confusion:

“…and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

He is going to give his very flesh as bread? How can this be? Some would have considered it cannibalism—and, in fact, in the years to come, there would be accusations of cannibalism leveled against Christians. Some would have considered it disgusting. And some would have simply been confused.

Immediately after Jesus says this, there is arguing and quarreling about what he means. We’ll hear more about this at the very beginning of next week’s Gospel. But the Church leaves us here this week, and I am certain that there is wisdom in doing so. You see, this causes us, who read it today, to stop and contemplate our reaction to what has been said to this point.

How would you have reacted if you were present when Jesus made these statements 2,000 years ago, prior to an appreciation for the Eucharist? Would you have believed him, or quarreled with him? Would you have followed him, or rejected him?

Perhaps, a more significant question is the reality of our faith in the present: how do you today react to the statements that Jesus made, now that you have the benefit of understanding the last supper, the gift of the Eucharist, and the Mass? Do you believe that the Eucharist is, in fact, his flesh for the life of the world?

Surveys of Catholics tell us that somewhere around 50%—70% of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

And yet, the belief in the real presence is something that was universally accepted by the early Church, by those who walked with, and knew, Jesus personally, or who walked with, and knew others who knew Jesus personally.

The real presence in the Eucharist is a mystery. We can try to explain it through various theological and philosophical constructs, but in the end, we must realize that a mystery can never be fully understood. It is only by faith that we come to understand the real presence in the Eucharist, and oddly enough, it is only through the nourishment of the Eucharist that we come to the fullness of faith.

If, and only if, we are willing to put our faith in him whom God sent, then will we be able to put faith in what he said and did. You simply cannot have the one without the other. This is true when we contemplate the necessity of the cross, the Trinity, and so many other of the great mysteries of God, including the Eucharist.

Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation. Do you seek proof? Do you refuse to believe what you cannot fully explain? So many of us do. We are taught from the time we are young that we cannot be naïve if we are to grow up and be successful. But when it comes to the great mysteries of God, we must accept the fact that we are not capable of understanding, and that we must walk by faith, almost like a little child. Remember the words that Jesus said in Matthew chapter 18:

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We must never let our faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist rely on our ability to understand it, or explain it. We must trust in him whom God has sent, and in all that he tells us.

Possible Point to Emphasize: To believe that the bread he will give is his flesh for the life of the world requires us to walk by faith.

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Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—August 15, 2018
Readings:  Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081518-day-mass.cfm

In my day job, I work as an engineer for General Motors. Between my time spent in engineering schools, and my time spent in the working world, I have repeatedly been taught about the value of structured thought, the need for proof, and the value of creating a watertight argument for whatever point it is that I am trying to get across to my audience.

And so I have found that there is great comfort in data. I can stand behind data, and point to it as proof of my recommendation. I don’t necessarily even have to come with an opinion, or a desired outcome; I only need to let the data tell the story, and point to its own conclusion. As we say in engineering: In God we trust; all others bring data.

But then there is the other part of my life which is my ministry as a deacon. My! How different this is from my day job! The tremendous value placed on data at work is often not mirrored in the Church, where we seek instead to first be merciful, loving, kind, and forgiving. And this, in the bigger picture of life, is much more valuable and meaningful than data. In the working world, we seek to be exact; in the Church we sometimes speak in philosophical terms, or theological frameworks, which don’t lend themselves to pointing out solutions. I frequently find myself struggling to make the mental switch between the two, as I move from one role to the next.

And so it is that my two, sometimes conflicting, modes of operation approach the great Solemnity of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother. This Solemnity, while beautiful and true, is one that provides for difficult discussions, with some of our brother and sister Christians, who tend more toward Sola Scriptura, or the Bible alone.

“Show me where the Assumption of Mary is found in the Bible!” they will say, looking for data. And we must be fair in saying that the Assumption of Mary is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, though there are implicit references to be sure, as Mr. Tim Staples so eloquently points out in his book, Behold your Mother. In fact, one of those implicit references is today’s First Reading from Revelation 12.

The Feast of the Assumption was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the bull, Munificentissimus Deus (“Most Bountiful God”). Here he tells us:

The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. [Munificentissimus Deus 44]

This was an “ex cathedra” statement, that is, one that is delivered “from the chair” of Peter, by the Vicar of Christ.

But it was not simply the opinion of Pope Pius XII; no, far from it. This was, in fact, a long-standing tradition of the Church that we can trace back for many years.

St. Pope John Paul II in his General Audience of July 2, 1997, reminded us of this:

The first trace of belief in the Virgin’s Assumption can be found in the apocryphal accounts entitled Transitus Mariae (“The Crossing Over of Mary”), whose origin dates to the second and third centuries.

Indeed, the belief in the Assumption of our Blessed Mother was almost universally held by the bishops of Pius XII’s time. In May of 1946, with the Encyclical, Deiparae Virginis Mariae, Pope Pius XII asked the bishops about the possibility of defining the bodily assumption of Mary as a dogma of the faith. The result: only six responses out of 1,181 showed any reservations about the revealed character of this truth.

So where is the explicit Biblical data to support the Assumption of Mary? The answer is that we as Catholics are blessed to have more than the Bible alone as the source of our faith. Our faith is situated atop a three legged stool, with the three legs being, of course, the Bible, and also our Tradition, and our Magisterium. This has been the case since the days when Christ first ascended into heaven and left not a book, but a Church, to go and preach to all the nations.

And so the Assumption of Mary is something which—although it is implicitly pointed to in the Bible—requires a certain degree of faith in the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church which Jesus formed in order to fully embrace it.

I find it particularly appropriate that this great Solemnity falls in the middle of a series of Sunday Gospel passages from John chapter six, where we hear about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is one of the greatest gifts of all time, left to us by our Savior, to be done in memory of Him. Yet, it is met with opposition from those who simply cannot accept in faith that it is truly, and literally, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.

So too the Assumption. There are some who would disagree with our dogmatic belief in it, but an appreciation of the three legged stool which is our faith leads to concrete proof of its truth.

I suppose that, given this understanding, even an engineer like me has data in support of the Assumption of Mary. Perhaps in the Feast of the Assumption, my two, sometimes conflicting, modes of operation are, in fact, not conflicted at all. I just need to realize that data is not explicitly found in the Bible alone; it is found in the three legged stool of our faith.

Possible Point to Emphasize: The Assumption of Mary is a long-held belief of the Church which was formalized by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950.

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time—August 19, 2018
Readings: Prv 9:1-6;Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Eph 5:15-20;  Jn 6:51-58.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081918.cfm

Today’s Gospel passage marks the fourth consecutive week that we’ve been marching through John, chapter six, and we’ll continue on in John, chapter six, next Sunday as well. John, chapter six, is profoundly significant in the Church’s understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

In the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”

Exactly how this occurs is a mystery, but when we study John, chapter six, combined with the Biblical accounts of the Last Supper, it is quite clear that Jesus intended it this way. And because we are the Church that he formed, we have always followed his teaching, and we always will.

The Real Presence in the Eucharist is one of the most critical and fundamental beliefs that we hold as Catholics. But accepting and believing it is not universal.

Clearly, there is doubt about the real presence in other Christian faiths, who will say that the Eucharist is not the real presence of Jesus Christ but rather a sign or a symbol. But what is disheartening is that surveys of Catholics tell us that at least half of all Catholics do not believe in the real presence. Now, it’s not as bad as it may sound at first. Many of those who say they don’t believe in the real presence in fact simply don’t know what we teach about it. But there are some who truly do understand what we teach and yet refuse to believe it. And this, my friends, is troubling.

In John chapter six, we find Jesus repeatedly standing his ground despite opposition from those around him when he states that we must eat his flesh and drink is blood. The people continue to argue that he can’t be serious, but with each escalation in the argument Jesus escalates his response. If you were to take time to look at the original Greek of John six you would see that the words that Jesus uses for “eat” continue to become more aggressive, moving from “eat” to words like “gnaw” and “munch.” Jesus was not playing around; he was quite literal.

This would have been controversial, to say the least, but at the last supper he continues the dialogue from John six when he tells his disciples to take the bread and eat it, for this is his body, and to take the wine and drink it, for this is his blood.

So in John chapter six Jesus gives us the “what” – we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. And in the Last Supper he gives us the “how” – we must eat the bread and drink the wine that is consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer. In so doing, we literally eat his flesh and drink his blood through the real presence.

And then he tells them to continue to do it in memory of him, and we as a Church have continued to do so for the past 2,000 years.

Now, I could go on defending our belief in the real presence, but instead I ask you to consider the following.

In the 700’s, a priest in Lanciano, Italy was celebrating Mass. Sadly, this priest doubted the real presence in the Eucharist.

But on this day, when he pronounced the words of consecration, the host was miraculously changed into flesh, and the wine into blood. It was a Eucharistic miracle. Those who witnessed the miracle spread the news throughout the surrounding area.

The archbishop ordered that the flesh and blood be placed in a special ivory reliquary, but they were not hermetically sealed. Church authorities certified the miracle.

Now you may be thinking: that’s a nice story, but it could just be legend. There are many such stories of Eucharistic miracles which have happened that we cannot substantiate. But for this one, there is more. So let’s continue the story.

In 1713, the flesh was moved to a monstrance and the blood to a crystal chalice. So what, you say? Well, we must realize that the flesh and blood were now 1,000 years old, and despite being exposed to the air, they remained intact.

Over 250 years later in 1971, Pope Paul VI permitted a series of scientific studies on the flesh and blood, and the results of that analysis were quite stunning. The flesh had the structure of the human myocardium (tissue from the heart wall). The blood was also of human origin and was type AB. As an interesting point of reference, the blood on the Shroud of Turin is also type AB.

Proteins in the clotted Blood displayed the characteristics of fresh human blood. Given that these samples were free of preservatives and originally not hermetically sealed, they should have deteriorated in days or weeks. However, after 1,200 plus years they still appeared fresh. And do you know what’s really fascinating? To this day, if you go to Lanciano, you can still see the flesh and blood on display.

The real presence in the Eucharist is both a mystery and a gift. Some struggle to accept it. But in closing, I offer you this to reflect upon. If you wish to try to understand or somehow figure out the methods behind the real presence, you are probably wasting your time. The mysteries of God by definition are beyond our understanding. Why Jesus chose to reveal himself in bread and wine is something we may never understand this side of heaven. But if we believe that he is the Son of God, and if we believe that what he said is true, then we must take his words at face value and believe in the real presence. It is only by faith that we come to understand the real presence in the Eucharist, but it is only through the Eucharist that we come to the fullness of faith.

Possible Point to Emphasize: To grow in our faith we must continually work to improve our relationship with Christ. This is done most effectively through participation in the Eucharist.

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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time—August 26, 2018
Readings:  Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32; Jn 6:60-69.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082618.cfm

Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of John chapter six, and it begins with the following statement:

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”

In many ways, I sympathize with the feelings of these disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel. He had told them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and they were stunned. Remember that at this point in the Gospel, the Last Supper had not yet taken place. And so they had no frame of reference to understand how it was possible for them to do what he had asked.

I can almost picture them imagining themselves trying to take a bite out of Jesus’ arm, and being repulsed by the thought. Jesus had asked something of them that they simply could not understand or relate to. And so what happened next?

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Looking back on this today, we can clearly see the mistake being made here. They should have trusted Jesus, and not left. Those who stayed were ultimately rewarded. But Jesus was saying things that didn’t make sense to them, and their faith in him was not yet strong enough to overcome their doubts.

Even the 12, some of those who ultimately did stay with him, didn’t offer a particularly strong endorsement. They responded, “To whom shall we go?” It’s almost like saying, “Well, we really don’t have any other alternatives, so we may as well stay.”

What is interesting is how well the situation in today’s Gospel parallels our experience today in the year 2018. And the experiences of people in 1918, and 1818, and so on. The simple fact is that the words of Jesus continue to challenge every generation. They make us uncomfortable, and it requires a strong faith in him to overcome these challenges.

But here’s something that I have found to be a reliable truth in my time in ministry as a deacon: people really and truly want to be challenged. They want to know the truth, and they want to be challenged to live it out in their lives. I am firmly convinced that we are wired in such a way that the lure of sin is quite appealing, but that the appeal of truth, if lovingly explained, will ultimately be stronger than being drawn to sinfulness. And I believe that this is true because the natural law of God is written on our hearts, and that it runs deeper than our desires. It is true because we instinctively know that we are called to communion with God, and to turn away from evil. It is true because, as St. Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.

Many of the disciples who stayed with Jesus that day are legendary. They are saints. They are heroes. Their statues adorn churches around the world.

Those who left him were quickly forgotten. They could not find the faith to follow the Son of God, and they let their own pride lead them away from him. This is not to condemn them; no, what they did was in many respects understandable.

Rather, this is to point out a lesson to all of us. We, too, face the difficult decisions involved with following Jesus in faith, despite our occasional inability to make sense of what he told us to do. What sane person would embrace the fact that to follow Jesus meant that each of us must pick up our cross and carry it,  if they did not also have faith? Does this sound like an advertising slogan that will draw in the masses?

To live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ requires faith. We cannot understand the mysteries, the challenges, and the ironies of God, but we know in our heart that they are true. This is the lesson of John, chapter six, is it not? We’ve spent five consecutive weeks listening to Jesus argue about his real presence in the Eucharist, something which we cannot see, smell, taste, feel, or hear. Our senses fail us in trying to understand this great mystery. They are simply inadequate; not up to the task. And yet, we who believe know that it is true.

Yes, John, chapter six, is about the Bread of Life, and the Real Presence. But it’s more than that. It’s a playbook for living a life of faith. At the beginning of the great Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus said these words:

“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

If you believe in the one he sent, then you believe that he is the Son of God. And if you believe that he is the Son of God, then you believe that what he says comes not just from a man, but from God.

And when God says things that don’t seem logical or reasonable to us, then we are called to do two things. First, we must believe what he tells us in faith, because he is God. And second, we must look beyond our simple five senses, beyond our logic, beyond our ability to explain, and seek to see the truth through the eyes of faith. It is there that we find proof.

In faith, we come to understand the real presence. Without faith, we will fall short. In faith, we are able to live out the life of a disciple. Without it, we will never have the strength to do so.

Faith is both a gift, and a challenge. Embrace it, and it will grow; deny it, and it will fade. Are you going to be like one of the disciples who left Jesus because his teachings are hard; or, are you going to be like one of those who stayed because they had faith in him? The choice is yours to make.

Possible Point to Emphasize: One must see the mysteries of God through the eyes of faith or one will not see them at all.

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Michael Houghton About Michael Houghton

Deacon Mike Houghton was ordained a deacon in October of 2012. For the past six years he has served as deacon at St. John Vianney in Shelby Township, Michigan, a parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Deacon Mike has worked for the past 34 years for General Motors and is currently part of the Global Manufacturing Strategy and Planning Group. In addition to his diaconal studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Deacon Mike has a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Wayne State University, a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, and an MBA from Oakland University. His homilies are published weekly on his Facebook page, facebook.com/deaconmikehoughton.

Comments

  1. Father Jose Leonidas Mena says:

    Dear Deacon Mike Houghton,
    Excellent teaching!
    May the Lord bless You always.
    Amen
    Father Jose

  2. Msgr Dido Arroyo says:

    Congratulations Rev. Deacon Michael Houghton. The reflections you share are rooted on the ground and not beyond the grasp of the ordinary believer. Very down to earth. God bless you.

    Msgr Dido Arroyo
    Philippines

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