21st Sunday Year B – Choose to Believe

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“Without Sunday we cannot Live”

“Without Sunday we cannot live – because we cannot live without Jesus – we cannot live without the cross”

These last few weeks we have meditated on the Holy Eucharist.  We have said that it is a true encounter with Jesus Christ who wishes to transform us into himself.   The Mass is also a sharing in the sacrifice of Jesus – we offer ourselves to God together with the Body and blood of Jesus.   I hope that you find these truths beautiful and inspiring.   But for many Catholics they may seem abstract and have little connection with our experience of the Holy Mass.   When we come to mass we certainly don’t see Jesus with our eyes and ears.   We don’t experience many dramatic conversions or transformations.   The Church tells us that Mass is an awesome reality– but many people will tell us the Mass is boring.

Certainly the music, the quality of the preaching, the clarity and conviction of the readers all these things may help to improve our experience of the Mass.   But in the end – the essence of the Mass – a meeting with Jesus and a sharing in his sacrifice on the cross – these things cannot be experienced directly.  They are mysteries.  They are hidden.   In order to truly experience the fullness of the Mass one must have faith – to believe that what is going on is more than our eyes can see or our minds comprehend.   Without faith the Mass makes no sense.

This is the challenge that Jesus own contemporaries faced when they heard his teaching on the Holy Eucharist.   They say in our Gospel today “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”    They find it hard to accept.  And ultimately many of them choose not to accept it.  They chose not to follow Jesus any more.  Jesus asks Peter “will you also leave me?”    Peter responds with faith:   “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”

We too face the same dilemma as Peter and the others who heard Jesus words – do I believe or not? Is it really Jesus who I receive in Holy Communion?  If the answer is ‘Yes” than the Holy Mass is the most exciting thing we could ever be part of.  If the answer is “no” the mass is an irrelevant and tedious ritual.

The evangelical churches have a custom called an altar call.  After the Sermon, the preacher will invite forward to the altar those who wish to give their lives to Jesus.   After a brief pause, some courageous soul will come forward – everyone starts to clap, to praise the Lord, some will cry, they will extend their hands and pray for the person.  It is a very intense and emotional experience, which leaves a mark on a person’s psyche – this was the day I choose to follow Jesus, this was the day I gave him my life.   A Catholic once asked me why we didn’t do the same thing – that after a good Homily why don’t we invite people forward to show their desire to follow Jesus and change their lives.

As Catholics we do have an altar call – it is called Holy Communion.  It is perhaps not as dramatic as the Protestant altar call – but it is even more powerful.   When we come to receive Holy Communion we reply “AMEN”   This word in Hebrew signifies “I believe”  – “I believe that this truly is the Body of Christ”   “I entrust myself to the Lord. I want to follow him”   Our altar call is not something that we do once or twice in a lifetime, but every week, because every week we must renew our decision to follow Jesus.   We must deepen our commitment to follow him.  There is a great temptation for Communion to become something routine.  It is good for us to consider the meaning of this Amen to say it with sincerity and faith.  “To whom else shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”

The Mass is the greatest thing we can do.   It is an encounter with our Lord and God – Jesus Christ.  It is a sharing in the epic drama of salvation – Jesus’ death and resurrection.  To experience the full fruits of the Mass, one must have faith.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit – but it is also a choice.  We must decide whether we will believe Jesus’ words or not.  We repeat this decision every Sunday when we come to Holy Communion.   As we say Amen we profess like St. Peter “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”