Jim Penczykowski’s Homily from the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 14, 2020

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I want to talk about viaticum today.  Roman Catholics of a certain age will nod knowingly and think of the practice of taking Holy Communion to someone near death. 

The term in ancient Rome referred to provision for a journey, literally, “with you on the way”. 

I can think of no better expression to offer anyone who is setting out on a journey, even when the destination is clear and without peril.

In our time of pandemic and societal unrest if we can sincerely say to one another, “with you on the way”, we are saying a lot.

We citizens of the USA have set out on a journey to address what is sometimes referred to as the original sin of racism.

Successful paths such as emancipation and efforts at integration and civil rights teach us that a dominant narrative does not go quietly and requires courage and persistence to change it.

We citizens of the world have set out on twin journeys to address a global pandemic and a global economic meltdown.

We humans have taken these journeys many times in the past with mixed outcomes.

Economic misery tempts us to extreme forms of selfishness, self-centeredness, envy, jealousy and covetousness.

If we give in to those temptations now, we will certainly prolong the misery and ensure class resentment and cruel conditions for the most vulnerable among us.

Where do we find the strength and the power to overcome these temptations?

We followers of Christ believe that God already overcame sin and death in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

But the temptations persist.

Pentecost Sunday two weeks ago and Trinity Sunday last week both emphasize that the salvific love of Jesus is at work as the Spirit of God dwells in and through us.

For Christian faith traditions that rely on the term sacrament to convey how the God of Jesus works in our midst in all times and places, the concrete and palpable signs are vitally important. 

The ubiquitous element of water communicates the new life in Christ Jesus.

Both the life-giving nature of water and the power of water convey the gift God offers us who believe and trust that we are heirs with Christ to all that is in God and from God.

Bread and wine convey life, and something more. 

No one needs bread and wine to subsist. 

Bread and wine communicate companionship and intimacy. 

God invites us to the Eucharistic table and desires our company.

St. Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth, today’s second reading, takes it a step further.

Paul wants us to experience one another as one body in Christ when we share in the Eucharist.

God invites us to partake in this sacrament that will draw us together. 

Yet, in the working out of this Communion Table intimacy we fail a lot and we tire easily.

For instance —

We will pray today, “May your day dawn, your will be done, here as in heaven”, but in practice we sometimes act as if we want the day to dawn only for our own benefit and the devil take the hindmost.

We will pray today, “Feed us today”, but in practice we nurture a hurt from yesterday or fret about what might befall us tomorrow, thereby blocking out the gifts offered us today.

We will pray today, “forgive us as we forgive each other”, but in practice we dole out forgiveness as if there were only one ounce of forgiveness left in the world.

Aligning our will with the will of God is the great hurdle for each us as followers and for us as communities of believers.

We must test that alignment and test with a variety of others whether what we think is the will of God really stands up to scrutiny.

Two obstacles to a truly reciprocal “communion” and table fellowship with others are fear and condescension. 

Fear lurks behind a wide variety of behavior that most of us would rather not admit to:

such as jealously guarding what we have, so as to deprive others of what would help them;

such as envy of what others have that we covet;

such as insecurity over our competence and talents that might betray us to the world;

such as people-pleasing behavior that prevents us from taking an unpopular stand.

Condescension is a slippery fish. 

Most of us recognize it in others, but rarely recognize it in ourselves. 

Those of us in positions of authority and power are frequently tempted to respond to other adults as if they were children or to respond to a request for dialogue with ready answers rather than on open mind. 

In a world where ideologies and tribes and partisans abound, we can be easily caught up in repeating our talking points to the seemingly deaf ears of others and wonder why she or he cannot admit how exquisite is our logic and our argument.

In a society where skin color and hair texture and facial contours possess symbolic power to draw some together and repel still others, we have a long way to go to overcome the twin obstacles of fear and condescension.

The “Good News”, the Gospel, for us this day is that reliance on the God of Jesus, surrendering our fear and our failings and our worldly wisdom places us at the table where all our hungers will be satisfied. 

We can hear the Spirit of Christ Jesus saying to us, “Via tecum”, Viaticum, “I am Bread for your Journey, I am with you on the way.”

Liturgically we say this is the Ordinary Time of the year.

But it is a profoundly extra-ordinary time for the human race.

We can either fold our arms tight in front of ourselves and shut out the voices that clamor for justice,

or we can open our arms and open our hands to receive one another as the true gifts that the God of Jesus wants us to embrace.

I encourage you to take this posture of open arms and hands as we pray the Jesus prayer today.

For those who choose, I have included in the written transcript of this homily an excerpt from the US Catholic Bishops’ document, We Are Salt and Light, from 2 years ago. 

It includes an examination of conscience regarding the sin of racism.  It may assist some of us in our prayer and meditation as we consume news and commentary from the world around us.

The signs of this time are asking us to wake up, to stand up and to speak up when we see racism. This is how we love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is how we act like Jesus. This is how we do justice and love goodness (Micah 6:8). This is how we make safe lodging for all.  This is how we begin the healing from racism in our land, writing a new parable of racial justice for this time. Conscience is the “core and sanctuary” within us where we are alone with God and hear his call to “love good and avoid evil” and “do this, shun that” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16).  We must examine our conscience in light of the sin of racism, asking ourselves:

  1. Have I fully loved God and fully loved my neighbor as myself?
  2. Have I caused pain to others by my actions or my words that offended my brother or my sister?
  3. Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations? Have I opened my heart to see how unequal access to economic opportunity, jobs, housing, and education on the basis of skin color, race, or ethnicity, has denied and continues to deny the equal dignity of others?
  4. Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?
  5. Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and I did or said nothing, leaving the victim to address their pain alone?
  6. Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism with me inflicting the pain, acting opposite of love of God and love of neighbor?
  7. Have I ever lifted up and aided a person who “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and paid a price for extending mercy to the other? How did I react? Did my faith grow? Am I willing to grow even more in faith through my actions?

We must recognize that racism manifests in our own individual thoughts, attitudes, actions, and inactions. It also manifests in social structures and unjust systems the perpetuate centuries of racial injustice. We must examine our individual actions and our participation in unjust structures, seek forgiveness and move towards reconciliation. We must pray together for the will and the strength to help contribute to the healing of racism in my time:

God of Heaven and Earth, you created the one human family and endowed each person with great dignity.

Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism. Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight from our hearts, our communities, our social and civil institutions.

Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor so that we may work with you in healing our land from racial injustice. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We have prayed and now, with changed hearts, let us move our feet to action.

[USCCB, We Are Salt and Light, 3/17/2018]

GENERAL INTERCESSIONS

We thank you for your creation, and pray for the earth which you have given us to cherish and protect; nourish in us your love for all you have made.

We are your stewards, O God. Guide us in your grace.  We pray …

Guide and bless us in our work and play, and shape the patterns of our political and economic life; for the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, and all who are in authority; for the people of the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and all affected by the coronavirus; that all people may be fulfilled through the bounty of your creation.

We are your servants, O God. Guide us in your grace.  We pray …

Awaken our hearts to your presence in all people: those we love easily and those with whom we struggle, those different from us and those similar to us, those familiar to us and those unfamiliar to us.

We are made in your image, O God. Guide us in your grace.  We pray …

We thank you for calling us to the glorious heritage of your holy people. Free us from lack of vision, and from inertia of will and spirit. By your life-giving Spirit, lead us out of isolation and oppression, redeem and restore us.

You are the life within us, O God. Guide us in your grace.  We pray …

We thank you for the gift of life, with all its blessings and sorrows. Shield the joyous, especially those who are celebrating a birthday this week; and for those celebrating an anniversary this week. Comfort and strengthen those in any need or trouble, especially those who are sick and who are shut-in. Bless those who will be born today. Bless those who have died, that by joining with the company of your saints in light we may rejoice in one unending song of praise.

In you alone we have eternal life, O God. Guide us in your grace.  We pray …

God of Heaven and Earth, you created the one human family and endowed each person with great dignity.

Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism. Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight from our hearts, our communities, our social and civil institutions.

Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor so that we may work with you in healing our land from racial injustice. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We have prayed and now, with changed hearts, let us move our feet to action.

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