Monday, September 5, 2011

Jesus Among Us

The legendary quarterback of the San Francisco '49'ers, Joe Montana, ended his football career in Kansas City playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. One Sunday, he attended Mass at a local parish. After the Mass, a parishioner breathlessly ran up to the pastor and asked him, "Father, Father, did you know that Joe Montana was here?!" The pastor wryly replied, "Well, did you know that Jesus was here?"

We are gathered here today for one reason - to meet Jesus. Jesus is here. We encounter Jesus here in a way that is more real and more profound than if we had stayed home to pray alone. Jesus promised us that whenever two or three are gathered in his name that he is present among them. And so, Jesus is present in this assembly of believers gathered here today.

Jesus is also present in the Scriptures we proclaim. The Bible is inspired by God to such a degree that we can rightly call God its author. Whenever the Scripture readings are proclaimed at Mass, it is God who is speaking to us. Likewise, whenever the gospel readings are proclaimed, it is Jesus who is speaking to us. We have heard God speak to us today in a real way through the Scriptures.

And, finally, the most real way - indeed the most miraculous way - that Jesus makes himself present to us today is through the Eucharist, the gift of his body and blood. The bread and wine we receive at communion is not just a symbol of Jesus' body and blood. Rather, it is actually his body and blood. When we receive the bread in our hands or on our tongue and when we bring the chalice to our lips, it is the very body and blood of Jesus our Savior who comes to meet us and to dwell in us.

If someone famous were to show up here today - like Joe Montana or some other sports personality - we would get very excited. We would be staring at him, taking note of what he was wearing, how he was praying and trying to see with whom he was sitting. We might even try to meet him and get his autograph. Can we be just as excited about Jesus' presence here today? Do we get a lump in our throat knowing that he is speaking to each of us personally? Does our heart start to race knowing that we will touch him in the Eucharist? Do we get short of breath when we realize that Jesus is sitting right next to us in the person of our neighbor?

As we grow in the awareness of the presence of Christ among us, it becomes obvious to us that we are called to mirror the love and mercy we have encountered in Jesus. Since Jesus is present when we gather together, we have to be more like him in our everyday lives. And, because of Jesus' presence in each of us, we must love each other. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading: "Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another."

Brothers and sisters, we owe it to each other to love one another. Since we are the presence of Christ in the world, we must prove it through our willingness to love. When we love, Christ shines forth in us. When we love, Christ is real in us and in our world. And so, when we fail to love as we should - when we sin - it is never a personal failure. It is never just something between ourselves and God. When we fail to live up to the gospel message of love, we let each other down. When any one of us sins, all of us are affected because it makes it harder for us to show to the world the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Because of this we begin every Mass by calling to mind our sins and praying: "I confess to Almighty God AND TO YOU MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS that I have sinned through my own fault." We can pray those words because we recognize that we are responsible to each other to live as Jesus taught us.

It is also for this reason that, in today's gospel, Jesus doesn't tell us to mind our own business when we see our brothers and sisters sinning. Rather, he tells us that we are to speak with them and to try to correct them. Jesus teaches us that we have a real responsibility to each other and for each other to ensure that we are all living the gospel message. It is not because anyone of us is better than another nor because any one of us is worthy to judge another. Rather, we correct each other precisely because of our love for our brothers and sisters and because we want each other to experience the presence of Christ. But, we must not only be willing to correct others, we must also be willing to be corrected. And, out of love, we must also be willing to forgive each other. No matter what the situation may be, we must always correct each other lovingly and respectfully because our goal is one and the same - to make the Church a place where Jesus is made present and where the love and mercy of Christ shine with a light which is as brilliant as the sun.

My brothers and sisters, the Risen Jesus is truly here today. We have heard him speak and met him in each other. We will touch him through the miracle of the Eucharist. And, we are each called to carry the light of Christ out into the world - to our families, to our workplaces and to our schools. It is by our love that we show the face of Christ to the world. It is through love that we will draw more people to this place so they too can meet and experience Jesus for themselves.

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