Sunday, June 26, 2016

Forsaking All Others

From the time he was eight years old, Grant Desme knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a major league baseball player. With a focus rarely seen in such young children, he committed himself to learning the game, long hours of practice in the field and seemingly endless sessions in the batting cages.

Because of his hard work and dedication, he was able to excel at every level. He advanced from Little League through high school and into the minor leagues until he was finally drafted by the Oakland A’s.

However, in 2007, he was sidelined by a shoulder injury and had to sit out much of the season. During that time, he realized just how fragile his dream was. With a simple injury, he could lose his whole career. He began to think more about what was most important in life. Though he had always been a committed Catholic, he meditated more on what it was that God wanted for him.

During that time, he came to another realization. He had worked very hard over the years to get to where he was. He always thought that the fulfillment he was seeking was just around the corner. If he could just get to the major leagues, he told himself, then he would be happy. But no matter how far he advanced, he still felt the same emptiness inside. Though he had everything a young man could ask for - a career in professional sports, a huge bank account, a flashy car - he knew there was something lacking but he could not quite put his finger on what it was.

When Grant recovered from his injury, he came back stronger than ever. The pinnacle of his success occurred in 2009 when he was voted the most valuable player of the Arizona Fall League. It was just a matter of time until he would be called up to play in the big leagues. However, it was at the height of his success that he realized what it was that was missing in his life. God was calling him to be a priest and he knew that until he said “yes” he would never be happy. And so, in January 2010, he shocked the professional baseball world by announcing that he was terminating his contract with the Oakland A’s and entering the novitiate for the Franciscan friars.

One would think that, three years later, living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, a young man who had everything the world could offer would regret his decision to leave it all behind. However, in an interview with the National Catholic Register, he said that he did not miss his life in baseball at all. Though he had left everything behind, he found a new freedom and a new joy in serving Jesus. He had already experienced all that the world had to offer and found that it could not satisfy him. Now he was seeking after the treasure that only God can give him.

Grant Desme exemplifies what Jesus is looking for in his followers - someone who is willing to give up everything to follow him. As we see in the gospel reading today, our Lord seeks women and men willing to stop making excuses, leave everything behind and follow Him to Calvary. When we do find the courage to accept Jesus’ offer to follow him, we do not experience regret or grieve over what we have left behind. Rather we experience joy, we find fulfillment and the happiness we thought we could find in the world and its empty promises. If God asks us to leave something behind whether it be material possessions, relationships or bad habits, it is because He has something even greater to offer us. This is what Grant Desme experienced and that is what all those who find the grace to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what he asks also experience.

We do not hear anything else in the gospels about the three men who turned down Jesus’ offer to follow Him. We can imagine that they returned to their homes and went on with their lives. But we have to wonder whether turning down Jesus would have haunted them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps they wondered what their lives would have been like if they had said yes to Jesus. Perhaps for the rest of their days, they experienced a lack of fulfillment and peace because they were not living fully the life that God had called them to.

This has precisely been the experience of so many men and women who, feeling called by God to religious life, tried to put it off. They told themselves that it was just their imagination that they felt called to serve our Lord as a sister, deacon or priest. They told themselves that they were not worthy or that they were not able to meet the demands of religious life. Eventually, however, they realized that there was no other way to find fulfillment and happiness in life than to answer Jesus’ call to serve His people. They found true happiness and freedom in leaving everything behind to follow Christ more closely in religious life.

There are many ways to follow Jesus. Each of us has a role to plan in God’s plan of salvation. But as a Church, we depend on women and men who are willing to sacrifice everything to serve God’s people as sisters, deacons and priests. If you feel an attraction to religious life in your heart but are afraid to say yes, please continue to pray for wisdom and courage. Speak to a priest or sister you respect about what you are feeling and look into it. Feeling attracted to religious life does not always mean that one has a vocation, but until it is tested you will always wonder what could have been, like the men in the gospel.

God is calling each of us - no matter what our condition in life is - to follow Him. What excuse do we have for not accepting His offer with all our hearts? What is keeping us from experiencing the freedom and joy that He has prepared for us. As we offer up the gifts of bread and wine, let us also offer up everything in our lives that gets in the way of our yes to God. And as this bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, let us pray that our weakness will be transformed into strength, our fear into faith and our sinfulness into grace.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Picking Up The Cross

It was the summer of 2012. During a prayer service, Junior Garcia was struck with the feeling that his life of faith was not all that it should be. He was 19 at the time and all the other priorities of his life had crowded out his relationship with Jesus. He wanted to be free from all the attachments and concerns that had kept him from following the Lord with all his heart. He wanted to put Jesus back at the center of his life and live only for Him. From the bottom of his heart, he cried out to God to forgive Him and help him. “Whatever you want me to do, I will do it,” he prayed.

It was during that prayer service that he got the idea to carry a cross on his shoulders from his home in Texas to Washington, D.C, a distance of 1,369 miles. He hoped not only that it would give him new focus in his relationship with Jesus, but that it would inspire others as well. So, with help from friends, he built a twelve foot cross, put it on his shoulders and began the long journey to Washington, D.C.

Along the way, he began to wonder if he had the strength to do it. The walk alone would have required much strength and endurance but carrying a twelve foot cross seemed nearly impossible. There were sections of roadway where the walk became dangerous because of traffic. He and those who accompanied him were often insulted or given resistance by local officials. However, Junior decided he would trust in the Lord to give him strength and provide him with what he needed to accomplish what he believed God had set out for him.

Amazingly, just thirty-seven days after leaving his church in Texas, Junior arrived at the steps of the White House. He along with members of his congregation who traveled there to celebrate the accomplishment with him held a prayer service there. This is how he described the purpose of his journey of faith to The Christian Post:  "I did this for others.....I just want them to see the same love I felt — the forgiveness, the mercy, the love....Jesus has already carried the cross... I'm just trying to show his love and remind people of who he is and the salvation you can have through Jesus Christ."

Junior Garcia’s walk is not only a story of endurance and strength. It is also a story about faith and, in particular, faith in the cross. The cross is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As He tells us in today’s gospel, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Without the cross, we cannot be disciples of Jesus. We cannot separate Jesus from His cross.

Each of us has a cross to carry which is peculiarly our own. For some people it is physical suffering caused by illness or injury. For others it is mental suffering caused by anxiety, loneliness or depression. Still others suffer rejection, ridicule and even violent attacks because of their Christian faith. For many people the cross comes in the form of temptations that they must work hard at avoiding and falling into. If you are human, you have a cross to bear.
If we all have a cross to bear, then, what makes the Christian different from any other person? It is the attitude with which we accept our cross. If the difficulties of our life make us bitter, cause us to be angry with God or to lash out at others, then we are no different from anyone else. However, if we humbly accept the challenges we face, if we offer them up to God in union with Jesus on the cross, if they become an opportunity for us to grow in compassion for the poor and the needy, then we are truly following Christ who laid down His life for the salvation of the world.

Like Junior Garcia, however, the cross is not a matter of our own strength and endurance. Carrying the cross is an act of trust in God. Many times we can falter under the weight of our burdens. It can all seem as though we are given more than we can handle. We fear that we may be crushed by it. It is at those times that we must cry out to God for help. He will give us the strength we need or provide us with the help of family, friends or maybe even strangers to lighten our load. And He will refresh us along the way, reminding us of His love and inspiring us with the stories of others who are suffering just as we are. Our cross is given to us to help us grow in faith, to teach us to rely on Jesus for strength and to grow in love for those who are struggling as we are.

By carrying our cross with courage and trust, we can also serve as an inspiration to others. How many times have we heard the stories of people struggling with illness or other hardships and been motivated by what they were able to accomplish despite their limitations. The same is true of us. We can inspire our brothers and sisters to have patience and faith as they carry their crosses. Our good example can make their crosses just a little lighter as we make our journey of faith together.

As Christians, then, we are not to avoid the cross, consider it a punishment from God or try to toss it off our shoulders. Rather we are called to embrace it, even to love it, because it is through the cross that Jesus saved the world and saved us. It is by carrying the cross that we will enter into heaven.

Thomas a Kempis in the Christian classic, The Imitation of Christ , describes it this way:  “Take up your cross then, and follow Jesus; and you will go into life that has no end. He has gone ahead of you, bearing his own cross; on that cross he has died for you, that you may bear your own cross and on that cross yearn to die. If you have died together with him, together with him you will have life; if you have shared his suffering you will also share his glory.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Created Anew Through Faith

Diane Wilson was a mother of five and the captain of a shrimp boat off the coast of Louisiana. Her life was no different than that of her neighbors. Then one day she read a newspaper article that listed her county as one of the most polluted in the country. She realized that the air her children breathed and the waters she trawled in were contaminated with harmful chemicals. When she thought about the damage it was doing to people and the environment she knew she could no longer stay silent. She began circulating petitions, organizing meetings and initiating lawsuits. In the end, she was able to force very powerful and influential chemical companies to stop discharging chemicals into the San Antonio and Lavaca bays.

And she did not stop there. With the network she had developed and skills she had learned, she went to other polluted areas of the country to educate the people about the damage done by pollution and to force companies to enact stricter emission controls.

In a recent interview she gave on public radio, she spoke about the toll her activism has taken on her personal life. Many of her neighbors and friends came to despise her. She received death threats on a regular basis. But, she said, in the process of fighting for what she believed in she came to overcome her fears. She was no longer afraid of being ostracized and no longer afraid of dying. That freedom from fear gave her the power to speak the truth and work for justice. Because she did not let fear muzzle her, she discovered her purpose in life. She found that she could make the world a better place.

How many of us are held down by fear? We know in our hearts what is right, but we so often fail to speak out because we do not want to be ridiculed or rejected. We would rather live a comfortable, sheltered life than let our voices be heard. In the process, we lose ourselves and fail to live up to the purpose for which we were created.

Fear most of all has a chilling effect on our life of faith. Jesus tells us upfront that if we are to follow him we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily. We can try to follow Jesus at a distance, coming to Mass on Sundays and meeting the obligations of faith without letting it change the way we live the rest of the week. But that is an empty way of living which ultimately leaves us unsatisfied. We remain a prisoner of our fears, unable to give voice to our beliefs because we are afraid of what others will think.

There is another way to live, however. It is the way that Jesus offers us. It is the life of faith. When we, like Peter, confess that Jesus is the "Christ of God" a new life opens up for us. We are given the light of truth and are no longer willing to accept the lies our society values. We are given hope to see that our destiny is an everlasting life. We are given strength to carry whatever crosses may come our way. And, most especially, we are given freedom - freedom from sin and freedom from fear. It is not easy, but it is possible and it is necessary. Once we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and give our lives over to him we will find ourselves doing things we could never have imagined possible. Jesus' words become true for us: "...whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Why have so many people throughout the centuries decided to give up everything to follow Jesus? Consider the apostles who left their families and their jobs. Consider the countless women and men who were tortured and killed rather than deny their faith in Jesus. Consider the many unknown people who sacrifice themselves daily without recognition to bring bread to the hungry and hope to the despairing. Why would they be willing to sacrifice so much? Why should we be willing to give up so much? Because of Jesus. The reward for denying ourselves and bearing our crosses daily is that we become friends of Jesus. When we love him truly above all other things, then we want nothing else than to be close to him. Once we taste the joy of intimacy with him, we will do whatever it takes to draw near to him. As Saint Paul puts it, we will consider everything else garbage in comparison to the love and knowledge of God we find in Christ Jesus. There is a cost to being a disciple. But what we gain in return - friendship with God - is so much more valuable than anything this world can offer us.

Jesus puts the question to us as he posed it to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" It is the most important question we could ever answer. None of us will ever discover who we are until we have decided who he is. Will we be like the crowds who follow from a distance and consider him to be merely a prophet? Or will we be like the disciples who acknowledge him as Lord and Savior and are rewarded with a close, personal relationship with him? Will we continue to allow our lives to be circumscribed by fear, or will we discover the freedom that comes from loving Jesus? Will we be confined to our safe, comfortable lives, or will we do great things for our Lord?

The choice is laid before each of us - faith or fear. How we decide will determine whether we find ourselves in him or lose ourselves in this world which is swiftly passing away.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guilty But Made Innocent

Today, we are going to do something a little different.

Usually in a homily, we like to focus in on the gospel reading. And, of course, that is fitting because it is the story of Jesus.

However, today’s second reading is so full of meaning and so central to our understanding of our salvation that we can learn alot from unpacking it and applying it to our lives.

Saint Paul begins this passage by telling the Galatians: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” What does he mean?

The word “justification” is a legal term. In our courts, if a person is found innocent of a crime, the jury or judge declare him to be “not guilty.” However, in Saint Paul’s time, a person acquitted of a crime was declared to be “just” or “righteous”. The act of declaring someone to be “just” was called “justification.”

What Saint Paul is saying, then, is that we are justified or found to be innocent in God’s eyes by our faith in Jesus Christ. In particular, it is centered on our belief that He died for our sins. By dying on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself our guilt and the punishment we deserved so that we could be declared to be “not guilty” before the Father.

This is central to our faith. Our salvation is a pure gift from God. There is nothing we could do to earn it. No one is so good that he or she could deserve to be forgiven. We are declared “not guilty” because Jesus died for our sins. When we believe that, then we find justification in the eyes of God. As Saint Paul tells us: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

Too many times, we do not accept the justification that comes from God but rather try to justify ourselves. We say to ourselves that our sins are really not that bad. We might compare ourselves to others, as the Pharisee in the gospel does to the sinful woman, and think we cannot be so bad when there are so many other people worse than we are. However, when we do that, we are only making excuses for ourselves. By not taking responsibility for our sinful thoughts and actions, we are missing out on the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and experience God’s mercy. God cannot forgive us if we are making excuses for our sins. He can only pardon us when we take responsibility for what we have done or failed to do and ask for forgiveness.

The other trap we can fall into is thinking that we can earn God’s love and mercy by doing good. We think that by donating to worthy causes, volunteering, praying and sacrificing God will somehow take notice of us. But the fact is that God is already willing to forgive us. He already takes note of us and loves us unconditionally. He does not love us because of the good works we perform but because He made us to be very good. He loves us because He is good. Therefore, while it is important that we perform good works to help others, our justification ultimately comes from the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. That is the foundation of our hope for salvation. Nothing else can replace it.

Father Mitch Pacwa from EWTN, the Catholic television network, gives an example that helps us to see why Jesus’ death on the cross is so important for our salvation. The seriousness of our actions concern not only what we do but whom we commit them against. For instance, if I were to punch an ordinary man in the street, I might get arrested, but it would not be a serious offense. However, if I were to punch the president or the Pope, I would be facing some serious jail time. It is the same when we consider God. Every sin is an offense against God. Every evil act is a rejection of His goodness and love. Therefore, there is really no such thing as a small sin because, like a violent act against the president or the Pope, it is directed against God Himself. Because our Heavenly Father is infinitely good and we are finite and sinful, there is nothing we can do, nothing we can offer, that can make up for our sin. However, Jesus, the Son of God, is also infinitely good. Therefore, when He offers Himself up for us, being totally innocent, He can cancel out our sins. Without that offering of Jesus, there would be no hope for us.

Each of us, then, is a great sinner because the One we have sinned against is an infinitely good God. No matter how insignificant our sins may seem, they are great because they offend our All-Loving Father. However, there is a great opportunity for us when we recognize our sinfulness and seek our justification through faith. We then can experience God’s loving mercy. As Jesus tells the Pharisee in today’s gospel, “The one who is forgiven much, loves much.”

Our salvation and all the riches of our faith are a gift from God. They are our inheritance as children of God made righteous through faith and baptism. We lay claim to them and come to this banquet like the woman in the gospel pouring out our love and gratitude to our Heavenly Father so that we can hear the words, “Go in peace; your faith has saved you.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Woman's Tears

Prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. Every society and culture has been plagued by some form of it. Though it is illegal in most places, we tend to consider it a harmless vice and victimless crime. But prostitution, whether it is legal or illegal, takes a heavy toll on the individuals who participate in it and on society as a whole.

Most women become involved in prostitution around the age of sixteen. They are usually running away from homes where they have been physically or sexually abused. Alone on the streets, they are easy targets for pimps who promise to take care of them. And before they know it, they find themselves in an even more abusive situation than the one they were running away from. 

The average prostitute will spend eleven years of her life on the street. During that time, she will be physically assaulted on a regular basis by either her pimp or her customer. She will be homeless during many of those years. And most likely her pimp will get her addicted to drugs as another way of controlling her.

Sadly, it is not only women who are exploited by prostitution. Around the world children as young as seven are bought and sold to work in the sex industry in such countries as Thailand and India. It is estimated that there are more than one million sex slaves in Asia.

Prostitution is not a victimless crime. For the women and children who are caught up in it, it is a devastating blow to their dignity and future. It destroys families and introduces crime and disease into communities.  

Today's gospel does not tell us whether it is a prostitute who approaches Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Saint Luke, instead, calls her a "sinful woman". But she has been traditionally identified as a prostitute. If so, we can imagine that she lived with a heavy burden of shame. Wherever she went, people would avoid her and point fingers. There was no one in her life who loved her, and she had no hope for her future. She would have been beaten frequently and perhaps even raped.

Saint Luke does not tell us why she seeks out Jesus. Maybe she had heard him speak earlier in the day and was moved by his words. Maybe Jesus had reached out and healed her at some point. Whatever the reason, she feels so drawn to him that she is willing to show up uninvited at the home of an influential family and lavish Jesus with affection. The people at the table would have been shocked. How would you feel if such a woman showed up at your child's birthday party? There would have been an awkward silence as she walked into the room and everyone stopped eating and talking. Yet she did not hesitate to show Jesus just how much she loved him. Just as she shamelessly sinned in her past, so she would shamelessly lavish gratitude on him.  She took his feet into her hands, kissed them, bathed them with her tears and anointed them with perfumed oil. She had been set free. Because of Jesus, she was no longer caught up in the cycle of abuse, indignity and despair. In him, she found new self-respect, and she was not ashamed to display her joy.

This woman, sinful as she may have been, is an example for us and a source of hope. All sin is a trap. Whether it is a sin as serious as prostitution or as common as prejudice, it leads us away from God. And when we turn our backs on our Heavenly Father we lose our sense of dignity as his daughters and sons. We are blinded to the needs and interests of others and become locked down in selfishness. Our hearts grow cold and shame and bitterness begin to take over. Eventually we find ourselves unable to climb out of the pit we have fallen into.

Thanks be to God, we have Jesus to lead us out. He is the light shining in the darkness. He is the way leading us out of despair. He is the truth which dispels the lies of this world. No matter how we have sinned, he is capable of forgiving us. No matter what mistakes we have made, he is capable of helping us get free of the trap. If we are willing to turn to him and accept in faith the forgiveness he offers us, we will find our cold, hard hearts pumping with new life and vitality. Like the woman in the gospel, our love will know no limits. We need simply to be willing to leave our sinful past behind and follow the way that Jesus so clearly marks out for us.

We are here today to lavish love and gratitude on Jesus, our Savior. With music, prayer and incense we wash and anoint his feet. We are joyful because he has forgiven us, and we are free. Filled with his love, we will bring his light to those who are still blinded by the darkness of sin. Inspired by his word, we will seek out those who are caught up in the trap of despair and tell them about the freedom we have found. And nourished by his Body and Blood, we will live boldly and confidently as daughters and sons of God. 

Jesus has forgiven our sins! We are set free! Come, let us celebrate! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016


The Bible can be very difficult to understand. At first glance, many of the stories do not seem to have any practical application to our lives. It can be tempting to overlook the parts of Scripture which do not seem to speak to us and focus on the parts we do understand. However, that would be a mistake. All of Scripture is inspired by God. It is all God’s love letter to His People. Therefore, we must ask for the Holy Spirit’s help when we come upon a passage that makes no sense to us and strive to find what God’s message is. As they say, “The more valuable the treasure, the deeper you have to dig to find it.” The same is true of the Bible.

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters have an interesting approach to studying the Bible. It is called the “ABCD method” and it can help us when reading Scripture. “A” stands for “a first impression”. In this step, we read the Scripture passage and think about what it first says to us. The second step, “B”, stands for “big idea”. Here we think about what doctrine we see in the passage. For instance, does it tell us something about the Trinity, about the humanity of Jesus or about the authority of the apostles. The third letter, “C” stands for “challenge”. How does the reading challenge my views of God, of life or of faith? How does it change the way I think or act? Finally, “D” stands for “decision”. What decision will I make, how will I change my behavior or my attitudes because of what I have read?

To help us understand the ABCD method better, let us apply it to today’s reading from the gospel of Saint Luke - the raising of the widow’s son from death.

Remember that “A” stands for “a first impression”. What first impression do we get when we read this story? We might be amazed at the power that Jesus shows in raising a young man from the dead. We might feel compassion and joy for the widow who is about to bury her son. We might also wonder what it must have been like for those in the crowd to witness such a miraculous event. Or we might have questions about how a man could possibly raise another man from the dead.

The next step, “B”, stands for “big idea”. What does today’s reading tell us about Jesus? It certainly tells us that He has power over death. It teaches us that He has compassion for those who suffer, especially the powerless and hopeless. From the way the crowd reacted, we can see that He was regarded by the people as a great prophet in the line of Elijah who raises a widow’s son from the dead in today’s first reading. We can go a step further and proclaim that He is God because only God has power over death.

The next letter, “C”, challenges us to look at the reading and see where it is calling us to change our behaviour, beliefs or attitudes. This can be the hardest step for us to take but it is where we will find the most fruit. As we look at the gospel reading, we see Jesus coming into a hopeless situation. This widow in losing her son was losing everything. Her son would have been her only hope of having a stable life. He would have been the only one able to protect her. Now she would be all alone with no means of income and no civil rights. Jesus comes into the picture and restores her hope. He feels compassion for her and makes things right again.

How can this story challenge us? Perhaps there is an area of our life where we have given up hope. Perhaps there is a difficulty we are facing that is dragging us down and we have no idea how we are going to deal with it. Maybe we have given up on praying and asking God for help because we cannot see what He could possibly do to change things. The challenge for us might be to hand our problem over to the Lord, to invite Him into the situation to entrust our cares to Him and restore our hope that He can set things right for us. It might simply mean waiting with hope and trust that He will act when the time is right. Today’s gospel reading can challenge us to see Jesus as our ultimate hope rather than relying merely on our own strength or resourcefulness.

The final step, “D”, is for “decision”. After reading today’s gospel, what will we do to change our lives? It is unlikely that any of us will be able to raise the dead, but there are other ways that we can bring hope into the lives of the people around us. We may know someone who, like the widow in the gospel, has lost a loved one and would appreciate a shoulder to cry on. We may know someone who is struggling financially and could use a visit to take their minds off their troubles for awhile. After reading today’s gospel, we could decide to invite Jesus into the areas of our lives where we have lost hope and, through prayer, to put everything into His hands and believe that He will make a difference.

Reading the Bible is vital to our spiritual lives. The ABCD method of reflecting on our first impression, reviewing the big ideas in the reading, seeing how the reading challenges us and deciding to make a change can go a long way in deepening our understanding of God’s word and bringing our lives more and more in line with God’s will for us. Applying that method to today’s gospel teaches us that there is no situation that is beyond the power of God. We can entrust everything to Him with the hope that He will bring good out of it. On this day when we gather to hear His word and receive the gift of His Body and Blood let us entrust our very selves to Him and trust that we will witness with our own eyes the wonders of His power and love.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Miracles Abound

The New Testament witnesses to many miracles which Jesus performed. He showed His control over nature by walking on water. He showed His power over sickness by curing the ill. And He showed His authority over death by raising the dead.

In today’s gospel, Jesus multiplies loaves and fish to feed the crowds who had gathered to hear him speak. As it is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, we know it must have made a deep impression on the apostles. They would have understood it not only as a sign of His great power, not only as an example of His compassion for others, but as a foreshadowing of the greatest gift He would leave to His Church - the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Eucharist.

When we think of miracles, we often consider them as a phenomenon of the past. They took place in Jesus’ day and in the early Church, but they do not happen today. With our knowledge of science and our advanced technologies is there still room for belief in miracles? Can we still believe that God bends the rules of nature to give His people a sign that He is still alive and active among us?

Those of us who have the gift of faith can say without a doubt that God still performs miracles. And we do not have to look too far back into the past to find them.

One example of just such a miracle took place less than twenty years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A priest had just finished an evening Mass when a woman came up to him to say she had found a host that someone had dropped on the floor. It seems that the person who dropped it accidently did not want to consume it because it was dirty. In accord with the law of the Church, the priest picked up the host along with any particles, put it in a glass of water to dissolve and placed it in the tabernacle.

About seven days later, the priest checked on the host to see if it had dissolved. Instead, he was shocked to find that, rather than a host, there was a piece of flesh in the glass that was oozing blood. Immediately, the priest called his bishop, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, whom we now know as our beloved Pope Francis, and told him what had happened. The Cardinal sent a photographer down to take pictures of the phenomenon. After consulting with some other priests, it was decided that they keep the whole affair secret and wait to see if anything else would happen to the host.

In 1999, after four years, the flesh continued to ooze blood. So Cardinal Bergoglio along with his advisors contacted a physician who took a sample of the flesh and sent it to be examined by Dr Frederic Zugiba in New York. To ensure the objectivity of the analysis, they did not tell the doctor where the flesh had come from.

After examining it, Dr Zugiba concluded that the flesh was taken from the heart of a man who was alive when the sample was extracted. Furthermore, because of the high white blood cell count in the tissue, he concluded that the man had suffered a great deal of agony and torture.

When Dr Zugiba delivered his findings to Cardinal Bergoglio and his advisors, he was shocked to learn that the flesh he examined did not come from a living man but had been kept in a jar of water for over four years. He was further surprised that the flesh had come from a consecrated host. After learning these facts he stated: “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science - a mystery totally beyond her competence.”

It is good for us modern women and men to study these miracles and learn about them. They remind us that there is more going on in our world than what we can see with our eyes or examine under a microscope. They assure us that God is at work in our world even despite its skepticism and lack of faith. If we were ever to feel tempted to believe that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear us, they call to mind the fact that He is in control of all human history. Our Heavenly Father continues to perform miracles to strengthen the faith of His people - especially their faith in the reality of the Eucharist, that it is no mere symbol but truly the flesh and blood of our Risen Lord.

Of course, those of us with gift of faith witness miracles every day. We see the hand of God even in the most ordinary events of our lives - the sunrise, the budding trees, the birth of a child or the love of our family. We witness His power when enemies become friends, when hardened hearts welcome God’s mercy and when our prayers are mysteriously answered. The work of God is all around us. Where others see coincidences or luck, we see our God at work.

And in no other instance is that more true than in the gift of the Eucharist. What many consider merely a wafer, we worship as the flesh of our Savior. What many consider merely cheap table wine, we revere as the Blood of Jesus. Only faith can see beyond the appearances to the reality of the great gift that God offers us in every Mass. Only faith can welcome that gift and allow it to change us from the inside out.

Whenever we struggle with our faith - particularly with our faith in the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist - the only way to overcome it is through prayer. Because it is beyond our reason to understand, we cannot sit down and try to figure it out. We cannot just read a book or have someone explain it to us. Those things might help, but they cannot solve our dilemma. The only way to have faith in the Eucharist is to ask God for it because faith is primarily a gift from God. If we believe, it is because God has given us the grace to believe. And if we are to grow in our faith, it is because God leads us to deeper belief. As we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ this day, let us ask for the grace to believe with all our hearts that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us pray for the grace to adore Him more and more. And let us pray that when we receive Him we will be changed forever.