Third Sunday of Lent
My homily at the 8:30 & 11:00 Masses at Our Lady of Fatima
Sunday, March 15, 2020
As we all know, we find ourselves in a very challenging period where the world is experiencing the outbreak of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. On Friday our President declared a national emergency and our Bishop, as you heard earlier, issued a decree, the goal of which is to minimize the spread of the virus within our churches. He has also dispensed with our obligation to attend Sunday Mass through the end of the month. What are we to think about all this?
Certainly there is cause for concern, especially as it relates to the potential impact of the coronavirus on those who are most at risk of contracting it. It is wise and prudent that we are taking as much precaution as possible as a nation, a diocese and a parish to prevent the spread of this disease. All of these efforts are certainly important at this time.
But it’s also important to keep things in perspective as Christians. To take a view of this in the light of our faith. Today’s second reading reminds us that our faith gives birth to hope and that hope will never disappoint. Our hope is what allows the love of God to be poured into our hearts. And the love of God drives out all fear from our lives.
In spite of all the news and concern over the coronavirus, we must not fear it, we must not panic. Certainly we should respect the seriousness of this threat and take all necessary precautions to keep from contracting and spreading the virus, but we should not fear it. The love poured into our hearts as a result of the hope we have in God’s goodness, hope that is born of our faith, will allow us to react to this crisis with hope. Hope is not naive, it is scriptural, and it effectively drives away fear.
For various reasons we may be prevented from receiving the Eucharist at Mass. If we choose not to attend Mass, or to receive communion at Mass due to any number of factors, the Church encourages us to make an act of “spiritual communion,” where we unite ourselves to God through prayer.
The act of spiritual communion is a beautiful way to express to God our desire to be united with him when we are unable, for whatever reason, to complete that union in the reception of Holy Communion.
St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you”
Allow me to read a short, traditional prayer of spiritual communion recommended by St. Alphonsus Ligouri that many saints have prayed over the years. I encourage you to pray it if you are at Mass and unable to receive the Eucharist, or if you or a loved one are unable to attend Mass:
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
You’ll find this prayer on the EWTN website if you just Google “EWTN spiritual communion.”
In addition to this explanation of making an act of spiritual communion when you are unable to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, there is one more topic in the Bishop’s decree I would like to address. This is his mandate that effective immediately and until further notice we are to receive communion in the hand only.
Your communion ministers have been instructed not to distribute communion on the tongue and we are all asked to be obedient to this mandate from our Bishop.
There are some who feel as though the Bishop does not have the right to deny the reception of communion on the tongue, but the fact is that he clearly does have this right according to canon law in his view of how to best serve the common good.
We heard in his letter at the beginning of Mass that based on the advice of medical experts and his personal prayerful reflection, the Bishop believes that the suspension of receiving communion on the tongue is clearly in view of the common good. That it will help to minimize the spread of the virus.
Our job as clergy and the faithful is to be obedient to our Bishop. We may not like what he has mandated and we may not agree with it for our own personal reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are expected to be obedient to his mandate.
I know that many of you are not accustomed to receiving communion in the hand. Perhaps you have never done so. If you feel very strongly about not receiving in the hand, then you always have the choice of not receiving communion today or in the coming weeks.
If this is the case, you can choose to make a spiritual communion and even come forward for a blessing with your arms crossed.
If however, you choose to receive in your hand, bear with me while I provide a quick refresher on how to do so properly. This is for everyone’s benefit, even those who receive in the hand regularly, but possibly don’t do it in the prescribed manner.
When you come forward to receive, you should first bow to the Blessed Sacrament. Then stretch out your non-dominant hand to make a sort of throne on which Our Lord will be placed by the communion minister. (demonstrate this)
After the host is placed in your hand, use your other hand to pick it up and place it in your mouth. That’s it, it’s that simple.
Here are some incorrect ways to receive communion in the hand:
hold out one hand and raise that hand to your mouth to sort of lick it off. Some think this is more reverent and limits how much it is touched with the hands, but the risk of dropping it through this action is a greater concern.
Trying to manipulate the host with one hand to raise it to your mouth through a set of awkward motions. This often happens when a parent attempts to receive on the hand while carrying a child. Try to find a way to present yourself for communion without carrying a child. Again, this method of receiving in the hand elevates the risk of dropping the host.
Perhaps the most grievous way to receive communion in the hand is to attempt to pick it out of the minister’s hand when it is raised before you. Communion is to be given to each of us, not taken by us. It is simply disrespectful to Our Lord to grab him out of the minister’s hand.
So today let us renew our efforts to rely on the gifts of faith, hope and love so that we will not fall victim to fear in the face of the unknown. There is simply no place for fear in the Christian’s life at any time, including during this current time of uncertainty.
Let’s not be like the Israelites in today’s first reading who quarreled and grumbled about their hardships in the desert. Rather, let’s resolve ourselves to faithfully follow the mandates of our Bishop and trust that as we take the appropriate precautions against contracting and spreading this virus we will enjoy God’s protection and have good reason to hope for the winding down of this pandemic in the near future.
Perhaps most importantly, let us always remember that God is love, through and through. He is love itself and the source of our hope. And as Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Through our life of faith, we have every reason to hope that God’s unfailing love for us will keep us safe and bring each of us to our heavenly home at the appointed time.
As Saint Pope John Paul II often said during his pontificate, “Be not Afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!” I believe it’s so important that we each keep this exhortation in mind and trust our loving God to bring us safely through this difficult time. Remember, this too will pass.
God bless you.