Homily: Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
My homily at the 5:00 Mass today at Holy Ghost Church.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims that God will make a NEW COVENANT with his people. We are told that this covenant will be written in the hearts of his people and that God will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. What an amazing promise God gives us today!
In order that we better understand the significance of this New Covenant, we must first know something about what it is replacing, the Old Covenant.
In the Old Testament, God makes a series of COVENANTS with his people. They were established with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David.
God’s covenants were pledges of his love for his people, offered in exchange for a pledge of their faithfulness to him. Bishop Barron calls these covenants “pledges of mutual love,” much like a wedding vow. God’s covenants with the Israelite people basically went like this: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” To support the Old Covenant, God gave his people the Old Law, defining how they must live in order to uphold their end of the covenant pledge. God’s Old Law is a set of external laws written in stone. We call them the Ten Commandments.
In contrast, Jeremiah tells us in today’s first reading that the New Covenant would be for all of God’s people and that it would be different from the covenant he made with his people when he led them forth from the land of Egypt. This new covenant would be written in the HEARTS of God’s people. It would be a greater and more intimate connection with God. One where his people would worship him in spirit and in truth.
Just as the Old Covenant was supported by the Ten Commandments, the new covenant is supported by the New Law revealed by Christ, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. This new and final covenant between God and his people is established by Christ through his Passion and resurrection.
So how does this happen? It happens when we receive the Eucharist! This New Covenant continues to be written upon our hearts anew whenever we receive the Eucharist worthily. Why? Because Jesus is the Law incarnate, the Law made flesh. Therefore, when we eat his body and drink his blood, we literally take the law into our hearts.
If we are in a state of grace, in full communion with the dogma and doctrine of the Catholic Church, the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ at each and every Mass infuses the life of Christ into our hearts. The Eucharist actually divinizes us; it makes us like Christ. The Catechism says that through the reception of the Eucharist, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
In John’s gospel, Jesus himself urges us to receive him in the Eucharist and makes it crystal clear how essential this communion is for the Christian when he says “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
The Church describes the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It is the Eucharist that makes us holy and allows us to remain in this new and everlasting covenant with God. The worthy reception of the Body and Blood of Christ actually makes us more and more like Christ, every time we receive it!
It is important, however, to understand that WORTHY reception of the Blessed Sacrament requires preparation. Before receiving communion we must first examine our conscience and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we are aware of having committed any grave sin.
Paul tells us in his Letter to the Corinthians that “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of PROFANING the body and blood of the Lord.” He goes on to say that “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
I’m always shocked when I hear the statistics of the number of practicing Catholics who do not believe that Jesus Christ, body, soul and divinity, is truly and fully present in the Blessed Sacrament. In 2008 a highly regarded study revealed that nearly 10% of weekly Mass attendees do not believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist!
The number is much higher for those who consider themselves to be Catholic but only attend Mass monthly. As many as 45% of them do not believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. I guess this is not as surprising, as I don’t see how one can consider himself to be a Catholic if he or she is not attending Mass weekly without good reason, but that’s a topic for another homily.
If we are to believe this study it means that, STATISTICALLY, at least 1 in 10 of us here today do not believe that the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist we will soon receive. Sadly, so many of those who don’t believe this fundamental premise of our faith still present themselves for communion when they attend Mass.
These unbelievers are not receiving grace from the Eucharist, the grace necessary for God to continually write his law upon their hearts. In fact, receiving him unworthily is having the opposite effect in their lives and bringing condemnation upon them!
Fortunately, the remedy is quite simple. Refrain from receiving Holy Communion if you are aware of having committed a grave sin until you have gone to confession. And, if you are not sure whether or not Christ is fully present in the Eucharist, then don’t receive communion. It is much better for you to refrain from receiving communion than it is to receive and bring judgement upon yourself.
If you are unsure about whether Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, there are many excellent resources you can study and pray with to help you to overcome your unbelief. I’ll put links to some of them in my blog when I post this homily later this evening at deaconscott.com.
In just a few minutes, if we’re attentive and fully present, we’ll hear Father proclaim the words Jesus first said at the Last Supper: “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”
It is this blood of Christ, fully present under both species of Holy Communion, that is necessary for us to enter into this new covenant we hear proclaimed at every Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer.
Let us also listen carefully to the prayer Father will pray at the end of this Mass. Today it will go like this: “We pray, almighty God, that we may always be counted among the members of Christ, in whose Body and Blood we have communion.”
We can be sure that if we are living our lives according to the teachings of Mother Church, we will surely be counted among the members of his mystical body.
By believing all the Church teaches – the teachings handed on to us from Christ through the Apostles – and living our lives according to them, we will surely be partakers of the NEW COVENANT promised in today’s first reading and instituted though Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as confirmed in today’s Gospel reading when Jesus tells us that “it was for this purpose that I came to this hour” and “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
THIS is the new covenant, the covenant that promises and leads us into eternal life with Christ.
Thanks be to God!
Resources explaining the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist:
3. Catholic Answers: How can we know Jesus is really present in the Eucharist: