(Click the title above for audio of the homily)
This week, Fr. Burns and I drove down to Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church down in Vacherie to see all the good missionary work that our high school youth of St. Aloysius were doing for the people of Vacherie. They were helping to fix up the houses of those who were elderly and poor. The condition of one of the houses was beyond what ordinary youth could take. A mentally challenged woman lived in that house by herself alone for the past seven years. She had two dogs and a cat. Apparently, these dogs and cat never were let outside for the four years. Few days before our youth arrived, volunteers literally shoveled droppings inside of the house to the outside and threw away the carpet. They also had to disinfect the entire house with Clorox before painting. The pastoral associate for Our Lady of Peace remarked how our youth did not complain or refuse to work; rather, they worked tirelessly and generously the entire week in the hot, humid sun. How is it that our youth were able to step up to the plate and meet the challenge? Perhaps the mass these youth attended has something to do with it.
If we want to understand how mass has anything to do with our ability to meet insurmountable challenges, we have to turn to Mother Teresa. You know Mother Teresa's sisters work in one of the harshest and toughest places all around the world. Their fourth vow, in addition to the vows of povery, chastity, and obedience, is to work whole heartedly and freely for the poorest of the poor. And she says, what the sisters are doing is humanly impossible. That is why they always begin their day with mass. Our Lord's sacrifice in the mass is his love in action for us. With him in us through communion, we are able to see Jesus in the poorest of the poor. When we touch those who are neglected, unloved, and unwanted, we are touching Jesus himself, as Mother Teresa says.
What is it about the Eucharist that enables us to do these incredible acts of charity? I'll explain by using an experience from one of my pilgraimages. I was enroute to Fatima, Portugal when we stopped at a small town in Portugal called Santarem. A small church in this town had a Eucharistic miracle that happened in early 13th century. As the story goes, a wife distraught with a husband who was not being faithful in marriage sought a sorceress. The sorceress said she can help if the woman will bring to her a consecrated host from mass. The wife went to mass, received the Eucharist on her tongue, immediately took it out and wrapped it in a hankerchief, but it immediately started to bleed. Frightened, she ran to her house and immediately hid it in a trunk in her bedroom. At night when both she and her husband were sleeping, a mysterious light emmanted from the trunk. She told him what she had done, and both knelt before the light and repented. The next day, they took the hankerchief and the host which had actually turned into flesh to the parish priest. The priest enclosed it in a wax container placed it in the tabernacle. The next time he opened it, another miracle had occured. The wax container was in pieces, and the host was now miraculously enclosed in a crystal pyx. This host and pyx is still on display today in that small church. In another similar miracle that occured in Lanciano, Italy around 8th century, scientists in 1981 analyzed the Eucharist which turned flesh and found some startling facts. The flesh was a real human muscle; in fact it was a cross section containing the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium. What is Jesus trying to say to us through these miracles? The Eucharist that Jesus gives us is really his most precious heart. Isn't he trying to say to us, I give you dear children my most precious heart? When he gives himself to us in mass, he gives us his heart that beats for the love for us.
In the gospel today, when Jesus saw the vast crowd that followed him, his heart was moved with pity for them, and despite being exhausted he cured their sick. He was even concerned for the crowd who was hungry, who spent days following him. So he takes mere five loves and two fish and multiply them so that more than 5,000 people can be fed to brim with some left over. And so today at mass, Jesus takes a small piece of bread and transforms it into his beating, living heart. When we receive him, his heart beats next to ours. With him in our heart, we are far more capable of giving more than what is humanly possible. With our Lord in their heart, our young people stepped up to the challenge of poverty, stench, long hours, humidity, and sun in Vacherie. With our Lord in their heart, Mother Teresa's sisters were capable of laboring among the poorest of the poor. Aren't we capable of such charity knowing that we have Jesus' heart next to ours?