Sunday, June 03, 2018

Before You Come Forward, Don’t Forget To Look Backward

(Corpus Christi 2018: This homily was given on June 3, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 24: 3-8; Psalm 116: 12-18; Hebrews 11: 9-15; Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2018]

Before you come forward, don’t forget to look backward.

That’s the thought that came to me as I was reflecting on what I should preach about on this Corpus Christi Sunday.

Before you come forward, don’t forget to look backward.

St. Paul said something similar in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 28, when he wrote: “A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

In other words, before you come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist—which is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Savior of the world (and not a symbol!)—don’t forget to look backward into your life.  Look backward to determine if, at that moment, you’re in the proper spiritual state—and are properly disposed to receive worthily.  Because the one thing you don’t want to do as a Catholic Christian is to receive the Eucharist unworthily.  As St. Paul says in that same chapter 11 of First Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

Now that’s certainly a sin that can be forgiven.  God will forgive every sin we repent of (and, when necessary, bring to the sacrament of reconciliation).  But it’s no small matter.  Receiving unworthily is a sin that’s very serious.  There is, after all, nothing more precious and holy on earth than the Body and Blood of the One who died on the cross and rose from the dead for our salvation.

What I want to share with you now are three situations you might find yourself in when you do “look backward” at Mass.  If you find yourself in one of these situations, you should definitely not “come forward” to receive—at least at that particular Liturgy.  Come up with your hands over your chest in this fashion and receive a blessing instead.  But fear not, even if one of these applies to you, there are still some positive steps you can take to “move forward”.  And if you move forward enough, you’ll eventually be able to come forward and receive communion with a clear conscience.

So here they are.

Situation #1: Mortal sin—which includes things like hatred, adultery, blasphemy, fornication, masturbation, contraception—and missing a Sunday or a holy day Mass without a good reason.  As it says in paragraph 1415 of the Catechism, “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace.  Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.”

Which, of course, is precisely the way to “move forward” if you suddenly realize that you’re in this situation.  Today’s second reading from Hebrews 9 says that Jesus “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”  He shed his precious blood so that we could receive forgiveness—for anything and for everything!  But we have to reach out for it, which is what we do in the sacrament of reconciliation. 

On that note, we have confessions here every Wednesday afternoon at 5, and every Saturday afternoon at 3:30—or at some other time by appointment.

So go to confession if you need to!  What have you got to lose—except your sins?

Situation #2 that might prevent you from coming forward: You’re not Catholic.  In 1 Corinthians 10: 17, St. Paul says this: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."  When we share Eucharist with others we are making a public statement that we are one in faith with them.  That's what Paul is telling us in this text.  But, unfortunately, we are not one in faith with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters.  Yes, we share some elements of belief in common with Protestant Christians, that's true; but not enough such that we can come together and partake of "the one loaf."

If you are not Catholic and you’re here at Mass this morning, I certainly welcome you.  I’m glad that you’re here with us to pray to our common Lord and Savior.  I invite you, too, to come forward for a blessing at communion time.  But I also encourage you to learn more about the Catholic Faith and to consider becoming Catholic.  That’s the best way you can “move forward.”  Deacon Fran and his wife Donna will be starting their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes again this fall.  Think about signing up for those classes.  Signing up doesn’t mean you will become Catholic (although I hope you will!).  It will simply give you the opportunity to learn more about the Church, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to enter it. 

And if you do enter it, the good news is that you’ll then be able to join us at the altar, because you will be one in faith with us and with the Church.

Which brings us, finally, to the third situation that might prevent you from coming forward for the Eucharist: Your marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church.  Some people might think this teaching has changed recently, but it hasn’t.  You see, marriage, from the Catholic perspective, is not a contract; it’s a sacrament that forms a covenantal bond between a man and a woman.  The fact that it’s a sacrament means that Jesus and his Body, the Church, must be part of the union.  And even in marriages where a Catholic marries an unbaptized person (which are not, strictly speaking, sacramental), the Lord needs to be involved, because, as the Catechism says, “God himself is the author of marriage.” (CCC 1603)  What I often tell people is this: “If you’re a Catholic, you’re a member of the spiritual family known as ‘the Church’.  For your marriage to be valid, you need your spiritual family’s blessing.  And this blessing is what you should want, just like you want the blessing—the approval—of your parents and siblings and other members of your biological family when you get married.”

So, if this is your situation right now, how do you “move forward”?

My recommendation would be to talk to a priest or deacon.  He can help you to determine what you need to do, and then help you begin the process.  If you and your spouse in the civil union were never married before, you simply need to have your marriage “convalidated”—which basically involves some preparation, some paperwork, and then a brief ceremony in which you take your vows in front of a priest and two witnesses.

If there are previous marriages, the process may be more involved—but that’s what the priest or deacon can help you determine.

In the meantime, come up for a blessing at Mass like the others—and also make a spiritual communion. 

Actually a spiritual communion is something we all can do, when, for some reason, we’re not able to receive the Blessed Sacrament.  Even non-Catholics can do it.  It basically involves asking Jesus to come into your heart and to give you the spiritual benefits of the Eucharist.  There’s no official prayer or formula for this; you can use your own words—although many people use the spiritual communion prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori as a model.  It reads as follows:    
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire you with all my heart. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already in my heart and unite myself to you completely. Please do not let me ever be separated from you.
I think that’s the one they use on EWTN during their televised daily Mass, for the benefit of the shut-ins watching at home who aren’t able to receive communion that day.

Before you come forward, don’t forget to look backward.

That, I believe, is the Lord’s simple and direct message to us on this Corpus Christi Sunday.

It’s my prayer today that we will all learn to put this message into practice, so that whenever we do come forward to receive the Eucharist at Mass we will do so worthily, and thus be open to the many graces that Jesus wants to give us in and through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.