Sunday, June 07, 2015

Justin’s Three Bs: Baptism—Belief—Behavior

St. Justin Martyr

(Corpus Christi 2015: This homily was given on June 7, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 24: 3-8; Hebrews 11: 9-15; Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2015]


Those are what I would call, “Justin’s Three Bs”.

“And who is Justin, Fr. Ray?”

I’m so glad you asked!  The Justin I’m speaking about here is none other than Saint Justin, who was a great philosopher and defender of the Christian faith—in addition to being one of the early martyrs of the Church.  In fact, he was born right around the year 100—which means he was almost a contemporary of the Twelve Apostles!

He definitely goes back a long way.

In his writings Justin gives us a pretty clear picture of the life and teachings of Christianity in its infancy.  In this regard, he’s both an authoritative—and a reliable—resource.  Some of his writings, not surprisingly, relate to the Mass and the Holy Eucharist—including this sentence, which is the one I want to focus on today:

“No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

There, in that one very simple sentence, we encounter all three of Justin’s Bs:

·         Baptism: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins.”
·         Belief: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true.”
·         Behavior: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

How often have you been to a funeral or a wedding in a non-Catholic church during which the minister invited EVERYONE to come to Communion?  How often have you been to a Liturgy in a Catholic church during which the priest did the very same thing—just to be “nice” and “inclusive”?

It happens a lot—unfortunately.

And because of that, priests like yours truly—who try to give people clear guidelines for receiving the Eucharist based on the authentic teaching of the Church—are sometimes called “uncharitable” and “insensitive” and a lot of other negative things.

And I have the emails to prove it!

Well, I don’t think it requires a lot of scholarly research to figure out where St. Justin and the early Church stood on the matter.  All you need to do is read that one line I just quoted to you and think of Justin’s “three Bs”—and you’ll have your answer.

The first requirement for receiving the Eucharist worthily and fruitfully according to Justin is Baptism—a valid Baptism in the name of the Blessed Trinity.  In fact, that’s a requirement for receiving any one of the other six sacraments.  If, for example, your unbaptized neighbor is on his deathbed, and he tells you that he wants to receive the “Last Rites” of the Church (i.e., the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick), your priest will not anoint him—until after he baptizes him!  As it says in paragraph 1213 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to the life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.”

Baptism: Justin’s first B.

His second B—his second requirement for receiving the Eucharist worthily and fruitfully—is Belief: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true.”  Notice that Justin does not say, “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach ABOUT THE EUCHARIST is true.”  If that’s what he had said, I know some Episcopalians and some other Protestants who would fulfill the requirement.  They will tell you, in effect, that they believe in the Catholic teaching on transubstantiation, which basically says that after the consecration at Mass the substance (in other words, the inner reality) of the bread and wine changes into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—while the accidents (in other words, the physical properties) of the bread and wine remain the same.

That much they believe.  They believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  The problem is that they don’t believe in a lot of other things that the Catholic Church teaches.  (If they did, they’d be Catholic!)  But the Eucharist is the sign of our unity in faith—which is the point St. Justin is making with his second B.  St. Paul says the same thing, essentially, in 1 Corinthians 10: 17 when he says, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

So Catholics should not be receiving at funerals and weddings at Christ Episcopal Church (or at any other Protestant church for that matter)—even if they’re invited to do so by the minister—because we Catholics are not sufficiently united with these other Christians in what we believe.  (And also because, from our perspective, their Eucharists aren’t valid—which is another story that I won’t get into today.)

I remember being at a big Charismatic conference at the Providence Civic Center in the late 1970s, and hearing a very dynamic Protestant minister give an excellent talk—a talk in which he spoke about another conference he had attended previously that was ecumenical in its makeup.  In other words, there was a group of Catholics in attendance as well as groups from many different Protestant denominations.  And he said they spent most of each day of the conference together: they prayed together, they sang together, they shared their faith with one another in discussion groups, they listened to the same talks—but when the time came to celebrate the Eucharist (or something akin to the Eucharist), each group gathered separately.  The Catholics went to one room for Mass; the Episcopalians gathered in another room for their liturgy, etc.

And that’s exactly what they should have done!  Rather than pretending that they were all fully united in faith (when, in fact, they weren’t), these people came together and affirmed and celebrated their common beliefs about Jesus, but they also acknowledged the fact they were not united enough in their beliefs to share the Eucharist together.

That’s real ecumenism!

Which brings us, finally, to Justin’s third B—his third requirement for receiving the Eucharist worthily and fruitfully—Behavior: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”  This is why St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11: 28, “A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  An honest examination of conscience should always take place before we approach the altar to receive Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  And if, in the process of doing that examination, we realize that we’ve missed Mass without a good reason—or committed some other serious sin—we should not go to Communion again until we’ve repented and made a good sacramental confession.

Hopefully you can see that this is not just “Fr. Ray’s idea” or “Fr. Ray’s personal opinion”.  St. Paul said it in the first century (which is when he wrote 1 Corinthians), and St. Justin Martyr said it in the second century when he wrote about his three Bs. 

This has been the consistent and unchanging teaching of the Church for 2,000 years—and it’s given to us for OUR BENEFIT! 

We need to remember that.  You see, the Church wants us to be open to all the graces that come to us through the Blessed Sacrament!  But that openness will only be present if we receive the Eucharist while we’re in the state of grace—in other words, worthily.  Otherwise, it becomes a sacrilege.

So the bottom line is this (and I’ll leave you with this thought): We need to take Justin’s three Bs very seriously in our lives, if we want to experience “the Big B” someday.  Getting baptized, believing the Gospel as taught by the Church, and keeping tabs on our behavior, lead to a worthy and fruitful reception of the Eucharist in this life; but, even more importantly, they ultimately lead us to what I would call “the Big B”—the Beatific Vision—which, of course, is just another way of saying “heaven”!