Gift of Sunday Advent Mission Homily available to read
Gift of Sunday Homily:
Greetings to the people of the North.
My name is Fr. Jordan Berghouse and I am the associate pastor of St. Monica’s in Whitefish Bay and St. Eugene in Fox Point. I’ve been a priest for two and a half years. Which means I’m not a baby priest anymore I’m a toddler priest…I tell my pastor Fr. Paul Hartmann I’m in my terrible twos. It’s always a great relief to come up here away from the city. So much quieter. More peaceful.
This evening we continue our reflections on the Gift of Sunday. This is of course the Archbishop’s initiative for the whole diocese to enter into a deep reflection on why Sunday is so significant in our lives as Christians. I really appreciate the Archbishop’s forethought on this…
Something that I think we were all worried about during the COVID lockdowns was whether or not people would come back to Mass…will they come back?? The Archbishop was sensitive to this too which is what prompted his reflection on the Gift of Sunday and an intentional effort on the part of the whole diocese to not forget why Sunday worship is so essential.
I know Fr. John Burns was up here during Lent…he wasn’t available during Advent so I’m pinch hitting.
Sunday. Why on earth is Sunday so important? Sometimes it can be hard to explain to others why Sunday is so important to us. I know a lot of parents for instance who really suffer when their kids stop going to Mass as they get older. It’s a heavy cross. They want so much for them to see the importance of the worship of God in their lives, to see the light! And it becomes such a struggle to try to impart why Sunday is so important. I was talking to a guy the other day who was struggling to find the words of encouragement for his son to go to Mass and he was tempted to just say, “Go to mass because your mother wants you too!” We all have people like this in our lives. People we deeply desire will be reinvigorated in faith, encounter the Lord, and return to Mass.
So tonight I want to come at it from a very basic level, which I’ve found helpful when talking to people that I encounter. People in my own life and in my ministry. There is no perfect thing to say. And we can’t simply convince people. It is a decision that all of us have to come to in freedom, on our own. But we do try to be witnesses. We try our best to explain the incredible beauty. To teach the faith. As our culture becomes less Christian, our evangelization or proclamation of the faith is forced to return to the basics. To give new language that people will understand to the same tradition and the same truth that we have professed for so many generations.
So…where to begin? The very beginning. Where did the importance of Sunday originate? Our observance of the sabbath has deep Scriptural and Jewish roots…its significance has been a part of our tradition since the very beginning…“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” Genesis 2:2-3
As we keep reading, in Exodus Moses is given the Ten Commandments by the Lord, and He says:
“Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11
So, in a very basic sense, why do we keep holy the sabbath? Because the Lord asked us too.
He asked us to, and He is my Creator. He has given me everything. Without Him, I wouldn’t be here. I didn’t will myself to be here! He breathed life into me. Wow! And I’m so grateful to Him. And so I respond in love to His request to set aside one day a week for Him. Yes Lord, I will do so. I will keep it holy. All the other days I can do with as I see fit. I will give this day each week to you, because I love you, and I’m so grateful for everything that you have given me.
The Sabbath in our Jewish tradition was always on Saturday. Why is it now on Sunday? It was moved to Sunday because of the Resurrection. The Resurrection changed everything. Because of how extraordinary this event was, it was something that the first Christians wanted to celebrate constantly. Every week. And so they modified a tradition that had been ingrained for thousands of years, moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
Another thing that I’ve found helpful in trying to explain why we set aside Sunday is pointing to the powerful practice in the Jewish tradition of offering first fruits. When it came time for the harvest, the Jews would take the first fruits of the harvest and they would offer them up as a burnt offering in sacrifice to God. What a powerful gesture. They did this as an act of thanksgiving and as an acknowledgment that every gift that we have been given, every harvest, was only possible because of God. It was given by Him.
I don’t know if you’ve ever grown anything before. I’m sure up here in Fond du Lac most people have grown something. Not in Whitefish Bay. When you grow something like tomatoes, that first fruit, that first tomato…it is the best! You are so excited when it finally ripens. Usually you just grab it and tear into it. Imagine taking that first tomato, and instead of tearing into it, offering it up in sacrifice to the Lord. Thank you Lord for the gift of this harvest. None of this would be possible without you, and so I give you these first fruits, these best fruits, in sacrifice in thanksgiving.
This is what we do on Sunday. Sunday is the first fruit of the week, and it is the best! Everyone loves Sunday. How powerful to take this first fruit and to offer it back in sacrifice to the Lord…as an acknowledgement that everything that we have been given…even our time…all of our time…every single day is a gift from Him. I only have it because of Him. And so we give it back in sacrifice, in thanksgiving, and in love.
The reality is, when we really do love someone, we want to spend time with them. We want to show our love for them. Spouses here might think about when you first started dating or were engaged or newly married. You probably just couldn’t wait for the next time you could be with the other. You couldn’t get enough! Those who have been married 40 years are probably like, yea we like our space. No, I’m just kidding. It only gets better right? When we love someone we want to be with them…we want to show our love using the entirety of our human person.
And what is that? What does our human person consist of? We have a soul, and we have a body. I have a body, which is why you can see me right now, and I have a spirit that animates this body, otherwise I’d be lying on the floor right now. We know that in our human relationships, using both the body and the soul is so important in expressing love. How about that first handshake in a long time after the COVID shutdowns…that first hug?
Sometimes I think the temptation can be, well I love the Lord. I think about Him…I talk to Him in my heart. I don’t need to go to Church. Imagine if we did that in our human relationships though. Imagine if I planned to go to breakfast with my best friend every week on Saturday morning. Sometimes I went, but most Saturdays I would call them and say, “Hey friend, would it be alright if we just thought about each other this morning instead? Maybe think about each other in our hearts?” First of all, that’s just weird…right? But also, what does that communicate? It communicates that I may love my friend, but I don’t love them that much. Something else has become more important to me…sleep…time for myself…time for other people that I love more. There is power in using not just our spirit, but our body as well to show our love. We know this in our human relationships. It is the same with God. To use our bodies to get up out of bed. To use our bodies to make our way to the Church. To sit down in the pew. To speak out loud in prayer and in worship. I love you Lord. I love you so much. I give you this time. I give you this day. I’m using the entirety of my human person, body and soul, to show that love.
This is why the sacraments are so powerful. They involve not just the human soul, but the body as well. It is an acknowledgement that this is an integral part of who we are. The physical, the bodily. And so we use things like water, and oil, and bread, and wine, and we speak out loud, giving flesh to our commitment, to our sorrow, to our worship, and to our love.
(Transition to Eucharist)
The sacraments are even more powerful because they were given to us by Jesus. And we take what He did pretty seriously. A lot of people remember Jesus Christ, the Palestinian Jew, as a holy man or a prophet. People in Islam, people in Judaism, probably many atheists. A good man. But as Christians, we believe more than that. We believe He was God in the flesh! Why? Because He believed it! And it’s why they killed Him. He said things like, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” He claimed to have the power to forgive sins. He put Himself on the same level as God over and over and over again. And for many of the religious at the time, this was blasphemy, and blasphemy is punishable by death. And so they crucified Him. And three days later, the unthinkable happened. He came back from the dead! He stood in their midst, in the flesh. They put their hands in the wounds of his hands, and their hands in the wound of His side as He said to them, “Peace be with you! Do not be afraid. It is I. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Those who witnessed this event were so convicted by it, that they went around the world proclaiming it. “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead! Jesus Christ has risen from the dead!” Even in the face of their own death, they would not recant. Every single one of them, except John, lost their lives proclaiming this message. The potency of their witness resonates even today, and their proclamation has reached our ears. We believe that He is indeed Risen. That He was who He says was. The Son of God. That He and the Father are One. That He was God.
What’s the first thing that we learn about God in the Scriptures? He creates. When He speaks, things come into existence. He says, “Let there be light!” And there is light. He says, “Let there be there earth and the sea and the sky.” And there is. He says, “Let there be man and let there be woman.” And there is. He has the power to create. If Jesus is God, then He too has the power to create, power over creation, and we see this throughout the Gospel in His ministry. When Jesus approaches the blind man and says, “See!” He sees. When he approaches the deaf man and says, “Hear!” What happens? He hears. When He approaches the lame and says, “Walk!” What happens? They walk! He has the power to create anew.
So also when He takes mere bread and says, “This is my body, take and eat,” what happens? It mysteriously is transformed into His body, the fullness of His presence. And when He takes wine and says, “Take and drink, this is my blood,” what happens? It becomes His blood, the fullness of His presence.
The Eucharist is a great mystery. Why did He do this? I don’t know. But the same mystery surrounds all of creation. Why did He create the world? Why did he create light and darkness? Why did he create the sea and the land? Why did he create you and me? All of it is a mystery. But it is the design of the Creator, and it has been given as a gift, and so we receive it all in humility and in gratitude. Thank you Lord for the goodness of your Creation, thank you for the gift of life! Thank you for this new creation, the gift of the Eucharist. Even though you have ascended to the Father, you make yourself present to me, body, blood, soul, and divinity, every time that we gather together at Mass.
And this is what we have celebrated from the very beginning. Perhaps some of you have heard of St. Justin Martyr…one of the earliest Christians, and a martyr, hence the name, born in about the year 100. Justin Martyr writes about the Eucharist saying, “For we do not receive these things as common bread nor common drink…the food eucharisticized through the word of prayer that is from Him…is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became incarnate.” Since the very beginning, from the time of Jesus, the apostles, the early Church until now this is what we have believed. Jesus mysteriously gives us his very presence in the Eucharist.
And so we pray for the eyes to see. To see beyond our human sight, and to trust in the Word of God. To grow in appreciation of the great gift that we are given every Sunday.
Power in stories – testifying to the faith that we encounter in others has power.
Two years ago I spent the summer in Guatemala, learning Spanish. I remember very distinctly attending a local parish for Mass. Following mass there was a Eucharistic procession. As the priest took hold of the monstrance, the gold container that holds the Eucharist, and stepped outside, the minute he stepped outside the people lit off a host of fireworks, firework after firework. They sang and they processed for hours around the town praising the Lord, adoring the Eucharist, giving thanks to God. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. These people had incredible faith. They had an incredible love for the Eucharist. I pray to be able to rejoice and give thanks like the people I encountered in Guatemala.
St. John Paul II
Power in your own story – the greatest story you can tell. It has a lot of potency.
I worked in Washington D.C. after I graduated from college. I tried for so long to pave my own path and to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve. And in many instances, I ignored God. I was afraid of Him. Afraid of what I would have to leave behind if I fully committed to a relationship with Him. But, after I had achieved everything, I looked at my heart, and I was miserable. So sad. So broken. So empty. Really struggling. I realized, I couldn’t do it without Him anymore. I wasn’t strong enough. And so I returned. I started to pray more…that prayer led to going to Confession frequently. And then I started to go to Mass…not just on Sunday…every day during my lunch hour at work, receiving the Eucharist as often as I could. What I noticed over time was a source of great consolation. I noticed that since I had turned towards the Lord, I felt stronger. Somehow, even though the circumstances of my life hadn’t changed, I had changed. It was the first time I felt like I knew what grace was. The effect of the grace that comes through the sacraments. Grace, which very simply means God’s help. His assistance. As we receive the fullness of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, it gives us strength from within. Strength to move forward on our journey in this life. Testifying to this to those around us whom we love has power. There is power in your story. Explaining not just the reasons why the Eucharist is important, but testifying to how God has transformed your heart and given you strength through it.
Oftentimes, an appreciation for the Gift of Sunday and the gift of the Eucharist only comes when we are broken. When we come to the realization that we can’t do it alone anymore. Life is too heavy. This suffering is too much. I need help!
One of my favorite images of the Eucharist is from J.R.R. Tolkein’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, a group of 9, comprised of 4 hobbits, two men, a dwarf, an elf, and a wizard begin a treacherous journey to try to destroy the “Ring of Power,” which is a deadly weapon of the enemy that has come into their possession. On the journey there are so many instances when their food supply runs low, they have to ration, they have to tighten their belts. As the food runs out, they run out of energy, their spirits are low, and they aren’t able to travel as far during the day. However, there is one food source that they are given which tends to provide strength in an almost supernatural way. That is food made by the elves which is called “lembas” bread. It is said that lembas bread is “more strengthening than any food made by men.”
“One cake will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labor.”
“The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire…and yet, this way bread of the Elves had potency that increased as travelers relied upon it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”
Tolkien was a literary genius. If you’ve never read his works, I highly recommend them. But even more than that, he was a devout Catholic who had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. The lembas bread of the elves is a beautiful representation of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us spiritual food for this journey of life. This journey of life with its hills and valleys, its joys and sorrows. When life leaves us hungry and tired and exhausted and hurt as a result of being mistreated, as a result of sin, as a result of failure, trial, incredible pain and loss, we remember that we have food available to us for the journey. A food that sustains and gives life. This is the gift that we receive on Sunday. The gift of the Eucharist, which gives us strength in a way that no other food can. It is more strengthening than any food made by men. One cake will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labor. It has a virtue without which we would long ago have lain down to die. It gives us the strength to endure.
To close, I want to reflect on what we bring when we approach the Lord on Sunday. When we encounter Him in the Eucharist. He gives us the fullness of Himself. And he asks us to do the same.
One of my favorite gestures during the Mass is when the gifts are brought forward. The bread and wine process forward and are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. This gesture reminds me of the Magi, which is appropriate for this season of Advent and Christmas. The Magi…the three wise men traditionally known as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar who process forward with gifts as well…gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold for the king, frankincense for the priest, and myrrh for the one who would die. Like them, we want to bring gifts to the Lord. Our greatest gifts. At His birth. And every Sunday. Every time we approach Him. Lord, you’ve given me everything. I want to give it back. The best of what I have I give back to you. My whole self!
What the greatest gifts we can give the Lord are…is where I think sometimes we go wrong. We might think our greatest gifts are our talents. My intellect, my beauty, my generosity, my kindness, my hospitality, my diligence and hard work, my voice, my time. All of these things are important. They are great gifts. But we share these with everybody. These are gifts that we are proud of, that we want everyone to see!
What the Lord asks for, is for us to not just give Him the parts of ourselves that we are proud of…what He really wants is for us to give Him our poverty. Our weakness. Not just where we are strong, but where we are weak and broken.
Think about it. Who is it that you share the greatest struggles that you wrestle with in your heart? The greatest pain? The greatest sin? Maybe one or two people? Maybe none? When we share these struggles with another, in total vulnerability, because we trust them, because we love them, it is like the finest of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This is the greatest gift that I can give you. To trust you with my brokenness. To reveal to you who I really am. To give you the totality of myself. This is what Jesus hungers for us to give Him. He gives us his whole self, His body, blood, soul, and divinity. And He asks us in return to give Him our whole self…body, blood, soul, and all of our humanity.
In Bethlehem you can actually visit the cave where traditionally Jesus was born. It’s beautiful because in order to get into the little chapel you actually have to bow your head. This is a sign that in order to approach Jesus we have to be humble. But even more than that, if you want to get closer to the cave, you actually have to get down on your hands and knees. As we begin this holy season of Advent, journeying towards the Lord in procession, carrying gifts…as we approach the Lord in humility each and every Sunday, I encourage you, don’t just bow your head. Get on your hands and knees! Bring before the Lord your poverty, your brokenness every single Sunday. Imagine what you bring being brought to the altar with the bread and wine. And somehow, mysteriously, being totally transformed. Allow Him to show his power in that place.
I’d just like to invite everyone to close their eyes. Close your eyes and quiet your hearts. What do you bring to the Lord today? Ask yourself, where am I broken? What part of me brings me the most pain? What is going on in my life that causes me the most suffering? Very intentionally, whisper the prayer, “Jesus, I invite you in. Jesus, I invite you in.” The Lord is so humble and gentle, he respects our freedom so much that He will not come until He is invited. And so we pray, Jesus I invite you in.”
“Jesus thank you for everything you have given me. Thank you for the gift of my life. Thank you for the gift of Sunday. Thank you for giving me the fullness of yourself in the Eucharist. I give myself to you in return…I even give you the greatest gift that I can give…my poverty.”