Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being thankful changes you

One night a Mom overheard her young son praying as he was kneeling by his bedside, “Dear Lord, Mommy said that I should pray that you help change me to be a better boy.  So, if you can, please make me a better boy. But, if you can’t, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time just like I am.”

We heard in our Gospel today that “he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”  Our readings today invite us to think about this theme of giving thanks.  In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian is healed from leprosy. His response is a great example of thanksgiving. Having been healed, Naaman recognizes that God was powerfully at work through Elisha the prophet, and he makes a public profession of his conviction. He said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”

Our Gospel is also clearly about thanksgiving in the account of the healing of 10 lepers. We heard the lepers approach Jesus crying out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”  Jesus heals them, and “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”  Now, most homilies on this passage will focus on why this one came back and the others didn’t – in fact, I think I’ve preached about that once or twice myself.  But, today, I want to think about this in a different way – in a Eucharistic way.  There’s more going on here than just the fact that sometimes we’re thankful and sometimes we’re not. 

There’s something else going on in our readings today – whether Namaan or the leper in our Gospel – we see something important about their giving thanks. We see that the act of giving thanks changes them.  God did something for them and then, the God-centered gratitude in their hearts helped to change them in an amazing way. It had an effect on them. And this is where the Eucharist comes in.  The Eucharist is the other place today that we hear the word thanksgiving.  The very word Eucharist comes to us from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.”  So, when we gather here, we are like Namaan or the man in our Gospel.  We have returned glorifying God in a loud voice and giving thanks. That’s what we do here.

So, let’s talk for a minute about what happens in the Eucharist.  Have you ever really thought about how it is that we believe that what was once bread and wine become completely and fully the Body and Blood of Jesus?  After all, we always have the problem of our natural senses.  Our senses tell us that it still tastes like bread and wine, and yet our faith tells us something different.  In the celebration of the Eucharist, the glorified Christ becomes present under the appearances of bread and wine in a way that is unique, in a way that is Real. 

The Church's traditional theological language says it this way: in the act of consecration during the Eucharist, the "substance" of the bread and wine is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the "substance" of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the appearances of bread and wine remain. This change at the level of substance from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is called “transubstantiation” – from one substance to another.   Does that clear it up for you? Obviously, this language of substance and appearance doesn’t exactly excite us or make our hearts soar.

But let’s think about it a little differently.  Many changes in life involve a change in appearance.   Think about a child reaching adulthood. The appearance of the person changes in many ways through life growing up, but who that person is on the inside, remains the same person—they are the same substance. Over the years, they’ve gotten taller, older, thinner or heavier, smarter or not, more mature hopefully – but through it all, they are still the same person.  So, a change in appearance is only on the outside.  But, a change in substance is much more important – it is a change at the deepest level.  And just think in your own lives for this one.  Have you ever known someone who has had a total conversion of person?  Maybe yourself or someone you know?  Maybe they didn’t have any faith, maybe they were the meanest nastiest person that you knew, but something changed in their life – either  an experience, a realization, perhaps an encounter with God – and they became radically different – they became happy, loving, Spirit-filled whatever.  Their deepest reality changed and that happened regardless of any change in appearance.

This is what is going on in the Eucharist. Of course, God could change the bread into the outward appearance of human flesh, and the wine into the outward appearance and taste of human blood. Nothing is impossible for God.  I for one, am glad that He doesn’t do that.  Could you imagine? Instead God changes what is most important – He changes its deepest reality, the very identity of the bread and wine into the full and complete identity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!

But it doesn’t end there.  If it were only about what happens to the bread and the wine, then that still would be a miracle, but not one that changes the world or any of us.  The power in that change, is that what we see and believe God is doing in the bread and wine, we see and believe God will do in us.  Thanksgiving – Eucharist – changes us. We see and believe that God changes simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son and we believe that through our sharing in that meal, through our reception of that Body and Blood, through our giving thanks, we too will be changed into the Mystical Body of Christ. 

St. Augustine said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.”  So, we receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist that we may become the presence of Christ for each other and for our world.  We are meant to come here giving thanks, and then leave here each week to go out and share His presence and His love with our world. Only then can God do to the whole world, what He has done to that bread and wine and what He does to us – change us into His Son, make us and the world a place full of love and joy and healing and compassion.

The challenge of the Eucharist placed before us every time we celebrate, is three-fold.  We are challenged to recognize that what happens at this and every Mass is an event unparalleled – God becomes really present in our midst through the Eucharist.  We are challenged to recognize that by our sharing in this Eucharistic meal, we too become living, breathing, walking, talking Tabernacles of the Lord’s Presence.  We carry His presence physically in ourselves when we receive.  We need to reverence ourselves and each other as bearing that Presence of Christ.  And finally, we have got to be that real presence of Jesus in our world in all that we say, all that we do, all that we are.

This is the Eucharist; this is Thanksgiving!  Giving thanks changes us! If we have the courage to embrace that, to believe it – most importantly to live it – each one of us here, imagine what could happen outside these doors.  Imagine what the Kingdom of God might look like.

He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Let us fall at the feet of Jesus, thank Him, and let this act of Thanksgiving change and transform us into His image, His body, His very presence in our world.

May the Lord give you peace.

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