is the enemy of the Church
September 27, 2000
The second installment
of Archbishop Chaput's homily at the Votive Mass during the archdiocesan
Eucharistic Congress, Sept. 17 at Magness Arena at the University of Denver.
The Readings were:
First: Isaiah 50:4c-9a;
Psalm: Psalm 116:1-2,3-4,5-6,8-9;
Second: James 2:14-18;
Gospel: Mark 8:27-35.
By Archbishop Charles
During Pope John Paul
II's Spiritual Exercises in March this year, Vietnamese Archbishop Francois
Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân preached on the Eucharist with stories from
his 13 years in prison at the hands of the communists.
He said: "When
they imprisoned me in 1975, a terrible question came to my mind: `Will I
be able to celebrate Mass?'"
The former archbishop
of Saigon explained that when he was arrested, he was not permitted to take
any of his personal belongings. But the following day he was allowed to
write his family to request essentials like clothes and toothpaste. He wrote,
"Please send me some wine as medication for my stomach problems."
His family understood immediately what he wanted, and they sent him a small
bottle labeled "Medicine for Stomach Ache." They also concealed
some hosts among his clothes.
The police asked him:
"Do you have a stomach problem?"
He replied that he
"Then here is
He said, "I shall
never be able to express my joy. Every day I celebrated Mass with three
drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of my hand. Every day I
was able to kneel before the Cross with Jesus, drink with him his most bitter
chalice. Every day, when reciting the Consecration, I confirmed with all
my heart and with all my soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus
and me, through his blood mixed with mine. They were the most beautiful
Masses of my life."
Later, the archbishop
was assigned to a group of 50 prisoners. They slept in a common bunk. Each
one had the right to 50 centimeters of space. He said, "We arranged
it so that five Catholics were next to me. Lights went out at 21:30 and
everyone had to go to sleep. In bed, I celebrated Mass by heart, and distributed
Communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We made envelopes with
cigar paper to conserve the Most Blessed Sacrament. I always carried the
Eucharistic Christ in the pocket of my shirt."
With the help of his
Catholic companions, the archbishop gradually passed the Eucharist to dozens
of other prisoners. "They all knew Jesus was among them, and that He
cures all physical and mental sufferings. At night, the prisoners took turns
at Adoration. The Eucharistic Christ helped in an unimaginable way with
His silent presence: Many Catholics began to believe again enthusiastically.
Their testimony of service and love made an ever greater impact on the other
prisoners, and even some Buddhists and non-Christians embraced the faith.
Jesus' force is irresistible. The darkness of the prison became a paschal
For the archbishop,
"Jesus began a revolution on the cross. The revolution of the civilization
of love must begin in the Eucharist, and from here it must derive its force."
That's the power of
the Eucharist. How often do we even begin to approach the gratitude we should
feel for such a gift?
And so too with Scripture.
St. Jerome wrote that "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of
Christ." The Second Vatican Council said "the Church has always
venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the body of the Lord"
(DV, 21). So the liturgy we celebrate today is not two separate acts
one where we listen to the Bible, and then another where we receive Communion.
It's one liturgy, one act of worship and thanksgiving, "one table of
the Word of God and the Body of Christ" (DV, 21) in which Christ offers
us Himself, the bread of life, for our strength and salvation.
God's Word made flesh said, "I am with you always, to the close
of the age." How can that be true? But it is true. It's true in the
Eucharist and in Scripture. And that brings us to the second and final lesson
in young Aaron Lustiger's story, and it's this: Faith has consequences.
In our Gospel today,
Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?" The answers we hear
now aren't much different from 2,000 years ago. The world says: Jesus was
a teacher, a prophet, a minor rabbi, a marginal Jew, a political revolutionary.
Take your pick. It doesn't really matter. What does matter what matters
eternally is His next question: "But who do you say that I am?"
You see, if Jesus is just a minor prophet, He's a footnote to history. If
He's God, He's the author of history.
happening here today. These readings today are not just interesting moral
stories from the past. They're God's living Word. Jesus is here, in this
assembly, right now and He's asking each one of us: "But who
do you say that I am?" If our answer is Peter's answer "You
are the Christ" then our lives need to change as deeply as young
Aaron's life changed. And that means we need to think as God thinks, not
as the world thinks.
It means that we need
to take up the cross, not avoid it. It means that if our Catholic faith
doesn't bear fruit in actions which prove our love for God and His children,
then our faith is dead. It's worthless. If we ignore the poor and the hungry,
we don't love Christ. If we vote for political candidates who methodically
go along with the killing of unborn children, we don't love Christ. We need
to understand that today's second reading from James is meant for each one
of us: " . . . faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
This is why Isaiah
"I gave my back
to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I
did not shield from buffets and spitting." God called Isaiah to be
a messenger to His people. Isaiah obeyed and followed. And Isaiah was willing
to bear the cost of that mission, because he believed that " . . .
the Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced." That's faith.
That's what Peter had such a hard time understanding at first. That's what
the young boy Aaron decided to embrace. That's what God asks each one of
us to choose.
In the last days of
World War II, the Third Reich martyred a young German pastor named Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran, but his words about "the cost
of discipleship" should be engraved in the heart of every Christian
believer, and all of us here today. Bonhoeffer wrote:
easy Christianity "is the deadly enemy of our Church.
We are fighting today for costly grace . . . Cheap grace is the preaching
of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline,
Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap
grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without
Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
is the treasure hidden in the field . . . the pearl of great price . . .
the call of Jesus Christ, at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows
Him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, [and]
it is costly because it cost God the life of His son `Ye were bought
at a great price' and what has cost God much, cannot be cheap for
Jesus asks us today:
"Who do you say that I am?" If our answer is: "You are the
Christ," then God's will for us is clear: "Go make disciples of
all nations." And the source of our confidence and joy is also clear:
"I am with you always, to the close of the age." Jesus Christ
is with us always in the love we share with each other in His name,
in the power of the Scriptures, and above all, in the Eucharist.
God grant that our
lives prove that to the world.