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06.18.17: The things we carry

Homily from the 4 p.m. Mass at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in New Chicago, Ind., and the 7:30 and 9 a.m. Masses at St. Mary's Church in Crown Point, Ind.

It was about 15 years ago, I was in a 20th Century U.S. History course – and sitting there as a college sophomore who undeniably knew everything about life, I was puzzled why the professor would assign us work of fiction to teach us about the Vietnam War.

What I quickly discovered was that the professor didn’t want us to be able to recount the details of every battle – we weren’t there, we couldn’t possibly understand. What he wanted was for us was to get a glimpse into the hearts and minds of those who were there.

And, as I thumbed through the pages of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” I began to appreciate my father’s generation all the more. Here were 18, 19 year olds leaving home, some going into military service here, but many, many more going to the front lines of war.

In their rucksacks, some carried family photos, mementos from their parents to remind them of home. But in their hearts, they carried the fear of uncertainty.

Will my girlfriend still be waiting?

What if mom or dad get sick?

Is that job going to still be there for me when I get back?

Am I going to make it back?

Am I going to see tomorrow?

Friends, our fears, our anxieties, our frustrations might be different. Indeed, no two of us have the same lives. But that we’re here, in this place, in this moment with each other, tells me that we all share at least one thing. We have hope. We have that inner belief that helps us get out of bed in the morning, that inner strength that tells us that no matter what, things are going to be okay. And where do we find our hope? What is the source? To whom do we turn?

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

You and I are here right now because we believe. We might be in different places in that belief. Some may be rock solid in their relationship with Christ. Others might be grasping at straws struggling to believe. Yet we’re here, with him and with each other. Why? Because we’ve received a promise in today’s Gospel:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Friends, our God is always with us. And stretching out our hands and receiving our Lord in the Eucharist opens our hearts again and again and again to know the love he has for us.

In a few moments, we’ll gather around this table and Father will consecrate bread and wine into that very body and blood of Christ. That body and blood that brings us into unity with our God and with each other. And before we approach the altar, we’re going to be asked to present our sacrifice to the Lord.

But that sacrifice isn’t just bread and wine. It’s not just what’s in the collection basket. That sacrifice is the whole of our being. God wants it all. God wants all the things you and I are carrying. God wants our fears and anxieties, our stresses and struggles. God wants our joy and our triumphs. God wants our gratitude, our love. God wants to transform all of that, to make all that we have, all that we offer and all that we are holy.

In fact, that’s the meaning of sacrifice. Sacrifice – sacra, facere, literally in Latin: to make holy. When we offer our sacrifice, ourselves to God, we’re asking Him to make us and everything we’re carrying holy. So, what are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to present to our Lord?

For the disciple, there’s no holding back when we approach this table, when we partake in the supper of the Lord. Friends, when we join in this heavenly feast, we’re being transformed. We’re being united to our Lord and to each other. When we outstretch our hands and receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we become what we eat. That cross that stares back at us in the host, the very bread of life offered for us, it represents that transformation, it represents that unity: We are one in our relationship with God and one in our relationship with each other.

So today, let’s allow God to look into our hearts, the parts where the light has always shined so brightly, and those dark corners we’ve been afraid to let the Lord and others know. Let the light of God’s love shine in. Offer whatever you’re carrying there to God. Ask God to accept it, to heal it, to make it holy.

You’ll find he already has. That’s the beauty of God’s love, God’s love offered to us in this meal. It’s there. Within us. Around us. Always.

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