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The Real Presence - Jesus Stays with Us

My Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

“Stay with us, Lord, for it is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.”

I’m going to date myself, and I’m going to invite some of you to date yourselves as well. How many of you were born in 1967 or earlier? If so, then you were at least 10 years old and you might remember the movie “Oh God!” which came out in 1977. It starred the singer John Denver and aging actor George Burns.

John Denver’s character was a supermarket assistant manager named Jerry, and George Burns had the title role. He played God. The plot consists of God convincing Jerry that he, God, is really God, and that he wants Jerry to deliver a message to the world that God lives, and that the world can work if we humans try enough. By the end of the movie Jerry has been ridiculed by everyone to whom he tries to convince that God really spoke to him. No spoiler alerts, because you can currently watch it for free on YouTube. But I will share the closing lines of the movie with you.

God, aka George Burns, is finished with Jerry because Jerry accomplished what God wanted him to do. And the closing lines are something like this:

God. Well, I better be going.

Jerry. You coming back?

God. No.

Jerry. Ever?

God. When “ever” comes. We’ll see.

Jerry. Couldn’t we, uh, just talk?

God. I tell you what. You talk, I’ll listen.

Then the camera pans to God walking away, then back to Jerry, and then back to where God was, but he’s no longer visible. Jerry is like the two disciples in today’s gospel—his eyes are opened, he knows God is real, and God vanishes from his view. And the movie ends.

I also checked out the book from the library. Remember, the book is usually better than the movie. In the book after God disappears, the author, writing in the first person, regrets that he couldn’t sum up everything in one profound, magical paragraph. The last sentence is, “the best I can offer on my feelings about Him is this: I wish we could have gotten closer.”

“Stay with us, Lord, for it is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.”

“You talk, I’ll listen.” Short and quick, what you’d expect from a Hollywood movie. But the gospels are not a product of Hollywood. They contain Jesus’ words telling us how to talk to God, how to pray, why we should pray, and what we should expect from our prayer.

Today’s first reading lets us know that the Lord God stays with us, St. Peter quotes from Psalm 16 which we sang this morning with it’s encouraging words:

I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed...

Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices…

because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,

nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. The second reading reminds us that the Blood of Jesus has redeemed us. And it’s so easy to talk to Him; He’s only a prayer away (“you talk, I’ll listen”). But for Catholics He’s present in another way, in the Blessed Sacrament. In case any of you are part of the 70% who think the Eucharist is only a symbolic reminder, here are some ancient sources to nix that opinion.

In the Liturgy of the Hours during the Easter season, there are a few non-biblical readings about the Eucharist.

These readings all affirm the Doctrine of the Real Presence:

Vol II. St. Justin, Martyr. He died in 165.

Vol II. St. Irenaeus, ca. 130-202.

Vol II. Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, this is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

Jerusalem Catecheses, 300s.

Vol II. St. Gaudentius, late 300s.

Vol III. If Christ could by speaking create out of nothing what did not yet exist, can we say that his words are unable to change existing things into something they previously were not? – St. Ambrose, On the Mysteries (339-397).

These are the writings from the very early Church that speak of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. We know that He’s present through the eyes of faith, the first of the three theological virtues, the same virtue that came alive in the two disciples in today’s Gospel: “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (Lk 24:31).

“Stay with us, Lord, for it is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.”

The disciples invite Jesus to remain with them. And Jesus accepts in the next line, “so he went in to stay with them.” What lesson do we learn from that line? We have free will. Jesus comes to us only if he’s invited. On His own the closest He’ll come to us is to knock on the door of your heart. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Rv 3:20). He’ll never force His way in, you have to open the door of your heart from the inside.

In a few minutes most of you will come forward to receive Him in Holy Communion. If, as you come up to receive Communion, and let yourself get distracted by stuff going on around you, and don’t acknowledge by your outward actions that He’s now present in you, it’s like inviting Him to a party and then ignoring Him.

After Jesus spoke to them and broke bread, why were the disciples’ hearts burning? First of all, they were downcast, sad, maybe depressed. Jesus’ crucifixion had dashed all their hopes. As He explains the scriptures that foretell his coming, His death and resurrection, Jesus restored their hopes as he pointed out those Scriptures that spoke of Him. He lit a fire in their hearts; He enlightened their hearts. In this part of the gospel passage, Luke is describing a celebration of Mass: Jesus’ Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist. When He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, Luke says they then recognized Him. Once they recognize His presence, now under the form of bread, He vanished from their sight, and they saw Him in the Gift He left them, His Eucharistic Presence.

Their hearts were burning. One of my favorite saints (because he died on my birthday), St. Pio, aka Padre Pio, related to a brother priest that one time his heart was burning after celebrating Mass:

Jesus’ heart and mine were fused together—if you allow me to express it that way. No longer were there two hearts beating but only one. My heart had disappeared, like a drop of water that is engulfed in the sea. The sea of paradise was Jesus, the King. The joy in me was so intense and profound that I could not contain it. Tears of delight streamed down my face.

Yes, papa, people cannot understand that, when paradise is poured into a heart that is sorrowful, exiled, weak, and mortal, it cannot be contained without tears. Yes, I repeat, the very joy that filled my heart made me weep at length.

From: Padre Pio's Spiritual Direction for Every Day

by Gianluigi Pasquale and Marsha Daigle-Williamson Ph.D © 2011

What St. Pio describes is the kind of experience that we shouldn’t expect to happen every time we receive Communion. We might experience only a few times in a year, maybe at a Mass for a special event, or possibly on retreat. And why is that? I think that special moments like that aren’t meant to occur every time we receive Communion. We shouldn’t expect them every time. We don’t always need moments like that; when they do come, they are gifts of God. But that doesn’t mean that Our Lord doesn’t love us. These kinds of moments are what the great spiritual writers call consolations, moments when we greatly feel the love and presence of God with us.

The two disciples needed it today because they were discouraged, and Jesus lit a fire under them to get them to realize that His death and resurrection were part of His plan. His fire worked, because once they recognized Christ crucified was risen and in their midst, they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem.

Stay with us, Lord. As we approach the altar to receive you today, help us to conduct ourselves with reverence as St. Paul commanded us today, and with abounding joy in your presence as we sang in the Responsorial Psalm. Increase our faith, make our hearts burn, believing that you are next to us 24/7, always at our side. Amen.

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