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Bishop's Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

July 2, 2023

[Saints Peter and Paul Church, Honolulu (Confirmation and First Communion)]

A friend of mine who is a parish priest has the custom of interviewing the candidate for Confirmation and the candidate’s parents some time during the preparation program.  He recounted one particular interview in which he said to the mother, “I am glad you are bringing your son to the Confirmation program.  But I am wondering if you go to Mass, since I do not recall ever seeing you at Mass.”  Without missing a beat, the mother replied, “That’s right, Father.  Last year we did Mass.  This year we are doing tennis.”  We might find this amusing, but that mother was expressing an attitude that is more common than we would like it to be.  It sees attending Mass as simply one of many choices we can make as consumers, not having any great objection to it, but treating it as it if were just one of many things we can do on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening).

If we have this attitude – and many do, even if they are not as bluntly honest as that mother! – we miss what the Mass is all about.  It is not just an activity we engage in because it makes us better people.   Tennis can make one a better person, as can many other activities.  The Mass is a unique and physical encounter with the risen Lord Jesus that cannot be equaled by anything else.  It is here that Jesus himself, the one who loves us so much that he laid down his life for us, makes himself physically present to us.  He is present in the assembly that is his living Body, the Church.  He is present in the priest who presides at the Mass.  He is present in his Word, so that it is not just the lector, the deacon or the priest who is proclaiming the Scripture readings, but Jesus himself, who is the Word, speaking to us.  And most of all, he is present in the bread and wine that are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into his true Body and Blood.

It is not just a rule or regulation that should keep us coming to Mass every Sunday, but a true desire to be in the physical presence of the One who loves us more than we could possibly imagine.  If we truly understood this, there should be no question about where we would be on Sunday.  Jesus assures us that if we are faithful to him, he also will be faithful to us; if we receive him, we receive the one who sent him.  Just as the wonderful woman in the story about the prophet Elisha was so happy to see him that she and her husband prepared a room for him, so that he could stay with them whenever he was in their town, so we can make a place for Jesus to dwell in us.  This is why the First Communion today is so important, because from today on, you will be able to have this intimate and holy communion with Jesus whenever you come to Mass.  If you make a permanent home for him, he will richly reward you.

Now, let us be clear about what being richly rewarded means.  It does not necessarily mean that if you are faithful to Jesus you will never have any struggles or difficulties in your life.  In fact, Jesus tells us very bluntly that our relationship with him is so consuming that it takes precedence over mother, father, and family.  He does not lie and tell us we will have no problems if we are faithful to him.  In fact, he tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him, and crosses are never easy to take up.  Yet he will  give us a joy and a strength in the midst of all our sufferings and deprivations, so that we know we are on the right course, on the “Way” that leads to life, the “Way” that Jesus himself is for us.

But we are wired to run away from crosses, to choose comforts over hardships, so we need a special grace, first to see that it is Jesus who is truly present with us in the Eucharist, and then to have the wisdom and courage to take up our crosses.  So Jesus gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, especially in the sacrament of Confirmation, so that our decisions can be guided not so much by our own weak spirits, but by the strength of the Holy Spirit who is God.

If we do the right thing toward others, treating everyone with dignity and respect, we might be ridiculed by those who think it is more fun to put others down.  If we live our sexuality the way God wants us to live out this beautiful gift he has given us, we may be laughed at and shunned.  If we give our resources of time, talent and treasure to the service of the poor, we may be taken for granted or taken advantage of.  But even if these things happen, we will still feel an immense joy that no one can take from us.

And this is why it is so important for us to embrace Jesus, because he knows how to carry the cross and to ultimately overcome its horrors.  He knows that if we are faithful to him, as he is faithful to his Father, no matter what happens, we will have a joy and a peace that no one can take from us.