Holy Thursday Homily (delivered at Holy Family Cathedral)

Dear brothers and sisters here at Holy Family this evening:

As we gather at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening, and hear once more the Word of God which proclaims the presence of Christ in the Eucharist who sends us forth in service of love to the world, I would bring here this evening three images from life and history, and one current one which powerfully illustrate what the Body and Blood of Christ is:

  • In my seminary days I would pray in the Gothic chapel, drawing us up to God as all Gothic architecture does, to the words about the high altar which describes what the Eucharist is : “Cibus Viatorum” (Latin) – or “Food for Travelers” (English).   We are all travelers on the “Road of life” – all linked together in the Journey to Eternal Life. Today here at Holy Family, let us together renew our commitment to traveling this road linked together with those whom we know, whom the Lord has placed together. Let us commit ourselves again to receiving the Eucharist, a food for this journey with each other, with the Lord in our midst.
  • When I was a pastor in Springfield, Illinois I was pastor of a Church officially entitled the “Memorial Church of the Blessed Sacrament.” It is the Church which my grandparents helped to build, and where my parents were married, and where I was eventually pastor.  When I do have the time to return to Springfield – which is certainly on fewer occasions anymore – I walk up the east aisle of the Church , flooded by the memories of so many years:
    • A) My mother nudging us (four of the Vann Boys at that time) when we were small (and probably restless and squirming) and the consecration bells would ring , and say “Jesus is here.”  I remembered the exact spot well in the pews and would work nearby them.
    • B) The late morning and early afternoon sun flooding through the stain glass windows of Saints dedicated to the Eucharist. In particular I remember Saint Tarcisius protecting the Eucharist from a band of non believers who were trying to stone him, and in fact they did.  While this always remained on the pages of history to me, I would wonder if our time and place would have the same devotion and dedication to the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and its protection which we commemorate today. Given the
      • 1) indifference of our present age,
      • 2) the often casual approach to belief, and the
      • 3) tepid if not clearly dissenting Eucharistic theology which was at times given to us in those years in the seminary would anyone have such courage and belief to carry and protect the Eucharist?
  • The recent fire at Notre Dame, which in the mysterious ways of God’s Providence seemed to bring all Catholics together in a way that no Papal or Episcopal decree could and to clearly answer my wonderings.  The heroism of the Chaplain, Fr. Fournier, deserves frankly our undivided attention this day. He risked his life to not only save the relics, but the Eucharist itself. I would offer the words of Father Fournier this evening for our meditation:

          “I asked Jesus – and I really believe he is present in these hosts – to fight the flames and preserve the building dedicated to his mother.”

Can we truly say that we could do the very same thing?; and can we truly believe with Father Fournier that truly Christ is present in those hosts, and that in fact he did preserve the building dedicated to his mother? Can we indeed – and have the courage – to affirm that, believe that, and then truly risk such a venture that in the often skeptical and unbelieving world where we are?  DO we dare, and can we indeed do the same, even to risking our lives as Father did?  The Lord is waiting for our response this Holy Thursday 2019. Father Fournier’s profession of Faith needs to be echoed in our lives tonight and always. Do we dare? His words at Notre Dame certainly echo those of my mother: I can still hear today my mother nudging the restless and squirming Vann boys saying “Jesus is here”!  And indeed he is!