Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto, Ontario.
During these past few Sundays, leading up to the beginning of Lent 2022, the second readings at Mass has been taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In this early letter, from about the year 54 A.D., St. Paul writes about some of the very basic realities of our Christian faith. As we hear proclaimed on this Sunday, the eighth in Ordinary Time, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57), St. Paul is reminding us what our faith is all about — what we are preparing during Lent to celebrate this coming Easter. The Christian faith is based in the reality that Christ truly entered into our world, really died and was raised from the dead in order that we, through baptism, might also be raised up with him in the flesh and truly share in His victory over death and come to eternal life with Him.
The call that St. Paul gives to the Christian community at Corinth to give thanks to God, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” is a call to embrace the Christian life, which is to be a life lived in response to Christ’s truly being raised from the dead and winning the victory of eternal life for all the baptized. In this First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of those essential aspects of the faith by which the Christian is called in his or her life to truly embrace the reality that Christ has truly destroyed death and really won for each of us eternal life. These essential aspects of the faith are:
As these are all connected to our Lenten preparations for Easter, I would like to take some time to reflect on each of these.
On Easter Sunday, the Church invites those who have been preparing for baptism to be baptized and all the baptized to renew their baptismal promises. Baptism is a very physical experience. In the early Church, those who were baptized were plunged under the water with the idea that the “old self” would die and a new Spirit-filled person would rise out of the waters with Christ. As they were plunged under the water, the way in which the water would surround them, was seen as an expression of the radical way in which God’s love embraced the reality of each individual. Under the water, a new person was born in Christ and emerged from the water as Christ emerged from the tomb.
The new Christian was meant to experience this new life in every aspect of his or her being. Baptism reminds us that just as Christ took on the flesh to save each one of us, so too we are to respond to His love for us in our own flesh by a lived faith that expresses itself through love of God and our neighbour. As we prepare during this season of Lent to renew our baptismal promises, we are called to turn away from anything that prevents us from loving God and neighbour. The acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we embrace during Lent ought to assist us to love God and neighbour more fully. Each Lent in the Archdiocese of Toronto, one of the ways in which we are asked to express this love and help the entire local Church respond to its baptismal faith is by donating to ShareLife.
Sunday as the Day of the Lord
It is Easter Sunday that gives meaning to every Sunday. Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. The way in which we are to express the thanks, which St. Paul calls the Christian to give, is by celebrating the resurrection and the gift of eternal life that Christ has won for us each and every Sunday. Often, if you ask a Christian what it means to be a Christian, he or she will respond it is to “be nice.” The truth is, most people, of all faiths, are nice. The Christian is one who believes that Christ truly rose from the dead and won eternal life for each of us.
Because of His resurrection, the Christian faith has always been about observing Sunday as the Day of the Lord. During the pandemic, this reality has been lost to some as the exemption from Sunday Mass has made Sunday appear like any other day. This Lent, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, perhaps each of us can attempt to restore the meaning of Sunday in our Christian lives.
First and foremost, this means considering a return to actually worshipping in-person at the Sunday Mass. The virtual celebrations that many have been participating in while the Sunday dispensation has been in place have been viable substitutes for in-person worship during the pandemic. However, these temporary extraordinary measures can never replace the call to worship in person in the Christian community. As Christ was truly present among us in the flesh, we are called to be truly present to worship Him in the Christian community. This Lent is a beautiful time to restore Sunday to the place it is intended to have in our Christian lives. If a person discerns that it is truly not safe to return to in-person Sunday Mass attendance, then he or she is called to discern another truly appropriate way to give thanks on Sunday to Christ for His victory over death. For the Christian, Sunday is not an option.
The Sunday Eucharist
As Sunday is not an option for the Christian, nor is the Eucharist. St. John reports it best in his Gospel, as he quotes Jesus saying: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” As Christ truly became a human being, truly died and really rose from the dead, so the Eucharist makes Him truly present to us today. Jesus himself gave us His Body and Blood to remember Him and all that He has done for us to win for each of us eternal life. As St. Paul calls the Christian to give thanks for the victory Christ has won for us, let us recall that the Eucharist is that sacrament of thanksgiving. The word “Eucharist” means “to give thanks.” In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul states how this sacrament was received from the Lord Himself and given to the Church by the Lord so that each member may be united in the sacramental life of Christ.
The Eucharist makes powerfully clear to us how truly present Christ wishes to be in the life of each and every Christian. He gives us His Body and Blood so that He might be physically present to us and we might physically respond in love to this presence. As Christ gives us His Body and Blood at the Last Supper and says, “Do this in memory of me,” He is calling each Christian to receive His Body and Blood each Sunday in order to live in communion with Him and His Church. The Church calls each Catholic to receive the Eucharist at least once a year during the Easter Season.
This Lent, each one of us is called to prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist. Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance is the best way to do this. Just as the Eucharist cannot be received virtually, nor can the Sacrament of Penance be celebrated online or over the phone. Christ who is truly present in the Eucharist invites us this Lent to examine how we can truly be present to Him once again. When it is safe for each of us to do so, this means a return to the Sunday Eucharist.
Life in the Church
St. Paul articulates beautifully in his First Letter to the Corinthians what happens to those who celebrate the Easter Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist — they are built up into the one Body of Christ, the Church. As we prepare during Lent to renew our baptismal promises and receive the Eucharist, this Lenten season is also a time to renew our life as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.
The pandemic has been a time of great separation and isolation. As many have lived their faith life virtually, there has been a certain comfort of living our faith virtually without the challenge that community can present. Sadly, today, there are people who do not know how to live with others in the real world. They ignore those they live with in the real world and construct false virtual relationships where they can escape the realities of their existence and pretend to be who they are not.
There is nothing Christian about the virtual world. Through His incarnation, Christ became a real person so that He could love each of us in our realities. Jesus really lived and died for us so that He could really rise and save each one of us from our sins and raise up our bodies in the flesh. Because of the reality of His life, Jesus calls us to live the reality of our lives with other real people in the Church. The proper place for each one of us to worship is in the flesh in our real parish communities. For those who are sick or vulnerable, this can be done virtually or online as a result of their extraordinary circumstances. But these virtual celebrations can never be a regular replacement for Sunday worship for those in ordinary circumstances. As long as the Sunday dispensation is in place, this is an option for all. However, we can never forget that we are called to be living members of Christ’s living Church.
An Authentic Relationship
Through Lent, we are challenged to examine the authenticity of our lived reality within the Church. If we are simply avoiding live Sunday Mass because it is easier, this is not a Christian option. The mission of the Church, or each of us as members of the Church, is to continue to do Christ’s work. While it may be difficult for each of us to continue all of the aspects of Christ’s work individually, we can contribute to the efforts of our local Church to do so by contributing to ShareLife. Through ShareLife, the local Church supports some forty different agencies that continue Christ’s work here in the Archdiocese of Toronto and around the world. This Lent is a time to remind ourselves that we are living members of Christ’s Body the Church and to ask how real our connection to the Church is and how actively we are living that membership.
The dangers of the pandemic have caused many Christians to withdraw from the realities of life. While each person must discern what is safe and appropriate for him or her, the truths of our faith call each of us to a real encounter with Christ lived in His Church each Sunday at the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. Lent is a time to prepare to celebrate this faith at the Easter Sunday celebration of Christ’s true resurrection from the dead in the flesh. As Christ was truly risen, we are called to be truly present at the Eucharist to eat His flesh so that we might truly live in communion with Him.
As it is Easter Sunday that gives meaning to each Sunday Eucharist, our celebration of Easter prepares us to celebrate our faith each Sunday. The call, which St. Paul makes in this Sunday’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, for the Christian people to give thanks for the victory that Christ has won for us, is a call to be a Eucharistic people who give thanks by celebrating the Sunday Eucharist together and taking through it our rightful place in His living Body the Church.
This Lent of 2022, as we prepare to celebrate that Christ has truly risen so that each one of us might truly share eternal life in our bodies, let us all ask how after this pandemic we might all come back to life in the real life of Christ’s Church. The livestreamed and virtual faith that many of us have been living during the pandemic have been an extraordinary measure intended only for this time of pandemic. As the pandemic comes to an end, and each one of us deems it safe according to our circumstances, it is time for each of us to return to life and get back to reality. Just as Christ truly lived, died and rose for us in the flesh, as Christians we are called to truly live in Communion with Him in the reality of our flesh. May this Lent be a time for all of us to discern how we might really give thanks to God for the victory Jesus has truly won for us in the flesh. As we prepare to celebrate the life Christ won for us this Easter, may this Lent be a time for each of us to “get back to life, back to reality” in our faith lives.
I pray that this Lent, we may all grow in our desire to give thanks for the victory that Christ has won for us by coming back to reality in our faith.
This homily is based on the readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Sirach 27: 4-7; Psalm 92; 1 Corinthians 15: 54-58; and Luke 6: 39-45.