20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Last Saturday, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Loyola Marymount University-Los Angeles was packed. Behind the processional cross eight men, all in clerical dress, preceded the celebrants. Mass went on as usual until communion. After the Lamb of God the Jesuit Provincial of California stood in front of the altar. He was holding the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord. The eight men were kneeling at the foot of the altar. One by one, each man began,
“Almighty and eternal God.
I understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight.
Yet I am strengthened
by your infinite compassion and mercy,
and I am moved by the desire to serve you. . . . “
He continued for a bit longer. When he returned to his place he was a perpetually vowed Jesuit. Sixteen years ago I read the same vow formula that, except for being in English rather than Latin, has not changed in centuries.
The Jesuit vow Mass is unusual because rather than pronouncing vows after the homily as in other orders, the men pronounce their vows kneeling in front of the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, just as St. Ignatius of Loyola and his original companions did 471 years ago yesterday, August 15, 1534. The newly vowed man then partakes of the Eucharistic Banquet, the banquet that Jesus brought to its fullest expression. The banquet in which you will share in a few minutes.
The first reading describes the banquet that Wisdom has prepared for all who choose to partake. True wisdom comes from God, who gave humans, and only humans, hearts capable of discerning good from evil, hearts capable of returning God’s love with love. A few verses after the end of this reading one reads: “The beginning of Wisdom is fear of the Lord; and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
The reading from Ephesians gives good advice. “Do not drug yourselves with wine.” Paul is not referring only to drinkable wine. He is referring to the wine of power, the wine of money, the wine of sensual pleasure, the wine of Florida condos and yachts, and the resulting intoxication that clouds one's judgment. Paul is referring to the drunkenness that takes one’s mind from discerning God’s will to the inebriation that destroys Wisdom.
Here in the Valley we are too familiar with the stories of those intoxicated by power, money and QUOTE the good life UQUOTE. The names of the corrupt tripped off our tongues. It was quite a list. How many lives have been damaged by these senseless people, drunk on their own greed and intoxicated by their lust for power and possessions? Contrast this drunkenness on the wine of power and the gluttony at the banquet of money with the Gospel.
Jesus tells the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven: Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
At the end He reiterates.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus wants to guide us on a challenging journey of faith. A journey for which we are nourished at the Eucharistic Banquet. Unlike the wine of power and greed, unlike the junk food of position and privilege, partaking of the banquet of the Eucharist, hearing and following the Word of God, brings us to eternal life.
However, there is one thing we must never ever forget. Jesus is NOT promising that our lives will be free of pain and suffering. Jesus is not promising that we won’t die, sometimes peacefully and sometimes after a prolonged struggle. Jesus is not promising that those we love won’t die, be it before their time or after a long long life. We all must die if we are to know eternal life. Eternal life is possible only through the Living Word, through Jesus the Son of God. It is only possible because Jesus gave Himself for our salvation. Eternal life is possible only if we avail ourselves of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In a few moments, just as those brand new Jesuit scholastics did last Saturday, you will kneel and gaze up at the Body and Blood of Christ. You will hear the words:
”Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called
to the supper of the Lamb."
You are being invited to the banquet of Wisdom. You are being invited to the banquet that leads to eternal life. You need only respond: Amen. So be it.
Two Happy Jesuits.
Only one photo today. I am in my home town to baptize the fifth grandchild of very long time friends. That the baptism coincides with the 12th (or so) annual kielbasa festival makes it a bit more interesting. Haven't been to this event in about seven years. Spent some time wandering around. Ran into a number of people from high school who I haven't seen in years. Pierogi for lunch today. Kielbasa tomorrow. Probably lunch and dinner.
I was in Los Angeles last week for vows. That was apparent in the homily. It was a lot of travel for a weekend but worth every leg cramp. I've known Ryan for four years when he was still wondering if he was being called to the Society. There is no doubt in my mind that he was. It was very moving to see him and the other seven men, pronounce their vows one by one. It hearkened back to our vow Mass back in 1999 (last century!). There was a sense of solidarity and renewal for all the men attending the Mass. Perhaps friends and families of the men did not, some never will, understand exactly what each man did. But those of us who have pronounced vows were with the each man with every word he said.
It is odd to look back on each of the steps in formation that we all have in common. Entry day, the long retreat, the experiments, the Jesuit history course, the long experiment, the vow retreat a few days before vows, and that moment of approaching the altar, kneeling and repeating the formula. That was only the beginning. There was much more. Ordination, tertianship and then final vows. Jesuit final vows are a very different experience from first vows. The formula is different, there is a fourth vow for many, and there are the simple vows after Mass. I suggested that my siblings and family not attend. I pronounced the vows on a weekday, it would have been a very long and costly trip and it was over in three minutes. The second part, the simple vows and signing the documents, takes place in the sacristy with only other Jesuits present. "We drove all that way for that?" It would have been a reasonable question. No drama, prostrations, litanies, signing documents on the altar or anything else. I like it that way.
I explain to people who are surprised that I am not going to my second home town, Philadelphia, when the pope is there that I don't need to see him. I know him. We had the same experiences of walking into the novitiate on entry day, going through formation, vows, ordination, and so on. Religious can identify with each other on a fundamental level, even across orders and congregations.
I drive back to Boston very early Monday. In town for twelve days and then it is time for my eight-day retreat. Will be counting the days.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD