Visiting priest Father Chris Seith's Homily at Our Lady of Mercy - 5pm on Recent Events:
This past week, I needed to travel somewhere. As I was planning my trip, a thought came into my heart that is rarely there: do I wear my collar? Do I really want the discomfort of going through the airport and sitting on a plane looking like a priest? Do I want to be associated, right now, with the Church and the priesthood?
As these questions were going through my heart, I was also preparing for the weekend’s Mass. In today’s liturgy, we read the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians where he uses marriage as an analogy for Christ’s relationship with the Church. In marriage, a man is to love his wife as his own body. He is to identify himself with her. When my brother-in-law goes grocery shopping with his wife, who has the grace of a new-born giraffe, and she stumbles into an aisle, knocking down half the cereal boxes there, he can’t look around wondering who this woman is. She belongs to him, and he belongs to her. For better or for worse, when people see her, they see him. Likewise when my mom first started experiencing health issues and, as a young couple, my dad had to push around his wife in a wheelchair whenever they were out in public, he had to associate himself with her. As a good husband, he wanted to be with her in her sufferings and difficulties.
According to St. Paul, this is how Jesus associates himself with the Church. When did this happen most fully? “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God, looking at his people, saw them covered in the filth of sin. They were wounded, the image of God within them barely visible. And God chose to make himself man so that He might associate Himself with them. In his passion, his flesh was lacerated by scourgings, his head was crowned with thorns, and his hands and side were pierced through. Blood covered the whole of his body. Isaiah foretold of Jesus that, “Even as many were amazed at him - so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals, his appearance, beyond that of human beings… He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned and we held him in no esteem.” Jesus chose to look like His people - disgusting. He chose, as St. Paul says elsewhere, “to become sin”. He freely chose to identify Himself with his broken, wounded Church.
And why? What happened when he did this? “He handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her… that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by lovingly associating Himself with His Church, renewed her and purified her.
And so, as I was preparing for my trip and reading these readings, the thought pierced my heart: “the Church has had enough priests who have chosen to imitate Satan, rather than Jesus Christ. I will choose to imitate Christ.” Joyfully, I will wear my collar and identify myself with the Church, offering my life as a priest in sacrifice, in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, so that the Church may be made holy and radiant with the presence of God.
Everyone who receives the Eucharist is invited to do the same. It is an act of your baptismal priesthood. When you receive the Body of Christ, you identify yourself with that Body that was broken, wounded, covered in filth, and then raised from the dead to new life. In doing so, you offer yourselves as a living sacrifice. And with hearts filled with hope, we believe that because of what Christ has done in this sacrifice, the Church will be brought to new life.
When we see the Body of Christ, His Church, disgusting and covered in filth, Jesus asks us like He asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave? Do you wish to disassociate yourself with my Body?” And we like Peter respond, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Lord, you did not disassociate yourself with me - how can I leave? I joyfully offer myself with you in sacrifice, so that your Church may be made holy and glorious.”