Sunday, August 19, 2012

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Reflection During The Homily


        I witnessed a miracle. 
In this day and age, most people would think a person crazy to make such a claim.  Maybe you have a hard time believing in miracles.  We know the healing powers of Christ are real.  But miracles?      
That’s exactly what I experienced in witnessing a miracle.   Christ healed my friend Orlando.
The bread of life, the body of Christ brought new life.
Today’s Gospel reading from John is a popular one in hospital and hospice ministry.  It's popular because it brings hope to hopeless situations.
When performing a communion service at a hospital or hospice, we often read the words:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever."
That’s where I found myself serving a year ago, at a hospice in Seattle.
It was there I met Orlando.  The first time I visited him I tried to offer communion.  He spoke only Spanish.  Orlando understood what I was offering, but got a scared look on his face and shook his head “no.”  My Spanish is weak, so, I did not understand what he was trying to tell me.
Orlando has advanced AIDS and also a rare form of cancer eating away at his body. 
His doctors and nurses said he was nearing the end of his life.  In fact, some thought Orlando would only last a week or two at most.  He was in his early 40's.  He was in a lot of pain.  He was very scared.   
So, I asked the Spiritual Care Director to ask Orlando through an interpreter what he was trying to tell me.  He listed himself as Catholic, but refused to receive the Body of Christ.   
She found out.  Orlando was born in Cuba and baptized a Catholic.  But due to Fidel Castro’s communism and anti-Catholicism, Orlando never got to celebrate first communion.
Orlando thought it was too late for him.    
When told this, I asked her to share with Orlando that it might not be too late and to see if he would be interested in finding out more.
She immediately told him and his face lit up and he said, “Yes, Si!"
A quick call to the Archdiocese, a helpful staffer, and a Redemptorist priest who spoke fluent Spanish was at Orlando’s bedside.
Over the coming days, he would catechize Orlando in the Catholic faith, he would hear his confession, anoint him, confirm him and give him first communion.
When Jesus wants something to happen, it happens fast!
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."
A few Sundays later, I stopped into Orlando’s room and noticed he looked much better.  When I offered communion, his face lit up with a big smile and he said, "Yes, Si!”
For the next few months, I would give him communion on a weekly basis.  Soon he was out of the bed and in a wheelchair.  A few weeks later he was walking. 
Doctors couldn’t explain it.  Orlando’s health made a “miraculous recovery.”  Those are the doctors' words not mine.
Eventually, Orlando was released from the hospice into transitional housing.  At last check, he was doing well.
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
These are beautiful words from John's Gospel.  These are powerful words.  These words can bring about miraculous healing.
Skeptics will say the miracle is anti-retroviral drugs keeping Orlando alive.  We wouldn't disagree that this miracle is part of God's plan for Orlando. 
But we believe his true healing comes from being one with Christ and knowing he now has eternal life and will be raised up on the last day.
A wise person believes in the transforming power of these words.  The fool rejects them.  How many foolish people in our world today are in such desperate need of Jesus Christ in their lives?
Even some of Jesus' followers rejected this notion of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ as a path to eternal life.  It was just too weird for them.
As we heard in our first reading from Proverbs, "Wisdom has built her house."   Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of wisdom in our world – yesterday, today and tomorrow.  When we step into His house each week, we are joined with Christ in His powerful ministry simply by eating of His flesh and drinking of His Blood.   We also know we will be raised up on the last day.
The Holy Eucharist is the sign of God's abundant love for us.  For two-thousand years, this bread from heaven has nourished us and given us life.  It is Jesus alive in our midst in the form of bread and wine.  It is a holy sacrifice we celebrate at this Mass.  And one especially designed for you and me. 
As we celebrate at our Mass today, we make present Christ's life, death and resurrection and we are called to enter into it.  The Eucharist nurtures our spirit.
Perhaps you're hurting.  Perhaps you're dying inside -- hiding the deep chasms of your despair by putting on a brave face. 
As you take the Eucharist today, remember the miracle God did for my friend Orlando.   Know that when you eat His flesh and drink His blood, you too have new life within you.   
I pray, we all pray, that as you take communion today you will feel Jesus healing touch… and the bread of life, the body of Christ brings you new life.

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