For the team, it’s an easy answer: a well-deserved rest. They’ve been cooking and cleaning and hosting for months.
But after that, we’ll need to offer opportunities for continued growth in Christ and to explore ways of helping people move from curiosity to discipleship.
And, of course, it’s not just about Alpha. Many of us struggle with that big question “how do I develop the relationship with Christ I keep hearing about?”
Yesterday sixty or so parish leaders spent the entire day trying to answer these questions, for themselves and for our parish family. We were guided by Kathleen Coolidge from Colorado, where she works with Sherry Weddell, author of the book Forming Intentional Disciples.
After nearly eight hours of prayer and reflection, the group reached two simple conclusions. The first is that our parish must begin asking God to show us how to become intentional disciples and how that can make us a parish of missionaries. We need to pray fervently for a harvest both inside and outside of the parish.
The second conclusion is that we need small group faith studies—groups of five or six where we can share and deepen our faith.
You’ll hear lots more about this as our parish plan for evangelization—funded entirely by Project Advance 2017—moves forward in the months to come.
Today, let’s not focus on the future but on the present. I’d like to ask you a really simple question: why are you at Mass today?
It’s a personal question, and everyone will have a different answer. But I suggest that our answers will relate to one or more of these three things: Behaving, Belonging, or Believing.
Some folks come to Mass for what’s called “fire insurance.” They want to stay clear of hell, so they take seriously the Christian obligation of Sunday worship. They’re behaving.
Others aren’t so worried about the next life. They come to Mass because they feel part of a community. They have ties to the parish, or the school, or the neighborhood, and gathering with others feels right or even necessary to them. In a word, they belong.
Thirdly, many people come to Mass because they believe. Their hearts are convinced of the truth we celebrate in today’s feast—that in the Eucharist they receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Are you here because you behave, because you belong, or because you believe? Don’t think there’s just one right answer. Our readings on the feast of Corpus Christi cover all three.
In the first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of the commandments of the Lord. Every school child knows that one of them is to keep the Sabbath day holy. He urges obedience to the law of God, who has shown them his power in so many ways. Moses builds the case for behaving as God commands.
In the second reading, St. Paul says that we are one body, precisely because we share in the one cup and the one loaf that is the Body and Blood of Christ. He is tell Christians in a very powerful way that they belong around the table of the Lord.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to believe—to believe in something even some in his audience had trouble accepting. It’s not a simple teaching: he says one, he is the living bread; two, that it comes down from heaven; and, three, that those who eat this bread will live forever. For some of his listeners, this was just too much to swallow.
We’ve heard the teaching so often that it’s lost some of its shock value. Don’t forget that in the same conversation there were people who thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism.
This is why we have today’s feast every year—to give us a chance to think about the deepest reasons for gathering at the Lord’s Table every Sunday. We may be here because we want to behave, we may be here because we belong, but surely we want—all of us—to believe, to believe with all our hearts what Jesus says and the Church teaches.
Other than Jesus himself, no one has ever offered a better reason for us to be here than St. Thomas Aquinas. In an antiphon for the first feast of Corpus Christi, almost 800 years ago, he wrote this about the Eucharist: O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given us.
If you are here to behave, God bless you. We live in a disobedient world, so you’re doing something good and praiseworthy.
If you’re here because you feel you belong, welcome! Our parish will always do its best to be a welcoming and inclusive place, where everyone is treated as family.
But all of us—including behavers and belongers—are called, at our own pace, to become believers who receive the Body and Blood of Christ as the living bread that brings life, now and forever.
And all of us have been called to be here so that we can know how much God loves us. Jesus gave us his Body and Blood because he loves us. We’re here because God loves us.
Our parish has really only two reasons to exist: first, to help us know how much God loves us. Second, to help us tell others how much God loves them.
This Sunday, please join me in praying with thanks to God for the success of Alpha and yesterday’s workshop, with hope for the fruitfulness of what comes next, especially parish faith studies, and with joy on this glorious feast.
Let’s use words adapted from the American monk and writer Thomas Merton: As we celebrate the Eucharist today, let us feel God’s love so powerfully that we become doors and windows through which that love streams out and pours back into His own house. (cf. Seeds of Contemplation, p. 67).