Friday, May 2, 2014

Sermon Notes: St. Catherine of Siena

Reflection at 6:30 pm Mass
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Tuesday of 2nd Week of Easter
April 29, 2014

Excuse the diversion: Typically, the preacher is obliged to comment on the readings of the day. But today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, quite possibly my most favorite saint, and we have Dominican Sisters here, so pardon the diversion, but I am going to talk about St. Catherine. Jesus says, “the wind blows where it wills.”

There are many lessons that can be learned from St. Catherine of Siena, not the least of which is her love for the Eucharist. During St. Catherine’s time, reception of the Eucharist was quite limited. While there are many reasons for this, the main reason was out of a desire to receive the Eucharist with utmost dignity and purity after having made a good confession. Thus most received the Eucharist spiritually, uniting themselves to the Sacrifice of the Cross during the Eucharistic prayer, and then receiving in their hearts when the priest called out to them Behold the Lamb of God… St. Catherine had a profound mystical experience while make such a spiritual communion. She had a vision in which she was before the very Cross itself and Jesus invites her to drink from His side. So she did, remaining in ecstasy for quite some time as she drank deeply of the blood of Christ from His side.

A lost host?: Yet such a spiritual communion left her thirsting for more. So she inquired with her spiritual director, Bl. Raymond, about receiving daily. He eventually gave her permission, but one day a most extraordinary thing happened. St. Catherine was attending the mass Bl. Raymond was saying. As he went to place the hosts left over in the tabernacle, he counted one less than he remembered. Worried he had dropped or misplaced a host, he searched the chapel high and low for the blessed sacrament. Nearing the end of his search, he glanced over and noticed St. Catherine still sitting there saying her prayers of thanksgiving. She quickly met his eyes with her own with a most mischievous smirk. After a short exchange, she explained with almost childlike defiance that her beloved had simply jumped up and leapt into her mouth during communion. Later the Pope himself would assign a priest and a portable alter just for her so that during her travels she might partake of the Eucharist whenever she desired. He love and devotion was so great that towards the end of her life, she lived on the Eucharist alone, only eating other things at the request of her Spiritual Director. Yet even then the natural food only chocked her.

St. Mary Magdalene loved the Risen Lord: I mention these stories because I think there is an important lesson to be learned here. I believe that St. Catherine’s love for the Eucharist derived from her devotion and love for St. Mary Magdalene. St. Mary Magdalene was enamored with Christ and would not leave his side. She wanted to be close to him all the times, so much so that she was the last to leave the tomb on Good Friday, the first one there on Sunday, and even after she went to get Peter and John, she remained eventually running into the Lord Jesus whom she mistook for a gardener. What is more, she would not stop clinging to Him; she was in love with the resurrected Christ.

St. Catherine had this same love and knew that Christ was to be met in the sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist. There and only there she would encounter and cling to the Resurrected Christ. Indeed, St. Catherine’s love for the Eucharist was her love for the Resurrected Christ. She knew that when the priest held up that most sacred host Christ Himself was coming out of that tomb. She knew she was experiencing the very resurrection of Christ. Yes, that is right. The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ Risen from the dead. It could be no other. Did we think we receive the dead corpus of Jesus? No, it is the risen one come back from the dead.  

I have heard it said: This lesson about the Eucharist as the Risen Christ is important, for over the past two weeks I have heard many statements such as these: “I wish I could have been there to see and to experience those events;” “I cannot even imagine how those first disciples must have felt during those days.” When I hear these I feel like St. Paul: Do you not know that you have received the Risen Lord in the Eucharist (Cf. Romans 6). Why do you act as if you have not been there yourselves?

You welcomed Christ into the Holy City of Jerusalem with palm branches; You participated in that first mass, the last supper in which Christ established the Eucharist and gave us an example of service in washing the feet of His disciples; You went with Peter, James, and John into the Garden to pray as we kept vigil at the altar of repose Thursday evening; you stood next to the Cross with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, and watched Christ die under the weight of our sins; you went early that morning and saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

If you want to know what it was like, or experience what those first disciples did, pay attention to the next 15 minutes of mass, and receive the Risen Lord.

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