BACK IN OCTOBER I had to prepare a Sunday homily on St. Matthew’s Gospel (22: 1-10) about the parable in which the king invites people to a wedding feast for his son but many refuse to come. In my homily, I wanted to help the members of the congregation understand more deeply what we do when we celebrate a Eucharist.
Not only did I want to help those who would be in church to deepen their faith in the Eucharist, but I also wanted to deepen my own faith. I wanted to help everyone in church, myself included, to allow the Holy Spirit to deepen our faith in the Eucharist. As I try to do in many homilies, I wanted to link what was said in the Gospel to what we were doing at the Eucharist.
The first idea that came to me as I was reflecting on what I might say was that each and every one of us had been invited by God to come to this Eucharist. I wanted to emphasize that this was literally true. A pact, an agreement, a covenant had been entered into by God and all of us at our baptism. We made a commitment to God and God made a commitment to each of us. That is awesome. God, Who is creating the entire universe at every moment, has made a commitment to us! God will always provide everything we need in order to help us fulfill the covenant we have made. The loving presence of God in our lives will help us to fulfill our covenantal love relationship.
One of the great gifts we have is the Eucharist. Through our celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ during a Eucharist, we can be allowing God to enter more deeply into our lives. God will help us to be faithful and to grow in our love relationship with God.
Was it a coincidence or Divine Providence that two days before giving my homily I had to give a talk on Graham Greene’s novel, “The Heart of the Matter”? I prefer to believe that it was God’s providence. Years ago, a Catholic nun told me that she believed that she received more spiritual nourishment from reading Catholic novels than from what most people call “spiritual reading.” Of course, because of Christ’s presence in our lives, anything – even, for example, a newspaper – can become “spiritual reading.” I knew what the nun meant from my own experience of reading Catholic novels.
Giving the talk on “The Heart of the Matter” was a trip down memory lane for me. I was reminded of the enormous impact that novel and other Catholic novels had on me as a college student and seminarian, not only then, but also frequently later in my life. If I sketch the plot of the novel, readers of this column may find the story unbelievable. That is because I am not Graham Greene. The British novelist’s skill make the plot both believable and provocative.
A man named Scobie, married to Louise, has entered into an adulterous relationship with a 19-year-old widow named Helen. He feels obligated to each woman and does not wish to hurt either. Unable to terminate either relationship, he tries to go to confession to a Father Rank because his wife wants him to attend Mass with her, but he leaves the confessional box without absolution because he does not have a firm purpose of amendment. The following is part of Greene’s description of Scobie at Mass when he is about to commit a sin of sacrilege by receiving the Host in a state of mortal sin:
“The words of the Mass were like an indictment. ‘I will go in unto the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.’ But there was no joy anywhere. He looked up from between his hands and the plaster images of the Virgin and the saints seemed to be holding out hands to everyone, on either side, beyond him. He was the unknown guest at a party who is introduced to no one.
“Father Rank came down the steps from the altar bearing the Host. The saliva had dried in Scobie’s mouth: it was as though his veins had dried. He couldn’t look up; he saw only the priest’s skirt like the skirt of the medieval war-horse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet; the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush, and for a moment he dreamed that the priest’s steps had indeed faltered: perhaps after all something may yet happen before he reaches me: some incredible interposition . . . But with open mouth (the time had come) he made one last attempt at prayer, ’O God, O God I offer up my damnation to you. Take it. Use it for them,’ and was aware of the papery taste of an eternal sentence on the tongue.”
Greene’s description of a sacrilegious communion may help us to appreciate the Eucharist more deeply.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).