This Sunday, we celebrate Father’s Day as well as the Solemn Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Then on Friday, we honor the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although not a Holy Day of Obligation in our country, it is a solemn feast of the universal Church – and a beautiful occasion to honor and thank Our Lord for the love and compassion that He pours forth upon those who love Him in return and seek the mercy that He alone can provide. How well these three occasions tie in so closely to one another.
Though a secular observance to honor our earthly father, Father’s Day also reminds us of our heavenly Father and that love He has for His children. He is the example ‘par excellence’ of true fatherhood, faithful to His promises. He has sent us His Son, and promised us the wonderful gift of eternal life and how to attain it if we would just listen to the message His Son spoke. He wants all His children to be truly happy with Him (one day in heaven) and has offered all of them a blueprint for us to get there. Unfortunately, some of those children become ungrateful, and because they, like rebellious teens, think they know so much more about how to become ‘happy,’ they abandon the course of action Jesus prescribes.
Jesus is our model – but the WHOLE Jesus – as He is presented to us in the four Gospels, without selecting just those characteristics that appeal to us. With those who admitted they were sinners, He always showed compassion. But, with others, He could – and did – shoot ‘straight from the hip.’ He was not a namby-pamby wimp, nor a glad-handing politician. With sinners, for whom He performed miracles, He admonished them to go and “sin no more,” lest something worse happen to them. Yet, He was always the same Jesus – meek and humble of heart. All that He did flowed from His Sacred Heart, filled with more love than any of our hearts can be.
Blessed John Cardinal Newman warns us that it is possible to exhibit many of the aspects of love – consideration, delicacy, courtesy, generosity and others – for the wrong reasons. It is not Christian love. He calls this “mere benevolence,” because this is what our culture expects from us, and it only promotes a self-image that we project in order to gain some end that we want. He also says: “one who cultivates only one precept of the Gospel to the exclusion of the rest, in reality, attends to no part at all.” A religion that is pleasant and easy, with everything bright and cheerful, may have benevolence as the chief virtue, and intolerance, bigotry and excessive zeal become the first sins.
If you want to know what love really is, you must look at the totality of what Jesus said and did. Love is sacrificial. Love is obedient. Love does not try to control everything and everybody; rather it serves. It does not seek affirmation or approval from anyone. Love adheres to the truth. Jesus Himself said, “ I am the way, the truth and the life.” Let me share a true story with you exemplifying this kind of love.
There was an American-born nun who served as secretary to the Maryknoll Bishop Francis X. Ford in China, in the early 1950s. Although she was being held prisoner in the mission compound taken over by Chinese communists, each day she would take Holy Communion to the other prisoners, concealed in the one loaf of bread she was allowed to share with them. Fortunately, the bishop was given wine in prison as part of his diet, and he would take some of the bread and his wine and consecrate them in a secret Mass where he had memorized the text. Sister would then distribute the Holy Communion within the day’s rations to the other Catholic prisoners who had been kept apart from the bishop so that he couldn’t console them in their suffering.
On a particular day, the colonel, who now took over the mission compound as his headquarters, and who once had been a student of the sister (even studying the elements of the Faith, but never entering into it), made the passing nun open the door for him as she was carrying the loaf of bread. In order to do so, she had to put down the loaf on the steps in the dirty entrance. The colonel probably thought the loaf was only the daily rations and didn’t know that concealed inside it was the Body and Blood of Jesus. Quietly, the nun picked up the loaf and continued to distribute it for what would become the last time. In less than an hour later, the prisoners were led on a march, with the bishop at the head –a type of Corpus Christi procession, with the members carrying the body and Blood of Jesus in themselves. The colonel a sadistic young man, tried to tie a sack of rice weighing about twenty pounds around the neck of the bishop, who now weighed only about 95 pounds. The sister said to the colonel, “Don’t do that! Look at the man!” – almost reminiscent of the words of Pilate to the crowds jeering at Jesus as He was about to begin his own death march to Calvary. The colonel either was so moved – or so afraid of his former teacher – took the sack off the neck of the bishop and carried the supply by himself.
The bishop died in the march; the colonel died in prison; the sister was later set free and came home to relate this story. Why do you suppose the colonel took it off the bishop’s neck? I think it was because he once carried the Blessed Sacrament. We are really enacting all this in the Mass. If we give ourselves to Christ, we are enriched.