Romans 5:1
Since we have been justified by faith…
Faith, hope, and love: these are the three theological virtues. And I think it is very important that we focus on them, especially at this time. These are the bedrock of forming virtue in our lives which is needed for holiness. The season of Lent is supposed to remind us of the power of living a virtuous life, a holy life.
But, I think they have been distorted through the history of Christianity, especially since the time of the Protestant revolution. Martin Luther distorted the meaning of Scripture, and faith, specifically here in Romans, by adding a single word to the text that was nowhere in any version of Scripture prior to his decision. He even admitted that he chose to add it.
What was the one word? Alone. He made an entire change in understanding of the Christian life by saying that we are saved by faith alone. Now, rather than focus on that error, I would much prefer to explain these three vital virtues. I can do that in six simple words: faith believes, hope receives, charity sustains. You know I’m not going to stop there. Let’s look at all three separately.
To say that “faith believes” is the very beginning of our Christian life. It is an infusion of grace by the Holy Spirit that enables us to accept, to believe, the promises of God. As St. Paul says, “we have gained access by faith to the grace in which we stand”. This is about how we start everything that we are as Christians.
My next words, “hope receives,” explains how we are called to live and grow in the power of God’s gifts. Hope is an active receiving of the gifts of God. This is purely Catholic understanding of what hope means. Let me give you an example.
When an evangelical Christian asks a Catholic if we have been saved, the correct Catholic answer is “I hope so.” Because we are receiving the gifts of God throughout our lives hope is an active receiving of his gifts, his salvation.
However, when others hear us say “hope,” they hear a different meaning of the word. What they hear is that we don’t think we have been saved. But that is not what we are saying. When we say “I hope I have been saved”, we are admitting that this is a process that takes us through our whole life. And that we can fail to receive what God offers.
The third pair of words: “charity sustains.” First of all, charity is another word for the love of God. But charity is not something that only comes to us from God, it comes to us and through us, through and to others. Note those words: to and through us, through and to others.
So, “faith believes”: it is the gift of God that starts the process for us becoming holy; it is the action of God that brings us, as Paul says, justification that enables us to stand before God.
“Hope receives”: it is the ongoing process of growing in holiness that leads us to salvation; it is an action on our part that brings us to the glory of God.
“Charity sustains”: it is the mutual action between God and us and between ourselves and others; it is the action of the Holy Spirit in people of faith that enables them to take action for the full glory of God.
So to conclude, let me give a visual presentation of the six words: “faith believes; hope receives; charity sustains.” One more time?
Now I want to speak about a totally different topic. It has been all over the news. It doesn’t matter whether we are speaking about the flu or the corona virus. Both of them can be deadly. If you notice, there is a front-page article on the virus threat in the Catholic Voice this past week. Front page. There already are some places here in the United States that have made some drastic, but sound, decisions on what congregations should do.
Among those decisions include: no Communion under both forms; no shaking of hands or exchange of a kiss at the sign of peace; no holy water in the holy water fonts; and the last one, which is probably disturbing – but understandable – no Communion on the tongue.
They also include instructions on increased care with the sacred vessels, the chalice and the ciborium and an insistence that anyone handling the Eucharist wash their hands with soap and water just before Mass starts, and have sanitizer available to them just before and after they distribute Communion.
All of these suggestions make sense. To be honest, because of the different ways people come to receive Communion on the tongue, I am seldom comfortable having to distribute on the tongue. Some people never stick out their tongue; some people barely open their mouths; some people stick out their tongue in a way that makes it hard to put the host there; some people make it all but impossible to not touch them when I’m trying to deliver the host, and I have to wipe my hand on my investments afterwards. Though I cannot insist, I would be much more comfortable if everyone received Communion in the hand. It is possible that viruses would be transmitted accidentally from someone’s mouth to my fingers then to another mouth.
Now, there has not been a directive from the Archdiocese of Omaha regarding any of these issues. But, the Diocese of Rome announced… measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in parishes: emptying holy water fonts, omitting the sign of peace and requesting that the faithful receive Communion in the hand.
Consequently, concerns are growing and the sign of peace at the Mass does not have to include touching someone. I read somewhere that the suggestion is to make your smiles bigger. Okay. A bow, a smile, a sign of peace. There is someone from our parish that makes a heart out of her hands and then looks through that at the people around her. I told her I thought she was looking at people through the Heart of Jesus! Beautiful!
It is sad that we have to go that way, but for the sake of others, we need to think about these things.
So, for the good of those around you, if you at all think you might be having problems with your health, please refrain from risking other people’s health. As I said, someone could come up in an odd way to receive Communion on the tongue, and I end up with the viruses on my hand. When the next person comes up, they get it. Let’s just consider using a little bit of common sense. And let’s pray for the victims of both the flu and the corona virus.
Now, for a review, for those of you who choose to receive in the hand, this is the way you do that: one hand on top of the other, if you are right-handed, your left goes on top forming a throne to receive Jesus there in your hands. You pick up the host, pray a “thank you” silently, and then receive.
Now, my dad took that very seriously. When he received in his hand, he stepped to the side and picked up the host. He then superimposed it on the crucifix above the tabernacle, said, inside himself, “thank you” and then consumed.
It seems to be a more ancient way to receive Communion than receiving on the tongue. St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth century, wrote about it in exactly the way I just described. I don’t know if you knew that, there is something to consider. Think of this: if your tongue and your stomach are worthy enough to receive Jesus, aren’t your hands?
We want to be safe. We need to pray. We also need the strength of the Eucharist in our own lives. At this point all I can do is say that. I cannot make any insistence, because the archdiocese has not given us any further directives. I leave it to you. Thank you.