Following are the prepared notes from Bishop Olmsted’s homily on September 1, 2019, at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.
“…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
Jesus held a banquet one time: on the night before He died on the Cross. And whom did He invite? The Twelve Apostles. Were they poor? YES! They no longer had jobs. At Jesus’ invitation, they had left everything and followed Him — abandoning their boats and fishing nets, or leaving behind a tax collector’s desk, or whatever else.
Were they blind? YES! As the Last Supper began, 11 of the Twelve were blind to the fact that Judas was about to betray Jesus; And they could not see that, later that night, all of them but one would be crippled by fear, so crippled that Peter would deny Jesus three times, and all the rest would run away into the night.
They were blinded by ambition for places of honor, and thus unable to understand Jesus’ words, “…go and take the lowest place… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus told His disciples, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” That was what Jesus did. That’s why you and I are here.
What happened at the Last Supper continues at every Mass; Jesus invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. If you are keenly aware of your own poverty, if you feel deeply your need for a Savior, what an amazing grace! “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven!” (Mt 5:3).
The Letter to the Hebrews, our Second Reading today, talks about this same mystery of the Eucharist, but in a different way, by comparing the Old Testament with the New. It contrasts the sacrifice of the Mass with what took place on Mt. Sinai when God gave us the 10 Commandments and created the First Covenant. The contrast could hardly be greater. For, on Mt. Sinai, the people were frightened by God’s display of power: “…a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and… a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them.” But you and I are not confronted at Mass by such a frightful display of God’s power. Instead, as Hebrews says, “you have approached… the city of the living God… the countless angels in festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven… and Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” This is the tremendous mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice which is happening at this very moment! It is so magnificent that we would die if we could fully understand it, not die of fright but of overwhelming joy. To help us understand this wondrous mystery, the Lord wants us to focus on just the final phrase our Second Reading: “…you have approached Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.”
What was the “blood of Abel?”
It was the blood of a man who was killed by his brother named Cain. Of this first murder in history, God told Cain, “…the blood of your brother cries out to me for justice.” Over the course of time, the Blood of Abel came to represent every innocent person who was murdered: from victims of terrorism to children killed by abortion.
The blood of Abel, in the name of all innocent victims, cries out to God for justice, for the 5th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” has been broken. Within the Church, the Holy Spirit attunes our hearts to hear this call for justice. However, this cry for justice is not enough. Something more than justice is needed: namely Divine Mercy, found in the Precious Blood of Jesus, the Son of God.
The blood of Jesus, says the Letter to the Hebrews, “speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel.” His Blood, which flowed from His pierced Heart on the Cross, continues to be present with us down through history at the banquet we call the Eucharist. It redeems every victim and even redeems the guilty. It is stronger than sin and more powerful than death.
Through the sacred actions and symbols of the Mass, we are helped to see the redeeming love of the Blood of Christ. That is why priests and deacons bow and kiss the Altar and why incense is used to draw our attention to the great mystery of Sacrificial love that is taking place on the Altar. During the Consecration at Mass, the Body and Blood of Christ become present under the forms of bread and wine, and the redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus is continued among us. Being both man and God, Jesus who poured out His saving Blood on the Cross transcends the limitations of time and space and becomes as truly present on our Altar as He was at the Last Supper and on the Cross. What wondrous love is this, love that overcomes injustices and brings us an ocean of mercy, love that redeems the human family and renews the face of the earth.
In the Gospel today (Lk 14:1-14), Jesus tells us what attitude should be ours as we approach the Altar and receive Jesus in Holy Communion. He says, “When you are invited, go and take the lowest place.” The proper way to come into God’s presence is the way Jesus took to come into our world, the way of humility. St. Paul tells us (Phil 2:6ff), “Though He was in the form of God Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave. Thus, He humbled Himself, even to accepting death, death on a Cross.”
Repeatedly, Jesus took the lowest place, even though He is God, one in substance with the Father:
At Bethlehem, He was born in a town considered “too small to be counted among the towns of Judah.”
He took the lowest place, also, when He ate in the home of a tax collector named Zacchaeus and when He allowed a woman of ill repute to wash His feet and dry them with her hair.
He allowed Himself to be crowned with thorns and robed in purple to mock His authority, even though He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Still today, Jesus remains with us under the humble, external forms of bread and wine. And He identifies Himself with all who are hungry and thirsty, naked and in prison, saying (Mt 25), “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” When Jesus tells us to take the lowest place, then, He is inviting us to come near and be like Him.
We take the lowest place when we say in all honesty at communion time: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”