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Corpus Christi B
How would God let us know we are loved? He chose the best possible way in sending his son, an incarnation of the Word now taking flesh. It is in this way that Jesus becomes the translator of divine love, bringing into our daily lives and promising a future far beyond it. But as the threat grows to his own brief life, Jesus needs another way to speak perfectly of God’s grace, a way that will outlive his time on earth, a way to sustain this moment of love and self-donation forever.
How would Jesus let us know that we are loved? He would do it with his friends, those who followed him and witnessed tremendous deeds of power, who heard stunning and beautiful words; those who had journeyed, laughed and cried with him and now grow fearful as the specter of death casts its shadow upon him. He would share one last gift with those with whom he had shared everything.
How would Jesus show his love? He would do it in the context of a meal for they were always eating. Table fellowship meant more then. They say Jesus was killed for eating with the wrong people, for eating with sinners beneath his station. It was understood that eating together was a sign of acceptance, an unbreakable bond, a true intimacy. It would be done at a meal where that friendship would be imbued with forever.
And he would do it on the holiest night of the year, the night when Israel was freed from the clutches of cruel slavery in Egypt. It was a night of liberation. It was the night of a covenant, the night when God’s promises would be fulfilled. And it was also a night of prayer for the entire Seder is a long prayer of thanksgiving and remembrance. Just as Jesus’ life was but a prayer, always in communion with his Father, always seeking greater communion with those around him. He prayed that night for all of them and for all of us.
He would do it with bread for bread had always been a part of Israel’s story. There was holy bread in the Temple and the manna that fell from heaven and sustained Israel for forty years in the desert. But it was more than that. It is bread that the hungry yearn for that is the difference between life and death. It is the staple and symbol of humanity. He would also do it with wine, the great gift of celebration and consolation which lifts our spirits and is a taste of divine. Jesus would bring together the bread and the wine, he who was both fully human and divine.
To let us know we are loved, he would invest himself into that bread and pour himself into that wine. This is a second incarnation for here the bread takes on his flesh. He is truly and really present, soul and divinity. He had to be for they were falling apart. Rumors of betrayal and predictions of denial swirl around the room. He needs to bring them together. “This is my body. This is my blood.” Only the real Jesus could keep them together.
For it was a meal of sacrifice, the shadow of the cross hung over the Lord and his disciples. He was showing them what love looked like at a meal before he would show them perfectly on the cross. The next day he would give his body, the next day his blood would be poured again. He asked them to remember. “Do this in memory of me.” A memory that would sear. A memory that would recall all that Jesus was and all that Jesus did. A living memory of perfect love.
Ultimately, it became a meal of glory for the resurrected body was to recall that last supper with his friends, especially on the road to Emmaus when they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. It is not just the sacrifice we taste, but the triumph of the glorified Christ who conquered death and promised to be with us always.
How would God show us that we are loved? In just a few minutes he will do it again. Once again, Jesus has gathered his friends, those who have followed him and witnessed his impact on their lives. Of course it is at a meal where intimacy is created and in this time when it is so hard to gather our families around the table, here our family is gathered around Jesus. He chooses a holy day for each Sunday is a little Easter where we celebrate his triumph over death. It is the day of our liberation and promises fulfilled in a new covenant. And we come in together in prayer, not just mine, but the prayer of every one of us that this remarkable transformation of bread and wine will occur.
And he will come to be present in this bread and wine. He will give us his body and blood, giving all that he has again and again because that is what lovers do. And he will have to be really present because we have a tendency to fall apart and need healing and reconciliation that is only possible because of the perfect sacrifice on Calvary. We do this memory of him. It is not a distant wisp of a memory but something real, something re-presented so that Jesus Christ is alive and present to us in this moment. And this moment is one of glory that creates a communion of saints so that we are brought nearer to our deceased loved ones more than any moment as we both bask in the love of God. It is a communion that draws us together forming bonds so complete that we become the body of Christ, ready to transform the world in his name, in his justice and in his peace. And it is a communion with God, where mere humanity is given a part in divinity.
That is how God lets us know we are loved.

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Holy Trinity B
The story of God we celebrate today as the Holy Trinity is never far separated from how we were told this story and who told us. It must be because the story of God is always in translation from mystery to revelation. This God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is mystery; a mystery so deep that it defines infinite. But this God is not unknowable altogether because this is also a God of revelation, a God who wanted to be known. And if we only have a thin slice of the entire mystery of God to go on, God has made sure it is enough. That thin slice is still so large and generous that it becomes the center of our life, the reason for our blessing and the way to our peace.
Who told you about the story of God? Was it a parent, grandparent, friend or stranger? How did it move you? We should be very grateful to anyone who told us the story of God for that is the pathway of love. It is the story of mercy overcoming judgment and beauty triumphing over despair. It is the story of creation, the story of redemption and salvation. It is the promise of life over death.
Each of us is called to be a teller of that story for who could possess something so shimmering, so hope filled and not want to share it with those we love. It is the mission for every one of us. It makes us missionaries. For we tell this story in our prayer that connects us to God and brings us closer together. We tell it in our study so that we might grow in knowledge and better share it with others with depth and color. We tell it above all in our actions where we follow Christ and partake and break open his Spirit in ways of love, peace and understanding. We are God’s witnesses in the world.
But there are some among us who place that missionary part of our life at the center of theirs. They have a call within a call to serve in challenging and remote parts of the world. The Church has always been blessed by missionaries. They have gone to bring faith where none existed before; they bring light to darkness and justice to overcome systems of oppression. They are often not wanted by some and needed by all.
My friend Fr. Ferdinand is a missionary. He left the Ivory Coast and became a PIME missionary in Mexico. You might remember him from his visit here where we had a huge snow storm that shocked him. He has infectious enthusiasm and a dazzling smile. He is in his late thirties and he looks like he is twenty-five and that is the only thing I do not like about Fr. Ferdinand. He is a genius with languages and not only took up the local indigenous language of Mixtec, but created a dictionary from Mixtec into Spanish while at Cuana and found the differences in dialect so severe that he wrote another one when he moved to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in La Concordia. He gave his people the gift of hearing the mass in their native tongue for the first time. He is beloved and caring for all his people.
And tomorrow, he is boarding a flight to Italy and leaving the parish because of threats against his life. Already four priests this year alone have been assassinated in Mexico. Did you know that? We don’t seem to hear those stories in the news too often do we? Here is what he shared.
“One month ago I left the parish of La Concordia. Not a day goes by without thinking about these parish communities. The memories of people, places and activities are permanent and alive.
I had to escape to preserve my “physical integrity”. That’s what it was. I had no problem with anyone in these four years of indigenous and pleasant pastoral experience. The Mixtec adopted me as one of them. My future, I put it in God’s hand. In my village it says: “until you cut off your head, keep dreaming”. You will always be present in my memories, my dreams and my prayers.
At the end of the day, what counts is to have loved and served.” What can be a better statement about the life and call of a missionary?
Let me ask a few things of you. First: pray for Fr. Ferdinand. Obviously, pray for his safety, but also for his healing. His great love of ministry to his people has been taken away from him. Let us pray that he will find a new way to exercise his extraordinary skills in service to God.
Let us pray for our sister parish Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They too have lost someone they love through no fault of their own. And pray for the two new courageous PIME missionaries going to La Concordia now. May we always remember missionaries throughout the world.
Let us pray for our Church. There are many people who have reasons to be disappointed in the Church, but those who hate it, hate it for the very best things about it. Those who hate it do so because they thrive in darkness and despise the light. They prosper in the midst of oppression and fear the onset of justice and because they depend on violence, they are cowed by those who preach peace. When the church comes to lift up those who put down, they are threatened. Those who hate the Church hate it for the best things about it.
Finally, let me ask you to do what every missionary asks of us. Be a missionary yourself. Tell the story of our triune God with passion and courage. Bring light to darkness and preach truth to power. Only when everyone is a missionary will there be no need for missionaries.

 

Pentecost Sunday B

 

They were all huddled together in an upper room.  The apostles had endured a lot.  They had known the terror of the crucifixion, the exhilaration of the resurrection and now they had witnessed the ascension of Jesus to heaven and were left anxiously waiting what was next and what this experience was to mean to them.  Buoyed by the mother of Jesus, they stick together and they pray.

 

Then everything changes in a moment.  With tongues of fire hanging over their heads and a mighty rush of wind, the promised Holy Spirit settled upon them.  And they burst forth from that room literally unable to contain themselves as the preached boldly the word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ to all around them.

 

What happened?  The miracles of Pentecost tell the story.  Yes, there were tongues of fire, but the real miracle was the fire over their heads became the fire that burned within them.  And those timid men, fearful that the hate that destroyed Jesus would pursue them, suddenly and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ.  Yes, there was a great wind, but the real miracle is that it had switched direction.  The wind had stung their face in the loss of Christ at the cross and his absence since the Ascension, but now it was at their back, pushing out of their room, compelling them to be witnesses of Jesus to everyone.  So strongly it blew that they would never turn back.  And finally, those Jews gathered from different lands as they came to Jerusalem to celebrate their Feast of Pentecost, could hear the apostles speak in their own native language.  But the real miracle was that their hearts were as open to as their ears, and what they truly heard was the fulfillment of the promise that sustained their dreams.  It was as if they heard for the first time the lyrics of a song they had been waiting for their whole life.

 

We have known this experience without the accompanying miracles, for what happened to the apostles at Pentecost happened to us at in the waters of baptism.  The Spirit which descended upon them inundated us.  And now that Spirit is within us.  Pentecost is within us.  And that is a good thing because look around.  We need a new Pentecost.

 

Each of us could use a new Pentecost, a new awakening of the Spirit.  I need a new Pentecost.  I need to better trust where the Spirt is leading me and to let go of my anxiety, especially for the Church which is not mine but God’s anyway.  Where do you need Pentecost in your life?   Where do you want to employ the Spirit to build up or heal or forgive?  We all need a Pentecost.

 

Our families need a new Pentecost.  We need the Spirit of forgiveness so that we can summon the courage to say, “I’m sorry.”  And the courage to forgive.  We need to entrust ourselves more fully to those God has given us to be closest to us and to be honest for the Spirit can only work in an environment of true feeling and openness.  It can be accomplished in little ways.  If you came home from school this week and were able to answer the question “What happened at school today?” with anything other than “Nothing,” that would be a Pentecost. 

 

Our communities need a new Pentecost for this is a Spirt that knows no boundaries whether it is between countries where people cross for a better life or cities.  The Spirit sees no difference between Schenectady and Niskayuna, between rich and power, the powerful and the weak.  If that is not how the Holy Spirit looks at the world, then how can we look differently?  And we need to say no to violence and to lay down our arms for a Spirt if peace inhabits us. 

 

We need a new Pentecost for our country.  At the first Pentecost, people from all different lands could hear the proclamation of the Gospel in their native tongues.  Yet, here it seems that even those who share a common language cannot hear the other.  The Spirit is the one that us communicate heart to heart.  It is a Spirit of reconciliation and hope, not fear and anger.

 

We need a new Pentecost for our planet.  All things were created through the Spirit; therefore it has all been touched by God and contains within it a certain kind of perfection.  The Holy Spirit calls us to communion with nature not exploitation or devastation.

 

And we need a new Pentecost for our Church.  We need a new burst of energy and of hope.  We need to be more the seat of mercy than the seat of judgment.  We need to be known for inclusion and not  exclusion.  We need to have that great rush of wind blow us out of these doors to the periphery so that the poor and sick may know healing, the hungry and thirsting may know fulfillment and the left out will know belonging.  We need to carry the good news as if it truly was good.  Imagine a world filled with joyous, happy, singing and smiling Catholics.  Now that really would be a Pentecost.

 

And the best of the good news is that Pentecost is already here.  Every day is Pentecost because the Spirit is already alive.  Pentecost is here because the Spirit is within you.  If you want a new Pentecost, simply let that Spirit out.

 

7th Sunday of Easter B
I have lived in this town for eleven years which means I have been inundated with engineers and those who analyze things for a living. It changes a guy. And I am a better person for it. I have come to appreciate precision in all things. I am far more rational and evidence based than before. And I have come to appreciate that the greatest enemy in the world is inefficiency. You know what I mean. So many of you are either there or married to someone who is.
Yet the great irony of all this is that we are gathered here by the least efficient agent possible. Love. Love is out-sized, sloppy and impossible to control. It distorts proportion and perspective. There is no such thing as a small achievement for a loved one or a small wound to a loved one. When you care more about the welfare of another more than your own, you cede control of your own happiness. No one can make you laugh more than the ones you love and no one can drive you crazier. You are even willing to lay down your life for your friend and how inefficient is that.
Think about how we love each other and the unreasonable demands love makes. There can be no better example on this Mother’s Day than the love of a Mom. It is exhaustive and I imagine exhausting. When I think of my Mom I now miss how much she worried about me. That every night her first concern was for my brother and me. No matter what I was doing, if she did not know I was safe, her presumption was that I was in a ditch by the side of the road. That kind of caring matters. And you might think she is smiling down upon me now but in truth I think she is really thinking, “Now he likes my worrying.”
To love is to choose vulnerability and to surrender power. It is “to live with your heart outside of your body.”
Why then do we love? We do it because that is what we are meant for. We do it because God is love. We do it because we were built for it and sometimes it seems that every cell in our body is pining for it, seeking connection to another. God so intricately created this world and the crowning achievement is that we love; just as God does; we love in the image of God. My favorite argument for the existence of God is that we love, for surely we would not have imagined or chosen it on our own,
When God created us, God made us for the mission of love. This love is shot through the very nature of God and is defined eloquently in our second reading. “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” It is not that God abandons us when we do not love, but that we remove the divine in ourselves when we do not do what we were designed to do. Jesus’ words in the Gospel are a full on cavalcade of love: I guard them, protect them and consecrate myself to them. And finally there is the promise of the Holy Spirit. For within us is the same Spirt that made Jesus love those he encountered. How could we not be meant for love when the Spirit of Jesus Christ resides in us?
It seems to me that much of life is lived on this knife’s edge. Shall we seek safety, protection and rationality or should we choose the vulnerability, the fear and ultimately the joy and peace of love? Should our goal be mere survival and forego the surge of romantic love, the deep satisfaction of friendship and the joy of knowing you belong to a family or a community grounded in love? All the happiest and best people I know have chosen love for it is both our journey and our destination. It is all that we will know at the end. It is what we are intended for and no other meaning defines us. We love because God is love.

6th Sunday of Easter B

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”  What a remarkable and amazing statement.  Our relationship with Christ begins not by our initiative, but by God’s.  It even seems a little backward.  I mean why would you not choose Jesus?  He was all-loving, just and peaceful.  He spoke the most beautiful words ever uttered, he was the Son of God, he died for our sins and he had great hair!  But we are friends of Jesus not for those reasons but because God first chose us.

Sometimes I wonder if God should have known better.  I imagine that Jesus would never have chosen me if he knew my faults, limitations and sins.  He would never have wanted me if he knew how little trust I have, how selfish I can be or my thoughts as the Mets lost every game of a homestand.  Then I remember, he does know all that.  And he chose me nonetheless.  And he chooses each of us despite our failures and shortcomings.

Once we understand that God truly wants us, then we can let all the beautiful words we heard today come down upon us and cover us like a light drizzle.   “God is love.”  “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.”  “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”  “”I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”  Imagine that; loving God, understandably, completes our love, but our love of Christ brings joy to God.  Each line is a statement of Christ’s desirous love for us.

No we can see what the Church is and why we gather.  It is the place of celebrating God’s full and unconditional love for us.  The Church is where we learn we are the imperfect, stumbling, yet holy, blessed and loving people of God.

I met with a group of some young adults the other night and asked what is the perception of the Church among their friends.  Some said it was an institution and no one trusts institutions anymore.  And it is true, we are an institution.  Maybe the mother of all institutions.  Some said that we carry with us the barrier of history and scandal and that too is true.  Some said it is the where old people go.  That is not not true.   But if we really want to define the church, we must look at how Jesus defined it:  the loving and joyous community of the friends of Jesus.  It is a font of forgiveness, mercy, kindness and friendship.

So we gather here so that we might hear words that are two thousand years old and yet still penetrate us with insight and relevancy.  We come to know we are loved and share it in the midst of a community.  We come because Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us, cannot stop giving himself away.  He desires us so much that he gives himself again in his body and his blood.  He want to be a part of us in a daringly literal way.  And today, we are better because you color in for us the picture of the body of Christ.  We are smarter for your ideas, more capable because of your talents and more compassionate by your mercy.  Besides where else in your life are you offered an hour of peace?

That is how so many people identify our parish.  A few weeks ago a friend of mine died, leaving his wife behind.  Her children all live out of town and her daughter said to me, “We all have to leave here but my great comfort is that after we go, every time my mother walks through the doors of this church, she will be with family.  It is a great parish.”  And a few weeks before that, someone roughly 70 years younger said to me, “This is my happy place.”  This is what our community must be.  The place where you come after you get a bad grade to know it is not the end of the world; the place where you receive consolation for your hurts and your loss; the place where you come to celebrate good news with people who delight in you.  For eleven years, it has been that place for me.  It has been the nexus of my joys and consolations.  The greatest privilege of my life has been to share my life with you and to have you share your life with me.

What is the Church? It is mission and the mission is to respond to one command.  “Love one another as I love you.”

2nd Sunday of Easter B

It seems that Jesus wanted the theme of Eater to be peace. As love was the theme of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel (“No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for their friends”) and as John emphasized victory in his depiction of the cross, the Easter story is about peace. Three times in the Gospel appearances to the disciples Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” I don’t think he is simply reassuring the apostles because they are freaking out as he just appeared on the other side of locked doors. Well maybe a little. But he also says it after they are already rejoicing. I think it is more than a greeting. I think it is a statement of fact and theology: peace is with them because he has risen from the dead.
Peace is with them because Jesus is with them. Having risen from the dead he is literally the embodiment of peace. For we can never underestimate what the resurrection means. It means Jesus has overcome death and has promised the same for us. For at the end of the day, it is death we fear the most. And all our fears, great and small our somehow connected to death. But on Easter Sunday morning, everything changed. The looming night has been replaced by a dawn that will not be extinguished. Light has overcome darkness and hope has triumphed over despair for life has conquered death. This is the meaning of peace: that we are free from fear. This is a peace that is not contingent or dependent upon anything other than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It can never be taken away for He is truly risen.
This is a different definition of peace than most of us possess. We usually think of peace as a state of mind when everything is going well, when the tumult and the madness of life have quieted down. But there is a whole other word to describe that state: luck. Instead this is a peace that abides; a peace that sustains; a peace that does not fade when the rigors of life catch up to us. For no matter what challenge you face, one fact in your life will not change – Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and he has offered us paradise.
Jesus himself points to this in his greeting to the apostles. As soon as he offers his peace he shows them his hands, bearing the marks of the nails, and his side, torn by the sword. And this is Jesus in his resurrected, glorified body. It is not perfect as we would imagine it. It is wounded. He offers peace not in spite of his wounds but because of them. His peace grows around his wounds and the wounds are the pathway through which he was able to offer that peace. It may also be true for us. Our peace does not mean we are unblemished. It means that we love, we trust and we believe around our wounds. Indeed, they are often the space we allow our loved ones and God to enter into our lives through our vulnerabilities. It is the gift Jesus offers to quell Thomas’ doubts. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side.” Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God.” He gets what peace looks like.
And isn’t it wonderful that the language of Jesus to his apostles is the language of the mass. We say nothing more often than the “Lord be with you” and “Peace be with you.” When we share the sign of peace, we are boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the Risen Lord. Of course we say it in a low mumbled voice. “Peace be with you.” How great would it be if we share the definitive good news in our lives with the joy the apostles must have known in that locked room? How invigorating to hear from loved ones, acquaintances and strangers alike they are a witness to the peace of Christ and they see it in you as well. Let this be our song of the Easter season. Peace be with you.

 

Holy Thursday 2018

 

Some parishes have very precise rules for who can receive communion and who cannot.  We never have. But that is about to change right now.

 

Our first reading is about the Passover as the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  It concerns the great liberation of the Jewish slaves from the clutches of Pharaoh in Egypt.   God had heard their cries and noted their suffering and God was ready to act in a definitive and awful way to let his people go.  For it seems the Lord is intent in our being free.  Of course, God who created us in freedom and for freedom knows that without it, there can be no love.  No one can be forced to love someone else.  It was precisely that gift that was central to Jewish self-understanding that all Jews celebrated and still celebrate at Passover.  It was the night of celebrating God’s special care for His people and the extraordinary lengths God would go to deliver them.

 

So as it is a Passover meal, the Eucharist must say something about freedom and care.  Jesus was speaking of a God of liberation.   So here is rule #1.  If you come to this table, prepare to be set free.  Whatever imprisons you, be it an addiction, a broken relationship, shame and guilt or low self-esteem, Christ will use his body and blood to free you.  Once we know the endless care and boundless love that is held in the Eucharist, we will find that which imprisons and indeed enslaves us is no match for the infinite embrace of God.  Our problems do not disappear at this table, but they can no longer direct our destiny for true freedom is the ability to love despite our obstacles, with all our flaws.  Having been loved perfectly, we have opportunity to unshackle ourselves from that which holds us to the walls of injustice and failure.  Rule #1:  be ready to be free.

 

Now let us look at the circumstances around that Passover meal in an upper room.  It is not pretty.  Jesus can sense his hour of challenge is coming, and despite their protests to the contrary, his disciples are about to fail in theirs.  He knows one friend will betray him and a best friend will deny him.   The situation on the outside is even worse as the forces of power are gathering to defeat him.  The people for whom he came to love are turning against him.  Darkness has intruded his ministry of light and the world is moving to crush him as it must when it is confronted by pure love.  And how does he respond to these betrayals, denials and the promise of violence?  He does not scheme to get away.  He does not try to diminish himself to go unnoticed nor repent of what his ministry has been all about.   No, he goes big.  At the moment when he feels the depth of our sin and weakness, he finds a way to love us.  The only response he has to the flailing, failing and foolish disciples is to love them more dearly and love them completely.  “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  What else can one give but one’s body and blood?  It is a sign of the surrender of self that anyone can recognize as love.  It is his marriage vow to us. 

 

So here is rule #2:  do not come to this altar unless you are ready to be loved and to love.  For the power of that moment was meant for generations of us who similarly fail in sharing God’s spirit and ignoring God’s wisdom.  It is meant for those who doubt their worth for they have been granted freely the grace that is the body of Christ within them.  It is meant for each of us who though unworthy are called to the great feast of dignity and awe, the supper of the Lamb.  Eucharist means that we have this love within us, but if it is to be received, it must be shared.  It multiples itself when the new body of Christ gives all of ourselves to others; when we mirror Jesus by giving all that we have.  It reaches its glory in Christ fully alive in us.  Rule #2:  let us love as we are loved.

 

The Gospel comes from John and there is a twist.  It is again the Last Supper and just when you expect the blessing of the bread and wine, Jesus instead surprises his disciples with the offer, demand actually, to wash their feet, a task so lowly that it was considered the lowest thing a slave could do.  Understandably, the disciples are horrified at the action, but Jesus does not consider it demeaning to his status.  “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”  He is not saying he is not all that.  He is.  He is instructing them that the translation of love into life is service.  We are not to be empty vessels stuffing ourselves with divine favor.  We are to be conduits of God’s love for us so that others might taste the grace of Jesus Christ.  Rule #3:  if you come to this altar you do so to become a servant.  Or in other words, don’t just receive Eucharist.  Be Eucharist. 

 

Be a servant who makes it clear that love has transformed their lives.  Act as one whom Christ has chosen and share his face of mercy.  Stand up for justice for we are all the body of Christ.  Forgive those who have hurt you for his blood was given for the forgiveness of sins.  This world is crying out for something; it needs a savior and the Eucharist has made us the bearers of Christ.

 

So three rules to come to the Eucharist:  freedom, love and service.  It is enough to change the world.