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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. At a time when we can focus negatively on those who no longer come to the Eucharist, I believe it is crucial that we celebrate the people who do come and participate. Today I would like to make the case that the most important thing for us who participate in the Eucharist, is not only that we come but how we come before God at that time. Have we come out of a sense of obligation, habit or have we come as a response of love?

At the heart of our call to participate fully in the Mass is the invitation for each one of us to make our lives a gift to God as God has made himself a gift to us. This, in a nutshell, is everything. When we come to Mass, we might have a hundred distractions in our minds. We may be happy or sad, joyful or worried, in good health or in bad. We may have had a good week or a terrible one. We may feel close to God or distant from Him. We might have come more out of obligation that of desire. But the main thing is that we have come. If we can say by our coming: ‘here I am Lord, accept me as I am. Here is my heart that you know so well. Accept my life that I offer to you in this Mass. Take my body, my soul, all that I am and all that I do’. If we can make this our prayer then our participation in the Mass will be meaningful and beautiful.

The Scriptures for this fifth Sunday of Lent invite us to do just that. The first reading from Jeremiah speaks about a new covenant. But what does this word ‘covenant’ mean? It is like a marriage vow - that God has chosen us as his own people and that we respond by giving ourselves to him. ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’. God’s covenant with us is like a couple on their wedding day who say to one another: ‘I give myself completely to you and you give yourself completely to me’.

On God’s side, this self-giving reached its climax on Calvary. On the night before he suffered at the Last Supper, in a moment of intense emotion and love, Jesus spoke about this ‘new and everlasting covenant’ that would be sealed in his own blood that would be poured out the following day. This is what we are asked to do as well -  to offer up our lives to God in trust and making them a generous gift to Him. This, however, is not easy for it is counter-intuitive. We are not naturally disposed to offer our lives to anyone, even to God. We want to gain not to lose.

Only love makes this possible and here is the great paradox of our faith. Only by giving ourselves away do we get ourselves back. Only by dying to ourselves can we find new life. As Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel: ‘Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest’. No one exemplified this more than Jesus himself. He was the grain of wheat who died and because he did, we have life through him.

I conclude with one of the most beautiful prayers from our Catholic tradition that best captures this spirit of self-offering that we hope to bring to the Eucharist. It was written by St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits:

‘Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me. Amen.’


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