November 10, 2013

HOMILY for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Mac 7:1-2. 9-14; Ps 16; 2 Th 2:16–3.5; Lk 20:27-38

Death is the end. It is a cut-off point for many things. Illness and suffering for example, in which death may be seen as a relief and a release. But it’s also a cut-off point for various relationships. My religious vows are only made until death. So, after death, it seems, I am not longer a Dominican. The same is true for the bond of marriage which is also only made until death. After death, it seems, no one is still married. And this may be seen by some, I dare say, as a relief and a release but for many it will be a surprise and maybe even a shock. And yet, that is what Jesus affirms in today’s Gospel. 

The reason for the end of marriage at death is that marriage, from Jesus’ point of view, serves a temporal purpose; it is for “this age” (Lk 20:34). It’s for pro-creation and for the raising of children in a family. As such, marriage serves the common good of society and ensures the continuation of humanity; it is ordered to Life, and, more specifically, life on this earth; this life, this age. Hence Timothy Radcliffe said in The Tablet: “Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future”. In a recent article on the Huffington Post a newly-wed man said a similar thing. Seth Adam Smith said: “love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others… for family… for your future children”. And this article went viral because it appeared so fresh and new. And yet, in rather more turgid language, this is what the Code of Canon Law, repeating words from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, says: “The marriage covenant… of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children” (CIC 1055 §1). Today in this Gospel, Jesus gives us the implication of this understanding of the very nature of marriage, which is that in the agelessness of heaven, all temporal concerns such as the procreation and education of children, the transmission of new life through the marital act, and thus the marital bond itself will cease. So, Jesus says that those who rise from the dead “neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more” (Lk 20:35f). What this means we can barely imagine since the inevitability of death and its finality is always before us especially in this month of November. 

But we have a glimpse of the strangeness of the risen life in today’s Gospel: there will be no marriage, no sex. And also, no eating or drinking. As St Paul says: “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). What is striking, I think, is that these basic bodily activities are taken away at death but… they are not entirely gone. Rather, what they signified for us human beings remains and is intensified. St Paul hints at this. The conviviality of the banquet and shared meal – which is why human beings don’t just feed but dine – endures and strengthens; there is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. 

So, what of marriage and the marital act, then? As we know, the marital act between husband and wife is never just about pro-creation although this is always essential. But there is more. For human beings don’t just mate but make love. Thus, sex is always unitive and strengthens the mutual bonds of love and commitment between a couple. And so, I think we can say that in the risen life, love and unity, which is what the sexual act signifies in this life, remains and is intensified because in the life to come we will be caught up in God who is Love itself, and in the communion of the Holy Trinity who is most perfectly One. Pope Francis pointed to this two weeks ago when he said to families in Rome: “True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love”. In heaven, then; in the life of the resurrected, this joy and harmony and love which is only glimpsed in our family and marital lives on earth is brought to perfection as we see God face to face and live for ever in his presence, in him. 

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July 26, 2013

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HOMILY for Ss Joachim & Anne

Eccl 44:1. 10-15; Ps 131; Matt 13:16-17

- preached at a retreat focussed on the Encyclical 'Lumen Fidei'

Today’s feast encourages us to gives thanks for our grandparents, for our families, and for all those women and men in our lives who have handed on the Faith to us. For it was SS Joachim and Anne who imparted the Jewish faith to their daughter Mary, a faith in the One God, and a hope in his promise of salvation; a living faith that prepared her to say ‘Yes’ when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the New Eve, the gate through whom the world’s Salvation entered. 

But hers was a ‘Yes’ that was rooted in the first act of faith of Abraham, who heard God’s call and responded with courage and generosity. Mary’s ‘Yes’ is the culmination of a history of faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, Pope Francis said in Lumen Fidei, “The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith… Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery” (§12). 

And the faith of Israel, their hope of liberation, points to Christ and finds its fulfillment in Christ who is God’s answer to their longings, God’s Word of ‘Yes’ to Israel, and to all humanity. As we read in Lumen Fidei, “All the threads of the Old Testament converge on Christ; he becomes the definitive “Yes” to all the promises” (§15). This is why Jesus says in today’s Gospel that “many prophets and holy men” longed to see him. He is the One who was desired by the nations of the world, and the righteous people of Israel. But they never saw him. This is the mark of their faith, that they should hope in something they have not seen, and trust in God to be faithful to his Word. 

We Christians, who follow in the faith of the apostles, the martyrs, and countless witnesses to Christ, can rejoice because we have seen and heard what they could only dream of. But, our faith, too, is founded on something that we ourselves have not seen, and trust in a future that God has promised us. Ultimately, our faith is founded in God’s love who calls us, and who can be relied upon. This is the nature of faith. As Lumen Fidei says: “On the one hand, [faith] is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (§4).

And so, we come back to the essence of today’s feast. Faith is something that we share with others, it comes from a community, and leads us to communion, a union of heart and mind, of hope and love, with others. Hence, our ‘yes’ to the faith that was handed down to us is also a ‘yes’ to the witness of our Christian communion of the Church, to our families, and to all who worked to share their faith with us. Again, as Pope Francis says: “The transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another” (§38). 

 But no one can live on the faith of another; no one can believe for us. Each of us, like Our Lady, has to say ‘Yes’ at some point – sometimes every day – and so, be constantly converted to Christ, and discover his beauty more profoundly. Only then, when it has truly become our faith, when we have encountered Christ and known his love and mercy, can we become a witness, a part of that “unbroken chain of witnesses” through which the men and women of our time will “come to see the face of Jesus” (cf Lumen Fidei, §38).

Will we do that? The invitation to be a faithful witness of Christ was first extended to us at our baptism. And every time we come to Holy Communion we receive God’s incarnate Word, his Word of ‘Yes’ to us, his promise of grace and strength. And in response, we say ‘Amen’, which means, ‘So be it’ – ‘Yes’!

July 21, 2013

HOMILY for the 16th Sunday per annum (C)

Gen 18:1-10a; Ps 14; Col 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

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A couple of years ago, I spent a day with my grandmother in Kuala Lumpur. It was a special time – just the two of us, as it had been for so many years when I was growing up. And she fell into her customary role, fretting about what I wanted to do and eat, where we should go, and basically wanting, as usual, to make the day just perfect for me. She could barely sit down to talk because she would be trying to plan what we’d do next. But I wasn’t really interested in doing anything in particular. To my mind what we were doing was already perfect, which was to just be together. It mattered little to me where we did this, or what we ate, but I knew then that I just wanted to spend time with her, and enjoy her company, and for us to share something of ourselves with each other – what, in Scriptural and ecclesiastical language, we call ‘communion’. And what makes this day especially precious, now, is that it was the last time I would see her in this world.

I think this deep desire for communion comes across in what Jesus says to Martha. Today’s Gospel could be said, as so many of the Fathers of the Church have done, to be about the goodness of the contemplative life over the active life. Or it could be about women being equally called to discipleship. Notice that Mary’s brother Lazarus is not even mentioned because it’s expected that the men would be in Jesus’ company. But Mary is singled out for attention because she’s doing something unusual for her time. In effect, she’s broken social conventions by behaving like a man, seated at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from the Master. So, Martha is reminding her of where Middle Eastern society expected (and maybe, still expects) her to be – in the kitchen! But I don’t think today’s Gospel is primarily about these things. Rather, today’s readings are about God’s desire for communion with Mankind, a passionate love for us that is so profound that it moves God to act in a way that ‘gods’ normally do not.

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May 26, 2013

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HOMILY for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

 Prov 8:22-31; Ps 8; Rom 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

When St Paul went to Athens he noticed an altar to an unknown god (Acts 17:23). And when it comes to the Holy Trinity, it might seem to many people that we’re also gathered around the altar of an unknown God today. For isn’t it all a bit of a contradiction? Three in one, and one in three? And what does it mean anyway? And yet, the fact that we can speak of God as Trinity, and pray to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit means that our God is not unknown to us. For Jesus said: “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15b), and he has given us his Spirit to “guide [the Church] into all the truth” (Jn 16:13).

So, what we have been given by Christ is a privileged insight into the intimate life of God. Until Jesus revealed this to us, our human intellect could only deduce that there is a God, for as today’s psalm implies, the wonder and order of creation, of all existence, testifies to the being of God the Creator. So, our human reason, if we’re open-minded enough, can just about understand that God is, and Greek philosophy also reasoned that, ultimately, the Creator God had to be uncreated and also simple, that is, one. But all this is reasoned from created things, deduced from the effects of God as the Cause of all that is. But essentially, God, as he is, is still unknown. 

But what Jesus does is to reveal to us, his friends, something of the unknown, hidden inner life of the one God. And so, he makes known to all through the Church that God is Trinity. This is something that we could never have known without divine revelation – that God is eternally Father and Son held in the mutual love of the Holy Spirit. But, we might ask, what does this mean? How can we understand this? The fact is that we shall never rationally comprehend God’s being. God who is infinite, immeasurable, and limitless is simply beyond our finite, measured, and limited intellects, and none of our images, especially since they’re drawn from created things, can capture the uncreated God. Moreover, to speak of the Trinity is to speak of the inner, unseen life of God which is beyond our investigative reach. We can’t even delve into the inner life of another person, and can barely understand ourselves and our own actions, let alone God’s. So, the Holy Trinity is a mystery, indeed the central Mystery of our faith. 

But to say that the Holy Trinity is a Mystery is not to say that we shouldn’t think about God. That would be to return us to an unknown God, a kind of agnosticism. Rather, the infinite mysterious depths of God’s being is an invitation for us to think, to pray and contemplate, to study and ponder what God has revealed about himself to us. And the central action in which we do this as a Church is this: the Eucharist. For it is here in the Eucharist, God’s own gift of himself to us, that the Holy Trinity is at work, revealing himself to us. Thus the famous icon by Rublev of the Holy Trinity has the three angels seated around the Altar and the Eucharistic chalice. 

So, although we gather here today around the Altar of a mysterious Triune God, this is by no means the altar of an unknown God. For ours is a God who is known and knowable, and he discloses himself to us, gives us his very self, through sacred Liturgy.

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November 20, 2012

HOMILY for 33rd Tue per annum (II)

Apoc 3:1-6. 14-22; Ps 14; Luke 19:1-10

“Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth”! (Apoc 3:16). These words had a great impact on my life over a decade ago. I was in my final year in university, and one day after Mass, I bought a book in the Catholic bookshop opposite the cathedral, and my thought was that the book could help me explain my faith to my friends. But, rather complacently, I didn’t think it would change my life much. After all, I said to myself with pride, I already knew my faith and read a lot of theology! 

But knowing the faith is not the same as knowing and loving Christ, and through this book, Christ came knocking on the door of my heart. And he used these words, cited on page 25 of that book, to knock me out of my complacency: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth”. And this is how the author went on to explain the passage: God “wants us on fire for Him. He wants us to love Him. How do you act when you’re in love? Do you do only what you absolutely have to in order to hang on to the relationship? Not if you really love. This person is constantly on your mind. You constantly want to please him, to communicate, and you both want to get to know each other better. You don’t say, “I spent last Sunday with you. Again now? How long do I have to stay? Is an hour enough?” God wants us to be in love with Him. He wants us to be on fire for Him. He wants to be on our minds. He wants to be central in our hearts.”

Why? Because he wants us to be truly happy and fulfilled in this life and to enjoy eternal life with him. This is why God comes in search of us, “to seek and save the lost” – especially when we don’t even know we’re lost – and his living Word is spoken to us at the right time and in the right place. These are moments of actual graces, in which God is acting and speaking, and his Spirit is already at work to prepare our hearts to listen to Christ, to be open to God’s grace. And my experience is that God uses even our most simple human motivations, and can transform that with his grace into a miraculous moment of conversion.

So it was that the Spirit moved Zacchaeus in the Gospel to look for Jesus. He wasn’t even moved by faith, as such, but merely simple curiosity. But this spurred him to make the effort to climb a tree and seek Jesus, and this is enough for the Lord. For Jesus immediately calls Zacchaeus by name, and asks to go to his house. Effectively, Christ knocks on the door of Zacchaeus’ heart; a moment of grace. But Zacchaeus is given the freedom to respond to Christ’s request, just as each of us are. And what Zacchaeus does is to say ‘Yes’ to the Lord, to receive the Lord joyfully into his home, into his life. 

So, as St John put it: “If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”. Each day, we’re called to let Christ into our lives, to gradually become more in love with him, and this is what our daily Eucharistic communion expresses and fosters. When we say ‘Amen’ at Communion, we invite Christ into our lives, so that we can be united to God in love and he can truly say to us: “Today salvation has come to this house”, indeed, under our ‘roof’. 


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The book to which this homily refers is ‘We’re on a Mission from God’ by Mary Beth Bonacci. 

October 31, 2012

HOMILY for the 30th Wed per annum (II)

Eph 6:1-9; Ps 144; Luke 13:22-30

In many countries tonight people will come “from east and west, and from north and south”, from all over the place, dressed in all kinds of costumes and guises, of figures both dead and alive. And they will knock on doors in search of a sweet treat. And in a strange way, this popular secular ritual, which is often just a bit of fun, can point to some important lessons found in today’s Gospel. For, if you think about it, pretending to be one of the dead and going ‘trick or treating’ is like acting out today’s parable. On that Day after our death, each of us, wherever we come from, shall knock on the door of heaven. And we hope that the Lord will open the door to us, and give us admission to the sweet feast of heaven – an eternal ‘treat’, so to speak, with all the saints. 

But in fact, we rehearse for this great Day every day of our lives and not just on Halloween’s. Except that here in the land of the living, in our lives right now, the roles are reversed. It is not we who knock on heaven’s door, but rather it is the Lord who stands at the door of our hearts, knocking, and asking to be admitted. Each day of our lives, Jesus invites us to open our hearts to him, so that he can come in and have communion with us. As the book of Apocalypse says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Apoc 3:20). So, we are being invited each and every day to open our hearts to Love. 

If we do open our hearts to Christ, to Love, then we receive, already in this life, the sweetest treat of all. For the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in our hearts, filling us with the sweetness of divine grace; it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and the enjoyment of the saints. So, we don’t just eat and drink in Christ’s presence, but, most importantly, because we have opened our hearts to him, Christ enters in to eat and drink with us, and we with him; we have holy communion with the Lord, and are united to him in love.  

This is what we do each day in the Mass. Here, in the Liturgy, we have a foretaste of the heavenly feast of the prophets and saints. Here, today, the Lord comes to us, and he knocks at the door of our hearts. In saying ‘Amen’, we let him in and have communion with him; we allow his grace to transform us, so that we don’t just put on the guise of Love and the costume of a Christian, but we become Love. 

For our hope is that, when we knock on the Lord’s door after death, he will thus open heaven to us, and say: “I do know where you come from. I recognize you because you have my face – the face of one who loves”. Hence the Catechism reminds us that “at the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (CCC 1022), on whether we have let Christ in and allowed his grace to transform and re-fashion us in his own image, the image of Incarnate Love.

October 22, 2012

HOMILY for the 29th Mon per annum (II)

Eph 2:1-10; Ps 24; Lk 12:13-21

Today’s readings remind us that we are created for communion with God for that is why God restored us to friendship with him through Christ; that is why he gives us his grace. As the Catechism says: “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997). And because we have this communion with God, so we are also called into communion with one another. 

The problem with the rich man in the Gospel isn’t that he was prudent and worked hard, earned a living, and invested things away for a rainy day. These are important and necessary. However, he became so caught up in his work, in making money and managing his investments, that he became self-obsessed with himself and his things, in seeking pleasure just for himself. Thus, his possession didn’t build communion, but cut him off from others. He was no longer in communion with others, and the implication is, neither was he in communion with God. He simply hadn’t the time for them, and so he couldn’t love God or neighbour, for the two come together. Instead he loved himself and his stuff. 

How often do we find ourselves in that situation, with little of no time for our families, our friends, housemates, and for God, rushing from one thing to another? Or perhaps we’re in danger of focussing so much on our work and its goals that we neglect the vital relationships in our life? We’re meant to love people and use things to help us build relationships and communion with others. But instead we often seem to use people and love things. So, Blessed John Paul II who is commemorated today, said that “however true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work’”. 

For everything we do, and the things we own and earn, are to serve a reason and a purpose. Not just survival, or to maximize our own selfish pleasures, but, to improve our relationships with one another, to enable us to spend time together and communicate better so that our lives are more gracious and loving. For it is in relationship with others, in love for another, that our truest pleasure and lasting good lies. And our greatest good, of course, is found in God, in a living relationship with him who is Love itself. 

But I suppose you already know this, for isn’t that why we’re here? We take time out of our busy days to find some quiet, to make time for communion with God and our neighbour. For this opportunity, and for the grace that has brought us here, we give God thanks and praise.

September 17, 2012

HOMILY for the 24th Mon (II)

1 Cor 11:17-26. 33; Ps 39; Luke 7:1-10

At the end of the Ordination rite of a priest, the bishop says these awesome and solemn words to the newly-ordained: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. It’s been precisely one year since those words were said to me, and it seems fitting today to recall them in conjunction with today’s First Reading.

“Know what you are doing”. St Paul’s account of the Lord’s words which instituted the Eucharist tells us that what the priest is doing in the Mass is proclaiming the Lord’s death. So, in the words of the Ordination rite, the priest is said to celebrate “the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. As such, the Mass makes present the one sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. It is, therefore, a visible sign of God’s sacrificial love for humankind, and of his total gift of himself to us in Jesus Christ. When the priest is told to “model [his] life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”, then, he is being told to fashion his life and ministry according to the sacrificial love of Christ. Thus, the priest is ordained to make Christ’s love visible to his people, not just in the Mass in which Christ’s Body and Blood is made present at his hands for us, but also in his own flesh. The priest’s own Body and Blood – his energies, efforts, whole self – is given up for the Church too. So, the priest is sometimes called ‘another Christ‘ because of what he does sacramentally for us, and in his own person.

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August 16, 2012

HOMILY for the 19th Thurs (II)

Eze 9:1-17; 10:18-22; Ps 112; Matt 18:15-20

“No man is an island”, it’s said. And how true that is. This was so evident as we recalled last night the centuries of benefactors, collaborators and friends who have worked and prayed together with us friars to bring us to this day, to the building of this chapel with this Altar, now duly dedicated, at its heart. In a sense, this chapel reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe to those who have gone before us, to those who make up our community today, and above all, to God. 

But one thing I increasingly realize, especially living in community, is that because none of us is an island, nobody is self-sufficient and in-dependent of another. We need one another, and we rely on one another to work, build, and celebrate together. And this is to be expected because as human persons we are essentially relational, born into a family community, and then, gradually joining other communities and networks. It is from these communities, from our relationship with others and our dependence on them that we find meaning, and also find ourselves. So, we are each indebted to the other, closely knitted in community by bonds of mutual need and trust, by bonds of love. 

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June 28, 2012

HOMILY for the Memorial of St Irenaeus of Lyons

2 Kings 24:8-17; Ps 78; Matt 7:21-29

In every Mass we pray after the Our Father for “peace and unity” to be granted to God’s holy Church, and today we celebrate a saint and martyr whose life was devoted to safeguarding the unity and peace of the Church. In this way, he was true to his name, Irenaeus, which means ‘peace’. 

Born around 135-40 in Smyrna, which is now called Izmir in Turkey, Irenaeus was mentored by bishop Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle St John. By 177 he had moved to Lyons in Gaul, where he is one of the priests ministering to the Greek-speaking Christian community there. That community sent him to Rome to take a letter to the pope, and while he was in Rome, the church in Lyons was attacked by Marcus Aurelius. 48 were martyred including the bishop. So, when Irenaeus returned to Lyons he was appointed bishop, and he taught the Faith, and defended it against the Gnosticism – a dualist heresy that set a good spiritual God against a negative Principle that produced all matter, that was thus, evil, in the world. The Gnostics believed that Jesus was sent to liberate Man from matter, setting his spirit free, but this superior and secret knowledge (gnosis) was only given to some Christians called the spirituals. This heresy was prevalent throughout the 2nd century and it divided the Church. These dualistic ideas probably sound familiar since versions of it crop up repeatedly, and St Dominic and his Order arose to respond to the 13th-century version of it called Catharism. So, St Irenaeus arose in the 2nd century to counteract Gnosticism, and he laboured until his death around 202-3 during another wave of persecution by the Emperor Septimus Severus. 

Given the violence and persecution in Irenaeus’ lifetime and his own martyrdom, evidently, the peace that he is credited with bringing to the Church is not temporal peace. Rather, it is a peace that comes from being built upon the rock that is our one true Faith in Jesus Christ. As bishop and teacher of this Faith, then, St Irenaeus defended the people of God from the violence and divisiveness of heretical ideas, and united the Church in Lyons to the wider Church of his mentor St Polycarp: the Church of St John and the apostles, who, unlike the Gnostics, openly taught the common faith and knowledge of salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. So, in an unbroken line, the Apostolic Fathers taught with Christ’s authority, and their successors continue to do so today.

As St Irenaeus wrote in his book, Against Heresies, “The Church, though dispersed throughout the world… having received [this faith from the Apostles]… as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world” (1, 10, 1-2).

It is this unity and peace, coming from an adherence to the one Faith in the one Lord that we pray for in the Mass. For it is this unity and peace that is signified when we receive the one Bread and the one Cup that makes us “one body, one spirit in Christ”. 

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