Our Place

It has been my experience that time seems to fly fastest between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Our lives become extremely hectic which means, sadly, that Advent becomes an almost lost season, even to Catholics.  With all the social expectations and busy-ness of preparing for Christmas the import of Advent can easily be driven far to back of our minds.  If we allow this to happen our ability to grow in our relationship with Christ is impeded because Advent prepares us for Christmas, real Christmas; when beyond all our hopes and expectations God revealed Himself to us in the manger.

So, at this beginning of Advent the important question for each of us is: how can we regain a spiritual appetite for Advent; how can we embrace a fruitful participation in the Advent Season – when we are numbed by the blaring and glaring of the season that surrounds us?

Maybe a good place to start is to refresh our understanding Advent.

First of all: we need to appreciate the meaning of the word Advent.  It doesn’t mean preparation, anticipation, expectation, or waiting. It is a Latin translation of the Greek word “parousia” which means presence, or more accurately arrival[1]. Though preparation, anticipation and expectation of Christ’s public manifestations at His birth and the End of Time are important aspects of the Advent season we need to remember that God is already with us – His presence is here. Advent reminds us that God’s presence has already begun[2].  It is up to us to allow this presence to shine in us.  We all have dark places within us that we fear to look into, these places are known to God; but to us well…….?  Advent is time to allow the light of God to drive away this darkness, to allow God to fill those spaces with the light of His love.

Second: we need to realize that not only is God present, but God is also close to us at all times, especially those of trial and apparent loneliness.  Nothing we can do will keep Him from our side. He is us with us always, He walks next to us, His light is all around us; we just need to look for Him with our hearts and we will find Him.  It takes effort on our part to become accustom to His presence, to see His light especially this time of year when we are bombarded by all types of artificial light and sounds; so we need to find the time and a place away from it to find Christ.

Brothers and Sisters my hope is that each day we take 15 minutes to not only read a scripture verse but allow the verse to read us!  Allow God’s presence (in His word) into our hearts so we can become aware of our hidden dark spaces and allow His love to drive them away.  15 minutes of quiet mental prayer, not much time but enough to allow eternity to enter and help. 15 minutes a day to strengthen our relationship, to find our place with Christ.

And where is our place with Christ? Let us make our own the words of the then Father Joseph Ratzinger in a 1964 homily: ‘But in this time of Advent, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less “before Christ,” and certainly not “after Christ,” but truly with Christ and in Christ: with him who is indeed Christ yesterday, today, and forever[3]

————————————————————————–

[1] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Dogma and Preaching 1985 pp-79-80
[2] ibid
[3] Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) – 1964 Sermon  http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2006/12/Joseph-Ratzinger-On-Advent.aspx#d8QRSJVqS6L8mBXM.99

Advertisements

As does our King – so do we.

Today, the final Sunday in the Liturgical year we celebrate the greatness of Jesus Christ as King of the Universe and acknowledge the eschatological ramifications of His kingship. He is the absolute king of all creation; He created and He will judge. Today’s Gospel[1] relates to us this ‘dreadful greatness’ of Christ: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.[2]  This understanding about power is something that mankind can easily grasp, can comprehend about a king, an absolute ruler.  It fits with what humanity has experienced throughout history. No matter where a ruler lies on the continuum of leadership, from benevolent to tyrannical, there is always a coercive aspect.  That Jesus Christ has such power, that He is such power, if viewed with the eyes of this human experience, should make us quake in our boots. But His is a power that confounds the human experience.

Today’s Gospel continues with Christ explaining His true power.  His power is not one of coerciveness; it is one of intimacy, empathy, love. From His words today we see that His ability to pass judgment on each person is based on His experience with each person.  He knows each person, His Holy Spirit dwells within each person.  He experiences the action, and the effect of each person.  ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.[3]; and the opposite He tells each of us today.  He suffers personally with each suffering person.  He feels the pain of want and the pain of seeing people in want. He feels the loving action of selfless help and also distasteful selfish rejection.

He has come to our level, and even lower, to lead us and to lift us up. Christ, the King of Universe, rules from our level; He has gifted us with His intimacy and love. And though His attitude about power confuses the mindset of mankind it is not out of our reach to comprehend; indeed, buried deep within each of us is the urge to understand His kingship and desire it.

Even more to the point (especially at this outset of the New Evangelization), it is an attitude that each of us should harness. We should be attentive to this attitude of our king and use it to drive our own journey. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, in a homily this past September, talked about the attitude of Christ; where He places himself among us, and how we should desire the same; saying: ‘He was born in a stable…he died on the Cross…he tells us that the right place is the one close to him, the place according to his measure.’ And he continued: ‘We are on the right path if we try to be people who ‘come down’ to serve, who bear God’s free gift to the world.[4]

Brothers and sisters, the Feast of the Solemnity of the Christ the King is more than a day to celebrate our King.  It is more than a day to give thanks for His gift of intimacy and love.  It is a day of reflection on how we should live our lives as well.  This day puts a new meaning, an eternal meaning, to an old saying: ‘As does our king – so do we.’  As subjects of Christ the King we take His attitude as our own, and we follow His lead in serving those around us – in helping those in want – in bringing His light to those in darkness.  Today’s readings shouldn’t cause us to fear final judgment as much as it should lead us to Christ’s right-hand.  As with all scripture we hear God helping us find the path to eternal happiness; and this path leads through those around us. There is no other path to heaven except through others – especially those in need.

And finally, His attitude gives us great freedom – this following the lead of our king.  His gift of service frees us from the chains of expectations and desires so prevalent in this world today.  When we follow the example of our king we no longer struggle for fleeting possessions and opinions but embrace the eternal peace and joy that service of love gives us.  Our desire is be one with our king who emptied himself so he could truly know us.  His throne is the Cross; His banner a bloody tunic; His orb is the world; and His greatest desire is each of us.

As does our King – so do we!

——————————————————————————————————-

[1] MT 25:31-46
[2] MT 25:31-32a
[3] MT 25:35-36
[4] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 9/1/2014 Homily during Mass for the closing of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis

Certainty

In one the first RCIA classes I attended 21 years ago Father asked a question to the class.  How many in this room are at least a little afraid of dying?  Many, including the catechists, didn’t raise their hands; some of us, including me and surprisingly Father Mike, did.  He then went on to say that it was normal to be nervous, a little afraid of the future because it is an unknown; and dying even more so, because it is an unknown involving eternity.

At the very beginning of his trilogy on Jesus Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI writes ‘In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin … [but also] what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him.  Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.[1]

So it is that mankind’s curiosity of eternity hovers on the edge of fear.  Most people are fearful of eternity because they are not really convinced they know what it entails.  Even the most devout Christians who believe Christ’s revelation about what it entails are fearful that we won’t pass the grade when it comes.  So it is no surprise that today’s Gospel[2] and St. Paul’s words today at Mass from his 1st letter to the Thessalonians[3] make us at least a little nervous. “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.[4] we heard from St. Paul today and as I heard these words I felt myself wonder will I be caught unaware to enter eternity. When the time comes will I be worthy of the Kingdom of God – heaven?

The Jews of the Bible viewed eternity somewhat differently than we do.  I bet if I asked each of you what eternity means you would say it is where we end up after we die (or some variation of that) – something down the proverbial road from now; somewhere in future. Not so with the Jews of Jesus day; eternity to them was the present onward. History was yesterday and back; but eternity begins now – with the present.

Brothers and sisters, as our Jewish brothers understand we have reached eternity; and as Christ proclaims we have already entered into the Kingdom God.  “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”[5] He tells us in Mark.  The truth of eternity/eternal life shouldn’t be uncertain – we know what it is – we have seen it. Jesus praying to His Father gives us this knowledge: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ”.[6]

The questions of what eternity is and when it starts are answered – there should be no uncertainty. Our concerns should be centered on how we live our life at this beginning of eternity.  Our energies should be focused on following the true path – Jesus Christ; because without Him we are lost.  The good news is that Christ has given us the surest guide and companion for our journey – Holy Mother Church.  Today’s first reading from Proverbs[7] gives us this great news.  At first reading it seems to be about spousal love and self-giving, and it is.  But it is also about Christ’s relation with His spouse – Holy Mother Church. Christ who has given us His bride to help us, to be our refuge, our guide; loves her absolutely ‘entrusting his heart to her’[8]. With this understanding we can be assured that if we live within Holy Mother Church we are walking with Christ.  The darkness of the world and its prince cannot pierce the light of Christ that shines through His bride.  Holy Mother Church who radiates the light of Christ bathes her children in that same light – if we allow her to.  With her we walk along eternity towards her spouse and our final home. With her we need to bring as many of our neighbors who live in darkness into the light of eternal certitude – into the loving embrace of God.

—————————————————————————————-

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Volume 1 pg 1
[2] Mt 25:14-30
[3] 1 Thes 5:1-6
[4] 1 Thes 5:1-2
[5] Mk 1:15
[6] Jn 17:3
[7] Prvbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
[8] Prvbs 31:13

Smiling Statues

Each of the churches in Rome, especially the major basilicas have unique atmospheres.

When we arrived at the Arch Basilica of St. John Lateran we entered through a side door close to the sanctuary. And as I was walking towards the front of the church I had this very humbling, almost fearful feeling the further I walked – and I know exactly why.

You see, the nave of the basilica is dominated by giant statues on pedestals of the twelve apostles (six on each side) – these great figures were staring down at me.  I had a feeling that they were looking deep into my heart and telling me that it was my turn and asking me what I had done for our Lord.  I have to say that the statues looked mad! From the far recesses of history, those who laid the foundation of our faith were looking to me. Add to that that there are at least 20 popes buried there, and that tradition holds that the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul are in a reliquary above the high altar and you can understand somewhat the feeling of history bearing down upon me.

What am I doing for Christ’s church? How dedicated am I to our Lord and Savior? Am I a strong stone in His church or a weak one?  All of these questions were bearing down on me as I walked down the nave – and all were demanding a reply. But as if in answer to these questions I noticed in the side naves many confessionals – each one with two languages listed Italian-German, English-Italian and so forth.

The Apostles, who at first were looking down at me accusingly, now seem to be saying they understand. It doesn’t matter how strong of a stone I am now – God will make me stronger!  Take advantage of the His love, use these confessionals, strengthen yourself; help build that strong temple that we started!

Brothers and sisters, as the readings today highlight the church is always building, always in transition. The Church will never be complete until its foundation, Jesus Christ comes back to claim her.  We can’t rest on our successes and we can’t stop because we know we failed and fear that we will fail again; He requires our constant participation. God gives us His strength through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation to heal and grow stronger.  Let’s take advantage of this gifts and in doing so strengthen our part of the temple.  I bet that this will make those statues at St. John Lateran smile.

Temple Stones

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Introduction
History is nothing more than life – life already lived.  It is the witness of how those before us navigated the challenges thrown at them and how they were able to pass on to us what we have.  History is as much who we are as what we do now.  We can learn much about today from history and today’s feast is a great example. Today we celebrate a seemingly unusual feast – we seem to be celebrating a building and it is the only world-wide celebration of its type.  Of course each diocese celebrates their Cathedral but it is only the Basilica of St. John Lateran that is celebrated throughout all the church.

Mother Church – Pope’s Cathedra
St. John Lateran is given the title of the Mother of Churches for two reasons.

First, it is actually the Cathedral of Rome – it is where the Bishop of Rome as his Cathedra, latin for seat or throne, as St. Raymond Cathedral is the center of our Diocese St. John Lateran is the same for Rome.  St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is not a cathedral.

Two, and at least for me, most importantly, it is first publically recognized church in Rome.  Throughout the 327 year history of Christians in Rome Christians at best were tolerated and usually persecuted sometimes openly and violently.  Christians didn’t have great buildings to worship in. It is not that didn’t want them – contrary to some beliefs Christians always looked to celebrate in the best possible structures they could – it elevated their celebrations – it was an act of love towards their God.  But they were forced to go underground. At first they were driven out from the synagogues. Then throughout the lands and at various times they set up public worship places only to be destroyed or confiscated.  So when the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and put a stop to persecutions and then donated the estate of the Laterini family for a church it was the pinnacle of Christian success in Rome and the empire.

But, if we look at the title of today’s feast we find that we aren’t celebrating the Basilica but the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. We celebrate the act of consecration, of recommitment of this sacred space to what it is intended for.

Rome came to accept Christians
And though the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran can be considered the crowning moment in the Church at the time – when finally Christians were publically accepted; acceptance of Christianity wasn’t from some great building – it wasn’t because the Emperor saw a great sign before a battle that he won.  It wasn’t even due to acts of heroism displayed by 300 years of Christians as they were put to death at the Circus Maximus or used as human torches.  Their acceptance came from small things; the way they lived their lives and the way they had Christ in the center of their lives.

The Roman civilization was the greatest of the day – it was the pinnacle of mankind’s achievements.  Roman citizens had the highest standard of living in their known world.  And yet, for 300 plus years since the death of Christ Romans came to know and were amazed and envious of how Christians lived with each other; how they treated family members both immediate and extended and how they treated their pagan neighbors.  There was a joy that radiated from them and a peace that shined from their souls.  They were happy and fulfilled even with all the persecutions and terrors that were thrown at them.  And the Romans grew to desire this life.  They wanted to know and embrace a life of hope, peace, joy.  They wanted to experience more than what their so-called advanced civilization gave them.

Church is built of living stones.
So, in 372 Pope St. Sylvester I dedicated the Basilica of St. John the Baptist on the Laterini estate that Emperor Constantine gave them.  Holy Mother Church had their very first publically celebrated Cathedral but our celebration today is about the foundation that gave rise to this Cathedral – the living stones that it rests on – the people.

St. Paul today tells us that we are God’s building.  The whole of the Bible relates to us this symbolism – by our actions, how we live our lives we become one more piece of the Church.  The Pagan Romans saw this in their Christian neighbors and their opinion of Christianity was built stronger. It wasn’t immediate, as history shows, but each Christian witness, each act of each Christian, was another seed sown in the pagan ground of Rome; each act of love brought curiosity and eventually desire.  They saw, with their tired and fear worn eyes what Ezekiel spoke about: the flowing water of Christ’s love – the constant streams of grace flowing from the temple – Christ.

Our part.
Brothers and sisters, what this celebration points to, what our lives should be dedicated to is the true temple of Christianity – the fount of all graces from God – Jesus. All of our actions, from the great acts of building glorious cathedrals to the small actions of living our lives should we washed in Jesus Christ. But even more, we should allow this river to flow through us, not remain; allow others to be refreshed. We do this by living our life in Christ and allowing our witness to the Christian way to be seen by others around us.

The only difference between us and our society and Rome of 372 is just years.  Our neighbors are no different than the pagan Romans who hungered for a better way of life.  Our obligation to them and to God is no different than Christians of 372 – bring those around us with us by living the life of Christ – love in everything we do.  I pray that each of us will constantly take a look at how we are living our life and through prayer grow closer to the example of our ancestors who took the greatest society of their time and made it greater.

Family Obligations

Feast of All Souls 2014

One of the most important aspects of the family dynamic is responsibility – obligations.  Since we were old enough to understand our families have instilled in us this integral piece of family and depended on us to fulfill our part.

Jesus tells us today[1] that his mission is to bring back to the Father everything that the Father has given him. Jesus understands our brokenness, God understands our failings and yet He wants no one to miss coming home. He tells us that His whole reason for being among us is to do His Father’s will and make sure we will be with Him forever.  That is obedient devotion!  But, it is more. He has come to do His Father’s will, which is to help His brothers and sisters. His action is one of family obligation! What great news to know that we are all loved members of God’s family.

But, His words today makes clear something else – as does Jesus, so should we. Christ’s message today lays upon us the same family obligation.  As members of this family we too need to work for each other in our journey home. Today, we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed where we remember loved ones and pray that they are with God and all the Saints in Heaven. We participate in the economy of salvation – we are co-workers with God in the salvation of mankind.  Of course it is God alone who saves – but nonetheless our prayers are efficacious.

St. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells them and us to ‘boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation[2] This is foundational to our mission of the New Evangelization; but as we set out upon our part in this New Evangelization we need to remember that our work is more than just proclaiming the good news to those we meet. Our family obligation is more than just selectively participating in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; it is participating in them all – including praying for the dead.

We need to work for all the family – even those waiting to enter Heaven – those being purified – our faithful departed. Yesterday, we celebrated the powerful force of all the saints, both known and unknown, who help us with their prayers. Today, we observe and recommit ourselves to the work of helping those who are still on the journey and have preceded us into the eternal.  These two celebrations, taken together, are a celebration of this family dynamic – let’s do our part!

For all the faithful departed in our family:

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

———————————————————————————–

[1] Jn 6:37-40
[2] Rom 5:11