Stubborn

This morning we continue with chapter six of St. John’s Gospel.  Where in the other three Gospels we are given careful accounts of the institution of the Eucharist in St. John’s Gospel we don’t; and yet it has been referred to as the most Eucharistic of the Gospels. Chapter six is an important reason for this designation and the section of Chapter six we are listening to is what is called the Bread of Life discourse; in a way you can say that Chapter six contains a theology behind the Eucharist. But today’s readings strike me for another and, sadly, more profoundly human reason.

Today we hear those around Jesus challenge Him to give proof to what He is asserting. ‘What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate Mana in the desert.…[1] For me this is an astonishing challenge.  Just the day before this challenge many of these people witnessed Jesus feed 5,000 men (maybe 10,000 or more people in total) with five loaves and two fish.  His closest companions witnessed this miraculous event; they witnessed His walking on water, and the boat instantly arriving at the far shore.  And now they want proof?!

I am reminded of the closing lines of Psalm 95

Do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah
they challenged me and provoked me,
although they had seen all of my works.
Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways”[2]

Sometimes I marvel at the patience of God. I know, I know, He is God; but still the stubbornness of mankind is just amazing.  Even after what they have they witnessed many will find His words too hard and walk away.

What does Christ have to do – for us to understand and believe?

Well, we know what He did for us.  We have just walked with Him up to the cross and we have celebrated His gift – the chance of salvation.  But as the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows us; our hardness of heart continues. ‘You stiff-necked people[3] St. Stephen tells the elders and the scribes. Their stubbornness of heart and mind will result in our First Martyr for the new Church.

However, God is patient – His message will not be stopped – His love is all powerful.  In spite of the horrific actions by the Jewish leaders; Christ’s gift always bears fruit.  On the cross we see Dismas (the good thief) come to believe; and we see a Roman centurion come to believe as well. Now we will see the blood of St. Stephen bear fruit – the young man Saul, who stood in approval of this murder, would become St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.

We need to be careful not to view these well paired readings as just some historical record of the growth of the church.  These readings can be viewed as a warning call. Each of us need to be ever-vigilant about our belief; we are not immune from doubt. St. Peter in His first letter tells us ‘Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.[4] He is looking to plant doubts in our minds and hearts which will numb us to the words of Christ.

In the next few days how will each of us absorb these readings – will we allow the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to embrace Jesus explanation of His Holy Gift of Himself; or will be entertained?  Will we hear His word and grow in love and adoration of the Eucharistic meal?  Will we allow the blood of Christ to nourish us and bear fruit? Indeed, will our hearts be opened always and everywhere to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Christ told the Father of the boy with a demon: ‘“All things are possible to him who believes.”[5]  Let’s make our own the Father’s prayerful response: ‘“I do believe; help my unbelief!”[6]

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[1] Jn 6:30-31
[2] Ps 95:7b-10
[3] Acts 7:51
[4] 1 Pt 5:8
[5] Mk 9:23b
[6] Mk 9:24

Serviam

Before the creation of this world, in heaven there was an angel whose name meant ‘light-bearer’. This angel took the freedom that God offered and chose a lesser path. His proclamation rang throughout the heavenly hosts and echoed to all of God’s creation. It echoes throughout the history of creation down to this day. ‘Non servium’ declared Lucifer – ‘I will not serve!’ God created out of love; gave His creation freewill to love Him back; but some of His creation chose to not love back thus poisoning creation with self-pride. History now is a record of this fall and our attempt to regain what was lost.

Adam and Eve shows us the effects of this. Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel’s journey through the desert; all of the Old Testament is a record of the effects of this fall; and of God’s continual interaction and constant care of His creation whom He still loves.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve mankind has tried to climb back to the heights of God; to regain what they had lost. This prideful attitude has always been doomed to failure – the Tower of Babel, the pride of the Kings, the pride of the Sanhedrin are just a few examples.

But God has always showed us the way to His heart – to regain what John Milton called paradise lost. It is how He works, it is what love is built on – the humble way. We hear God through Isaiah tell us what attitude we need in the Suffering Servant Songs. We are told by St. Paul in letter to the Philippians exactly how God works and expects us to work:

‘So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name…’ (Phil 2:1-9)

But how are we to model ourselves after God, how do we live the life of humble service – of humility? Look to Mary, the model of humility (along with her husband St. Joseph) she is the guide, she is the icon of a life in God. Let’s follow her lead – her fiat to the Archangel, her hastening to Elizabeth to help, her submission to her Son’s journey; her constant interaction with her Son’s brothers and sisters – us. Let’s make our own her words to Elizabeth:

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’ (Lk 1:46-49)

Humility is not glamorous, at least as society knows the word. Humility is not powerful, at least as the world knows the word. But we are not of this world – we are of God. His is the only way to eternal life; eternal life that we as members of the His Mystical Body are called to proclaim. Though society doesn’t strive for this type of glamor and power their souls thirst and hunger for it. By quiet and humble acceptance of God’s will Mary brought to a hostile world their Savior; by quiet and humble means the Savior brought the proclamation of joy and eternal life; by quiet and humble means Mary continues to bring His message to her Son’s family.

If this works for God it must be our method, our marching orders. By quiet and humble means we can be the new ‘light-bearers’. St. Michael the Archangel was the one who replied to Lucifer’s proclamation; let’s take up his response and make it our own – ‘Serviam’ – I will serve.

Peace be with you

I am not sure how Holy Mother Church decided on the progression of readings during these past two weeks.  Last weekend the Gospel reading was about doubting Thomas and that took place a week after Easter which makes sense because it is read a week after the resurrection. Today our reading actually takes place on Easter.  We see this by the first line: ‘The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.[1] These are the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They have hurried back to the apostles to let them know the good news.

For me this reading is a powerful moment.  It always drives home the importance of Holy Mass. It true that the Last Supper is where Christ institutes the Eucharist and where He teaches the Apostles about the meaning of leadership, servant leadership.  But I always look at today’s reading as a semblance of the Mass.

  • We have Jesus appearing mysteriously in the midst of the apostles. As He appears to us in the Eucharist.
  • He shares a meal with them. As He shares His body and blood, soul and divinity with us.
  • He breaks open the scripture which is the Old Testament and explains to them how it points to His gift of the Passion. As the Mass does in the readings and the Homily.
  • The progression of this event mirrors our action of prayer in Mass. He is concerned with those in the room and then He broadens the concern to the world.
  • And of course like in the Mass Christ bestows His peace on participants.

Peace be with you[2] He said to them. Christ wished to offer His peace to them.  In the Mass we do the same.  Right before Communion we are prompted to this action by our Celebrant when he prays to Jesus:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who said to your Apostles.
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.
Look not on sins,
But on the faith of your Church,
And graciously grant her peace and unity,
In accordance with your will.[3]

Then He turns to us and says: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always.[4] Which we return with ‘And with your spirit[5] then we are prompted ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace.[6] Which we do.

I must admit that at this point in the Mass it seems to me that chaos seems to enter.  I usually hear a cacophony of greetings – all the way from ‘God Bless you’ to, and I am not kidding, ‘May your peace spread to your family’ and to ‘Merry Christmas!’ or any holiday.  I do hear variations of ‘Peace be with you’ which is more appropriate.

But why is ‘Peace be with you’ a more appropriate greeting than the others?  For the simple fact that we are not greeting each other we are bestowing the peace of Christ to those around us, and by extension to the parish, the universal Church and to all mankind.

It is of great importance to notice that during the Mass our prayers are addressed mostly to the Father, after all, the Mass is ultimately Christ’s act of supreme sacrifice to His Father for us.  We are adding our participation to Christ act towards the Father.  But at this point, the prayer is to Jesus, we are asking Him for His peace – indeed for Him; because He is peace incarnate.

In other words the congregation through our priest asks: ‘Lord give us yourself and the peace that you bring – we need it.’ So when we turn to each other we take what the priest has asked for, and Christ has given us and wish it on each other. ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Here, I give you Jesus’ could be another way to put it.

And just what is Christ’s peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ and he continues ‘Not as the world gives do I give it to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.[7]

The peace that is Christ – His peace is a fullness of joy and life that can only be attained and experienced in a climate of justice, order, truth, respect, and good will. His peace is not simply the absence of conflict but is the total abolition of evil.  There is no peace without justice. Christ’s peace, in other words, cannot exist along with evil, injustice – even when there is no conflict.

We are not called to make everything calm and happy. Our peace comes when we are with Christ and that means no evil.  We are called to proclaim the truth – call it as God sees it – we are to participate with Christ in the promulgation of His peace which needs truth – no truth, no peace.

This is what we wish towards each other and ourselves.  That we live within Christ and that we live together in that rich life of justice, order, truth, respect and good will.  This means that we radiate this life of peace – we allow others to see it – we evangelize peace and proclaim it.  We turn to each other in the Mass and say ‘Peace be with you[8] but for those who are living this peace it can’t stop there – it must be delivered to others. The dismissals at the end of Mass ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace[9]; ‘Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord[10], ‘Go, glorifying the Lord by your lives[11] all have the same demand on us – spread this peace.

Christ doesn’t guarantee us a calm and serene life when following him – the world won’t allow this: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.[12] But living in the peace of Christ will give us a depth of joy and peace that no buffets from the world can strip away.

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[1] Lk 24:35
[2] Lk 24:36
[3] Roman Missal
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] Jn 14:27
[8] Roman Missal
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] Jn 15:18-20

The Tree

There is a small but very important church in Rome that is between the Cathedral of St. John Lateran and the Coliseum called San Clemente.  You could walk right pass it if you are not observant and I almost did. But thanks be to God, we decided to enter a nondescript door of ‘yet another church’. When you enter and look up at the apse you will see one of the most beautiful, well known and spiritually power mosaics in all Christendom – The Tree of Life.

What stands out is that from the Crucifix in the center of the mosaic vines spread across the whole apse – thus the name of this mosaic, the Tree of Life.  But what struck me most (besides the beauty) was that intermingled amongst the vine are scenes of normal life.  Animals, plants, men and women doing normal daily chores and other scenes.  There is a serenity to these scenes as if to say that life lived attached to Christ brings a peace and joy.  And so it does.

Normally our first readings are taken from the Old Testament but not so now.  In the glow of the Easter Victory Holy Mother Church relates to us the nascent Church from the Acts of the Apostles.  We see the blossoming of the Church in her first years.  The success of the members because they were full of the Holy Spirit – they lived totally attached to the Tree of Life – Christ.

In today’s first reading we see a contrast between living life among the vine and not. We see power hungry leaders trying their best by coercion to control their situations.  I take from this reading an angst and desperation that things for these leaders are not as they want it and they have no control.  Whereas the disciples who are living in threatening times for their ministry and their lives quietly follow the angel’s directions and seemingly throw caution to the wind with that peace so well depicted at San Clemente.

Life for them was dangerous and yet they understood what was important – ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.[1] And that eternal life is through this vine – through Christ – whom the Father raises to heaven and along with Him those attached to the vine. Which for me was the most assuring part of this great mosaic; for at the top of the mosaic we see the hand of God grasping the crucifix – pulling it up and the vine and its fruit along with it.

Brothers and sisters, lets strive to be part of this beautiful mosaic, let’s never be separated from the vine that grows from the tree of life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to be within us as the first members of the Church show us in the Acts of Apostles; not only will we see great things happen but we will live our lives with the peace so beautifully depicted at this almost unnoticed church in Rome.

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[1] Jn 3:16

Two sides to trust

For me, the most iconic and descriptive words emanating from the Divine Mercy devotional is ‘Jesus I trust in You.’  It sums up the relationship that humans need with God. In reflecting on this line this week it occurred to me that there are two aspects to it. First, though we say it often – what does that proclamation mean for each of us? And second, what does it require from us?

Of course we offer to God our desire to place all our trust in Him.  We say to Jesus that we turn everything over to Him –we trust that whatever happens God’s will be done and we trust that He will take care of us. But have we ever taken a heartfelt look deep into this small prayer?

In His love God created us. Out of love He sustains us. He only wills good for us. He also has a specific plan for each of us within His salvific plan.  His designs are above our ability to understand fully but we do comprehend partially and so we need to trust in His plans. This is a very big jump for humans to take – unconditional trust; and though we offer this prayer to Him I wonder sometimes if I, at least, understand the fullness of the phrase.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said.
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.[1]

This is about the best reflection I have read on ‘Jesus I trust in You’.  It is both reassuring and unnerving.  But, because of Christ’s passion and death for us I am comforted by His absolute proven love for me. And in light of His Resurrection I know He is God and He won’t let me down. ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.[2]

And so I trust in Jesus.

But a one way trust to someone who is all powerful and all loving is not what He desires in this relationship – in fact it isn’t a relationship at all.  Let’s turn it the other way.

In a homily this past 3rd Sunday of Lent[3] Pope Francis asked: ‘Can Jesus trust me?’ He said: ‘Can Jesus trust Himself to me? Can Jesus trust me, or am I two-faced? Do I play the Catholic, one close to the Church and then live as a pagan?[4] It is a question we should ask ourselves regularly.

He went on to say: ‘It will do us good today, to enter our hearts and look at Jesus. To say to Him ‘Lord, look, there are good things, but there are also things that aren’t good. Jesus, do You trust me? I am a sinner…’ This doesn’t scare Jesus. If you tell Him ‘I’m a sinner’, it doesn’t scare Him. What distances Him is one who is two-faced: showing Him/herself as just in order to cover up hidden sin.[5]  Our inner attitude towards God should be the same as the tax collector in the temple: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner![6] To help us we need to constantly reflect on our actions and words – nightly. God will always trust those who know their weakness and strive and pray to improve.

Brothers and sisters, as we close the octave of Easter celebrating Divine Mercy let’s remember the two sides of this beautiful devotion; two sides of trust: ‘Jesus I trust in You.’ and ‘Can Jesus trust Himself to me?’ Let’s strive to give God the answer that He gives us ‘Yes you can’.

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[1] John Henry Cardinal Newman 3/7/1848
[2] Lk 23:43 (RSV)
[3] Pope Francis Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (3/8/15) at Holy Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Parish Rome Italy L’Osservatore Romano 3/13/15 english edition.
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] Lk 18:13 (RSV)

Take a step.

[1]

Easter is too great, it is too important to just give it 24 hours.  Here we are on the fifth day of the octave of Easter.  We are still trying to absorb its meaning, its weight, as it pertains to mankind in general and to each of us in particular.  There is so much that we need to unpack for our benefit. Today, we continue to hear about the impact of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection on His apostles – and us. For me, today I am reminded of one of the four pillars of the Church – she is apostolic and therefore so are we.

There is a line in the epic fantasy trilogy the Lord of the Rings that has always struck me.  Frodo Baggins is reminiscing with Gandalf the wizard about what Bilbo Baggins used to tell him. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.[2]

The apostles have just seen their leader slaughtered and all hope had disappeared – now they are hiding from the authorities.  Even with the recent news from some of their followers our Gospel reading has them in the upper room with the doors locked.  But to their amazement the recent news is true – Christ appears to them and assures them of His victory – He has died and He is risen; and what is more – it was always to be so.

But this good news comes with responsibility, obligation, a mandate, and that is to go out from that room, step into the road.  What is more they will have to continue what He had started: ‘that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’[3] Why? Because: ‘You are witnesses of these things.[4] This is no small request; this is what made Him enemies and so it only figures to bring danger to the apostles.  But they stepped into the road nonetheless. The Acts of the Apostles, where are first reading is from, gives us witness to their first steps.

Brothers and sisters we too have been given this great news of our salvation.  We too participate in the celebration of seeing Christ glorified (which we will see again in a few minutes on this altar in the Eucharist), and we too have the same commission leveled to us – step into the road.  There is no denying that by being members of Holy Mother Church we are called to take up the great commission that Christ gave His apostles ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[5]

What will our answer to our Lord’s mandate be?

  • The apostles left the security of the upper room and took courage that their risen Lord would not leave them alone: ‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.[6] He assures them at the commissioning. Can we take from this the same assurance?
  • The apostles broke from their closed circle to go out and help a sick world – a world that hated their master’s message. It was for that reason that went out to help those who Jesus loved – to bring the peace and joy that they had been given. Are we ready to take the same step for the same reason? Pope Francis insists that we do so; during a General Audience in October of 2013 he said as much. ‘This is what Jesus told us to do! I insist on this missionary aspect, because Christ invites all to ‘go out’ and encounter others, he sends us, he asks us to move in order to spread the joy of the Gospel![7] Don’t be ‘sacristy Catholics’ Pope Francis said that day.

Friends we are celebrating the good news of salvation given to us by our Lord.  Within each of us should be a love that is trying to burst out; an overwhelming desire to bring this good news that has given us peace and joy, to others. Let us give it a way out – let’s go out of our door and take a step onto the road. Bilbo told Frodo: ‘if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’[8] We don’t have to worry about keeping our feet as long as we hold tight to our head – Jesus Christ.

Christus Resurrexit! Vere Resurrexit!

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[1] Homily for the Mass for Thursday in the Octave of Easter (Cycle II) Acts 3:11-16, Lk 24:35-48
[2] Lord of the Rings 1.3.74 JRR Tolkien
[3] Lk 24:48
[4] ibid
[5] Mt 28:19-20a
[6] Mt 28:20b
[7] Pope Francis General Audience 10/16/2013
[8] Lord of the Rings 1.3.74 JRR Tolkien

We are Easter

Easter has arrived and we celebrate the reason for hope.  But I fear many miss an important aspect of Easter isn’t a just day; it is who we are.

Throughout Lent we have been contemplating, among other things, the reason for God offering Himself up for our sins.  This is a good thing because we are the cause and we desire to be less so.  However, Good Friday is more than just a payment of our debts – it is an intimate moment with He who created us.  Within each of us are both thieves that flanked Christ on Calvary.  During our journey we resemble the bad thief and fear this; but we also desire to be the good thief and at times are.  Christ is next to both – He is down in the dirt with those who put Him on the Cross. He wants to have that intimate encounter as much as we want one with Him. In short, Christianity is very intimate for all concerned.

So, Easter, the reason for our hope, arrives and we celebrate; we celebrate that we know that Christ meant what He said to the Good Thief (His resurrection is proof of His ability); we celebrate that we too have been given the chance to follow the good thief to paradise; we celebrate the hope and joy that this knowledge brings us; we celebrate an intimate God who is always next to us.

But, Easter isn’t just a day in history, it is an eternal constant.  Each and every time Mass is celebrated Easter is there – truly there. Christ’s offering of Himself is always and everywhere – those actions on Calvary didn’t start and finish – they are now.

And that, my brothers and sisters is exactly who we should be – Easter.  We should always and everywhere radiate the joy and hope of Easter because it, or rather, He is in our hearts.  Let’s celebrate Easter as a verb and not date.  Let’s be an Easter people and allow Christ, through our eyes and mouths, say to all those we encounter – ‘you will be with me in Paradise’[1]. Christ is, Easter is; therefore we should be that intimate.

Let’s be a ‘Happy Easter’ to all we meet!

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[1] Lk 23:43