Who He is – Who we should try to be.

As we enter back into Ordinary Time, the school of discipleship, Holy Mother Church gives us a few more intensive lessons about our God.  During the first six months of this liturgical we have delved deeply into the act of God coming among us and giving Himself up for us and restoring our lives and how He will be intimately with us through His Spirit. Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates something other than how God has revealed Himself or what God has done for us. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke in 2004: ‘Today we are not celebrating an event in which “something” of God is made visible; rather, we are celebrating the very mystery of God. We rejoice in God, in the fact that he is the way he is; we thank him for existing; we are grateful that he is what he is and that we can know him and love him and that he knows and loves us and reveals himself to us.[1]

Today, we celebrate that God is absolute Love.  We celebrate that this love is made manifest to us in the Holy Trinity – 3 persons 1 God.  Why is God as He is? Well, ultimately this is a mystery and only He can help us with the answer. What we do understand is that this love that God is; is a perfect love of self-giving.  This love that is God is active, creative and to be that there needs to be a giver and the object of the giving.  The Father loves the Son totally with all He has – the Son loves the Father totally with all He has and this perfect love is the Holy Spirit.  This love requires an emptying of oneself for the sake of another; it requires effort – communion – interaction.

Brothers and sisters, this gift of God – of partial understanding of Himself is also our goal.  We are made in His image; therefore to be complete in ourselves we need to participate in who He is – we need to reach for this total self-giving love – this Agape. It is no wonder that when He was asked what the most important commandment is Christ replied, albeit cryptically, with a description of who God is. “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.[2]

St. John tells us in his first letter ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.[3] Our understanding of who God is should be what drives our lives. We should celebrate that we can know Him, that He knows us.  We should take strength in that He loves us as He loves Himself.  We should do the same.  Let’s come to know Him even better by loving Him and our neighbor better.

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[1] A homily given in the Cathedral of Bayeux on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, June 6, 2004.
[2] Mk 12:30-31 (RSV)
[3] 1 JN 4:16 (RSV)

Sometimes Words Matter

Happy Easter.  This evening Holy Mother Church brings to conclusion the great season of Easter.  In fact, Pentecost ends an intense multi-season celebration of God and His coming to us to lead us home.

  • We can go back to Advent and Christmas and remember our reflections on waiting and then celebrating God among us. His millennia of partial revelation coming to fulfillment with His birth in Bethlehem.
  • After a few short weeks of Ordinary time we then dove deeply within ourselves during Lent to take stock of how we are returning this gift and coming to terms with our shortcomings.
  • We needed this time of discernment so that we could fully appreciate Christ’s great gifts of obedience to the Father and His act of love for us during the Sacred Triduum.
  • Then we celebrated the reason for our joy and our hope – God loves us and He has opened up heaven to those who love Him – the light of the resurrection is our beacon calling us home.

But now – now we are being shown the door from this great multi-season celebration.  God is pushing us out into the streets where we live with these insights and expecting us to continue the mission to those who never heard the good news or have forgotten.  He does not expect us to stay in our upper rooms and keep Him to ourselves – we are not to be what Pope Francis calls ‘sacristy Catholics’.  This going out can be really scary – like trying to ride a bike without the training wheels for the first time.

But, just like the first time without training wheels someone is watching. Christ told His followers not to fear – He would not leave us alone.  Today Jesus Christ makes good on this promise – His Holy Spirit has come among us.  ‘And I will ask the Father: and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever:[1]

I used the Douay-Rhiems translation, a very old translation for a reason – it uses the word Paraclete to describe the Holy Spirit.  Most newer versions have changed that word to: ‘Advocate’[2], ‘Counselor’[3], ’Comforter’[4], Helper[5]. As descriptive as these words are for in trying to describe the Holy Spirit and His relation to us they are missing the intimacy that ‘paraclete’ describes (and the Holy Spirit has with us).  These words ( Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper) describe action and service not relational closeness whereas Paraclete does. Paraclete is from the Greek word Parakletos which is constructed from two words: Para (alongside) and Kalein (to call); together it means ‘called next to us’.

Jesus didn’t just give us a spirit that shows us the truth, and distributes graces according to our nature and His will. He didn’t just give us a ‘contractor’ that offers us assistance. He gave us His Spirit that will always be next to us. We will never be alone; God is right next to us.

Like the Apostles this should give us the peace and strength to start ministering on those streets that we have been pushed into. Never in our lives do we need to fear about being alone – God is with us. Never on this journey do we need worry about losing our way since our companion will lead us true. Never will we be without God because we always have the Holy Spirit who is ‘called next to us’. Sometimes words matter.

For the last time this year – Happy Easter!!!!

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[1] John 14:16 (Douay-Rhiems)
[2] New American Bible (NAB)
[3] Revised Standard Version (RSV)
[4] American Standard Version (ASV) and King James Version (KJV)
[5] New American Standard Bible (NAS)

Ascension Lessons

Today, we hear Jesus tell his apostles, and us, to ‘“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”[1] And so the apostles did – with great joy. It seems they had heard their master and they understood His desire. It would be ten days later that the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and endow them with the strengths and wisdom needed; but as Christ ascended they knew what they must do.

Two points came to me as I reflected on this question:

  • 1) What type of life do I need to live to follow as a follower of the apostles?
  • 2) What type of apostolic action am I called give?

In the Ascension we are witness to the elevation of humanity to the divine.  Christ not only ascends back to Heaven but takes with Him His body.  This should point out to us that we too are meant for Heaven – completely soul and body; our lives should reflect this fact.  St. Paul reminds us of this when he writes to the Colossians: ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.[2] So, though we are born of this reality and we journey through it – we have another home – we are citizens of another kingdom and it is up to us to live a life as a member of Heaven.  Each of us needs to live our lives as citizens of Heaven – we need to continually turn ourselves from a life lived in the flesh and reach for a life of sanctity.

But along with this important and daunting task is how we are to witness to the gospel during our journey. What type of apostolic action are we to follow.  Living a life of a citizen of heaven has mostly to do with an internal struggle – witnessing to the good news is more an external activity.  At first glance these seem to be two different actions – but are they? By our witness of living a life of a citizen of heaven we are, in fact, fulfilling our commission to proclaim the gospel.  The activities of the heavenly hosts (our fellow citizens) are both adoration and celebration of God; and of constant interaction with us – by intercessory prayer.  Their upward actions of lifting our prayer and submitting them to Jesus, the great intercessor, is also a downward action of passing God’s blessings to us.  We are strengthened by their intercession and their guidance; their looking to us down here brings yet another connection to heaven.  They, in a special way allow Christ to return to us by helping us. To a degree they are putting into action what the angels spoke to those who witnessed the Ascension in Luke: ‘This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.[3]

Now, of course, the angels primarily spoke of the final coming; but they also were speaking of our Lord’s constant and always present help through His Holy Spirit, His Blessed Mother, and the angels and saints – Christ is continually returning to us through them. He is ever present in our proclaiming the Good News.  But just what is this action that we can participate in?  We can better understand this action if we look at the Ascension narrative in Gospel of Luke: ‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.[4] Christ left this world; physically left us; with His arms outstretched blessing His followers.  Christ left us in the act of blessing and as the angels told those at the Ascension He will return the same way – blessing.

This is how we are to view our living a life of a citizen of Heaven while journeying through this existence.  By our actions in living a holy life publically we are bringing to those around us the blessing of Christ.  By our embracing the gospel and living a life in and of love we are helping those estranged from joy, happiness, and peace because they can see and hear and almost taste this joy that we have.

Brothers and sisters, we are constantly blessed by the return of Jesus through the actions of the Holy Spirit, Holy Mary, the angels and the saints – we need to pass this forward.  Like our fellow citizens in heaven we need to participate in the same two way interaction. First by accepting the gifts of Christ and pass them to others through helping them receive God’s blessing and second by passing their needs upward through prayer. I don’t know about you but when I meet Christ in judgement and He asks whether I lived a life as a citizen of Heaven or of earth, I don’t want to admit that I hoarded His blessings.

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[1] Mk 15:15
[2] Col 3:1b-2
[3] Acts 1:11
[4] Lk 24:50-41

Happiness

On the internet last week there was an article from Science Direct about how one English town viewed happiness over the past seventy years. Science Direct explained that in 1938 an ad in a British paper invited Bolton Evening News readers to respond to the question, “What is happiness?” They were asked to organize 10 factors by their happiness importance. Their top three, in order were: security, knowledge, and religion.

Last year, a psychologist also asked Bolton residents, via the News, to fill out a questionnaire that mirrored the one used in 1938. Things had changed, at least according to the 489 people; religion now occupied the 10th slot. While security is still in the top 3 it is now 3rd; sadly and maybe not surprisingly the top two are leisure and good humor.  This change, as I mentioned earlier is sadly not surprising and fits with what I have noticed in our society – that society today is terribly conflicted and in a way neurotic.

I am reminded of the words of St. John the Baptist: ‘among you stands one whom you do not know[1] Mankind has successfully pushed the most important relationship of man, their relationship with God, to the peripheries of their mind and in doing so has opened the emptiness in their heart wider. Attached to this is the neglect of interpersonal concern (of which self-giving love being the zenith).   The idea that mankind now looks to leisure and good humor above religion is evidence of this.  It is a turn inwards – a desire for isolation.  Leisure and good humor are individualistic activities; true they can and are often done among others, they are still internal feelings.  As we know these ideas of happiness are fleeting and leave us hungering for more; and added to the isolationist attitude that mankind has embraced (as evidenced by the withdrawal of generations into the cyber world) ultimately instills in individuals, and society as a whole, the conflicted, neurotic, desperate angst that we live with today.

Christ tells us today that this charade of happiness can be remedied by turning to Him. ‘“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.”… “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”[2] These are the words that the heart of every single man and woman yearns to follow.  Our part is to open their minds to possibility that these words are what they need.  Our calling in Christ’s mission to assuage the fears of interpersonal relationships that mankind holds.  But it won’t be easy; each succeeding decade has allowed mankind to withdraw within a world of their own making and so it will take much time to walk them back out of this fortress and into the light of true peace and happiness.  We must not expect massive changes from our part – but we can be assured of great things coming from our work, eventually.

If our part is to introduce those ‘walled in’ to the open expanse of love and community then we must make certain that we are not afflicted with this ailment as well.  We need to take stock of what is important to us, what moves us to action.  Do we withdraw within a prayer life that never moves to the community – to the peripheries; or does our interaction with God lead to and take energy from our interaction with those God loves? We are winding down our celebration of God’s gift of Himself to those He created, and we are about to celebrate the power He gave us in His Holy Spirit to go out bring the joy and happiness of following His plan so I ask what is our part?  What makes us Happy? Personally, I would answer the question in the survey with: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[3]

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[1] John 1:26
[2] John 15:9-17
[3] Joshua 24:15

Two pictures

This past week I was recuperating from a minor ailment and I watched a lot of TV.  Tuesday, I was watching a panel discuss current events and one panelist’s answers to question struck me.  The first discussion was about the rioting in Baltimore and this panelist said that one of the underlying factors contributing to the rioting was the breakdown of the family; without a father image at home these youth had a disadvantage.  The next discussion concerned the Supreme Court Case on same-sex marriage.  He commented that the case was really about discrimination against the desires of Americans. His opinion was that those against same-sex marriage were biggots.

I was reminded of a homily I gave a few weeks ago at Sunday Vespers where I spoke about the beautiful mosaic in San Clemente Basilica in Rome – the Tree of Life Mosaic. The beautiful mosaic has the cross, the tree of life in its center with Christ hanging on it.  From the feet of Christ radiates outward a vine and in between the vine were depictions of life.  From the top there is a hand that reaches downward and seemingly is pulling up the tree, the vine and those attached.  God pulling up to him those who live with and in Christ.

Two pictures depicting alternative lifestyles

1st – chaotic – piecemeal mosaic of man trying to things on his own. Confusing and conflicting realities because man tries to define what is just and right based the immediate situation and upon the agenda of a few charismatic and powerful forces.  This leads to no truth and no true solutions.

2nd – beautiful colorful mosaic of man living their life connected to Christ the vine. A life of peace and joy. There will be hardships; but attached to Christ and with the strength given us by His Holy Spirit we are healed of the damage done by those hardships.  We are nourished by His Spirit and given energy to radiate the beauty of life connected to Christ. We are at peace even though peace might not be around us.

This second mosaic is what Christ intended for each of us. His loving action on Calvary wasn’t a once for all change in this world. He never intended it to be – what would be the point of heaven? His gift of salvation to those who accept it would allow us to enter the most perfect union with Him at the end of times; so His gift of His body and blood as nourishment and communion is given to strengthen us for the journey.  A journey that gives the chance to gift ourselves to each other and by doing so help bring those around us to Him.  The first reading from Acts shows us the two mosaics – the disciples were fearful (and with good reason) of the murderous Saul’s intentions. The disciples were still living in the human picture. But Barnabas was now part of the beautiful vine mosaic.  He has given himself over to the Lord and His Spirit.  He helps the others do the same.

At this time in Eastertide Holy Mother Church emphasizes this journey, highlights that we are still working out our acceptance of our Lord’s pascal gift and shows us how to succeed. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.’ We hear proclaimed today. Jesus tells us that to live life in the fullest we need to live it with Him in Him.  And so we should.  All we have to do is look around to see that, at best, what society is trying to offer us is a mirage and probably more like a charade – nothing that is offered out there brings healing and peace and joy – unless Christ is at the center.

But how? How do we, in the face of the overwhelming pressures of modernity, live on the vine.  How do we receive the nourishment it offers?

This leads us to another of Christ’s gifts to us.  Let’s remind ourselves that the words of Christ in today’s gospel are from the Last Supper where He institutes the Eucharist.  But He also alludes to the final gift of His spirit during that meal– the Holy Spirit.  He will not leave us to our own devices – even with the eternal and supernatural nourishment of His body and blood.  He offers us His own Spirit who lives within us.  His own Holy Spirit that is an animator, and counselor, and guide, a paraclete.

In a few short weeks Holy Mother Church will celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  We are now turning our celebrations towards that celebration of Christ’s living gift of nourishment from the vine.  Our part is to allow the Holy Spirit to work within our hearts, allow the Spirit to nurture, guide, counsel and protect us.

Let’s take to heart the words of the Opening Prayer today:

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit…

Let’s offer ourselves daily to Jesus through His Spirit through our prayers, our words and our actions. In this way we can be assured of the fruit we produce.

There is an urgency to this offering of ourselves. We can’t think of this as only helping ourselves but it is imperative for those who look to us for the future.  These past few weeks and the ones following will see many first communions – confirmations. Tonight, our school is holding its annual dinner dance.  The future looks to us to bring into the focus the right picture.  They depend on us to hand them a mosaic that gives them the same chance, if not a better one, on their journey then we have on ours.

This might sound scary.  We see in our world an aggressive resistance to all things Christian and so we might be hesitant to live our faith in the public, but we shouldn’t. The idea of proffering this alternative picture to the world might seem too big for us, but it shouldn’t.

Thirty-six years ago the world saw a radical event in the election of non-Italian pope. In his installation homily St. John Paul the great spoke words that resound down to each of us: ‘BE NOT AFRAID Open the wide the doors to Christ’. These words were spoken on a day that we celebrated ‘World Mission Sunday’

This is our calling, our mission – to show the world a beautiful mosaic as the alternative to chaotic and destructive picture offered by society. If we don’t then only a scary and desperate picture remains.