A Corpus Christi Procession

Tonight’s reading[1] we hear St. Paul relate to the Corinthians Christ’s institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In it we hear the word ‘remembrance[2]. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’[3]

We have been raised in our faith to understand that the people of the bible viewed this word ‘remembrance’ (in regards to sacramental remembrance) as more than just calling to mind something in the past; it was much more. They understood the word remembrance as bringing forward this event, making it present in regards to our sacramental participation in it.  So, in terms of the reading we are convinced that during the Mass we are actively participating in Christ’s passion death and resurrection.  The sacrifice of the Mass is the same as what happened during the Last Supper which is the sacramental participation in the passion. Christ is present: body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.  Devout Catholics have no problem with this aspect of faith.

But there should be more.

Two weeks ago, I attended a funeral of friend (and fellow deacon) in north central Wisconsin. A thought came to me while viewing his body; his time with me affected me, his example and witness affected my life. As I stood there I thought of our friendship and I was determined to always remember these examples and, going forward, use them to continually make myself better.

This came back to me today as I was reflecting on Corpus Christi. Does my participation in Eucharist also include allowing the power of this remembrance of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist to affect my life – change me in ways that bring me closer to God?

If meaningful memories change us, have an impact on our journey, then how do I view the Eucharistic sacrifice? Does it have this same impact? Am I changed? I pray God that it does now and that this understanding will continue to grow deeper and stronger as I journey onward.  This is the best kind of Corpus Christi procession!

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[1] 1 Corinthians 2: 23-25  ‘I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, namely, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “ This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”’
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

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Truth in a Name

Today we pick up where we left off at Ash Wednesday, we are back in Ordinary Time.  Our time for intense celebration and reflection on the works of our Lord gives way to learning how to be His disciples. But first, we attend to two great celebrations next week we celebrate Corpus Christi, and today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is unusual, indeed singular, in the celebrations of the Liturgical Year.  Whereas other feasts celebrate actions of Lord such as the Nativity, Good Friday, Easter; or the result of His action such as feast days for saints and our blessed Mother; today we celebrate the very mystery of God.  Today, we celebrate who God is, we celebrate the central mystery of the Christian Faith. CCC states:

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”’[1]

That is what we are celebrating – the central mystery of our whole faith – it is that important.  Out of the infinite aspects we can reflect on – three points come quickly to mind.

First. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
He chose to reveal himself to us– this not something we can figure out ourselves. It is God who brought to us who He is. Through history He started to make us aware of who he is. But it is Christ, who makes whole the revelation of who He is.

Second – And reveals to us that He is a Trinity.
‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because that is who He is; One God three persons. There is no other name by which He can go by. Creative as we can be there nothing we can do to repackage this.  God is a Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God; He Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christ said so, the whole bible speaks of this in hidden ways until Jesus proclaims it openly and clearly.

From the meeting of Abraham in Mamre:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.[2]

To the words of Christ in John: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.[3] And today’s Gospel and of course Christ’s great commission ‘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…[4]

Three – He is relational.
As creatures we are limited in our ability to explain the unexplainable; but we try. There have been some rather clever attempts throughout history to try and explain what a Holy Trinity is like. We have all heard the comparison credited to St. Patrick of a three leaf clover; or the likening of the Trinity to a piano chord and so on.  These comparisons are good as far as they go to describing the unity within the Trinity; but recently, in past 60 years or so, there have other attempts to describe the Trinity; attempts that actually do damage to our understanding.

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator, Sustainer have been used. They have not only been used to explain the Trinity but they have, sadly, been used in the Sacrament of Baptism to replace Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are very disturbing because they reduce the Trinity to actions or jobs, and most importantly, they erase the Trinitarian reality of God. For instance the Father is creator, and so is the Son and the Holy Spirit; The Son is the redeemer and so are the Father and Holy Spirit and the same goes with Sanctifier. Though we attribute some attributes to each of the persons for convenience, as in our opening prayer when we heard ‘the Spirit of sanctification[5], in truth all three hold all attributes, as evidenced by the prayer over the offerings we are about to hear: ‘Sanctify by the invocation of your name, we pray, O Lord our God.[6] These attempts have caused grave damage to the faithful to the point that Holy Mother Church is requesting those who went through a baptism with these ‘labels’ to be found, for they were not baptized. No, these names are not the same as what God Himself revealed to us – and for that reason alone we should not use them.  But, there is a deeper import, revealed to us, for using Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

God is love!!!!!!
Love is relational!  God, in His very being is self-giving total love, to be that means to love others just because they are other. The Father loves the Son, He does everything for the Son. The Son likewise, does everything for the Father. And this is so perfect that it is the third person the Holy Spirit. God’s revelation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit allows us into the inner part of our creator – not what He does but who He is – Love.

Brothers and sisters, this is why the Catechism says the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central: ‘It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”.[7] God is Love, He offers Himself totally, and all of His revelation and His actions towards us should us bring us to the realization that this is what we should do as well. God has revealed His nature to us to allow us to strive for and participate in it – we are made in His image after all.  So, as we start into the great school of discipleship, Ordinary Time, let’s look within and ask ourselves how we are doing in trying to understand the great and central mystery of our faith.

How is our participation in this mystery doing?
How are we in living a life of self-giving love?
Our answers to these questions are the only and true gauge of our understanding this mystery of the Trinity.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234
[2] Genesis 18:1-3
[3] John 14:9
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Collect from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[6] Prayer over the Offerings from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234

Birthday Gift

 

Today, the Solemnity of Pentecost, is celebrated as the ‘Birthday of the Church’. The day when God sent His Holy Spirit among the Apostles so that His presence would still be with us, indeed closer to us than when Christ walked among us. Which is important, very important. God’s Holy Spirit didn’t just come to us, in us, to make us a big group of people who follow Him; a fraternal group of ‘holy rollers’ so to speak. No, He expects much more. Pope Francis, in his homily on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy said; ‘Through Sacred Scriptures, we find that mercy is above all the closeness of God to His people.[1] God sent His Holy Spirit among us to extend His Mercy throughout His world – through us.

So, Pentecost not only marks the ‘Birthday of the Church’ but because of it, it also marks the day that mankind took up the mission of bringing Mercy, Divine Mercy, to creation. The day that the disciples received God in their hearts, allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, threw aside their fear, and went into the hostile world to suffocate evil, suffocate it with the embrace of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, we too have dwelling within us the Holy Spirit – the same closeness of God that the apostles had.  Let’s not waste this gift of mercy by not passing it forward.  Let’s suffocate evil – quench the terrible fire of evil with Divine Mercy.

No better present could be given on a birthday!

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[1] Pope Francis, Homily during the prayer vigil on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy, 4/2/16 – L’Osservatore Romano englishg edition 4/8/16

The love of Christ urges us on

Seventh Thursday in Eastertide (5/12/16)

Today, we have heard the final part of Jesus’ prayer to His Father at the Last Supper (of which we have been hearing for the past few days). Many call this chapter (chapter 17), or at least the first part of it, the High Priestly Prayer.  The next line in John’s Gospel, after today’s reading is: ‘When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.’ [1]. Jesus has finished His last meal with His apostles and now moves towards His passion. His greatest act as a priest; His sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins.

Now some might think it strange that Holy Mother Church chooses to revisit the Last Supper so soon since the last time we celebrated it; after all, it is only about seven weeks since the celebration of the Sacred Triduum where we dived deeply into His passion, death and resurrection.  There might be the temptation to think: ‘We have been through it already, why bring it back up during our celebration of Eastertide?’

Because it is that central, that foundational to Christ. His words to His Father, in front of His disciples brings a degree of clarity to what He is about and what we should be about also; which will be made totally clear to them in a few days during Pentecost – when His Holy Spirit comes.

Today’s gospel, contains the explanation why His mission is so important to Him. ‘Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.[2]  Christ loves each and every person, and His whole being desires that we see what He sees; the ultimate joy of creation – the creator.  How do we know this? He tells us so at the beginning of His High Priestly Prayer: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[3] Christ knows what mankind is made for.  He understands that we won’t be complete and at total peace until we enter into that eternal life. He knows that we can’t find rest until we are completed. Or as St Augustine says, so beautifully, in the very first paragraph of His Confessions ‘…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.[4]

Brothers and sisters, why does Holy Mother Church urge us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Christ?  Why have so many men and women throughout the last 2,000 years offered their talents, their time, their energy and, yes, their lives (as today’s celebration of the martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilleus highlight)? Because we understand how empty a life can be until we allow our hearts to rest in Christ. We can’t help but let others know what we are feeling.  It can’t be contained. This is who we are, what we are made of and for.

But, as humans, letting those around us know the good news can still be daunting. We might tend towards inactivity in regards to proclaiming the Gospel because of fear of reactions; fear of unworthiness; concern about our talents. But take heart and remember what the martyrs understood: ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us. He is our eternal companion. We show our joy, introduce its reason and allow God to do the rest. I would like to finish with a quote that is always in my mind and heart, especially in times of doubt or being overwhelmed; it is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love):

There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).[5]

The love of Christ urges us on[6]

With firm resolve let’s respond with the pilgrims’ exhortation heard on the road to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, Spain for almost 1,200 years: ‘Ultreya!’ onward!

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[1] Jn 18:1
[2] Jn 17:24
[3] Jn 17:3
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, paragraph 1
[5] Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI, paragraph 35
[6] 2 Cor 5:14

Widen the Path

This morning we continue listening to the Last Supper discourse and we hear the Lord speaking/praying to His Father – out loud. Throughout the Gospels our Lord always takes the time to converse with His Father, most of the time He removes Himself and goes away to pray.  But those times that He does converse out loud – with people around Him – it is to teach them something. This morning we hear Him say to His Father: ‘I glorified you on earth[1]. And just how does He do this? How does Jesus glorify His Father? ‘by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do[2] He finishes saying. And what work was that – Divine Mercy!

Christ’s ministry on earth was to bring Divine Mercy to us.  His working of miracles were, to a great degree an act of mercy; they healed the sick, drove out demons, brought hope out of despair. But they were primarily used to announce the Father’s ultimate mercy; to show mankind that God is aware of their plight, He is concerned with their situation, He came among them to remedy this separation; in short – He came to show His love for us. Christ’s acts of mercy were true love towards those whom He gave it; but He knew that He was not long for this world – He was human and His life limited – especially since in a few hours He was going to climb up on His throne and die for us. He needed to teach us how to continue His mission of Divine Mercy after He ascended. We see in the Acts of the Apostles that his lessons were listened to. The apostles, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, took up the challenge and went forward with the Good News of Divine Mercy. For two millennia saints, both known and unknown, have taken up that challenge and added to it and then passed it on.

Now it is our time to pick up this mission. Not by great miracles and events; even if we could do them they would be dismissed as spectacles, as were Jesus’ miracles by most of His contemporaries. No our ministry is by small steps; little actions that day-in and day-out radiate the Love of God to those around us. Our proclamation of Divine Mercy, shown by each of us in these little things we do might seem small and ineffectual but they grow in their effect. They expand to fill the voids in those that we witness to. They are a beacon of hope in our cynical world and they attracts others.

Brothers and sisters – our path is clear – let’s increase our small steps of Mercy and widen the path of Love so others can follow.  This is how we make our own the words of Christ to His Father in today’s Gospel: ‘I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.[3]

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[1] Jn 17:4
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

General Absolution – False Mercy

It seems one result of this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is an increased chatter about General Absolution.  I have heard this discussed in two different deaneries. It is not just a Diocese of Joliet (in USA) discussion; immediately after the announcement of the Year of Mercy the internet was buzzing with the idea. In a nutshell General Absolution is ‘absolution without confession of all mortal sins[1].  It is allowed, but only in extraordinary cases. As far as I can tell the last time it was validly used in the U.S. was on ‘March 29, 1979, when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was in danger of exploding… Bishop Keeler of Harrisburg granted general absolution to the faithful since every individual person would not have had the chance to go to private confession’.[2] The core of these discussions seems to be this: since it is the Year of Mercy the bishop should offer General Absolution as part of the Church’s enthusiastic participation in God’s gift to His people.

There are many reasons (ecclesial, sacramental, canonical, psychological, and on and on) why this desire to offer General Absolution is misguided, even detrimental; I will leave these discussions to the experts. I, however, want to reflect on one misguided scriptural reasoning. One of the parables I have heard used to discuss the idea of General Absolution in this Year of Mercy is the Parable of the Prodigal Son[3].

‘It is wrongly named’, this logic goes; ‘it would be better named the Parable of the Merciful Father because it shows how the Father is always looking for the return of his son and accepts him back immediately with no conditions. In light of this parable this is what Holy Mother Church should do in this all-important year. Let’s show the world we follow what our Lord taught – mercy for all and what better way than to just forgive all sins’.

But is that what the Lord taught us in this parable. To a certain degree this is what the parable relates to us: the Father is always waiting for us. But what is incorrect is that there are no conditions for the Fathers acceptance – there are (as far as I can tell) at least 3 of them in this beautiful parable.

  • The son has to realize his errors.
    But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger![4]  It is the son who makes the first move at a homecoming.  The father is, as was stated, continually on the watch for his son; but the first move is the son’s – his realization that he alone is the cause of his suffering and alienation; he alone had removed himself from the joy of his father and this is not where he wants to be.
  • The son has to return to the Father.
    I will arise and go to my father…’[5]  It doesn’t matter that the son has realized the reason for his misery, his isolation and loneliness if he doesn’t move to remedy it. The son puts his realization into action; he moves from where he is back to his father.
  • The son puts himself at the discretion of his father.
    “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”[6] He submits himself up to whatever his father will do to him, and there is no guarantee of a positive outcome. Indeed, the son is hoping only to be able to abide near his father, not resume his old place as if nothing had happened. A servant is what he hopes to be; and this is enough; because he understands now what the psalmist sings: ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.[7]

And of course, we see that with these conditions met, the son receives the fullness of his father’s mercy – he is made whole again.

What we see are two understandings of the same parable. One emphasizes only the merciful father to highlight His great love and mercy, but in doing so it strips away the dynamic of relationship and our responsibility in it. It speaks of an almost exclusively top down action with overtones of our right to, and expectation of, His forgiveness.

However, when the parable is viewed in its entirety we see a dynamic of relationship, indeed, a family relationship. There is upward action as well as top-down action.  Forgiveness is given to us from above, but it is desired by us as we look upward to repair our relationship with our loving Father. No expectation of, or an attitude of, ‘a right to’ forgiveness – it is a humble search for healing and mending. Viewed in its entirety Jesus’ parable is an explanation of the normal, individual method of Reconciliation.

Maybe our time would be better spent in helping those we know come to appreciate and participate in the fullness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and God’s Mercy instead of trying to come up with quick fixes that appeal to the sentimentality of our minds instead of the totality of our hearts.

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[1] http://wdtprs.com/blog/2015/02/ass-of-u-s-catholic-priests-promotes-general-absolution-wherein-fr-z-rants/
[2] http://catholicherald.com/stories/Straight-Answers-Is-General-Absolution-Allowed,6730
[3] LK 15: 11-32 (RSV)
[4] LK 15:17 (RSV)
[5] LK 15:18 (RSV)
[6] LK 15:18-19 (RSV)
[7] PS 84:10 (RSV)