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

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Three days into this Lenten journey and, I must admit, that I have already felt a certain uneasiness come over me. A feeling of being sort of lost; of anxiety about my Lenten choices; a low-grade hopelessness at my ability to follow through with my Lenten exercises. It feels almost as if I have withdrawal symptoms from my normal life. And that is exactly what these feelings are, withdrawal symptoms.  I am being hit with the realization that I am trying to change my ‘comfortable’ faith life to an honest faith life, one that has a deeper relationship with God.

Every year I know going into Lent that it would entail struggles – but what I expect and what I encounter is never the same. Though not pleasant; these struggles are necessary.  Our Lenten exercises are a cleansing, a purgation of the barriers that keep us from being in a true relationship with God; it is our participation in what St. Paul wrote to the  Galatians ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me[1]

My brothers and sisters, this angst, which we can feel during Lent, about our choices and our ability to fulfill them is part of the cleansing.  It is necessary; if we don’t have these moments of doubt and despair than it probably is a good sign that our Lenten exercises aren’t at the level needed to help us. These exercises and our feelings are, in a small way, our participation with Christ with what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane – ‘the disciple is not above the master[2]. Again, these Lenten exercises that we have started should be hard exercises; aside from our own reluctance to remove these obstacles; we can be sure that the evil one is pressing us hard to not succeed.  The words of St. John the Baptist though inspirational are tough to follow:  ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3] These are not words of pleasure but of tough work and constant struggle.

Friends, let’s not give in to our weaknesses when we start to feel the angst of withdrawal from our comfortable lives.  Let’s place in front us the goal, God.  Let’s drop to our knees when these feelings flow over us and ask our Lord for the healing salve that the Holy Spirit can give us; so that when the wave passes we are still on the path of purgation and healing that leads to eternal joy.

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[1] Galatians 2:20
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #699
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)

Why We Can Pray

In today’s Gospel[1] we witness the reactions of Jesus’ disciples to His bread of life discourse; and in the first reading[2] we see Joshua meeting with the leadership of the tribes to discuss their allegiances – in both we see the people in dialog.  We see community interaction with each other and with their God. Prayer can be described as the communication of the faithful to He whom they have faith.  There are two basic types – personal and corporate. Personal prayer is just what it is called. With the corporate prayer we see community at work together.

Corporate prayer can be grouped into two broad classes: liturgical and non-liturgical. Liturgical prayer takes two forms – the Holy Mass is, of course, the highest.  It is the source and summit of our faith. Indeed our very existence on this journey needs to revolve around it because it is Jesus Himself. It is His action on Calvary, His sacrifice to the Father in which we too can offer our sacrifices as well. And of course His great gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist where we can be nourished and strengthened on our pilgrimage.

The other type of liturgical prayer is what we are participating in right now – the Liturgy of the Hours.  For the next few weeks, or so, I would like to delve into this great gift that also helps us in our journey; and not only us our actions in this liturgical prayer help the whole Universal Church, and the whole universe for that matter.

But maybe the best way to start reflecting on the Liturgy of the Hours is to reflect on a fundamental aspect of prayer. Why we can even pray to begin with? St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue.[3] Prayer is not a one way action, it is dialog.  If there is no dialog then there is no relationship, at least a healthy relationship.  Prayer is the communication of a healthy relationship.  But still, how are we even able to enter into this dialogue with God?

Because God desires it and initiated it. There is no other way; if God didn’t want to communicate with us then we would be just ‘howling at the moon’ so to speak. But to our great joy – He desires it. And even more foundational, it is in His very nature to communicate. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book the Feast of Faith: ‘The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, Word.[4] This should be obvious when we consider that God is a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one God.  Within God there is dialog, the dialog of love.  The Son Himself is the eternal logos, the Word, and when He came among us He enable us to enter into an even more intimate dialog than mankind had prior to His incarnation because He embraced human speech and ‘made it a component of divine speech’.[5] In addition, with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit we are brought into an even more intimate participation of the divine dialog. St. Paul tells us this in his letter to the Romans: ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.[6]

Brothers and sisters, let’s always remember that God has given us a great gift in being able to enter into dialog with Him, but even greater we have been given the ability to enter into His own divine dialog – we are an intimate part of His family and as family we are heard, our feelings and words are desired and cherished. For our part, we need to become active participants in this family discussion.

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[1] JN 6:60-69
[2] JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
[3] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #114
[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – The Feast of Faith (pgs 25-26)
[5] ibid
[6] Romans 8:26 (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

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.

 

 

 

The Correct Movement

Movement; God’s revelation is, in a very important way a lesson on movement, direction.  There is no stationary activity in our faith.  To live our faith as God intends we need to understand what is the correct movement – what direction gains us a closer relationship with God; and the readings for the Solemnity of Pentecost highlight this important understanding.

Last evening, in the vigil celebration of Pentecost we heard the story of the Tower Babel. In it we see mankind, relying on their own means to build their kingdom.  They were climbing up to God by themselves – they didn’t need His help. In this narrative we see God confusing them with language. If we remember that mankind was unaware of this change, then this story points out that mankind, in spite of their great achievements and relying on their self, comes into conflict with each other – at a certain point they don’t understand each other, can’t relate and even trust each other – society disintegrates into a collective of isolated people. For us, trying to climb to God doesn’t work.

In today’s first reading from the Acts, the movement is down, God comes down, He moves towards mankind.  And this shouldn’t surprise us, since the whole of the revealed word shows us that God, desires to come to us.  In Genesis, God comes to Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.  God comes to Abram, to Noah, to Moses, to the prophets and the kings, he enters Mary and Joseph’s life.  Christ comes to St. John the Baptist and His disciples, He is constantly moving from village to village coming to those He desires to proclaim the good news to. He journeys to Jerusalem and offers Himself to the leadership for His passion. And today He sends His Holy Spirit down on His disciples and His mother. God’s movement is downward – God goes out to meet us.

For us this means that we must, if we desire to be faithful followers of God empty ourselves of inflated understanding of ourselves and allow God to work on our hearts.  We need to humble ourselves to allow God to meet us where we are – it is then that heaven meets earth; it is this action that allows mankind to reach their heavenly goal.  It is then that the new Jerusalem is realized, at least for now.

As we enter Ordinary Time – let’s call upon the Holy Spirit, who is within us, to open our minds and hearts to the direction God’s wants us to take.  Let’s drop down and meet those around us, those in need, where they are – after all God continues to do that for us.  Let’s empty ourselves of everything but God’s love, His Holy Spirit, and together with those we help we can reach our heart’s desire – heaven.