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

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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)

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.

 

 

 

Simple Faith & the Holy Spirit

The Year of Faith instills in us the need to dig deeper into the understanding of He who created us and loves us. We should challenge ourselves to come to know, through patristic and current catechesis what our faith entails, and by doing so grow in our awareness of who God is and therefor who we are; but ultimately, and foundationally, our faith is a gift from God and response from us, it is a relationship that defies logic, and though it is studied and discussed by the educated I can’t help but wonder if maybe it is best grasped by the less-educated and children. At its core faith is an opening of our heart to the promptings God through the Holy Spirit. It is trust, unadulterated by our human failings. It is love without stain. The closest I can compare it to is the love and faith of a small child to their parents.

I spent last weekend, along with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, at the Marian shrine in Lourdes France.  I walked among those of all conditions, coming for various reasons but ultimately coming to honor our Lord, His mother, and the little village girl St Bernadette. Quickly I started to realize these two women had many similarities, you can almost take the description of one and interchange it for the other; both daughters of poor villagers in the backwoods of their country; both simple-hearted, uncomplicated, gentle maidens.  Both with a childlike love of God, and total abandonment to His will. Mary, of course, accepted God’s request through the Archangel Gabriel to allow the Holy Spirit to conceive within her her Lord. Come what may, ridicule by villagers, denial by her betrothed, and maybe death, she would answer the call of God.  Bernadette, through Mary accepted God’s desire that she bring the world to His Son. Come what may; the ridicule by her neighbors; the intrigues by the hostile government; the distain of the French enlightened elite; even the investigation from Holy Mother Church she would follow Mary’s desire. Two examples of simple faith lived in pure love that defied worldly powers.

No great theological comprehension, just belief in God and faith in His love – and they changed the world.

You can say nothing simpler or greater than responding to the Holy Spirit’s urgings with “I believe in God.”  This wasn’t some realization after reading or even during prayer; it was a Holy Intrusion, if you will, from the Holy Spirit. For three nights last weekend I stood with thousands of pilgrims, many who were terribly handicapped (at least in our eyes) and the volunteers and family members who through great difficulty brought them; as well as many thousand more who were called by faith to this shrine and waited for the candlelight rosary procession to begin.  With a statue of Mary in the lead we started: “Credo in unum Deum” we recited as we professed the creed with candles lit, each one of us with hopes and desires pointing towards God – just plain people opening their hearts to God. As the rosary procession started to move we prayed and sang each in our own languages; but as we sang Immaculate Mary and got to the chorus ‘Ave Maria’, together the thousands raised their candles high, it was at that point I was hit by the Holy Spirit with insight and emotion – through the wave of joy I could see these candles as tongues of fire over their heads and I was struck by just how intimate the Holy Spirit is with our lives. Mary, St. Bernadette, those many thousands processing each night – ourselves. To achieve this growth in our faith, to grasp the simplest yet strongest love of God we can we need to open ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit – we need this love of God to dwell in us.  Then we can truly live those words “Credo in unum Deum” It is not enough to honor the Holy Spirit on special days such as this. He needs to be part and parcel to our daily activities, because He is the connection; the raw and yet supremely perfected love that binds us totally to God. He is the mover of our faith, and without him? Well Mary wouldn’t have had the strength of her faith to respond with her fiat and St. Bernadette wouldn’t have had the strength to receive Mary’s calling and give her life to our Lord. We wouldn’t have had those thousands coming to a small mountainous corner of rural France, we wouldn’t be here this evening.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t come down to us on certain occasions; He is that candle flame above us at all times. He deserves our response: “Credo in unum Deum!” constantly, always – from our minds and our hearts.