27 June 2022

Seeking the Lost

 Third Sunday after Pentecost
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  I think that we all have had moments like the woman who lost her coin.  It may not have been for money, but I’m willing to be we have all had those times when we are looking for something, we can’t find it, and our mind won’t rest until we do find it.  So we tear the house apart looking for our lost item.  I would remind you that St. Anthony of Padua is a great resource when we have lost something.
    How amazing is it that our God tells us that He is like that woman, searching for us like she searches for a lost coin?!  Of course, unlike coins, we can move ourselves away.  I suppose the metaphor for us would be more like searching for a small frog that likes hopping around the house.  After all, it’s not like we get put somewhere and just stay there.  When we’re lost, it’s because we’ve walked away from God.
    But God keeps coming after us.  He never gives up on us.  Even if we try to run far away from Him, He is always right there behind us, beckoning us back, like a parent of a toddler whose child tries to run away, while the parent never lets the toddler out of his sight or reach.  This devotion to us makes sense only with the logic of love, in the same way that a shepherd going after one lost sheep and leaves the ninety-nine.  The math doesn’t add up, unless one is calculating with love.
    But, as we are called to be those disciples, that is meant to be our mentality, too.  As followers of Christ, God calls us to go after the lost sheep who have wandered away, or even the sheep who have not been part of Christ’s flock, but whom God desires to be one of His own.  This is one way that we live out the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, and admonish the sinner.  
    When we do this, it must be with love.  God is love, and so if we wish to draw others to Him, we will only be successful to the degree that we counsel, instruct, and admonish with love.  To tell someone that it’s stupid to question the faith, or to condemn someone’s ignorance, or to yell at someone for something wrong that he or she has done does is not to seek after a lost sheep, but to hunt for one with a rifle; is to trash a house while searching for the lost coin.  
    I know that sounds obvious, but when we love the faith and treasure our relationship with God, as I know we do, it can seem painful to us when that is rejected.  It’s like parents who are so hurt when a child rejects what they say that they discipline in anger, rather than out of love.  Sometimes disciplining in anger, not is love, is not even intended, but it happens.  And so, when we know we’re going to talk to someone who disagrees with us on the faith, or is questioning something near and dear to us, or maybe has left a life of virtue for a life of sin, we should pray for that gentleness of Christ, and to show our love, even when correction is necessary.
    When we counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, and admonish the sinner, we also imitate God when we not only acknowledge, but respect, a person’s free will.  Love never forces itself on another.  It always respects the other person’s freedom.  As Bonnie Rait sang, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.”  We cannot force another person to see the light.  This is especially frustrating, and I know I have metaphorically banged my head on the wall when there’s someone who doesn’t see how their actions are leading them away from God, or hurting themselves, or, most often, some form of both.  It’s especially hard when it’s someone who is close to us, perhaps a family member or dear friend, who doesn’t see the lies that they’re buying.  

    The analogy that comes to mind is fromthe movie “The Return of the King,” when Samwise, Frodo, and Gollum are climbing the stairs of Cirith Ungol.  Gollum has been poisoning Frodo’s mind to suggest that Sam will try to take the One Ring away and will hurt Frodo.  Gollum then, while Frodo and Sam are sleeping, throws away their food supply, and when Sam awakes to see this happening, starts attacking Gollum.  But Frodo takes Gollum’s side, and sends Sam, who has been nothing but loyal to Frodo, away.  Sin darkens our minds, and doesn’t let us see clearly the pain that we are causing.  And often we don’t see that until we’re snapped out of it through recognizing how bad things have gotten, just as Frodo finally realizes that Sam has been his friend and the one who has truly helped him when Gollum leads Frodo into the lair of the giant spider-like creature, Shelob, so that Shelob can kill Frodo and Gollum can take the ring.  
    Because God desires the lost with a great passion, that should be our passion, too.  As we hear about all the fallen-away Catholics, think of the great numbers our parish could swell to if we were able to bring back even a percentage of those who have strayed.  Pray for those who are away, especially if you’re going to talk to them later.  Pray to both your own and the other person’s guardian angel to protect the conversation from any outside diabolical influence.  Pray for that love of God to be communicated in what you say and how you say it.  Pray to be as convincing as possible, while also respecting the other person’s freedom.  And then pray afterwards that the words you have spoken will be confirmed by the Holy Spirit and that the same Holy Spirit will open that person’s heart to the truth and love of God.  In that way, we will be like our God, who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he repent and live.  In that way we will be like the one who searches for us when we sin, God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A Plethora of Disciples

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    In the 1986 comedy, “Three Amigos,” starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short, there is a scene where the the main villain, El Guapo asks his second in command, Jefe, “Would you say I have a plethora of piƱatas?”  Jefe responds, “A what?”  El Guapo answers back, “A plethora.”  Jefe tells El Guapo, “Oh yes.  You have a plethora.”  El Guapo then questions Jefe, “Jefe, what is a plethora?…If you told me I have a plethora, and I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is.”  In case you were not prepared for a vocab quiz today, a plethora is defined as a large or excessive amount of something.

      So we now know what a plethora is.  But do we know what the word disciple means?  Because today’s first reading and Gospel focus in on being a disciple, whether of the prophet Elijah in the first reading, or of Jesus in the Gospel.  And we here probably consider ourselves disciples.  But do we know what it means?
    Our English word disciple comes from the Latin, discipulus, meaning a student, scholar, or follower.  But being a disciple was more than that in the ancient world.  Being a disciple meant that you sought to live like the master, and make his or her way of life your own.  We don’t often think of students becoming like every teacher or professor they have (indeed, sometimes students really dislike their teachers or professors).  But disciples were, in some way, self-selected.  You could choose which master or teacher you wanted to follow.  But when you did make that commitment, it wasn’t about 9 hours in a classroom each day, or a 18 weeks of meeting twice or thrice each week.  Choosing to live as a disciple meant a life-long commitment, even living like the master after he or she was gone.
    So when we talk about Jesus’ disciples, that is the mindset in which they sought to follow Him.  But, as we heard today, sometimes people didn’t want to make that entire commitment, or Jesus wanted to make sure that they knew with what they were getting involved.  Following Jesus, we hear today, is even more important than burying one’s own family, or saying farewell to one’s family.  And it means that one may have to give up external stability, like a set place to rest one’s head.  But does it still mean that today?
    Being a disciple today is slightly different, but the idea of commitment is no different.  Jesus has to be our number one priority, if we wish to be the disciples God wants us to be.  It doesn’t necessarily meant that we won’t have any home, or that we cannot have time with our family, or even bury family members.  But it does mean that we make our life not about ourselves and our desires, but about Jesus.
    Consecrated men and women, whom we often call “religious,” do take vows to live as a disciple in a more radical way.  They give up a family of their own, a bank account of their own, and even choosing how they want to serve, through the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.  Diocesan priests also make the promise of celibacy, and seek to live a simple life, detached from their possessions (even though they have their own bank account), and promise respect and obedience to their bishop and his successors. 
    But being a disciple is not just for consecrated men and women, and priests.  Being a disciple is the commitment our parents made for us, or we made for ourselves, at baptism.  Our parents promised for us, or we made promises, to live like Christ to the best of our ability, no matter what our vocation.  Christ became our Master so that it would no longer be I who live, but Christ who lives in me, as St. Paul said. 
    So who do we put first in our lives?  Whose rule do we follow?  We’re here today, at Mass, so we are at least giving Christ this time.  But do we do so every week, or only when we feel like it?  Is going to Mass our biggest priority, or is going to Mass at a certain time our biggest priority? 
    Whose voice do we hear first, and to whose voice do we respond?  The voice of Christ, or the voice of our preferred political party?  Let me let you in on a secret, even while certain political parties espouse ideas which are gravely antithetical to being Catholic, no political party can claim the obedience we owe to Christ.  Yes, we are sometimes called to choose the lesser of two evils (as long as we’re not choosing a political party because of evil policies they advocate or adopt), but our allegiance to this or that party should be way down the list, with our allegiance to Christ at the top, and then probably family, country, and friends. 
    With the decline in religious observance in this country, it is interesting that people have not jettisoned obedience that we would normally give to God; they have transferred it to something else.  There is a need to give someone our entire loyalty built into us.  So if we don’t give it to God, we will give it to someone or something else.  Recently, I think many people have transferred religious submission of will and intellect to political parties, such that disagreement with the latest political platform is akin to heresy. 
    Do we truly live as disciples, or are we only living in a shell of what that word means?  When it comes to major issues of our day–abortion, euthanasia, so-called homosexual marriage, racism, service of the poor, when to receive or not receive Holy Communion–are our positions formed by the Gospel, or by the politician we like the best?  We use this word “disciple” a lot, and often for ourselves.  But do we really know what it means?

17 June 2022

Connecting to the Force of the Eucharist

 Solemnity of Corpus Christi
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  A few weeks back I was super excited to see that a new Star Wars series had started that detailed what happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi between Episode III, when he delivers baby Luke Skywalker to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, and Episode IV, where Luke, now an adult, finds “Ben” Kenobi and asks him for help with a message that the droid R2-D2 had delivered.

    I won’t give a lot away of the new series for anyone who’s interested, but I do want to focus on Obi-Wan for a second.  Obi-Wan was one of the greatest Jedi, along with Yoda and Mace Windu.  He bested Anakin Skywalker, who was also a great Jedi (though failed to actually kill him).  But the series begins with him lost, making his way through a quotidian, hum-drum life.  The few Jedi that remain are still being hunted, so he’s trying to lay low on Tatooine, while still watching over Luke, as Yoda ordered Obi-Wan to do.  In the beginning of the series (no spoilers, don’t worry), Obi-Wan shows a real lack of being able to use the force, a Jedi’s source of power, because he has lost practice and been separated from using it for so long.
    Star Wars is quite gnostic, and filled with some far-eastern religion influences, so it’s not quite a great analogy to Christianity.  But, as I prepared my homily for Corpus Christi, and knowing how few Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and how many Catholics have left the faith, I was struck by the real danger, not of being separated from the force, but being separated from the Eucharist.
    The Eucharist is our force.  It is what gives us power to live as disciples of Christ.  No, we generally are not able to suspend people in the air, or wave our hand and effect suggestions on the weak-minded, nor are we given swords that can pulse through bodies and metal and block blasters.  But we are given the Body and Blood of Christ to strengthen us to live as the saints we are called to be.  
    I think about baptized Catholics I know and, I can’t give a number, but suffice it to say a lot, they have left the Mass for ecclesial communities (non-Catholic groups, often Evangelicals) that have rock bands for music, or screens with amazing videos and presentations.  Some leave after a short while; others stick with it for a long time, or even the rest of their lives.  They often say that they’re getting more out of their worship, or feel better about going to church, or are learning more about the Scriptures.
    Before I continue, I do want to warn us (myself included) against smugness and a superiority complex.  And, while I’m not accusing anyone here, I will say it can be a very strong and particular temptation for those who attend the Extraordinary Form.  It can be very easy to say that, because we appreciate the older liturgy, which does tend to have a greater sense of transcendence, we are better than others.  It is very easy to be Pharisaical and thank God that we’re not like those other Catholics who attend a Novus Ordo Mass, and our superiority is borne out by how many kids we have, or that we go to Mass every Sunday, or that we tend to believe what the Church teaches on the faith and morals.  Don’t get me wrong, large families are great blessings, you should go to Mass every Sunday and holyday, and staying faithful to the Church’s teaching on faith and morals is a sign that one is walking with Christ.  But when those things are used as weapons against others, or used to make us seem better than others, then what could be a strength can easily become a downfall.
    Back to my point: as Catholics leave the practice of their faith, they are leaving the Eucharist.  Only if a Catholic left for an Orthodox church or a schismatic Catholic church could we say that they would still receive the Eucharist, even if those other communities offer “communion.”  But as a person separates themself from the Eucharist, they lose connection to that which gives them power to live as a disciples, as Christ has revealed through His Church.  Even if a Catholic simply stops going to Mass on a regular basis, and doesn’t even join another community, he or she is losing the nourishment that Christ wants to provide us so that we can follow Him faithfully.  Is it a wonder, then, as Catholics have stopped going to Mass or have left the faith altogether that more and more Catholics or ex-Catholics start supporting things which are contrary to the faith?  
    Again, we may say, “Well, thank God that’s not me!”  But, as the saying goes, “But for the grace of God go I.”  Part of the beauty of these annual celebrations is that we remind ourselves of the treasures that we have, not to grasp on to them and hoard them, but to utilize them and share the graces we receive from them with others.  Catholics used to go to Mass weekly in greater numbers, north of 70 or 80 percent!  But perhaps they forgot the beauty of what they had, and so they didn’t go as frequently, or didn’t pass on that greatness of the gift of the faith to their children, because it wasn’t fully appreciated.  Other, secular realities grew in importance, even though it didn’t give them the power to fight the good fight on earth, in preparation for being welcomed into heaven.  
    And so we need to remind ourselves that the Eucharist is our strength!  Without it, we are lost, and cannot be the people God wants us to be.  Without the Eucharist, marriage becomes so much more difficult, because the Eucharist is sacrifice, and marriage always calls for that sacrificial love.  Without the Eucharist the virtue of chastity is so much more difficult, because we are disconnected from the source of every virtue.  Without the Eucharist, we cannot love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, because we no longer receive the one who gave Himself up for His enemies and persecutors inside us in the same way.  Without the Eucharist, our care for the poor makes no sense, because we are not taking in the God who made Himself poor so that we might become rich.  In other words, to be the Catholic disciples God wants us to be without the Eucharist is impossible.  And that even impels us to walk in the streets as we will today, to bring our Eucharistic Lord into the public, so that others can remember how much they need him!
    And the difficulty to live the faith without the Eucharist should keep us coming back, even if the prayers don’t always make sense to us; or the music isn’t what we like (Gregorian chant is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and properly Catholic, but it often doesn’t cause an emotive response that so many desire); even if we struggle in those long moments of silence to keep our attention on the sacrifice being offered.  
    Obi-Wan struggled after his fight with Anakin because Obi-Wan became disconnected from the force.  We will struggle to live a holy life if we disconnect ourselves from the Eucharist (we may struggle with the Eucharist, but it would be even harder without it!).  Use the force that God has given us for living as His disciples.  Stay connected through the Eucharist to Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Son reign for ever and ever.  Amen. 

Simple and Complex

 Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
    [In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.].  How is it that the most fundamental part of our religion, the teaching that defines us as a faith–our belief in the Most Holy Trinity, one God and three divine Persons–is so hard to explain?  We often think of what is most basic as what is the simplest.  But, when it comes to our faith, that’s not quite right.
    Followers of Christ have struggled with this teaching from early on.  The heretic Arius, in order to uphold the oneness of God, held that Jesus was not really God.  Another heresy, pneumatomachianism, taught that the Holy Spirit was not really God.  Others failed when trying to explain the Most Holy Trinity, by saying that the different Persons were simply different phases of the one God, like water can be a solid, liquid or gas (that was the heresy of modalism).  Or another failure was that God was like the sun, where God the Father is like the sun itself, and Jesus is the the light, and the Holy Spirit is the heat (another version of Arianism).  Or there’s the heresy of partialism, which taught that the three divine Persons are each parts of the one Godhead.  Or (and I don’t know the name for this) the very vogue teaching that we can change the names of the Persons to be less restrictive (as in God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier).  All of those are really intriguing ways that we have gotten the teaching of the Most Holy Trinity wrong.  
    So what we do believe?  We believe in one God, who is also three divine Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–co-equal in glory, majesty, and power, yet not three gods, but One.  The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit, nor is the Holy Spirit the Father, and yet the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one God.

    We struggle because we are finite–limited, while God is infinite–unlimited.  So we rely on what our infinite God has revealed to our finite minds.  We need the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrated last week and whom we celebrate this week.  And we stick to what the Holy Spirit has revealed, because the Most Holy Trinity is the foundation for all life, but especially for our life, and even more than that, for our salvation.  If we get who the Trinity is wrong, we get who we are wrong, and we mess-up our connection to salvation.  Recently, a handful of priests have been discovered to have done great damage by changing the way babies are baptized (most often, changing the words).  While some question why this matters, the Church asserts that words do matter, and if baptism is the beginning of our saving relationship with God (which it is), then if we get the beginning wrong, the rest of it cannot follow.  
    But The Trinity is not just the beginning.  It should be our day-to-day connection as well.  Our spiritual life should be connected to all three divine Persons if we are to live in the fulness of grace that God desires for us.  We often say “God” when we mean God the Father, and He is often the one to whom we address our prayers.  But we should also pray to and through Christ, because He is consubstantial with the Father.  And we should not forget to turn in prayer to the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of life,…who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.”  Our prayers at Mass often highlight this, as we most often pray to the Father, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.”  
    How do we guide our life by the Trinity?  One easy way is to read the revelation of the Trinity in the Sacred Scriptures.  How has God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, spoken to us in an inerrant way through the Bible?  What moral laws has God revealed that help us to be the best person that we can be?  Whether it’s the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and what Christ taught in the Gospels, or the teachings of St. Paul in the New Testament about not being greedy, or making false gods for ourselves, or being sexually immoral, those are great guidelines to know whether or not we are living in the reality that the Trinity intends.
    Another way to live our life by the Trinity is by love.  St. John wrote in his epistle that God is love, and the applies to each divine Person.  God the Father is love, God the Son is love, and God the Holy Spirit is love.  If we are to live in the best way possible, we are called to love others.  And that love, as the Trinity shows us, is always about sacrificing for the other, and leading the other into truth.  Our Lord sacrificed Himself so that we could go to heaven, in the full out-pouring of Himself in love.  And the Holy Spirit, our Lord taught, leads us into all truth, so that our love is not merely delight or affection, but is grounded in what is most real and the way that the Trinity created the world.  If we are living like a toddler, who loves as long as he gets what he wants, then that’s not the love of the Trinity, the love that will save us and make us truly happy.  If our expression of love is only about what feels good, rather than sacrificing, even when it’s quite painful, then that’s not the love of the Trinity, which would never do anything to endanger the other person.  
    In a way, the Trinity is as hard to describe as love is, even though the Trinity and love are foundational to life.  But because of the love of the Trinity, we get glimpses of who God is in Himself, which helps us to understand how He made us, and how we are called to live and what will make us truly happy.  When our love is off, when we try to redefine love, then we are not living the Trinitarian life.  And when our understanding of the Trinity is off, when we try to remake God in our own image, the way we act will not be truly loving.  Ground yourself in the life of the Trinity: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

06 June 2022

The Upper Room

 Solemnity of Pentecost
    [In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.]  Harold Samuel is famous (or at least his phrase is) for saying in 1944 that the most important thing in property is location, location, location.  And as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, it’s important to look at the location of this dramatic gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.

The Upper Room in Jerusalem
    St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles that the Blessed Mother, Apostles, and disciples were gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  We might gloss past that location, except that Upper Room was the place of the Last Supper, as well as the first appearance of our Lord after Easter.  Pentecost, then, is connected to the new life of Easter, and to the Eucharist.
    The Eucharist is the sacramental presentation of Jesus’ suffering and death, His sacrifice on Calvary.  Through it we are connected to the oblation which saved us from sin and death.  In the Eucharist we receive the love of the Son, who was willing to lay down His life, not only for His friends, but even for His enemies.  Christ commanded His Apostles to celebrate the Eucharist in His remembrance throughout the ages as the way to connect all people who were baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and who follow Him in their life, to Him so that they could grow in that same love that Christ first showed us.
    The Resurrection, for its part, is the proof that Christ is who He says He is.  People saw the Lord die.  They saw Him expire on the Cross.  But when He was raised from the dead, that was a shock to most.  It certainly shocked the Apostles.  The Resurrection proved that nothing was more powerful than Christ, and that He truly was divine.  No one had risen before by their own power, and it has not happened since.  While the many healing miracles gave proof to the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection closed any doubt that our Lord was greater than the prophets, some of whom had also healed people, and had even raised people from the dead.  But no prophet raised Himself from the dead.  And so, when the tomb was empty; when our Lord appeared and showed His wounds, first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the Apostles and Blessed Mother gathered in the Upper Room, there was no doubt that this Jesus was different, an unlike any who had come before Him.  
    And, as we celebrate Pentecost today, we know that the Father sent the Holy Spirit through Christ the Son to the Blessed Mother, Apostles, and disciples gathered in that same Upper Room, at which point they could not help but speak about Christ, who had suffered and died, and who had risen from the dead.  And the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in many languages, so that all could understand in their own native languages.  The dispersion of Babel was undone in the unified gift of tongues; the hope of Moses and the prophecy of Joel that all would speak for God as prophets came true; the dry bones of faith that the disciples had was enlivened by the courage that the Holy Spirit gave them to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Messiah.  
    But we also are in the Upper Room, each time we gather in this sacred space.  We assemble to have Christ provide His Body and Blood once more for us, as we are obedient to His command to do this in His memory.  We who have been baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and who do not have any major departures from following Christ are invited to taste the Bread of Angels.  
    The Bread of Angels gives us the new life of the Resurrection and raises us from the coma of daily life through which we can so easily sleepwalk.  Christ said in John chapter six that if we do not eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do not have life within us.  When we worthily receive the Eucharist, we are given the new life of Christ, the life of the Resurrection dwelling inside of us and connecting us to the one over whom even death has no power.   
    But it is not meant to end there.  The Upper Room is not only the place where we sacramentally enter into the Paschal Mystery; not only the place where we rise with Christ through our reception of Holy Communion.  It is also the place from which, like the disciples, we are sent out by the Holy Spirit to share the Good News that God has taken flesh and dwelt among us; that sin and death have been conquered in Christ; and that we can have access to that eternal life through union with Christ.  The Holy Spirit works to push us out of here to share the Gospel by word and deed to those who have never heard the proclamation of Christ, or who have heard it but who have fallen away, or who have heard it and have remained faithful, but need a new invigoration to continue living out the life of Christ in our daily circumstances.

    We, as Catholics, tend to be really good at the first two parts of the Upper Room: the Eucharist and the Resurrection.  We tend to be really good at being fed and receiving new life.  But to ignore the third scene of the Upper Room, the gift of the Spirit, is to remain dry bones.  Perhaps we may even have muscle and sinew in us, but we do not have spirit to make us alive.  
    Our challenge today and every day is to take practical steps to share the Gospel.  When we notice a co-worker who is struggling, to ask them if we can help, especially by listening to them and praying with them.  When we see someone bound in the slavery to sin, to let them know that their actions are leading them further away from God, and to offer our assistance to bring them back, perhaps by bringing them to confession with us, and then to Mass.  When someone has good news, to celebrate with them and say, “Praise God!”, from whom every good thing has its origin.  There are so many other ways, but these are just a few of how we take what we have received, and share it with others.
    Our Mass is not meant to stay here within these walls.  Yes, we come to this Upper Room to receive the new life of the Resurrection in the Eucharist.  But our daily worship of God, for which the Eucharist strengthens us, is meant to be extended into each hour of every day in our homes, in our cars, in our workplaces, and in our recreation.  Our religion is not simply about coming together into a sacred place once or more a week.  Our religion is also about acting differently, treating others differently, and bringing them to the truth and healing that only Christ can provide.  In the ways that are proper for our individual lives, may our deeds and words speak “of the mighty acts of God,” [the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.]

31 May 2022

Now in the Sacraments

 Sunday after the Ascension
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  In Pope St. Leo the Great’s second Sermon on the Ascension, the saintly pontiff preached: 

such is the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight.  Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.  And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments.

It may seem odd that Christ ascended into heaven.  Why not remain on earth to be with us, to govern His Church directly, and to continue preaching so that we would know exactly what He would have preached in new circumstances and situations, because He Himself instructed us?

St. John Henry Newman
    Pope St. Leo the Great says it has to do with faith. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman affirms this as well in his Parochial and Plain Sermons.  He writes:

Now consider what would have been the probable effect of a public exhibition of his Resurrection.  Let us suppose that our Savior had shown himself as openly as before he suffered; preaching in the temple and in the streets of the city; traversing the land with his Apostles, and with multitudes following to see the miracles which he did.  What would have been the effect of this?  Of course, what it had already been.  His former miracles had not effectually moved the body of the people; and doubtless, this miracle too would have left them as it found them, or worse than before.  They might have been more startled at the time; but why should this amazement last?

Remaining on earth instead of ascending may not have had any different effect than our Lord’s time on earth before He suffered and died.  Many saw Christ and still doubted.  St. Mark states that even the apostles doubted after the Resurrection.  Many would have likely done the same.  
    Instead, our Lord ascended, but is still present to us through the sacraments.  Indeed, the sacramental life is not only the work of those on earth; its efficacy is based upon Christ.  In one of his letters, St. Augustine says, “When Peter baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes.”  Christ continues His work through His Church, especially through the sacraments which are meant to transform us into the disciples we are called to be.  That work is made possible by the Holy Spirit, who gives power and efficacy to each of the sacraments when administered with the matter, words, intention, and minister that the Church requires.  
    This, of course, takes faith.  It takes faith to have confidence that, when water is poured over a person’s head, and the Blessed Trinity is invoked as the Church requires, that person’s sins are washed away, and he or she becomes an adopted child of God and a member of the Church that Christ instituted for salvation.  It takes faith to trust that, when we go to a priest and confess our sins (mortal sins in kind and number), that those sins are no more; they are forgiven.  It takes faith kneel before that which looks like a round piece of unleaded bread, but which truly is the Body of Christ, the flesh without which our Lord said we do not have life within us.  
    But faith is precisely who we are as a people.  Our father in faith, Abraham, had faith in a God he had never seen, but who called him to travel from modern-day Iraq to the Promised Land, a land which God promised, but which Abraham himself never fully possessed.  He also trusted in God to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, even though Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were well past the child-bearing age.  And then, when God did give them a son, Isaac, the son of the promise, Abraham trusted that God would restore Isaac to life, after God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.

    So, too, with the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Hers was a life of faith in God.  She had faith when the Archangel Gabriel appeared that, though she did not know man, she would conceive and bear the Son of God.  She trusted God would keep her, Joseph, and the Christ Child safe as they journeyed to Egypt, and then to Nazareth.  She trusted even when her Son was nailed to the cross, and as He ascended into heaven.      Do we trust in what God wants to accomplish with us?  Are we open to the graces that flow through the sacraments, graces that are meant to transform us to be who God desires us to be?  The sacraments always “work,” that is to say, they do what we believe they do when we celebrate them as the Church requires (we use the phrase ex opere operato-from the work having been worked).  But the effect that they have in our lives, what we call “fruitfulness,” is based upon our openness to them and our disposition to receive those graces (we use the phrase ex opere operantis-from the work of the one working).
    Just as Christ said to people while on earth, “Your sins are forgiven,” so through the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, Christ says to us, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Just as Christ told the Apostles in the Upper Room, “Take and eat; this is my Body; take and drink; this is my Blood,” so He changes bread and wine into His Body and Blood through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Just as Christ breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” so through the Sacrament of Confirmation, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit.  Just as Christ blessed the wedding at Cana by changing water into wine, so Christ changes natural marriage into a supernatural marriage between two baptized persons in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  Just as Christ healed the sick and cured their illnesses, so Christ heals us, especially of our spiritual maladies, but even of our physical illness at times, through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  And just as Christ commissioned the Apostles and disciples to go and preach the Gospel, to heal, and to expel demons; and just as He said, “Whoever listens to you, listens to me,” so Christ ordains men to act in His person (Christ the Servant in the case of a deacon, and Christ the Priest in the case of a priest or bishop) and with His power.  
    Christ did ascend into heaven.  But He has not abandoned us.  He has not left us.  He still remains with us and acts in our world, allowing His visible presence to pass especially into the sacraments.  May we acknowledge Christ and His activity in the world, and be open to it, so that the grace of the sacraments may be fruitful in us, and transform us to be more like the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Why Wait?

Ascension of our Lord
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Earlier in May I had gotten a couple tickets for me and Jacob, a friend of mine, to see the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.  I usually get to see this friend once or twice a year because of his (and my) busy schedules.  The entire week before I looked at my weather app each day, to see what it was supposed to be.  Would it rain? Would it be hot?  Would there be thunderstorms or sunshine?  Each day I’d check to see what the weather was forecasted to be, hoping that the game would be played and we could enjoy a game and each other’s company.  The day finally came, it was somewhere around 80 degrees and sunny when the first pitch was thrown, and we had a great time, except that the Tigers lost, 9-0. 

    In my reading of the Epistle today, I focused in on a phrase that St. Luke reported: “they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father.”  Why wait?  Why not send the Holy Spirit immediately?  Certainly, the apostles could have used it, as St. Mark notes that, even at this late stage in their discipleship with Christ, they still doubted.  Why did Christ make the Apostles wait nine days (as will we) for Pentecost and the celebration of the Holy Spirit?
    This is not to say that waiting meant sitting on their hands.  St. Luke reports that, after our Lord ascended, the apostles did was He commanded and returned to Jerusalem.  But then Peter proceeds to inform them of an impending election, to fill the spot of the betrayer, Judas.  Two candidates are put forward, they ask for the Lord’s help in choosing the correct one, and St. Matthias is chosen as the new twelfth Apostle.  Who knows what else happened, but we do know they remained in that Upper Room for much of the time, until Pentecost happened and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
    Waiting builds anticipation and heightens the senses.  It focuses one on what is upcoming.  My baseball game with Jacob had me attentive to details, hoping sure the event would happen and turn out well, and checking and praying for good weather on a twice-daily basis.  As children wait for Christmas, especially in the days between the end of classes and Christmas Day, there is an attentiveness and an excitement for celebrating Christ’s birth, but probably mostly for the gifts that they hope to receive. 
    When a couple gets engaged, we ask them to wait (usually nine months) before they get married.  This allows time for them to prepare, to make sure they understand the lifelong commitment they are entering into, and make sure that they truly will love each other with the sacrificial love that holy matrimony requires. 
    But then, once the day gets there, the celebration is all the more worth it and joyful.  Yes, it would have been nice to see the Tigers win, but I was really glad to spend time with Jacob and catch up since the last time we saw each other.  On Christmas morning, the kids are often the first ones up, with joyful readiness to tear off the wrapping paper with abandon and discover what presents they received.  And when the wedding day comes, the bride and groom are full of joy and happiness that all their waiting has come to an end, and they can celebrate being the couple, the one-flesh-union, that they had desired to be since their engagement.  Indeed, the emotions are often so high that there are tears of joy from both the woman and the man!
    That is the spirit in which we should wait for Pentecost, for our annual renewal of the gifts and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We, too, should wait over these nine days, this primordial novena, asking for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, minds, and souls with His sacred presence.  We know that the Apostles, having waited nine days, began to speak in tongues, and were so elated that most thought them drunk (I always chuckle at St. Peter’s speech to the crowds, asserting that the apostles aren’t drunk because it’s only nine o’clock in the morning; having lived in East Lansing, I can tell you that nine o’clock means nothing on a football Saturday morning or St. Patrick’s Day).  Yes, this joy that overflowed was the work of the Holy Spirit, but was it perhaps also made possible by their waiting, their anticipation which opened them up for more of a gift of the Holy Spirit?  The amount of gifts that they received from the Holy Spirit could have been at least correlated to, if not caused by, their preparation and waiting. 
    We, living in 2022, are still waiting.  We are not waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We have received Him at Baptism and Confirmation in particular, but we also see Him at work every time Mass is celebrated.  Still, we can always increase our ability to receive the Holy Spirit, which should be part of our waiting each year from the Ascension to Pentecost. 
    But we are waiting for the Lord to return “‘in the same way as [the Apostles and the Blessed Mother] saw him going into heaven.’”  Our anticipation should grow each day in longing for the Lord to return to us, to set all things right, and to usher in a new heaven and a new earth, where pain and sorrow, death and mourning are no more.  We have waited for almost 2,000 years, and each day we are closer to when Christ returns in glory.  It seems like too long, as it probably felt for the Apostles and the Blessed Mother.  But this waiting can heighten our desire for the Lord, our desire for heaven, if we cooperate with the same Holy Spirit, and do not grow drowsy from our wait.  Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your love, you who are the gift of the Father and the Son, and are co-eternal God for ever and ever.  Amen.  

23 May 2022

Do You Pray to God with that Mouth?

 Fifth Sunday after Easter
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”  This is a phrase that is sometimes used when someone uses crude or vulgar language, a colloquial way of telling the person to start using better language.  St. James talks about our speech in the Epistle.  He reminds us that, “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue…his religion is in vain.”  That’s pretty strong language about mere words.  But mere words have meaning, they carry strength.

St. James the Lesser from St. John Lateran, Rome
    After all, we worship not a word, but the Word, the “speech,” as it were of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  The words we use matter.  When we use good words, we build up.  When we use bad words, we tear down.  When we use good words, we help to communicate that we belong to the Word who is Sinless.  When we use bad words, we communicate that what we do and what we say do not have to have a relation to each other.  We confuse others by suggesting that following Christ does not make a difference in the choice of our vocabulary.
    Words can be in the context of many areas of life.  Our speech can be about God and His Church.  Or it can be about individuals.  Or it can be about the world or inanimate things.  God gave us speech precisely to glorify Him and to edify others, which is precisely also the purpose of the liturgy, the glorification of God and the edification of man, as Sacrosanctum concilium states.  
    We glorify God through prayer, both public like the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, and through private prayers like our devotions, our morning offerings, our prayers of thanksgiving.  We edify man by helping others grow in union with Christ.  Sometimes we do that by providing kind, gentle words that encourage.  At other times we need to warn and discipline with harsher words, but always undergirded with charity.  We are called to talk about our Lord to others, and, as St. Peter states, be ready to give a defense for our hope in the Lord.  We have a duty to stand up for the weak and the oppressed, as the prophets remind us again and again.
    Certainly, not all crude or bad speech is mortal sin.  Gossip is often a sin of speech with which people struggle, as well as detraction.  It can be hard not to talk about others, especially with our friends are doing so.  But if we wish our religion to be pure, St. James says, then our speech needs to be as well.  
    This also, perhaps especially, concerns members of the Church.  Detraction, lies, slander, and gossip can destroy parish communities, and we need to guard against it at all times, and avoid it whenever it rears its ugly head.  Satan is always seeking to divide communities of faith, and how often that happens in a parish among well-intentioned people.  If we are revealing the faults of others, or tearing down others in our words, we are not helping to build a larger, stronger parish community.
    It also goes for clergy and our speech about them.  We priests are especially bad at this.  Like a family, we are all too often quick to point out the faults of our brothers, and put them down, not only in front of brother priests, but also, sadly, sometimes in front of the lay faithful.  None of us, from me to the pope, are above reproach.  And yet do we offer criticism with charity, do we criticize the actions, rather than attacking the good name of the person?  Do we use phrases or terms that diminish the respect that we, and others, should have towards those who are engaged in holy orders?  I know this can be hard when we don’t agree with a priest, bishop, or even the pope.  But do we do so with charity?  If not, it is time that we repent, because our prayers may ring hollow if we praise God and ask Him for help on one side of our mouth, and then berate and belittle those whom God has given to lead His Church on the other.

    A priest I know in Mississippi recently had the opportunity to meet His Eminence, Raymond Cardinal Burke.  This Mississippi priest is a great devotee of the Extraordinary Form, and celebrates it in his diocese.  He works to promote the sacred liturgy and the beauty and transcendence that accompany right worship of God.  He related that Cardinal Burke gave a talk over breakfast, and said, “‘Those American bloggers who do things like call the Holy Father “Bergoglio” are not promoting Catholicism.  There is nothing Catholic about disrespecting the office of Bishop or the Papacy.’”  I know that many, myself included, sometimes struggle with Pope Francis’s prudential judgements and the way he expresses himself off the cuff.  But Cardinal Burke is echoing what we hear from St. James today.  If we are willing to share posts on social media that detract and slander, even if simply by innuendo or suggestion, then I hope we’re willing to share the same just divine punishments with those who composed the post or tweet.
    Our Lord tells us today that if we ask for anything in His name, He will give it to us.  Of course, this presumes that the desire of our hearts is in accord with His Sacred Heart and the will of God.  But perhaps the request, even in the name of Christ, would not be heard if we are trashing the Vicar of Christ, or if we are insulting those with whom Christ identifies, especially the “least of his brothers,” as He says in Matthew 25.  It is certain that our prayer will be more efficacious if we see Christ in others and treat them and talk about them appropriately.  Again, this doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree or criticize, but that we do so with respect.  Perhaps, instead of saying, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” we should rather say, “Do you pray to God with that mouth?”  God wants to hear our prayers and answer them, but He may be more likely to grant the prayers of those who, even in their speech about others, honors the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

What is Truth?

 Sixth Sunday of Easter
    “What is truth?”  It may not be the best thing to quote Pontius Pilate at the beginning of a homily, but as we hear about the Holy Spirit today in the Gospel, and how He will “‘teach you everything and remind you of all that [Jesus] told you,’” it seems an appropriate question.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate who pleads our cause against Satan, the father of lies.  
    While we may have a general internal understanding of what truth is, it may be harder to define.  Truth is what is real, what is actual.  Truth allows us to interact with the world in a way which allows us to succeed.  Truth exerts itself and demands obedience, even if we don’t want to give it.  For example, the truth about gravity may be inconvenient, and we may want to ignore it, but if we jump off a cliff, hoping to go up, we will be sorely disappointed (and probably dead!).
    But truth isn’t only about physical realities.  Truth concerns both what is available to our senses, and what is beyond our senses, we might say both the physical and the metaphysical.  Pope St. John Paul II wrote an entire Encyclical about truth called Veritatis splendor, the Splendor of Truth, and writes that truth “enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord.”

    Truth is not up for debate.  Truth, like God, simply is, which is why it makes perfect sense for Christ to say in the Gospel, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’”  Because of the Incarnation, we can say that truth is not merely a set of propositions; truth has a face.  
    Truth does not change over the centuries, even if our understanding of it does.  Truth does not change depending on the type of government, or the political party in charge.  Truth is a light in the darkness that helps us walk on safe paths, without which we can often stumble and fall.
    But society for the past decades has struggled with truth.  Society has questioned if there even is such a thing as truth, has denied that there is truth altogether, and now can often only speak of voicing “your truth,” as if it changes not only for every time, but even for every person.  But if truth is different for every person, then communication is altogether impossible, as words presume a set meaning, an expression of a real idea, not simply our own invention of ideas based upon what we want something to be.  And this trend of questioning truth has found its way even into the people who profess, week after week, belief in God who is Truth Itself, and who reveals the truth about Himself to us out of love.
    It is vogue now, as it often has been in every century of the Church, to question this or that Church teaching, not for the purpose of understanding it more, but for the purpose of rejecting it.  Because some truths are hard for a given culture and time.  In the fourth and fifth centuries, as we came to understand Jesus Christ more, we discovered that explaining who Christ is could be difficult, but the easier answer didn’t account for who Christ had to be to save us.  He is fully God and fully man, unbegotten, consubstantial with the Father.  It would have been easier to say, like the heretic Arius, that Jesus was simply a special creature of God, above us, but not God.  That would have seemed to have been better to preserve the oneness of God.  But then, if He was not God, He could not save us.  But then, if He were not one of us, He would not be under the cost of disobedience that we acquired through sin.  And so we held to the hard truth, that Jesus Christ is one hundred percent God, but one hundred percent human, and that God, while one, is a Trinity of Three Divine Persons, while still one in substance.
    Lies are often easier, and less complicated, at least at first.  It’s easier to say, “Yes, I love this food!” that looks more like the charcoal you use in a grill.  And yet, even those “white lies” as we call them can lead to hurt and pain when, as most often happens, the truth is discovered (in this case when it’s discovered by your spouse that swallowing has suddenly become quite difficult).  And that’s just with small issues.  Imagine being told, “I love you,” by a person who is just using you.  You think that he or she really cares for you as a person, and you give yourself to him or her, trusting that you will not be betrayed, only to have that hope dashed against the rocks and your heart broken by someone who was not concerned about you, but only about him or herself.  
    Many times we know what the Church teaches, but we don’t want to accept it, because it was hard.  It was likely hard for those first Christians, especially those who were Jewish, who saw their faith as simply the right way to be a good Jew, to accept the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles that being a follower of Jesus didn’t require circumcision or the following of dietary laws that had been given by Moses.  It was hard, but it was the truth.  And the truth was revealed and preserved by the Holy Spirit, using the cooperation of the Apostles.  It wasn’t simply that old men wearing pointy hats decided to go one way, as is so often parroted when the Church holds fast to an unpopular teaching.  
    But just as gravity forces itself upon the individual, whether he or she likes it or not, the truths of our faith are also as stubborn; they cannot be wished away.  So if we wish to have a happy life, which comes from following the truth, not only here on earth but especially if we hope to go to heaven, we are called to subject ourselves to the truth, even when that’s hard.  If we wish to call ourselves follows of Christ who is the Truth, then we are called to follow the truth as revealed through the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, no matter how hard it may be.  Ask the Holy Spirit today to help you know the truth, for the truth will set you free to be the person you are made to be, in the world as God made it.

16 May 2022

The Spirit of Truth

Fourth Sunday after Easter In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. As we are getting closer to Pentecost, our Gospels start to focus more and more on Christ leaving this world and the sending of the Holy Spirit. We hear our Lord today promise to send the Advocate to the apostles, who will lead them into all truth.
To be honest, the Holy Spirit is probably the least acknowledged Person of the Blessed Trinity. Christ is often the first, only because of the Incarnation and His taking on our human nature. Because of this, we naturally are drawn to Him. And the Father easily comes next, as a Son needs a Father. Most of our prayers are addressed to the Father, through Christ our Lord (Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Fillium tuum…). The Apostles’ Creed, the earliest baptismal creed that we have, professes faith in the Father, and in the Incarnate Son and the major events of His saving life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, but then just continues, “And in the Holy Spirit.” It wasn’t until the Council of Constantinople in 381 that we get the expansion of our understanding of the Holy Spirit. He is professed as, “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son (that last part, in Latin, Filioque, being added some centuries later), who, with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” St. Paul describes, especially in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. the gifts of the Holy Spirit and some of the charisms that can accompany the work of the Holy Spirit. St. John in his first Epistle describes the Spirit as one of the three witnesses to our Lord (along with water and blood). With the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, there was an explosion of interest in the Person of the Holy Spirit, but some (including many of those who love the Usus antiquior) were a bit skeptical of this focus on the Holy Spirit, if, for no other reason, than some of the liturgical innovations that accompanied it. What’s interesting is that, as far as theology, charismatics tend to be in step with traditional Catholics as far as being obedient to the teachings of the faith through Scripture and the Magisterium. But the Holy Spirit is given to us all, not only in Baptism, but especially in Confirmation, and works through all the seven sacraments. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the work of Christ continues to this day. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is demonstrated by extraordinary gifts like speaking in tongues, or words of prophecy (we hear about these charisms in the New Testament, but they didn’t stop after that). Other times the Holy Spirit is demonstrated by an attentiveness to doing God’s will in the present moment, those nudges that we get to assist this poor person with money or food, or a different way of expressing the faith to a person who is struggling, which seems to immediately help that person understand what we are saying. We need not be afraid of the Holy Spirit, any more than we need be afraid of the Father or the Son. Every good gift, as St. James says today in the Epistle, comes from above, from the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But I want to focus today on another way the Holy Spirit is revealed, which is mentioned directly in both the Gospel and the Epistle: and that is the revelation of the truth. We live in a world which both demands obedience to certain truths, all the while denying that there is any objective truth. We are told that science is to be believed by all (usually only science that favors certain policies or agendas). But then we are told that there is no truth outside of scientific facts (which is a self-defeating statement, because if there is no truth, then the statement that there is no truth is not true). One of the reasons why the Catholic Church is so often under attack is because we claim that there is truth, and that it has been revealed by our Lord through His Church. Any group that opposes the Church has to call into question the Catholic Church’s authority to proclaim the truth. I remember reading an article about how the New York Times works very hard to undermine the Catholic Church because the Grey Lady wants to be the bearer of truth (through its own ideological lenses), and does not want any competition. But we know that truth is not simply a set of propositions. Truth is a Person, a Person with a human nature and a human face, Jesus Christ. That is why we insist so much on truth, because it is an expression of faith in the Incarnate Lord. Our lies, no matter how small, are denials of Christ, who refers to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But even Christ says that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us more truth, truth that the Apostles couldn’t bear during our Lord’s public ministry. And we know that this promise of Christ, this gift of the Holy Spirit to help us know the truth, has been preserved unbroken through 2,000 years of the Church. Doctrines do, indeed, develop, but truth does not; only our understanding of the truth expands. St. John Henry Newman likens the development of dogma as the growth of a human: the person has to remain the same, it cannot change, even while the limbs and features grow.
The Holy Spirit is the great Easter gift. When it comes to faith and morals, we don’t have to make it up, and rely on merely human wisdom (which is so subject to error). God Himself promises to reveal what we need to know about the truth, and that, when the Mystical Body of Christ teaches, it is without error. What a great assurance that is for us, especially in these days when everything seems to be changing and re-examined on an almost monthly basis! The promise of the Advocate who reveals the truth to us is the stabilizing factor as the barque of Peter is tossed about by the waves. May we hold fast to the truth always, given to us by the Father of lights, through His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, in the power and protection of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.