Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Feast of Corpus Christi provides an opportunity to ponder the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ given to us in the Eucharist.  Today’s three Scripture readings each highlight an aspect of the Eucharist which is good to keep in mind.

In Deuteronomy Moses speaks to the people in the desert exhorting them to remember that as God led them through the desert the Lord provided them with manna from heaven that nourished them on their journey.

Jesus too will remind his listeners of God’s gift of manna and then go on to tell them that he is the Bread of Life and, as God nourished those in the desert, he too will feed those who hunger and thirst with his own Body and Blood.  The Eucharist then is food for our journey.

In 1 Corninthians, Paul explains that when we share in the Body and Blood of Christ through the Eucharist, we are united with the Lord.  Through the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with him.

We also are brought into communion with one another as we share in the Body and Blood of Christ. We are one with Jesus and one with each other in the Church, which is the body of Christ. The Eucharist provides us with communion with the Lord and with one another.

In John 6, Jesus tells the crowds who have followed him that the Eucharist is the source of eternal life.  He gives his flesh and his blood for the life of the world and if we do not eat and drink his Body and Blood we will not have life within us.  The Eucharist is a share in eternal life and a pledge that we will never die, but will live forever.

Nourishment for our journey, communion with the Lord and with one another, and eternal life are all ours through the Body and Blood of Christ. As today’s collect reminds us, the mystery of this wonderful Sacrament is a memorial of the Lord’s Passion which we revere for through this Sacrament we experience the fruits of our redemption.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Today is the Feast of God, revealed to us as a Trinity of Divine Persons.  Today’s Feast is all about the awesome mystery of the Community of Divine Love: Father, Son, and Spirit.

The Scripture readings today, which tell us about Moses, Paul, and John, each of whom knew, loved, and served God, suggest ways for us to respond to our God of Love who first loved us.

Exodus reminds us to acknowledge the presence of God by bowing down in worship and then asking God to accompany us and receive us despite our sinfulness. That can be as simple as a prayer at the beginning of the day offering God everything we do and then another prayer at the end of the day  of thanking the Lord for all that happened and asking forgiveness for our sins, ending by asking for the gift of another day.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us to reflect and imitate God by being joyful, encouraging, and peaceful as God is, knowing that God offers us grace, peace, and fellowship.  Again, keeping it simple could mean a smile and a kind word, especially when we don't feel like it.  Seeking to be joyful, encouraging and peaceful puts us on the path toward holiness and guarantees that we will become the person God wants us to be.

John’s gospel is all about belief in Jesus.  When we believe in Jesus we receive eternal life and are saved from condemnation. Belief in Jesus means learning from the Lord the way we should go, and the truth we need to know, and the life we need to lead. Belief in Jesus is more than an intellectual assent.  It requires love, obedience, and service, for, as the letter of James tells us, faith without works is dead.

God loves us as a father and mother love their child, and as we surrender to God we are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. When we pray, and are kind, and believe, we cooperate with grace and hasten that transformation.

Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we have been sent into the world, as Jesus was, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the sacraments our lives are joined to the life of God.

As we celebrate the Trinity today, we are encouraged and made more hopeful, for our Triune God is with us, loves us, and desires to be one with us.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost Sunday

Today’s readings remind us of important realities about the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Church.  First, in the Acts of the Apostles, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Spirit gave the disciples power, as symbolized by the wind and fire, to preach and spread the gospel to the world.  Secondly, as Paul explained to the Corinthians, the Spirit is the source of a variety of gifts, given to each individual to use to build up the community of believers.  And thirdly, in John’s gospel, the Spirit was given first on Easter night to be the source of mercy and forgiveness.

Yet, as the Collect for today’s Mass tells us, the Feast of Pentecost is not only for recalling “the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed,” but we go on to pray that the Holy Spirit will sanctify us and “fill now once more the heart of believers.”

In order to know the power of the Holy Spirit who seeks to make us holy, we need to cooperate with the Spirit.  We need first to discern what the Spirit offers us, what the Spirit may be telling us, what the Spirit is prompting us to do, and then we need to cooperate with God, who will not force us to do anything, but instead offers grace and then waits for our response.  We have to be people of prayer who are willing to surrender our own wishes and desires to those of God.  Then we can work with the Holy Spirit, or better put perhaps, to allow the Spirit to work most effectively with us.

Secondly, we need to be obedient.  Jesus saved us from sin and death through his obedience to the will of the Father.  He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup might be taken from him, but in the end he surrendered and was obedient.  Read the life of any saint and you will see suffering and obedience.  Again, both require a surrender to God who loves us and seeks to use us to further the reign of God in our world today.  Disobedience puts outside of the life of grace.  The way to holiness, which the Spirit desires for us, is obedience. 

Finally, we need to trust the Holy Spirit to do within us and for us what we cannot do on our own.  The Spirit desires to use us, but we need to be humble and trusting in order for that to happen.  We can expect temptations to do things our way, or to fear that God will not be there when we need help, or to take a break from the path of holiness in order to have an easier life.  But by trusting the Holy Spirit each and every day, we are strengthened against such temptations and other attacks from the devil.

A good friend often quotes her mother, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”  God delights in giving gifts, so we ought to ask for gifts from the Spirit, again, each and every day.  Strength, mercy, and surrender to God’s will are powerful gifts that the Holy Spirit will pour into our hearts.  And all we need do is ask and then trust. 

“God, fill now once more the hearts of believers!”  Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Ascension of the Lord

In Acts 1, as Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, he speaks to the disciples about “the promise of the Father.”  At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus in his last words to the disciples tells them, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

These two promises made to the Church and to each individual Christian are comforting words.  Jesus will never leave us and he remains with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the promise of the Father.

These promises are a source of power for us.  Knowing that the Lord is with us empowers us and emboldens us so that we can overcome fear that we are alone or have been abandoned or forgotten.  Even more importantly, the Holy Spirit through the many gifts and fruits given to us, empowers us with the same power that Jesus had as he fulfilled his mission from the Father.  Paul tells the Ephesians in the second reading that the power is of “surpassing greatness.”  The Holy Spirit’s power is all we need.

And in the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to go forth and preach the gospel and bring people of all nations together through baptism and in name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We are sent to preach the gospel with our lives, drawing people to Jesus through example.  As Pope Francis reminds us when we as Christians are merciful and joyful, people will be drawn to Jesus.

As we prepare for the great feast of Pentecost, we thank the Lord for his promises to us.  We strive to open ourselves more fully to the power that is ours through the Holy Spirit.  We pledge again to preach God’s good news through all we say and do.  We do all this in obedience to Jesus who has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter

St. John Vianney said that if we really understood how much God loves us, we would die from joy.

God’s burning desire is to share God’s very life with us.  That’s why Jesus was born and then died and was raised again.  That’s why the Holy Spirit has been given to us.  And the invitation is given in the form of a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper that the Father would send them another Advocate.  Jesus was their first advocate.  For years, he was at their side, teaching, and listening to them. Jesus cared for them, and now that he is about to leave them, he promises another Advocate. 

The new Advocate is the Holy Spirit who will lead and guide them.  The Holy Spirit will give them words to speak and teach them how to pray.  The Holy Spirit will strengthen them and help them to continue the works of Jesus.  All this is love.  And, of course, this is promised to us as well.

Jesus is the way into the life and love of God.  We are invited to dwell there, loving God and others in return.  Knowing this in our head is one thing.  We need to ask God for the grace to know it in our hearts.  The love of God needs to be the most important part of our lives.  Once we know and believe that God truly loves us, life is changed forever. 

As we approach the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, we pray as Christians have for centuries, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”  

Perhaps one day we may die from joy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter

God’s great desire is that we share in God’s life now and for all eternity.  That’s why we were created, as I learned from the Baltimore Catechism in first grade.  “Why did God make me?”  “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world, so as to be happy with him forever in the next.”

We celebrate and remember this during the 50 days of the Easter Season.  Jesus has conquered sin and death and has won us our salvation and gives us the gift of eternal life.  In today’s gospel, the Lord tells us disciples at the Last Supper that they are to trust him for he is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

We know from the Old Testament that no one can look on the face of God and live.  Yet, at the given time, God, desiring to be united with us, took on our humanity and entered into our world, sharing everything with us, except sin.  Now we know that when we look upon Jesus, we see the Father.  We have received the gift from the Father and Jesus, the Advocate, who is the Holy Spirit and has been poured into our hearts.  We don’t have to wait for this life to be over to share in the life of God.  We do so already.

Our life in Jesus, the Way that has been marked out for us, begins at our Baptism when we become a child of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and have our hearts filled with the love of God, as the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts.  And we are strengthened with that same Spirit in Confirmation.  We receive Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.  These three gifts are the Easter Sacraments, the Sacraments of Initiation, and having received them we are firmly rooted in the Way that we are to follow for the rest of our lives passing through death into eternal life.

The Way also offers us two Sacraments of Healing for when we are in need.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us to grace when we sin and places us back on the Way after we have strayed in big or small ways.  God will always welcome us back and carry us forward with God’s mercy.  And when we are sick, God’s healing is given in the Sacrament of the Sick.

Likewise, there are two Sacraments of Vocation: Marriage for those who, reflecting the love of Christ for the Church, join their lives together in fidelity and love, and Holy Orders, for those men who serve the Church in imitation of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who through his ministers, continues to provide spiritual nourishment, service, teaching and guidance to his flock.

We do not follow Jesus only as individuals.  We are a community who gather for the Eucharist and then are sent out to serve the world and to preach the Gospel as we do so.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We follow him faithfully as members of his Church, trusting him each day until we join him in the dwelling place he has prepared for us.  Alleluia!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday

Sheep need someone who knows them and can call them by name.  Sheep need someone who will lead them to food and water.  When sheep fall and are unable to get back up, they need someone who will pick them up and set them on their feet again.  Sheep need someone to lead them, someone they can follow so as not to get into trouble, and when there is trouble approaching, they need someone who will protect them.  And in the dark of night, when danger is all about, they need someone who will stay with them and will ward off thieves or wolves who seek to steal them or kill them. 

Learning about sheep made the reality of Jesus being the Good Shepherd more meaningful for me.  How often we are like sheep and are in need of help or rescue.  How often we are like sheep and need someone to call us by name, someone whose voice brings us a sense of peace and security.  And there are times when we, like sheep, fall and either can’t or won’t get up again.   We need someone stronger than ourselves to lift us up and stay with us with the promise that all will be well.  Jesus can and will do all of that for each and every one of us.

We need to come to know his voice and to respond to his call and directions.  We need to be humble enough to follow him and look to him when we sense there may be trouble at hand.  The Good Shepherd will be there for us, but we need to call out to him and ask for help. 

I once heard a story about a little lamb would not stay with the shepherd.  Instead, he always went off on his own and got into all kinds of trouble.  So the shepherd took the lamb and broke one of his legs, rendering him unable to walk.  Then the shepherd placed the lamb on his shoulders and carried him everywhere until the leg was healed.  As a result of spending all that time so close to the shepherd, the lamb never strayed again, but always kept close.

The point of the story is that God may allow some of the suffering in our lives in order to bring us closer to the Lord than we ever could have imagined.  Scripture tells us that the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and when we are brought so low that we have nowhere else to go, God is always there waiting for us.  And when we seek comfort and stay close to him, like the little lamb, we learn that we never want to stray far from the Lord again.

In the middle of the joyous Easter Season, it is good that we take the time each year on the fourth Sunday to remember that the Risen Lord is our shepherd, and when we stay close to him, there is nothing we shall want.