May 20, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter: Love is Loyaty

"He will give you another Advocate to be with you always"

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3: 15-18
John 14: 15-21

If you are old enough to remember the Catholic Church in the later 60’s and early 70’s you likely remember what became known as the “Catholic Charismatic Movement.”  To tell the truth I went to prayer meetings, attended a large gathering of “Catholic Charismatics,” sang in a folk group for our parish “guitar Mass” when I was in high school.  Although, I would honestly say that I wasn’t a complete charismatic I certainly was intrigued.  What became known as the baptism in the Spirit became somewhat of a problem, however, for many.  I never claimed to speak in tongues, although I certainly remember hearing some who felt they did so.  Yet, if you were ever asked by a well-meaning “charismatic: “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” it may have raised your shackles a bit and you proudly said to yourself, “I’ve been baptized already.  I thought I received the Spirit in my earlier water baptism.”

And yes you did and continue to do so in other non-sacramental ways.  Water baptism, the reception of the Spirit, forgiveness of original sin, and the seeds of faith are all connected with our understanding of baptism.  What more probably was meant by the phrase, baptism in the Spirit, was a desire for a deeper personal experience of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. 

What, then, would be the purpose of the Spirit in our lives? Jesus words today indicate the Spirit will be an “Advocate, the spirit of truth, and will remain with you.” Sounds wonderful!  The Gospel scene today is a kind of farewell, a last promise to the Apostles before Jesus returns to his Father.  They know he has given them much to ponder and to understand. And he here reassures them that if they truly remain in his love, they will be able to understand more fully and deeply all that he has given them.  The Spirit will come to them and abide with them as the Spirit will gradually unfold for them the fullness of who Jesus is and what their mission is all about. That is divine reassurance that though he leaves, he comes back in his Spirit. This will bring about what every Christian should desire and hope for: that deeper experience of the love of God. In this case, Jesus is not referring to affection, emotion, or warm feelings, the usual indicator of love for another.  What he is requesting of his Apostles is their loyalty.  We can rephrase: “If you are loyal to me (love me), you will keep my commandments.”

For example, married couples show their deepest love for the other by their loyalty: for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. I will remain faithful or loyal to you throughout our marriage and in that way I indicate my true love for you. It is beyond feelings and sharing good times.

Loyalty would also imply a certain common understanding; to be of one mind and heart or to be on the same page as it were in our thinking and perspective.  Like a married couple who in the best sense of marriage find themselves compatible with each other in the things they enjoy, in the faith they share with each other and their children, in the common values they live by. If a husband stands in defense of his wife or a wife in defense of her husband, that certainly indicates a level of love that is lived out in loyalty.

Jesus calls us to be of a common mind and heart with him.  If you keep my commandments, I see your loyalty; you prove your love for me and in that way express your love for the Father who will send you the “Advocate to be with you always.” 

The Spirit is the gift of the Father to us.  The Spirit was a reassurance to the Apostles that they would not be alone, especially in times when decisions would need to be made.  Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a wonderful example of this.  The pressure was on for the early Christian communities in Jerusalem and that area since they were increasingly becoming viewed as a threat to Judaism and the Jewish way of life with its multiple legal requirements.  The Catholic Church has nothing over early Judaism which had more than 800 legal prescriptions for each Jew. These new “Christians” seem far more lax and dismissive of these precepts, yet they began as Jews. 

So, the mission was seen as needing to leave the confines of the Jerusalem communities and reach out beyond those borders to the larger – Gentile – world. This was bold and revolutionary.  Yet, as we read today, those non-Jewish communities responded with enthusiasm and embraced the Gospel preached to them. With St. Paul it reached a peak; a no looking back pitch. Peter and John go down to Samaria to pray over those baptized, to receive the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has taught them about the future and God’s full intent in Christ.   

As the early Apostles and the early Christians found themselves with a new direction and a new social order of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and service, they came to understand more deeply the meaning of Jesus’ mission and that of their own in the world.  In the end, this made them very different from the culture around them.  Yet, they remained loyal to the end and countless thousands even went to martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. 

This call to love and loyalty is what we hear today.  Not as a thing of the past, an interesting historical study but as a clarion call to us today.  The Gospel is timeless and the Spirit is constantly present guiding us to understand that “deposit of faith” as we call it. 

In spite of so many contrary attractions around us, can we remain loyal to Christ and his Church?  We will be different and by that difference model for others a better way based in love for God and others. Jesus invites his Apostles and all who would believe into a common relationship with God through him in the power of the Spirit.  “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father . . . and I will reveal myself to him.”

Our common share in the Eucharist is the undeniable sign that the Gospel of Christ is meant for all.  Here we gather as one family in a blind acceptance of the differences among us and gratefulness for the gift of diversity, which is a sign of the fullness and richness of God.  

Grant, almighty God, 
that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy,
which we keep in honor of the risen Lord, 
and that what we relive in remembrance
we may always hold to in what we do. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)

May 13, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter: "I am the way and the truth and the life"

"I am in the Father and the Father is in me"

Acts 6: 1-7
1 Peter 2: 4-9
Jn 14: 1-12

Our Gospel this Sunday begins with the words that we heard spoken by the Angel Gabriel to Mary or by a parent to their frightened child: “Do not fear,” or “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus assures his disciples. The scene is at the Last Supper as Jesus encourages his disciples that although they will see what might appear to be the end of their Jesus dream, it is not the end but only the beginning of a greater plan by God.  Though Jesus will soon leave them after the resurrection, they will not be abandoned. So he assures them: Do not let your hearts be troubled.

But this is more than the loss of a dear friend.  It is more than just a temporary absence or a vacation in which they will be reunited again.  Jesus reassures his disciples they will have a place in his Father’s house (heaven) and so too will we.  Yet, in the meantime, we have a mission to carry out; that of Christ and the Apostles, which is the very mission of the Church in the power of the Spirit.

The question of Thomas, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” strikes me as reasonable as these disciples have not yet experienced the resurrection. They are thinking in earthly, logical terms.  Jesus, in John’s Gospel, speaks in spiritual terms so it is another example of their gradual understanding of who Jesus is and the purpose of his mission to humanity, which is God’s itself.  You see me, you see the Father – this is what God is like, Jesus tells and shows us. Although this intimate group had seen and heard much up to this point the fullness is still hidden from them.  Jesus challenges that idea: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?”

It may also be the question of our day.  Think for a moment.  What did these Apostles have to go on - The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus himself.  How learned were they in the fine points of the sacred scriptures: the Torah, the Law and the Prophets?  Likely not to the point they were able to connect the dots very easily.  So, they had the person of Christ himself.  They heard his teaching and they witnessed strange and miraculous events. We see in the first reading from Acts how the Church, in the face of growth, responded creatively as the Holy Spirit led them to see a great need for equality and fairness among the Christians by the appointment of what we claim is the Deaconate.  Yet, they still didn’t have much more than the testimony of the Apostles to go on.

What do we have?  Thousands of years of Christian history: Theologians, Doctors of the Church, Saints, Tradition, the New Testament Scriptures, not to mention overwhelming technology and scientific knowledge among more that was completely not in the historical universe of ancient times.  Yet, we still ask the same question in this age of many distractions and miraculous medical science.  “You still do not know me?” Jesus addresses us. It is that every generation needs to hear the good news again and again.  The wealth of historical and spiritual treasure we have at our fingertips literally through the internet for example leaves us no excuse to remain unaware of the power of our Christian faith.

But, I think the focus of the Gospel and for our Christian lives is to once again hear the words of Jesus, which are astounding:  “I am the way and the truth and the life”  By this claim, he leaves for us no other choice and basically no option or “door number two” to walk through.  Jesus claims that he is THE way to the Father – to God; Jesus is the fullness of THE truth and he brings us the promise and hope of THE life.  If we find him, we need not search anywhere else and nothing else will fulfill or satisfy equally.

As absolute as that sounds even more, he implies nothing specific about  his teaching as such but states that HE is the way, truth and life.  His person, this man is alone all that we hope for!  While there are many spiritual and organized religious roads to walk in this world they all lead ultimately to Christ who is the fullness of truth. No other historical religious figure has ever made such a claim about himself.  Whether Moses, Buddah, Mohammed, or whoever, none ever claimed that they themselves were the way, truth and life.   

Does that mean that this is the perfect Church?  One look around may indeed cause us to winch in disbelief.  We are all sinners, imperfect people who daily work out our salvation.  Yet, the Church is perfect not because of us but because of its founder who is perfect.  The Church is Holy not because of us but in spite of us for Christ is its head.

Such a core belief on one side may sound pretty arrogant or small minded, maybe even intolerant of other religions who are filled with sincere and good non-Catholic Christian people.  Yet, the statement is more theological in the sense that if Jesus really is who he says he is, and we have no reason to doubt in these days with the benefits gained through the treasure I mentioned earlier, then we can humbly believe that the fullness of this message is contained in the Catholic Christian community. We do not exist to judge and diminish the quality of other Christian communities for example but to be the best of who we are.  

Our second reading from Peter reminds us who we are despite our flawed nature, through Baptism we are living stones in a spiritual house and precious in the sight of God.  Who me?  Yes, you and I.  We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” called to greatness in the spiritual sense. So, maybe if we recognized our privilege not to be “holier than thou” but the privilege we hold in Christ to carry on his mission of self-less service, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, his good news in the world, we would not be so troubled by the world in which we live. To invite others to come to know the Lord Jesus in the ways we do it is more inspiring than simply words. We say what our Lord said to his first disciples: “Come and see.”

Jesus message of Shalom, peace and fullness, has gone beyond his resurrection address to his Apostles and remains his message to the world.  He provides a power of trust and hope that we can know is what it claims to be.  He is the way to the Father, the answer to our doubt, and the fullness of life that brings peace and harmony.    

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased t make new in Holy Baptism
may, under you protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)

May 10, 2017

Faith and Beauty

Back from a wonderful experience in France with our group of pilgrims.  These trips can be exhausting due to the time change, airport hassle, many personal details about credit cards, new forms of money, passport requirements, itinerary, varied hotels, unfamiliar beds, European bathrooms, food and of course the language that can provide varying degrees of frustration.

HOWEVER, and I put those words in large letters for a reason, it’s all worth it.  Long time ago I remember hearing that travel is better than the classroom. While I would never agree that we should just close our schools and send everyone on a round the world vacation, personal experience is a powerful way to reinforce what we read in text books, hear during a lecture, see on-line, or hear stories from others about places we’ve never been.  Our recent pilgrimage to France was among those great experiences. 

The sights and sounds leave a forever impression. For example, yes, there really is an Eiffel Tower and a magnificent grand Cathedral in Chartres with stunning irreplaceable stained glass.  There really is a one of a kind painting called the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci.  The food is delightful in France if you absolutely love cheese, breads, pastries and perfect wine! What’s not to like? 

But all that aside, we journeyed on a pilgrimage as well with daily Mass in some stunning places of great religious significance.  We studied the various Saints who lived and served the Lord in ways that are a constant inspiration for our personal Christian faith and viewed paintings, architecture, and music that have made the French rightly proud of their love for beauty. 

Among our most well-known and significant Saints we traveled to Lourdes where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858 and called for peace, procession and prayer.  A world shrine where more than 5 million people visit every year and you can celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation to priests who visit from around the world to give some time to the pilgrims. I may do so myself. 

St. Therese of Liseux, likely as well known and popular as St. Francis of Assisi, was included in our journey. In the beautiful French town of Liseux we visited her home and the Convent where she spent 9 years before her death at the early age of 24.  From her autobiography, her “Story of a Soul” God has chosen to bring her spirituality front and center for many.  There is an enormous Basilica built to her honor where her relics are entombed.  I could not help but think that if she saw that Church today she would be incredibly embarrassed that such a fuss has been made over her.  Yet it is to the glory of God. 

The Beaches of Normandy and the Military Cemetery mark the famed D-Day invasion which changed the course of World War II.  Here thousands of young soldiers are buried who died on June 6, 1944 and many others who died before and after that time.  To them the world owes everything. 

In the sweet village of Ars we visited the shrine of the Patron of parish priests, the legendary St. John Vianney.  Before his incorrupt body, I was privileged to celebrate Mass with our group of 38. 

On and on but those are some of the highlights.  We were blessed as we had no problems, nothing to fear and French are moving forward with their lives. While we live in tense times for certain we need our Catholic faith now more and more.  France in particular needs our prayers.  They are good people but the gospel of the secular, non-religious movement has taken a strong hold.  Considering the history of that Country and Europe in general I can understand but let’s pray this is a time of transition and not the end of Christianity by any means. 

A pilgrimage is meant to be a faith centered journey.  Our lives are the same of course.  Not always with straight lines but hopefully always with the same focus – on Christ Jesus in the unity of his Church. 

So much more I could say but the pictures I’ve included may help to tell more.  Look up the Saints I’ve mentioned if you’re not familiar with them. Also, add to that list:  St.Vincent de Paul, Catherine Laboure, Margaret Mary Alacoque and the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Peace to all and more later to come  + 

A sample of our experience:  

Apr 21, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy

"My Lord and my God!"

God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed, 
by whose Spirit they have been reborn, 
by whose Blood they have been redeemed
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

The use of our senses is indispensable to our learning about the world around us.  An infant completely relies on its sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight in order to perceive what the world is like.  When frightened, the embrace of a parent brings comfort. When confused, the sight of a smile and the comforting sound of its mother bring a sense of safety.  We learn that something is hot or cold by touching it. 

In the resurrection appearances which we hear from throughout this beautiful Easter season, we too come to faith in the risen Lord.  But our perception is generally by hearing. Through our hearing of the encounters with the risen Lord, we come to believe. Through reception of the sacraments, however, we have a tactile, tasteful, fragrant experience of the Lord’s presence which is alive in those mysterious encounters.  Yet, were the Apostles more fortunate than us? 

There seems to be no doubt that the Apostles were given a completely sensory experience of the risen Lord.  He appeared to them in his risen body which they could touch as flesh and bones.  He shared food with them which they could see he ate.  They could hear his voice and see him with their eyes.  Through this sensory experience, they could not deny the truth of the resurrection.  How could they not believe what they saw with their eyes or heard with their ears?  They could preach with confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit what they absolutely knew to be true. 

In the well-known encounter this Sunday between Jesus and the Apostle Thomas I think we see a man who wants to believe the story of his brothers that Jesus had come to them alive again: “We have seen the Lord!”  Maybe there was a bit of jealousy on Thomas’ part that they were there and he wasn’t?  It really doesn’t matter as such but Thomas’ reaction is telling: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Thomas needs to have the same sensory experience that his brothers had earlier enjoyed.  I wonder if the tables were turned and it was any of the other Apostles who had not been there; if they too would have said the same.  After all, this claim that he had risen was quite bold. 

Although Jesus had spoken of his suffering, death and resurrection - of his coming back three days later - these men did not completely comprehend this great mystery.  The resurrection of the dead was believed by certain Jewish leaders such as the Pharisees but it was believed to be at a much later time - some time for the dead in the future hope.  But, for Jesus to appear transformed in glory three days after his death was quite a stretch. These were not scripture scholars or theologians.  

So, Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is there.  He touches the risen Christ, he sees his wounds, he hears his voice and sees him with his own eyes.  His only reaction is to say: “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas has now come to faith through the use of his human senses.  I cannot deny that Jesus is the Christ of God. 

These tactile experiences of the risen Lord were essential for the Apostles considering what they would be up against.  But for us? 

This Sunday we mark the Divine Mercy of God.  Jesus showed infinite patience and mercy to those who had just a few days before abandoned him.  To Peter who had denied he even knew him and I would believe that had Judas repented, our Lord would have shown the same mercy and forgiveness to him.  Our faith, through our sensory experiences of the sacraments and through the inspiration of the faith of others, through our experience of charitable works, can become strong and convincing. Our second reading from Peter says it beautifully: Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him . . . This is indeed our Easter faith.  

No, we may not be fortunate as the Apostles were, yet our experience of the risen Lord is exponentially greater.  The Apostles and the earliest of Christians had their newfound faith and they lived it and preached it boldly. Yet, truth is, we have so much more than they did.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of reflection, the sacraments especially the holy Eucharist, Saints, theologians, scholars, the lived experience of the Church, a history of miracles and thousands of Christian witnesses and martyrs all which testify and confirm the truth of the risen Christ and God's great mercy shown to humanity.  All of this should leave no doubt that Jesus is Savior and Lord. 

Since the Apostles, the Body of Christ, the Church, has expanded far beyond Jerusalem and the infancy of Christianity. Yet, we are more like Thomas and Peter at times than maybe we want to admit.  So, in this Easter season it is a renewed faith in the risen Lord whose presence becomes especially true at the breaking of bread. In the Eucharist, Christ shares his very life with us.  His true presence in his body and blood compels us to go and tell others what we too have seen, heard, and experienced.

May God’s ever abundant Divine Mercy be for us all a hope.  My Lord and my God should be on our lips and in our heart each day.