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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Corpus Christi



In the worlds of both the Old and New Testaments, bread was a vital part of everyone’s diet.  The bread in those days was not like the bread we eat today.  It was made from course, ground barley.    To our palates it probably would not taste very good (like cardboard).  It was either shaped like a stone or flat like a pancake and baked in an oven, over a fire or under ashes.    When people ate bread, they broke their portion off with their hands often using it like our eating utensils today.    In scripture bread signifies food in general.  It still does.  

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.   And the focus of today’s readings is the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are taught that “The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC 1324).   In our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the Children of Israel how God sustained them during the 40 years they wandered in the desert.  Now, as they wait on the plains of Moab, preparing to cross the Jordan River and enter into the Promised Land, Moses wants them to remember the covenant God made with them.  Once they cross the river, they no longer will need manna because God, is leading them "into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey ..." (Dt. 8: 7 - 8).  So, Moses charges them to remember, "that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD" (Dt. 8: 3).  

Thousands of years later, God made a new covenant with the world.  St. John tells us in his Gospel "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (John 1: 14).  In today's gospel, John 6: 51 - 58, Jesus, the Word made flesh, told the children of Israel and he tells us "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  Unlike perishable manna, the bread Jesus offers, "endures for eternal life" (John 6: 27).  The children of Israel ate manna "but they died" (John 6: 49).  Those of us who eat the living bread offered by Jesus will not die because the Word made flesh sustains both spirit and life (John 6: 63).  

Participation in Eucharist is the core of our Christian life because every time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we are infused with his Spirit and become one with him.  Jesus says, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (John 6: 56).  Through the mystery of the Eucharist, in the elements of bread and wine, Jesus is a very real presence in our lives.  When we receive Eucharist, Jesus dwells in us individually and communally.  Our communion with Jesus Christ makes us a community, one body.  St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:  16 - 17, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."  We become the Body of Christ in our world.  Let us all pray that the world can recognize the presence of Jesus in us as we strive to fulfill his mission.

Lord Jesus Christ,
you us to be your body
for the life of the world.
Nourish us here with your word of life,
give us your body to eat
and your wine of joy to drink,
so that we may become more like you
and learn from you how to live
not for ourselves only
but for God and for the people around us.
Make us of one mind and heart,
that the world may recognize
that you are alive in us.
Be our Lord, now and for ever.
Amen.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trinity Sunday



The most distinguishing characteristic of Christianity and of people who identify themselves as Christian is our belief in the Trinity.  It is the essence of our faith.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life. God alone can make it known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (261).   

Today most of us accept the doctrine of the Trinity as an indisputable fact, even though we cannot fully understand it.  However, there was a time when the idea that "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God" was a hotly contested issue.  Two Councils, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, were called to affirm and formalize the doctrine of the Trinity. The result is the Nicaean Creed that we recite today.  

The hero of the doctrine of the Trinity is St. Athanasius, an Egyptian Bishop who lived in Alexandria in the 4th Century. St. Athanasius was a champion of Catholic belief and one of the first doctors of the Church.   He attended the Council of Nicaea and helped write what we know as the Nicaean Creed.  St. Athanasius was passionately devoted to the divinity of Jesus Christ.  For this devotion he was slandered, faced numerous false charges, was a victim of rumors and intrigues and was exiled from his Diocese five times. He wrote “Christ still comes to men and Lives among them. In a special way, he comes to his Church, his ‘body’, to show us what the "image of God" is really like.” 

The image of God we have in the Most Holy Trinity is a God who loves.  And that is the message of our Gospel today from John 3: 16 – 18.  God loves us so much that he gave us “his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  And so, we pray,

God, we praise you:
Father all-powerful,
Christ Lord and Savior,
Spirit of Love.
You reveal yourself in the depths of our being,
drawing us to share in your life and your love.
One God, three Persons,
be near to the people formed in your image,
close to the world your love brings to life.
We ask you this, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, true and living, forever and ever.
Amen

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pentacost



This week we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost when God the Father fulfilled the promise Jesus made to the disciples and sent them the Holy Spirit.  According to St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, that first Pentecost was a spectacular event, “there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind” that “filled the entire house in which they were” (Acts 1: 2).  And then “there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 1:3).  When the Spirit filled the disciples they “began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 1: 4).  This event marks the beginning of the Church. 
God our Father sends the same Spirit that descended on the disciples to each of us. At our baptism, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit marking us as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.   And at our confirmation we were anointed again to perfect our “Baptismal grace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1316).   Although our baptisms and confirmations probably were not accompanied by driving winds and tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit was there.    And each of us received special gifts to build the Body of Christ. St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (4 – 7). 
How we use God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit is entirely up to us.  We can deny them.   We can hoard them.  Or we can use our gifts to help wilful our mission to build of the Body of Christ.
In every generation, O God of Easter glory,
you send forth your Spirit
to breathe upon the world and make it come alive!
Fulfill the promise of these Fifty Days
with the abundant harvest of your Spirit's gifts.
May we, the community of believers in Christ,
adorned with various ministries and gifts,
be continually formed into one body
by the one Spirit which has been poured out on all of us.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who sends us the Spirit of truth from you,
and who lives and reigns with you,
God for ever and ever.
AMEN.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

7th Sunday of Easter



Back in the days before I entered the seminary, I regularly attended daily mass. I distinctly remember attending mass on the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord around 1980 when the feast was celebrated on a Thursday.  I went to the noon mass at a local church and as the priest read the gospel I was filled with a tremendous sense of loss.  It occurred to me during the course of the readings that Jesus who walked on the earth for thirty-three years was gone.  And that until the Feast of Pentecost his followers (including me) were left with a huge void in our lives.  The experience left me feeling very sad and lost.  I knew that my sense of loss was not grounded in reality but that is what I felt at the time.  

The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is a paradox.  It marks an ending and a beginning.   Jesus’ mission on earth was finished.  God’s promise to his people was fulfilled.   However, the work of Jesus’ disciples was just beginning.  The Ascension is not the end of the story.  The disciples weren’t ready to take on the mission Jesus gave them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28: 19 – 20).   On that Thursday in 1980 I wasn’t ready to take on the task either.   The disciples were filled with doubt and so was I.  

However, Jesus promised the disciples that they would, “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  Jesus promises all of us that same power when we receive the Holy Spirit.  All we have to do is open our hearts to accept this incredible gift.   The miracle of the Church is that God took ordinary people who were filled with doubt and fear and molded them into the founding leaders of his Church.  This miracle happens today with us.  Just like the disciples we are called to build the Kingdom of Heaven right where we are.  Even with our doubts and fears we are commissioned to be witnesses of the enduring love of God. 

Tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day.  Memorial Day stands as a stark reminder of the cost of freedom and we remember the brave women and men who sacrificed their lives by serving our country and preserving our freedom.   Please remember them in your prayers during the week.  

God of all creation,
whose mighty power raised Jesus from the dead,
be present to this community of disciples
who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.
Strengthen us in the power of the Spirit
to go and make disciples of all nations,
to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us,
and to know that he is with us always
until the end of the age.
Grant this through Jesus Christ,
the first-born from the dead,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
AMEN.

Monday, May 15, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter



I wonder how many of us have ever been maligned or persecuted for our faith.   For the early Christians, practicing their faith was not easy.  In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles last week, we heard how the apostles selected seven people from among the faithful to be Deacons.  Within days of his selection, the first deacon selected, St. Stephen, was martyred.  St. Stephen's martyrdom began "a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1).  Saul, a young Pharisee, continued the persecution, "entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment" (Acts 8: 3).  

This is where our first reading today, Acts 8: 5 - 8, 14 - 17, begins.  Philip, another deacon, escaped Jerusalem and went to Samaria proclaiming the Gospel and baptizing people "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8: 16).  Although what we hear today in this reading is a good news story, the persecution did not stop.  In today's second reading, 1 Peter 3: 15 - 18, we hear St. Peter telling the faithful and us how we should conduct ourselves in the face of persecution.  We should "sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts."  We should "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for [our] hope..."  We should respond with "gentleness and reverence" and we should keep our consciences clear.  

In many countries of the world being a Christian today is as difficult as it was for the early Christians.  Persecution for them is a daily occurrence.   An organization called Open Doors USA tracks religious persecution of Christians in more than 60 countries throughout the world.  Their statistics are alarming.  Each month: 

·         322 Christians are killed for their faith
·         214 Churches and Christian properties are destroyed
·         772 forms of violence are committed against Christians  

Hope for the early Christians and hope for us comes from the assurance Jesus gave to his disciples before he suffered death on the cross, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 18).  Jesus promised to send all of us "another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it.  But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you" (John 14: 16 - 17).  Just as Jesus Christ our Lord suffered death and "was brought to life in the spirit," he offers new life in the Spirit to strengthen us in our faith as we follow The Way that leads us to salvation.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son promised
not to leave us orphans.
Give us the Holy Spirit of Truth,
to be with us and to live in us,
that we may know where we are going
and that we may follow Jesus Christ
on his way to you.
May this Spirit kindle in us
a love of Jesus,
so that we can make the Good News of his love
visible and tangible to all.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.