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Monday, March 19, 2018

Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ; we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, “The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch"(CCC 1324).

 All the readings today focus our attention on “the blood of the covenant.”  A covenant is a solemn agreement.   In the Old Testament God made numerous covenants with the people of Israel.  He promised to be their God, to dwell with them and to protect them. The people promised to keep His commandments.  This covenant was ritually sealed by the sacrifice of an animal.  Some of the sacrificed animal’s blood was poured on an altar and some was sprinkled on the people symbolically uniting the people with God. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted a new covenant not just with the people of Israel but with all of us who believe in Him, “"This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14: 24). We no longer have to sacrifice animals and sprinkle ourselves with their blood to be assured of salvation.  Jesus sacrificed Himself for us and for our salvation. The Letter to the Hebrews 9: 12 tells us that Christ “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”   When we participate in the Eucharist, we are saying yes to the new covenant Jesus entered into with God His Father and with us.   We affirm our belief that Jesus Christ died, arose from the dead and that He will come again in glory.   We unite ourselves through sacrifice and prayer with Jesus, with the disciples, with the saints and with the entire Catholic Church. 

O Jesus, present in the sacrament of the altar,
teach all the nations to serve you with willing hearts,
knowing that to serve God is to reign.
May your sacrament O Jesus be light to the mind,
strength to the will, joy to the heart.
May it be support of the weak, the comfort of the suffering,
the wayfaring bread of salvation for the dying
and for all the pledge of future glory. Amen.
Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)

Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the greatest dogma of the Christian faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Doctrine of the Trinity also is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234).   When we speak about a mystery of faith, we are not referring to something with clues like a mystery novel by Agatha Christie or a television series like Murder She Wrote.  The word mystery comes from the Greek myst─ôrion and means an occurrence of divine revelation.  A mystery is an encounter with something sacred.   In today’s Feast of The Most Holy Trinity, the mystery we contemplate is how this God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has loved us since the beginning of time. 

We will never understand God.  He tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8 – 9).  What we can understand and what we do know is that God loves us.  He reminds us, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

God loves us so much He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save us.  And Jesus loves us. St. John tells us that, “He loved his own in the world and he loved [us] to the end” (John 13: 1).  Because of his overwhelming love, Jesus asked His Father to send us the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, to be with us always (John 14: 16).  It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we have the capacity to love God and each other.  In 1 Corinthians 2: 12,   St. Paul says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.” Love is a gift from God.  It is through our love of God and love of each other that we can enter into the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.    

God, source of all life and love,
We sing out to you today
The joy of our faith and our love.
You have loved us first
Before we could even know you.

Father, with a love as tender as that of a mother,
Our hearts recognize your greatness and your mercy.
You let Jesus become your face,
Our brother, near and approachable,
Saving us by his death and resurrection.

Your Spirit animates us with your love and strength.
Keep alive in us that love and that joy,
Let our gratitude resound all over the earth!
All blessing and praise be to you
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pentecost Sunday

Historically, the Feast of Pentecost is an ancient Jewish agricultural festival that celebrates the first fruits of the grain harvest fifty days after Passover and the spring planting.  The significance of Pentecost took on dramatic new meaning after the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.  Now instead of thanking God for sun, rain good soil and a bountiful crop, Christians celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift given to the disciples and a gift given to each of us. We have so much to celebrate.  Not only did God give all of us the Holy Spirit “to be with [us] always,” God gave us our Church and Pentecost is the birthday of the universal church. 

What makes Pentecost so special is that it is more than an historic event that happened over 2000 years ago.  Pentecost is an infinite interaction between God and us that can touch our lives very day if we are open to the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the force that inspired Jesus in his ministry.  The same Spirit animated the disciples in the upper room and transformed them from cowering, fearful people into bold, dynamic preachers who became witnesses of Jesus throughout the world.   This same Spirit animates us. 

When we are baptized we are anointed with oil that “signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1241).  At our confirmation, the Bishop anoints us again to “confirm” and complete our baptismal anointing.  Confirmation “increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us” and “it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (CCC 1303). 

Through these two sacraments, we receive all the tools we need to become bold, dynamic witnesses of Jesus.  There is a catch, however.  We have to be willing to do it.  In our second reading today from 1 Corinthians 12: 3b – 7, St. Paul says, “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.”  The Spirit is here.  The Spirit is with us and the Spirit is in us.  Each of us must look into our own hearts and prayerfully discern where the Spirit is leading us. 

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.

7th Sunday of Easter - Ascension and Mothers Day

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, when Jesus re-joined his Father in Heaven.  And, we celebrate Mother’s Day.  On this day we honor our mothers.  We thank them for giving us life.  We remember the women who raised us, nurtured us and love us unconditionally. 
 In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to the apostles many times during the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension.  During this time, he spoke to them “about the kingdom of God” (Acts: 1: 3), and he told them that they were to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  
Then, he left them. 

While the apostles were “looking intently at the sky,” two men dressed in white, presumably angles, appeared and asked, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1: 11).  Clearly, the apostles could not be effective witnesses if they were standing around gazing at the sky waiting for Jesus to return.   They needed to get on with the business of bringing about the Kingdom of God here in this world, which they did.  St. Mark tells us in his Gospel that the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them” (Mark 16:20). 

The Lord works with us too when our hearts are open to the Spirit.  Today’s second reading from Ephesians 1: 17 – 23, is a prayer for all of us asking God to give us “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”  The prayer also asks that this same Spirit enlighten “the eyes of [our] hearts” so that we will know God’s call and respond appropriately.  If the eyes of our hearts are enlightened then we will recognize the presence of Christ in each other.  We will see Christ in the people around us who are sick, suffering, hungry, homeless and rejected.  If we are gazing at the sky, we might overlook the very people who can lead us into the Kingdom of God.

Gracious God,
We thank you for adopting us into your family through the miracle of
your grace, and for calling us to be brothers and sisters to each other.   
Today, loving God, we pray for our mothers:
Who cared for us when we were helpless
Who comforted us when we were hurt
Whose love and care we often took for granted.

Today we pray for:
Those who are grieving the loss of their mother,
Those who never knew their biological mother
and now yearn for her
Those who have experienced the wonder of an adopted mother's love
The families separated by war or conflict.
Lord, give them special blessings.
Keep us united with you and with each other, 
     so that we can be and become all that we are meant to be.

6th Sunday of Easter

Today is the 6th Sunday of Easter.  This holy season is ending soon.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven and the following Sunday we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost.  Now is a good time to assess where we are in our journey of growth with the Risen Christ as we prepare our hearts and minds to be open to the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. 

For the past two Sundays, we have focused on Jesus as a role model.  He is the ideal shepherd who guides and protects his sheep even laying down his life for them. Jesus is the true vine that sustains us so we can bear abundant fruit.  Today Jesus presents us with another ideal, the ideal friend.  What makes an ideal friend?  The ideal friend is the one who is willing to die for us.  Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13).    Jesus chooses us to be his friends.  And we keep his friendship by obeying his commandment, “love one another as I love you” (John 15: 12).  

Jesus proved his friendship and love for us by submitting to crucifixion and death.  He asks us to prove our love for him by loving our sisters and brothers all over the world the same way he loves us.  With every loving act we accomplish, we are sharing God’s overwhelming, unconditional, accepting and sacrificial love.  In today’s second reading, 1 John 4: 7 – 10, St. John reminds us that we should “love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”  This is the greatest gift of love possible. 

And so, on this Sixth Sunday of Easter we give thanks to God who loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus into our world to teach us how to love.

Ever-living God,
Help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord
And to express in our lives the love we celebrate.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

5th Sunday of Easter

Our Gospel for today, John 15: 1- 8, focuses on our relationship with Jesus and his relationship with us.  Jesus uses the image of a grape vine to describe our dependency on him for our spiritual life, nurture and love.  Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.  Branches need the vine for support and for sustenance.  Healthy strong branches produce plump juicy grapes.  Unhealthy and weak branches don’t produce any fruit so the vine grower prunes them back because they can drain the vine’s strength making it impossible to produce a healthy crop.  Once pruned, the unhealthy branch soon withers and dies.  But the vine, now rid of the unproductive branches can flourish and produce an abundant crop of grapes. 

In this lesson Jesus reminds us that we need him for our spiritual health and wellbeing.   We cannot be spiritually fruitful unless we are connected to Jesus.  He is the vine that supports us and we are the branches that bear fruit.  He nurtures us with the Eucharist and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul describes the fruit produced by the Spirit in Galatians 5:  22 – 23, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  And how do we produce this fruit?  St. John tells us in today’s second reading, 1 John 3: 23, “we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” 

And so on this Fifth Sunday of Easter we give thanks to God for the sacrificial gift of His Son, Jesus Christ who offers us eternal life in the Spirit.  

Our living and loving God,
you have made yourself very close and dear to us
in your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we can live your life,
rich and generous and reaching out to others,
for Christ lives in us and we can live in him.
Let your Son bring all together in him,
so that all become branches on the same vine
and that the new wine of justice and love
fill all this earth with joy and peace.
We ask this through him whose sap of life flows in us,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

4th Sunday of Easter

Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter the Church reflects on the Good Shepherd discourse found in Chapter 10 of St. John’s Gospel.  And, every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, parishes all over the world observe Vocations Sunday – a day to focus on and pray for vocations.  The connection between the description of the Good Shepherd in St. John’s Gospel and Christian leadership is obvious. The world needed good shepherds in the 1st Century AD and the world needs good shepherds today. 

God often is described as a shepherd leading his flock of people in the Old Testament, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack” (Psalm 23:1). The leaders of Israel, kings, judges and elders also were called shepherds. Unfortunately for the Israelites, many of their leaders were not good shepherds and the prophets often raged against them, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1).  

In Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”  St. John wrote his Gospel in Greek and the Greek word he used to describe Jesus as the good shepherd is kalos.  This word translates into something more grand than merely good.  Kalos means beautiful, eminent, praiseworthy and noble.  Kalos describes an ideal, something we should strive to be.  So, when Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd he is describing how anyone in a position of leadership should behave.   According to Jesus, a good shepherd is devoted to his/her flock.  A good shepherd will leave the flock to search for one stray sheep, and when that stray sheep is found the good shepherd rejoices.  A good shepherd will sacrifice everything for the sheep in his/her care as Jesus says, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11).  Being a good shepherd is a demanding job. 

No matter what vocation we pursue in this life, as Christians we should strive to fulfill the ideal Jesus established for us.  All of us are called to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be good shepherds.  Each of us has our own call.   What is important is that we all work to the best of our abilities, and that we strive to be living examples of the love and compassion that Jesus Christ modeled for us as the Good Shepherd.

God our Father,
by his own free will
Jesus gave his life for us
that we might live and be saved.
Give us the courage to listen to his voice
and to follow him on the way to you.
May we also reflect the love he has shown us
by caring for one another
with the same self-forgetting kindness
he has shown to us.
We ask you this in the name of Jesus the Lord.