Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Friday, July 13, 2018
Since Pentecost, Christians have been spreading the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection throughout the world.
It first began with the pagan world of the Roman Empire. Christianity then spread to the barbarian peoples of Northern Europe. Missionaries brought the gospel to Asia and Africa. When the New World of the Americas was discovered, men and women of faith went out to establish churches and schools bringing the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
In all these cases, Christians brought the good news to people who had never heard about Jesus. Sometimes these missionaries were persecuted and put to death. However, in time, Christianity took root and began to flourish. Now, by the grace of God, there are Christian churches in just about every country in the world and there are only a few places where the gospel has never been preached.
We call this work of bringing the gospel to people “evangelization”. It is the effort to answer Jesus’ call to “make disciples of all nations and baptize them….” It requires us to teach the world about the person of Jesus Christ and all He did to save us. It also involves the work of helping people and society as a whole to put into practice the message of Jesus.
Today, especially in our society, we find ourselves in a very different situation than those first missionaries of the gospel. We have succeeded in baptizing a large number of people. They may have even been taught the faith and received their first communion and confirmation. However, they are failing to live by the faith they were taught. In fact, many of them have rejected that faith. They have heard the message of Jesus and have not been convinced.
In many ways, the situation we face today is much like the one that Jesus encounters in today’s gospel. The people of Nazareth believe they know who Jesus is. He is simply a carpenter and the son of Mary. Saint Mark tells us that they “took offense at him.” Because of their lack of faith, Jesus could not do any miracles for them.
In the same way, we live in a society that believes it already knows Jesus. They don’t think there is anything new we could possibly tell them that they haven’t already heard. They might still call themselves Catholics, but they have stopped practicing their faith. When they hear us speak about Jesus, they might not outright reject the message but they are indifferent to it. To them, the good news is old news.
This reality weighed very heavily on Pope Saint John Paul II. He reflected on it in his encyclical, The Mission of the Redeemer in 1990. In it he said that what is needed today is a “new evangelization”. That is, we must bring the gospel of Jesus Christ in fresh and challenging ways to people who have already been baptized so that can begin to put their faith into practice. We must re-propose the gospel message to people in a way that helps them to realize that there is more to Jesus Christ than they think and engage them in wanting to learn more.
How do we do that?
First, we must be putting the message of Jesus Christ to practice in our own lives. The fact is that many people have grown indifferent to Christianity because they haven’t seen many examples of good and faithful Christians. If we are not in love with Jesus and showing it by the way we live, how can we expect to get others excited about the Christian message? On the other hand, if we are generous, joyful and kind, others will want to know our secret. Then they will be open to hearing that Jesus is the reason for our hope.
Secondly, we must speak about Jesus and His message with confidence. The gospel runs contrary to the world’s values. We can often feel intimidated in telling people what we believe because it runs against what others believe. We fear that we will be called bigots or fanatics. Make no mistake, the devil uses that fear to keep us from sharing our faith with others. The reality is that there is power in the name of Jesus. When we speak about the gospel, the Holy Spirit takes over not only giving us the right words but making the person listening to us more receptive to what we have to say. Therefore, we should never be afraid to speak up whenever we have an opportunity to share our faith. The Holy Spirit will help us.
We can also speak boldly and with confidence because Jesus’ message is true. It meets the deepest longing of the human heart. There is nothing that the world can offer that compares to what God offers us in Jesus Christ. People are suffering because they lack meaning and have no sense of purpose. Just as we would give bread to a starving person, we should bring Jesus to people who are starving for hope. And just as no starving person would turn away good food, so people who have fallen into despair will not turn us away if we can offer them hope in Jesus Christ.
Finally, we must be patient. It takes time for the truth to sink in and really change a person’s heart. No matter how true our words are and how well we may put them, people need time to think about and make sense of the gospel of Jesus. The important thing is that people believe that we want what is best for them and that we are always there for them when they need us. If we are humble and kind, then they will feel comfortable bringing their questions to us and, by God’s grace, it will begin to make sense to them.
Pope Saint John Paul II in a message to the people of the Americas wrote, “... it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit...to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ"
If our world is to be transformed, then we must ourselves be transformed by the word of God and then bring that word boldly to everyone we meet. It is the only hope for a world that, frankly, is going mad. In the end, only God can change minds and hearts. Therefore, let us ask Him to help us to overcome our fear and to use us to bring His Son to others. Let us also ask for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our world so that Jesus can be truly known. That will make all the difference.
Monday, July 9, 2018
Monday, July 2, 2018
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Saturday, June 9, 2018
It is a longstanding tradition that, before being put to death, a prisoner is given a last meal. It is a way of reminding the executioner that, despite the evil the prisoner may have committed, he is still a man to be treated with dignity and respect. The last meal is also seen as a gesture of reconciliation between the condemned man and his executioner who is simply acting as an agent of the state.
Unfortunately, the death penalty is still carried out in some parts of the world, including the United States. Last year, an inmate named Kenneth Williams was asked what he would like for his last meal before being put to death by lethal injection. In an incredible gesture, he replied that he would like to receive the Eucharist. Whereas a last meal is typically seen as an act of reconciliation between the prisoner and the executioner, Mr Williams made it also an act of reconciliation between himself and Jesus.
We must remember that Kenneth Williams found himself on death row because of several heinous crimes he committed. While driving a getaway car, he struck and killed a man. In another incident, he murdered a college girl. Finally, while trying to escape prison, he killed a deputy prison warden. However, despite the many crimes he committed, he found mercy in Jesus Christ. And, having been reconciled to Christ, he wanted his last act on earth to be communion with the Lord who spilled His blood for our salvation.
In today’s second reading from the Book of Hebrews, we read: “...Christ...entered the sanctuary...with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption…” Later on we read: “...the blood of Christ [will] cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” The blood shed by Jesus on the cross has the power to save us from our sins. It is the very love and mercy of God poured out for us. No sin we commit is so great that it cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus. No sinner is so corrupt and depraved that the mercy of God cannot reach his soul. It is true for Kenneth Williams who experienced the love of God on death row. It is true for us no matter what sins we have committed and no matter how corrupt we believe we have become.
Jesus also had a last meal before He was executed. We read about His “Last Supper” in today’s gospel. Rather than approach this last meal as a time to indulge Himself, He used it as an opportunity to give even more of Himself to His disciples and to us. Offering thanks to the Father, He blessed ordinary bread and wine, transforming them into His Body and Blood. He also commanded the apostles to do this in His memory, so that the gift of His loving mercy could be extended down through the centuries.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. While every Sunday is a celebration of the Eucharist, we turn with particular focus to the love of Jesus made manifest in this great mystery. It has been the continuous, unchanged and firm belief of Christians from the apostles on down that the bread and wine we offer at Mass truly become the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is not merely a symbol of Jesus’ continued presence among us but the reality of His presence. It is not merely a memorial of His love but the reality of His love renewed for us again and again. Today’s feast is an opportunity for us to affirm our own faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and to recommit ourselves to worshiping Him and receiving Him worthily every Sunday and, if possible, every day.
Today’s readings, in particular, challenge us to focus on the Blood of Jesus. For practical reasons, it is more customary to receive the Eucharist in the form of bread. We offer the chalice less frequently to avoid spilling the Precious Blood or even sometimes for health reasons. However, whether we receive Holy Communion in the form of bread or in the form of wine, we always receive the entire Risen Lord.
When we focus on the blood of Christ, however, we are focusing on His loving mercy and the power of forgiveness made manifest through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. As we say during Mass, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” At every celebration of the Eucharist, the saving graces of the cross are made present to us, including the forgiveness of sins.
Of course, for us to receive that forgiveness, we have to show that we are sorry. We do that by changing our lives. If we approach this great sacrament of Jesus’ merciful love without sorrow for our sins and a sincere attempt to bring our choices into line with God’s will for us, we would be receiving the Eucharist in vain. We would still be receiving Jesus but it would not have as powerful a transformative effect in our heart.
Imagine a friend hurts you and asks for your forgiveness. How would you feel if she then went and continued the same behavior that hurt you in the first place? How could your relationship be restored if she continued to hurt you no matter how many times she said she was sorry? Just the same, if we receive Jesus’ mercy without working on putting to an end the sinful behaviour that hurt Him in the first place, our intimacy with God cannot be restored.
Jesus showed His love for us by dying on the cross to save us. He spilled His blood for our salvation. In this Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion, we receive that merciful love. Jesus’ desire to have a personal relationship with us is on full display in this great sacrament. For our part, we must change our hearts and our lives. When we have serious sin on our conscience, we should go to confession as quickly as possible so that we can receive Jesus worthily in the Blessed Sacrament. If we are in a situation that keeps us from being able to receive communion, we should meet with a deacon or priest as soon as possible to get the circumstances resolved so that we can approach the table of God’s healing mercy. What could be more important than receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? We should all be striving to receive the Eucharist worthily every Sunday if not every day if it is the last thing we do.