Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What's Your Excuse?

 Her name was Olga Bejano Dominguez. From the age of 23, after a series of illnesses and a heart attack, she was left unable to see, speak, move or breathe without the assistance of a machine. Faced with loneliness and despair, she decided to give her life to God and find in her faith a reason to keep on living with hope. With the help of a nurse, she wrote four books about her experiences and insights which became best sellers throughout her native Spain. Upon her death in December of 2008, her mother said that at least four people were inspired to not commit suicide because of her daughter's writings. Most people would have considered Olga's life over the minute she lost use of her eyes, voice and limbs. And yet she saw her life as only just beginning. God called her at the moment she seemed most weak and unable to serve him and used her to inspire others with the hope that all things are possible with him. 
His name was Amos, a poor shepherd from the town of Tekoa, south of Jerusalem. Though uneducated, he was called by God to speak his word at the royal temple of Bethel. Because of its prestige, Bethel was the home of the most educated priests of Israel. King Jeroboam, who was ruling over Israel at the time, had at his beck and call any number of prophets willing to tell him whatever he wanted to hear. And yet God called a simple shepherd to warn the king that Israel was headed for sure destruction if they did not return to the pure worship of the Lord who had given them the Promised Land. The priests and prophets of King Jeroboam's court would look down their noses at Amos asking him by what right he dared speak to the king. They told him to go somewhere else to find work as a prophet. Yet Amos continued to speak out recognizing that it was not by his own authority that he was speaking but by command of the God of hosts. Despite his lack of credentials, Amos is the first prophet of the Old Testament to have a book named after him. Amos trusted not in his own knowledge and ability, but in the power of God, and God used him to bring his word to the most powerful people of the day. 
Their names were Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew, John, James, Simon, Jude, James, son of Alphaeus, and Judas Iscariot. They were simple fishermen, tax collectors and political radicals. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees of the day, they held no prestige and could make no claim to being experts in the Law. Yet Jesus chose them to be the ones to bring his teaching to the people of Israel. In today's gospel, he sends them out with nothing except the clothes on their backs. Despite their lack of education and resources, they are able to cast out demons and heal the sick - miracles which the Pharisees and scribes were never able to perform. Jesus chose simple men for the great task of preaching repentance to the nations. He made them the foundation of the Church he would build which he promised would last through all ages. We stand here today as witnesses to their success through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
What is your name? What do you do? How is God calling you? What is keeping you from saying "yes" to God's call? 
Each of us has been called by God for a task which only we can perform. Each of us is irreplaceable in the sight of God. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that we were chosen by him even before the world began. No one else in the history of the universe can do what God is calling us to do. 
Are we afraid that we do not have enough education? Are we afraid that we do not have enough resources? Are we afraid that we do not have enough talent? 
Certainly, most of us have an advantage over Olga Bejano Dominguez. She could not see, speak, move or even breathe. Yet she was able to spread God's word of hope throughout Spain. What excuses could we make when faced with her example of courage and perseverance? 
We most certainly have more education and resources than the prophet Amos and the apostles did. Yet their words continue to inspire us over the centuries. Can we honestly say that we are ill-equipped to spread God's word when we consider the obstacles which they faced? 
There is only one resource that is necessary to accomplish God's will - faith. That is why Jesus sends the apostles out with nothing except their clothes, sandals and a walking stick. They already carried within themselves all that they needed to preach the gospel of repentance. We were given that faith at our baptism and it is continually being nourished by Scripture and by the sacraments. No amount of talent or education can take the place of what simple faith is able to accomplish in our lives and in our world. Each of us already carries within us what allowed Olga Bejano Dominguez to overcome her disabilities and what compelled Amos and the apostles to spread God's word with boldness.  
Whoever we are, whatever we are and wherever we are, we are each called to witness to the power and love of our Almighty God. It does not require lofty rhetoric or complicated philosophical arguments. It does not require wealth or prestige. It only requires of us simple faith to believe that God has placed people in our lives for a reason and that he will give us whatever we need to bring his word into the lives of those we live with, work with or bump into in the course of our everyday lives. God has called each of us here today to hear this challenging message and is sending each of us from here as messengers of his good news. Can anything hold us back when God himself is our strength? 

Friday, July 13, 2018

The New Evangelization

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 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

Obstacles To Faith

When Maria Grazia’s mother died, she felt lost. She had been the one to care for her mother throughout her illness and now that she was gone she did not know what to do with herself. Then she read in her parish bulletin that the soup kitchen on Lampedusa, the small Mediterranean island she lives on, needed a volunteer cook. At first, she didn’t think she was qualified to take on the job. However, she thought about how much she loved to cook and how many times she would serve as many as fifty of her family members who would show up to Sunday dinner at her mother’s house. So, she decided to show up and volunteer.

At first, the soup kitchen would provide about thirty meals every day to the needy people of Lampedusa. In 1998, the situation changed when the island became the center for North African migrants fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries. Several hundred people began to show up at the soup kitchen every day. The workers talked about limiting the meals to only thirty persons but Maria Grazia refused to turn anyone away. Relying on the food that was donated by parishioners at a local church and her own ingenuity, they have managed to not turn away a single hungry person.

Talking to the BBC about her volunteer work, she explained how she had to overcome several obstacles in order to serve the poor. First, she thought that she had nothing to offer others. She was just one, small person who knew how to cook. Then she had to come to trust that God would always provide for them no matter how many people showed up at the soup kitchen each day. So far, God has not let her down.

In today’s gospel, Jesus shows up at His hometown of Nazareth. At the time that He lived there with Mary and Joseph, Nazareth was a small town of barely one hundred people. Everyone knew each other. Nothing happened there without the whole town finding out about it. Everyone there knew Jesus and His family very well from the time He was a baby on up through adulthood. Or, at least, they thought they knew Him. They just could not believe that God would choose an ordinary man from Nazareth to be the Messiah. In fact, the gospel tells us that they were offended by Him. We can just imagine the people saying to themselves, “Who does He think He is? He is no better than we are!”

Jesus knew them very well too. As the Son of God, He knew them better than they knew themselves. Yet, Saint Mark tells us that He was amazed at their lack of faith. He went back to Nazareth because He expected them to embrace Him and believe. He expected to bring hope and healing to them as He had to so many other people in the area. However, they could not get past the idea that God does not use small people from small places. They could not get past their preconceived notions of who Jesus was. And so, because of their lack of faith, Jesus could not perform any miracles there.

In our day, we suffer from a very different type of lack of faith. We believe in Jesus. We proclaim Him as the Son of God and Messiah. However, like the people of Nazareth and like Maria Grazia we have obstacles that keep Jesus from doing great things in and through us.

First of all, we believe that we are too small and insignificant to be used by God. We think that we do not have enough to offer and cannot make a difference. So we choose to keep our faith to ourselves, to not risk helping others when we have the opportunity. We mind our own business rather than allowing God to work through us. In our minds, we think we are being humble but what we are really doing is telling God that He is not powerful enough to use us. Because we do not act, because we do not speak out, Jesus is not able to perform any mighty deeds through us.

However, God put each of us here for a reason. There are people that only we can help. We have insights and ideas that can make a difference in the lives of those around us. Simple words of encouragement can give others confidence and hope. Simple acts of kindness can convince the strangers who cross our path that they are not alone. For God to do great things in us, we do not need unique talents or limitless resources. We simply have to let go of our fears and allow God to inspire us with kind words and thoughtful gestures. If we allow God to use us everyday in small ways, we will have the confidence and courage to do His will when we are called upon to do great things

Secondly, we fear that God will not provide for us. We fear that if we take on a responsibility, He will not give us what we need to see it through. This was one of Maria Grazia’s fears when she started working in the soup kitchen. However, not a day has gone by when she has not had enough food for the hundreds of hungry people who turn to her. We can believe as well that, if God has given us a mission, He will also provide us with everything we need to do it. We might not get what we need until the very last minute, but it will arrive right on time.

God wants to do great things in and through us. No matter how small and insignificant we may seem, God wants to use us to bring hope and healing to others. No matter how limited our resources may seem, God wants us to trust Him to give us what we need to make a difference. When we take the risk to reach out to someone who needs our help, to speak out when we see an injustice or to simply hold the hand of someone who is hurting, we will begin to see miracles take place. If we are not willing to take a risk, then we do not really have faith and God cannot use us. However, if we can trust God enough to risk our comfort, our reputation and maybe even our safety to help another person, we will see great things which we can then tell others about so that they too can allow God to use them.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reaching Out For Healing

A young girl was terminally ill with cancer and close to death. Her mother sat by her bedside crying and pleading with God to perform a miracle and heal her daughter.    

After several weeks, the cancer ran its course and the young girl died.

The mother, in her grief, was angry at God for not answering her prayer for her daughter. Eventually, she sought comfort by talking to the deacon in her parish. She asked him, "Why didn't God heal my daughter?" The deacon, at first, felt at a loss as to what answer to give this woman who was in so much pain. As she cried, he put his head down and said a silent prayer to the Holy Spirit to help him give her a word of comfort. Finally, the deacon raised his head and said to the mother, "Your daughter is healed now." At those words, the mother stopped crying and looked out the window to think about what he had said. She thanked him and left with the comforting thought that her daughter was now in God's hands safe from all harm.

Each of us at one time or another has been faced with a desperate situation and have begged God for a miracle. It might have been for a loved one who was sick or in trouble. It might have been for ourselves. But chances are that the miracle we asked for didn't take place. We might have been left wondering why God didn't seem to answer us. We probably thought that miracles were just something that happened in Jesus' time and not in modern times. Or we may have wondered if we had too little faith to ask so much of God. It could be that most of us have given up on asking for or expecting miracles. And so gospel stories like today's in which Jesus raises a little girl from the dead sometimes hold little meaning for us.

It is true that Jesus did perform many miracles while he walked the earth. He healed the sick, he drove out demons, he turned water into wine, he walked on the water, and he raised the dead. They were all powerful works demonstrating his mastery over nature, over sin and over death. Those mighty deeds proved to all who witnessed them that Jesus was no ordinary preacher but the Son of God. Nonetheless, no matter how marvelous his show of power was, Jesus always told those who were healed by him that the miracle was the easy part. What was truly amazing was not the healing, but the faith in the heart of the person who asked for his help. What impressed Jesus more than anything else was the simple faith he encountered in the people he met. And it was because of it that he was moved to perform mighty acts of power and compassion on their behalf.

It is important for us to remember that everyone whom Jesus healed and raised from the dead eventually got sick again and died. The healing was only temporary. What was permanent was the faith in the heart of those who were touched by him. That faith leads to the ultimate healing - everlasting life with God in heaven. We must never lose sight of the fact that any answers to our prayers which we receive during our lives on earth are only partial solutions. Problems and difficulties come and go. We probably don't remember today what we were asking God for last week. What endures - what has lasting value - is our relationship with God. And that relationship is based on faith - the faith that God loves us, that he has power over whatever trials we are facing, and that he can make all things work for our good and for our salvation.

All this being said, we must never stop going to Jesus for help whenever we are faced with problems. Those difficulties are an opportunity for us to exercise our faith. By bringing our concerns to our heavenly Father we grow in the trust that he does love and care for us. And our eyes are opened to the way in which he is acting in our lives already making our faith grow and perfecting the gifts of his grace within us. Faith is not only about getting God to do something for us. It is also about being able to recognize how God is answering our prayers in ways we could never imagine. And that is the real miracle.

Miracles do continue to happen in our day. By the power of faith, people experience healings that defy medical explanations. In those cases, it served God's glory to show forth his power in a virtually undeniable way so that others could be brought to faith in him. For most of us, however, God will work in subtle and hidden ways. It will go unnoticed at first or seem like a coincidence, but it will eventually be made clear to us that it was Almighty God who was working to bring us the healing we needed. We should witness to how God has worked in our lives in small ways with as much joy and wonder as we would if he had worked in miraculous ways. What is most important is not the mighty deed but the mighty faith alive in our hearts unlocking God's power for the salvation of the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Voice Is Born

Consider all the great women and men of our time. Think of the presidents, queens, members of Parliament, senators and heads of transnational companies. In our day they control vast amounts of wealth and pull the levers of power. However, like the rest of us, they will one day die and, soon after, they will be forgotten. Of all the influential people of our day, how many will be remembered even one hundred years from now? How many do you suppose will have their birthdays celebrated five hundred or one thousand years from now? I think it would be safe to say that it will be very few if any.

However, today Christians from around the world gather to celebrate the birth of a simple man. He did not control vast amounts of wealth. In fact, he dressed in camel skins and ate only locusts and wild honey.  He did not have a place at the table with the powerful. He left behind no great literary works and founded no institutions. Rather he gave his life to God and followed His call to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to baptize and to herald the coming of the Messiah.

John the Baptist was a towering figure in early Christianity. Every gospel begins with some mention of his preaching along the banks of the Jordan River. Most of Jesus’ first disciples had been followers of John the Baptist. Jesus Himself was a great admirer of his, even choosing to begin His ministry by being baptized by him in the Jordan River. Our Lord would also say of him that no man born of woman was ever greater than John the Baptist. By preparing the way for the Messiah, he serves as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments.

We remember him today not only because of his foundational and pivotal role in the development of our faith. We also remember him because he has must to teach us about what it means to serve God and work for His Kingdom.

First of all, John the Baptist teaches us that each of us is called by God for some special task. Even before he was born, our Heavenly Father had chosen his parents, a very old couple, to make it clear that his birth was a work of God. Already in his mother’s womb, God was preparing him for the role he would fulfill so that when Mary came to visit Elizabeth he could already recognize the one who would give birth to the Messiah. Though he did not understand all the details of God’s plan, he said “yes” to him even to the point of giving his life.

Each of us was known by God before we were conceived. We were already in the mind of God before the world was created. He has always loved us and called us to love Him in return. As our lives develop, He has stood by our side offering us the grace to do His will. When we have rejected Him, he has offered us forgiveness. Like John the Baptist, we do not know or understand what it is he has planned for us. Nonetheless, every day we live with the confidence that He will give us what we need to do His will. John the Baptist teaches us to entrust ourselves to God and to do whatever it takes to follow Christ faithfully.

Secondly, John the Baptist always pointed toward Jesus. Though vast crowds would come out to hear him speak, he knew that he was only the herald of someone greater who would come after him. He was preparing the way for the Messiah. So when Jesus finally did come on the scene, he allowed those who had been his disciples to leave him and follow our Lord. He did not protest, he did not try to hold on to the influence and power he previously had. As he would say in the gospel of John, “[Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease.”

The example of John the Baptist continues to be important especially in our day. So many of us ask, “What’s in it for me?” We are often so busy holding on to what we have that we miss the opportunity to gain something greater. However, like John the Baptist, we exist to point to Jesus. As individuals and as a Church, we must never forget that everything we say and do must be in the service of our Lord. Buildings will crumble, organizations will dissolve and people will be forgotten. Our work will only survive if it is centered in Jesus. And so we are called by the grace of God to put aside our own interests, our own vision of how things should be and our egos to serve the Kingdom of God.

Finally, John the Baptist was never afraid to speak the truth. Whether it was a peasant, a religious leader, a soldier or a King, he called all to repent of their sins and prepare themselves for the Messiah. In the end, he was imprisoned and beheaded for daring to criticize King Herod for abandoning his own wife to live with his brother’s wife. Speaking out and defending the sanctity of marriage cost him his life.

If we are to be faithful followers of Jesus, we must also never be afraid to speak the truth in love. As our culture drifts further and further away from valuing the sanctity of human life and the role that traditional marriage plays in building up society, it will be increasingly difficult to live our faith. It is not inconceivable even in countries that claim to defend religious liberty that churches will be vandalized and individuals attacked for promoting God’s vision for family life. Like John the Baptist we need not worry or panic. God will provide for our needs. Yet we must pray for the courage to stay faithful in our witness to Jesus no matter what the cost.

On this day, we celebrate the birth of a great man. Called by God from the womb, he pointed to Jesus and remained faithful to Him to the point of death. We pray that we can learn from and follow his example and so bring the world what it so desperately needs - the hope of a Saviour.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Food For The Journey

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A New Covenant In Christ's Blood

To understand the Bible, we have to also understand the concept of “covenant”. All of Scripture is a chronicle of the covenant God wants to establish with His People, Israel, and, ultimately, with all people in every generation.  In fact the word “testament”,  as in “Old Testament” and “New Testament”, itself means “covenant”.

To put it simply, a covenant is an agreement by which two people who are otherwise not related create a family bond. It was common in Old Testament times that a weak king would make a covenant with a stronger king. This stronger king would then pledge to protect the weaker one as if he were his brother or son. Unlike a treaty which can be broken by one or the other party at any time or which only is in force for a certain period of time, a covenant cannot be broken and never expires. Just as a father never stops being a father or a daughter never stops being a daughter, the relationships that are created through a covenant remain always in force.

A beautiful example of this that we can all understand is the covenant of marriage. Through matrimony, a man and a woman who otherwise are unrelated become a new family. They pledge to be faithful to one another until they are separated by death. Once two separate, independent persons, they now become one flesh through the covenant of marriage.

Just so, God was not content to simply give life to the world. He wanted to enter into a relationship with the people He created. He wanted an intimate and personal friendship with us. By establishing a covenant with His people, He revealed His desire to draw all persons into His family.

Today’s first reading tells the story of the covenant God established with the people of Israel in the desert after He had liberated them from slavery in Egypt. God promised to be their God and the people, on their part, promised to keep His law. This new covenant relationship is sealed by the blood which Moses poured out on the altar. We call the relationship between family members “blood ties.” Just so, the pouring out of blood symbolizes that God and His people are now united in a blood tie through the covenant.

Though covenant is the central theme of the Bible, we only hear Jesus use the word once. It is at the Last Supper which we heard proclaimed in today’s gospel. The Last Supper takes place at the Feast of Passover when the Jewish people celebrated their liberation from slavery in Egypt and renewed the covenant that had been made through Moses in the desert. When Jesus picks up the cup filled with wine, He says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” While God made a covenant with the people of Israel through the blood that Moses poured out in the desert, Jesus made a new covenant with all those who believe in Him through the blood He poured out on the cross. These new blood ties no longer depend on nationality or race, but are made through faith in Jesus Christ. All who believe now can enter into this covenant relationship with God through Jesus. Through faith and baptism, we are brought into God’s family as His adopted children.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the great gift Jesus makes of Himself to His people, nourishing us on our journey through life. It is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the covenant He makes with us. Through the Eucharist, we become one flesh with God. We are united with Him and become related to Him just as a man and woman becoming one flesh through marriage and just as a son and daughter are related to their parents.

Whenever we receive the Eucharist, we are renewing our covenant relationship with Jesus. We are accepting Him once again as our Lord and Savior. We respond, “Amen”, because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the communion we receive. Our “Amen” also means that we accept the responsibilities that come with being a child of God. We pledge to follow the commandments He left us, in particular, the commandment of love. We also pledge to live this covenant relationship in the Church with all those who, like us, have been saved through the Blood of Christ.

The “Amen” we say when we receive communion is not something we should take lightly. Because we are renewing our covenant with Christ through the Eucharist, the “amen” we pronounce is like signing our signature to a legal document. None of us would do that without reading what it is we are agreeing to. Once we sign our name, the agreement is final. We cannot go back and say that we didn’t read it or didn’t understand it.

Just so, we should be sure we understand what the “amen” we say at Holy Communion means. It means that we truly believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist in more than a symbolic way. It means that we embrace all that the Church teaches. It means that we are striving to live a good and holy life. In particular, it means that we have no serious, unconfessed sins on our conscience. If we cannot say “yes” to any of these statements, then we cannot say “amen” to the communion we are about to receive. If we were to receive communion not believing in Jesus’ presence, not embracing the Church He established or not living a good, holy life, then it would be hypocritical for us to receive the Body of Christ.

God loves us. He wants an intimate and personal relationship with each of us. Through the Blood of Christ He has brought us into His family with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with being a child of God. Whenever we receive communion, we are renewing that covenant. Our “Amen” is an act of faith and a commitment to live as children of God. If that “yes” is difficult for us, we can pray for the grace to believe and the strength to live a good life. Then we can claim the inheritance waiting for us in heaven which is ours by covenant through the Blood of Christ.