Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saints Peter and Paul

 A man gave his life over to Christ. Almost immediately, he was filled with a dread that God would call him to be a missionary in Africa. The fear consumed him to the point that it threatened to make him abandon his new found faith. But, in prayer, he felt assured that God would not put him in Africa without first putting Africa in his heart. With time, the man not only stopped fearing that God would send him to Africa, he began desiring to spread God's word there. He did eventually decide to go to Africa as a Christian missionary and was later martyred there. God kept his promise. He first planted the desire in the man's heart and then equipped him to serve in the missions event to the point of giving his life.

Today, we celebrate two of the great missionaries of our faith, Saints Peter and Paul.

Saint Peter was one of the original twelve apostles called by Jesus. Because of his profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the World, Peter was called by Jesus to be the rock on which he would build his Church. Since that day, a pope has served as the successor to Peter and as the visible sign of the unity of the Church.

 Saint Paul, on the other hand, was not one of the original apostles. In fact, in the days following Pentecost, he sought to crush the fledgling Church through an intense persecution which culminated with the stoning of Saint Stephen, the first to give his life for Christ. On the way to the city of Damascus, Saint Paul would be overwhelmed by a vision of the Risen Lord and converted from a persecutor of the Church to one of its most fervent missionaries. Though he wasn't one of the original twelve apostles, we call Saint Paul an apostle, nonetheless, because of his experience of the Risen Lord. He would be the Church's first theologian helping to formulate the basics of the new Christian faith and spreading that faith throughout much of the Greek speaking world.

 God gave great success to the missionary work of Saints Peter and Paul. But, like the man in our story, neither of them was ready to spread the word from day one. Rather, each needed to spend time with the Lord before setting out to preach to others. Saint Peter spent three years following Jesus and learning from him up to the time of Jesus' death. Then, Peter sat at Jesus' feet after the resurrection, as we read in today's gospel when Jesus called Peter to tend his lambs. Saint Paul, likewise, spent three years praying and reflecting in the deserts of Arabia before finally meeting with Peter in Jerusalem, as we read in the second reading, and setting out on his missionary journeys around Asia Minor and eventually to Rome.

Like the man in our story, Jesus placed a burning love into the hearts of Saints Peter and Paul which expressed itself in a desire to spread the word of Jesus' death and resurrection. Because Saints Peter and Paul desired nothing else than to be faithful to their master, they would eventually give the ultimate witness to their faith by both being martyred in Rome. Saint Peter would be crucified upside down, and Saint Paul would be beheaded.

Today, in this place, Jesus is asking each of us if we love him. And, if we do love him, will we feed and tend his sheep? And, if we will tend his sheep, are we willing to go where we'd rather not go? Are we willing to follow Jesus to where the poor are? Are we willing to follow Jesus to where the hungry beg for bread? Are we willing to follow Jesus to where the sick are seeking treatment?  Are we willing to stretch out our hands to tend Jesus' lambs wherever they may wander?

Jesus understands if we find his questions unsettling or even disturbing. Jesus understands if we hesitate or if we aren't ready to answer. Jesus even understands if our answer to him is "not yet". It very often takes time for us to understand what God wants of us. And, it takes even longer for us to be equipped by God with what we need for the mission. Jesus is a gentle master. He will place within our heart a desire for whatever mission he is calling us to. He will work on us until our fear gives way to love and our love shows itself in service to Jesus' sheep.

In every age, God has provided us, his sheep, with women and men of faith who witness powerfully to his love. It began with Saints Peter and Paul. The task now falls to each of us. In this place Jesus invites us to a meal and asks each of us if we do indeed love him and will serve him. If we are not ready to answer yet, we must pray that God will place in our heart a desire to serve him and the opportunity to know his will for us. That is a prayer that God will certainly answer. We will be both surprised and delighted by where our "yes" to him will take us.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jesus' Real Presence

One Sunday morning, at the end of Mass, as the congregation was filing out of church, they noticed a woman jumping up and down on the front lawn and shouting, “I hate God! I hate God!” Several men rushed over to see if they could calm her down. Looking down, they noticed something shocking. She had been jumping on the host she received at Mass. It turned out that the woman was mentally ill and, after going to communion, she spat the host on the ground. While one of the men ran in to get the priest, the others began gathering as much of the host as they could find and eating it. By the time the priest had arrived, all of the host had been consumed by the men who went above the call of duty to rescue it, even to the point of eating dirt and grass.

A Eucharistic minister was serving at Mass one Sunday morning when a young child came up to her. He received communion very reverently, blessing himself after he had stepped to the side. However, he began to turn pale and started coughing violently. All of a sudden, he vomited in the aisle. While his mother was attending to him, the Eucharistic minister noticed the host lying in the pool of vomit. Without hesitation, she rushed over and put the host in her mouth rather than allow it to lay on the floor. She is another example of someone going beyond the call of duty out of love and reverence for our Lord present in the Eucharist.

Finally, a young woman from Korea was visiting a basilica in Rome. The magnificent architecture and beautiful paintings were very moving to her. In her heart, she felt that this was no ordinary place. Though she had not been raised with any religion, she felt as though she wanted to pray and sat in a pew behind several others who were attending Mass. As they got up to receive communion, she was moved by how reverently and piously each person received our Lord in the Eucharist. Again, she could tell that this was no ordinary ceremony or ritual. In fact, God moved in her heart so much in that moment that she decided to look into the Catholic faith and was baptized at the Easter Vigil two years later.

These stories all point to the power of faith in Jesus’ real presence in the Holy Eucharist. When Jesus says, “ flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” we take Him literally. When we receive Holy Communion we are truly receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is no mere symbol. It is the real thing. If it were merely a symbol, would those men have worked so desperately to get every piece of the host out of the ground to consume it? Would that woman pick a host out of a young boy’s vomit if it were only a representation of Jesus’ body? Would the young Korean woman be so moved if all the people were receiving was a dry piece of bread? Of course not. The Eucharist is truly Jesus, “the bread come down from heaven”, fulfilling His promise to be with us all days.

These stories also point to the profound love that believers have for our Lord in the Eucharist. It is a love that is so deep that they were willing to put their comfort and even their health at risk. Such a love cannot be taught. Rather, it comes from hours of prayer and meditation on the gift of the Eucharist. It comes from sitting in front of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, praising Him and contemplating His love. It comes from receiving communion as frequently as possible with a humble, contrite heart. Finally, it comes from telling others about the awesome gift we as Catholics are privileged to celebrate and receive.

In today’s world, it is common to have doubts about religious truths, especially one as profound as Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. Sadly, Catholics are not immune to having such doubts. However, I beg all of you to not allow doubt to rob you of the wonderful gift of communion with Jesus that is offered to you at every Mass. If you have trouble believing, ask Jesus for the gift of faith. If you have trouble making sense of it all, ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding. Do whatever it takes - speak to a priest, read a book - but especially pray. Whatever you do, do not deprive yourself of this incredible gift that Jesus died in order to bring to us.

Those of us who do believe and appreciate the wonderful gift of the Eucharist should support with prayer those who are searching. But we also can ask ourselves what type of an example we are to others. When we receive, do we do so with profound love and reverence? If that young Korean woman saw us receiving communion, would she know by our prayerfulness and awe that it is no mere piece of bread that we are receiving? Would anyone who saw us also want to imitate our love for Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist? These are questions which should always be on our mind during Mass as we prepare for communion. They are the questions Jesus will ask us when we stand face to face before Him at the hour of our death. Did we really love and appreciate the great gift He left us in His Body and Blood?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Body and Blood of Christ

It happened almost one hundred years ago in a small village in Portugal.

On Holy Saturday 1918, a young girl, Alexandrina da Costa, was knitting with a neighbor when three men broke into her home. Finding no way to escape, Alexandrina ran up the stairs to the second floor and jumped out a window. The twelve foot fall left her with many injuries which eventually left her paralyzed and bedridden.

At first, she prayed that God would work a miracle to heal her. However, through much prayer, she came to accept her suffering and offer it up for the sanctification of young people and the salvation of souls. She came to see it as her mission to join her sufferings to that of Jesus on the cross.

Because of her life of intense prayer and devotion, in 1938, she began to have mystical visions every Friday of the death of Jesus. In her body and soul, she would re-live every moment of Jesus’ passion from His agony in the garden to His death on the cross. She had given herself so totally to God that her paralyzed body became one with the body of Christ.

Then, in 1942, another miracle took place in her life. For the next thirteen years until her death in 1955, she stopped eating and drinking completely. Her only nourishment was the Eucharist.

Word spread quickly throughout the country of this incredible young woman. Many people would come to visit her and to be inspired by the joy she radiated in her suffering. However, many others criticized her and claimed that her visions of Jesus were made up. They doubted that she lived only on the Eucharist and spread the rumor that she was being fed secretly by her family.

Her case was looked into by the local Church authorities, and they required her to undergo testing in a hospital for forty days. During that time she was under careful watch by doctors who often mocked her. However, they were able to confirm that during those forty days she had no other food than the Eucharist. The hospital’s report stated: "It is absolutely certain that during forty days of being bedridden in the hospital, the sick woman did not eat or drink… and we believe such a phenomenon could have happened during the past months, perhaps the past 13 months… leaving us perplexed."

Alexandrina died on October 13, 1955. Her parting words to those who had gathered around her bed were:  "Do not sin. The pleasures of this life are worth nothing. Receive Communion, pray the Rosary every day. This sums up everything." She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the greatest treasure we have as a people of faith. It is a great sign of God’s love. Every Sunday - indeed, every day - we witness the miracle of bread and wine being transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Not only do we gaze on this wonder, we are able to receive it into our own bodies. Jesus comes to each one of us, enters our heart and makes His home there. There is no greater mystery in all the world.

Just as Jesus worked many miracles during His lifetime, there are many miracles connected to the Eucharist. The story of Blessed Alexandrina da Costa is just one of them. There have also been many miraculous healings and mystical visions attributed to the Blessed Sacrament. Most importantly, many sinners encountering God’s love in Holy Communion have repented of their evil ways and found new life through faith. Jesus continues to be active in the world, working miracles, strengthening the faithful and bringing about conversions through the gift of His Body and Blood.

Jesus makes an astonishing promise in today’s gospel. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life... Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We know that Jesus is talking about a life that is different from our physical, biological life. The life He is offering is His own divine life, the life of Heaven. Though we will not experience it in its fullness until our physical death, we who believe in Jesus and have partaken of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist already have that life within us. It is at work in us when we are joyful in our suffering as Blessed Alexandrina da Costa was. It shows forth in our lives when we bear insults patiently and forgive those who harm us. It is the life of Jesus renewing our spirit and refreshing our soul.

The only way to experience this life is through the Eucharist. Receiving communion as frequently as possible is vital for our spiritual lives in a world that is so hostile to the gospel message. And if we believe that it is Jesus really present in the Eucharist, would we not want to make every effort to receive Him often? What else in all the world could be as important as welcoming our Lord and Savior into our very bodies? What else could take precedence to encountering our Risen Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?

Blessed Alexandrina da Costa became so united with Jesus through her suffering that, at the end of her life, the only nourishment she needed was the Eucharist. We have many other pressing needs that distract us and steal our attention away from the God who loves us and provides for us. But during this hour we gather to witness the miracle take place once again. We come here to listen to Jesus’ words and to receive His Body and Blood. We give our lives over to Him so that His life can pulse through us. We are expecting miracles to take place at this altar. Touched by Jesus, we can never be the same again.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Sing the Body Eternal

The human body is one of the marvels of creation. Our body is the way we relate to the world and to one another. We recognize and know each other through our bodies. Our bodies are the way we see each other, touch each other and speak to each other. Our bodies are also the way we pass life on to the next generation. Through the intimacy of our bodies with the bodies of our loved ones we co-operate with God in creating new life. Ultimately, our bodies are who we are. Our bodies are ourselves. Though we commonly say that we have a body, it is more correct for us to say that we are a body.

So, it makes sense that the God who wanted to be known by us and wanted to pass on His life to us would take on a human body in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus - through His body - we see and know the Father. We can now relate to God because He has taken on a body like our own. Through the person of Jesus, God now speaks our language. But, most importantly, by taking on a human body, God now passes His life on to us. Through the body of Jesus, we can have the eternal life that only God can give.

We don't see Jesus the way the apostles did. We are not able to speak with Him and touch Him the way Martha and Mary did. How, then, does Jesus pass on this eternal life to us? Through the wondrous mystery of the Eucharist.

At every Mass, through every generation, Jesus has made himself present to us through the gift of His Body and Blood. Through the Eucharist, Jesus gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. Saint Paul affirms it for us in the second reading. The cup of blessing is a sharing in the Blood of Christ and the bread we break is a sharing in Christ's Body. Through the gift of the Eucharist, the God who wants to be known by us and who wants to pass His life on to us, comes to live within us, entering our bodies and penetrating our souls in the form of bread and wine.

God is so generous to us! It was not' enough for God to reveal Himself to us in Scripture. He sent His only Son to die for us giving us the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life through His resurrection. But, even that wasn't enough for God. In his infinite generosity, He gave us the very flesh and blood of His Son to feed us and sustain us during our lifetime. It is the nature of God that He gives, and gives and gives of Himself. When God had spoken His last word of revelation, when every drop of blood had been drained from Jesus' body, when His very Spirit had been poured out for us, He had to go even further and give His Body to nourish us.

Why does God go so far as to give us the flesh and blood of His Son? It is because God longs to share His life with us. God pines for our love like a teenager dogged by a crush. God cannot rest until He has given us every opportunity to experience His love and His life.

 The only way that we can receive the eternal life of God in all its fullness is through the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus makes it very clear to us in the gospel of John. Jesus gives His flesh as bread for the life of the world. Unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do not have life within us. Why is that? Because the only way for us to receive God's life is through God. No one else can give us God's life except God Himself. I received my human life from my mother and father who were humans. A monkey or a dog couldn't give me human life. My human life had to be given to me through the bodies of my mother and father. Just so, we cannot receive God's life unless God gives it to us. And that gift of eternal life comes to us through the Body and Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

We gather here today to witness and experience the miracle of bread and wine which will be transformed into Jesus' body and blood for the life of the world. There will be some of us who are unable to receive communion today. There are young children here who have not yet made their First Communion. As a community we pray for you that in your innocence God will touch your hearts. Some won't receive communion because you feel unworthy. You may have not gone to confession in many years or may be struggling with personal problems. As a worshiping community, we pray for you that you can experience the transforming life and love that God offers to all sinners. And some cannot come to communion today because a particular situation in your life does not allow it. We pray for you that you can work your way through whatever situation you are in and be able to approach the God of mercy and compassion who seeks to envelop all people in His loving embrace. Though not all of us may receive, none of us is left out of the transforming power of God's presence in the Eucharist. Even if we cannot receive His Body and Blood on our tongue, we may gaze upon it in wonder and awe and invite His power into our lives and into our hearts. Many of us will be able to receive this precious gift of God in the Eucharist. We must examine our hearts and prepare ourselves so that we accept this gift worthily and with deep gratitude. Our eternal life with God depends on it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Good Deeds Flow From Good Doctrine

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught that, above all else, we should be kind to one another. Jesus Himself taught that the whole law of the Old Testament can be summed up in love of God and neighbor.

Living in a world in which there are many different religions, many different belief systems and, very often, many people who hold no beliefs, love helps us to live together in peace. Love helps us form relationships with those who think and act differently than we do. Love bridges the gaps of belief and religion.

Because of this, we may be led to believe that dogmas and doctrines do not matter. We may be tempted to think that beliefs have little or no role to play in the practice of our faith. They may be interesting to discuss and debate but, beyond that, they have no effect on the choices we make everyday.

At the other extreme, we may be tempted to think that dogmas and doctrines are in fact harmful. We may see them as dividing people into rival camps of those who believe and those who do not believe. We may fear that adherence to doctrines will make us “dogmatic” and “judgmental”, unable to love our neighbor as Jesus calls us to.

While there is some truth to these attitudes, they do not take into account the whole picture. To live the Christian life we need both love and faith. We need both good deeds and good doctrine. In fact, it is because of doctrine that we know that love is important. The commandment, “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” is itself a doctrine. Our beliefs also teach us what it means to love our neighbor. The commandments spell out for us what love looks like in action. Therefore, faith and love, doctrine and deeds, are not at odds but support each other in helping us live as Jesus did.

One of the best examples of this truth is the dogma we celebrate today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Our One God is a community of Three Persons who live to love one another. The Father exists for no other reason than to pour Himself out in love for the Son. The Son exists for no other reason than to receive that love. The Holy Spirit exists for no other reason than to express it back and forth between them. Giving, receiving and expressing love is the very life of the Holy Trinity.

It is because of this belief that God is a community of Persons united in love that we understand why love is so central to the life of faith. Because of this doctrine Moses can understand Him to be “a merciful and gracious God slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” rather than a vengeful God. Because of this belief, Jesus can say in today’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.  Furthermore, it is because of our faith that Saint Paul can invoke this blessing on the people of Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” What appears to be the most complex and mysterious dogma of all - the dogma of the Holy Trinity - turns out to be fundamental to our understanding of how important love is.

Not only does this beautiful doctrine teach us about the importance of love, it also teaches us what it means to love one another.

When we think of love in today’s culture, we think of intense feelings between people who are physically attracted to one another. These romantic feelings come naturally without any effort. For that reason we say that we “fall in love.” Such love is not so much a choice we make but something that happens to us. We are almost the “victims” of love.

But the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something totally different about the nature of love. The Father does not “fall in love” with the Son. Rather He actively gives Himself. He pours Himself out. He empties Himself holding nothing back. The Son, for His part, receives that love unconditionally. Opening Himself up to take in all that the Father has to give Him. The Holy Spirit is the expression of that love between them, giving it whole and entire, keeping nothing for Himself.

This dance of love among the persons of God teaches us that love is not just an emotion. Rather it is the active gift of oneself to another. I do not “fall” in love. I choose to love. Moreover, if my love is to be Godlike, I must give my whole self to my beloved, holding nothing back. Such a love involves commitment and sacrifice if it is to be a pure reflection of God’s love. That means that I do not only love those whom I am attracted to, but also those whom I find repulsive, those who offend me and even those who hurt me.

We know this to be true because that is the way that God has loved us. He sent His Son into the world to save us. He knew that He would be looked down upon. He knew He would be ignored and ridiculed. He knew that He would be eventually put to death. Yet He sent His Son anyway so that the true nature of God would be revealed to us. Now that we have experienced this tender, merciful care of our Creator, we must now treat others with the same compassion that we have received without conditions and without exceptions.

So we gather here today not to debate the doctrine of the Trinity nor to study or discuss it. Rather, we are here today to celebrate it. We are here to rejoice in the reality of the love which brought us into being and sustains us in existence. We are here to worship the God who sent His only Son to save us and whose Holy Spirit burns in our hearts bringing us the gifts of wisdom, understanding, peace and joy. Furthermore, we gather here to commit ourselves to loving one another as He has loved us. In so doing, we take this beautiful dogma out of the textbooks and out of the classroom into a world which is literally dying to hear the good news of God’s love.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Most Holy Trinity

A good murder mystery novel can be hard to put down. Just when we think we have figured out who the killer is, another twist in the plot leaves us baffled. We follow the detective as he sorts through the clues and chases down leads. At the end, when the mystery is finally solved, we are shocked to learn that the killer is the last person we expected.

When we use the word “mystery” about a crime novel, we are always talking about a difficult situation that eventually has a resolution. We are describing something - like the identity of a murderer - that is unknown to us in the present, but which will eventually be made known to us in the future. Though we do not understand yet, the situation is made clearer to us as we learn more details.

However, when we use the word “mystery” to speak about God, we are talking about something entirely different. There is no understanding the mystery of God. There is no point in our lives when it all starts to makes sense to us. In fact, the mystery of God is so unfathomable that the more information we learn, the less it seems we understand. Our powers of reason and intelligence are just too limited to comprehend the vast greatness of Almighty God.

What makes God such a mystery to us?

First of all, God is not a part of the universe. We do not see Him or experience Him the way we see and experience each other, trees or the sky. God lies beyond what we can take in with our senses. In heaven where He dwells there is no space or time. He sees the past, the present and the future as if they were all happening at once. Because we are limited by time and space and by what we can see and touch, God is always beyond our power to fully comprehend Him.

Secondly, He is the creator of all that exists. The universe in all its wonders were created by God out of nothing. By the power of His word all things came to be. And nothing can exist unless God creates it. At the same time, He was not created but has existed for all eternity. The universe with all its vast wonders do not add anything to God’s greatness. God plus the world is not greater than God alone. His immense power and the glory of His being are too expansive for our minds to even begin to fathom.

Finally, God is a mystery because He is three Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit -  in one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father, yet all are one God. Neither is greater than the other. They each have existed for all eternity. In the mystery of the Trinity, God in His nature is revealed to us to be a community of Persons pouring themselves out in love for one another throughout all time. We cannot begin to understand it. Instead we can only stand in awe of a God who dwells in impenetrable mystery.

The greatest mystery, perhaps, is that a God who is so great would love us so much. With all the wonders of the universe at His command, He knows us and cares for each one of us. Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father has counted the hairs on our head. He knows us thoroughly and loves us deeply. He hears our prayers and is close at hand when we call.

Jesus explains how deep this love for us runs in today’s gospel. It is one of the most famous passages of the Bible from the Gospel of John. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The God who has existed forever, who created all things and who is All-Powerful was willing to die for us. He was willing to take on a body like ours and suffer a horrible death. We might scratch our heads trying to figure out how God created everything from nothing, how He can possibly know everyone or how He could be One God in Three Persons. But there is no greater mystery than the love shown to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

We can never wrap our minds around the awesome greatness of our God. We can never fathom the breadth of His power or the depth of His love. But we can worship Him. We can lift up our hands and hearts in prayer to the One who created each of us out of pure love. We can sing the praises of a God who knows us more intimately than we can imagine. We can rejoice that He has loved us enough to reveal to us His grandeur and His plan for our salvation. And we can respond by handing our lives over to Him and serving Him in our brothers and sisters.

At this point in our journey of faith, we cannot see God. But it will not always be that way. The day will come when we will stand before Him and face Him in all His majesty and glory. It will both exhilarate and startle us. It will both surprise and delight us. And, God willing, we will spend eternity gazing upon His beauty and being led deeper and deeper into the mystery of His being. That is His plan for us who have believed in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the mystery of salvation that He has planned out since the creation of the universe. What else can we do than stand in awe of our great God whose love knows no bounds?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Holy Spirit and Fire

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. In Jesus' day, Pentecost was a harvest festival. It was a time to celebrate all the bounty the earth brought forth through the creative power of God. It was also a time to celebrate how God calls us to work with Him in making the land fruitful through the sweat of our brow.

Now, we know Pentecost to be the birthday of the Church. It was the day when the Holy Spirit rushed upon the apostles and Mary as they prayed in the upper room fifty days after Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

The New Testament tells us that the room shook and tongues of fire rested on their heads as the Holy Spirit filled them with grace and power.

Their experience of the Holy Spirit was so tremendous that they couldn't contain themselves. They poured out into the streets proclaiming to all those who had come to Jerusalem for the festival about the wonders of Jesus Christ and His love for all people. In fact, their joy was so great and their hilarity so intense that people thought they were drunk!

We call Pentecost the birthday of the Church because, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were given the power to go out into the world and proclaim the message of Jesus' death and resurrection. They were transformed from timid men hiding out in fear to bold preachers of the gospel. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they went from being a group of Galilean fishermen and tax collectors to being witnesses to Jesus' resurrection in Jerusalem, in Samaria and eventually to the end of the earth.

We are gathered here today because of those apostles and the gift of the Holy Spirit they received. Let's think about this for a minute. Most of us here today were baptized by a deacon or priest. That deacon or priest was baptized by another deacon or priest. And, they in turn were baptized by another deacon or priest. And so on and so on. If we were to go back far enough following the chain of baptisms, eventually it would lead us back directly to the apostles and Jesus. We are connected over many centuries to the Christians of the past through our common baptism.

Not only are we linked to the Christians of the past, but we are linked to the Christians of the present scattered throughout North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia. In the case of Catholics, we are all hearing and preaching on the same readings from the Bible. We are all receiving the same Eucharist. Though our masses are in English or in Spanish or in Swahili, we all worship the same Lord and God. We are linked through a common confession of faith and a common baptism to every other Christian scattered throughout the world who professes that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Saint Paul describes this for us beautifully in the second reading. He describes the Church as a body. Jesus is the head, and we are the members. Just as all the parts of the body are connected together and rely on each other for life and nutrition, so we are all connected to one another and to Jesus.  And, just as every part of the body has a certain function - the eyes see, the heart circulates blood, the feet walk - so each of us has a certain role in the Church. No person is indispensable. Just as we would have a hard time getting around if we were missing a foot, so we as a Church are less effective in preaching the gospel when people keep their talents to themselves instead of sharing them to enrich the life of our community.

As human beings, it is natural for us to want to belong. Our ties to our family and friends are the things we value most in life. Each of us belongs here, too. The Church is a home for those who have faith and have been baptized. The Church is a home for us. And, we must work to make this home an even more welcoming place. To the stranger, we must extend a hand of friendship. To the needy, we must offer some of our bread. To the sorrowful, we must lend a shoulder to cry on. Our faith demands that we recognize that we are all interconnected no matter what language we speak or what country we belong to. When we do that, we become "Church". We make Church real in our lives and in our communities. We experience a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of Jesus' Spirit. Sins are forgiven, and people are united in love.

All of us know someone who, for whatever reason, has stopped coming to church. Maybe someone has said something unkind to them.  Maybe they were offended by something someone said to them. Maybe they just felt as if they didn't belong. Now is the time for us to tell those persons that we miss them. Now is the time for us to tell them that we are not the same without them. We are not all that we could be without them. It is time for us to make the effort to invite people back, to fill this Church with worshipers, so that we can all grow together in our faith by using the gifts God has given us.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit gives us boldness to proclaim the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. It gives us strength to serve the needy among us. The Holy Spirit works to help us realize that we are not free agents living our faith on our own, but that we are interconnected to other Christians who lived before us and to Christians living now scattered throughout the globe.

When we receive the Eucharist today, we receive Jesus' body, and we become Jesus' body. It is up to us now to make His word known throughout all the earth.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Have you ever had a life-changing experience? Have you ever had an event take place in your life that was so dramatic that it changed the way you looked at the world and looked at yourself? Have you ever had something happen to you that shook you to the core of your being and made it impossible to continue living the way you had before?

The apostles had just such a life-changing experience. It was not when Jesus first called them along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. It was not when Jesus was crucified. It was not even when He was raised from the dead. We see clearly in the gospels that even after the Resurrection, the apostles were full of doubt and fear. Rather, the event that utterly transformed them was the feast that we celebrate today - Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit rushed down upon them as they gathered in prayer with the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were so filled with the Spirit that they could not stop praising God and declaring out loud what Jesus had done for them. In fact, they were making such a racket that a crowd began to gather. It was unmistakable to anyone who witnessed it that God was acting in a mighty way.

Up until that time, the apostles had been huddled in the room behind closed doors out of fear. Now, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear and proclaimed the praises of God and His Son, Jesus, to all those who had gathered to hear them. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, they were transformed from men who were afraid, who doubted and who even deserted Jesus, to men who spoke out boldly about the love of God made manifest in His Son.

The lives of the apostles would never be the same. After Pentecost, Peter would eventually travel to Rome to found a church there and be crucified upside down by the Roman authorities. Saint John would travel to what is now modern day Turkey, start several churches and eventually be exiled to the island of Patmos where he would write the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Saint James would remain in Jerusalem guiding the efforts of the first community of Christians, and he too would be martyred for his witness to the faith. Even Thomas who at first refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, traveled all the way to India spreading the good news. He was also killed for preaching about the Risen Lord.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is a life-changing event for all those who receive Him. He draws us out of the darkness of error and ignorance into the light of truth. He leads us out of the dark night of sin into the dawn of grace. He lifts us out of the clutches of death and carries us into the hope of eternal life. Together with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is God, the Lord and Giver of Life. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enter the depths of our being, to fill our heart and to transform us from the inside out.

Many of us here today came to take our faith more seriously because of a dramatic event. It could have been losing a loved one, coming down with an illness or losing a job. It taught us how much we really need God in our lives. For many others, the miracle of children awakened a sense of the power and beauty of life and the God who created us. Because we want to share the beauty of our faith with our children, we began to take our own faith more seriously. Or it could be that, one day, because of something someone said or because of the example of a good person, it dawned on us just how much God loves us, and we could not help but want to turn our lives over to Him. We had a “born again” experience that made it impossible for us to think of living in any other way than for the glory of God.

The Holy Spirit uses all those experiences to alert us to the presence and action of God in our lives. However, most of the time, He is not working in a dramatic, palpable way. Rather, most often the Spirit is at work in us in quiet, gentle ways. Like our heart that beats without our having to think about it or our lungs which draw in breath even when we are asleep, the Spirit of God is moving our emotions to have compassion for the less fortunate, inspiring our thoughts to consider what is good and holy and touching our inner self with a desire for the things of God. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, holding us up as we pray, and gently transforming us through the gifts of faith, hope and love.

So while it is true that we can have dramatic, life-changing experiences of God’s presence,  most often the Spirit is at work in us in more subtle ways that we can barely perceive. That is why it is so important for us to come to Mass every week and spend time in prayer every day. It is through those small habits of prayer and worship that the Holy Spirit leads us into deeper knowledge of and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through those ten minutes of Scripture reading that we commit to everyday that we come to recognize our sins and find strength to overcome temptation. It is through that Rosary that we pray before going to bed that we begin to understand and imitate God’s great love for us. And it is by going to confession regularly and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist frequently that we are transformed into women and men who radiant the joy of the Spirit of God.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

More on Prayer

Prayer is the soul of the Christian life. It is to our spirit what breath is to our body. Through prayer, joy, peace and purpose come flooding into our lives. It keeps us grounded when everything around us is changing rapidly and keeps us centered when everyone else is losing focus. When prayer becomes a daily habit, we see real change in ourselves. Our hearts and minds increasingly become attuned to God’s way of seeing and doing things. With that, we find it easier to love others and to make clearer decisions. Prayer is the foundation of a good and fulfilled life.

Today’s readings speak powerfully to us about the role of prayer in the life of Jesus, Mary and His disciples.

In the gospel, we get a glimpse into the intimate prayer which Jesus shares with His Heavenly Father. He is about to be arrested and put to death. It is the most distressed time of His life. With confidence He turns to God praying not only for Himself but for His disciples. Though He certainly would have prayed the psalms and other scriptural verses, for Jesus, prayer was more than reciting words He had memorized as a child. Rather, it meant speaking to God from His heart, sharing His feelings and fears with Him and, most especially, letting Him know that He trusted Him no matter what His will might be.

The first reading gives us a glimpse of the early prayer life of Mary and the disciples. The scene is the upper room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, where the disciples hid out during the crucifixion and where Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection. Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, Mary and the disciples gather to pray and await the gift of the Holy Spirit. They gathered there in the same way that we gather here today - in a spirit of joyful expectation. God was about to speak to them, to show Himself to them. For them, prayer meant waiting for God to fulfill His promises.

Finally, today’s responsorial psalm speaks to the heart of what prayer is and can be. The psalmist cries out: “One thing I ask of the Lord...that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord.” This is the prayer of contemplation, of those who are so in love with God that they cannot take their eyes off Him. They sit in stillness and quiet out of sheer love for their Creator. Prayer is ultimately the way we show our love for God. By spending time in silence waiting for our Heavenly Father to speak to us we come to know Him better and love Him more deeply.

Who of us would not want a closer relationship with God? Who of us would not want to experience the joy and peace that comes from a loving friendship with our Heavenly Father? It is a gift He wants to share with all of us. It is a grace He wants all of us to enjoy. And the way to receive it is by spending time in prayer.

As Catholics, we have so many resources in our tradition to help us with our prayer life. Not only do we have the Mass and the rosary but also the teachings of the saints. Many great women and men such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Therese of Lisieux have left us insightful writings on methods of communicating with God.

One of the great spiritual teachers of our faith is Saint Francis de Sales. His book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is an absolute must for anyone who wants to grow spiritually. It was written for people like us who may be beginners in prayer and may not know much theology. While it would be impossible for me to share all the wisdom of this book with you now, his teaching on how to begin and end our prayer time can be immensely helpful.

Saint Francis de Sales teaches us that we should begin our prayer time first by acknowledging God’s presence. It means making ourselves aware that our Heavenly Father is all around us, that we have His undivided attention and that He loves us. We take a deep breath, quiet our thoughts and focus ourselves on Him. We do not need to say any words. We simply need to allow God to embrace us, to take us into His arms and to hold us. This is a beautiful way for us to be reminded that prayer is mainly about intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

Then, Saint Francis teaches us that we should end our prayer time by gathering “a spiritual bouquet.” This is a beautiful image. Think of a young girl walking through a field picking every colorful flower that catches her eye and carrying it with her throughout the day to look at and to enjoy their fragrance. In just such a way, Saint Francis tells us that, as we are wrapping up our prayer time, we should look back at it and think of all the ways God may have touched us in prayer. It might be a verse from Scripture that consoled us or an especially powerful feeling of God’s presence. We are to hold those insights and feelings in our heart and call them to mind periodically throughout the day as a way of extending those graces and reminding ourselves of God’s goodness to us.

As Christians, we are all called to a life of prayer. Depending on the circumstances of our life and our personalities, prayer will take on a different form for each of us. However, there is not one of us who is not called to spend some time with God everyday. Taking Saint Francis de Sales’s advice to begin our prayer time acknowledging our Heavenly Father’s loving presence and ending that time by gathering a “spiritual bouquet” of feelings, insights and images we experienced can help us begin that journey and deepen it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Power of Prayer

What would you think of a professional football player who never exercised? How far do you think he would get? He might be able to get by for a while on his natural abilities. But, before long, he would be unable to keep up with the other players who are in shape. There is no future for a professional athlete who fails to exercise.

What exercise is for an athlete, prayer is for a Christian. Without prayer, we cannot live the demands of the gospel. Without prayer, we cannot take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Without prayer, we cannot fight temptation, love our neighbor or forgive our enemies. Prayer empowers us to live as Jesus did, it makes our hearts capable of loving and it inspires us to perform works of charity and mercy. For a while, we might be able to get along on just our willpower and determination. But eventually temptation and the cares of this life will weigh down on us and leave us exhausted and disappointed. Only through prayer can the love and mercy of God shine forth in our lives.

All the great saints were well aware of this. Their holy lives and the good works they performed were a result of intense lives of prayer. Before serving the poor of Calcutta, Mother Theresa would spend hours in prayer every morning before the Blessed Sacrament. Pope John Paul II would pray an entire rosary - all twenty mysteries - every day. Saint Catherine of Siena enjoyed such an intense prayer life that she stopped eating all together. The only nourishment she received was the Holy Eucharist. All these saints loved Jesus so much that prayer for them was not a chore or a burden but an incomparable joy.

Jesus also needed to pray. After His baptism, the gospels tell us that He went to the desert to spend forty days praying and fasting. Many times, He would sneak away from the crowds to spend the whole night in prayer with His Heavenly Father. Before suffering His passion and death, He prayed at the garden of olives that He would have the strength to do God’s will.

Today’s readings are full of examples of prayer in the life of Jesus, His mother and His disciples.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes us to the upper room in Jerusalem where the Risen Lord first appeared to the apostles. Jesus has ascended to heaven and told them to wait until they were given the gift of “power on high”, the Holy Spirit. They spend those ten days in intense prayer together with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is in a sense the Church “in the womb”, waiting for the new life that will be given it by the Holy Spirit. And it all begins with prayer.

The reading from the gospel of Saint John gives us a glimpse into the intimate life of prayer that Jesus shares with His Heavenly Father. It is the hours between His last supper with the apostles and His death on the cross. There are two prayers on Jesus’ lips as he faces the cruelty of His upcoming death. First, He asks that God be glorified by the sacrifice He is about to make. Secondly, He prays for His disciples.

In imitation of Jesus, our prayer should always be that God be glorified in our words, thoughts and actions. We should pray that we may know and do God’s will in all our endeavors. And like Jesus we should pray for one another. Each of us is striving to live good and holy lives, and we need each other’s prayerful support. None of us should get so bogged down in our problems that we fail to think of the needs of our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus’ thoughts were with His disciples before facing His crucifixion, so our thoughts should be with others who may be suffering even more than we are.

Now that we understand what an indispensable part of Christian life prayer is, how can we begin to make it part of our daily lives?

First of all, we need to make time every day for prayer. We need to carve out some time when we drop everything and focus on our Heavenly Father. It may mean waking up a little earlier in the morning or going to bed a little later at night. But, without time, a life of prayer cannot take root and grow.

Secondly, a life of prayer requires trust in God. Prayer is not so much about what we do but what God does in us. When we pray, God takes us by the hand and leads us. Our prayer should always be a prayer of trust that if we make the time for God, He will bless us with His presence. And prayer in its essence is nothing more than basking in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Finally, if we feel stuck and unable to pray, if we are not sure what to say to God or what we should be doing with our prayer time, we can never go wrong by praying the rosary. The rosary is an important prayer for both beginners and those advanced in the spiritual life. Through it we reflect on the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. As we reflect on those mysteries, we become more like Jesus. And we allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to do what she does best - lead us to her Son, Jesus. The rosary is a powerful means by which we can deepen our prayer life and become holy.

Whatever problems we are facing, whatever anxieties plague us or our loved ones, prayer is the answer. When our lives are deeply rooted in prayer, then all things are possible. So let us commit ourselves to giving part of our day over to the Lord in prayer. Let us trust that in that time He will guide us and speak to us. Then we will see a real transformation take place in ourselves, our families, our Church and our world. That is the example set for us by Jesus and the saints. That is God’s promise to all those who seek Him with sincerity and faith.