Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Power Over Death

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.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Storms are a part of life. They can come upon us suddenly and knock us off our feet. Earthquakes such as the one that leveled Nepal last month or the tsunami which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Thailand a few years ago remind us of nature’s devastating power. Without any warning, tornados and cyclones rip through the countryside turning even the most well built homes into piles of debris and throwing cars around as if they were toys. During the winter, blizzards put a stop to all our plans and keep us locked up in our homes until they pass. Storms are nature’s way of reminding us that we are not in control. They show us just how powerless we really are.

However, storms do not only take place in nature. There are also political storms. Wars and crime perhaps destroy more property and claim more lives every year than earthquakes, tornados or hurricanes. There are also religious storms. Persecution by governments and militant groups continues to claim the lives of thousands of believers every year. Finally, there are storms in our personal lives. Relationships fall apart, our loved ones pass away or we lose a job. Storms in our personal life are the most common and often the most painful. Like the storms in nature, they leave us feeling devastated, powerless and afraid.

In today’s gospel, the disciples find themselves in the middle of a storm at sea which comes suddenly and with devastating power. They were within minutes of drowning when they call out to Jesus who is sleeping in the stern. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” All of us can relate to the disciples’ panic but also to their question. How many times in the midst of our own storms did we wonder whether God cared? When we have felt afraid or have experienced a devastating loss, have we not wondered where Jesus was and why He wasn’t helping us? How many times has it seemed to us that Jesus was sleeping on the job?

These are the most natural questions to ask when the storms of life rock our world and knock us off our feet. Today’s first reading is taken from the book of Job. Job was a righteous man who lost everything. His wife and children were killed, all his property was destroyed and his body became ravaged by disease. At first, he accepted the tragedies calmly. However, it finally became too much for him and he challenged God to explain why so many bad things had happened to him. Today’s first reading is part of God’s response to Job. Notice that God speaks to Job out of a storm. He reminds him that He alone created all things and has power over them. God does not try to justify Himself. He simply tells Job that if He allows bad things to happen it is for a good reason. We are just not capable of understanding it.

This is not an easy answer for us to hear in the twenty-first century. We think that because of our knowledge and technology we can control everything. We want reasonable explanations for whatever takes place in our lives. However, God does not always explain Himself to us. Many times He requires that we simply trust Him the way a child trusts a father to provide for him. He is the one in charge. Not only is His power more awesome than we can ever imagine but His love for us is deeper and stronger than we can ever hope for. If He allows bad things to happen to us it is because of His love for us. He simply allows it so that He can bring a greater good into our lives.

Again, this is not an easy answer to hear. When we are going through the storm, it is impossible for us to see what good can possibly come from it. It is all the more difficult to believe when it is our own children who are suffering. But it is the truth. It may take time for us to realize it. In fact, it may only be in heaven that we discover the good that came from our suffering.  However, that is God’s promise to us.

And, if we are honest with ourselves, what choice do we really have? We can decide to hate God for allowing bad things to happen to us, but what good will that do? It will only keep us locked in resentment and bitterness. It will not make our problems go away. In fact, it will leave us feeling even more isolated and powerless because we will be turning our backs on the one person who can save us.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells His disciples not to fear. When the disciples wake Him up, He asks them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” No matter what storms we may be experiencing, Jesus expects us to have faith. When we are feeling overwhelmed, afraid and powerless, we need only turn to Him. He has the power to calm the storm. It may not be immediately as in the gospel. He may ask us to ride it out for a while. However, we can never forget that He is in the boat with us and that He will eventually guide us safely to shore. Also, we can be assured that one day we will discover why the storms which rocked us were necessary or what good came from them. If nothing else, we will grow in humility because we will understand just how powerless we really are. That humility will make our lives that much more serene because we will be able to accept the storms of life and turn to Jesus more quickly in the midst of them.

Jesus is always with us. That belief alone will calm our fears and give us confidence to ride out the storms of life. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Got The Whole World In His Hands

Our first reading today comes form the book of Job which is one of the most fascinating stories of the Old Testament.  It tackles the most primitive question of the human heart, "Why do the innocent suffer?"

As the story begins, Job is a very wealthy tribal leader with many children and a great number of animals. He is also a very just and holy man who observes God's law without fault. God wants to see just how good Job is and so he decides to put him to the test by allowing everything to be taken away from him. While Job is at his brother's house, a servant arrives to tell him that his oxen, camels and donkeys have been taken away by a rival tribe. Before he could finish speaking, another servant arrives announcing that a fire fell from the sky which burned up all his sheep. As if that were not bad enough, Job learns that his children were all killed when the house they were in collapsed on top of them.

Job is devastated by the news. In his grief he tears his clothes, shaves his head and falls to the ground. Despite his suffering, Job does not blame or curse God. 

In the meantime, to make matters worse, Job becomes sick. His body is covered with unsightly and painful sores. Still, he does not blame God or ask him why such suffering has been visited upon him. 

Then, Job is visited by some friends who come to comfort him in his sorrow. They tell him that he must have committed some sin for God to be punishing him so miserably. Job insists that he is innocent, that he has done nothing to offend God and that he does not deserve to be punished. His friends, however, keep encouraging him to ask God for forgiveness.

Finally, Job can stand it no longer. He turns to God and asks him what he has done to deserve so much misery.

Our first reading is taken from God's response to Job's question. God appears to Job out of a thunderous storm and assures him that he himself created the heavens, the earth and all that is in them. Nothing happens without his willing it. Everything takes place according to God's plan. No woman or man is wise enough to fully comprehend all that God does.

At God's words, Job falls silent affirming that he is not wise enough to understand all that God does and that he has no other choice but to accept his will.

No matter what we have experienced in our lives, we can all relate to the story of Job. In times of suffering, all of us have at one time wondered whether or not we were being punished by God. And how many of us have ever told God that we deserve a better deal in life because we are so good and because we go to church every week? Or how many of us, upon hearing that someone we know has suffered a tragedy, has ever said to ourselves that they deserve their bad fortune or wondered what they must have done to be punished so terribly? We say such things because we want to believe that if we are good we will somehow be magically protected from misery and hardship. In reality, many times we have little control over what our fate will be.

This would be depressing news if we were people without faith. Instead we have the assurance that the one who is in control - the Almighty God - knows us and loves us. Even though events in our lives can seem to be spinning out of control, God has us and our lives in his hands. No matter what tragedy may befall us, God will make good come from it if we only trust him. Though we cannot fully understand it, God has a plan. He has the whole world in his hands. And he holds each one of us in his hands.  

The gospel reading from Mark picks up on this theme. The disciples find themselves in the middle of a storm in the Sea of Galilee. The waves are crashing into the boat, and it is filling up with water. All the while, Jesus is fast asleep. Fearing that they will drown, the disciples wake Jesus up and tell him what's happening. Jesus seems surprised that they are in such a state of panic. He rebukes the wind and the waves and they fall silent at his command. The storm clouds clear away, and the sea becomes calm. Jesus reassures the disciples - Jesus reassures us - that no matter what we may be experiencing, he has power over it. He might not always use that control the way we would like him to, but he knows what he is doing. And what he is doing is ultimately for our good.

The childrens song, "He Has the Whole World in His Hands", says it all. Whatever tragedies, fears or sorrows we are dealing with today, God has control of it. Our faith assures us that, though he seems silent and asleep, he will calm the storm. Though we can often feel that our lives will never return to normal - that we will never experience serenity again - God has a plan to get us through our present circumstances and bring us to an even better place. At this Mass, let us place our concerns on the altar and let God know that we do trust him. Then our minds will be at ease, and we can watch the miracles take place.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015


It is an experience every Father has no matter how many children he may have or how old they get. We look on our children and marvel at how much they have grown. Around the dinner table hearing the clever words they use or watching them develop their talents we cannot help asking ourselves where they got it all. As they learn at such a rapid pace we realize that there is something at work in them that is wider and deeper than the nurture we have provided. Even though we cannot always take credit for it, we delight in seeing them become unique individuals before our eyes.

Just as our children grow in marvelous and often unseen ways, so God’s Kingdom sends its roots deep into the earth and stretches out its branches throughout all the world. The growth is almost unnoticeable. Much of it takes place underground beyond what we are able to see. Yet Jesus assures us in today’s parable that the growth is steady and sure. Just as the smallest of seeds can become the largest of shrubs, so God’s Kingdom, small and hidden as it often is, can grow to give shelter and shade to all peoples.

Jesus’ parable should give us deep peace. When we look at our individual spiritual lives, we often can feel discouraged as we struggle with the same temptations or experience times of dryness in our prayer. God’s will and purpose does not always seem clear. However, through God’s grace we are growing. Like a seed deep in the earth, it is a hidden growth. But it beckons us to trust in God, allow Him to do His work and wait for the results.

Jesus’ parable should also give us peace as we labor in God’s vineyard. So many of our words as catechists and preachers can seem like seed thrown into the wind. We can look out onto a congregation with faces as expressionless as the statues on Easter Island and wonder if we are really getting through to anyone. Are our sacrifices and efforts making any difference? It is natural for us as humans to want to see results, and as Westerners we want to see them instantly. Yet Jesus assures us that He is giving the growth. We may be blessed to see the fruits of that growth from time to time, but for the most part it will take place in hidden ways requiring us to trust and wait patiently.

There are many cliches to help us try to understand the mystery of our cooperation with God’s great work of building the Kingdom. We have all heard, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.” None are as powerful as Jesus’ parable of the seed. Like a good farmer, we water the soil and tend the young plant, but it grows with a vitality and a dynamism that comes not from us but from God.

And just as the tree is vastly larger and more beautiful than its seed, so what we see around us is nothing compared to what we will see when the Kingdom is in full flower.

Therefore, Saint Paul’s words to us from the Second Letter to the Corinthians spell out the attitude we are to have as we tend God’s Kingdom. “We continue to be confident.... We walk by faith, not by sight.” We go forth every day with our prayer and our work understanding that we will not always see them bear fruit. We experience frustration and failure trusting that somehow it may still serve God’s purpose. And, in the end, we entrust all our efforts to our Heavenly Father with the confidence that all things will eventually be revealed before the tribunal of Christ.

Given that all this is God’s work, is there not also reason for us to rejoice? We can get so bogged down in our failures, our ineffectiveness and our sin that we fail to see what God has already accomplished. When a child speaks her first words, our instinct is not to correct her. Rather we laugh, encourage her and take delight in her ability to learn. Just so, can we trust that our Heavenly Father takes delight in us though our steps may be unsteady? Can we rest in the knowledge that we are loved and that all our needs are being provided for by a God who loves us? Can we rejoice in what God has been able to accomplish so far with people such as we are?

That does not mean that we blind ourselves to the real challenges or neglect the hard work that still needs to be done. It does not mean that we become triumphalistic or prideful. Rather, it means that we humbly see our efforts for what they are - not a means of affirming ourselves and our own goodness but a means of affirming God and His sovereignty.

Fathers see it so clearly in their children who grow into maturity and adulthood in marvelous ways. Early in their children's development, they may compare them to their peers and wonder why they are not yet walking or why they do not seem to be learning to speak as quickly. But, before long, they are chasing them down the aisles of the supermarket or telling them to shush during Mass. Just so, we may wonder why we are so slow to grow in virtue or why our parish does not seem to be flourishing. Can we let go of our need to manage everything and to see immediate results so as to trust that our Heavenly Father is at work? Can we take delight in what we see before us just as God surely does?

There is no more marvelous symbol of our daily struggles to tend the Kingdom than the Eucharist we celebrate every Sunday. We bring to God dry,stale bread and vinegary  table wine, and He transforms it into the Body and Blood of Christ to nourish us on our journey. Therefore, we can rest in peace and work with confidence. Our Heavenly Father has it all under control and is making everything work out for the salvation of the world.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

God Gives The Growth

A young boy came home excited about his science project. The teacher gave each student a seed which they were to plant in a styrofoam cup at home and were to keep a journal of what they did to nurture the seed into a plant. He and his father went in the yard to dig up some dirt, filled a cup with it and gently pushed the seed into the soil. Then they watered it and placed it on the window sill where it could get plenty of sun.

The next morning, the boy woke up at 5:00 and ran to the window to see if the seed had grown yet. But nothing seemed to happen overnight. He woke up his father and asked him why the seed had not grown. The father told him that he had to be patient. That it takes time for the seed to grow.

The morning after, the boy ran up to the window again, and still nothing had happened. He started sobbing, ran to his father to wake him up and said, “I think we killed the seed! It’s still not growing!” Hugging the little boy tightly, the father tried to calm him down and explain that it takes time for the seed to grow. Then the boy asked, “How will I know that the seed is growing? What if it isn’t growing and it’s dead?” The father explained to him that as long as he took care of the soil, the seed should grow. However,  they would not know for sure until they saw it sprout up. They just needed to trust that it would grow because that is what seeds do.

The boy accepted his father’s answer but still ran every morning to the window to see if there was any progress.

Then one morning, he noticed a little green shoot peeking up from just below the dirt. He ran to get his father and show him, “See, Daddy, you were right! It did grow!”

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the image of the seed to describe how God works in our lives and in our world. For the people of his day, planting seeds was not just a science project or hobby but a way of life. They depended on the seeds they planted to grow to provide food for their families. Most people grew their own food, so whether the seed flourished or not was a matter of life and death to them. They could till the soil and water it regularly but, like the young boy, they simply had to trust that the seed they planted would grow.

Jesus explains to the crowd that God’s Kingdom works in much the same way as a seed planted in the ground. God works in hidden ways. We cannot always understand what He is doing or why things are turning out the way they are. We wonder why He is not doing more to end suffering or why so many people are so slow to hear and understand the gospel of love. But somehow our Heavenly Father is using all the world’s events - both the good and the bad - to bring His Kingdom to fruition. All we can do is trust that He has it all under control and that He knows what He is doing. And we have to wait patiently until it is finally manifested in all its glory.

Many of us who have lived long enough can understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. There were times when we could not comprehend why certain people left our lives, why our careers did not turn out the way we thought or why what we expected out of life never came to pass. Looking back over the years, however, we can see how everything fit into place. Without our knowing it and without our controlling it, the pieces came together and we could not imagine our lives being any different. Like the seed growing hidden in the soil, we grew and have flowered in ways that we could never have planned on our own. We realize that it could only have been by Our Heavenly Father’s plan that it all worked out.

Saint Paul describes the attitude we are to have. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” We live with confidence that God has everything under control even when things seem to be unravelling. In a culture that is hostile to the gospel of life, we base our decisions not on what is popular and not on what is convenient, but on what God has revealed through His Church. In a society that fails to value the dignity of every human life, we work to feed the hungry, care for the sick and visit prisoners. We can only persevere in living the good news even in the face of ridicule by trusting that God will somehow make it worthwhile even if to our eyes it seems to be a waste of time and energy.

The greatest example of this is the cross. When Jesus was crucified it seemed as if all that He had done was being brought to a bloody end. It seemed that the authorities who had put Him to death finally won. It seemed as if God had abandoned Him. But God was working in a hidden way using the torture that Jesus suffered to bring new life to the world. The cross was like the seed watered by the blood of Christ which sprouted into the Church giving eternal life to all the world. We are the roots, the branches and the fruit that have grown up from that seed. And by living His message of love and peace, we are assuring that the branches will continue to grow to cover all the earth.

We walk by faith and not by sight. God’s Kingdom is growing silently but surely. We will not see the Kingdom in full flower until we enter, by God’s grace, into our heavenly reward. But we can be sure that just as the flower is more beautiful than the seed it grew out from, so God’s Kingdom will be infinitely more glorious than anything we can imagine. Until then, no matter how dark and hopeless our world may seem, we live, work and pray with trust that it is all going according to God’s plan.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Precious Blood

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, fought passionately on behalf of the poor. To serve the needy, she founded hospitality centers throughout the country which would give shelter to the homeless and provide meals for the hungry. Her concern, however, did not end with the bodily needs of those she ministered to. She also sought to meet their spiritual needs by offering retreats and daily Mass at her hospitality centers.

One morning, a young priest arrived to say Mass at her center in New York. Thinking he would make the Mass more relevant for those attending, he asked Dorothy for a coffee cup and proceeded to use it instead of a chalice to consecrate the blood of Christ. After Mass, Dorothy took the cup and buried it in the backyard. She understood that now that the cup had held the precious blood of our Savior, it could no longer be used for any other purpose. The young priest also got the message and went back to using a chalice for Mass.

At every Mass we use special gold and silver vessels for both the bread and the wine because something precious takes place in them. The bread and wine we offer become the Body and Blood of Jesus our Savior. They are not merely symbols but the real thing. So we set aside the finest vessels we can provide because of the love and reverence we have for our Lord’s Body and Blood.

Though we offer both bread and wine at every Mass, we typically only receive the bread. However in both the bread and the wine, the entire body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus is contained. So when we receive just the consecrated bread, we are receiving the whole sacrament. If it were to happen that at communion we were to run out of hosts, we could offer the cup of His Blood and we would still be receiving the whole Sacrament. When we receive the Eucharist, we are not just receiving pieces of Jesus. Rather He gives His whole self to us in the form of bread and wine.

Today's readings focus on the blood of Christ given to us in the form of wine.
In the Old Testament, blood was understood to be where our life force and energy resided. When you take the blood away from a person or animal, you also take away their life. In the same way, to shed one's blood was to give one's life. So when Jesus tells the apostles at the Last Supper that the cup He is giving them is His blood, they would have understood that it was His life that they were receiving.

In the same way, when we receive the Eucharist, it is the life of Christ that enters us. Communion is like a blood transfusion that we receive from Jesus replacing that which is lacking in our human life - namely, the ability to love and forgive unconditionally - and reviving our anemic spirit.

That is why Jesus tells us in John's gospel that unless we eat His Body and drink His Blood we will have no life in us. There is nowhere else to get the divine life that Jesus is offering us than through the Eucharist. Nothing else this world can offer can replace the very Body and Blood of Jesus. Nothing else can give us the life of our Savior. So we should never fail to come to this table as often as we can to share communion with our Lord who died to save us.

It is also significant that when we do receive the Blood of Christ, we receive it from a cup or a chalice. Drinking from a cup is part of the symbolic act we make in receiving the Blood of Christ. In Jesus' time, to drink from the cup meant sharing someone's destiny or fate. For instance, if a king offered you his cup, he was offering you a share in his kingdom, his wealth and his power. Just so, when James and John ask Jesus to sit at His right and left hand in the Kingdom of God, He asks them if they can drink the same cup of suffering He will drink. For Jesus, the only way to enter the Kingdom of God is to share the cup of unconditional love - a love that is willing to endure death, a love that He showed us by dying on the cross.

Whenever we drink from the chalice of Jesus' blood, then, we are sharing in His self-giving love. We remember His words, "If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and pick up his cross." When we receive communion, we are not getting a handout but making a commitment to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us and give to those in need just as He did. We also remember Jesus words, "If anyone would save his life he must lose it." When we receive Jesus' Body and Blood in the Eucharist we acknowledge that we must empty ourselves of our own lives, desires, plans and will to make room for the love, joy and power He wants to pour out into us.

When we gather for communion, then, we are doing much more than meeting an obligation or going through a monotonous routine. We are receiving Jesus, Himself. And we are saying "Amen" to His presence among us and, in particular, to His presence in the least of our brothers and sisters whom we must love and serve. Dorothy Day once said, "The real atheist is the one who cannot see God in his fellow human being." We cannot bow to Jesus on Sunday and refuse to help our sister or brother on Monday. By eating this bread and drinking this cup we proclaim that Jesus has died for us and for all. Now it is up to us to live the reality we celebrate until all the world is charged with the healing and saving presence of God.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Joy of Communion

During his trip to the Holy Land in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI had the opportunity to preside over a first communion Mass in Jordan. Many of the young children were refugees from Iraq. At such a tender age, they already know the ravages of war, the destruction it has wrought in their country and the deaths of many of their family members and friends. Also, as Christians in a predominantly Muslim country, they experience discrimination on a daily basis. But for that hour they felt the joy of receiving the Body of Christ from the hands of the Holy Father.

The Catholic News Service, in reporting the joyous occasion, quoted one young girl as saying, "I'm going to receive my first communion from the Pope. Wow! This is something really amazing. It's a dream come true!" Her brother who was also receiving his first communion told reporters, "Words cannot describe what I am feeling at receiving my first communion from the messenger of God, the messenger of peace."

The enthusiasm of these young people cannot help but remind us of our own first communion. Our parents dressed us in white suits and dresses symbolic of our innocence and purity. Up to that time, we had to sit in the pew while our parents and older brothers and sisters went up to communion. Now we would be able to join them in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. No matter what problems we may have been facing at the time, each of us felt special for that one day because Jesus, our Lord and Savior, would be entering our bodies and souls for the very first time.

Today is a day for us to renew the innocence and joy of our first holy communion. While every Sunday is a celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church sets aside this Sunday every year to focus and meditate in a special way on the gift that the Eucharist is to us as individuals and as a believing community. As the young boy who received communion from the Holy Father said so well, words cannot describe the wonderful reality of our God who gives us his very flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. Since Jesus first instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, as we read in today's gospel, to this very day, the Church has always believed that when the priest prays the words of consecration during Mass, the bread is no longer bread but really becomes the Body of Christ. In the same way, the wine is no longer wine, but the Blood of Christ. What we receive in the Eucharist is no mere symbol, but the real thing. Jesus, the Son of God, in his body, blood, soul and divinity becomes our food. When we say, "Amen", we are affirming that we believe that what we are receiving is Christ himself. In fact, the only words that are fitting in the face of such a mystery are the words, "I believe."

Today's gospel reading gives us the story of the very first communion. At the Last Supper, Jesus gathers his apostles together to celebrate the Passover meal. To commemorate how God delivered their people from slavery in Egypt, Jews have a meal with a roasted lamb, unleavened bread and wine. The blood of the lamb is taken and smeared on the door posts to commemorate how the angel of death passed by the homes of the Hebrew families sparing the lives of their first born sons. The gospel reading of the Last Supper tells us about the bread and the wine, but it doesn't mention that Jesus and the apostles had lamb. That is because Jesus himself was the lamb. He was the one who would be slain and whose blood would deliver us from our slavery to sin. He was the one who would take upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins.

We recognize this at every Mass when we break the bread which has become Christ's body and say: "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Grant us peace."

It is important for us to take advantage of this feast to reflect on the great mystery we celebrate every Sunday. It is important for us not to lose the wonder and joy we felt at our first communion when Jesus came to make his home within us. In the face of such a wondrous gift that is ours in the Eucharist, we must strive to keep our hearts innocent and pure so that we can receive Jesus' body and blood worthily. Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffered, died and rose again so that his flesh and blood could be the food for our journey. So then, let us prepare our hearts with joy and humility to receive him so that we can then bring him into a world that is starved for mercy and peace.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Blessed Trinity

The people of Israel were very different from the other nations that surrounded them. While the Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians worshiped many different gods, Israel worshiped one God. As the Bible shows us, they believed this God to be the maker of heaven and earth. All of creation was under His control. All peoples and nations were under His authority. Nonetheless, He chose Israel to be a people all His own. It would be to them that He would reveal His wisdom and love and through them that He would teach other nations about the truth of His Law.

The other nations only knew about their gods through legends and myths. However, Israel had first hand experience of the one true God. As Moses reminds the people in today’s first reading, it was their God who liberated them from slavery in Egypt, who guided them through a hostile desert and who led them into the place that would be their Promised Land. It was God Himself who gave them a Law to ensure that they would live peacefully in the land He had given them. The God of Israel was no distant god manipulating people from afar. Rather He is a God who is intimately involved with the people He has chosen. He makes Himself part of their history. He lives in their midst.

It was to this people who believed in one God that Jesus appeared. While He was the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah who would definitively establish the Kingdom of God, He challenged the faith of the people of Israel. They had always believed in one God, however this Jesus claimed to be equal to God. Like God, He showed that He had power over nature by calming the stormy seas, multiplying loaves and fish and healing sickness. Like God, He claimed to have power to forgive sin. Finally, He showed Himself to have power over death by rising from the dead. It became clear to those who believed in Him that He and the Father were one. They came to believe that He was God’s Son come down to earth to save His people.

Those who came to believe in Jesus and were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit received the Spirit of God. Those who received the Holy Spirit learned that they were empowered to do the same wonders that Jesus did. All throughout the Acts of the Apostles we read how through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples were able to heal the sick, endure hardships for the sake of the gospel and, ultimately, win thousands upon thousands of converts for the Christian faith. Through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian community, believers came to understand that, like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit was also God.

For those first hundred years or so since the resurrection, believers understood that the One God of Israel was Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They might not have been able to fully articulate it in those words. But they lived their faith with the understanding that it was true. It was only later that the name “Trinity” came to be used to identify this belief. However, it was already deeply ingrained in baptized believers.  
It is that mystery that we gather to proclaim and celebrate today. The God of Israel - our God - is a unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While each is a distinct person, they all share the divine nature. This mystery is at the heart of what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ. It is a reality that is at work whenever we gather to worship together.

It is at Mass that we most clearly experience the reality of the Trinity. We begin Mass by making the sign of the cross in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Mass itself is offered to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. This Mass on earth takes us up to heaven where the angels sing “Holy, Holy Holy” and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in a continual exchange of love for each other. Through our liturgy here on earth we take part in the divine liturgy in heaven - the worship of the angels and saints at the throne of the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Before this mystery, the only rational response is to fall down in worship before our God. In the presence of this God who is love and who has loved us, we can only raise our hands and sing His praise. Our hearts were created to be in God’s presence and praise Him. When we lift up our voices in adoration of our God, we become filled with joy. In our life of daily prayer, we should include some time for adoration and praise. During the day today and throughout the week we should each take some time to ponder this great mystery of the One God who is Three Divine Persons, not to try to figure it out or understand it but to contemplate it and allow it to lead us to praise and adoration. It is what our merciful and loving God deserves and it will bring more joy into our lives than we can imagine.

Like the people of Israel, we live in a society that worships many gods. People in our world today run after pleasure, power, wealth and status believing that it will bring them fulfillment and happiness. They sacrifice their health and relationships pursuing what can only lead to frustration and bitterness. By the grace of God, we have experienced the love and mercy of our Heavenly Father. We have come to believe in Jesus who died for our sins and rose to give us the promise of eternal life. We also follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who leads our hearts to praise the living God and who guides our thoughts, words and actions. Like the people of Israel, it is our responsibility to make this living God known to those who worship this culture’s false gods. It is only possible through the Spirit who has been given to us in our baptism. As Jesus orders His disciples in today’s gospel reading, we are to make disciples of all the nations. Then they can share with us the joy we know in worshiping the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

We Dare To Call God, Father

As Christians, we make a very bold claim. We claim that God is our Father. We claim that the One who created the universe with all its billions of people knows each of us individually and loves us personally. We claim that He formed each of us in our mother’s womb with the care of a sculptor molding clay. There is not one second of our lives that we go unnoticed by Him. Despite all the world’s problems, He has nothing better to do than care for us.  We do not claim that He is like a father, but that He really is our Father in a way that our human fathers can never be. Therefore, we can bring our cares and concerns to Him. We can count on Him to help us through any difficulty. We can be assured that we are never alone. God, our Heavenly Father, is always by our side sustaining us with an unconditional love.

We make another bold claim - that this love of God became visible in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This Jesus who lived in history was no mere teacher or prophet. Rather, He is the eternal Son of God come down to earth, taking on our human nature, to reveal the love of God. In Jesus, we are able to see and touch God. In his encyclical, God is Love, Pope Benedict writes: “No one has ever seen God as he is. And yet God is not totally invisible to us; he does not remain completely inaccessible.... In Jesus we are able to see the Father.” The love of God, therefore, is no mere feeling or lofty ideal. It is a person, the person of Jesus Christ, who shows the Father’s love by offering His life on the cross for us and by rising from the dead to give us the hope of everlasting life.

If all that were not enough, as Christians we claim another great dignity - that the Father and the Son are alive and active in us and among us through the person of the Holy Spirit. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the one eternal God. At the beginning of creation, He was breathed into Adam to give him life. He was present throughout the Old Testament through the prophets of Israel. He was at work in the life of Jesus and raised Him from the dead. Then He was poured out upon the apostles at Pentecost to continue the saving work of Jesus in the world through the centuries. That Holy Spirit now lives within all the baptized, reminding us of our dignity as daughters and sons of God, inspiring us to do good works and strengthening us to live and witness to our faith. The Holy Spirit is the presence and love of God made visible in us through baptism.

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity comes down to this - God is a family. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the nature of God that He is love and that His love becomes real in the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because His love is so great and overflowing, God invites us to become a part of that family. Just as Maureen was saved from a life of poverty and abuse in Vietnam by being adopted into a loving family, so we are rescued from a life of sin and death through adoption into God’s family. And we enter into this family through baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We are sons and daughters of God called to an intimate and personal relationship with the Father, in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. It is so beyond our ability to comprehend that the only appropriate response is awe and gratitude for such a tremendous gift.