Thursday, June 29, 2017

Eager Longing To Give Witness

 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.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Season Of Faith

In today’s gospel, Jesus reiterates words that He spoke so often to His disciples during His After every great Church celebration, a season of prayer and celebration follows. The birth of Jesus is followed by the Christmas Season. We extend the feast of Jesus’ resurrection over the following fifty days with the Easter Season. However, after Pentecost, there is nothing - no Pentecost Season, not even a Pentecost octave. We are dumped unceremoniously into Ordinary Time with a few feasts - The Blessed Trinity, The Body and Blood of Christ and the Sacred Heart of Jesus - to console us. To my mind, there should be at least a week of festivities during which we can wear the red and celebrate the marvels the Holy Spirit works in us, the Church.

However, maybe there is another way to look at it. Perhaps Ordinary Time, despite its uninspiring title, could be considered the Pentecost Season. It is during this Ordinary Time that we live as a Church, moving in the Spirit Who was poured out on us, preaching the good news and practicing works of mercy.

So let’s not fret that the feast of Pentecost lasts but a day and is gone. Let us live this Ordinary Time as a Pentecost Season bearing the fruits of the Spirit to the glory of God!

And what happened on that first Pentecost Sunday? The Holy Spirit empowered those who were living in fear to come out of hiding and spread the good news throughout the world. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to step out of the shadows and begin living in the light. Pentecost, if anything, signifies conquering fear to witness to Jesus Christ.
earthly life: “Fear no one.” He understands that His followers will face much opposition and that the good news will not always be welcome. There will be those who try to silence His disciples with threats of violence. However, Jesus wants them to not allow fear to overcome them but to conquer fear through faith.

Fear is an emotion that all of us experience. Many times, it can be a healthy reaction to situations in which we could be harmed. When our fears are rational, they can motivate us to avoid people or places that could threaten our health or safety.

However, when our fears hold us back from experiencing the abundant life God has planned for us, then they no longer are protecting us but imprisoning us. Those irrational fears could be concerns about what other people think and the fear of being criticized, judged and ostracized. While it is natural that we want to be loved and accepted by others, we should not be making our decisions based on what we think other people expect.

And so, Jesus tells us that we should not be afraid to speak the truth. Why? Because even though the truth is so often rejected, even though people who speak the truth are so often bullied, that truth cannot be concealed for ever. No matter how many lies are told, no matter how much effort is put into covering it up, the truth always prevails. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” The confidence that we are speaking the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit and the assurance that it will ultimately prevail, inspire us to overcome our fears.

The other way that we overcome our fears is by keeping our focus on our Heavenly Father’s love for us. As Jesus tells us today, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” All of us are known and loved by God. There is nothing we can do to lose that love. Like our earthly fathers, we can turn to our Heavenly Father whenever we are in need and rely on His unfailing help. Even when others attack us and even when we suffer physical harm, He is always by our side holding us up through it all. Knowing He is by our side and that His help is always close at hand will strengthen us whenever we find ourselves being criticized or attacked because of our faith.

Finally, Jesus teaches us to overcome fear by focusing on the inheritance that is waiting for us in heaven - the promise of everlasting life. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” Our time on this earth is very short compared with the everlasting life that is awaiting us in heaven. In fact, our lives are too short to allow ourselves to be imprisoned by our fears. When we consider the glory awaiting us, why would we ever give any consideration to what others think? What can those people whose opinion means so much to us actually do for us besides pat our backs and make us feel good about ourselves for a few minutes? Is having their approval more important than having God’s approval? When we look at it that way, we see how foolish it is for us to change ourselves to please others.

Fear can be a helpful and healthy emotion. However, when we allow it to imprison us and limit our potential, then it is unhelpful and unhealthy. Jesus helps us to overcome our fear by reminding us that the truth will always prevail, that we are unconditionally loved by our Heavenly Father and that we have the inheritance of eternal life waiting for us in Paradise. Even when we are focused on these truths, we will still experience fear from time to time, especially as the world becomes increasingly hostile to the gospel message. However, faith in Jesus will help us to overcome those fears and stand up to the bullies who try to silence us.

And so, we can make this Ordinary Time extraordinary by abandoning ourselves to the Spirit of Pentecost, stepping out of the shadow of fear and living the abundant life God has called us to. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Faith Over Fear

The renowned Catholic spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, was invited by a friend to spend time serving in the missions of Central America. His time there had a profound effect on his life and writing. Like many others who traveled there, Fr. Nouwen was moved by how those simple people continually chose faith over fear. Faced with the inability to feed their families and with oppressive regimes which routinely violated their rights, they conquered their fears through faith and lived with joy. The brutal conditions of their society could not rob them of the ability to enjoy all that God had given them. And so, their lives were not marked by what they lacked, but by an awareness that God would provide for and protect them.  

Before sending his disciples out to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God, Jesus likewise urged his disciples to choose faith over fear. Though they could expect rejection and persecution for following in the footsteps of their master, they were to go forth with confidence because they were cared for by an Almighty God. The God who created the universe and all its wonders also created them. The God who provided food for the birds, would also sustain them. They were known intimately by God. He even knew the number of hairs on their heads. Jesus assured them that the Father would let no evil befall them. His love and friendship would sustain them and come to be all they desired. They would even come to prefer death rather than offend the most holy God.

How can we overcome our fears like the people of Central America or the disciples of Jesus? By knowing that we are loved by this Almighty God. When we come to realize that this world with all its shortcomings and dangers was formed by a God who is goodness itself, then we cease to wring our hands in anxiety. When we realize that our Creator knows us and has destined us to live with him forever in the joy of heaven, then we no longer fear the future. When we realize that his hand guides our every step and that every good thing we have is his gift, then we trust that no harm will come to us. And, if tragedy should visit us, we are confident that this all-powerful God will comfort us, strengthen us and make all things work for our good. In the light of the love of God and in the knowledge of his power at work in our world, fear shrinks away.

Today's scripture readings also point out another way that we can conquer fear in our lives. Besides a deep trust in the love of God for us, the other remedy for fear is a clear conscience. The first reading from the Old Testament illustrates this for us. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time when some people made a living as false prophets. They told the people in authority what they wanted to hear rather than the truth. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was not afraid to point out the wickedness and injustices of the rulers of his day. Because of it, he suffered much persecution. But he was confident that God would vindicate him. He preferred to be true to God's word than to please others. So he did not fear because he knew that, having acted with a clear conscience, the truth would eventually come out and he would triumph over his enemies.

When we live in the truth and make good choices, we have more confidence. If we have a good reputation and act fairly, we can be assured that, eventually,  we will be treated fairly ourselves. Jesus promises in today's gospel that there is nothing hidden which will not become known and nothing concealed that will not be revealed. And so, even if someone were to accuse us of something we haven't done or to spread rumors about us, we can rest assured that before long the truth will be made clear because of the good choices we have made. Our clear conscience frees us from the fear of what others may think or say.

Much of the anxiety of our times comes from a gnawing sense of guilt many feel because of the compromises they've made. They fear being found out and discovered. They fear that if people really knew them and the things they'd done, they would be rejected. They fear that the light will be shone on them and that they'll be exposed for the hypocrites they think they are. On the other hand, those who make good choices are relieved of this burden and empowered to live with confidence.

Of course, none of us is perfect. We often fail. If we have acted unjustly or injured our neighbor in some way, now is the time for us to make amends and unburden our conscience. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or confession, is a great place to start. When we bring our sin and weakness into the light of God's love and truth, our shame and anxiety are transformed into the joy of knowing that we are loved even though we are imperfect and even though we fail. God's light is no longer something we need to fear and flee from. We no longer fear being exposed because we know the depth of God's mercy and his unfailing desire to forgive us. Our conscience becomes clear allowing us to live in the truth of God's love.

Saint John writes in his first letter that perfect love casts out fear. We could also say that perfect faith casts out fear. Faith is the assurance that we are loved and that we have been forgiven. Faith ultimately conquers fear because it finds its security in God himself who is forever faithful and can never fail us. Faith also strengthens us and inspires us to make good choices and live with a clear conscience. God's desire for us is not a life filled with fear, guilt or anxiety. Rather, God desires for us an abundant life filled with blessings and joy. Even though our faith does not guarantee that we will be free of hardship and even tragedy, we can live with confidence that God will provide for our every need.  This is what gave confidence to the disciples of Jesus as they went forth to proclaim the good news. This is what gives joy to our brothers and sisters in Central America and throughout the rest of the world. This gift of grace abounds for us too who have believed in Jesus Christ and have committed ourselves to live in his truth.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He Remembers Every Communion

In his book, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori tells the story of Sister Paula Maresca, a saintly nun who founded a convent in Naples. While in prayer, she had a vision of Jesus holding a golden vessel. In that vessel, Jesus kept every communion she had ever made.

Let us think about that for a minute. Imagine Jesus holding a golden vessel with every communion you have ever made. Because He is All-Knowing, we can believe that He does recall every time we have gone to Mass and received His precious Body and Blood. He remembers what we were wearing. He could tell us what was on our mind at the time and what was going on in our lives. Because He is All-Loving, we can trust that He cherishes all those communions we have made the way a lover cherishes letters from his beloved. Even if we were not in the best state of mind, heart or soul when we received, we can trust that He gave Himself fully to us nonetheless and that He looked forward to and relished every time we received the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Our goal in life, then, should be to live up to the great love that Jesus has for us, especially the love that He shows us in the Eucharist. If He gives Himself totally to us, we must strive to give ourselves totally to Him. If He looks forward to our receiving communion, then we must make sure that we meet Him in this Sacrament with the same anticipation and joy that He shows toward us. We should cherish receiving Jesus in communion just as He cherishes the moments when He gives Himself to us.

What can we do, then, to ensure that we are worthy to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and that we can grow in anticipation and enthusiasm to partake of His Body and Blood?

The first step is to go to confession frequently. The Church requires us to go to confession at least once a year, usually during Lent in preparation to receive communion at Easter. However, most spiritual directors would agree that we should be going at least once a month. And, if we are aware that we have committed serious sins, then we should go to confession as soon as possible.

Why is the Sacrament of Confession so important? Because it is there that we experience the mercy of Our Lord. We present ourselves to Jesus in the person of the priest and bare our souls to Him. In so doing, we do not find judgment or condemnation but understanding and forgiveness. In the sacrament of mercy, we fall in love with God who is eager to welcome the sinner. Then we begin looking forward to experiencing His love in a more intimate way when He gives us His Body and Blood to us in the Eucharist.

Also, the Sacrament of Penance cleanses our soul so that it is a more dignified place to receive Jesus. If we were welcoming someone we loved into our home, the first thing we would do would be to tidy up. Because we are receiving the most important person of all in Holy Communion, we should show the same concern that our souls be clean for Him. That is what the Sacrament of Confession does for us. And, if we strive to confess our sins at least once a month, we can be sure that our heart will be a more fitting place to welcome our Savior.

The second thing we should be doing to ensure that we receive Jesus worthily is observe the one hour fast before communion. That is to say, we should be refraining from all food and drink, except for water, one hour before receiving communion. It is important to note that we calculate that time not one hour before Mass starts but before we receive communion. That is, if I am going to 10:00 am Mass, it is likely that I’ll receive communion around 10:30 am or so, so I will not have anything to eat or drink, including coffee, from 9:30 am on.

Why is this rule so important? Because, by fasting from food and water just before Mass, we are already focusing our minds on receiving Jesus in communion. Even though we may be rushing to get to church, we are orienting our hearts to reflect on Whom we will be receiving there. Fasting, even for that short amount of time, can stir up excitement and anticipation for partaking in communion which will make our reception of the Blessed Sacrament even more fruitful.

The third practice that will help us receive Jesus more worthily is Eucharistic adoration, that is, the devotion of sitting in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Whenever we do so, we adore Jesus who is present in the tabernacle. We marvel at how much He loved us, not only to die on the cross for us but to give us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The more we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the more we will grow in the desire to receive Him sacramentally in the Eucharist. And, the more we receive Him in the Eucharist, the more we will wish to praise Him in Eucharistic adoration. In so doing, we will experience much more joy and enthusiasm about the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus cherishes the moments when we receive Him in the Eucharist. He literally died to make these moments possible. Shouldn’t we also be doing our part to make these moments as intimate and fruitful as possible by going to confession frequently, observing an hour of fast before receiving communion and adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament whenever possible? Then we will make our hearts a worthy place for our Lord and Savior. And we will bring that love and joy into our world - especially to those who are unaware of the blessings that are awaiting them in the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ given for the salvation of all humanity. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stories Of Love And Devotion

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?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

All The Food One Needs

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 18, 2017

This I Receive

The human body is one of the marvels of creation. Through it,  we relate to the world and to one another. We recognize and know each other through our bodies. They are the way we see each other, touch each other and speak to each other. It is also through them that we pass life on to the next generation. Uniting our body with the body of our loved one, 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 this marvelous truth 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 the very flesh and blood of His Son to feed 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 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. 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 think you are 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 Him in wonder and awe and invite His power into our lives and 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.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

This I Believe

If there is one doctrine which most defines what it means to be a Christian, it is the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. It is so central to our beliefs that we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Before every prayer, we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross praying in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. To be a Christian, in essence, is to profess belief in One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Since this belief is at the root of our identity as Christians, it is imperative that we have some understanding of it, even though a full understanding of this mystery will always be beyond our grasp.

In a sentence, we believe that the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity all share in the nature of the One God.

What does it mean when we use the word “nature” as it refers to the Trinity?

When we use the word “nature” in this context, we are speaking about what makes a thing what it is. For instance, as human beings we have a human nature. Our human nature is what makes us different from trees, dogs or rocks. Human beings have certain qualities or attributes which distinguish us from other things in the world. For instance, human beings have the ability to speak and to reason while animals act on instinct and make only noises.

God also has a nature, and all the persons of the Trinity share in it.

For instance, God is eternal. He has no end and no beginning. There has never been a time when He has not existed and there will never be a time when He stops existing. Therefore, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also eternal. God the Son did not begin existing when Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb but He has existed before all time. The same is true with the Holy Spirit.

God is also All-Powerful. There is nothing He cannot do. Therefore, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also All-Powerful.

To say that all the persons of the Holy Trinity share in the nature of God is to say that whatever can be said about God can be said about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All of them are equally God.

At the same time, they are not three gods but One God. Rather than three independent beings, they are one Being with three persons.

Each person of the Holy Trinity is fully God. The Father is not just a part of God but all of God. In the same way, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not pieces of God but fully God themselves.

Of course, our heads can begin to spin when we try to make sense of this great mystery. In fact, though the reality of the Trinity can be seen already in the Bible, it took the Church over three hundred years to find the precise language to define this belief. So, we should not be surprised that our minds boggle as we try to understand it ourselves.

Because of how complicated our explanations of the nature of God as Trinity can become, we might want to dismiss it as not relevant to our daily lives and leave it to theologians to argue over. However, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something very important - and very simple - about God.

Simply put, it teaches us that God is love. Our God is not some distant Being looking for ways to spend His time. No. In His essence, God is a Being who is constantly loving. God the Father is constantly pouring Himself out in love to God the Son. God the Son is continually receiving that love from the Father. And God the Holy Spirit is that eternal exchange of love between them.

We read in today’s gospel why Jesus came into the world: “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.” As complicated as we may sometimes make the matter, it all boils down to this. The God who is love loves us. And He wants us to love Him in return.

When we fall in love, what is the first thing we do? We try to find out everything we can about our beloved. When were they born? What do they like? What do they dislike? What are they interested in?

And, at the same time, we want them to know everything about us.

Just so, the God of love wants us to know everything about Him that our human minds can fathom so that we can love Him. It is as simple as that.

We worship a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This God of love created us to know, love and serve Him in this life and to share eternal life with Him in the world to come. It is a marvelous truth that we should not just leave to theologians but should ponder every day in prayer. It is also a truth that we should strive to live. Just as God has poured Himself out in love for us, so we should do the same for one another. Then the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will come down upon us and remain with us forever. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

I Speak Of The Dogma Of Love

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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


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?

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Mystery Of Love

If you're ever tempted to think you know it all or that you've figured everything out, try spending five minutes talking to a child. A conversation with a child can teach us how little we really know. Children have such active and inquisitive minds. Nothing gets past them. And, when it comes to questions of faith and religion, children come up with questions that would stymie even the most brilliant theological mind.

Try answering these questions to a child's satisfaction:
     - If God made everything, then who made God?
     - How can God know everybody?
     - How can God be everywhere at the same time?
     - If God is everywhere, why can't we see Him?

If you find those questions difficult to answer, how much more difficult would it be to explain the Trinity?  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three persons in one God. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet, they are one God. If you think you understand this, try explaining it to a child. Better yet, if you think you understand it, try explaining it to me! The Trinity is a mystery beyond any one's ability to understand.

Though we can never really understand this mystery, it is necessary for us to know about the Trinity because it tells us something important about God.  Because God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He lives in a community of love. God is not an entity but a family. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, throughout all eternity, have lived together in a communion of love and fellowship.

And so, God didn't create us because He was bored or because He was lonely. God created us because the love that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share is so abundant that it overflows. Just as the intimacy a husband and wife share overflows to bring children into the world, just so, out of love, God created a world that He could share Himself with. Jesus explains it to Nicodemus in today's gospel reading: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but have eternal life." God created us so that we could be a part of the deep love that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have shared throughout all eternity.

God is a mystery. And, we as human beings are so removed from the God who created us that we could never hope to share in His life in heaven. We could never hope to know God with the feeble minds we were created with. We could never hope to love Him with the selfish hearts we have. But, God loved us so much that He sent His Son so that we could know Him and could love Him. God, through Jesus' death and resurrection, has brought us into His family of love so that we can share that love with Him and be members of the family of love that He is. 

It is our baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit which makes us children of God. Gathered here as members of God's family we come to the altar to share in God's very life through the gift of the Eucharist. At this table, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit will come to us in the simple form of bread. It is here that we experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. All of us are invited to share in the abundant life and the abundant love of God.

Mysteries are impossible to understand. No matter how long we live or how much we study them, we will never fully understand the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. But, we can understand love. More importantly, we can experience love. The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is simply this - that God is love and that God loves us. Even a child can understand that.