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.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Church As The Body Of Christ

Today, we celebrate the birthday of the Church - when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and Mary empowering them to spread the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Growing up, when I heard the word “Church” I thought either of the building where we celebrate Mass or the Vatican.  I never heard of the idea of the Church as the People of God or the Mystical Body of Christ. And, even if I did hear those words in religious education or at Mass, I probably would not have understood them.

On the other hand, though I didn’t understand those concepts, my everyday experience of Church through most of my life was one of family and community. In fact, many of my dearest memories from childhood were connected to Church whether it be my first communion or weddings of family members.

And the same was true throughout my adult life. The parishes I’ve belonged to and served have been big families, places where I found comfort, and communities I could count on for support and encouragement. Though when I thought of church I thought of dark, smoky buildings or old men in Rome coming up with new rules for me to follow, my everyday experience of Church was that of people who cared for me and a community that nurtured me.

The idea of the Church as primarily a people of faith goes back to the first days of Christianity. We profess that the Church was born on Pentecost day when the Holy Spirit came rushing down on Mary and the apostles in tongues of fire. At that time, there were no church buildings and there was no Vatican. Yet there was a Church because the Church is, first of all people,  and not just buildings and institutions.

Saint Paul expresses this reality in his First Letter to the Corinthians, a portion of which we read today:

“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1 Cor 12: 12,13 & 27).

It is amazing to think just how beautiful this idea of the Church as the Body of Christ is!

First of all, it means that all of us, no matter who we are, are important members of the Church.

Saint Paul tells us: “Now the body is not a single part, but many...The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ ...But God has so constructed the body... that there may be no division in the body”

The Church as Christ’s body is not just made up of priests and nuns any more than our bodies are made of just an eye or an elbow. Every baptized person is a vital part of the whole. Each one of us is needed to make sure the Body of Christ is healthy and growing.

There is a great story about a cardinal who was walking down the street on his way to his office in the Vatican. He greeted a man who was sweeping the sidewalks.

The man said to him, “Your Excellency, are you on your way to the Vatican?”

The cardinal said, “In fact, I am.”

The street sweeper then said, “I imagine you are going to be making some very important decisions there and doing some very important work.”

The cardinal replied, “In fact, I am.”

Then, puffing out his chest with pride, the street sweeper said, “However, if I clean these streets with great love, my work will be just important as yours in the eyes of God.”

The cardinal replied, “You are exactly right, my friend.”

Saint Pope John Paul II said, “It is not the work that gives dignity to the person but the person who gives dignity to the work.” Whatever it is we do, whether we are mopping a floor, visiting a sick person, or working with the Pope, it is important and vital to the whole body, particularly when we do it with great love.

We need each other just as the parts of the body need each other. We need each other’s contributions, no matter how small they may seem. And we cannot afford to lose even one of our members. This is the lesson that we learn when we contemplate the Church as the Body of Christ.

And so this day we celebrate the reality that we are the Church. All of us are called to extend the love of Jesus into the world. As a people of faith, we branch out into our families, communities, schools and places of business, bringing the joy of the gospel message. All of us are crucial for this outreach of love just as every member of our bodies is vital to our health. Like those first apostles, then, let us go out with confidence that the Holy Spirit is guiding us until the whole world is set on fire with the love of Jesus!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

God's Spirit Reveals Our True Beauty

Imagine having everything the world can offer - such as beauty and success - and leaving it all to follow God as a nun.

That is the story of Esmeralda Solis Gonzales.

In 2016, at the age of 19, she had established a career as a nutritionist and then was crowned as the beauty queen of her hometown of Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico. However, it was not enough for her. Though she had achieved more success than most young women her age, she knew that there had to be more to life. And it was clear to her that the world could not offer her the  “something more” she sought. And so, she left it all to join the Poor Clare Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament.

Looking back on the life she once lived she said, “I was very happy with everything I had, but it does not compare with the happiness that God now places in my heart.” And, “[it is true that] the reality and the supposed happiness that the world sells is very attractive [but] it is necessary to fix your eyes on what lasts.”

Sister Esmeralda’s story is similar to that of so many people down through the ages who achieved everything the world had to offer but still found themselves thirsting for more. They had wealth, comfort and pleasures in abundance but none of it turned out to be enough. Eventually they discovered what their hearts were longing for in Jesus Christ. Once they discovered the joy that a relationship with Jesus offered, all the values of this passing world seemed like nothing in comparison. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).

Saint Paul also talks about this longing we have within us in today’s second reading: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that...we also groan within ourselves…” This “groaning” is something that all of us are familiar with. It is that gnawing sense within us that despite all our success there is still something lacking. It is that fear that we are frauds because, though we may look as though we have it all together, within us we still feel inadequate and weak. Though it may seem to everyone else that we have finally arrived, we still feel lost and alone.

Sadly, many people try to overcome that groaning within them by drowning it out with more activities. They think that keeping busy will distract them from the desperation they feel. Others try to numb their sadness by turning to drugs and alcohol. Still others think that if they just land that next promotion, or if they just make that next big sale, they will finally feel complete inside. And many others think that if they can just meet the right person, that lonely feeling will finally subside. However, it never turns out that way, does it? No matter what we achieve in life, no matter how many friends we have, no matter how much we try to numb ourselves, we find ourselves exhausted, drained and even more desperate than before.

That is when we hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.”

The refreshment we seek can only be found in Jesus. Only He is big enough to fill the hole in our hearts. Only He can silence the groaning of our souls.

All of us who are here today know this to be true. We have heard it preached about hundreds of times. Why, then, do we keep turning to the world for the answer to our desperation?

Could it be that we think that Jesus demands too much from us? Are we afraid that we will have to give up too much? However, isn’t it true that the world also demands much from us? Consider how far people go to establish themselves in a career. They study for years, take on debt, work long hours and even undergo humiliation just to earn a few dollars that are quickly spent. In the process, their health declines and their relationships suffer. What Jesus demands of us is easy in comparison. And, rather than deplete us, Jesus will leave us refreshed.

Could it be that we think our sins are so great that we do not deserve the refreshment Jesus offers? Could it be that we fear that Jesus will reject us if we turn to Him? Nothing could be further from the truth. It was to save sinners that our Lord came into the world. As the Bible tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). And also, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is nothing we can do that will put us beyond the reach of our Heavenly Father. If we turn to Him with the desire to change our lives, we can be sure that He will bring us the refreshment our hearts are longing for.

Giving our lives over to Jesus will not solve all our problems. It will not make our lives easier. In fact, He commands us to take up our cross every day and follow Him. What we will discover, however, is that in being close to God, we find what our hearts desire. That is because true fulfillment comes not from indulging ourselves but in sacrificing ourselves for others. And we cannot overcome our basic selfishness without the love of God living within us through the Holy Spirit.

And so, on this day when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and Mary, we commit ourselves to allowing Him to work through us. We give Jesus the first place in our hearts, other people second place and the things of this world third place. With the love of God alive within us, we can then reach out to all those around us who are groaning because they lack hope. And we can witness to them what we have discovered - that we have finally found refreshment in Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Holy Spirit - The Law Within Us

When we are children, we need our parents to watch over us. We haven't learned yet that we'll get burned if we touch the stove or that it's dangerous to run into the street. As we grow older, though, we start learning how to protect ourselves and how to stay out of trouble. The discipline that our parents imposed on us, often against our will, eventually comes to be an almost automatic way of thinking and living for us. We absorb from our parents values and attitudes that will be with us for the rest of our lives. We know how true this is because so often we catch ourselves saying something to our children or grandchildren that our parents used to say to us. We internalize the messages we received from our parents and act on them as we mature.

When Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a river of living water which flows from within the person, He is describing much the same reality. When Jesus' Holy Spirit dwells in us, then we have Jesus' values and Jesus' attitudes operating within us. We see things as Jesus sees them. We begin to recognize Jesus in the people we meet. We begin to understand that it is Jesus speaking to us when we read the Bible. Just as we absorb our parents' attitudes and values by the discipline they imposed on us, so Jesus' Word begins to penetrate our hearts and minds through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we begin to change from within.

How does this all take place? When we come to believe in Jesus, when we grow in knowledge of the Scripture and receive the sacraments, the Holy Spirit begins to work on our minds and hearts so that we grow in the knowledge and love of God. And, as we grow in that knowledge and love, we come to be more like Jesus. Before we know it, we will be surprising ourselves by saying inspirational words and doing kind deeds. Just as we often catch ourselves saying something our parents used to say, we'll catch ourselves being moved by the Spirit to speak words of comfort and encouragement to those we meet.

The next thing that happens as the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us is that the rivers of living water begin to overflow in us. We can no longer keep Jesus and His Word all to ourselves. Like the apostles on Pentecost day, we can no longer contain the joy that loving God gives us, and we have to tell others about it. The Holy Spirit makes us witnesses to His power and love at work in us.

We live in a culture that tells us that religion is something private, something we should keep to ourselves. We typically don't care what our neighbors believe or what religion they belong to, as long as they don't tell us about it. But, a Christian who has really experienced the power and love of the Holy Spirit, can't keep the message to himself or to herself. We can't keep the lid on the rivers of living water bubbling up from within us. And thank goodness for that! Where would we be if the apostles had decided that Jesus' resurrection would be their little secret? Where would we be if those who witnessed Jesus' miracles and heard His words didn't pass the stories along to the next generation of believers? And, what will become of our children and grandchildren if we fail to share with them the power of God's love made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ?

Today's feast, Pentecost, is the celebration of the birthday of the Church. We are the Church because of the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit through faith now lives in the hearts of almost two billion women and men who call themselves Christians. There are women in Africa, men in Asia, children in Europe, old ladies in South America and teenagers in Australia who believe and worship just as we do. This didn't all take place over the past 2000 years because the apostles had a good business plan and marketing strategy. It happened because the Holy Spirit worked in a powerfully way giving authority to the words of those who preach and making those who hear ready to give their hearts over in faith. That same Holy Spirit is among us now strengthening me as I preach and touching your hearts as you listen.

The task now falls to us who have been given to drink of this life giving water in the Spirit of Jesus. Will we keep it to ourselves? Or, will we speak about to everyone we meet so that all creation which is groaning and in agony can be transformed by the values and the attitudes of Jesus, our Savior.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Life-Changing Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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