Acts 2:1-11  ¾  1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13  ¾  Sequence  ¾  John 20:19-23
May 27, 2012

Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest
And in our hearts take up Thy rest….

As the June events calendar was made for this weekend’s bulletin, a picture was put there to commemorate one of June’s saints.  June 5th is the feast day of Saint Boniface, the apostle to Germany, and the patron saint of German volk everywhere.  Everyone knows that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of those of Irish descent, but Saint Boniface is not as well known.  But he should be, especially here at St. Mark’s, where he has a mural on our ceiling dedicated to him.  He’s a good saint for us to call on, especially as the Church celebrates the culmination of Easter.
Boniface, who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries, was a Benedictine monk.  The pope sent him as a missionary from the isle of Britain, to bring the Catholic Faith to the Germanic tribes who had overtaken north-central Europe.  Saint Boniface got along for a while with the people there, because he was much like them:  hard-working, organized, efficient, and willing to bear great hardships.  One tale about Boniface bears this out:  on Mount Gudenberg stood a huge oak tree that was sacred to the pagan peoples of the area.  In order to destroy their superstitions, Boniface announced that on a given day, he would strike the oak down, dealing a blow to the pagan gods as well.  When the announced day came, Boniface took his axe and attacked the oak tree, and it split into four parts.  With each blow, the pagans expected their gods to strike Boniface dead.  But they realized, finally, that their gods were powerless:  in fact, nonexistent.  Boniface used the remains of the oak to build a Catholic chapel.
But in the end, Boniface became a martyr, unable to persuade ALL of the tribes he met of the truth of the Gospel.  Nonetheless, the Catholic Faith would never have taken hold firmly among the German peoples if not for Boniface, who, by his life and his death, showed them how to use what was best in them for the sake of others.
About a week ago I enjoyed dinner at the home of some parishioners, and during conversation, mentioned that there’s been talk—now and again—about a parish pilgrimage to Germany and Rome.  Rome, of course, is the center of the Church on earth, while Germany is the ancestral home to many—if not most—of the families of our parish.  If our parish council decides to proceed with this pilgrimage, our pilgrims will face a striking, and very interesting contrast as they travel north from Italy into Germany.  The German temperament is about as different from the Italian temperament as is humanly possible.  The Italians are extremely animated, spontaneous, and not terribly organized.  In Italy, if a bus or train is an hour late, people shrug their shoulders, and find something else to do while they wait.  In Germany, if a train is one minute late, they begin wondering if there was a massive wreck somewhere up the line, and they organize a search party to discover what could possibly have gone wrong.
I often wondered how these two peoples could come to exist so close to each other, and yet be so different from each other.  The Italians and the Germans are sort of like siblings who have opposite temperaments, and simply cannot get along.  The wise parent knows not to put the two next to each other, whether in the back seat of a car, or in a pew.
At the very least, you’ve got to have a buffer between the two, whether it’s another sibling, a wall, a parent:  something to serve as a physical barrier between them.  I think that’s why God created the Alps, one of the largest mountain chains in this world.  As a wise Father, knowing well the differences between his children the Germans and the Italians, God put the Alps there to keep them from constantly fighting with each other, and to keep peace among his children.
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               We celebrate today the feast of Pentecost:  a feast of peace.  The Holy Spirit descended, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and filled the hearts, minds and souls of the apostles.  When this event occurred almost 2000 years ago, the apostles were obviously changed men.  But why were the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit given to them?  Was it simply to make them “saved”?
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to them, not just to better their odds of getting into Heaven, but to help them in helping others get to Heaven.  The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to the apostles to equip them for their vocation in this world.
So it is with you.  The gifts of the Spirit are given to apostles and prophets, clergy and lay people, in the first and twenty-first centuries, in order to carry on the work of the Church on earth.  There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.  There are different forms of service but the same Lord.  To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit:  to make all of us One Body, Christ’s Body on this earth.  It does not matter what our gifts or temperaments are, the Holy Spirit works through all of us, reconciles those who cannot get along, and draws us closer to each other.
               To put all this a different way, there are two sides to the coin of our Christian lives in this world.  On the one hand is the work that God calls us to do, and on the other hand is the Holy Spirit who equips us to do them.  On the one hand there is the vocation God has given us, and on the other is the Holy Spirit, who gives us the strength to be faithful to that vocation.
               We go forth from Mass every week, to love and serve the Lord.  We go forth into our homes, and into the places outside the home where we work.  We do this through our prayers, and through our stewardship.  Yet no matter how much we do to build up the Body of Christ around us, it is not simply our work which is at work.  It is always the Holy Spirit who takes what is simple, and transforms it into an instrument of God’s labor.  The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms our offerings into an opportunity for someone halfway around the world to hear the Gospel by means of your Easter offering for the missions.  It is the Holy Spirit who transforms the simplest of gifts—the bread which earth has given and human hands have made, and the wine that is fruit of the vine and work of human hands—into Jesus’ own Body and Blood.  If God can change simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, He can change your life into the life of a saint.
               Bread and wine, of course, have no say in the matter.  When a couple or family brings up the bread and the wine in the offertory procession, the bread and wine can’t run the other way.  When the priest places the bread and wine on the altar, they can’t jump off of God’s altar.  When the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, and asks God the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine, they can’t keep the Holy Spirit from effecting that transformation.
               You and I, however, do have a choice in the matter, because being created in God’s image, we have a free will.  God wants to take you, with your temperament and all your gifts and talents, to make you a saint.  But you have the choice not to work with God’s plan for your life.  God pours down His Holy Spirit from Heaven to change your life, and through you, to change the lives of those around you, even those you find it difficult to get along with.  That is God’s plan, anyhow.  But you can refuse to co-operate with God.  You can chose your own way, your own truth, and your own life.  You can be like the apostles who ran away from the Cross on Good Friday.  But God calls you to be like the apostles who gathered together in the Upper Room to pray for ten days, uncertain of what the future holds, but willing to accept the Holy Spirit, in order to work with others for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time  [B]
Hosea 2:16,17,21-22  +  2 Corinthians 3:1-6  +  Mark 2:18-22

               Our Confirmation candidates are just now beginning one of the last steps of preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation:  writing a letter to the bishop.  As the years go on, this “tradition” with a little “t”—or custom, if you want to call it that—becomes a little more obsolete.  After all, how many people even sit down and write letters anymore?
               When you read history—even recent history, such as the founding of our state, and the settlement of towns throughout Kansas—one of the treasuries of insight into how these towns and our state were formed is the letters written by settlers.  You can read these letters and very clearly get a grasp on the anxieties, the excitement, the daily problems, and the surprises that made up their lives as settlers.  These men and women, families and individuals, were willing to strike out, and break away from their lives back east, where they were comfortable in their homes, in order to explore, and take a risk on new and unknown experiences.
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               The Sacrament of Confirmation can, in theory, can be received at any point in a person’s life after they’re baptized (in the Eastern Catholic churches, babies are confirmed in the same ceremony when they’re baptized).  In our country, in the Roman Catholic Church, each bishop has the right to set the age of Confirmation as he sees fit.  Just last year, in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, Bishop Olmsted lowered the age of Confirmation from high school to third grade.
               One of the first things that Bishop Jackels did last year, when he began his ministry as a bishop in our diocese, was to look at whether the age for receiving Confirmation ought to be changed.  In the end, he decided against making a change, at least for now.  Obviously, there were several good reasons that convinced him to keep our diocese’s practice of confirming young people in their first years of high school.  One of these reasons is echoed in today’s second reading, from the second letter that Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
               21 of out of the 73 books that make up the Bible are letters, written by the apostles (most of them were written by Saint Paul).  These letters—written during the first seven decades of the Church—are like the letters of settlers.  In these letters, if we listen to them openly and honestly, we hear very human anxieties, excitement, daily problems, and surprises being expressed by the apostles.
               The second reading of today’s Mass is taken from the beginning of Second Corinthians.  Saint Paul writes this letter as a spiritual father to the Corinthians.  Saint Paul had been the one to bring them the Gospel for the first time.  Before Paul, the Corinthians had not heard of Christ.  Though Paul, the Corinthians began to follow Christ.  But then Paul had moved on.  He had missionary work to do elsewhere.  He founded the Church in Corinth, and then moved on.  But now, five years later, he was making contact with them again, because the Corinthians were facing a lot of pressures.  There were many influences that were tempting them to give false witness, or to give up altogether any effort to give witness to Christ by their lives.
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               This relationship between the Corinthians and Saint Paul, is similar to the relationship between our Confirmation candidates and their parents.  Our Confirmation candidates are at a point in their lives when they are like settlers, making preparations to set out from their homes—where they are comfortable—in order to explore, and take a risk on new and unknown experiences in their lives.  And so Saint Paul, as their spiritual father, as the one who gave them this new life, is speaking to them with both joy and frustration.  He wants to encourage—and caution—his children at the very same time.
               What a balancing act it is, for a parent to try and carry out.  When Saint Paul addresses the Corinthians again, he rhetorically asks them whether he needs a letter of introduction in order to begin a conversation with them again.  His point is:  “Don’t you remember?  I’m the one who gave you new life in Christ!”  He says to the Corinthians, “if you want a reminder of what I am to you, look at your lives as followers of Christ.”  Wanting to encourage his children by pointing to their faith, he expresses his pride in being their father:
You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all,
shown to be a letter of Christ ministered by us,
written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone, but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.

These children are living witnesses of the faith that has been handed on to them.  Others in the world can see in them, the invisible Spirit of God.
               These words echo a verse from the Old Testament reading, chosen by our Confirmation candidates to be the First Reading of the Confirmation Mass.  This reading is from Ezekiel, where the prophet speaks in the Name of the Lord.  The Lord speaks to His own children, and gives to them the same promise that He is giving to our Confirmation candidates, when He speaks to them in their prayer:
…from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new Spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my Spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees. 

With this promise, a Christian can have confidence that whatever lies in the future, it’s through the Holy Spirit that anxiety can be overcome.  It’s through the Holy Spirit that problems can be resolved.  It’s through the Holy Spirit that the words “surprise” and “excitement” have new meaning.
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               Even though Saint Paul is a spiritual father, he is also a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  This might seem obvious, but Saint Paul takes the time to point out to the Corinthians that everything he’s done for the Corinthians, has also been done for God.  It was God, who gave Paul, the responsibility of being their spiritual father.  It was God, who gave Paul, the Corinthians to be his spiritual children.  In the same way, it was God, who gave our parents in this parish, the gifts of their children.  And as Saint Paul speaks to his spiritual children, our parents can speak to their children.  As Saint Paul expresses his gratitude for being their father, and his confidence in what his children will accomplish in the future, so our parents can speak the words of Saint Paul:
Such confidence, we have through Christ toward God.
Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God.

               When parents bring their child to the baptismal font, they know that they are handed over their child to God, so that God can adopt that child.  Parents know on that day that there’s going to come another day when the child leaves his father and mother, and sets out on his own.  But parents can have great confidence in this, knowing that the Holy Spirit will always lead their child in the path of Christ Jesus.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage,
I have conquered the world.” [John 16:33]

               In this final week of the Easter Season, the Church calls us to prayer.  Each of us, living his or her individual life in the midst of modern Western culture, is called by the Church to pray.  Each of us is to ask God the Holy Spirit to descend again from Heaven, that He might inflame the hearts, minds and souls of each and every member of the Church.  We pray for this that, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Church—as the Mystical Body of Christ—will proclaim the Gospel to the world.
               During these days between the Ascension of Jesus and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we can imagine ourselves in the Upper Room, gathered in prayer with the Apostles and Our Blessed Mother.  In that same Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, consecrating bread and wine into His Body and Blood, we pray that we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and become the Mystical Body of Christ.
               As we imagine ourselves in that Upper Room, praying for the day of Pentecost, it’s easy to see how the words of today’s Gospel passage might have echoed in the Apostles’ thoughts and prayers.  Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel at the Last Supper, in that same Upper Room, about seven weeks earlier.  Though much of what Jesus is saying in the chapter of today’s Gospel seems to refer more directly to His immanent death, His words today also strike a chord with what we pray for during these ten days of waiting for Pentecost.
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  We who live twenty centuries after Jesus and the Apostles know what sorts of “trouble” the Apostles will face:  verbal and physical torment, imprisonment, exile, and in all but one case, martyrdom.  “Trouble” might seem a rather tame word; Jesus, we can reason, was using prudence in speaking here to His Apostles.
You and I, living in a country whose federal government is taking more and more steps against believing Christians, need to recognize that Jesus is speaking these words to us through the Sacred Liturgy:  “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” 
On June 29, the Bishops of Kansas will be sponsoring a rally in Topeka to promote religious freedom and to stand against the recent federal HHS mandate.  The Office of Respect Life and Social Justice will sponsor buses leaving from various places throughout the diocese.  Fliers with more information are available on the offertory table, where the daily Mass chant sheets are found.  Encourage your fellow parishioners to attend this event with you, with our bishop, and with the Lord who promises always to be with us in proclaiming His Gospel.

The Ascension of the Lord [B]

The Ascension of Our Lord  [B]
Acts 1:1-11  ¾  Ephesians 1:17-23  ¾  Mark 16:15-20
May 19/20, 2012

But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.  [Mark 16:20]

               Today/Yesterday, my parents celebrate/d their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  A golden anniversary—whether of a married couple, or a priest or religious sister—is a time for reflection and thanksgiving.  Our reflection is often about the commitment in general—in this case, reflecting on the question, “What is the Sacrament of Marriage all about?”—but also about the specific persons being honored, and their many, many concrete sacrifices.
               My parents, like most couples who make it to their golden jubilee, would never pretend that their marriage has been a bed of roses.  They would never pretend that every moment of the past fifty years has been joy, laughter, and sweetness.  But there are two facts that they would insist on with all their heart:  that it takes three to make a marriage, and that the greatest growth in their married life was borne of the sacrifices that they freely embraced.
               It takes three to make a marriage:  the husband, the wife, and God.  Marriage as a sacrament comes from God.  It’s God who gives marriage its form, its function, and its power:  it’s not the spouses who do so.  But marriage comes from God not only in a general, historic sense.  Marriage also comes from God in a personal, individual sense.  God is not only the author of the Sacrament of Marriage.  God is the author of each and every marriage.  God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit personally call this individual man and this individual woman together, into the mystery of “one flesh”, so that through their marriage, the life of God may be seen in this world:  so that through their common life, the joy and beauty of God might be seen in this world which otherwise is only a valley of tears.
               In each marriage, God calls an individual man and women towards each other.  Every married couple, of course, has their own unique stories of meeting, courtship, and engagement leading up to their wedding day.  Every family hopefully knows the stories of those events that led up to the wedding day of their parents or grandparents.  Nonetheless, as interesting as those stories are, they can’t compare to the stories of married life itself, because while those former stories can show us how God brings a man and a woman together, within marriage God shows us how a married couple can grow in His very image.
               The greatest growth in married life is borne of sacrifices freely embraced.  Some sacrifices, a married couple freely take upon themselves:  for example, a mortgage so that they can make a house into a home.  Many of the sacrifices that a married couple freely take on are for the sake of their children:  parents sacrifice their time and money in order to help their children grow.  But beyond all the sacrifices that a married couple freely take upon themselves, there are also those sacrifices which impose themselves upon a couple from outside their free will:  those sacrifices that a couple have no choice but to face.
               My parents were forced by fate to deal with the death of their first-born son.  After bearing two healthy daughters, my parents looked forward to the birth of a son.  But when he was born, the doctors told our parents that he would not live very long because of a hole in his heart.  When they buried my older brother next to my grandfather’s grave, they had a hole in their heart:  one which never fully closed.  In the end, our parents bore five children.  But they never had the chance to see their middle child grow up.  Still, by placing their faith in God, the death of their first-born son helped them grow in their appreciation of the four children whom they were given by God to bring up.
               Against this backdrop, please let me speak about the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus.
Each of us has to go through transitions in life.  Sometimes other people leave our lives, and sometimes we leave others behind.  The leave may be forced or freely chosen.  Some transitions are simple and expected.  When a student is promoted from grade school to junior high school; when our seniors graduate from high school; when young people graduate from their studies to a job in the workplace;  ...  a familiar and usually comfortable setting has to be left behind, so that a person can move on to new experiences and new relationships.
               Undoubtedly, though, the most radical form of “leave taking”—the most dramatic separation between people—is when someone leaves this earth.  That’s part of what we’re celebrating this Sunday.  Jesus did not die, of course, when He ascended to Heaven, but His departure evoked in those around Him much the same thoughts and feelings that you and I have when someone close to us dies.
               I’m sure that each one of us could think of many great books or movies which portray dramatic scenes of death:  of moments of death shared between a dying person and someone who loves that person.  From the profound to the popular—from Romeo and Juliet to the “Return of the Jedi”—stories like these show us how death reveals something about the person who is dying, and how that that life is shared with others.
X   X   X
               The readings today proclaim Jesus Christ taking leave of His followers, leaving this earth:  ascending to Paradise, and—in effect—leaving them in the dust.  We hear this Sunday the end of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (our first reading).
               For the followers of Jesus, the day of Jesus’ Ascension was filled with a great deal of fear and anxiety.  In a way, the day of Jesus’ Ascension is sort of like Good Friday.  Yet the Church celebrates both, perhaps causing us to ask:  why should we celebrate the end of a good thing?  Why do we call the day of Jesus’ death “Good” Friday?  Both events point us to one of the central mysteries of our spiritual life:  those who are bound together by love do not grow weaker when they are separated.  When we must leave those we love to follow a higher calling, we have the chance to grow in love.  What seems to be a separation is nothing compared to a stronger bond.
               In the life of Christ, and His bride, the Church, these two events—Jesus’ Death and His Ascension—were necessary chapters of God’s story of salvation.  In fact, God is never truly gone from our midst, not on Good Friday, and not today as He rises from the midst of His followers.  Though he departs, He appears in new ways.  The Ascension of Jesus—His leaving this earth in bodily form—allowed his followers to assume their calling to be the Body of Christ.  Without Jesus leaving this earth, there would be no reason for the Church to be the Body of Christ, and there would be to reason to celebrate the Eucharist, to make Christ present sacramentally.
               In our daily life, we have to look for God’s presence.  Back in Jesus’ day, the people of Israel had been demoralized by the Roman Empire.  The nation of Israel had always prided itself on its military power, and then their nation was taken over by the Romans.  “Where was God?” they asked.  When Jesus walked this earth, He claimed to answer their question, and for this answer He was put to death by His own people, sentenced by the Roman procurator.  Now the people asked the same question to the followers of Jesus:  “Where is your God?”  On the third day Jesus answered their question.  But He gave this answer only to His followers.
               Why did He only make His presence known to His followers?  Because it would be their job to speak in His Name, as one Body.  But for some days after the Ascension, the apostles and disciples weren’t sure about this great commission Jesus had given them.  They were afraid, and they locked themselves into an upper room.  It wasn’t a coincidence that it was the same upper room where He had given them the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Ten days later, God revealed himself in a new way:  through His Holy Spirit, God bound the followers of Jesus into the Church.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, God began speaking through the followers of Jesus.
               And so the Ascension is the prologue, the opening credits, of the story of the Church, our story, the story of the Body of Christ.  While Jesus is no longer physically present as one of us, he is still with us:  in fact He is in us, binding us together as one Body through His Spirit.  Now, as St. Teresa of Avila once said, God has no hands, or eyes, or feet on this earth, except ours:  the hands, the eyes, and the feet of the Body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit, after all, is a spirit, and can only be seen through human beings.  It’s up to us to show the face of God to others.


Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
John 16:12-15

“…[W]hen He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”  Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel passage about one of the reasons for the Holy Spirit descending upon the earth.  This outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the divine means by which the Church first had life on earth, just as the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Annunciation was the divine means by which Jesus first had life on earth.
               God the Holy Spirit is not, however, just the divine spark by which the Body of Christ began to have life on earth.  The Holy Spirit is, as we profess in the Nicene Creed, “the Lord, the giver of life.”  Keep in mind that God does not give life the way that a human parent gives life.  The human father may die at any point after conception.  The human mother may at any point after birth, or even in rare cases, before giving birth.  Although the normal course of human parenthood involves the rearing of children, the on-going dependence of children upon human parents is not absolute in the way that divine fatherhood is.  God’s gift of life in the Holy Spirit is not just a divine spark, which sets one off on one’s way, but rather is the blaze of holiness itself.
               What form does holiness take in the Church, when her members open their lives each and every day to “the Lord, the giver of life”?  There are many such forms, but one of the more important is knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
               Jesus says today that “when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”  Ask the Holy Spirit today, in your prayers, to give you light and insight into what Jesus means in saying these words to you.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
John 16:5-11

               There are very few passages in the Gospel that you can say refer to the Most Holy Trinity.  The word “trinity” itself never appears in the Gospel, as you know.  The reality of the Trinity appears only obscurely on those occasions where we do see it.
               Today’s Gospel passages takes place at the Last Supper, as part of those discourses that St. John the Evangelist records in chapters 14-17 of his Gospel account.  Already at the Last Supper Jesus is preparing His Apostles for His immanent departure.  In one sense, we might consider Jesus’ death, occurring the day after the Last Supper, as being the departure that Jesus is speaking of in today’s Gospel.
               However, in another sense, at His Last Supper Jesus is already preparing His Apostles for His Ascension into Heaven, that mystery of Jesus’ life that the Church will celebrate this coming Sunday in our diocese.  Consider Jesus’s words from today’s Gospel passage in that light:  the light of His coming Ascension.
               “Now I am going to the One who sent me. … …[I]t is better for you that I go.  For if I do not, the Advocate will not come to you.”  In these three short sentences, Jesus speaks about the Most Holy Trinity in the context of Pentecost.  Jesus’ Ascension makes possible the day of Pentecost.  Jesus’ departure from the earth makes possible the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth.  Jesus’ leaving in His risen and glorified Body makes possible the life of the Church:  the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven to unite mankind into the one Body of the Church.
               Where is your life in all this?  Ask the Holy Spirit that very question today in your prayers…  Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you as a member of God the Son’s Body, the Church.  Only within the Body of the Son will the Holy Spirit raise you up in love, into the embrace of our heavenly Father.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

The Sixth Sunday of Easter  [B]
Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48  ¾  1 John 4:7-10  ¾  John 15:9-17
May 13, 2012

“In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He loved us,
and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”  [1 John 4:10]

The twentieth century was a time of much bloodshed, especially along the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe following the Second World War.  In the kingdom of Hungary, Joseph Mindszenty was consecrated Bishop in 1944.  From November 1944 to April 1945, he was imprisoned by the Nazis.  Pope Pius XII appointed him the Cardinal Primate of Hungary a few months after his release.  At the ceremonies for the new cardinals, as the Pope placed the Cardinal’s hat on his head, the Pope said:  “Among the thirty-two [new cardinals], you will be the first to suffer the martyrdom whose symbol this red color is.”
When the Communists arrested Cardinal Mindszenty in December 1948, twenty-three long years of persecution, suffering and enforced isolation began.  He went into exile in 1971, and died four years later.
You might think that under this harsh oppression, Cardinal Mindszenty would have become hard and bitter:  many persons under those conditions do.  But the venerable cardinal cupped his sufferings in his hands, and offered them up to God.  So instead of becoming hard and bitter, he became like clay in the hands of the Potter:  soft and tender.  It’s only grace that makes it possible for a human person to become tender and soft while surrounded by the harsh and ugly lies of a culture that spends itself trying to hammer wrong into right, perversion into virtue, and mandate into liberty.
               This man, surrounded during his adult life by the Nazi and Soviet regimes, looked to the love of Christ to find real power.  It was this man, who held the throne of the highest church office in the Kingdom of Hungary, who composed a tribute to honor “the most important person on earth”:  not the Pope, Emperor, or President, but someone who more clearly reflects the power of God’s Love.  It’s fitting to recite this poem this weekend:

     “The most important person on earth is a mother.  She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.  She need not.  She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.
     “The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace.  They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven.  Only a human mother can.  Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures.  God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.
     “What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

— J√≥zsef Cardinal Mindszenty

The line of this tribute that ties most closely with our readings today is when he says that “Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures.”  When a mother shares in God’s act of creation—not only at conception and during pregnancy, but throughout her entire relationship with her child—she shares directly in the divine life of God.  Our Second Reading today is taken from the first letter of Saint John, and in this letter Saint John defines God’s divine life in one simple word:  “love”.  This is what God is:  it is God’s very nature to be love.  This is the definition of motherhood, as well.  Can we ever thank our mothers enough for accepting the vocation to be our mother?
Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, not only in his letters but also in his Gospel account, fleshes out his description of God as “love”.  In the last sentence of today’s Second Reading, St. John does so very poignantly, telling us that “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”  The first part of St. John’s description insists on the primacy of God’s love.  The second part describes the concrete choices by which the Father, and then the Son, manifested divine Love for sinners like you and me.
X   X   X
When St. John says that love consists in the truth that God loved us, and not that we have loved God, he’s pointing out that God doesn’t wait to love you until He determines whether you will love Him.  God doesn’t withhold His love.  God doesn’t stop loving you if you stop loving Him.  In a word, God’s Love is primary.  Our love for Him can only be a response, and cannot diminish His love for us.
But we all know from experience, our own and others’, that confusion arises here.  Human beings feel at times as if God does not love them.  One reason for this feeling is that love—at least, divine love—is itself not a feeling.  When people expect God to make them feel good about themselves, or about Him, they can easily become confused about the real meaning of God’s Presence.  This doesn’t mean that our feelings are illusory, or that God cannot manifest Himself through emotions:  it’s to say, rather, that divine Love is not identical with positive emotions.
The second main reason that someone might feel that God no longer loves him is the fact that it’s not unusual for God to be absent from the human soul.  Yet God being absent from someone’s soul does not mean that God does not love that person.  Most often, this absence is a sign that the human person has distanced himself from God.  But there can be very different reasons for this absence, one negative and one positive.
On the one hand, the absence of God from a human soul can be the result of mortal sin.  A mortal sin that’s freely and knowingly chosen destroys all the grace dwelling in that soul.  What’s more, the presence of a mortal sin on a soul is like a force field surrounding one’s soul, blocking God’s love from penetrating the human heart, mind and soul.  Ironic though it may seem, it’s a sign of God’s love that He endows the human person with a free will strong enough to keep His own love at bay.
On the other hand, the absence of God from someone’s soul can be a sign of immanent growth.  Many saints, in writing about the three basic stages of the spiritual life, note that God often spurs the human person towards growth by removing Himself from the person’s soul, in order to increase the human person’s longing for Him:  that is, in order to teach the human person to live for God alone, which is to live for love alone.
One of the saints who wrote profoundly about the spiritual life was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  In addition to serving as one of the first abbots of the Cistercian religious order, he also wrote many commentaries on Sacred Scripture.  In these commentaries, he often wrote about divine love, and because he wanted to promote deeper study of the Catholic Faith, he often wrote about the relationship between knowledge and divine love.  As we honor this weekend our parishioners graduating from a course of studies, it would be good to reflect on these words of St. Bernard, who writes that:

“…there are some who want knowledge for the sole purpose of knowing, and this is … curiosity.  And there are some who seek knowledge in order to be known themselves; and this is… vanity …  and there are… those who seek knowledge in order to sell their knowledge… for money or for honors; and this is [greed]. But there are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify [others], and this is charity.[1]

               Charity—the love of Christ—urges us forward:  to high school, to college, to our first full-time job, into our vocation, to further growth in holiness… even to death and Heaven’s gates.  It’s to convince us of this simple truth that we hear Jesus today:  “I command you:  love one another.”

[1] In Cantica, Serm. XXXVI, 3; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 968c,-d., quoted in Pope Pius XII, Doctor Mellifluus, 4.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

               God the Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity—is the Gift given us by the Father and the Son.  In the writings of the Church Fathers, this is one of the most common names for the Holy Spirit: “Gift”.  Jesus speaks about this Gift in today’s Gospel passage, and in this light, consider the new translation of Holy Mass, which the Church began celebrating last Advent.
               In the new translation of the Mass, there are some changes that are so slight that they could easily escape our notice.  But it’s a basic truth of our Catholic Faith that God is often found in the smallest things.  By way of example, take the Collect of Holy Mass (what used to be called the “Opening Prayer”).  The main body of this prayer changes, of course, each day.  But the conclusion is almost always the same, and it’s in this conclusion that we hear a difference in the new translation.
               The change is very subtle, occurring in the middle of the last sentence.  In the old translation, the priest, praying to God the Father, speaks of Jesus as “your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit….”  In the corrected translation, the priest speaks of Jesus as “your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit….”
               The change seems, perhaps, small and insignificant.  In fact, it is small.  But it’s not insignificant.  Instead of “with you and the Holy spirit”, the priest now prays, “with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit”.  What’s the difference?  In addition to the fact that the new translation is more faithful to the original Latin text, there is a spiritual truth that’s neglected by the old translation.  The old translation emphasizes the unity of the three persons of the Trinity: the three divine Persons live and reign together equally.  By contrast, the new translation, in its fidelity to the Latin, emphasizes the uniqueness of the Holy Spirit: namely, the fact that God the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son for each other.  This divine Love—the Person of the Holy Spirit—is the Life and Kingdom of Heaven:  that is, Jesus living and reigning with God the Father.  This Gift of unity, who is the Person of the Holy Spirit, is the Gift whom the Church asks us to reflect upon as we prepare for the great feast of Pentecost, and is the Peace which Jesus gives you in the Eucharist.

5th Sunday of Easter [B]

The Fifth Sunday of Easter  [B]
Acts 9:26-31  +  1 John 3:18-24  +  John 15:1-8
May 6, 2012

When a person packs his things and moves off to a new place, he expects to meet a lot of new people, and see a lot of new things.  When this new place is a foreign country, this is all the more true.  When I had the privilege of living overseas for two years, I never expected what sort of experiences I would have.  But despite those experiences and privileges, I was often homesick.  Some of the simplest joys were visitors from the diocese, one of most memorable was a couple from my first parish:  both physicians, from foreign country (knew homesickness) gift:  book of photos of Kansas people and scenery Often I would look through that book, with love for homeland, knowing I would return, knowing I was connected still.
It’s very important for us to keep in touch with persons and places we love.  Especially today, through technology, we can keep in touch:  when I first arrived at my new residence in Rome, received a letter Bishop Gerber reflected on his days there:  sent cassettes to family one of the things that kept me sane was Email:  I was more in touch with more people then than before or since.
God, however, has a more simple method, a more profound way, and a more abiding means to “keep in touch”, for love to be shared between Him and His People.  We hear about that Way in the Scriptures today, and we reflect on that Way throughout this Easter Season.  This WAY is the Body of Christ.
Today’s gospel offers us one of simplest images in the Gospel:  vine and branches.  Image is, obviously, an organic one:  it makes sense to gardeners or farmers.  Relationship between Christ and his disciples is organic.  This “relationship” is what as Catholics we call “Communion”.  We are in “communion” with Christ most deeply through the Sacrament of Communion.  Other way around:  relationship not just “friendship” (hobbies in common); not just body of people who live in same town or country (body politic); those in the same class (student body); not just family relationship (people share parents/ancestors in common).  Relationship is organic:  Christ is IN us, and we are IN Him.  To use a different word:  our relationship with Christ is MYSTICAL.  That is why the Church is often called the Mystical Body of Christ.  We are one body of people b/c are mystically joined, through Christ.
This belief is deep, but it’s at the heart of our Catholic Faith.  When we think about our relationship with Christ, and the relationship between Christ and the Church, we can be tempted to think of all these people as being split up:  Christ is in heaven, along with many saints, while those of us here on earth are separated from God, separated because of distance, and because of sins.  Sure we pray to God, and ask the intercession of those in heaven, but we’re separated from them by the distance spanning heaven and earth.
But in fact, we are not separated.  Whenever the Mass is celebrated, the entire Church is joined together in prayer.  We are not “congregationalists”:  our church is not made up of those who are congregated here.  We belong to a “universal” Church:  and all the members of the Church throughout the universe are united together every time Mass is celebrated.  This is only possible because Christ instituted the Mass.  It was Christ’s command to celebrate this sacred meal, as He gave it to us.  The Mass is not ours to make of it what we will.  The Mass is Christ’s greatest gift to us, and we must be faithful:  not just in celebrating it, but also in HOW we celebrate it.
Perhaps the greatest temptation we have to overcome in thinking about the Mass is to remind ourselves that Jesus did not design the Mass to be entertainment.  Those who get nothing out of Mass, are the persons who put nothing into it.  Christ gave us the Mass to celebrate.  When we come here, we are to pour our life out, to offer our life to offer our weekly/daily struggles.  The more we pour ourselves out, the more God’s grace is poured into our lives.  The point of the Mass is that the Body of Christ is offered.  But all of us—throughout the universe—we are the Body of Christ.  We offer ourselves, or if we don’t, the grace of the Mass will not affect our lives.  If we don’t empty our selves of our own interests, desires, and plans, there will be no room for God’s grace within our souls, and we will be ineffective members of Christ’s Body, and the Father will prune us away.
The simplest thing to remember about the Mass, teaches us how to live:  the Mass has two parts:  called the Liturgy of the Word, & Lit. of the Eucharist We have to remember, that we live in a society that is fundamentally Protestant:  ask a Catholic what the Word of God is, and probably say, “The Bible”.  The Word of God is found in the Bible, but the Bible is useless unless it leads us to the Church.
The point of being a Christian is not “being saved”, the point of being a Christian is becoming a member of a Body.  It’s through that Body that we can find salvation after death.  The Word of God is not simply the Bible:  the Word of God is fundamentally the Eucharist, the Word made Flesh.
Sometimes people wonder why I don’t always preach very long.  It’s not only because I’m a poor preacher (because I’m trying to have compassion on my parishioners).  It’s because preaching has only one purpose:  to prepare us for the Eucharist.  The whole Liturgy of the Word has only one purpose:  to prepare us to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word becoming Flesh.  The Word that we hear in the Scriptures, explained in the homily, prepares us to open ourselves up, to offer ourselves more willingly to God:  to open our mouths, so that, strengthened by the Eucharist, we will BE the children St. John describes in the second reading:  loving God not just in word, but in deed and truth, so that the Word becomes flesh through our daily life.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)