Sunday, May 24, 2015

Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost 2015 Year B:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is the day when we remember the birth of the Church as we know it.  For once the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church, she began to carry out her mission.  The Church’s mission is simple: the Church is called to carry out the very mission of Christ.  Just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so the Church is called to teach, lead, and sanctify.  The Holy Spirit gives the church the power to act in the person of Christ for the salvation of the world.  Today we do well to remember this fundamental calling.  It is also good to remember that this mission was not given to the apostles alone, but to the whole Church.  Each one of us is called to embrace this mission and fulfill it in our own special vocation.  Whether we are married, single, priests, sisters, lay persons, we have all received God’s Spirit, given to us to empower us for our mission.
Now I don’t want to cause a lot of fear and anxiety, but it is not too much to say that every one of us is responsible for carrying out the mission of Christ.  All of us are responsible to preach the gospel, to lead others closer to Christ, to make this world a holier place where God can dwell.  I think that now, more than ever, the world needs the truth of the gospel.  There is a bunch of crazy stuff going on in our times.  There is war and violence.  There is poverty and pain.  There is immorality and the weakening of the life of the family.  These things are all around us. 
But, in many ways, things are not so different than what the apostles faced.  Look at what they accomplished.  Because of their preaching millions and billions of people throughout the whole world came to know Christ.  They started with nothing, outside of a few people in Jerusalem, no one had heard of Jesus.  They were able to do great things.  If we can zero in on how they were able to carry out their mission, it will enlighten us as to how to carry out our mission.  Jesus explains it well: the Father will send the Spirit of Truth, he will testify to me, then you will testify. 
As I said above, it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church to carry on the mission of Christ.  It was the Spirit that moved in the hearts of the apostles to preach the good news.  The same Holy Spirit is alive and with us today, it is this spirit that allows us to fulfill our mission as well. 
First, the Spirit testifies.  I think it is perfectly natural and ok to remember that we still have a lot to learn.  None of us is there yet.  We all need to open our hearts to the message of the Spirit.  Where do you still need to grow?  Maybe it is in accepting some truth of the gospel.  I know that so many people in today’s society fail to see the truth of our belief about marriage.  So many people struggle to see the value of every human life.  So many people find it difficult to move away from sin.  No matter where we are on this continuum, today is a day for us to open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth.  He will teach us and strengthen our faith in the truth. 
Then we testify.  Once we listen to the Spirit of Truth, he will strengthen us for our ministry.  I think it always works like that: we are growing in our personal faith, but then we express that in our lives.  One without the other is incomplete.  If we grow in our life of faith, but it doesn’t move us to look beyond ourselves, we become that inward looking Church that Pope Francis has been denouncing.  But, if we are working in the world without being guided by the Spirit of truth we become political activists or social workers.  Both have their place, but that is not the same as carrying out the mission of Christ.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ascension

Ascension 2012 year B:
            Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into glory.  This is an interesting feast day, because on the surface it is a bit odd for us to celebrate the day that Jesus left earth. 
Ascending is not the same as departing.  Listen to the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we celebrate the memorial of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.  You see in the mind of the Church the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all form one mystery.  The ascension is not fleeing or departing; rather, it is the completion of the resurrection.  Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead simply to remain in the world as it is.  Rather, he rises from the dead as a great victory, a conqueror, and he takes his place at the right hand of the Father, arrayed in glory.  You might be thinking: that’s great for Jesus, he deserves that after his death and resurrection, but how does it relate to us who are still on earth?
I think there are 2 interesting aspects of the ascension that help us to see its importance in our lives.  First, when Jesus goes up into heaven, he doesn’t simply disappear or vanish.  Rather, he ascends in a bodily way.  This should be for us a powerful reminder that the ascension is not so much about Christ leaving us, as it is about Christ taking us with him.  Jesus does not leave behind his human nature, he takes it with him.  So each and every one of us are still united to Christ in our common humanity.  Jesus Christ is indeed the eternal son of the Father seated on his throne arrayed in Glory, but so are we, if you think about it.  Christ takes us with him.  Jesus doesn’t leave us at the ascension, instead he gives us a chance to leave behind sin, weakness, and the fallenness of our world because we are united to him and he is already enthroned in glory.  We can share in that glory even now.  We might not experience this glory in a full and complete way in this life, but we catch glimpses of it.  Christian life is not simply a matter of trying to get to heaven someday; Christian life is about living heaven right now.  This can only happen because of the ascension of our Lord into glory.  So that is number 1, the ascension is not so much Christ leaving us as it is him taking us to be with God even now.
Number 2 Jesus never abandons us, rather he is with us in a new manner.  We hear in the gospel that Jesus instructs the disciples to do many amazing things: healing and picking up serpents, etc.  These things should strike us as crazy: but, that is the point, without Christ these things would be impossible, but Christ has not left us: he remains.  I’m certainly not telling anyone to go buy deadly snakes or drink poisons, but think about the even more amazing things that people do all the time because of God’s help.  I know of people who fight deadly diseases without losing hope, I know of people who overcome powerful addictions and get their lives back on track, I know of people who give their time, talent, and treasure for the good of their neighbor, I know of people who are scared, lonely, and hurting, but they keep fighting every day.  In my opinion these things are even more amazing than handling deadly snakes.  How do they do it?  By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost where the Spirit is poured out upon the Church.  Christ never leaves us; rather, he is present through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is shown most clearly in and through the Church.  Christ continues to be among us in and through the Christian faithful.  We are built up by the presence of Christ in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood.  So while the ascension might look like Jesus’ departure from earth, through the Church and the sacraments we see that Christ is more present in the world, not less.  In fact, the Church has spread to the corners of the earth to bring in more people to be united with Christ.

So today we celebrate the ascension of Our Lord into glory.  We celebrate the fact that Christ has ascended to heaven and has taken all of us with him, and as members of his faithful it is our duty to spread this Good News to the end of the earth.  For the ascension of Jesus is not the end of his mission; rather, the ascension of Jesus is his entrusting of that mission to all of us.  Let us, together with the whole Church, pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord to all the earth.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

All you need is love

6th Sunday of Easter Year B 2015:
Today’s readings focus on love.  I was thinking about the importance of love.  I think we could call it the most fundamental of all human emotions.  Is there anything more important to us than love?  Think about how many songs there are about love.  As I was reflecting on the readings this week all I kept hearing Beatles’ songs in my head: all you need is love…  Or think about all the movies about love, all the books about love.  This weekend we are remembering our mothers, a lot of love there: the love our mothers have for us, and the love we have for our mothers.  In the heart of every human being there is a great longing for love.  Love motivates us, inspires us.
So, in today’s gospel, when Jesus gives us his great command to love, it makes a lot of sense. In so many ways, this one law simplifies and summarizes the mission of the Christian disciple, our mission is to love.  We are supposed to love, we can feel it deep down in our hearts.  And the stakes are high, in the second reading St. John tells us: if we don’t love, we don’t know God, for God is love.  Wow, pretty amazing.  If we don’t love we don’t know God.
I think we all want to know God, don’t we?  Love is the pathway to our relationship with him.  If we have love, we know God; if we don’t, we won’t.  Pretty powerful.  John Paul II once said that love is the fundamental vocation of every human being.  So whether you are a mother, a father, a child, a priest, a religious sister, it doesn’t matter, we are called to love.  Only by love will we find happiness and fulfillment in this life.  Why is love to important? 
St. John gives us a great insight in the second reading: because God is love.  God is love.  It is so simple, yet so beautiful.  This one sentence might have been the first thing we learned about God in school or in religious education.  I think I can remember making signs that say: God is love, when I was a kid.  A few years back Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical titled Deus Caritas Est, God is love.  Yet with anything that is so basic and fundamental, it can easily be one of those things we take for granted without really thinking too much about it.
God is love.  How do we know that God is love?  He created the universe.  God is sufficient in himself, he didn’t need to create us, but he did because he loved us.  Then what happened, we went astray.  How do we know God still loved us?  He sent Jesus to be our savior.  How do we know Jesus loved us?  He died on the cross.  How do we know he still loves us even today?  He gives us the Holy Eucharist.  If we have eyes to see it, we can see the love of God everywhere around us.  We know that God loves us because he made us, he sent Jesus to save us, he feeds us through the Eucharist.  There is a lot of love there.
            Since the whole universe is made through love, and since we were made through love, this is why love is so important to us.  Love literally brought us into existence, and if we are going to be true to who we are, we need to love.  God is love, he made us in his image and likeness, so if we are going to be happy we need to love.
But, one thing we might forget if all we do is listen to love songs or watch romantic comedies, is that love is hard.  Love is never easy.  Jesus tells us to love today, but he tells us to love one another as he loved us.  Look again at the love he has for us.  He died for us, he gave everything for us.  Now, if we want to know God, if we want to inherit the eternal life Christ promises us, if we want to a share in that resurrection, we must fulfill the command of Christ: love on another.
If you are like me, you hear Jesus’ command: love one another as I love you, and you might get a little discouraged.  How can I love like Jesus loved?  I’m too weak, too sinful, too proud, too selfish.  But, rather than seeing this as a condemnation, let the words of Jesus inspire you all over again.  When Jesus commands us to love he does so because he really thinks we can do.  And he really knows that this is what is absolutely best for us, even though love is never easy.  Ask your mother today on Mothers’ Day if love is easy.  But, love is always worth it. 
What a beautiful gift we have in the Holy Eucharist.  This sacrament of love is given to us by Christ to be a great lesson in humble, serving, love.  He literally gives himself away for our benefit, and then he calls us to go and do likewise.  This I command you, love one another. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bear much fruit

5th Week of Easter year B 2015:
Bear much fruit and become my disciples.  Our gospel today ends with this inspiring message from Jesus.  He has big plans for us.  He wants us to carry out his mission in the world.  He came to bring us good news, to heal the sick, to lift up the fallen.  And, he wants to continue his saving ministry, but now he does it through us, his disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is good to remember that Jesus has work for us to do.  He wants us to bear fruit.
But, one thing is for sure, we are always busy.  The other day I was talking with a parishioner here and we were discussing our busy schedules.  I was saying that I had several meetings, masses, confessions, and visits to the hospital and homebound, all in one day.  She says: oh yeah, try being a mom.  Good point, she got me there.  The joys of modern parenting: wake up early, get the kids up, cleaned up, dressed, fed.  Make them lunch.  Get them to school.  Take them to the doctor.  Pick them up from school.  Take them to practice.  Wait in the car.  Sit in the rain and watch them play soccer.  Wait in the car some more.  Help them with homework.  Make sure they eat properly.  Get them to bed on time.  On and on.  It seems like we just keep getting busier and busier. 
So when we hear Jesus say: bear much fruit.  It sounds like we need to add even more to our busy lives.  But, I think it is important to remember that our life of faith never competes with our daily lives.  We don’t have to choose between loving God or loving our families.  Rather, we should see these things as being beautifully united.   Have you ever thought of waiting in your car for your kids as an act of prayer?  Or simply being kind and respectful at the grocery store or while driving can be an act of discipleship of Jesus.  How can we see everything in our daily lives as an act of love or prayer?
Remain in me, as I remain in you.  I think this little line really holds the key to the life of discipleship as we go about our busy lives.  It is certainly true that Christ calls us to bear much fruit, that we are called to lives of active discipleship.  But, if we don’t remain in him, we will lose our focus.  Staying connected to Christ is the only way to be sure we are doing everything for him and with him.  Like I just said, being a disciple does not compete with our daily lives, but it gives our lives meaning and direction.  Staying connected to Christ is the key to discipleship.
I am convinced that there is no better way to stay connected to Christ than through the sacraments.  Jesus gave us these gifts as his abiding presence among us.  By the power of the sacraments we stay connected to Christ and he lives within us.  This weekend is a special weekend for us here at St. Jude, Saturday morning we celebrated first Holy Communion and Sunday afternoon Bishop Rhoades will be here for Confirmation.  It is a joy to see these sacraments at work in the lives of our young people.  At the first communion mass I asked the kids: “what do all 7 sacraments have in common?”  One child responded: Jesus.  What a perfect answer!  Through the power of the sacraments we get in touch with Jesus.  Through the power of the sacraments, we remain in Jesus, we stay connected to him.  This is how we find the power to bear much fruit for him in our daily lives.
So, think again about the power of these sacraments.  Especially consider the sacraments of confession and Eucharist.  If it has been a while since you’ve made a confession, plan on going in the next week.  Ask Christ to forgive your sins and grow closer to him through that sacrament.  Make a commitment to grow closer to Christ in the powerful prayer of the Holy Eucharist.  There is no better way to stay connected to Christ than to receive him in this sacred mystery.  Maybe even consider attending Mass during the week.  (Mention the magnet)  I know that the daily celebration of the Eucharist has been an important part of my spiritual journey even way before becoming a priest. 

Jesus has great plans for us, whether these plans include taking care of your kids, being kind to others, or giving of your time, talent, and treasure for the building up of God’s kingdom.  He wants us all to bear great fruit.  But, as Jesus says today: without me you can do nothing.  Here at this mass, and through the power of all the sacraments, we are here with Jesus.  And through this powerful connection with Christ we can go out from this mass and bear great fruit. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I am the Good Shepherd says the Lord

4th Sunday of Easter year B 2015:
Today our readings use some interesting images or analogies that help us to understand our relationship to Christ.  The most obvious is Jesus as the Good shepherd.
Jesus helps to explain this one for us.  The Good Shepherd is the one who lays down his life for his sheep.  During this Easter season, and really all the time, we ceaselessly proclaim one central message:  Jesus died out of love for us, and he rose so that we might have eternal life.  From the earliest days in the Church this image of Christ as the good shepherd summarized and explained this central teaching.  One of the earliest artistic depictions of Christ, from the earliest centuries of the Church, was not Jesus Crucified, but Jesus the shepherd. 
Pope Francis has drawn on this image often.  The shepherd is close to his sheep.  As Jesus says, I know mine and mine know me.  Jesus is not some distant ruler, or king in a palace.  He is the good shepherd.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word, through whom all things were made, became human.  He wanted to be close to us.  Shepherds are close to their sheep.  Not only that, but shepherds take care of their sheep, they lead them through danger, they find them food, they protect the sheep from wolves and other predators.  Jesus is the good shepherd.  He became one of us to get close to us.  If we listen to his voice and follow where he leads, he will guide us through the dangers of this life, he will strengthen and support us no matter what we face in our life.  In a sense, we never have to wonder about Christ, because we know he will be there for us.  All we have to do is look to the cross to see how much he loves us.  All we have to do is contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist to see how he continues to lay down his life for us.
But, there are two other images used in the readings that shed light on us.  In the second reading St. John calls us children of God, and Jesus calls us the sheep.  I think that these two images tell us a lot about being a follower of Christ. 
First, children of God.  I don’t think it takes too much to think about all the wonderful aspects of children.  Generally speaking people love kids and for good reason.  Kids are cute, first of all.  My mom used to say: good thing kids are cute, because sometimes we would want to give them back.  Children are trusting and innocent.  Children are joyful and quite funny.  Onetime a priest friend and I were invited to spend time at a family’s house.  We were sitting there talking, when a small child came up and asked my friend: is there a baby in your tummy.  Hilarious. Maybe my friend could use a few trips to the gym.  There is something beautifully admirable about how children live life.  They have a joy and enthusiasm that can be contagious.  Now there are drawbacks too.  Children can be dirty, childish, foolish, and selfish.  Certainly we don’t want to emulate these characteristics.  But, as God’s children, we could certainly learn to be trusting, more joyful if we rely on our Good Shepherd the way children rely on their parents.
Next, sheep.  I think we often romanticize the analogy of sheep, and there are many wonderful things about sheep.  First of all, they taste pretty good: I love lamb.  They produce wool that we can use to keep us warm, they provide milk and nourishment.  But, there are many drawbacks to sheep as well.  They smell bad, they are not really very intelligent, they are prone to wander off and get in trouble.  This is a good analogy for us as well.  We don’t always do the right thing, we wander into sinfulness and selfishness. 
These two analogies can help us to remember the beauty and charm of the human race: we can be trusting, we can live with joy, we can provide warmth and nourishment for those in need.  But, these analogies also help us to remember our weaknesses and shortcomings: we can be selfish, we can be foolish, we can wander and stray.  While it is good to remember our strengths, it can also be great to remember our weaknesses, not simply to beat ourselves up.  But, if we remember our weaknesses and shortcomings then we will remember that we need God in our lives.  We will remember that as God’s children, we need to rely on him to be our compassionate and merciful Father.  We will remember that as Christ’s flock, we need to follow him and allow him to guide us through the difficulties of life.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd.  He knows us.  Hopefully we are daily striving to know him more in our lives.   As we gather at this Holy Mass, the Good shepherd is calling to us, guiding us and feeding us through this Holy Eucharist.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Vigil 2015

Easter Vigil 2015:
He is not here, he is going before you.  These faithful women expected to find Jesus with all the other dead people.  They went in search of a dead person and found something that amazed them.  They didn’t find a dead body, but an empty tomb and a messenger with an astounding message: he has been raised, he is going before you.  Imagine their surprise.  We know this story quite well.  We know that Jesus was raised from the dead.  The resurrection of Christ is central to our belief.  If Jesus had stayed dead, we never would have heard of him.  But, Jesus is alive, this is no surprise for us, but imagine again the surprise and amazement of those first people: he is not here, he is going before you.
When was the last time you were amazed by God?  When was the last time you knew how something was going to turn out, but it didn’t.  When was the last time you were looking among the dead, but found someone alive?  I think it happens all the time.  Maybe we get nervous about some important meeting, but everything goes well.  Maybe we get anxious about how we are going to pay the bills, but everything ends up working out.  Maybe we are stuck in some impossible, intractable problem, but then a surprising solution presents itself.  Or even in the midst of some sad circumstance, or some difficult suffering, God surprises us simply by giving us strength.  God surprises me all the time.
Let the message of Easter be surprising to you again.  Because we have heard the story of Jesus before, it can become a bit to common or ordinary: oh, yeah… Jesus rose from the dead… yawn.  I hope and pray that I never take that message for granted, that I never get bored of the resurrection, that I never stop being amazed by this message.  If we let it, the amazing message of the resurrection can change our whole lives.
Over the last couple of days we have been reflecting on a passage from St. John’s gospel.  It reads, “he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”  I believe that this passage is the interpretive key to the whole Triduum.  Thursday evening at the Last Supper, Jesus loved his disciples, by bending down and washing their feet.  He loved us all by giving us the gift of the Priesthood, and the Holy Eucharist.  Yesterday, Jesus mounted the wood of the cross to show us just how deep this love goes.  Yesterday, he poured out his life, even his heart was pierced.  He gave us everything because of his great love for us. 
Again, love helps us to understand what we celebrate tonight.  The resurrection of Christ is proof that love will not be defeated.  That even when things look bleak and hopeless, love finds a way.  Jesus died because he loves us.  But, he also rises because he loves us.  Jesus rises from the dead so that he can take us with him, like we hear tonight, he is going before us.  He loved his own, and he loved them to the end.  But, the beauty of this story is that death is not the end.  In fact, we haven’t gotten to the end yet.  The women today went to the tomb thinking the story of Jesus had ended, that’s why they were so surprised, so amazed.  Tonight is a chance for us to be amazed by God as well.
One of the best parts about being a priest during Lent is all the confessions.  I cannot tell you just how amazing it is to be a priest and to be able to absolve people of their sins.  Very often people come in weighed down by their sins and by the circumstances of life.  Very often we face a lot of difficulties in this life.  Some of these difficulties are because of our own poor choices, our own bad decisions.  But, sometimes these difficulties just happen to us, maybe an illness, a loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, a difficult family situation.  I sometimes meet people whose lives are filled with darkness.  My message to them is the same, Christ is our light even in darkness.  St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying that all the darkness in the whole world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.  No matter how much darkness we have in our lives, and there might be a lot, the light of a single candle can be the beginning of something new.  When times are tough, we need something bright.  Look at this candle.  The Easter Candle is a symbol for Christ.  Jesus Christ went into the darkness of the tomb, the darkness of death.  But, he rose from the dead.  Now he lives forever, he has gone before us to His Father, he wants us to follow him.  He is the light of the world.  He is the light that can shine in our darkness.  His love is so pure and so bright, that it can be our light in dark times.  Look again at this candle, let the love it proclaims amaze you all over again.

My friends every time you see this candle, remember the words of the Gospel: he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.  Let this one light, namely the great love that Christ has for us, be the light in darkness.  Let this light shine.  No matter how much darkness we might face in this life, it cannot extinguish the light of this candle, the light of Christ, the symbol of his love and presence among us.  He loved his own, and he loved them to the end.  This candle reminds us that this love hasn’t ended.  I hope the light of this candle surprises and amazes us all.  Christ is Risen, he is not here, he is going before us.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday 2015


Good Friday 2015:
He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.  Last night we saw the love of Christ being shown through the example of the washing of feet.  We saw how that love has been continued in the world by the gift of the priesthood, and by the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  Indeed Christ continues to love his own.  But, just how deep is this love?  Just how far does this love go?  If we ever wonder about the love of Christ, we look no farther than the Cross. 
The account of Christ’s passion reminds us how much he loves us.  Love is all about giving, serving.  Christ loved his own.  He gave everything for us.  He held absolutely nothing back.  He stretched out his arms on the cross, he gave everything for us.  Even his heart was pierced so that the very last of him could be poured out for love of us.  Because of his self-giving love, Christ was able to swallow up all the selfishness, hatred, violence, and sin of the whole world.  This act of love was so pure, so holy, so perfect, that all sin is but a little shadow in the face of the burning fire of this love. 
At the heart of our ceremony today is the veneration of the Cross.  We come forward as a people who love and appreciate the Cross of Christ.  We see it, not as some bizarre instrument of painful torture, but as a sign of a love so pure and deep that it changed the world.  The cross of Christ stands as the very center of Christian history.  It is at the heart of our lives.  I hope that there is never a day that goes by without each one of us thinking about the love of Christ shown on the cross.    Today, on this special day, we come forward to kiss, touch, or genuflect before the cross as a way of thanking Christ for his love.
But, it doesn’t end there, of course.  Hopefully, by coming in contact with a love this strong, it changes us.  When we touch this cross of Christ, I hope it leaves a mark on us.  Last night, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he said: I have given you an example.  I think this is also true of the cross: as I have done, so you must do.  Today, as we touch the cross, we feel and touch the love of Christ.  Then we hear in our hearts: so you must do.