Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi 2017:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Body and Blood.  This special feast gives praise and honor to God for the very gift of the Eucharist.  It’s an interesting feast.  Normally we celebrate the Eucharist to venerate the great feasts of our Church year, like Easter, Christmas, Pentecost.  But this feast is meant to foster devotion to the Blessed Sacrament itself.
This feast dates back to the 12th century, when a young Belgian Nun named Juliana had a great love and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.  She felt called and challenged to ask the Church to celebrate a feast day devoted to the Holy Eucharist itself.  The bishop of her diocese agreed and started a feast day in that diocese.  It became more popular and was eventually made a universal feast in 1264 by Pope Urban IV.  This feast is meant to foster devotion and love for the Holy Eucharist.  But, believing in the Holy Eucharist has always been difficult for human beings.  Today in the gospel we hear “how can this man give us his flesh to eat.”  And, I know this is something we still need to do even in our days, because if the polls are correct, even lots of Catholics either don’t know about or don’t believe in the Holy Eucharist, which is quite sad if you ask me.  How can he give us his flesh to eat?  What is the Eucharist?
The Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  He gave us this precious gift the night before he died on Holy Thursday.  He continues to feed us with the Eucharist through the ministry of the apostles and their successors.  At this mass, and at every Mass, simple elements of bread and wine are changed by the very power of the Holy Spirit.  This mass and every mass is truly a miracle.  Jesus gives us his flesh to eat.  Jesus feeds us on our journey of life.
On this Corpus Christi Sunday we hear about Moses in the desert in our first reading.  The story of Moses and the people of Israel being freed from Egypt is one of the most important stories in human history.  God’s people were suffering mightily.  God chooses to intervene.  So he sends Moses to be his servant.  Moses leads the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea.  He guides them in the wilderness.  And leads them to the Promised Land.  Indeed, God worked many wonders for his people.  But, one of the most important: God fed them with Manna from heaven.  You see, it wasn’t simply enough for God to free Israel.  He also took care of their needs in the desert.  He gave them food for the journey.  Without this food they never would have made it to the Promised Land.
Christian writers have seen this story of Moses as being a great parallel for the story of each human soul.  All of us are born with the burden of Original Sin.  All of us are born as slaves to sin.  But, God sent his son to be the new Moses.  Jesus leads us out of sin by his death, and we enter into his death through the waters of baptism.  And where is he leading us?  He’s leading us to the Promised Land of heaven.  So, he freed us in baptism and he’s guiding us to heaven.  What about now?  Our life here on earth is like the time the Israelites spent in the desert.  It’s a journey.  And you know what, sometimes is quite hard.  Sometimes it might feel like we are lost, wandering, and struggling.  I know I feel that way sometimes.  And without food for the journey, we wouldn’t be able to make it.  Jesus knew that, so he gave us that food, he gave us the Eucharist.
I’m a big fan of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.  Do you remember when the hobbits set out from the Elves?  The elves gave them some special presents to help them on their perilous journey.  One such gift was the gift of bread, called Lembas.  This magical bread was there for them in their most desperate moments so that they could reach their destination.
But, the Lord of the Rings is a fiction.  Our lives are real.  Our lembas is the Holy Eucharist.  The Holy Eucharist is for each one of us as we journey on our way to heaven.  It’s there for us in our most difficult moments to give us strength, courage to continue on our journey.  Turn to the Eucharist in your time of need.  Do you know Catholics who have been away from Mass for a while?  Maybe encourage them to turn back to the Eucharist.  This journey of life is way too hard to try to live without Christ in the Eucharist.
So, on this feast of Corpus Christi we give thanks to Christ, who gave us his flesh to eat.  We give him thanks for being with us on this journey of faith.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Pentecost 2017

Pentecost Homily 2017 Year A:
Today is Pentecost.  It’s been 50 days since Easter.  Today we remember the first gift of the Holy Spirit, which inspired the apostles to proclaim the good news.  I like the “Come Holy Spirit prayer,” which is fitting today: “come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.”  The Apostles did just that if you stop and think about it.  They certainly renewed the face of the earth.  If it wasn’t for the Apostles none of us would have heard of Christ.  They received the vocation, the calling, to proclaim the message of Jesus.  And they received this vocation because of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it is not too much to say that all Christian vocations have their birth in the gift of the Spirit.  Whether a person is called to Priesthood, religious life, married life, single life, we are all called to holiness because of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I was thinking a lot about vocations this week.  Our diocese was blessed in that Saturday we had the priestly ordination of two men for our diocese.  Father Eric Bergener and Father Dennis DiBennidetto were ordained by Bishop Rhoades at the Cathedral.  So, all last week I was remembering them in my prayers.  Then I had the chance to attend the ordination, and it was a powerful experience.  I remember Bishop D’Arcy used to say that every ordination was like a little retreat.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s a pretty powerful 2 hours.  Especially for me as a priest, it was a powerful reminder of the gift of the priesthood, and the gift of vocations.
One of the most powerful moments of the ordination ceremony is the laying on of hands.  This gesture is done in silence when the bishop places his hands on the hands of the man being ordained.  The symbol is one of passing down.  Someone laid their hands on the Bishop’s head, and someone before him, someone before him, all the way to the Apostles.  It is a beautiful gesture and it is done in silence.  However, after the Bishop lays hands on the men ordained, then the other priests of the diocese do so as a sign of their brotherhood with the newly ordained.  During this event there is always a song sung: veni creator spiritu.  Come creator spirit.  When I was listening to that song this Saturday it gave me chills because I still remember that song from my own ordination almost 8 years ago.  But, how fitting for this weekend: come Holy Spirit.
All priestly vocations come from the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit moves within a man, inspiring him to priesthood.  The Holy Spirit does the work of forming the man after the heart of Christ in the seminary.  Ordination is one of the 7 sacraments, made possible and effective by the Holy Spirit.  Then, after ordination, these 2 men will celebrate the sacraments, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the vocation to the priesthood is inspired by the Spirit, prepared by the Spirit, celebrated by the Spirit, and lived by the Spirit.  It was a powerful reminder to me of my own need for the power of the Spirit in my life.
But, really, all vocations share this same reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Every vocation is inspired by the Spirit, formed by the Spirit, and lived by the Spirit.  No matter what vocation you are living in your life, you need to power of the Holy Spirit in order to live it out.  In fact, all vocations have their root in a deeper, universal calling: we are all called to holiness.
I find it really comforting that we are all called to holiness, but that we are not called to be the same.  The Apostles call to holiness was lived out in their unique calling.  But, my call to holiness is my own special calling.  Each of us is called to be holy, but in our own way.  So, think about your own life and your own calling to holiness this weekend.  What is the gift of the Spirit that you need to live it out?  Today is your day.  Call on the Spirit and ask him for that gift.

New priests for the diocese is a great blessing.  Please keep praying for vocations.  Pray that young people will have the courage to listen to the Spirit.  A few chosen people in Jerusalem received the Spirit and made a huge impact on the world.  Imagine what would happen if every young person of St. Jude accepted the Spirit and lived out their vocation with the same courage as the Apostles.  Whether as priests, religious, married, or single, our young people are called by God to live lives of holiness to renew the face of the earth.  So on this Pentecost Sunday we pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to be alive in our parish: come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ascension

Ascension 2017 Year A:
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, today we mark the day when Jesus returns to his Father in heaven.  I have always found this day a little bit odd.  If I were planning everything out, I think I would have Jesus stay here on earth.  We could build him a big castle.  We could put him in charge of everything.  Why not have the Son of God here as an earthly figure, ruler?
But, of course, I think that way because I’m small-minded.  Also, I think that way because the ascension looks like Jesus leaving us.  And I think all of us would agree, we don’t want Jesus to leave right?
But, listen again to the words of the Gospel: I am with you always.  These words from St. Matthew are the last words in the gospel.  This is how this story of Jesus ends.  Not with Jesus leaving or abandoning us; rather, Jesus says I am with you always.  Doesn’t that sound much better?
The ascension of Jesus is not his departure from our lives, not his departure from the Church, not his departure from earth.  Rather, the ascension of Jesus is the transformation of his presence.  While on earth, Jesus was in a certain location, at a certain time.  Now that he is raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, he is constantly present, constantly available, constantly with us.  Now that Jesus has ascended beyond the realm of space and time, he is not limited or restricted.  Rather, Christ is now with each one of us in a personal and intimate way.
So, you see, my small-minded concept of Jesus the great human ruler would actually restrict and limit Jesus’ presence in the world.  But, his ascension makes him present to all people, to all places, at all times.  In fact, I don’t think it is too much to say that the ascension of Jesus is actually what allows Christianity to exist. 
Christianity is the lived relationship with Christ, right?  It begins with the Lord’s command to baptize.  Then he tells them to make disciples.  What is a disciple?  A disciple is a person who knows Jesus.  A disciple is a person who follows Jesus.  Well, I would argue that without the ascension it would be impossible for us to be disciples of Jesus.  How would we be able to know him?  How would we be able to talk to him?  How would we be able to follow him and have a relationship with him if he were limited to a certain time and place?  Impossible.  Yet, with the ascension: “I am with you always until the end of the age.”

So, today we celebrate the ascension.  This is not the day where Jesus departs, this is the day where Jesus becomes intimately available for each and every one of us.  So, let’s open our hearts to the Lord and listen to him say in our own lives: I am with you always.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do not let your hearts be troubled...

5th Sunday of Easter Year A 2017:
“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  Jesus leads us to the Father.  He is the only pathway to heaven.  And how blessed we are to have Jesus as our guide.  I know I can say that this can be a crazy and confusing world we live in.  How many of us would be lost, wandering around without hope if it weren’t for Jesus?  He is our guide to heaven.  This is why it is so important for us to listen to Jesus’ voice, for us to know his words and his teachings.  Jesus wants to lead us to heaven if we listen to his voice and follow his commands.
But his commands can certainly be challenging.  Which one is the most difficult?  I’m sure each of us might list a different command: Love your enemy and pray for your persecutor; turn the other cheek; do not look at another with lust; forgive not 7 times but 77 times; love one another as I have loved you.  Yes, Jesus gives us some tough commands, but he gives us these commands to lead us to heaven.
But, in my opinion, one of the toughest commands that he gives is found in today’s gospel: Do not let your hearts be troubled, have faith.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, don’t worry, don’t fear, don’t have doubts, these things do not lead us to heaven.  Faith leads us to heaven, doubt, fear, anger, and anxiety will not lead us there.
But, I’ll freely admit that this is a struggle for me in my own life.  Anxiety, stress, and worry can really be a problem for me, especially in the last couple months.  Unfortunately, it’s been a really tense 2 months here at St. Jude’s.  We’ve had some great things going one: Easter, First Communion, Confirmation, weddings, etc.  All great, all beautiful; but also quite stressful.  But, all these events coincide with our annual budgeting process, which is also quite stressful. 
I don’t know about you, but life just always gets more stressful.  When I was in high school I thought: once I graduate and move out of the house, all my problems will go away.  Then what happened?  I found out that you have to pay bills and if you bounce checks it’s a real problem, etc.  More stress.  Then I went into the seminary.  I thought, going back to school and all my troubles will go away.  Then I found I had to write papers, read tough books, do service, learn how to pray and how to be a priest.  At the time I thought all that stuff was stressful.  Then I got ordained and found out that seminary was a like a vacation.  Now there were masses, funerals, weddings, confessions, appointments.  And that’s before I became a pastor.  Now as a pastor I have all that stuff, plus the stresses of managing a whole parish.
What’s my point?  I’m sure everyone here feels the same way.  Life always seems to get more stressful, more difficult.
Jesus knew this would happen to his disciples too.  That’s why he says: do not let your hearts be troubled.  If you notice trouble in your hearts, resolve to defeat it, overcome it.  Jesus tells us that faith is the key.  By listening to Jesus voice, by following his commands, we will have hearts filled with faith.  No stress, turmoil or problem will bring us down.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we won’t have stressful situations in our life, but they won’t be able to take over. 

As we celebrate this holy Eucharist we ask Jesus to strengthen that precious gift of faith.  We ask him to fill our hearts with his goodness so that we can fulfill his wonderful command: do not let your hearts be troubled.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A 2017:
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter we hear about Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd.  So you will often here this called Good Shepherd Sunday.  St. Peter in the Second Reading talks about us returning to the Shepherd and Guardian of our Souls.  Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd and he came so that they might have life and have it abundantly.  Indeed, the words of the Psalm say it so well: the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. 
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of our most beloved images of Jesus.  You see statues of Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders, pictures and paintings.  This is often the image we use when explaining Jesus’ love for us when we speak to children.  In fact, the earliest depiction of Jesus in Christian art comes from the 3rd Century.  This depiction of Jesus was found in one of the ancient catacombs.  In that image, Jesus is not on the cross, he is not teaching, he is the good shepherd.
But, I wanted to reflect just a little bit on what this means.  How can we speak about God?  How can we know about him?
If we stop and think about it, God is way beyond our comprehension.  God is eternal, all powerful, infinite.  God is 3 persons but one divine substance.  God is transcendent, our little human minds simply aren’t capable of comprehending God in his entirety.  So, anything and everything we say about God will be incomplete.  We say God is loving, God is merciful, God is patient, God is kind.  All these attributes are true, but they don’t sum up the essence of God. 
There is actually quite a difficult problem here.  Human language is quite limited.  Since it is a product of limited human beings, language can only take us so far.  In fact, people in history have tried to argue that since language cannot capture the essence of God, that it would actually be better not to say anything about God, since by speaking about God we will always fall short. 
But, the Church rejects this extreme position, because we follow the example of Christ in the gospel today.  While we acknowledge that human language cannot grasp the essence of God, it says in the gospel that Jesus spoke to them using figures of speech. 
Jesus says: I am the sheep gate.  Now, obviously, he is not literally a gate.  Gates don’t look like human beings.  So, it’s quite obvious that Jesus is using an image to try to explain a transcendent reality.  In this case, the image of the sheep gate is trying to explain a great mystery.  The image of the gate is an image for the communion between God and humanity.  We know that this communion was lost with the original sin.  Jesus is the new gate, open that leads to heaven.  These are tremendous mysteries that we can never fully grasp, but by reflecting on these images, our minds and hearts can be filled with God’s truth, even if we cannot know it fully.
What is your favorite image?  I’m assigning homework this week.  Take some time this week to reflect on your favorite image.  Maybe it’s the good shepherd.  Just pray psalm 23 slowly and fill in all the blanks: he leads me to green pastures, what does that mean for me in my life?  Maybe it’s the gate: Lord lead me into paradise.  Maybe it’s the image of faith being an anchor that gives us stability in difficult times.  Maybe it’s the image of the Church being the great boat that keeps us safe on our journey to the distant shore.  Maybe it’s the rock in the desert that once struck gushed forth life giving water.

There are so many images in scripture that elevate our hearts and minds to the mysteries of God.  On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we let our imaginations soar.  Jesus spoke using those figures of speech, not to confuse us.  But, to inspire us.  May our reflection upon Christ the Good Shepherd make us aware of his love and care for us, the sheep of his flock.