Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Ad multos annos.
13th Sunday OT Year C
Today we hear Jesus' invitation to follow him. Follow me, he said to the disciples in the gospel and to each one of us. In fact, as Christians this invitation makes up our identity. The name Christian means "one who follows Christ." Following Christ is more than just something we do, it is something we are. So let's think about this a little more.
Why do we follow Christ? First, he called us. We hear his voice. The story of Elisha is our story. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our everyday lives, throws his cloak over us and asks us to follow him. Elisha was plowing, he was carrying on his daily tasks. Yesterday I went to Fr. Andy Budzinski's priestly ordination. It reminded me of my own calling to follow Christ as a priest. It came in the midst of ordinary things. There was no voice from heaven. Rather, I was going to RCIA classes as a sponsor, I was reading the Catechism, I was trying to go to daily mass, and I just remember hearing the voice of Jesus telling me to consider the priesthood. Jesus asks each one of us to follow him, and he asks us in the midst of our ordinary lives, we have to develop the ability to hear his voice. Second, we follow Jesus because he is the only path to true freedom. We know this from experience. Our sins only lead us to misery and selfishness. But if we rely on God's grace, Jesus can set us free. This is what St. Paul is talking about. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are led by the Spirit and we are truly free. Our hearts really long for this freedom, only Jesus, and the freedom he gives, can truly satisfy us. So that is why we follow: because Jesus calls us and because he leads us to the freedom we crave.
How do we follow Jesus? We get some clues in the gospel today. At first blush, Jesus' reply seems rather harsh. Lord first let me bury my father, let me first say goodbye to my family. Jesus responds by saying let the dead bury the dead, or you are not fit for the kingdom. Harsh indeed. But, I'm convinced that Jesus is not so much responding to their requests as he is responding to the order in which they put them. Neither burying a father nor saying goodbye to a family is incompatible with Christianity. But they both asked if they may do those things "first." In other words, Lord I want to follow you, but do you mind if I put a few things before you? Do you mind if I put something else, even something good, before my relationship with you? The answer is a resounding no. If we are going to be followers of Jesus he has to be first, he has to be the most important. In one way following Jesus is easy, it simply means that he is the first, most important person in our lives. Nothing takes precedence over our relationship with Christ. Now we know that this doesn't exclude our family. Rather, our relationship with Christ makes us better mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, students, workers, etc. We just can't be those things before our identity as Christians. God asks for nothing less than everything, and he deserves it!
Finally, to where do we follow Christ? Being a follower of Christ means that we travel with Christ. We often call our lives a journey, and it is true. We travel with Christ. He leads us, he shows us the way. But, where is he going? The gospel today tells us that Jesus was resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. So, Jerusalem is the destination of our own journey. If we follow Christ, this is where we will end. What did Jesus find there? He found death and suffering, it is true. As we follow Jesus we might find some suffering, we might find trials. But we are comforted that Jesus has walked this path before us. And, the journey did not end with the Cross. Jesus died, yes, but he also rose again. To follow Jesus means to follow him in freedom through death into new life.
Why do we follow Jesus? Because he invited us and only in him do we find the freedom our hearts desire. How do we follow him? By putting him first in our lives. Where does he lead us? Through death to life.
As we receive the Eucharist today we receive the strength and support we need to walk with Christ, to journey with him, from the slavery of our sins to the freedom of holiness, from death on the cross to the everlasting life of the resurrection.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Who do you say that I am? This question lies at the very heart of what it means to be Christian, even at the heart of what it means to be human. Wrong answers to this question abound: John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet. What about our modern world? There are many wrong answers found today.
Think about the new atheist movement. Not only is Jesus not God for them, there is no God. This group attributes everything evil in our society to the belief in God. Then there are the Da Vinci Gnostics. These people believe that Jesus was just another human: he lived, he died, he got married, he had kids, he was not God and he did not rise from the dead. These two suggestions are so far-fetched as to be laughable. Some people think of Jesus as a sage teacher. They think of Jesus' commands, his sermon on the mount, the Golden Rule, etc. Others know that Jesus is God and think of him as their friend, but don't really think of the Church as being important, they don't believe it necessary to follow the moral law, they believe in a disincarnate Jesus, a spiritual Jesus. Both of these answers are wrong, not because Jesus is not a wise teacher, not because we shouldn't have a spiritual relationship with Jesus, but because these answers are not complete.
There is only one correct answer to this question: you are the Christ of God. You are the one spoken of by the prophets, such as our first reading. We believe in you, we believe that you are God, and we have put on Christ on the day of our baptism, as Paul mentions in the second reading.
When we were baptized we answered with St. Peter: you are the Christ. Through this profession of faith and by the sacrament we have become children of God. But this question is unlike any question we have answered or will answer. This question is not only put to us by Christ. Rather, it cries out from our hearts, our souls, our very existence asks fundamental questions: who are we? What are we? How do we exist? For what do we exist? These questions are really nothing more than the question of Jesus: who do you say that I am. It is only in the context of Christ that our lives have meaning. It is only in the context of Christ that the questions of our existence find their answers. The question of Christ goes to the very heart of what it means to be human.
Since this question is unlike any other, it demands a different kind of response. It is not answered with mere words, but it is answered with our whole selves. Jesus explains how this question is answered in the rest of our gospel. First, he explains what it means that he is the Christ. It means that he will suffer and die for our salvation. That he will overcome sin and death by his own death, rising on the third day. Secondly, he explains that for us to enter into this resurrection, for us to live everlasting life with God forever, answering the very questions of our hearts, we too must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow after Jesus. The shape of human existence is found in the cross.
Who do you say that I am? Christ speaks this question to the hearts of each and every human person. In Christ we find the answer to all of our deepest longings. But the response to Christ's question cannot be simply words. One of the biggest problems we face today is a kind of practical atheism. This happens when we profess a belief in God, a belief in Jesus, but we act as though God doesn't exist.
Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ of God, we answer, not only with our lips but with our whole being when we take up our crosses and follow after Christ, who leads us to everlasting life.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
11th Sunday of OT, year C
Today's readings tell us the importance of forgiveness. All of us should see ourselves in the gospel parable. We are all in debt, we have all sinned. It doesn't matter if we see ourselves as the debtor of a huge sum, or a small one: we are all in need of God's mercy, we are all in need of God's grace. All of us have sinned.
Have you ever wondered why it seems like we talk about sin and virtue so often? Why is the moral life so central? At the heart of the very proclamation of the good news comes a moral command: repent and believe in the gospel. Isn't it important just to believe in God? Why does it matter what we do? Why is the moral life important?
If we are honest, we have all asked ourselves these questions. I would answer that the moral life is important for 2 reasons. First, it is the only path to happiness. The moral law is really a gift from God. It is like the instruction manual for the human person. If you want to be happy, do this. Virtue is its own reward and sin is its own punishment. If we are honest, we can recognize this fact. Our sins do not make us happy, they don't satisfy us. Second, the moral life is important because our actions make us who we are.
Before he was elected pope, John Paul II wrote a philosophical book on human action. This book, The Acting Person, is a dense account of the working of human acts. I studied this book when I was first in seminary. I remember it being a very difficult book, but I also remember this profound truth: We are what we are when we do what we do. Think about it for a minute. How does a thief become a thief? By stealing. How does a gossip become a gossip? By gossiping. How does a volunteer become a volunteer? By volunteering. How does a doctor become a doctor? By learning and practicing medicine. You see for either good or ill our actions make us the kind of people we are. Liars, cheaters, thieves, drug dealers, all become so by their sins. Their sins make them these bad things. Doctors, lawyers, volunteers, peace-makers, saints all become so by their good works. So, the kind of people we are depends on the kinds of things we do.
What kind of person are you? If we took a long hard look at ourselves, most of us would see things we don't like, things we are not proud of. Look at Kind David for example. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and to make matters worse he murdered Uriah, her husband. David the adulterer and murderer. Sometimes I feel bad for David. Could you imagine your worst sins written in the Bible for people to read for the next 3000 years! It makes me shudder. But, there is something more to the story. Have you ever noticed that David is not remembered as an adulterer and murderer? It is certainly true that David committed these horrible things, but that is not how he is remembered. He is remembered as the faithful king of Israel. To him God promised to raise up an heir. We see Jesus as this heir. David is remembered as the predecessor of Jesus. Why isn't David remembered as a sinner? Because he asked for forgiveness, because he repented.
No matter what our sins, we always have the freedom to repent. We always have the freedom to change. In fact, God helps us to change, he helps us to repent. We have within us the power of God that helps us to be holy. This is what St. Paul is talking about. Christ lives within us. If we don't like the people we have become. If find ourselves unhappy and stuck in our sins, we need to turn to God. Like the woman in the gospel, we need to come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. We get to do this in the sacrament of confession. We are what we are when we do what we do; but, if we don't like who we are or if we don't like what we do, we can call on the help of God.
Today as we receive this holy Eucharist we recognize our sinfulness. We recognize our weakness. Let us ask Christ to make us strong, to help us overcome our sinfulness by relying on his grace and his mercy. For we have all sinned and stand in need of God's mercy, his forgiveness.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Canon 897: The most venerable sacrament is the blessed Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the cross is forever perpetuated, is the summit and the source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it the unity of God's people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Christ is perfected. The other sacraments and all the apostolic works of Christ are bound up with, and directed to, the blessed Eucharist.
The Lord himself is contained, offered, and received.
Contained: the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. From the earliest days of the Church we have believed that when we gather around the altar, when we carry out Christ's command to do this in his memory, something wondrous happens. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. No mere symbol or simply a representation of Jesus. Rather Christ is truly present, truly the body and blood of Christ. We call this the doctrine of the Real Presence. Theologians call this transubstantiation, which is a big word that means that during the Mass, at the consecration, that which makes the bread and wine to be bread and wine is completely replaced by Christ. The appearances of bread and wine remain, but nothing of the substance of the bread and wine remain. In other words there is no bread, there is no wine, only Christ. That's why we don't say "I received the bread, or I received the wine," for there is only Christ. The Lord of the universe who cannot be contained in all creation, is contained in the Eucharist.
Offered: The mass is a sacrifice. If you listen carefully to the words of the Eucharistic prayer you will hear over and over again the language of sacrifice. Today I will use Eucharistic Prayer #1, the venerable Roman Canon, just listen to how many times I use the language of sacrifice. When we hear this kind of language it makes us think about the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, where God's people would offer sacrifice. They took the very best that they had and gave it to God in reparation for their sins, as peace offerings, as thanksgiving offerings. However, in the time of Christ there is only one sacrifice, his sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus offered himself on the cross for our salvation. Once and for all, this sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice, the fulfillment of all others. In a mystical way we call the Eucharist the sacrament of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It is a re-presentation of that one sacrifice. It is not that Christ dies on the cross again; rather, that one sacrifice is re-presented. So each mass is a new sacrifice, a new offering, but it is always the offering of Christ's one sacrifice. This is why Paul says that every time we celebrate the Eucharist we proclaim the Lord's death, because every time the Mass is celebrated, Christ's bloody sacrifice is offered again in an unbloody way. In the Eucharist, Christ is offered for our salvation.
Received: In the Eucharist we receive Christ. What an unbelievable blessing! We receive the body and blood of Christ. Jesus knew that he was calling us to a difficult life. He told us that the way to everlasting life was narrow and difficult. It is difficult to lay our lives down for Christ. It is difficult to let go of our pride, to love one another, to live lives of purity and simplicity. Yet, there is no other way to eternal life, to happiness. We are very much like those people in the Gospel today. We are followers of Christ. In the course of our lives we have drawn near to Jesus, we have heard him speak in our hearts of the Kingdom of God, he has been healing us spiritually and emotionally, maybe even physically. But, at some point in our lives we begin to notice something strange. The closer we grow to Christ the farther we move from those things the world holds dear: money, power, prestige, vain pleasures, etc. It can really seem like a deserted place where we have only Christ and his Church. We find ourselves hungry in need of something to strengthen us on our journey. This is why Christ gives us the Eucharist: the bread of life as strength for the journey.
Maybe it is because we are in the year for priests, maybe it is because I was in Charlotte yesterday to witness the ordination of one of my best friends, maybe it is because I am still so awed by the fact that I am a priest, but a line from today's gospel really sticks out for me today: Jesus told the apostles to give them something to eat yourselves. The gift of the Eucharist, which is the strength we need to be Christians, is given to us through the hands of priests. God chooses sinners, men who need the Eucharist as badly as anyone to be ministers of the sacrament. The priest is simultaneously one who gives the Eucharist and also one who receives it. I can tell you that this is very humbling! As this year for priests comes to an end I ask you to pray for us priests, pray that we too might grow in holiness as we receive the sacraments, so that when we are giving the sacraments we might help you grow in holiness.
Corpus Christ, body and blood of Christ, where Jesus is contained offered and received! May Christ be adored in the Blessed Sacrament until the end of the world, amen.