Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011:

Here we are together celebrating the great feast of Christmas. Today we remember the birth of Jesus, the birth of our Savior, the beginning of salvation. It is always good for us to remember just what we say about this little baby, born 2000 years ago in that little town of Bethlehem. What do you see when you see this little baby?

Think about what we say in the creed: he is the only begotten son of God, God from God, Light from light, begotten, not made: consubstantial with the Father. These are amazing mysteries. Jesus, the little baby born in Bethlehem is consubstantial with the Father. When we look on the baby Jesus we see God. This is an amazing mystery. But, why did Jesus come? Why is that baby in the manger?

The creed says: for our sake and for our salvation. So this baby has something to do with us and our salvation. I think we can learn three things about Christ as our savior by looking at Jesus in the manger.

We learn in the book of Genesis that God created Adam and Eve, placing them in the garden so that they could live and have communion with him. Yet, through the Original Sin Adam and Eve are removed from the Garden, there is a separation between heaven and earth, between God and humanity. After Original Sin our relationship with God was ruptured. When we look at the baby Jesus in the manger we see a baby. This baby is like us, he is fully human. When we look at Jesus in the manger we see a reunion between God and humanity. In the person of Christ, God and man are united. No longer is there separation between us and God, in the person of Jesus we are again reunited. In order to save us, in order to reunite heaven and earth, Jesus became one of us. When we look at the baby in the manger we see a baby who is fully human. He is weak and helpless, he is totally dependent on his mother, in other words, he is just like us when we were babies. When the Word becomes flesh he experiences everything it means to be human so that he can heal it, purify it, and raise it to heaven. So the first thing we learn about Christ the savior is that he experienced everything that we experience so that he could be like us in all things. So when we see Jesus in the manger it reminds us that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother, he was born, he lived, he died, all for us and with us. In order to heal humanity he had to go to the very beginning: conception and birth. This is what we celebrate today on Christmas.

Now, look where he is. Jesus is born, not in the palace, but in the stable. He is not laid in a pristine bed, but in a lowly manger. Though he was of the house of David, Joseph and Mary were meek and poor, animals and shepherds were his first attendants. But, again, Jesus does this to show his unity with all of us. We all come from various backgrounds and upbringings. But, I would venture to guess that most of us were born in hospitals or at least in clean surroundings. I doubt there is anyone here who was born in a manger. When Jesus is born in that lowly stable, in that little town of Bethlehem he is taking his place as the lowliest of the human family. He is the Word made flesh, the glorious Son of God, but by taking the lowliest position in the human family, he raises all of us to new heights. This is the second thing we learn from the baby in the manger, we fell from grace because of the pride of Original sin, but in the baby in the manger we see the humility of Christ that destroys the pride of Original Sin.

Lastly, think a bit about this manger. We get so used to seeing it that we think nothing of it. In our nativity sets these mangers look just like cribs, but what was the purpose of a manger? A manger was a place where the farmers placed the food for the animals. Now, this seems like a practical place to put the baby since there was probably hay in the manger. But, I cannot help but think there is more to this manger than simply a nice place to lay the baby. Already, when we see Jesus in the manger he is telling us something important: I am the bread of life, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life. This is the third lesson that Jesus teaches us from the manger: he is the bread of life given to bring us life. Even as a baby, he is prefiguring the precious gift of the Eucharist. Because just as that baby born 2000 years ago was truly the Son of God, so is this Holy Eucharist we celebrate today on the feast of Christmas the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. It is the same Jesus, given to us in different form.

When we see Jesus in the manger we learn many things. We learn that when Jesus takes on our humanity, he goes to the beginning so as to heal the whole of our nature. He takes the lowliest place among us to lift us to the heights of heaven. But, he doesn't stop there, even as a baby he gives himself as our food for eternal life. As we now turn to celebrate this Holy Eucharist, we give thanks and praise to God our Father who sent his Son Jesus into the world to be our savior.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mary: model for Advent


4th Sunday of Advent 2011:

Today as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent the Church gives us the familiar story of the Annunciation to help us transition from Advent to Christmas. This is one of our most beloved stories, truly the beginning of the Good News of Salvation. It is a beautiful story any time of year, but I think it is a great story to ponder this week as we try to spend one last week in Advent preparing for the celebration of the birth of our Savior.

I think we can learn three things from Mary that can help us make the most out of Advent. First, she was prepared for the angel. Listen carefully to the story again: Hail, Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Mary was greatly trouble, it says, at what was said. Notice here that Mary is not greatly troubled by the appearance of the Angel. I think I would be less troubled by what the angel said, and more troubled by the fact that an angel was talking to me. Not Mary, she acts as though everything were normal. This is what it means to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. During this season of Advent our prayers and readings have been telling us to be prepared for the coming of our Savior, not only at Christmas, but especially when he comes again at the end of time. We do this by prayer and good works, we do this by repentance and by preparing the way for the Lord in our hearts and in our world. If we are constantly looking for Christ, if we are constantly preparing ourselves for his coming, then even an angel of God could come to us and we would not be surprised. But, that is the kind of preparation we are supposed to carry out.

How did Mary carry out this preparation? Hail, Mary, full of Grace. This title, full of Grace, is quite interesting. IF you look at the Greek you notice it is a perfect passive participle: already having been filled with grace, would be another way to translate this passage. The Church has looked to this passage as a way of supporting the teaching of Mary's Immaculate Conception, which means that from the first moments of her existence, Mary was free from sin and full of grace. I believe that this was the reason Mary was not only frightened by the presence of God in the angel, but almost expecting it. Since she was full of grace she was always ready to see the Lord. The same should be true for all of us. Now, Mary received a singular gift of grace that came to her at the first moment of her existence. We receive those gifts over time. This week many of you will have the chance to make a good confession before Christmas, every confession fills us with grace. We will have a chance to receive Holy Communion in a few moments, this will fill us with grace. When we pray to God and serve him in others, these are opportunities to be filled with grace. Like Mary, we need to be prepared for the presence of God in our lives, and this preparation takes place by availing ourselves of the opportunities for God's grace.

So what happened to Mary? She was prepared, full of Grace, and God asked her to bring Christ into the world. God never took away Mary's freedom, instead she gave a free yes to the will of God: let it be done to me according to your word. Again she is a great model for us. If we are prepared to meet the Lord, if his presence is in us through the many opportunities for grace all around us, he will ask us to bring Christ into the world. God had a special mission for Mary, and truly blessed is she among all men and women. But, God has a special mission for each one of us as well. If we follow Mary's example we too can bring Christ into the world. This is certainly not easy, which is why it is so important to ask Mary for her prayers and guidance. Let us echo the words of the angel as we say together: Hail Mary…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete!

3rd Sunday of Advent 2011 Year B:

Rejoice, I say it again, rejoice the Lord is near at hand. This is the entrance antiphon to today's mass. The first word of this antiphon in Latin is Gaudete: rejoice. This is why we call this Sunday Gaudete Sunday. Liturgically we see that the joy of the celebration of Christmas is starting to sneak into the preparatory season of Advent. The first thing you notice is the fact that we have lit the pink candle and I'm wearing pink vestments (yes, they are pink… you can call them Rose all you want…). This is what happens when the white vestments of Christmas are mixed with the purple vestments of Advent. Also, you may have noticed a slight change in the opening prayer from the last couple of weeks: today we hear about the preparation for the feast of the Lord's nativity. Up to this point the focus of Advent has been preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord. Now we begin to prepare to celebrate the feast remembering the First Coming of the Lord at Christmas. Today's Mass shows us the link between these two events: Joy.

For two weeks the Church has been teaching us how we are to prepare ourselves for the Lord's coming. Two weeks ago we heard: grant us the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming. Last week we heard: let no earthly concern hinder those who have set out in haste to meet Christ. So the Church is teaching us that to be Christian, to be one of those who await the return of the Messiah, means to be running forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds. This season of Advent is a time of preparation and reflection, a time to ask ourselves if we run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds, or if we run away from him because of our sinfulness. This season is a time to heed the voice of John the Baptist: prepare the way of the Lord, open our hearts, repent of our sins. Yet, this can be disheartening and difficult. How does repentance take place? Where do we find the energy to run forth to meet Christ?

Here is where joy comes in. If our hearts are filled with the joy that can only come from God, we find the strength, the courage, and the desire to run forth to meet Christ. Sometimes we get the feeling that Christianity is all about morality. And it is certainly the case that the moral life is an important part of Christianity. To be followers of Christ means that we must leave behind our selfish sinfulness and embrace a life of virtue, but without joy we will never be able to do this, because we won't want to go through the hard work of conversion if there is no joy.

However, joy is not easy. It is not bubbly enthusiasm. Joy comes from knowing God's love, experiencing it and giving thanks for it. Joy comes from meeting Jesus, and becoming like him. Joy is at once a sign and requirement for developing the Christian attitude, for becoming like Jesus. St. Paul gives us a great lesson on the Christian attitude today in the second reading: rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances. These three commands of Paul tell us less about what we are to do and more about how we are to be. I would argue that if we could master these three things, the rest of our lives would really fall into line.

Rejoice, always. It is easy to rejoice sometimes: at the birth of a child, at getting a job or a promotion, at doing well in school or sports, when Indiana University beats number 1 Kentucky, etc. But these joys, great as they are, can be fleeting. There can also be many times of sadness in our lives: at the death of a loved one, at the suffering of another. Paul commands us to rejoice always. How do we get there?

Pray constantly. Paul does not mean that we spend our whole lives in the Church. Rather, all of our lives must be prayerful. And we must have a consistent life of personal prayer. Prayer is not so much about what we say, as it is about to whom we say it. Prayer is about establishing a relationship with God. If God is in our lives, we will be filled with joy. Not a passing joy, but a source of strength even in difficult times. If we really reflect upon God's goodness and his presence in our lives it should instantly turn into thanksgiving.

Here at this Mass we are fulfilling St. Paul's command: give thanks in all circumstances. We gather in joy to celebrate this holy Eucharist, to enter into this solemn worship. As we do so it is important for us to reflect upon God's goodness, to recognize his presence in our lives, and to turn to him in thanksgiving. All of which, again, should fill us with joy. Here is the program: pray, reflect on God's goodness (like Christmas), give thanks for these things and we will have joy. This joy will allow us to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds when he comes again. Our opening antiphon is so beautiful and it really gives us an insight into how we live a Christian life: Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again: rejoice for the Lord is near at hand.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent 2011 Year B:

    Just like last week, our opening prayer is quite beautiful, and it captures something essential to the season of Advent: may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in hast to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Beautiful to be sure, and it reminds us of two important facts about Advent: first, it is easy to get distracted, second the learning of heavenly wisdom is the key to overcoming distractions and entering into Christ's presence.

    It is no secret that this is a busy time of year. We are hustling from one place to the next. There are Christmas parties, Christmas programs, athletic events, social events, end of semester exams, papers, all thrown on top of our normally busy schedule. During the midst of all this craziness, we are supposed to be celebrating Advent. Advent is the season where we are preparing ourselves to celebrate the feast of Christmas, but also it is the season where we reflect on the fact that Jesus will return again, asking ourselves if we are prepared to welcome Christ when he comes again. It seems like incredibly poor timing: how are we supposed to have a reflective peaceful season where we evaluate our preparedness to welcome Christ during the busiest month of the year? Wouldn't it be better to have Advent in January when nothing is going on?

    But, there is a key point to be learned here. I have often quoted Bishop Sheen who once famously said that everyone in the world needs 30 minutes of prayer every day, unless you are busy. Then you need an hour! It seems counterintuitive, but the busier we are, the crazier our lives become the more we need to focus on our relationship with Christ. Because the truth of the matter is that we are always busy, our lives are always crazy, there is no such thing as some ideal time for a spiritual relationship with Christ. Rather, we must learn to encounter Christ in the midst of our everyday live. This is why Advent is such a great time of year, because it should teach us to seek Christ even when life is crazy, again our opening prayer is so timely: may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet Christ.

    Second, important in all of this is the learning of heavenly wisdom. Our readings today provide us with some great examples of the kind of wisdom we really need. The first reading is a great reading, if you are like me you cannot help but hear the refrains from Handel's Messiah during the reading of this scripture: comfort ye, my people… It is a wonderful reminder that God does not forget his people. Yet, if we know some of the background it becomes even more amazing. This prophecy was given to the people during the Babylonian Captivity, during the Exile, the darkest hour in the history of the people of Israel, what is God's response? Comfort!!! This is the kind of wisdom we need during advent: no matter how crazy your life is, no matter your difficulties and shortcomings: God does not forget us, he sends us his comfort his peace.

    How do we allow the peace to enter into our lives? John the Baptist tells us: prepare the way for the Lord. Again, this is heavenly wisdom! We must open our hearts, open our minds, we must prepare a way for the comfort and peace of Christ to come into our lives by turning away from sin, by repenting and believing in the good news. The more we can be open to the wisdom that Christ gives us in the scriptures, through the teaching of the Church, through our participation in the Liturgy, the more we will prepare a way for the Lord, the more we will learn heavenly wisdom, which will allow us to set out in haste to meet Christ when he comes again.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Run forth to meet the Lord (in new translation!)

1st Sunday of Advent 2011 Year B:

    Here we are in Advent, the word, in Latin, means coming or arrival. The arrival for which we are preparing, of course is the Baby Jesus at Christmas time. However, we live in very interesting times. In terms of history we live in that interval between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus. For several weeks now we have been hearing readings about the end of the world, our Gospel today picks up on that same theme: Watch! Be Alert! Truly the day is coming. And while we normally associate Advent with the season where we prepare to celebrate the feast of Christmas, the prayers from our Mass today remind us that these first few weeks of Advent get us ready to welcome Christ when he comes at the end of time.

I know that today's Mass is a bit difficult for all of us. I heard a few "And also with you's" during the Mass. These are new words and they will take us some time to get used to them. But, because these words are so new the make us go a bit slower and perhaps think a bit more about what we are saying. This can be a very good thing.

As I was getting ready for Mass this week I wanted to practice the prayers a few times to be sure I wouldn't stumble when I read them. I was amazed at how beautiful the opening prayer from today's Mass really is. But, not only is it beautiful it teaches us something very important about Jesus and his second coming:

 

Grant your faithful, we pray,

almighty God,

the resolve to run forth to meet

your Christ

with righteous deeds at his coming,

so that, gathered at his right hand,

they may be worthy to possess the

heavenly kingdom.


 

Here is the old prayer:

All-powerful God,

increase our strength of will for

doing good

that Christ may find an eager

welcome at his coming

and call us to his side in the kingdom

of heaven.


 

 

There is a big difference between these two prayers. In the older prayer it makes it sound like we are sitting back waiting for Christ to come so we can give him an eager welcome, which, of course we should do. However, in the new translation it tells us exactly what this eager welcome looks like: the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds. There is an amazing difference in these two prayers: in the older prayer there is no activity, in the new prayer we are running forth to meet Christ.

I think this is exactly what Advent is all about! It reminds us that we are expecting Christ's return. Every year, therefore, we get a bit of a reminder that we cannot simply be sitting on our laurels waiting for Jesus to come back. Rather, we run forth to meet him with righteous deeds. Can each of us say we are really running forth with righteous deeds to meet Christ? If not, this is a great time of year to take a look at our lives, our actions, our thoughts, to purify them, weed out sin, and replace sin with righteous deeds. And the stakes are high: the prayer says that only those who meet Christ this way may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. What of those who are not only not running forth to meet Christ, but those who are sitting in the stagnancy of their sins? Watch, be alert! To them this sounds like a threat, but to those who are running to meet Christ this sounds like a promise: I will be with you soon.

Now all of this sounds great, but it might be a bit discouraging. It's hard to live lives of holiness, to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds. Listen again to the second reading: He will keep you firm to the end! It is Christ who does the good within us, Christ who gives us strength. It is Christ who tells us to watch, but it is also Christ who opens our eyes. The opening prayer begins: grant your faithful we pray! In other words, it is all a gift of Grace. We run forth to meet Christ through the power of Christ. As I mentioned at the beginning we live in an interesting period of time. We live between the two comings of Jesus. We await the second coming with hope because of the first coming. We run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds only through the power of that first coming, the power that Christ brought into the world. So with hearts desiring God's grace and power so as to change our lives so we can be ready to meet Christ when he comes again we pray this opening prayer again!

Grant your faithful, we pray,

almighty God,

the resolve to run forth to meet

your Christ

with righteous deeds at his coming,

so that, gathered at his right hand,

they may be worthy to possess the

heavenly kingdom.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Solemnity of Christ the King 2011 year A:

Brief introduction: Pius XI instituted this feast of Christ the King in 1925. He started this feast as a way to address the problem of secularism in the world, a problem which has only gotten worse since 1925. Today we proclaim that Christ is truly king. This is not simply a matter of private belief, rather Christ is king of all nations and all times, all peoples, believers and unbelievers alike. What do we do to extend the reign of Christ? Do we bring Christ into the social sphere? If we accept Christ as our Lord and King, it must have an impact on the way we live our lives. So how do we accept Christ as King? Our Gospel passage helps us.

Here is Christ seated on his throne in his glory to bring his judgment upon the earth. If you can hear this passage without getting the slightest bit worried, great! Let me know after Mass because I want to start following you around and becoming like you! If you are like me you hear this passage and think of the many times I may have walked past someone in need. The many times I have omitted the good I knew I should have done. And, even more scary, the passage makes it seem as though the accursed are in trouble for things that they were not even aware they were not doing. How terrifying! We might be messing up, neglecting Christ and we don't even know it. Perhaps it is just proof that I must be a sort of glass half empty kind of person, but when I read this passage I get scared.

However, I want to call your attention to a unique structure of this reading. We notice that the sheep are called blessed, while the goats are called accursed. When I was reading this passage I knew that that sounded familiar. Where had I heard of blessing and cursing? So I went through my Bible and found this interesting passage from Deuteronomy 27 where God outlines a bunch of blessings and curses for those who follow the covenant. So what we have here in this judgment scene is an explanation of the covenant: all those who enter into the covenant of Christ will be blessed, those who do not will be cursed. Because it is a covenant, we must always remember that it is God who initiates the covenant. Everything we do is a response to his love. One thing this passage never mentions is why we should love Christ in others: because Christ has first loved us.

So this scene is a scene of covenant, and covenant is a free response to the love of Christ. However, look at how amazing this covenant is, it is open to everyone. We remember that in the Old Testament God makes a covenant with his people Israel, but in Christ this covenant is a covenant with the whole human race, there is no person who is excluded. Every single person on earth has a chance to enter into this covenant, even if they do not know Christ, or have never heard of him: When did we minister to your needs? They didn't know they were following the covenant of Christ, but all those who love their neighbor are living in response to the covenant.

Christ is the King, but he does not come as the tyrant. Christ will judge, but he is not looking to condemn. Christ is the king, but he comes as a shepherd to lay his life down for his sheep. If we contemplate Christ as King and his great love for us, the only response is love. This passage of judgment might frighten us, but I think if we take Christ as our King, if we reflect on the love with which he loves us, rather than frighten us, this passage will inspire us to be found among the sheep where we will hear: come blessed of my Father. This message is a beautiful one, one that we should share with the whole world. Christ is the king of the whole world, not just the king of Christians. If we accept Christ, we should want to share him with the world.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Scripture and Liturgy Talk:

Today I'm off to Warsaw to give a talk at the diocesan Catechetical Institute Day. I was asked to give a talk on Scripture and Liturgy. I have decided to make the case that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is Liturgical. I thought I would post it here as well.

 


 

Scripture and Liturgy:

    First of all, why give a talk on Scripture and Liturgy? It seems as though both of these things are quite important in our spiritual life. So that might be a good first reason. But, why not give a talk on either Scripture or Liturgy? Why Scripture and Liturgy? I want to argue that Scripture and Liturgy grow from the same source and have the same goal. The source is God's will to reveal himself to us, the goal is the praise of God.

    Let's get at some definitions. Liturgy: CCC 1068

It is this mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to it in the world: (SC 2)

For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that "the work of our redemption is accomplished," and it is through the liturgy especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.

This is a good beginning for us when discussing the liturgy. It is proclaiming and celebrating the mystery of Christ. Notice how that is purposefully vague: what does it mean to celebrate and proclaim Christ? Who is Christ? He is the Son of God sent from the Father to bring reconciliation to mankind, which he does by his perfect act of worship on the Cross. If I had to boil it down to one sentence that is what you get: Christ comes from God to bring reconciliation, which he does by worship on the Cross. Therefore, if the liturgy celebrates and proclaims this mystery it should do this as well. It comes from God to bring reconciliation, which it does by the representation of the sacrifice of the cross, which is a perfect act of worship.

    As you all know we are preparing to use a new translation of the Roman Missal. It is important to remember that this is not a new Mass, not a new liturgy. It is a new translation of the same Mass, the same liturgy. But, one of the great side effects of having this new translation is that we are, hopefully, getting a new appreciation for the Mass. Now that we will have to go a bit slower and more carefully respond and pray in the mass, we might want to stop and reflect on the nature of the Mass. Do we see it as reconciliation from God by the work of the cross? I often hear complaints: I just don't get anything out of the mass. This is a huge problem, because first and foremost liturgy is an act of God. In other words, it's not about us. The more we remember that the liturgy is an entering into the work of Christ, the more we will get out of it; but, if we think of the liturgy as something meant primarily for us as individuals it will never match up to football games or Broadway shows as a means of entertainment. If we are there to be entertained, we will be bored. If we come there to worship and enter into the very mystery of Christ, we will be enriched.

    Here is a definition of liturgy that I had to memorize in seminary: The liturgy is a complexus of sensible signs by means of which, God, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church, sanctifies man; and Man, in the Church and through the Church, in Christ and through Christ, renders worship to God. Here are the two movements of the liturgy I have been speaking about: first God moves toward us, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church to sanctify humanity, and humanity, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church, renders worship to God. Do you see how it is a celebration and proclamation of the very mystery of Christ: Christ comes from the Father to bring reconciliation by his very presence among us (sanctification), this reconciliation is made complete when he offers himself on the cross as the spotless victim (worship). This is what we do at Mass; rather, this is what God does at Mass and we are privileged enough to enter into this saving mystery.

Scripture:

Word of God: St. John's gospel tells us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God. He existed before all things, but in our days he became incarnate of the Virgin and was born. We have always called Jesus Christ the word of God, the second person of the Trinity. Calling Jesus the Word of God means that he is the thought of God, the mind of God, the substance of the divine mind. These terms are analogies because God is a mystery. Exactly how the three persons of God exist in their unity is a mysterious notion. However, we are very sure when we say that Jesus is the Word of God. But we also call the Bible the Word of God. One way to think of the Bible is that it is Jesus, written down. Not just Jesus' words written down, but more like his very person. Remember that the Word of God is exactly that, it is God's word. This means that our human minds cannot really comprehend God's own word. This is why Jesus came to us as a human being, so that we could understand him. Likewise, the Bible comes to us in human language so that we can comprehend it. So we can say that the Bible is the Word of God written down in human language.

Revelation: Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. The Word of God, for us, is a word that tells us about the Father. In other words, the Word is revelation. Through the Word, God makes himself known to us. WE can see this in the Old Testament, through Moses and the Prophets God revealed himself. In our own days, this Word of God became man and dwelt among us. Instead of working through mediators, God became one of us and directly revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In his very person, Jesus reveals God to us. In his coming as a meek and humble baby, Jesus reveals God's humility. In his sage wisdom and advice, Jesus reveals God's wisdom. In his death on the cross, Jesus reveals God's love. In his resurrection, Jesus reveals God's mercy. So, Jesus, without even saying anything, reveals to us much about God. So we have to remember that revelation is not simply words on a paper; rather, revelation is God revealing God to us. Sometimes he uses words, like the Law or the sayings of Jesus, sometimes he just uses actions: both those of the OT and the NT. It is important to remember this as we transition into talking about the Bible.

    One good definition for the Bible is that it is God's revelation written down for us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Bible helps us to know who God is. The whole of the Bible gives us an insight into who God is and what his relationship is with us.

Revelation is God revealing himself to us. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father to us. The Bible is revelation, it is the Word of God, written down in human language. Therefore, the Bible is not just any other book; rather, it is holy, it is God's Word, it is the revelation of God's love for us written down by the power of the Holy Spirit and put into human language. So, the first thing we need to do when we approach the Bible is to treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves. It truly is a holy book.

Now, you are probably already seeing the similarities between the liturgy and the Bible. These two are united because of Christ. The liturgy is the celebration and proclamation of the mystery of Christ. The Scripture is the Word of God written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God reveals God, the Word reveals that God, in Christ, is reconciling us to himself through the power of the cross. Both Scripture and Liturgy get to the heart of the very mystery of Christ, no wonder then that they have so much in common. But, I want to explore not only what they have in common, but their interrelation. My thesis going forward is that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is liturgical. We will want to keep our definitions in mind as we go forward.

First, liturgy is scriptural. One thing you might notice as we prepare for the new translation of the Roman Missal is that some of the scriptural allusions will become a bit clearer. But, this is not to say that the old translation didn't have scriptural allusions. Let's look at a few places where the Liturgy is quite scriptural.

The opening dialogue is quite scriptural. We start in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This comes right from Matthew's gospel: Matthew 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We begin our Christian lives with the sign of the cross at the savior's command, now we start Mass with the same sign, which comes to us from the Bible. Romans 1:7 to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We respond, and with your spirit. 2 Timothy 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with all of you. We see already that the liturgy receives its voice from the Word of God.

    Also, we relive much of what takes place in the Bible, even if we don't quote it directly. For example, one thing I have come to value as a priest are the quite prayers I say during Mass. These prayers are designed to help me remember to pray and to participate in these sacred mysteries. But, they also remind me of my unworthiness and my need for God's presence in my life. If, however, a Deacon is not present, the Priest, bowing before the altar, says quietly:

Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.

"Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. "See," he said, "now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged" (Is 6:5-7)

I am about to proclaim the Good News, about to stand in the long chain of prophets stretching back to the Old Testament, I am formed by the Word of God as I remember that my lips need to be cleansed like those of Isaiah. Quite beautiful.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. 29

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest. Isa 6.3 and Matt 21.9

Of course, the Words of institution are Biblical. They might not be direct quotes from a certain gospel, but they are formed and informed by the Tradition that is kept in the gospel accounts. So you see the words of the liturgy are informed by the Word of God. Hence the introduction to the Lord's prayer: At the Savior's command and formed by divine teaching we dare to say: Our Father. Formed by divine teaching, the Liturgy is formed by the Scriptures.

However, this is not the only role that scripture plays in the liturgy, of course. There is the liturgy of the word. Sacrosanctum Concilium has some important things to say about Scripture and its role in the liturgy.

7. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" [20], but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes [21]. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) .

24. Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.

51. The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.

So the Scriptures are a part of the Liturgy. When they are read in the Liturgy it is Christ who speaks to us through them. Now remember that we have seen that the liturgy has a two-fold purpose: sanctification of man and the worship of God. It is easy to see how the Scripture sanctifies man, we hear the proclamation of the good news, we are encouraged to right conduct, we are inspired and consoled in difficult times, etc. How is the Scripture liturgical?

Well it would take more time than I have to go through everything I have thought on this matter, but I would like to boil it down.

First, it is interesting to me to think about where the Bible comes from. Do you know how we got the Bible we have? It is called the development of the Canon. It goes through quite a process, different Bishops and Church Fathers accepted certain books, but not other books. Ultimately, it was the faith of the Church that determined if these books were to be accepted. We usually think about the faith as coming from the Bible, but this idea comes from the Protestant reformation. Luther's notion of Sola Scriptura is not scriptural. Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible say that it is the rule of faith. Rather, it was the rule of faith that preceded the Bible, judged the Bible, and accepted the Bible that we have. And one key dimension to this process of judgment was the liturgy. One of the criteria for admission into the canon was use in the sacred Liturgy. So even from the earliest days of the Church the Scriptures were a part of the Liturgy. In fact, you could say that the Bible was born in the Liturgy.

Justin Martyr was killed in about 165 AD. He wrote about early liturgy:

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy

Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.


 

There was no Bible like we have it today, but they were reading prophets and memoirs of the apostles. I think one could make the case that the production of the Gospels may have been owed to the fact that the Church needed the stories about Jesus for the celebration of liturgy. If the liturgy is the celebration and proclamation of the mystery of Christ, and if the mystery of Christ is the reconciliation that comes from God, completed in worship, then the Bible must be about the reconciliation that comes from God that is completed in worship. I think we often think of the Bible as being about the mystery of Christ: it tells us about Jesus and the good news, but do we see it as an act of worship. I think that very often we do not think the Bible itself as worship, which is to our detriment. The Bible is not simply a book about God, it is a book by God. It is the mystery of Christ, which always leads to worship. Let's take a quick look at the letter to the Romans to see what I mean.

Now you might think it is interesting that I will use Romans as an example. Many people think of this as Paul's great act of theology. But, I want to show that while Paul is writing about Christ, the letter is liturgical at heart. In other words, it proclaims the mystery of Christ, but it finds its fulfillment in liturgical expression of worship. In Romans 1, 6, 8, and 12, Paul relies upon experiential language. The process he outlined in those chapters is one of conversion, and one that closely follows not only Paul's personal life, but the very life of Christ. If the letter to the Romans is Paul's gospel in written form, then his gospel is not a series of intellectual arguments, but it is a life lived in response to an experience of Jesus Christ. Not only is the encounter with Jesus experiential, but the results are experiential as well if we consider that the consequence of meeting Jesus is to live like he did: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Romans contains theological language, but this language is a vehicle for Paul to communicate his experience of Jesus.

I would like to share with you the insight of Beverly Roberts Gaventa. This scripture scholar has an interesting take on the letter to the Romans. Often considered a theological treatise, Romans certainly qualifies for the first movement of scripture, the edifying or sanctifying side of things. But, is Romans liturgical, does it move us to prayer? She contends "that Romans is not to be characterized solely by the movement 'beyond' prayer or celebration [i.e. religious experience], but that the letter also reflects the move from theology to experience, particularly by the movement from critical reflection to doxology."

In Romans 1, Paul writes that the "wrath of God is revealed against godlessness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18)." The cause for the outpouring of this wrath is instructive: "although they knew God, they did not glorify (evdo,xasan) him as God or give him thanks (Rom 1:21)." Gaventa points out that this wrath of God is one of the reasons Paul wished to write to the Romans, for he wanted to be sure that they gave right worship, glory, to God. To think of Romans as purely theological would miss this important point.

Gaventa then explores the Christ-event in Romans as a way of overcoming that wrath. She writes, "when the letter turns to the consequences of the Christ event, it also turns to expressions of praise and thanksgiving." Gaventa shows that Paul's thanksgiving in 6:17-18 summarizes all he said in 5:12-6:23: "Thanks be to God that you, who were slaves of Sin, have now become genuinely obedient to the type of teaching to which you were handed over, having been freed from Sin, you have become slaves of righteousness." While this is a statement of thanksgiving, which would fall under the heading of worship, i.e. religious experience, it captures the theological mystery of the new life of righteousness found in Christ that frees us from slavery to sin.

Paul hoped, as shown by Gaventa, that his explanation of his experience would itself lead to the praise and worship of God. Paul did not hope to write an air-tight defense of Christianity. Rather, he hoped that through his life and ministry others might walk in the newness of life that he experienced through his encounter with the Risen Christ. The pinnacle of this walking was found in Romans 12:21: "Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." The peak of religious experience is a love of God so powerful that it becomes love. Another word for this is Liturgy. So, I hope I have made the case that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is Liturgical.


 

Time permitting the following passages from Romans could be explored to prove that scripture and liturgy seem to have the same goal, sanctification and worship:

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,

for the Gospel is the power (du,namij) of God to the salvation of all who believe,

to the Jew first and then the Greek.

For the righteousness (dikaiosu,nh) of God is revealed in it from faith to faith,

just as it was written: "The righteous one will live through faith."


1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:

3 do you not know that

all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

4 Therefore, we were buried with him through baptism into death,

so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,

just so also we might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have become united with a likeness of his death,

Then so shall we be (by likeness) of his resurrection.

6 We know this, that our old human self (a;nqrwpoj) was co-crucified

in order that the body of sin might be made powerless

and we might no longer be a slave to sin.

a:     7 For the one who dies is made free (dedikai,wtai) from sin

b:     8: but if we died with Christ,

b':     we believe that we will also live with him

a':    9 Since we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more,

death has no longer rules over him 10 for he died, he died once to sin.

But he lives, he lives for God

11 So you too must consider yourselves dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

12 So, sin must not, then, rule (basileue,tw) in your mortal body, so as to obey its desires.

13 Do not give over your members as weapons of wickedness,

but give yourselves over to God as if coming to life out of death

and your members as weapons of the righteousness of God.

14 for sin will not rule over you,

for you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 8

b:     2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus

has freed you from the law of sin and of death.

3For that which the law was unable to do in its weakened state because of the flesh,

God sent his own son the likeness of sinful flesh (to do),

and, on account of sin, condemned sin in the flesh

4in order that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us

who do not walk around according to the flesh

but according to the Spirit.

c:    5For those who are according to the flesh think of things of the flesh,

but those of the Spirit, (think of) the spiritual things.

6For the way of thinking of the flesh is death,

but the way of thinking of the Spirit is life and peace.

7 The aim of the flesh is hostile to God,

for it does not submit to the law of God, for it is unable.

8And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

d:    9But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,

if in fact the Spirit of God lives in you.

But if someone does not have the spirit of Christ, this one is not of him.

10But if Christ is in you,

the body (is) dead because of sin,

but the spirit (is) life because of righteousness.

11If the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead lives in you,

the one who raised Christ from the dead will make living also your mortal bodies

through the same spirit dwelling in you

e:    12So then brothers we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.

13For if you live according to the flesh you are about to die.

But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

14For as many as are led by the spirit are sons of God.

15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery (which would send you back) back into fear,

but you received a spirit of adoption in which we cry out: "Abba Father."

16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

17But if children, also heirs, heirs of God, and fellowheirs with Christ,

if in fact we suffer with him so that we might also be glorified.

    

1 I beg you, then, brothers

through the mercies of God,

to hand over (parasth/sai) your bodies as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God which is a form of worship.

2 And do not conform yourselves to this age,

but be
transformed (metamorfou/sqe) by the renewal of your mind (noo.j)

so that you discover what is the will of God, the good, and pleasing, and perfect.

B:     3 For, I say to every one of you

by the grace given to me

not to think of himself higher than he ought to think,

but think soundly,

as God has assigned a measure of faith to each.

4 For just as in one body

we have many parts,

but all the parts do not have the same function

5 In this way,

many though we are we are one body in Christ,

but individual parts of each other,

6 And having charismata according to the excellent grace given to us,

if prophecy, according to the right proportion of faith,

7 If service, in serving,

if teaching, in teaching

8 If urging, in urging,

if giving, in sincerity;

if ruling, with zeal;

if mercy, in cheerfulness

C:     9 Love is genuine.

Hating the evil,

joining together in the good

10 Loving one another in brotherly love,

outdoing one another in respect

11 Not being lazy in zeal,

burning with the spirit,

being slaves of the Lord,

12 Rejoicing in hope,

enduring in tribulation,

adhering to prayer

13 Sharing in the needs of the holy ones,

Pursue (persecute) hospitality

D:     14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.

15 Rejoice with the one who rejoices.

Weep with the one who weeps.

16 Think the same thing about one another,

not focusing on the exalted, but accommodating yourselves to the lowly (thinking).

Do not make yourselves out to be wise people (fro,nimoi).

17 Paying not an evil for an evil,

having regard for the beautiful before (in the sight of) all men.

18 if possible, to the extent that it is up to you, living peacefully with all people,

19 Not taking vengeance for yourself, beloved,

but leave room [lit. give a place] for (the) wrath (of God),

for it is written "vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord

20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him,

if thirsty, give drink to him,

for doing this you will heap up burning coals upon his head

21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with the good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Do you want to be a saint?

All Saints Day:

    Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. Today we remember all those who have been found victorious, those who have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb. Today we honor God our Father who is glorified through his work in the Saints. Today we remember all those whose lives of virtue and holiness have won for them the rewards of eternal life. We are inspired by their example, and aided by their prayers. All you holy men and women pray for us.

While we celebrate the feast of all the saints, we are reminded that sainthood is not the vocation of a select few. Rather, we are all called to be holy, we are all called to be saints. In fact, there are only two options: either to be a saint, or not to be a saint. To be a saint means to be with God in this life and in the life to come, not to be a saint means to be distant from God in this life and in the life to come. That's it, there are no other options. There is no middle ground, either you are a saint or you are not. To be a saint means an eternity of happiness being with the God who loves us, not to be a saint means an eternity doomed to our own selfishness, pride, and sinfulness. If given the choice, who would choose the latter? But, every day we are given the choice, and when we sin we are choosing not to be a saint. To seek virtue and holiness means to seek sainthood, something we should be seeking every day.

But, when we think about the saints, it can be somewhat depressing. We see these great models of holiness: Mother Teresa picking up the destitute in Calcutta, John Paul II and his courageous witness to the dignity of the human person, St. Francis and his love of poverty and the poor, St. Therese of Liseaux, who loved others even in the small things. The list goes on and on. When I think of these great saints, I get a little down: how am I supposed to be a saint? I am a sinner, I struggle and I fall, even if I true to do those things that the saints did, I find that I cannot do it. But, that's ok!

Saints do not become saints because of their own effort. No one can become a saint on their own. Rather, we become saints not because of something we do, but because of something that God does. It is the power of the cross made present in our world that makes saints. All of the saints you can think of, they lived their great lives, not because of their own power, but because of the power of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes saints. Rather than depress us, this should give us great hope, because the same Holy Spirit that made John Paul II great, is present to you. The same Holy Spirit that helped St Francis will come to your aid. The power to become saints does not come from us, but it is available to us.

What, then, is the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner that remains isolated from God? This is a question I want each of you to ponder. Because all of us are sinners, but we should all want to be saints. In my opinion, the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner who remains isolated is openness. Are you open to God? Do you allow God into your life? Do you allow God to direct you in your daily actions? Do you listen to the voice of God, do you trust him, love him, want to be with him? Do I come to him here in this Eucharist to receive the strength I need in my life? Or is God on the backburner, do you try to keep God out? If we let God in, he will do amazing things, we will become saints! If we keep him out, it will be the biggest tragedy we can imagine. So I leave you with a question: do you want to be a saint?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Command to Love

30th Sunday OT Year A 2011

    In today's gospel, people are trying to trick Jesus again. You may have noticed that this has been a recurring theme these last couple of weeks. But, in the midst of these treacherous discussions we receive some of the most profound teaching on what it means to be Christian. Today is no exception: what is the greatest commandment: love!

    As we reflect on love, it makes me ponder a few things. First of all, how can God really command us to love? In other words, is love the kind of thing that can be commanded? Secondly, why is love the greatest commandment? Finally, how can we put this commandment into practice?

It seems to me that the words "love" and "commandment" are incompatible. I would say that love, by definition, is a free act of the will whereby we give of ourselves to another. This seems to be what Jesus is talking about when he says we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul. Nothing is to be held back, but we are to give ourselves completely to God. But, I would also argue, that if we are commanded to love, it removes something essential to what it means to be human: our free will. Normally when we think about commandments they are designed to override the free will of another. Parents out there, you have to command your children to do all kinds of icky things that they wouldn't want to do on their own: clean your room, eat your peas, be nice to your sister, etc. Is the command to love, then, the same kind of thing?

Jesus did not come up with this great command on his own. In fact, this command comes from the Old Testament. In the book of Deuteronomy we hear the great Shema prayer of Israel: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul. The command to love never sits in a vacuum. It is always intimately tied to what comes before it: The Lord is God, the Lord alone. In other words, the Lord first loves us, he is our God, he has chosen us to be his own: therefore, we must love him. God does not command love in an arbitrary way, nor does the command to love God take away our free will. Rather, the command to love is nothing more than God telling us precisely how we are to enter into a relationship with him. God has first loved us, if we are going to enter into this relationship, we love him back with our whole heart, mind, soul, everything. Rather than being a denial of our free will, loving God is the completion of our free will.

Why is this the greatest commandment? Jesus is telling us today that the whole law, all the commandments and precepts of the Bible and of the Church are aimed at one thing: love. Here is a quote from St. Augustine that says it so well: "Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good." If we love God above all things, love our neighbor as ourselves, we will be living lives of virtue and holiness. If we really loved God above all things, our neighbor as ourselves we would not need laws like: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal. All these laws lead to love, but they are not the same as love. But, if we love, these laws will have no meaning for us. This is why the Catechism calls love the fulfillment of the law.

But, this is easy to say, hard to do. How do we put this into action? St. Paul uses a great word today: imitate. He applauds the Thessalonians for being his imitators. For Paul, being a Christian meant imitating him, because he imitated Christ. Our life of discipleship is a life of trying to imitate Jesus. There is no greater love than to lay your life down for another. Right here on this cross we see what love looks like. In Jesus we see the greatest command being carried out: his self-gift of love brought about the new life of the Resurrection. By looking up the cross of Christ we see how to follow this great command: we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves when we lay down our lives in service of others.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Give to God what belongs to God: Thank you John Paul II

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A


 

Today in the gospel Jesus refuses to get caught up in a political squabble. The Pharisees are trying to trick him into getting involved in the controversy between Church and state, between the temple and the Roman authorities. But, as he often is able to do, Jesus cuts right through to the heart of the issue, Issues still important for us today.


 

First of all, we all rely upon secular authority. Just as in the time of Jesus, we have a dependency upon the world around us. We use American currency, drive on public roads, depend upon secular police and armies for security, many of you are employed by the State. Therefore, we have a responsibility to participate in the world around us: we have to pay taxes and obey the laws. Even more, as members of this society we have a responsibility to reshape it, to guide and form the world around us. This is why we must vote responsibly and demand accountability from our civic leaders. We render to Caesar what is Caesar's when we act as responsible citizens, never ashamed of our faith, but rather bringing our faith into the public square.


 

But, I think Jesus is making another, more subtle point. How do we know that the coin in the gospel belongs to Caesar? It is engraved with Caesar's image. Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar is pretty straight forward, but then Jesus includes the next line: render to God what belongs to God. What is it then that belongs to God? If we know that the coin belongs to Caesar because it is made in his image, what is it that belongs to God, what is made in his image? The answer, of course, is all of us.


 

We read in the book of Genesis that God made us in his image and likeness. This is an important belief. Our belief in the dignity and goodness of every human person is based upon the central teaching: we are made in God's image and likeness. Render to God what belongs to God, means that we belong to God, and our lives must be given to him in service.


 

Today we remember a great apostle of this message. In all the parishes of our diocese this weekend we are celebrating the beatification of John Paul II. John Paul tirelessly defended the inherent dignity of the human person. Having lived through both Nazi and Communist occupations of Poland, he knew that the dignity of the human person was under attack. The person is not simply a cog in the machine, not simply a statistic, the person is made in God's image and likeness, it is to be respected and defended.


 

Another of John Paul's contributions was his teaching about human fulfillment. The human person, he used to say, will only be happy by giving his/her life away. The key to happiness is self-donation. This is precisely what Jesus is telling us in the gospel: give to God what belongs to God means that we must give our lives to Christ in order to fulfill our destiny and calling. This is something easy to say, but hard to carry out, because giving our lives means something different for each one of us. For me, it means giving my life in service as a priest. For you, it might mean giving your life in service as a husband and father, a wife and mother, a consecrated religious person, whatever. Each of us has a separate vocation, but none of us are called to selfishness, none of us is called to vainglory, or pride. We are all called to give to God what belongs to God, namely our very selves.

    John Paul II was an amazing person, I often wonder how he was able to give so much of himself. I was deeply impressed by reading his biography, of the many things he did, the places he visited, the way he was able to give of himself. I think I can safely say that the source of his strength was the Holy Eucharist. Every morning Blessed John Paul II would arise early, spend time praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and celebrate Mass. Here on this altar, here at St. Matthew's Cathedral in South Bend, we find the same Eucharist, the same Jesus, the same strength that made John Paul into a holy person. The Eucharist, which is the self-donation of Christ, should change us into giving people, ready to give our lives for Christ. Blessed John Paul II: pray for us.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Joy of the Vineyard

27th Sunday of OT Year A 2011

    Jesus again speaks to us today with a parable. But, this parable is quite complicated. We notice at first that Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and the elders. In other words, he is speaking to the religious leadership of Israel. Therefore, the parable seems directed to them, they are the ones who have not accepted the prophets, nor accepted the person of Jesus. While it is certainly true that we can learn from this parable, the Christian disciple is not the focus of the parable until the very end. Jesus says that the kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit.

    We can say, then, that the kingdom of God has been given to us. But, it has not simply been handed to us so that we can enjoy it for our own sake. Rather, Christ expects us, the new tenants, to produce fruit. Do we produce fruit? It is a simple question, but certainly an important one. Do we see the production of fruit as our vocation in life?

    Very often I see the faith as something that feeds me, something that fills me with joy and hope. I often see that faith as something I receive. But, this is an interesting passage, the Kingdom will be given, not to another people so that they may enjoy it. But, it is given to another people so that they will produce fruit. In fact, the wicked people in the parable are criticized precisely because they kept the rich harvest of the vineyard to themselves. They didn't allow the fruit of the vineyard beyond the walls of the vineyard.

    This leads me to another point. What is the fruit of which we speak in the gospel? Vineyards, of course, produce grapes. But, in the ancient world grapes were used to make wine. Wine is a biblical image for joy: psalm 4 says you have filled my heart with a greater joy than when grain and new wine abound, or Ecclesiastes 9 says says: drink you wine with a joyful heart. So I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that the vineyard is a sign or our relationship with God. It is a place of safety and security: God has built a wall, a tower, etc. It is a place where good fruit grows, where the choicest wine is produced. The vineyard of the Lord is a place of Joy. Here we find security and joy. But, the point of this vineyard is to produce fruit that spreads. The joy of Christianity is not simply for our enjoyment, it is meant to be spread. Joy is certainly a gift that we receive from God, but it is meant to flow beyond ourselves.

    Joy is often misunderstood. Often when we hear the word we envision some kind of bubbly, ephemeral kind of joy. This is more like enthusiasm, which has its place but is not the same as joy. Rather, joy is the solid internal disposition of the believer that allows him/her to live in the world.

    Look at St. Paul. Today in the second reading we hear some encouraging words: have no anxiety, the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds, think about what is pure, honorable, lovely, just, the God of peace will be with you. These are wonderful words that might easily bring us some hope. But, we must remember that Paul wrote these words while in prison. He was awaiting trial where he would be put to death, and yet he writes have no anxiety!!! I think it is precisely joy that allows Paul to remain steady and calm while in prison. Paul's heart was so set on Christ that no matter what his external situation, his heart was still focused on Christ. This is the definition of joy in my book, not bubbly enthusiasm, but solid faith in the power and love of Christ. And, Paul did not simply keep this joy to himself, he is writing to the Philippians so that joy might continue to spread.

    Today we have a wonderful opportunity to receive our Lord in Word and in Sacrament. We have a chance to deepen our faith, to grow in our relationship with Christ. This relationship brings us the joy that allows us to deal with whatever life might throw at us. But, this joy will not be complete unless we share it with others. No wonder then that at the end of every Mass we are sent to Love and to serve the Lord. We might as well say: the Mass is ended, go in peace to spread the joy of God's kingdom in the world.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

26th Sunday of Ordinary time

Today's readings speak to us about conversion. Conversion is hard because conversion is change, and no one likes change. In fact, I once heard a speaker who was talking about change and he said: the only person who likes change is the man wearing wet pants. Something true to that. But, none of us will go through the hard work of conversion unless we think it is necessary.

I think if we are honest the first reading is a little bit scary. If the virtuous turns away he will die because of his sins. Now, all of us would like to think of ourselves as trying to be in the virtuous camp right? Hopefully we try to do the right thing in our lives. But, one thing I see quite often in the people I meet and even in my own spiritual life is that it is easy to lose focus, it can be easy to take our eyes off of Christ, it is easy to start coasting. This can be a deadly spiritual problem, because there can be no coasting in the spiritual life: the words good enough have no place in our lives. Augustine spoke of it so long ago we either see ourselves in conversion towards God, or in adversion away from God. There really is no middle ground. There is no coasting, no "good enough." Why? Because the virtuous person can always turn away. So, we all need conversion, we all need to turn toward God. How do we do that?

The gospel today gives an interesting account of conversion. We have two sons, they begin one way and end another. One son begins by refusing the will of the Father, but ends up doing his will; the other son begins by doing the will of the Father, but ends by refusing it. Jesus gives us a spiritual principle: it is better to end well than to begin well. Conversion is a daily process, and as we journey through life hopefully we are becoming more and more like the first son. We might have refused God's will in the past, but hopefully right now, in the present, we are seeking to do God's will. The Gospel gives us a great term for this process. I have been calling it conversion, Jesus simply says about the son: he changed his mind. Remember, change is hard, no one likes change, but it is this change of mind that allows the son to do the will of the Father. Hopefully we all see this change of mind as something we would like to have happen in our own lives. Hopefully we all see our need for conversion and have the desire to do God's will, but how do we carry out the hard work of conversion: St. Paul says: have in you the same attitude found in Christ.

If we are to change our minds, to become faithful sons and daughters of God, developing the attitude of Christ is a must. This is hard work: we must think like Christ, see others as Christ would see them, love the things that Christ loves, put on the mind of Christ, develop the heart of Christ. To change our minds, to change our attitudes is the pathway to discipleship. But, St Paul gives us one more piece of advice: humility. We cannot do this work on our own. It is only through humble recognition of our sinfulness, our lowliness, our brokenness that we will ask Christ for help. So, no one likes conversion because it entails change, but we also avoid conversion because it brings us face to face with our sinfulness, our inadequacy, our inabilities, our weakness. But, Jesus Christ wasn't afraid to empty himself, and neither should we fear it.

Here in this Holy Eucharist we have great training in humility, a great aid in developing the attitude of Christ. For our Lord comes to us here in a way meek and lowly. If we allow it, the Eucharist will help us to change. If we turn towards Christ, allow him to change our minds, this holy gift will work within us, helping us to do the will of the Father.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness

The message of today's gospel is pretty clear: how many times must I forgive?  77 times 7, in other words: we should be infinitely forgiving, because God is infinitely forgiving.  If we want to be forgiven, forgive.

Then Jesus uses a parable that must have been absolutely shocking to his first hearers.  A king decides to settle debts, that we could see happening.  But, this is where the story gets interesting.  It is clear that we should all see ourselves as this first servant, this is Jesus' intention.  The lectionary tells us that the servant owed the king a great amount.  Why does it do this???  This is not a translation of the text, rather this is an interpretation.  The text just says 10,000 talents.  Now, you have probably heard many homilies that tell you that talents are our gifts and experiences.  But, this is not true!  A talent is an amount of money: 1 years wages for a worker.  This means that the king was owed 10,000 years wages.  If you make 40,000 per year that is a total of 400 million dollars: a staggering amount.  Remember we are supposed to see ourselves in this servant.  The truth, if we ever get around to facing it, is that we have all sinned, we all need God's mercy.  We all owe God big time.  But, of course, we can never pay God back.  So God, through Jesus, forgives us.  If we remember our debt to God for the forgiveness he gives us through Jesus, it should be easy to forgive.  But, if we find it hard to forgive others it might be because we fail to see our own sinfulness, our own need for forgiveness.  If we fail to see our own need for forgiveness, if we fail to ask God for forgiveness, why would he forgive us?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Be Transformed

Today we hear something interesting from St. Paul "be transformed by the renewal of your mind. For St. Paul this renewal is something that takes place even after our initial conversion.

This passage from the letter to the Romans takes place in the 12 chapter. Most scripture scholars call this passage the bridge between the theology section of the early part of the letter and the moral teaching found in the later part of the letter. In other words, even those who have accepted Christ need to be continually renewed and transformed by this renewal of our minds. This putting on the mind of Christ becomes essential part of our lives, and it leads to our moral living: faith turns into action. St. Paul tells us that this transformation will allow us to know the will of God. Isn't that what we all want?

We see a perfect example of this in the Gospel today. Today's gospel passage begins where we left off last week. Last week Saint Peter gave his great proclamation of faith. Jesus asked Peter, "who do you say that I am?" Peter responds "you are the Christ the son of the living God." This proclamation of faith by Peter changes his identity. Simon becomes Peter. Peter becomes a Christian, the rock of the Church. When we make that proclamation of faith that's how we become Christian, we echo the words of Saint Peter "you are the Christ the son of the living God."

But to acknowledge Christ as Lord is not the end of the Christian story, in fact it is only the beginning. This should fill us with some hope. Look at Saint Peter, he just said you are the Christ the son of the living God. Today he opposes the Lord and is called Satan. Peter still needed to learn, he still needed to grow. Peter needed to be renewed by the transformation of his mind. Jesus truly is the Christ, the son of God. But, as he tells us today, he is the Christ will suffer, the Christ who will die, the Christ who came to offer his life for all of us. Peter had some different Christ in mind. His idea of Christ needed to be transformed, needed to be renewed. The same is true for us I'm sure.

How do we get there, how do we get to this transformation? The second half of our gospel message today tells us how this happens. If you want to follow Jesus, you must pick up your cross and follow him. The cross is the school of transformation. In the cross we find new life. In our sufferings and our trials, we grow closer to Christ. This is the very paradox of Christianity. Life comes through death.

The transformation from death to life is central to the gospel, and should be central to our lives. This explains why life can be hard. Sometimes we feel like Jeremiah. Sometimes we feel like saying you duped me oh Lord and I let myself be duped. Sometimes we feel like I'm abandoning the whole thing, but the last passage from Jeremiah is warm and sweet. The word of God so filled him that it was impossible for him to keep it in: it was a burning fire in his heart. Even during the difficult times of his life, even when being a prophet meant pain and persecution, Jeremiah's love of God kept him going.

Let's return to Peter for just a second, we all hear today that he needed some renewal, transformation. And, we know that he gets it. He becomes a great saint, the leader of the early Church. His transformation will become complete when he meets the risen Jesus. The same is true for us. Today and every time we come to Mass we meet the risen Jesus as he comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. We have in the sacraments all the divine assistance we need to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, so that we may discern the will of God and know what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2011:

At the heart of our gospel today is the question of identity: the identity of Jesus on the one hand and the identity of Peter on the other hand. The question begins in general terms, even Jesus says: who do people say that the Son of Man is? Son of Man was a phrase Jesus uses quite often in the gospel to note the common bond he shares with all of us. Jesus is fully human, this is a category that he shares with all of us. And, the responses of the people are as general as Jesus' own question: some say John the Baptist, others Elijah. In other words, some people say you are a great preacher who is traveling around preaching repentance just like John the Baptist. Others are saying even more, you are a prophet like Elijah who was the man of God. Neither of these answers is wrong, Jesus was a preacher who spoke of repentance; he was a prophet who spoke about and for God. But, while these people who said Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah might not have been wrong, they weren't correct.

After this question of generalities, Jesus makes it alarmingly concrete: who do you say that I am? What an uncomfortable question! Imagine that someone walked up to you and asked: who do you say that I am? Even if it was your spouse or your child, it would be a hard question to answer.

Jesus really puts Peter on the spot here. Who am I? Do you know me better than those others who think of me as just another prophet or preacher? Am I more than that? But, Peter doesn't even hesitate: you are the Christ the son of the living God. This answer is vastly different from the previous answers. The previous answers were generic and they spoke about the things that Jesus did. This new answer gets to the very identity of Jesus: you are not just some preacher, not just another prophet: you are the Christ, the son of God. Recognizing Jesus' true identity causes a change in Peter's identity: blessed are you Simon, you will be called Peter from now on.

How is Peter able to see Jesus and identify who he really is? There is no doubt that Peter heard Jesus preaching, that he thought of him as a prophet, but how did he get past the generalities? Peter knew Jesus. It is just that simple. Peter had a relationship with Christ, he spent time with him, spoke with him, followed him, etc. He got to know Jesus on a personal level. He was able to move beyond generalities because he encountered Jesus in the specifics of his life.

Here is another way that Peter is a great model for us. Wouldn't we all love to hear the words Jesus addresses to Peter: blessed are you, for God has revealed to you my true identity. And, make no mistake: Jesus is addressing every single one of us: who do you say that I am? Again it is an uncomfortable question. What answer do you have? It is easy to speak in general terms about Jesus: he was a prophet, he was a preacher, he is God, he is the Messiah, all of which is true: but who do you say that I am? In other words, do you know me? If we do know Jesus, it changes who we are. If we have a relationship with Jesus, if we follow him, listen to him, speak with him, then we live as Christians. We take on the identity of Christ, and if we do so we are truly blessed.

All too often however we can mistake knowing a lot about Jesus, for actually knowing Jesus. Every time we come forward to receive Jesus here in this Holy Eucharist he asks us that uncomfortable question: who do you say that I am?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Every Sunday when we gather here at Mass we profess our faith together. This creed contains the core of our belief in God and Jesus. At the end of the creed there is the part on the Church, which we often breeze right through: we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Yet, these 4 marks of the Church are of great importance. These 4 marks must be present in order for the authentic Church of Christ to be present. One, holy, and apostolic are terms that are quite familiar to us. The Church is one, because it was founded by Christ, Holy because it is guided by the Holy Spirit, and apostolic because it is founded upon the Apostles whose missions is carried out now through their successors, the bishops. But, what does Catholic mean? Many of us think of Catholic as an adjective to describe ourselves or the Church: I'm Catholic, I belong to the Catholic Church. But, the word catholic has an ancient meaning, it is a Greek word that means universal. The church is catholic precisely because it is open to everyone. Nowadays we just assume that the church should be open to anyone, but we see in the gospel that this was a new and radical concept.

We have to try to put ourselves into the biblical mindset. Remember where Jesus was coming from. He was born into the house of David, he came as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. God chose Israel to be his own special possession. The woman from the gospel was a Canaanite, these were the people who inhabited the Land before Joshua led the chosen people into it. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites and the Canaanites in conflict. The biggest issue that divided them was their belief in God. Canaanites worshiped their own pagan God, while the Jewish people worshiped the Lord. So, while it seems that Jesus is pretty harsh to this woman, there was good reason to do so: the Canaanites did not worship God: Jesus was God. But, we notice that when the woman worships Jesus and shows her faith in him, Jesus instantly grants her request. Jesus came first to the Lost Children of Israel. But, while this salvation came first to the Jewish people, it also came for the whole world. This Canaanite woman shows us that faith in Christ is the pathway to salvation, not genealogical heritage. We should all be quite grateful for this, since most of us are not biological descendants of the Hebrew people.

The Church, therefore, must be as universal as Christ. Jesus came as a human being to save all of humanity. Therefore, the only requirement for becoming a Catholic is humanity. The Church is the community for any human person who wishes to worship God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This might come as a surprise to many, because the Catholic Church has the reputation of being somewhat closed to outsiders. This often comes from our practice of Holy Communion. Under normal circumstances we only share the Eucharist with those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church (see canon 844 if you are reading this at home). But, this law of the Church does not mean that we do not want everyone in the world to share the Eucharist with us. Rather, it says that in order to come to Christ we must all be like the Canaanite woman who fully professed her belief in Jesus.

There can be no question that the Church is open to absolutely everyone who wishes to follow Jesus. But, it is also true that not every person in the world is in full communion with the Catholic Church. This is a true shame. We should be praying for unity every day. All of us should see ourselves like St. Paul, who was the apostle to the gentiles. He saw it as his mission in life to bring the good news of salvation to everyone in the world. We should be reaching out to others. Is there anyone you know who is not Catholic but might be interested in learning more about the faith? St. Matt's will soon be beginning our RCIA program. You never know, your invitation might bring someone closer to Christ. Also, this year we are beginning a RCIA program specifically for teens who are interested in becoming Catholic. Keep an eye on the bulletin for more details.

But, the best way for us to carry out this mission of bringing Christ to others is through our example. If people see us living joyful lives of Christian service they will want to know more about us and about the Church. They will want to know what gives us the strength to follow Jesus, and we will be able to tell them: every Sunday I gather with others who worship Christ to celebrate the Holy Mass, and I receive my strength from the Holy Eucharist.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Adult Faith Formation

Many of you may have heard the news, but if not, I just wanted to let everyone know that St. Matt's is going to begin a great program for adults.  Here is some information from the website:  click here for more information

Welcome to the online registration for Fall Sunday After Mass Adult Faith Formation at St. Matthew Cathedral Parish. Adult Faith Formation is an opportunity for spiritual growth, deepening your relationship with God, learning about the Catholic faith, and sharing questions and experiences. It could be a prayer group, Bible Study, catechetical class, a spiritual book club, or more...the possibilities are endless. In order to help us tailor small-groups to your preferences, plan spaces at the church for each group to use, and most importantly, bring the right amount of coffee and snacks the first week, we ask you to take a few moments and register using the form below. Registration is also available in the rectory office. In early September we'll send you an e-mail letting you know when adult faith formation will begin and where your small-group will be meeting. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas to improve our program offerings, please feel free to e-mail colleen.reiss@gmail.com.



Almost Back

No, it wasn't a mirage.  Some of you may have spotted me back in South Bend over the weekend.  I was there to officiate the wedding of Emily Gersey and Cody McAuley.  The wedding went well, they are a great couple and it was my pleasure to witness their exchange of consent, which as all canon lawyers know: consent makes the marriage.

I am looking forward to a more permanent return on Thursday.  If anyone has the chance to offer a prayer to St. Raymond of Penyafort (patron of Canonists), I would appreciate prayers for my exam on Wednesday.

God bless you all,
Fr Jake

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Update

Hello from DC.

Sorry my posts have been so spotty.... I will try to improve.

Month number 2 is under way.  I successfully finished General Norms 1 and Particular Church.  Now I have Sacramental Law and the Juridic structures of Matrimony.  Should be a good month of classes.  Also, we get the 4th of July off as a holiday, so it will be pretty special to in Washington for Independence day.  Maybe I will try to get in to see the Declaration of Independence sometime this week (it's stored in the National Archive not too far from the Washington memorial).

This past weekend we had a couple of days off for a break.  So, I rode my bike, played a little bit of golf, visited the major monuments on the Washington Mall (Capitol, Washington monument, White House, Lincoln Monument, Korean and Vietnam war memorials, Jefferson Monument) and had dinner with a few of the new friends I have met here in Washington.
It is interesting, most of the people in my class are from the midwest: 2 from Milwaukee and 2 from Grand Rapids MI.  Small world!

Drop me a line if you get bored: jacobrunyon@gmail.com
It is nice to hear from people from back home.
God bless,
Fr Jake