Sunday, January 30, 2011

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time


    Today Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. It is interesting to note that we will be reading this sermon every Sunday all the way until Lent. The Sermon on the Mount is the largest continuous block of Jesus' teaching. In many ways it compares to the Law of Moses, and with good reason. We see that in the first sentence Jesus goes up the mountain, and he sits down. Going up the mountain is a way to remind the reader of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Law. Jesus however, does not receive the law, he gives the law. So, Jesus is the new Moses, and the law he gives is a new law.

    It seems to me that these beatitudes we hear today compare to the 10 commandments of Moses. Many of us, however, can get the wrong impression of these beatitudes. Where the commandments give an instruction: thou shall not. The beatitudes make a statement: blessed are you. Some of these beatitudes sound like the kind of things we are supposed to do: we are supposed to be merciful, we are supposed to be peacemakers. But, I don't think that Jesus is telling us to go out and mourn, to go out and get persecuted. So what are these beatitudes all about?

    When we hear the word blessed, makarioi in the Greek, I think many of us think of this as an emotional state. However, the Greek word means something more like fortunate. It refers to an objective situation. We might translate it in our colloquial English as lucky. Lucky are they who win the lottery. Lucky are they who survive crashes, etc. At first, this might actually make Jesus' words more difficult to understand. Lucky are those who mourn? Fortunate those who are persecuted? What is Jesus getting at here?

    Jesus is re-envisioning the law. But, if we think of the law in isolation all we think about are the commands, not the context. Why did God give the law in the first place? It was based upon a relationship. You will be my people and I will be your God. The law explains to the people how they are to maintain their relationship with God. Do you want to be God's people? Follow these commands. The same thing is true with the Beatitudes, they provide a context for a relationship with Christ. However, these beatitudes do not prescribe external conduct, the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament do that for us. Rather, these new commandments, from the new Moses, tell us about internal disposition. Each of these beatitudes tell us of a way that we can either be like Christ or they tell us of a situation where we need to call out to Christ. Poor in Spirit, you are like Christ who did not hesitate to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Mourning, call out to Christ in the midst of your pain and you will find comfort in the Gospel. Meek, you will be like Jesus who did not retaliate to suffering and crucifixion. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be like Jesus who drove the money-changers from the temple. Merciful, you will be like Jesus who on the cross said: Father, forgive them… Clean of heart, you will be like Christ who said to the woman caught in adultery "neither do I condemn you." Peacemaker, you will be like Christ who came to overcome sin and division. Persecuted or insulted, you will be like Christ who was persecuted, and you should call on Christ in the midst of your difficulty.

    Truly, blessed are they, fortunate are they, because they will have a relationship with Christ. You notice that each of these beatitudes come with a promise. These promises explain to us what it means to have a relationship with Christ: we will receive the Kingdom, comfort, inheritance, satisfaction, mercy, and the sight of God, not as objectively quantifiable goods, but as fruits that flow from communion with Christ.

    How fortunate we are indeed! We are Christians! We have been baptized into Christ. We share a unique relationship with him. We are the Body of Christ. Nowhere is this more evident than here at the Mass. Today, in a few moments, we will come forward and receive Holy Communion, we will receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Christ's list of beatitudes is full and complete. But, in the history of the Church we have added another one that we say at every Mass. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are they who are called to his supper.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Audio Files

Here are the audio files for week 7 and for week 8.  Sorry about the delay I got sort of side tracked.

Friday, January 21, 2011

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:

    Today in the gospel, Jesus proclaims the good news of the Kingdom. Jesus announces to the whole world that the kingdom of God is at hand. The proclamation of the kingdom is absolutely central to the very message of the gospel itself. Jesus Christ is the son of God, he came to seek out and restore what was lost. He came to overcome sin and death and inaugurate in his own body the resurrection of everlasting life. This is what the kingdom is all about. The necessary condition for entering into this kingdom is repentance.

    This word repent is a word easy to say, hard to live out. When we think of repentance we often think about Lent or about penitential actions, and while it seems like mortification is always included in repentance, the word has a more basic meaning. Our word repentance is used to translate the Hebrew word shuv. The basic meaning of this word is to turn back. If I wanted to say that I was going to the store but had to turn around I would use this word. Isn't it interesting to think about repentance in this way? To repent means to turn around. If we think about sin as wandering away from God, the solution is to turn around and head back to him. Again, this is easy to say, hard to do. To turn back to God means to leave behind our selfishness, it means to leave behind our sinfulness. In fact, it means that we leave behind our former way of living, and we turn to follow Christ. Those first disciples in the gospel today show us precisely what it means to repent: they followed Christ. They left behind their former way of life and decided to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus. The same is true for all disciples of Jesus, including all of us.

    Why would they do it? Why should we do it? Why follow Christ when it seems to cost us so much? Christ is the light of the world. It is a beautiful passage quoted today in the gospel: the people in darkness have seen a great light. Darkness, in the Bible, is a symbol for ignorance, it is a symbol for chaos, and it is a symbol for emptiness. To say that Christ is the light of the world means that he overcomes these things. Christ is a cure for our ignorance, for he reveals to us the loving Father and makes known to us the saving commands. Christ overcomes the chaos that reigns as a result of sin, we think of him as he walked on the water and told the storm to be quiet as powerful reminders of Christ's sovereignty over the chaos of the world. Christ is the light that fills the darkness. In the book of Genesis we hear that at the beginning there was only chaos and darkness, and God said let there be light. He is the fullness that enlightens the emptiness of our existence. To find Christ means to find meaning and fulfillment

    The light is true, persuasive, and beautiful. St. Paul tells us in the second reading today that the gospel he preached was without fancy rhetoric or human wisdom. The gospel is not a trick, the gospel is not a system of thought. The Gospel is Jesus Christ. The Gospel is Christ Crucified, a proclamation of the love of God for the human race. This is certainly a bright light, this is certainly attractive. We should feel ourselves drawn to this light. What else is there? The reason why the apostles left everything to follow Jesus should be our reason as well: when we meet Jesus we find the fulfillment of our deepest longings.

    Every one of us longs for the light. Instinctively, we all want the knowledge, order, and fullness that can only come from Christ. We all want to be in the light. Many of us have tried the darkness and found it wanting. Now we seek the light. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Turn to the light of the world, Jesus Christ, especially in this Holy Eucharist.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A


    Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. These words from this morning's gospel are quite familiar to us. At one of the most powerful moments of the Mass, right before the reception of Holy Communion, we all gaze upon the Eucharist and hear these words. Using these words when we do, we make a powerful connection between Jesus Christ, the crucified one, and the Holy Eucharist. The same Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary and who offered himself for the salvation of the world becomes present on the altar and offered as a pleasing sacrifice to "take away the sins of the world." However, this can be one of those phrases that we say so often that we sometimes might fail to ponder their meaning. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the lamb of God, and what does it mean to say he takes away the sins of the world?

    A lamb is a sacrificial image. Recall that in the Old Testament God's people would offer sacrifice in the temple. They would take the best of what they had from their livestock or their harvest and offer it to God as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Yet, another reason they would sacrifice animals was as a reparation for sin. Especially on the day of Atonement, the people would make a sin offering. The imagery is profound: the people would take two goats. Upon one goat they would lay all the sins of the people, and send it out into the desert. The other goat they would sacrifice in reparation. The two goats are important. The first one was sent away as a way of getting rid of the sin itself. If all the sins were placed upon the animal, and the animal sent away, it would take the sins with it. The second was offered in reparation, as a way to apologize for sin. These sin offerings, meaningful as they were, were symbols of expiation. We believe that these offerings could not actually take away sin. The essence of what was needed to take away sin was there, namely a perfect offering in reparation for sin, and a destruction of sin itself. However, an animal cannot suffice because it was not an animal that sinned in the first place.

    Enter the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is no vicarious offering. Jesus is no lamb standing in place of the human race. Jesus does not come as an outsider. Rather, Jesus comes as one like us in all things but sin. Jesus is fully human. When Jesus freely offers himself on the cross he fulfills the two aspects of sin offering. As the unblemished Lamb without sin, his self-offering is a perfect act of reparation. His offering in obedience to the Father makes up for our sinful disobedience from the time of Adam to the last day. He makes reparation, he repairs the damage caused by sin by his own self-gift. Second, by becoming fully human Jesus takes upon himself our weakness, our sinfulness. Though he never sinned himself, Jesus takes our sin upon him. We saw this last week when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. By plunging into the water, he repented for all of us. So, all the sin of humanity is taken by Jesus and destroyed, when he dies upon the cross. Unlike the lamb in the temple, the cross is not a symbolic sacrifice; but Jesus, fully God and fully human, is able to take away the sin of the world.

    The Eucharist is the same sacrifice. We believe and profess that the Eucharist is the same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross presented in a new and unbloody way. Every time we celebrate this sacrament we remember the sacrifice of Christ, who took our sins upon us and offered a perfect sacrifice in reparation for sin. No wonder, then, at every Mass we repeat the words of St. John: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baptism of the Lord, Year A

    Every year the Church celebrates the Birth of Jesus. This is the great feast of Christmas. We have been celebrating it non-stop all of these last days. Today, however, is the last day in the Christmas season, the baptism of the Lord. I think it is quite interesting that the Church ends Christmas season with the feast of the baptism of the Lord.

    The first reason we do this, I think, is plainer: the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the first part of Jesus' life and marks the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus baptism is a bridge between the feast of Christmas, which recalls the Birth of the Lord, and Ordinary time, which recalls his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. So as we celebrate this feast of the Baptism of the Lord we are bringing the early part of the Lord's life to completion and we begin to reflect on the ministry of Jesus.

    However, I think there is a more subtle reason why we recall the baptism of the Lord during the last day of Christmas. Christmas is the feast of the Lord's birth, but even more I think it is the feast of the incarnation itself: the great mystery of God's love. God so loved the world that he sent his Son to save us. Because we could not return to God, God came to us, and not as an outsider, but as fully human, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, fully man and fully God. So, the baptism of the Lord is a good place for us to reflect on the incarnation.

    As fully God, Jesus had no need for repentance, for he had no sin. So when Jesus goes into the water he blesses the water with his presence. In fact, many writers in the history of the Church have seen the Lord's baptism as the conferral of power onto water so that Christian baptism would be possible. We see an image of this at the Easter vigil, where the Paschal Candle, a symbol for Christ, is lowered into the water as a way to bless the water that will be used for baptism. Also, as fully human, Jesus takes us all with him into the waters. Jesus, who needs no repentance, repents for all of us. He takes our sin and our brokenness upon himself, buries it in the Jordan River and brings this repentance to completion on the Cross. So at the Lord's baptism we see that Jesus, as fully God, brings a new power to the waters of earth, and, as fully human, takes our sins and shortcomings upon himself.

    However, I have always found strange is the fact that Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. The dove descends upon Jesus and it says that he is filled with the Spirit. Wouldn't Jesus have already been full of the Holy Spirit, I mean he is fully God. He is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, which means that he is always fully in communion with the Father and the Spirit at all times. Why would the Spirit descend? Earlier this week in the Office of Readings, St. Cyril of Alexandria proposed a beautiful interpretation. The Spirit came upon Jesus not because he needed it, but because we need it. When the Spirit descends upon Jesus it enters into humanity.

    So, when we celebrate the baptism of the Lord it prepares us for Ordinary time, it marks the beginning of the public ministry of Christ, which is culminated in the Cross. It is also a profound reflection on the mystery we have been celebrating, namely the Incarnation of Christ, where God becomes human so that humans might return to God. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan today, not because he needed it, but because we need it. Jesus receives the Spirit today not because he needed it, but because we need it. And we gather today to worship God not because he needs it, but because we need it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Epiphany 2011 Year A

The word Epiphany means manifestation or appearance. This word gives us a valuable insight into the nature of this feast, the mystery that we celebrate. While we usually think about the Magi, Epiphany is about the appearance of Christ. The Church has historically pointed to three different events and pondered each of them during this celebration: the appearance of the magi but also the wedding feast at Cana and the baptism of the Lord. All three of these events manifest the mystery of Christ.

Also, each of these events led to faith and belief. The manifestation of Christ leads to a relationship with God. Sight leads to belief. But what was seen at each of these encounters?

First, the magi followed the star. However, when it stops over the place where Jesus was what do we hear? "On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage." What they saw was the child with his mother, yet they were moved to give worship to the child. There is something more than simple sight here.

    In the wedding feast at Cana we hear that Jesus turns water into wine as his first sign. At the end of the passage we hear "Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him." What they saw was water becoming wine, yet it led to their faith. Again there is something more than simple sight here.

    At the baptism of the Lord, which will have its own feast next Sunday, Jesus goes into the water. When he comes up from the water we hear "the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."" What was seen was a dove in the skies; but, again, there is something more than simple sight going on here.

    In each of the stories something is seen; yet, in each of the stories something more than what can simple be seen is perceived. The magi see a child, but it is the son of God. The disciples see wine, but it is proof of the power of Christ. Jesus sees a dove, but this is the Holy Spirit. In each case something is seen, but something more is seen as well. One interesting way to pray with these gospels is to ask ourselves what we would have seen. If we had been with the magi, if we were with the disciples, if we were on the shores of the Jordan, what would we have seen? Would we have been limited by our simple human sight or would these events have inspired faith? Could we have seen through these appearances and recognize them for what they are, epiphanies of God, appearances of the Divine? To be able to recognize the presence of God in the midst of what looks mundane and ordinary is a critical skill that we must develop.

    What is a good word for this skill? How about behold? This is one of St. Matthew's favorite words. He uses it 29 times in the gospel, including twice in today's reading. Behold the Magi came from the east, and behold the star preceded them. This word seems to be one of the favorites of the gospels to speak about seeing: they beheld that star; but, also that deeper seeing: they saw the child and did him homage. We continue to need this kind of seeing today. God continues to reveal himself in our lives. There are many times when we can behold his presence among us, especially here at Mass.

    Many of you know that we will be implementing a new translation of the Roman Missal in November. Many of the phrases we have been using will be changed to reflect more accurately the original Latin text. One such prayer is the Ecce Agnus Dei. You know that right before we receive communion there is a little prayer: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The actual Latin word used here is Ecce, which is properly translated behold, and is the same word used to translate the word St. Matthew used 29 times in the gospel. So, starting in November, what you will hear is Behold the Lamb of God. When we see the Eucharist what we see looks like bread and wine, but to those who can behold the deeper truth, it is the Body and Blood of Christ. Today we celebrate the epiphany of God, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, but every Mass is truly an epiphany, a manifestation of the Divine for those who have eyes to see it. When we participate in this Holy Eucharist become like the magi, we behold the Lamb of God and we give him homage.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Year A 2011:

    Today we complete the octave of Christmas. So, it is certainly true that we are continuing to celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the Son of God. When Jesus becomes human he takes on every aspect of our existence. Today we even hear that he was circumcised and named on the 8th day.

On this 8th day of the Octave of Christmas, we also remember and venerate Mary, the Mother of God. As we do so, the Church gives us the story of the shepherds, who are certainly images for us. We hear that they went in search of Jesus. But, I find it quite interesting how the writer of the gospel puts it, Matthew says: they searched for Jesus, and they found Mary and Joseph… and the Child Jesus. I think this paints a beautiful picture of Marian devotion for us. We should all be searching for Jesus. If we find Mary, we will find Jesus. Devotion to the Mother of God is not something secondary or optional. Christ the Lord gave Mary to us as our Mother, she, in turn, always leads us to her Son. Authentic Marian devotion, then, has to be a part of our lives.

As I said, though, this devotion should be authentic. There can certainly be abuses and excesses in Marian devotion. How do we keep our devotion authentic? Let me give you 4 principles which come from Paul VI's exhortation Marialis Cultus. Authentic Marian devotion should be Christological, Scriptural, Liturgical (or ecclesial), and Sensitive.

First, Marian devotion should be Christological. Our relationship with Mary should always lead us closer to Christ. One sign of troublesome Marian devotion is devotion that never mentions Jesus. It is certainly true that Mary is our advocate and guide. It is certainly true that Mary is our Mother and that she watches over us. But, Mary is our mother because she is the Mother of Christ. She is our advocate, because she is in communion with her Divine Son. Our devotion and prayers to Mary should always refer to Christ. The great Iconographers get this correct when the depict Mary and Jesus, Mary is always pointing to Christ.

Second, our devotion should be Scriptural. In the stories of the Bible we find a wealth of matter for our contemplation. A great way to grow closer to Christ with the help of Mary is to contemplate her stories. Put yourself there when she said yes to the Angel. Ask her what it was like to hold the infant Christ in her arms. The Church has recognized many apparitions of our Lady through the years, Fatima, Guadalupe, etc. But, these apparitions of Mary should never take the place of the Gospels. If you want to find Jesus by having a relationship with Christ, read and contemplate the gospels with Mary.

Third, devotion to our Lady should be Liturgical and ecclesial. By this I mean that you will find many varying ideas about Mary. Be careful! We should be careful if we are always looking for secret and private revelations or apparitions of Mary. Some of these are no doubt authentic. But, the only way to guarantee authentic devotion is to stick to those things approved by the Church. This is why it is so important to celebrate the Marian feast days with so much vigor. Today is a solemnity of the Mother of God, which is why we have gathered here to worship God, which is certainly authentic devotion.

Lastly, our Marian devotion should be sensitive. On the one hand this means that we should not purposely drive away non-Catholics by our devotion to Mary. However, on the other hand, what an amazing gift we can give to a non-Catholic Christian! Try to find sensitive ways to share with others your devotion to the Mother of God.

By authentic devotion to the Mother of God we, like the shepherds, find the person of Jesus. Mary wants nothing more than to show us her son. In a special way, as we celebrate this Mass, we ask Mary to help our faith, to help us grow closer to her son who is Christ and Emmanuel: Hail Mary…