Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lord, where else would we go?

This is a hard teaching, who can accept it. For the last three weeks Jesus has taken great pains to reiterate a central teaching. He is the bread of life, his body is real food, his blood real drink. Unless you eat his body and drink his blood, you have no life within you. This is a hard teaching: how can this man give us his food to eat? We believe and profess that here in the Holy Eucharist these words come true. That Jesus gives us his body and blood as true food and drink and that through this blessed sacrament we have life and light. But this is certainly a hard teaching, who can accept it?

There are many hard teachings in our faith. It can be quite hard sometimes to believe that God is our loving father, when we live in a world broken by sin, violence, hunger, and war. It is not easy to believe that the eternal Word of the Father took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. It is also hard to believe that this Jesus who suffered death by crucifixion rose after three days. It is hard to believe that he sent the Spirit into the world. It is hard to believe that the Church is his body on earth, led by the successor of St. Peter. And there are a great many teachings in the moral life that are difficult to believe, many hard teachings, especially those about the gift of human sexuality and human life. Even our second reading gives us a hard teaching: wives be submissive to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. The mutual submission of spouses to each other is a hard teaching, who can accept it?

I am sure that every one of us has some teaching in mind right now. Each one of us probably has some aspect, some doctrine of the faith that can be especially difficult. How do we react? How do we respond? Do we embrace and accept this teaching, difficult as it might be, or do we reject it? Do we place ourselves as mediators of truth? If it is hard to accept, maybe it is easier just to reject it. Or, what happens when we are backed into a corner because of a hard teaching? Do we look for a way out? How many times has someone challenged you on one of these hard teachings? Maybe somebody has asked you: how can the church really teach that contraception is wrong? What is our response? It is perfectly natural to have difficulties with the hard teachings of the faith. We might struggle with some of these teachings, we might meet others who struggle. But, look at how Jesus responds. He doesn't soften his stance, he doesn't find some nuance, he just looks at Peter and says: will you leave me too?

Why doesn't Jesus back down, why not nuance his teaching so that people wouldn't leave? Why can't the church change her teachings on morality, sexuality, etc. The words of St. Peter are key here: Lord where would we go, you have the words of eternal life. We believe you are the son of God. Jesus cannot back down, the Church cannot nuance the truth, because we do not believe in teachings or statements. Our faith is not based on a book, it is not based on human rationality, our faith is not simply a great idea. Our faith is in Jesus. We cannot have a relationship with teachings, rather we have a relationship with Christ. Once we have that relationship, then the teachings make sense, the teachings hold together. It never means that these hard teachings become easy to believe, it only means that once we have met Christ there is nowhere else to go. If there are hard teachings that we find difficult to accept, if we are challenged by others who find them hard to accept, the answer must be found in looking to Christ. Only in Jesus do these hard teachings make sense. We will have challenges and struggles in our faith but we face them just like St Peter: we turn to Christ and say: Lord where else would we go?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The tension of human life

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

As human beings we live in a difficult tension. We seem to have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. As creatures we share many things with the rest of the animals: we have bodies, we eat, we sleep, we have to take care of other bodily, earthly concerns. And yet, we far surpass the rest of creation. We were made with God's image and likeness, we have will and intelligence. We can think, reason, choose, and love. None of which the animals can do. Squirrels cannot write novels, monkeys cannot do calculus, horses cannot play football (except in Budweiser commercials), and dogs do not have the capacity to aspire for heaven.

And to make matters worse, all of us live in the world as it suffers the effects of original sin. Not only do we have bodies and earthy concerns, we live in a state of weakness, we are prone to fall morally, we are subject to sickness and death.

Very often we get sick of this tension. We get sick of being stuck between earthly and spiritual. Sometimes people just give up and decide to forgo the tension and to live just one side or the other. We have probably all met those people who just give up on the spiritual life. God seems too distant or too difficult to find. Their hearts and minds might have a desire for higher things, but the search seems too difficult or too elusive, so they focus on only those things they can see, sense, feel. They probably don't go to church, and might look for meaning in earthly instead of spiritual realities.

The opposite can happen too. Let's call these people the holy rollers, who live as though they are already in heaven, removed from the ordinariness of the real world. At first, this might seem like a good thing, but I am reminded of a story I read in a book. The author was sitting next to a man at Mass. The first thing he noticed was how reverently and devoutly the man was participating at Mass. He seemed to be the holiest person in the whole church. In fact, the author remembers thinking that he started feeling jealous, wishing he were more like this guy. Until the sign of peace. The author reached over to the holy roller and said peace be with you: the man refused to stretch out his hand and responded coldly: I don't believe in that garbage... This guy was living like he was already in heaven and forgot something as simple as loving his neighbor.

We live in the tension: we are bodily creatures, made with an eternal spiritual soul. We should keep this in mind in our life of faith. Here is one reason why Paul was so masterful. today in the second reading we hear St. Paul giving his advice to his people. In the first part of the reading, Paul remembers the down to earth side of things: All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So Paul meets us in the ordinariness of our lives: put away evil things and be kind and compassionate. But he doesn't stay on just earthly things: be imitators of God, he says next. Paul has a marvelous way to meet us where we are, but it would certainly be a sad thing if we just remained where we are. Rather, we were made for nothing less than communion with God. We certainly have down to earth concerns, but our goal is eternal life in the kingdom of God.

But this model is not unique to Paul. Rather, it comes from Jesus: I am the bread that came down from heaven. But Jesus did not come among us to leave us here: I am the bread of life whoever eats this bread will live forever. Jesus did not forget our down to earth concerns, he came as one like us in all things but sin, but he came to bring back to the Father.

Again the Eucharist is a sacrament that deals well with the tension of human life. It comes to us in a very down to earth way: it comes to us in the form of bread and wine. But we certainly know that it is very much more than that. It is the bread of life, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The tension of human life can be difficult on us, we might be tempted to give up on the tension, but with the gift of the Eucharist we find the strength we need to walk this difficult journey.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I'm back!

Hello everyone,

I'm back from DC.  I had a good summer.  I learned about the American legal system, the annulment procedure, consecrated life (religious orders), and special issues pertinent to the laity.  It was hot, but it was hot here too I think.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Fr Jake

PS: look at the bottom of the blog and you will see a "follow by email" gadget I added, this will email you when I post stuff on the blog.

Quick Start Guide

18th Sunday OT:

2 weeks ago I bought a new GPS navigating system for my car. I'm convinced that these are among the coolest inventions ever. What did we ever do before that mechanical lady inside that box that tells me where to go? It won't be long until our kids will have never heard of maps before…

When I opened the box there was a "quick-start guide" inside. You probably know what I'm talking about, this guide gives the bare essentials that you need in order to operate the machine. You have to plug it into the car, you have to turn it on, you have to hit the button and enter an address, etc. This quick start guide might not answer every question that I could possibly ask, but it gives the minimum you need to get going.

Parents, wouldn't it be nice if kids came with these quick start guides? Helpful little guides that tell you how to operate these little ones. But, of course, babies don't come with quick start guides. If they did, what would it say? Congratulations on your purchase of a new human being. This man or woman will provide decades of entertainment, worry, grief, and satisfaction. To begin, please ensure that the person is able to breathe. Avoid extreme temperatures. Be sure to give water and food at regular intervals: note: growing teenage football players require much more food… The human person responds well to love and affection… This would be a good start. These are our basic human needs: air, water, food, love.

Today in the gospel we hear about these basic human needs: we hear about thirst, we hear about hunger. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst. In other words, Jesus is reminding us of another basic human need. Jesus is pointing out to us that there is a deeper hunger, a deeper thirst. Jesus Christ is the word through whom was made the universe. If anyone is in position to write that quick-start guide on the human person it is he. We all know and recognize that we hunger and thirst for food and water, but are we always conscious of that hunger and thirst for God present in the heart of every human person. Do we recognize our need for Christ? Do we think of our relationship with him as being more important than food or water?

Paul tells us how to do this in the second reading. He says, the truth is in Jesus. We find in him the answer to the question that is at the heart of our existence: we were made for communion with God. Next, we grow in that communion by putting away the old self, putting away our former lives, turning away from sin and all that ugliness and darkness. Renew the spirit of your minds: turn to Jesus, ask him for his presence in your lives. Renewing our minds is nothing other than inviting God to live within us, to guide our thoughts, feelings, and actions. So we can put on the new self who was created in righteousness and holiness. We might not have that quick start guide, but if we did, righteousness and holiness would probably be listed as the ultimate goal for every human person. We were made with this goal in mind: to love and serve God so that we could be with God forever, to be righteous and holy. And just like we cannot live without food and water, we cannot live without Christ in our lives.

I am the bread of life, Jesus says. We turn now to the Holy Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus poured out for us. Right here from this altar we will receive the bread of life. Together we can all make the words of St. Paul our prayer: Lord as I receive you in the Holy Eucharist help me to put away my former life of sin, renew my mind, help me to put on the new self so that I might serve your forever in righteousness and holiness…