Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer in D.C.

Have a great summer everyone! As you probably remember, I am in the process of studying to become a Canon Lawyer for the diocese. So Tuesday I will leave for Washington, D.C. to study at the Catholic University of America. I hope you all have a blessed summer and I will see you when I get back. If I get the chance I'll put some stuff on the blog about my studies in D.C.

God Bless,

Fr Jake

Pentecost 2012

    As a priest there are many interesting things I get to do, saying Mass, hearing confessions, visiting Marian, coaching the golf team, etc. But, one of my favorites is teaching at St. Matt's school. Every Thursday at 8:00 I get to teach the 7th grade. One of the things I do is to help them prepare for confirmation. I really enjoy this work of preparing people for confirmation because every year I get the chance to reflect on my own confirmation, which is a sacrament that we probably don't spend much time thinking about.

But maybe today, Pentecost, is a good day for all of us to reflect a bit upon the great gift of the Holy Spirit that we received at our own confirmation. If you think about it, the sacrament of confirmation is for us the event of Pentecost in our own lives. Those of us who are confirmed already have received the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While the Holy Spirit may not have come upon us in the form of tongues of fire, without question, the Spirit certainly came upon us.

And just as an aside, if there are any adults here who for whatever reason were not confirmed, you might be interested to know that every year there is an adult confirmation here at the Cathedral, I would greatly recommend that you contact the rectory about being confirmed next year if you haven't received this important sacrament. And confirmation is an important sacrament, it is Pentecost in the life of every believer since the time of Jesus. So, if we reflect a bit on the event of Pentecost we will gain an insight into the gift of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.

    First, notice the state of the Apostles at the time before the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel we hear that they were locked in the upper room out of fear. In this part of John's gospel, Mary Magdalene had already told the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they hadn't seen him for themselves. I don't know about you, but this gives me comfort: it is ok to have some fears, doubts, and anxieties about the faith, it happened to the Apostles! What is it that takes away fear? Jesus says: Receive the Holy Spirit. My friends, we received the same Holy Spirit on the day of our confirmation. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will confirm our faith, make it strong, give us the courage to believe in Christ. The first movement of the Spirit is to take away our fears and to firm up our faith. But, the Holy Spirit is not simply inward looking, the Spirit looks to take us out into the world.

    After the Spirit comes upon the Apostles they go out and proclaim the Good News. The gift of the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it cannot stay bottled up inside one person. When we receive the gift of the Spirit, when the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it drives us to share this gift with others. Notice it says that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit were able to speak in tongues. You might ask: why doesn't that happen anymore? It does: the Church can speak in all the tongues and languages of the earth because there are those who have received the Holy Spirit in all countries, everywhere across the world. You too are called to speak in tongues, because there are people in the world who will only listen to you, maybe not simply by what you say, but also by what you do. There are people out there who are starving for Christ and will find him through you. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, because without the Holy Spirit there would be no Church, and there would be no mass. It is the Spirit that brings us together today, it is the Spirit that breathed into the authors of the Sacred Scripture we read together at Mass, it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the Spirit that fills us here at Holy Mass, but it is also the Spirit that accompanies us when we leave this Mass. Just like those first disciples, when we leave this Holy Mass we are empowered by God to carry forth the Good News to the entire world.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I am the Vine

5th Sunday of Easter 2012:

    Our seminarian Matt received a care package the other day from a school in the diocese. Inside this package there were some handmade cards from the school children. One of these cards had a line dividing the front in two. On one half of the card there was a beautiful grape vine that was lush and green with leaves and large clusters of grapes. The other side was not so good, it was drawn with a gray marker, there was no green, no leaves, and no grapes. There was a caption on both sides. On the left side it said: with God and prayerJ. The right side says without God and following the devilL. What wisdom from this little kid!

Did you ever stop to think about the Christian message? In the popular presentation of the faith emphasis is always placed on difficult truths of the faith, and there are many: Christianity is a life of sacrifice, suffering, and difficulty at times. We would never deny this! Christianity is a life of imitation of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of the world. Christians therefore must deny themselves, take up the cross and follow after Christ. If anyone tries to sell another kind of Christianity, beware! There can be no Christianity without the Cross. But if we simply acknowledge the difficulties of Christianity we might forget why we carry these crosses in the first place. Jesus says today in the gospel: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. This is the simple truth of Christianity: without Christ we can do nothing, without him there is no joy, no hope, no blessedness. Without Christ we are dead branches, there is no fruit without Christ. But with him there is joy, love, peace, communion. Sure, Christianity includes sacrifice, self-denial, suffering, and the cross. But, as St. Paul said, we must consider these things as nothing when we behold the glory that awaits. Truly, following God means life and fruitfulness, not following God and being with the devil means death and barrenness.

St. John tells us what this looks like in the 2nd reading: Children let us love not in word and speech, but in deed and truth. Wow, that really tells it like it is: if we want to be at peace, if we want to have joy and fruitfulness, if we want a life of Christian happiness, the path is one of love, not simply in what we say, but in how we live.

Now this might be a bit daunting: this gets us back to that cross: if it were easy to love in deed and in truth we wouldn't need this command would we? But, it can be difficult to love, to lay our lives down for others, to sacrifice and to overcome temptation. We know our sins make us miserable, we know that following God makes us healthy and happy; but, how do we overcome those sins?

Think again about the vine analogy. Jesus is the vine we are the branches. When we stay connected with Jesus his life flows through us, and when his life flows through us so does his strength and goodness. When the love of Christ flows through us we become loving, when the goodness of Christ flows through us we become good and holy. If we are not attached to Christ we wither and die, but attached to him we grow and thrive. This happens for me no more powerfully than in this Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion the life of Christ flows into us. We are no more fully united to Jesus than here at this altar. Here we are in the presence of Christ, we are in the presence of the vine and we find in him life, goodness, truth, strength, and joy. Christianity includes sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial, but there is no other way to peace, joy, life, and fruitfulness. Indeed there are only 2 choices: being with God, which gives us life and joy; not following God and being with the devil which causes us pain, sadness, barrenness and leads to emptiness and death. When considered in this way, there is only one choice: whoever remains in me and I in you will bear much fruit, because without me, Jesus says, you can do nothing.