Saturday, February 23, 2013

Who is Jesus?

            Today we hear about the transfiguration of Jesus.  This is a very interesting and mysterious event in the life of Jesus, where we see and learn many things about Christ.  When Jesus is transfigured there we catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits our savior on the other side of his crucifixion.  So as we journey towards Easter in this season of Lent, we can keep this image of Christ in glory before us.  This image should fill us with hope as we enter again into the suffering and death of our savior.  We see here Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah.  This reminds us of the continuity of the gospel with the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus comes to fulfill the promises of old. 
            So there is a great deal for us to contemplate in this story of the Transfiguration, but as I was praying with this passage over the past week, something really stood out to me.  The words of God the Father can be heard: this is my chosen Son, listen to him.  The gospels were written not just to tell us about the life of a man who lived 2000 years ago.  The gospels were written to tell us who Jesus is.  And the words and actions of Jesus take on much more importance when we realize just who Jesus is. 
If we really believe and acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, then the command of the Father is really the only choice: listen to him.  There is no other option.  If Jesus is God, the Word through whom all things were made, then he alone will have the words of eternal life.  He alone will be able to guide us where we long to go.  I always find it somewhat troubling when I'm conversing with someone who will say: I know the Church teaches x, but I don't really believe that.  How can that be possible?  How did we get into this situation where it seems acceptable for good people simply to reject the teachings of the gospel that they don't like? 
            I think it is a problem of identity.  We believe and profess that when the Church teaches in the name of Christ, it is Christ himself who teaches.  And who is Jesus: he is the chosen Son of the Father: listen to him.  The season of Lent is a great time to listen anew to the voice of Christ in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Church.  We believe he is the Son of God, and we believe that if we follow him, he will lead us to new life, not only in the eternal life to come, but also new life in this present age.  This is the promise of the Gospel, if we follow Jesus we have citizenship in heaven. 
            We have a great example of listening to the voice of the Lord in St. Paul.  St. Paul, of course, heard the voice of Christ that day on the way to Damascus, and his life was never the same.  He saw in Jesus the only one who could lead him to eternal life.  This is why he knows that our citizenship is in heaven.  And, today he tells us to imitate him: to listen to the voice of Christ, to follow his guidance.
            During the rest of the season of Lent we will hear the words of Jesus in our scripture readings.  We should keep the message of God the Father in our minds and hearts: this is my chosen Son, listen to him.  This Lent will be a wonderful opportunity to deepen our faith in Christ, to recognize him as the Son of God.  And when we recognize him as the Son of God, it gives new vitality to his words.  Not only will we hear the words of Jesus, we will also celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ's body and blood.  As we hear his voice in Scripture and see him present on this altar, hopefully the voice of the Father will resonate in our hearts: this is my chosen Son, listen to him.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pope Benedict resigns

By now all of you have heard the news that Pope Benedict is going to resign his office on February 28th at 8:00 PM Roman Time (2:00 PM our time in Indiana).

What does this mean?  It means that at that precise hour the See of Rome will become vacant.  The norms that can be found in Universi Dominic Gregis are to be followed.

These norms are the special legislation that govern the death of the Roman Pontiff, the interim government, and the election of the new Roman Pontiff.  In these norms there is only brief mention of the possibility of resignation.  So, unless the Pope issues new norms in the meantime, it would seem to me that these norms will become active, and the rules that kick in when the pope dies will begin at that precise moment.

Someone asked me recently, does this mean we are shepherd-less?  No.  First of all, we are all still under the care and direction of our local bishop.  Remember that the local bishop is a true pastor, he is not just a branch manager for the pope.  So, we still look to the bishop for his leadership.

Secondly, it is true that there will be no Pope for a period of time.  As a result, no name will be mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer at the place where the Pope's name is usually mentioned, only the local bishop will be mentioned (if you live in a diocese where there is currently a vacancy, neither name will be mentioned, odd isn't it?).

However, the governance of the Universal Church is taken up by the College of Cardinals.  They will begin meeting immediately following the pope's resignation.  It will be their job to guide the church in this interregnum period.  However, one principle is to be maintained: sede vacante, nihil innovatur.  In other words, while the See is vacant, nothing is to be changed.  In fact, in Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II proclaimed that any action that the College of Cardinals undertakes that is properly seen as the responsibility of the pope alone is rendered absolutely invalid.

Normally, when the college of Cardinals has this responsibility there are 2 major tasks for them to care for.  First, they are to conduct the funeral rights of the deceased Pontiff.  However, in this case that would not apply obviously.  Second, they are to make all of the necessary preparations for the Conclave that will elect the successor of the apostle Peter.

This conclave is to be held no earlier than 15 days after the vacancy and no later than 20 days.  Unless the pope issues norms to the contrary, the conclave cannot begin this year until March 15th.

It takes a 2/3 majority to elect the Roman Pontiff.  Only 1 ballot will be held on the first day, with 2 ballots per day after that.  My completely amateurish prediction is that it will be within 5 days.

People have asked me who I think will be elected.  I think it will not be me.  Other than that, who knows!  Let's just pray that the Holy Spirit guides the election process.

God bless Pope Benedict and the College of Cardinals.
Fr Jake

Jesus is Tempted

1st Sunday of Lent year C 2013:
In the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the Church’s official daily prayer book, every day begins with the recitation of the Invitatory Psalm.  And this psalm, like most psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, is framed by the reading of an antiphon.  During the season of Lent, there are only two options to choose from.  Both of which give us a great perspective on the season of Lent.  One option is: if today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.  This is a great way to think about Lent, a chance for us to be open to the voice of the Lord.  But today’s gospel made me think about the other option: come let us worship Christ the Lord who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.
Today we hear about Jesus’s temptation in the desert, and I think the antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours gives us a key for interpreting this passage.  I have always thought of this passage as somewhat strange: Jesus is tempted.  But, Jesus is God, how could Jesus really be tempted?  Well, in an amazing way, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, truly becomes fully human.  He experiences everything we experience; he is like us in all things, but sin.  So, Jesus is truly tempted, and this shows us the fullness of his humanity, but we might still be left with a question: why would Jesus allow this temptation?  Here is where the words of our antiphon come into play: for our sake Jesus endured temptation and suffering. 
In the temptation of Jesus we see one like us in all things, and yet he overcomes temptation.  Even though Adam and Eve fell to their temptation, even though we fall to our temptations, one like us overcame.  When Jesus overcomes temptation in and through his full humanity, he raises all of humanity with him.  Through his union with us, Christ lends new strength to fallen humanity, first as exemplar and through grace.
Today we hear that Jesus faces three temptations, temptations that might be part of our experience, and our passage shows us a way through temptation.
First, Jesus is tempted with bread.  It certainly would have sounded great to have the pleasure of eating that bread, as hungry as he was.  We too might be tempted by the pleasures and good things of this world when our appetites are moved.  Jesus encourages us in our temptation: Man does not live by bread alone.  When we are tempted by those appealing things in our life, we should make a conscious effort to think of higher things.  I’m a total sucker for sweets, and this year for Lent I gave them up: so when I’m tempted to reach for chocolate I will employ the words of Christ: Jake does not live by sweets alone!
Second, Jesus is tempted with power and prestige.  He is shown all the cities and lands, the devil says: I will give you power and glory.  Rarely is it put so boldly, but aren’t we often tempted to power and glory?  Don’t we want to be noticed, liked, and appreciated?  In a way this is the Original Sin, where Adam and Eve placed themselves above God and his commands, taking God’s place, his power, his glory.  That didn’t work out too well for them.  What does Jesus recommend when we are faced in a similar temptation: you shall worship the Lord your God.  Worship transforms us into humble people because when we worship we acknowledge that God is God and we are not!
Lastly, Jesus is tempted to throw himself down.  This is an interesting temptation and Jesus’ answer is telling: you shall not test the Lord your God.  We know that Jesus always did the will of his Father.  Think about the night before he died: if this cup may pass from me, but your will be done.  How often are we convinced that if God would just listen to us, we would straighten everything out?  I always say it is a good thing I’m not omnipotent, because if I were things would be different, but certainly not better.  We might be tempted to frustration and dissatisfaction sometimes in our spiritual life, we might be tempted to tell God how to be God; how much different is Christ: you shall not test the Lord your God.
So Jesus shows us the way through temptation, but he also gives us the strength to battle temptations.  Especially here in the Holy Eucharist, we receive the gift of God’s very life.  As the antiphon says, it was for our sake that Christ endured temptation and suffering, so that when we suffer, when we are tempted we might be lifted up by the example and power of Christ.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Duc in Altum

5th Sunday of OT Year C:
Our readings for today’s mass focus on discipleship.  Jesus tells his disciples to set out into deep waters.  John Paul II would often reflect on these words.  He thought this image of being on deep water captured what it means to live our faith in the world.  Deep water can be dangerous and intimidating, but in those deep water we find the great catch of fish.  So, the idea is not to run away from the world, but to engage it as disciples of Jesus.  About these words, John Paul wrote, “These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’”
First, we are to remember the past with gratitude.  St. Paul says it so well today, “I handed on to you what I first received.”  It is true that we believe in the timelessness and eternity of God.  But, the eternal Word of God became man and dwelt among us.  As a result, Christianity is a historical religion.  As I say often, we do not believe in Jesus-ness, these stories are not mere myths.  We believe that a historical concrete person was in fact the eternal Son of God.  So, remembering the past with gratitude is an essential component to Christian life.  By remembering all that God has done for us, we should be filled with joy.  God loved us so much that he sent his son to be with us, and Jesus offered his life for the salvation of the world.  How often do we stop to remember this amazing truth?  Hopefully every day!  Actually, every time we celebrate the holy Mass, this is precisely what we are doing.  By celebrating these mysteries they become new again in front of us.  Setting out into deep water is challenging and intimidating, and we will only have the courage to do this if we recall the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our savior.
When we celebrate these great mysteries they come alive for us in the here and now.  This is why we are able to live the present with enthusiasm.  For Christians, Christ is a real historical person, but he never remains a person stuck in the past.  Christ is just as present to us now as he was to St. Peter in our gospel story today.  When we live a life of faith, Christ dwells in us and works through us.  With Christ present and active within us we find a boundless source of energy to carry out his work his mission.  And we shouldn’t worry too much about our own weaknesses and sinfulness, Isaiah said he was a man of unclean lips, Peter said depart from me Lord, Paul reminds us today that he persecuted the Christians.  But, God worked great things through these people.  If we acknowledge our weaknesses, then rely on God’s strength, we will see that we can live the present with great enthusiasm for the faith.
Finally, John Paul tells us to look forward to the future with confidence.  By reflecting on the past, and living the present tense with Christ present and active in our lives, we will be ready for whatever the future might bring.  If tomorrow brings joy and prosperity, we will give thanks.  If tomorrow brings sadness and affliction, we will call on God for help.  No matter what tomorrow brings, we put our trust in Christ who said: behold I am with you always until the end of the world. 
Living our faith in these interesting times can be quite a challenge.  Sometimes it seems like the culture is directly opposed to Christian living.  But, with these three principles in mind, we can have the courage to put out into deep water, to live our faith with enthusiasm so as to bring it to a new generation.
This week has been a sad week for our diocese.  We lost a beloved shepherd and mentor this week with the death of our bishop emeritus John D’Arcy.  But, I think it is fitting that this gospel passage is our reading for the week, because I often heard Bishop D’Arcy referring to these words.  And I feel that Bishop D’Arcy truly lived John Paul II’s call.
He gratefully remembered the past, he was certainly a man of Catholic faith and conviction.  There was nothing he liked better than celebrating the mass and preaching about Christ and all he had done for us.  He certainly lived the faith with great enthusiasm.  He was remarkable, I never met someone as hard-working.  He was always on the go, but he always made time for us.  And, he certainly looked to the future with confidence, even in his last moments he was praising God and prayerful.  Bishop D’Arcy will truly be missed by all of us.  But, I will miss him especially because I saw in him someone who was not afraid to put out into deep water.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

RIP Bishop D'Arcy

Sunday morning at about 11:30, our beloved Bishop Emeritus John M. D'Arcy died after a mercifully brief bought with cancer.

He will be greatly missed, he was certainly one of a kind!

I owe a great deal to Bishop D'Arcy.  He accepted me to the seminary in 2001 and ordained me a priest in 2009.  In the 8 years in between we had frequent meetings and opportunities for me to learn from him.  He was truly a father-figure to his seminarians and priests and I am who I am today because of his guidance.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A prophet to all the nations

In today’s gospel we hear the last line from last week’s gospel repeated: today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.  Every time I hear that passage I’m filled with a sense of awe.  Imagine being there, hearing the words of the prophet read by Jesus, imagine looking upon the Son of God and being there when he reveals to the world that he has come on a mission from God to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, a time of prosperity.  We almost expect everyone in the synagogue to stand up all at once, to start cheering, and to follow Jesus as his disciples.  Instead, Jesus is greeted with a terribly lukewarm reception: who does this guy think he is?  We know where he comes from, come on he’s no prophet…
We see in this story the prophet’s dilemma.  Called from among human beings, the prophet is called to speak on behalf of God to those same human beings.  This is a difficult and challenging thing to do.  I for one find it somewhat comforting to hear that even Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Word of the Father, was greeted with a lackluster, lukewarm kind of reception.  But, Jesus is not deterred.  He perseveres in his mission to proclaim the good news.
I think this story refers to each of us in a way.  First of all, what kind of reception do we give Jesus?  Is our response lukewarm?  When we hear the good news proclaimed to us, do we accept it as it is, the good news of our salvation? 
But, I think this passage might also encourage us as we live out our own prophetic calling.  I’m sure most of us do not remember, but on the day of our baptism we were anointed with Holy Chrism with the words: just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his holy people, sharing everlasting life.  Everyone one of us is called to be a prophet.  If we do not tell the story of Jesus to others, no one will hear it.  Telling others about Jesus is a fundamental part of what it means to be Christian. 
But that gets me back to the reception that Jesus gets in the gospel story.  Even Jesus Christ himself received a lukewarm kind of reception, so we can expect the same thing.  Especially in today’s world, religion is something private and personal.  Not only might each of us be intimidated to share the faith with others, but most people do not want to hear about it.  It is perfectly fine for you to believe what you want, and it is fine for me to believe what I want, and neither one of us should talk to each other about what we believe.  But this individualism is not good for us, God saves us as a people, we are all the body of Christ and together, not individually, will we find salvation. 
So, how to be a prophet?  Look to the example of Jesus, he was undeterred, he was sure of himself and confident of his relationship with the Father.  Therefore, no matter what happened, he was able to continue in his mission.  We too should be confident in our relationship with God, and we should be sure of the teachings of our faith.  Being a prophet really begins with being a follower of Jesus, of welcoming him and his message into our lives, so that we can share it with others.
What a beautiful reading we have from St. Paul today.  Love is patient, love is kind.  In other words, Love is what Jesus shows us on the cross.  Jesus lays his life down for all of us, and he asks us to love others as he loved us.  Isn’t this a great message that our world needs to hear?  Namely, that the pathway to happiness not only in this life but in the life to come is found not in trying to grab and possess, but in giving of ourselves to others.  First, we must come to believe this message, then we live this message, then, undeterred, we will have the courage to share this message with others.