Sunday, May 24, 2015

Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost 2015 Year B:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is the day when we remember the birth of the Church as we know it.  For once the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church, she began to carry out her mission.  The Church’s mission is simple: the Church is called to carry out the very mission of Christ.  Just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so the Church is called to teach, lead, and sanctify.  The Holy Spirit gives the church the power to act in the person of Christ for the salvation of the world.  Today we do well to remember this fundamental calling.  It is also good to remember that this mission was not given to the apostles alone, but to the whole Church.  Each one of us is called to embrace this mission and fulfill it in our own special vocation.  Whether we are married, single, priests, sisters, lay persons, we have all received God’s Spirit, given to us to empower us for our mission.
Now I don’t want to cause a lot of fear and anxiety, but it is not too much to say that every one of us is responsible for carrying out the mission of Christ.  All of us are responsible to preach the gospel, to lead others closer to Christ, to make this world a holier place where God can dwell.  I think that now, more than ever, the world needs the truth of the gospel.  There is a bunch of crazy stuff going on in our times.  There is war and violence.  There is poverty and pain.  There is immorality and the weakening of the life of the family.  These things are all around us. 
But, in many ways, things are not so different than what the apostles faced.  Look at what they accomplished.  Because of their preaching millions and billions of people throughout the whole world came to know Christ.  They started with nothing, outside of a few people in Jerusalem, no one had heard of Jesus.  They were able to do great things.  If we can zero in on how they were able to carry out their mission, it will enlighten us as to how to carry out our mission.  Jesus explains it well: the Father will send the Spirit of Truth, he will testify to me, then you will testify. 
As I said above, it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church to carry on the mission of Christ.  It was the Spirit that moved in the hearts of the apostles to preach the good news.  The same Holy Spirit is alive and with us today, it is this spirit that allows us to fulfill our mission as well. 
First, the Spirit testifies.  I think it is perfectly natural and ok to remember that we still have a lot to learn.  None of us is there yet.  We all need to open our hearts to the message of the Spirit.  Where do you still need to grow?  Maybe it is in accepting some truth of the gospel.  I know that so many people in today’s society fail to see the truth of our belief about marriage.  So many people struggle to see the value of every human life.  So many people find it difficult to move away from sin.  No matter where we are on this continuum, today is a day for us to open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth.  He will teach us and strengthen our faith in the truth. 
Then we testify.  Once we listen to the Spirit of Truth, he will strengthen us for our ministry.  I think it always works like that: we are growing in our personal faith, but then we express that in our lives.  One without the other is incomplete.  If we grow in our life of faith, but it doesn’t move us to look beyond ourselves, we become that inward looking Church that Pope Francis has been denouncing.  But, if we are working in the world without being guided by the Spirit of truth we become political activists or social workers.  Both have their place, but that is not the same as carrying out the mission of Christ.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ascension

Ascension 2012 year B:
            Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into glory.  This is an interesting feast day, because on the surface it is a bit odd for us to celebrate the day that Jesus left earth. 
Ascending is not the same as departing.  Listen to the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we celebrate the memorial of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.  You see in the mind of the Church the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all form one mystery.  The ascension is not fleeing or departing; rather, it is the completion of the resurrection.  Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead simply to remain in the world as it is.  Rather, he rises from the dead as a great victory, a conqueror, and he takes his place at the right hand of the Father, arrayed in glory.  You might be thinking: that’s great for Jesus, he deserves that after his death and resurrection, but how does it relate to us who are still on earth?
I think there are 2 interesting aspects of the ascension that help us to see its importance in our lives.  First, when Jesus goes up into heaven, he doesn’t simply disappear or vanish.  Rather, he ascends in a bodily way.  This should be for us a powerful reminder that the ascension is not so much about Christ leaving us, as it is about Christ taking us with him.  Jesus does not leave behind his human nature, he takes it with him.  So each and every one of us are still united to Christ in our common humanity.  Jesus Christ is indeed the eternal son of the Father seated on his throne arrayed in Glory, but so are we, if you think about it.  Christ takes us with him.  Jesus doesn’t leave us at the ascension, instead he gives us a chance to leave behind sin, weakness, and the fallenness of our world because we are united to him and he is already enthroned in glory.  We can share in that glory even now.  We might not experience this glory in a full and complete way in this life, but we catch glimpses of it.  Christian life is not simply a matter of trying to get to heaven someday; Christian life is about living heaven right now.  This can only happen because of the ascension of our Lord into glory.  So that is number 1, the ascension is not so much Christ leaving us as it is him taking us to be with God even now.
Number 2 Jesus never abandons us, rather he is with us in a new manner.  We hear in the gospel that Jesus instructs the disciples to do many amazing things: healing and picking up serpents, etc.  These things should strike us as crazy: but, that is the point, without Christ these things would be impossible, but Christ has not left us: he remains.  I’m certainly not telling anyone to go buy deadly snakes or drink poisons, but think about the even more amazing things that people do all the time because of God’s help.  I know of people who fight deadly diseases without losing hope, I know of people who overcome powerful addictions and get their lives back on track, I know of people who give their time, talent, and treasure for the good of their neighbor, I know of people who are scared, lonely, and hurting, but they keep fighting every day.  In my opinion these things are even more amazing than handling deadly snakes.  How do they do it?  By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost where the Spirit is poured out upon the Church.  Christ never leaves us; rather, he is present through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is shown most clearly in and through the Church.  Christ continues to be among us in and through the Christian faithful.  We are built up by the presence of Christ in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood.  So while the ascension might look like Jesus’ departure from earth, through the Church and the sacraments we see that Christ is more present in the world, not less.  In fact, the Church has spread to the corners of the earth to bring in more people to be united with Christ.

So today we celebrate the ascension of Our Lord into glory.  We celebrate the fact that Christ has ascended to heaven and has taken all of us with him, and as members of his faithful it is our duty to spread this Good News to the end of the earth.  For the ascension of Jesus is not the end of his mission; rather, the ascension of Jesus is his entrusting of that mission to all of us.  Let us, together with the whole Church, pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord to all the earth.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

All you need is love

6th Sunday of Easter Year B 2015:
Today’s readings focus on love.  I was thinking about the importance of love.  I think we could call it the most fundamental of all human emotions.  Is there anything more important to us than love?  Think about how many songs there are about love.  As I was reflecting on the readings this week all I kept hearing Beatles’ songs in my head: all you need is love…  Or think about all the movies about love, all the books about love.  This weekend we are remembering our mothers, a lot of love there: the love our mothers have for us, and the love we have for our mothers.  In the heart of every human being there is a great longing for love.  Love motivates us, inspires us.
So, in today’s gospel, when Jesus gives us his great command to love, it makes a lot of sense. In so many ways, this one law simplifies and summarizes the mission of the Christian disciple, our mission is to love.  We are supposed to love, we can feel it deep down in our hearts.  And the stakes are high, in the second reading St. John tells us: if we don’t love, we don’t know God, for God is love.  Wow, pretty amazing.  If we don’t love we don’t know God.
I think we all want to know God, don’t we?  Love is the pathway to our relationship with him.  If we have love, we know God; if we don’t, we won’t.  Pretty powerful.  John Paul II once said that love is the fundamental vocation of every human being.  So whether you are a mother, a father, a child, a priest, a religious sister, it doesn’t matter, we are called to love.  Only by love will we find happiness and fulfillment in this life.  Why is love to important? 
St. John gives us a great insight in the second reading: because God is love.  God is love.  It is so simple, yet so beautiful.  This one sentence might have been the first thing we learned about God in school or in religious education.  I think I can remember making signs that say: God is love, when I was a kid.  A few years back Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical titled Deus Caritas Est, God is love.  Yet with anything that is so basic and fundamental, it can easily be one of those things we take for granted without really thinking too much about it.
God is love.  How do we know that God is love?  He created the universe.  God is sufficient in himself, he didn’t need to create us, but he did because he loved us.  Then what happened, we went astray.  How do we know God still loved us?  He sent Jesus to be our savior.  How do we know Jesus loved us?  He died on the cross.  How do we know he still loves us even today?  He gives us the Holy Eucharist.  If we have eyes to see it, we can see the love of God everywhere around us.  We know that God loves us because he made us, he sent Jesus to save us, he feeds us through the Eucharist.  There is a lot of love there.
            Since the whole universe is made through love, and since we were made through love, this is why love is so important to us.  Love literally brought us into existence, and if we are going to be true to who we are, we need to love.  God is love, he made us in his image and likeness, so if we are going to be happy we need to love.
But, one thing we might forget if all we do is listen to love songs or watch romantic comedies, is that love is hard.  Love is never easy.  Jesus tells us to love today, but he tells us to love one another as he loved us.  Look again at the love he has for us.  He died for us, he gave everything for us.  Now, if we want to know God, if we want to inherit the eternal life Christ promises us, if we want to a share in that resurrection, we must fulfill the command of Christ: love on another.
If you are like me, you hear Jesus’ command: love one another as I love you, and you might get a little discouraged.  How can I love like Jesus loved?  I’m too weak, too sinful, too proud, too selfish.  But, rather than seeing this as a condemnation, let the words of Jesus inspire you all over again.  When Jesus commands us to love he does so because he really thinks we can do.  And he really knows that this is what is absolutely best for us, even though love is never easy.  Ask your mother today on Mothers’ Day if love is easy.  But, love is always worth it. 
What a beautiful gift we have in the Holy Eucharist.  This sacrament of love is given to us by Christ to be a great lesson in humble, serving, love.  He literally gives himself away for our benefit, and then he calls us to go and do likewise.  This I command you, love one another. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bear much fruit

5th Week of Easter year B 2015:
Bear much fruit and become my disciples.  Our gospel today ends with this inspiring message from Jesus.  He has big plans for us.  He wants us to carry out his mission in the world.  He came to bring us good news, to heal the sick, to lift up the fallen.  And, he wants to continue his saving ministry, but now he does it through us, his disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is good to remember that Jesus has work for us to do.  He wants us to bear fruit.
But, one thing is for sure, we are always busy.  The other day I was talking with a parishioner here and we were discussing our busy schedules.  I was saying that I had several meetings, masses, confessions, and visits to the hospital and homebound, all in one day.  She says: oh yeah, try being a mom.  Good point, she got me there.  The joys of modern parenting: wake up early, get the kids up, cleaned up, dressed, fed.  Make them lunch.  Get them to school.  Take them to the doctor.  Pick them up from school.  Take them to practice.  Wait in the car.  Sit in the rain and watch them play soccer.  Wait in the car some more.  Help them with homework.  Make sure they eat properly.  Get them to bed on time.  On and on.  It seems like we just keep getting busier and busier. 
So when we hear Jesus say: bear much fruit.  It sounds like we need to add even more to our busy lives.  But, I think it is important to remember that our life of faith never competes with our daily lives.  We don’t have to choose between loving God or loving our families.  Rather, we should see these things as being beautifully united.   Have you ever thought of waiting in your car for your kids as an act of prayer?  Or simply being kind and respectful at the grocery store or while driving can be an act of discipleship of Jesus.  How can we see everything in our daily lives as an act of love or prayer?
Remain in me, as I remain in you.  I think this little line really holds the key to the life of discipleship as we go about our busy lives.  It is certainly true that Christ calls us to bear much fruit, that we are called to lives of active discipleship.  But, if we don’t remain in him, we will lose our focus.  Staying connected to Christ is the only way to be sure we are doing everything for him and with him.  Like I just said, being a disciple does not compete with our daily lives, but it gives our lives meaning and direction.  Staying connected to Christ is the key to discipleship.
I am convinced that there is no better way to stay connected to Christ than through the sacraments.  Jesus gave us these gifts as his abiding presence among us.  By the power of the sacraments we stay connected to Christ and he lives within us.  This weekend is a special weekend for us here at St. Jude, Saturday morning we celebrated first Holy Communion and Sunday afternoon Bishop Rhoades will be here for Confirmation.  It is a joy to see these sacraments at work in the lives of our young people.  At the first communion mass I asked the kids: “what do all 7 sacraments have in common?”  One child responded: Jesus.  What a perfect answer!  Through the power of the sacraments we get in touch with Jesus.  Through the power of the sacraments, we remain in Jesus, we stay connected to him.  This is how we find the power to bear much fruit for him in our daily lives.
So, think again about the power of these sacraments.  Especially consider the sacraments of confession and Eucharist.  If it has been a while since you’ve made a confession, plan on going in the next week.  Ask Christ to forgive your sins and grow closer to him through that sacrament.  Make a commitment to grow closer to Christ in the powerful prayer of the Holy Eucharist.  There is no better way to stay connected to Christ than to receive him in this sacred mystery.  Maybe even consider attending Mass during the week.  (Mention the magnet)  I know that the daily celebration of the Eucharist has been an important part of my spiritual journey even way before becoming a priest. 

Jesus has great plans for us, whether these plans include taking care of your kids, being kind to others, or giving of your time, talent, and treasure for the building up of God’s kingdom.  He wants us all to bear great fruit.  But, as Jesus says today: without me you can do nothing.  Here at this mass, and through the power of all the sacraments, we are here with Jesus.  And through this powerful connection with Christ we can go out from this mass and bear great fruit.