Saturday, May 30, 2009

Birthday Spirit—A Reflection on Pentecost Sunday

Happy Birthday to Us! Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Church. The disciples of Jesus had been gathered together in prayer for 9 days since the Ascension. There were about 120 of them. Luke names the Eleven Apostles, Judas’ successor, Matthias, and “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

Imagine being there. You’ve seen or been told that Jesus has returned to the Father in Heaven. He told you that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” You’re not sure what this Holy Spirit is and you’re a little nervous about being a witness. So you pray with the others. And you wait. For 9 days. It’s becoming a little routine. The feast of Pentecost is coming. What began as a feast celebration the first fruits of the spring harvest had also become a commemoration of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

Suddenly, as Luke says, suddenly there is the sound of a strong driving wind. It shatters the quiet of your prayer. As you look around trying to see the source of the wind, you see a fire above you in the room. First wind, now fire. It is strange and frightening. As you watch, the fire divides into smaller flames. The flames come to rest on each of you. Luke calls what is happening being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

What happens next is perhaps the strangest of all. You hear yourself and your brothers and sisters speaking in different languages. Those who have made the journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost hear the commotion and gather outside the house where you are; the same house where Jesus celebrated Passover with the Apostles. They hear you speaking in their native tongues.

In a moment the disciples went from hiding and praying privately to a very public preaching of the Gospel. This was brought about by the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus from the Father as promised. It is a blazing beginning, a firey birth of the Body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit has come. The Church is alive. The harvest has begun. But what happens now? Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the Church. This unites the Church. We need each other. The gifts are given to each for the benefit of all. The Holy Spirit also gives us the strength to fight against sin. He nurtures us not only with gifts, but with the first fruit of the Spirit; the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that nourish us to make us strong against sin.

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit not only to bring the Church into being, but to lead and guide us. He will remind us of what Jesus taught us. As the Spirit of Truth, he will lead us into the Truth. He will lead us to Jesus.

If you want to know Jesus, you do so through the Holy Spirit. He will give you the power to live as Jesus did. He will give you the strength to suffer for the sake of the gospel and to be a witness to Jesus Christ. If you want to be like Jesus, pray that he will send the Holy Spirit into your life. Don’t worry about what others will think. Let’s imitate the early Church and, in obedience to Christ, gather in prayer and pray for a new Pentecost, a re-birth of the Church in the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

They're Hot! They're Pockets!

Did you know that although Hot Pockets come 2 to a box, you only have to eat one? I was shocked recently to find instructions for cooking one, one!, hot pocket! Stunning. There is even a tab/slot that allows you to re-close the box until you want to eat the remaining Hot Pocket. This fundamentally changes the balance of eating prepared snack type foodstuffs. I mean, what's next? Eating one Funny Bone? Ah, but they cannot be resealed.

Breaking News: Hot Pockets also lists the serving size as one and list the nutritional information based on one pocket. More as this develops.

Topic: Has anyone used Hot Pockets to actually heat their pockets? Discuss.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kept by Christ—A reflection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

In today’s reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is praying what has been called his high priestly prayer. It is a prayer for the unity of the Church. He asks the Father to protect the disciples so they may be one as Christ and the Father are one. Jesus has protected them so that not one of them was lost, except for Judas.

And what of Judas? Why was he lost? Jesus calls him “the son of destruction” and says that Judas was lost “in order that Scripture might be fulfilled.” The first reading from Acts tells us that Peter was with 120 others waiting for the Holy Spirit to come on the day of Pentecost. He reminds them that Judas was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was the betrayer, the son of destruction. Peter finds in the Psalms that Judas’ vacant office needs to be filled. So they selected Justus and Matthias and after praying, they chose Matthias by lot. This may seem like a strange was to go about choosing a successor to Judas, but it was the ordinary way things were done. We might pick names out of a hat!

I think the deeper reason for Judas being lost is found in the reading from St. John’s epistle. It too is about our unity in God. It is a unity of love. God loves us, so we must love one another. If we remain in love we remain in God and God in us. Judas did not remain in love, he betrayed Love to death. If Judas had sought true repentance, he would have remained in God’s love. The difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal is that Peter repented with bitter tears and Judas chose to end his own life outside of God’s love.

But this is Easter, the season of glory and joy in the risen Lord Jesus Christ! So why are the readings talking about Judas? Because the Church understands our human frailty. I am reminded of St. Philip Neri. Philip had a prayer he used to pray every day. It was “Lord, watch over Philip today, or he will betray you like Judas.” St. Philip Neri, whose feast we celebrate this coming Tuesday, understood our frailty. He knew that we are all the kind of people who could betray Jesus. Judas’ price was 30 pieces of silver. Our price is often much less. We betray Jesus every time we deny that Jesus is the Son of God. We do that when we take him for granted, when we put him to the test, when we tell those who ask us about our faith “I do not know him”, when we treat the sacraments casually, when we deny the Church which is his body by dissenting from its teaching, when we do not help those in need.

The good news is that Jesus is praying for us to the Father. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that he always lives to make intercession for us.(Hebrews 7:24-25 ) In today’s gospel, Jesus prays for our unity, he prays for protection, he prays for our joy, he prays that the Father will keep us from the evil one, he prays that the Father will consecrate us in the Truth of his word. Then he sends us into the world protected by this prayer of consecration. Jesus is praying for us now in this Mass. The Eucharist is his answer to all that he prayed for us and all that we pray for ourselves. It is the source of our unity and the way God remains in us and brings his love to perfection in us. Let us receive Christ, remembering St. Philip Neri’s prayer. We are frail but Jesus is our redeemer. He took on our human nature and ascended to Heaven. Let us work for the unity in truth before the Father, for Jesus is that Truth.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Keys to Ascension--A Reflection on the Feast of the Ascension

On the Feast of the Ascension, the Church remebers the day that Jesus returned to Heaven. To some, this sounds childish. It recalls a 3-tiered view of the world with Hell below, Earth in the middle and Heaven above.

But whatever the geography of heaven there is a reality here. Jesus had risen from the dead. Conquering death, he is immortal as Son of Man and Son of God. So, where is he? He could not die again, ever. He is not on Earth. The answer in the Gospels and Acts is that, in some mysterious way, he returned to Heaven to his Father.

Mark's gospel says only that Jesus was "taken up into Heaven", as does Luke's gospel. The first reading from Luke's book of the Acts of the Apostles gives us more detail. The Apostles ask him if he will restore the Kingdom to Israel. He tells them not to worry about that, but promises them that they will receive to be his witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Then as they were watching, a cloud took Jesus out of their sight. Why a cloud? Remember the cloud that folowed Israel in the wilderness? That cloud, the shekinah, was the glory of God. In the early Church this was understood to be the Holy Spirit. Luke is telling us that Jesus was taken up into Heaven by the Holy Spirit, God's presence in the world.

What's going on here? At least three things. First, Jesus is returning to the Father to take his rightful place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is ruling the universe for the Father. As Paul says in Ephesians "And he [the Father] put all things beneath his [Christ's] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,which is his body,the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way." Jesus is ruling the world and he is ruling it through his body, the Church. Luke tells us what Jesus is doing now.

Second, Jesus returns to the Father so he can send us the Holy Spirit. Some have said that the Acts of the Apostles could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It's Ascension Thursday, but Pentecost is coming after 9 days! In the meantime the desciples and Mary, a group of about 120 people, waits and prays. These 9 days of prayer was the first novena! The Pentecost novena to the Holy Spirit is the oldest novena of the Catholic Church.

Third, Jesus is preparing for his second coming. He is preparing a place for us. At the end of time, when his plan for the universe is fulfilled, Jesus will return to Earth. Then every knee will bow and everyone confess that Jesus is Lord. He will judge the world; those who have not lived in God's love will continue to live without God for eternity, those who lived in God's love will continue to live with God for eternity. We call the first state Hell and the second Heaven.

Jesus' Ascension has opened the gate of Heaven to all, but not all will enter. The saints, known and unknown, are there; Our Blessed Mother Mary is there; and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are there. We will see God face-to-face. The gate is narrow, but is open. Will you enter in?

There is no need to wait until you die or Christ returns to enter Heaven. We do that at every Mass! Jesus is present in his Word during the Liturgy of the Word. He is especially present in the Eucharist. He is present in his mystical body, the Church--in you and me. If Jesus is present, the Heaven is present for, as Pope Benedict has said, "Jesus himself is what we call Heaven."

Jesus is here at Mass. Yet how many of us enter in? He is waiting for us, yet we act as if he is not here at all! We come late, we leave early, we dress as if we were going to a playground rather than Heaven. Yet, these are all external things. How is your heart? Is your heart coming late, leaving early, immodestly dressed? We are here to worship Christ the Lord. Let us show him, by clean hearts, pure minds, working hands and outward modesty, that we believe he is here with us. Let us enter heaven at this Mass and receive Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love and the Spirit--A Reflection on the 6th Sunday of Easter

Love. The word “love” occurs 9 times in today’s gospel and another 9 times in the epistle. Friend occurs 3 times in the gospel and joy twice. We expect God to love us. We don’t really believe it, but we expect it! After all, isn’t God supposed to love everyone?

One of the most astonishing statement’s in all of Scripture is found in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus says that we are his friends. This is the love of God we don’t expect; to be his friends. Not only that, but it is the kind of friendship that lays down its life for others.

But isn’t there a catch? Jesus' friendship seems conditional; if we do what he commands us he will be our friend. That sounds more like a servant or slave than a friend. No, we have it wrong. Christ says that he does no longer calls us slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. Isn’t that amazing? We are not slaves but friends because Jesus has told us what he is doing. He tells us through the Scriptures, the Church and the Holy Spirit.

It was the Holy Spirit who led Peter to understand that even the Gentiles are loved by God, are God’s friends. Peter was shown by the Holy Spirit in a vision that God shows no partiality. He accepts anyone who fears him and acts uprightly. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that as Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening. God gave the Gentiles the same gift of the Spirit that he gave to the Jewish believers. He gave them himself.

Love is so essential because, as John tells us in his epistle, God is love. If we want to be like God were must love as God loves. We must love without partiality. We must accept all those who God accepts and love all those God loves. And we must lay down our lives for them. This is no sentimental love, but the love of God. It is a love, as St. Paul says, that spared not God’s own Son but delivered him up for us all. A love that will freely give us all things.

When my friend Vincent Druding was ordained to the priesthood last week, one of the verses he used on his invitations and holy cards was from today’s gospel, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

Vince understood that laying down his life for God’s friends is at the heart of the priesthood. It is also what we are all called to as Christians. In imitation of Christ, we love as he loves. To do this, to have the strength to lay down our lives, we must receive from the Holy Spirit God’s grace, his very life. This life comes to us through the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist. In Confession, we lay aside every burden and sin that clings to us and holds us back from loving God and his friends. As we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we will be filled with every grace and blessing. We will receive the strength to love as God loves. As St. John says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”

Our Blessed Mother is sets an example for us. Having accepted the Father’s love by saying Yes to the angel Gabriel’s news that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God, she went to see her cousin Elizabeth. In that moment of joy and love and friendship, Mary brought Jesus to her.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will fall on us as he fell on the Church in Acts so that, filled with the Spirit, we will know the joy and the love and the friendship of Christ. Then let us bring that joy and the love and friendship of Christ to all of God’s friends.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Living in Christ--A Reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter

In today's Gospel, Jesus uses a agricultural metaphor to talk about the Christian life. He is the true vine and we are branches. We grow as we take his life into ours. Branches cannot survive without the vine. Cut off from the vine, they wither and die. Around my house we have wild grape vines. They grow everywhere! As they climb other plants and trees, their tendrils grab hold. The only way to disentangle them is to prune them, cutting the branches so they are no longer attached to the vine. Once they wither, they're much easier to pull off.

What grows on vine? Grapes. My grandmother used to make grape jelly from the wild grape vines. Saint John uses this story of vines and branches to talk about Christian living because of his theme of the Eucharist. Remaining in the vine, refers back to the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6. There Jesus also talks about remaining in him "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (John 6:56).

The Church only grows by remaining united to Christ. As it does so, the Holy Spirit is free to grow the Church. We see this in the first reading from Acts as Barnabas introduces Paul to the Apostles. As they come to understand Paul's calling, they accept him, even risking their lives to rescue him. The Church was briefly at peace and the Holy Spirit caused the Church to grow.

Saint John also tells us in his epistle that "the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us." The peace we know as we remain in Christ comes from God who is greater than our hearts. Our hearts often condemn us for failing to keep his commandments. But because God is greater than our hearts, we can be confident that God will give us what we ask. John says that "those who keep his commandments remain in him."

We remain in Christ, the true vine by keeping his commandments. We gain strength to keep his commandments through the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. Through the forgiveness of sin in Confession, God prunes away the sins that injure, and even kill, his life in us. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself, his true life, to us. As we remain in his life, we will bear much fruit as his life grows in us. If we separate ourselves from Jesus, we will wither and die as a branch does cut off form the vine. Jesus himself says that without him we can do nothing. United to him, we will grow and bear fruit, glorifying the Father.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Good Shepherd--A Reflection on the 4th Sunday of Easter

If you've ever had a problem with an employee or a contractor, then you know what Jesus means when he talks about the difference between hireling and true shepherds--it's ownership. The hireling works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. To the true Shepard, the sheep are like family. He cares for them because they are his. He knows the and they know him; the sheep know the shepherd's voice and follow him. A good shepherd will lay down his life for a sheep to keep them from the wolf. Jesus says "I am the good shepherd." I suppose that makes us sheep!

Jesus says "There will be one flock, and one shepherd." As our shepherd, he is our unity. He will bring together all the sheep into one flock, even the ones "that do not belong to this fold." When the Church teaches that "outside the Church there is no salvation" she doesn't mean that you have to be Catholic to be saved; she means what Jesus meant. There is one flock and Jesus is bringing those who belong to another sheepfold to the one flock. The Church as the body of Christ carries on this mission: to bring all the sheep together to his one flock.

This is also what Peter is saying in the first reading from Acts that "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." Salvation is through Jesus Christ. The Church is his body, but the Church is bigger than just the Catholic Church. It is wherever people are seeking Christ, even if they don't know it is Christ they are seeking! Saint Paul says that God wants all people to be saved.

How will Jesus bring all his sheep together? By laying down his life for them. The cross didn't happen to Jesus, he wasn't a victim. He willingly gave his life for us, his bedraggled, smelly, wandering sheep. He laid down his life in order to take it up again. The salvation he secures for us by laying down his life is described by Saint John. "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are." Calling God our Father is not just a expression of faith. The Father loves us and gives his life to us through the Sacraments. He makes us his children in reality, not just figuratively.

And this salvation procured by Christ is not just for now. As we grow in grace, in the very life of God in us, Saint John tells us that "we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is." Trust the Jesus, the Good shepherd, to bring his sheep into one flock to present to the Father, who will give us his very life in grace through his Church.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Saint Joseph the Worker

The Church has dedicated the month of May to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. May 1st is the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, institiued by Pope Pius XII in 1955. It coincides with May Day celebrations held in may parts of the world.

It is fitting that the month of May, dedicated to Mary, start with a feast in honor of Saint Joseph, her husband and the foster-father of Jesus. Together Joseph and Mary raised Jesus. It has been said that Joseph had to be a saint to live with the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation!

We know little of Joseph. He is mentioned in the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. God speaks to him through dreams, just like the patriarch Joseph in the Old Testament. In his desire to protect Mary from the dishonor of a public divorce, he wants to do it quietly--until Gabriel tells him in a dream that, as Bruce Cockburn puts it, "God did this and you're part of his scheme." For this Joseph is called a righteous man.

We know Joseph was a carpenter, a craftsman; a trade he taught to Jesus. He did this work to provide for his family, so we honor him on this day as St. Joseph the Worker to remind people of the dignity of work and it's value to living out the universal call to holiness.