Saints Peter and Paul

In the Gospel passage from St. Matthew for today’s celebrations, we read how Jesus directly challenges His disciples to make a statement of faith.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asks the disciples what the crowds are claiming, what the people are considering about who He might be based on what they have heard and what they have perhaps seen; but He is most interested in what personal claim those who are closest to Him make.

He wants to know if they recognize and realize who He truly is.

It is Simon, inspired by God’s Spirit, who speaks the Truth;

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

There is no half-measure here; no suggestion of Jesus being an inspired leader, a good teacher, or a great prophet.  It is a simple, direct statement.

What follows, of course, is the implication that if Simon knows who Jesus truly is, then his (Simon’s) life will be altered accordingly, for all time.

It is the same implication for all of us who would dare to take the name of Christian; if we acknowledge who Jesus truly is, and not who ‘the crowds’ suggest He may be, then our lives too will be altered for all time.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Corpus Christi (Year A)

In our world, public image and presentation have come to mean everything.  Whether in politics, entertainment or business, as long as we can put things in an attractive light, we can influence people to follow along with us; to buy a specific product or support a particular position.  Millions are spent by different groups on consultants whose job is strictly to teach leaders or representatives to ‘stay on message’, to present a particular point without stirring up controversy.  Sometimes we refer to these consultants as ‘spin doctors’ – people whose job is to take the actions (or misadventures) or comments of their clients, and put ‘spin’ on them- to try and bring about the most advantageous result.

 

In this Sunday’s passage from St. John’s gospel, it is very clear that Jesus did not concern himself with ‘spin’ or putting a positive light on His message to garner public support or positive public opinion.  He speaks to those gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum; He is speaking to a gathering of faithful people who have come to listen to what He has to say.  His reputation has begun to grown; His deeds and words have been heard by many and a following has developed.

 

So it is against this background that He presents what is perhaps His most challenging teaching, what we refer to as the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse, part of which is contained in this passage.  He starts out with ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven’, which on its face sounds ‘okay’.  But later He stresses, ‘if any one eats of this bread he will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’  His message has taken a dramatic turn – and we need to consider who He is speaking to and where He is speaking to understand how challenging this message was. Jesus is in a synagogue, and Jewish dietary laws of the time and place demanded that when eating meat, they could not eat anything unless the blood was drained out of it.  They most certainly were not to eat human flesh under the law of Moses.  And yet initially to them, it sounds as if Jesus is suggesting just this – although couched in the nicer terms of ‘bread from heaven’.

He could have retreated from this when those in the synagogue start disputing what He is saying, ‘how can he give us his flesh to eat?’

But Jesus does not reverse this teaching; if anything, He reinforces it by stressing, ‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’

If we continue reading St. John’s Gospel from this point, we learn that the response to Jesus’ words in this episode was not a positive one from a worldly standard.  In fact, if Jesus had spin doctors, they would have been pulling their own hair out.  St. John records that everyone left; they complained that this teaching was too difficult to follow and accept, so they left; all except the 12 Apostles.

 

Despite the rejection by all of those who came to hear Him speak, including disciples who had followed Him up to that point, Jesus does not reverse Himself, change this teaching, or soften it.  He meant what He said.  And while those who left said the teaching was too difficult to accept, they didn’t say it wasn’t right.

 

When we gather at Mass, we celebrate this most central mystery of our Catholic faith, the Holy Eucharist.  We attend and participate as the miracle of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood takes place at every Holy Mass.  While we may not understand it completely, be accept and believe because we accept and believe the One who gave us this tremendous gift; Jesus Himself.  We aren’t crunching up bits of bone and tissue as some critics suggest.  We believe, as the Church teaches, that in the consecration, the substance of Christ Himself is made present in offerings of bread and wine, and when we consume them, we take Christ into ourselves, identifying more closely and intimately with Him, and with all who share in that same Body.

 

Some complain that the Church should soften, or modify her teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Communion; yet these same people complain the Church should modify something in just about every one of her teachings, handed down through the Apostles.  They complain that many of these teachings are difficult to accept – that they are too hard – that they aren’t in keeping with the times or our society.

 

The Church does not need to modify her teaching on a Sacrament that was instituted by Christ Himself. Just because a teaching is difficult does not make it less true.  Jesus did not take a poll to see what part of His bread of life discourse was acceptable and which part He should abandon.  He didn’t concern Himself with public opinion or popularity in offering His Body for the life of the world.

As His followers, and partakers in that gift of His Body, neither should we.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Holy Trinity (Year A)

We are entering into the summer season, a season of backyard barbecues, family picnics, outdoor gatherings like concerts, and of course celebrations like weddings. It is a season that has it’s own ‘party atmosphere’; often we send out invitations to different events, and we ask and hope people will reply so we can make the appropriate arrangements in terms of numbers for seating, food, etc.

It is in the midst of this ‘atmosphere’ , as we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, that our Gospel today seems to throw a wet blanket on everything with the word , ‘condemn’.

Condemnation is not really a word that we associate with the word ‘celebration’, but with your kind indulgence, I will offer a link to consider between those two words in connection with today’s Gospel passage from St. John.

Often, those who criticize the Church, and claim no religious affiliation, point to passages such as this and complain how it is all about condemnation; that this is all religion and worship of God is about – fear of punishment; it’s all negative, as if God is some kind of cosmic Santa Claus who looks for reasons to punish His children.

They focus on that word – condemn – without looking at the circumstances or the context its use in this teaching of Jesus’. The fact that one sentence in this passage says, ‘the one who does not believe is already condemned’, seems to provide an excuse to say , ‘See? Organized religion promotes judgement and condemnation. That’s why I don’t belong to the Church.’

How easy it is to blame God when we don’t have a desire or interest in entering into union with Him.

This is where I like to use the image of a celebration or party. If we host an celebration, it’s an occasion for joy – and we want to share that joy with others. We invite others in. We give them our address. We provide directions to our home. We tell them when to be there. We even stand at the door and wait to welcome them in.

We can’t control if others decide they don’t want to be part of our celebration, our joy. If they choose to go to a different address, or drive in the opposite direction that we gave them, we can’t control that either. If they don’t want to come to our home when we have the party, that’s up to them. Even if we stand at the door and watch for them, we can’t force them to come in.

They have chosen to exclude themselves – we haven’t shunned them. They chose otherwise. Imagine if they then blamed us for their decision not to come to the party.

It’s similar with God, but on a much, much grander scale. God invites all people into relationship with Him, and He provided His Son, Jesus, as the means through which all people could enter into His joy. God stands at the doorway, watching, waiting, inviting. He calls people to enter through Jesus, the doorway to His home. He sends His Holy Spirit out to inspire His messengers to continually call to others inviting them into this eternal celebration.

The working of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, does not ‘force’ anyone to come to this celebration. It’s an invitation. And if people refuse, that’s their decision – their own ‘condemnation’ of themselves.

This feast of the Holy Trinity provides us with the reminder that God, three persons in one God, is always working in all aspects of our lives, opening that doorway, inviting us into it, waiting for us to become part of that eternal celebration of the Kingdom, which begins here an now in this life, and carries on into eternity. In fact, this passage stresses how the Son came into the world not to condemn the world, but rather to save it. The condemnation comes from our own actions.

The question for each of us is, how will we respond to God’s ‘party’ invitation?

Do we plan on attending, or do we have somewhere else we would rather be?

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Pentecost (Year A)

It’s not likely that we need reminding that the movement of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, did not just make an appearance in the New Testament.

 

‘God breathed into the man and he became a living being’ – Genesis 2:7

 

In several places in the Sacred Scriptures, God’s breath becomes closely identified with His Holy Spirit – the life of God moves out and draws forth His creation.  Whatever God’s breath encounters, becomes something new, dynamic, transformed.  It has a share in His Divine life.

 

In the creation account in Genesis, the breath of God transforms man, fashioned out the dust of the earth into something more;  from being a mere ‘creature’ into a  ‘living being’, with intelligence and kinship with God Himself.

 

The connection between that action of God in the beginning, to the action of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel which we read from this Sunday – Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’- is unmistakeable.

The disciples are still in hiding following Christ’s passion and death, and here he appears to them in the evening of that first Easter, the day of His resurrection, and he breathes on them – transforming them from something inactive and in hiding into a something alive and dynamic.   He gives new life where death had apparently dominated, and empowers these now transformed disciples to become much more than they have been – he sends them out to spread this Good News that He is risen!  He takes a group of followers, and makes them much more than just a group of people with a ‘common experience’; he grants them the same power and authority that He was granted by the Father (‘as the Father sent me so now I send you’), and grants them a share in His Divine Life.

 

This of course, is even more clear and graphic from the account in the Acts of the Apostles of Pentecost, of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles with the sound of a rushing wind and visible as tongues of fire.  The Apostles are transformed, moving from a group of men who have experienced the closeness of Christ, His teachings, His gifts, into something bold and brave and truly dynamic.  They go out, changed from an inactive group still in hiding, into fearless preachers and teachers, proclaiming the Good News of salvation to all people.

 

In our world and culture, we can fall into that false notion that so often seems emphasized in the secular media, that the Church is an organization; that it is simply a very large group of people who share a common affiliation – that the Church is an administrative entity that runs a city-state.  This view focuses on troubles caused by a few individuals within the ‘organization’, and ignores the historic and monumental works of charity, education, health care, disaster relief, compassion and mercy that have been the hallmarks of the Church’s members through the ages.

 

But the Church is not simply another corporation or collection of those with common views and interests.  It is a dynamic, living organism.  It is the Body of Christ, made up of His disciples, empowered by His Holy Spirit, commanded to be a visible sign of His presence and love in the world.  The Church is that Body, guided by His Spirit, called to be an instrument of fulfilling the Father’s will throughout the world.

 

That is the same Spirit, that same ‘breath’ that Christ gave the Church.

 

It is that same breath of God that, if we are open to receiving it, transforms each one of us as members of the Church, and subsequently transforms the Church herself, into such a powerful and dynamic force for God and good in the world.

 

It is that same Spirit, that same ‘breath of God’, that makes us much more than what we appear to be. It impels us to go out into the world, to bring the love of Christ to others, and to invite them into what we share – His Divine Life.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!