Tuesday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 4:1-10  +  Mark 9:30-37
May 22, 2018

Taking a child, He placed it in their midst….

Today’s Gospel passage points our attention back to one of the first lessons of the liturgical year.  This lesson is expressed in the saying, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.”  Another way of expressing the same truth is to say that “the reason Jesus was born into this world was to die to this world”, or perhaps rather, “…for this world”.  We might be tempted at Christmastime to think only of the innocence of the infant Christ, without connecting this innocence to the purity of the Lamb who was slain on Calvary.

It might seem strange for today’s Gospel passage to meander from Jesus’ prediction of His Passion and Death at the passage’s beginning to His holding up a child for emulation at its end.  But this beginning and end are connected by Jesus Himself.  It’s because Jesus, as a divine person, is completely innocent (indeed more so than any child) that He becomes a fitting sacrifice on Calvary.  We may think of innocence as a goal of our spiritual life because it prepares us to be fit for Heaven.  Perhaps spiritual growth might come from seeing innocence as preparing us for a deeper share in Jesus’ Passion during our earthly days.

Mary, the Mother of the Church

Please note that the readings in your missalette or annual hand missal may have the wrong readings for Monday, May 21st.  The reflection below explains why.  Learn more about this new obligatory memorial by clicking HERE.

Mary, the Mother of the Church
Genesis 3:9-15,20  +  John 19:25-34
May 21, 2018

And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Earlier this year, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Robert Cardinal Sarah—the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments—announced the institution of a new obligatory memorial for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.  This memorial is to be celebrated every year on the day following Pentecost Sunday.

In his decree inscribing this new memorial into the General Roman Calendar, Cardinal Sarah notes the following:

“The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on His nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4), the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.”

“Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.”

“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”

OT 10-2

Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11  +  1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13  +  Jn 20:19-23
May 20, 2018

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

The historical event that the Church celebrates this Sunday is described not in today’s Gospel passage, but in the First Reading.  In one sense, our focus here at the end of the Easter Season moves beyond the four Gospel accounts to the remainder of the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament present the life, death and Resurrection of Christ in His earthly body.  The rest of the New Testament’s books present the life of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.  Christ continued to walk this earth after His Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand, but in a radically different way.  These 23 books—Acts of the Apostles, the 21 apostolic letters, and The Book of Revelation—offer a template or roadmap for us in the 21st century as we struggle to live, not as individual Christians, but as the conjoined members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Today’s feast of Pentecost, then, celebrates this transition from the earthly life of Christ to the Mystical Body of Christ.  The Power of the Holy Spirit alone makes the transition to this life possible.

The Second Reading this Sunday (or at least, the first of two options) focuses on the unique role of the Holy Spirit within the Church.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit is metaphorically called “the soul of the Church”, in contrast to us human persons who are the body’s members.

Saint Paul uses three sets of contrasts to drive home the Holy Spirit’s unique role.  Consider here just the second of these.  While “there are different forms of service”, there is “the same Lord.”  St. Paul here links the “service” of the Church’s members with the one “Lord”.  The Church’s members “serve” their “Lord”.  Perhaps this seems obvious.  But it bears an important consequence for those who choose to practice stewardship as a way of life.

St. Paul is challenging those who trivialize the Power of the Holy Spirit and His Lordship.  In our day when egalitarianism and individualism are so highly prized, we minimize the notion of God as our Lord.  We might more easily consider God the Father as a “lordly” figure.  But we’re less inclined to consider Jesus our Lord, since we want in our day and time to consider Him more as a friend than Lord.

Even less do Christians today consider the Holy Spirit as Lord.  The Holy Spirit is often reduced to a gentle spirit—a breeze, really—who encourages us to follow our spiritual hunches.  Without letting go of the Holy Spirit’s authentic roles of Comforter and Advocate, we need to recognize the Holy Spirit as our Lord.  Christian service serves the Holy Spirit, and aims towards the establishment of His rule.

In the Nicene Creed we profess the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord, the giver of life”.  As Christians, we serve the Holy Spirit who is our Lord.  We serve Him so that His Kingdom of life—that proceeds from the Father and the Son—will rule in our world, so as to bring many through sin and death into the everlasting life of the Trinity.

The Church is God’s means to establish the rule of the Holy Spirit.  The earthly purpose of the Holy Spirit’s varied gifts, service and workings is proclaimed in the refrain of Pentecost’s Responsorial Psalm:  “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 28:16-20,30-31  +  John 21:20-25
May 19, 2018

I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

This morning’s Gospel passage consists of the final six verses of the Gospel according to John.  The Easter Season draws to a close, then, with an almost parenthetical reminder that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly life are by no means exhaustive.  Nor are they meant to be.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in composing their accounts of the Gospel, did not aim to give an exhaustive record of Jesus’ saving words and deeds.  For that matter, even if all of the words spoken—and deeds carried out—by Jesus during His earthily life were recorded, that account of the Gospel would not be the “final word”.

Does this assertion sound blasphemous?  Does it reduce the power and beauty of the Incarnate Word?

In truth, it reveals the full intent—the full vocation and mission—of the Incarnate Word.  God’s providential, covenantal, saving Work blossoms through the life of the Mystical Body of Christ:  the Church.  The life of the Church—from her conception in the Sacred Triduum, to her birth at Pentecost, until her consummation on the Last Day—is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus on this earth.

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 25:13-21  +  John 21:15-19
May 18, 2018

Peter was distressed that He had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?”

On these last two weekdays of Easter, our Gospel passage comes from the epilogue of John’s Gospel account.  In these final days, we hear John’s account of Jesus’ “final word”, which echoes what John records time and time again throughout his Scriptural writings (the Book of Revelation, his three epistles, and his Gospel account).

Jesus’ “final word” is Love—caritas—which in fact is the very nature of the Triune God, and so then also of the “Word made Flesh”.  As we prepare to celebrate the Sundays and other solemnities that flow forth from the Easter Season, we meditate on the meaning of the Caritas Who Is God.  In the weeks following the Easter Season, the Church will celebrate the Solemnities of the Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through each of these, the Church reflects and liturgically celebrates the goodness of God’s very nature:  the Love that the Risen Jesus extends to us.

Today, Jesus calls Peter, the Rock of the Church, to accept this divine caritas as the heart of his own life and ministry.  We pray for our Holy Father, the Pope.  We also pray for ourselves, that no matter what our vocation may be, our lives will also reflect this divine outpouring of love.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 22:30;23:6-11  +  John 17:20-26
May 17, 2018

“…so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in Me and I in You.”

There are many types of unity.  For example, if two persons agree about a political issue, and join a common party, these two persons have political unity.  If two persons agree about a moral teaching, or agree to act in common on behalf of a moral goal, these two persons have moral unity.  If two students study for doctorates in physics, specializing in the same topic, and become the two foremost experts in the world about that topic, these two persons bear a certain intellectual unity.

Two persons can also be united by far less significant matters:  their nationality, the clothes they wear, or the physical space they share (whether in an elevator, a house, or a courtroom).  Two siblings are united by their parentage, and identical twins enjoy an even more specific genetic unity.  Beyond physicals traits, siblings—or a parent and child—can be united by psychological traits, temperament, or even predispositions towards certain virtues and vices.

None of these is what Jesus is preaching about in John 17:21.  Jesus is preaching about something far more profound.

The tiny word “as” in Jesus’ petition to the Father unlocks the petition’s meaning:  “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in Me and I in You.”  Reflect, meditate, and contemplate the meaning of the Unity that the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity not merely have or share, but essentially are.

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 20:28-38  +  John 17:11-19
May 16, 2018

“…that they may be one just as We are one.”

Of the four Gospel accounts, John’s is the loftiest and thus is symbolized by an eagle.  In the vocabulary of theology, John has the highest Christology.  One can make the case that the Last Supper discourses—found in John 13-17—make up the loftiest part of John (with the possible exception of the prologue in John 1:1-18).  Within the Last Supper discourses, the seventeenth chapter of John is commonly titled the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus, and is the loftiest part of these discourses.  All of this is stated to point out that in this last week of Easter, we are certainly breathing rarified air.

It’s from today’s Gospel passage that St. John Paul II took the title of his twelfth encyclical letter:  Ut unum sint [“That They May Be One”].  It was his only encyclical about ecumenism, and was promulgated in 1995, with St. John Paul already looking toward the Great Jubilee of 2000.  Yet he anticipated the Jubilee somewhat wistfully, because he knew that it would not be celebrated with the followers of Jesus united according to the desire that the Lord expressed in John 17:11.

Ecumenism was a topic close to the heart of Pope John Paul II, who was of Slavic heritage, and who grew up along the cultural border between East and West:  Orthodox and Catholic lands.  He longed both for the unification of the Eastern and Western Churches—in his phrase, the “lungs of the Church”—and for the reconciliation of Protestant ecclesial communities with the Catholic Church.

Slowly and prayerfully re-read today’s Gospel passage.  As you continue your Novena to the Holy Spirit, pray that you will accept the Gift of the Holy Spirit in His fullness, ut unum sint.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 20:17-27  +  John 17:1-11
May 15, 2018

“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

We are approaching the end of the Easter season.  For seven weeks we have heard of the events surrounding the Resurrection, and how these events have touched the lives of those who encountered Jesus, such as Mary Magdalen, Peter, and Thomas.  We have heard how the lives of these followers of Jesus were changed because they believed in the events they witnessed.  The Church today is also made up of followers of Jesus, those whose lives have been changed by their encounter with the Body of Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks candidly to His Father about the mission He was given and how He had fulfilled that mission.  What is it, though, that Jesus accomplished?  He was a failure in the eyes of the world.  It takes eyes of faith to see anything worth imitating in Christ Jesus.  The sort of vision that sees in Jesus a Messiah, a Savior, is the vision that we acquire only slowly in life, and which along the way we might even lose at times.

Yet with those eyes of faith we can see that each of us has been given a mission in Christ.  In various ways, we are to proclaim the good news of salvation to others.  We hear much on the news of violence and despair in the world.  Such news clouds the vision that Jesus wants us to have:  that suffering and death do not have to have the last say in our lives.

How has the resurrection changed our lives?  Coming to the end of this year’s celebration of Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter, are we more determined to live the message of Jesus?  Are we more aware that He lives not only for us but in us?  Will we make the necessary changes in our lives to mirror the life of Jesus?

Saint Matthias, Apostle

Saint Matthias, Apostle
Acts 1:15-17,20-26  +  John 15:9-17
May 14, 2018

So they proposed two, Joseph… and Matthias.

Saint Matthias is mentioned by name only once in the Scriptures, on the occasion of his election to the office of apostle.  By this we see how important this ministry is to the on-going nature of the Church.

It’s fitting that the Church usually celebrates this feast of Saint Matthias during the Season of Easter.  Throughout the first weeks of the Easter season, we hear accounts of Jesus speaking to the apostles.  These words are the Lord’s preparation for His Ascension, and for the Holy Spirit’s descent.  These words are His preparation for the new life of the Church.  His words reveal to us the nature of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Hearing about the election of Matthias to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot, we recognize that God the Holy Spirit works through the acts of the apostles and their successors.  Both the apostles’ human selection of two candidates, and the Holy Spirit’s election of Matthias to the apostolic office, are the means by which this vocation is given to Matthias.  Both divine grace and human works work together in the life of the Church, and in the life of each Christian, to continue the saving work of the Lord Jesus.

The Ascension of the Lord [B]

The Ascension of the Lord [B]
Acts 1:1-11  +  Eph 1:17-23  +  Mk 16:15-20
May 13, 2018

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved….”

For those who followed Jesus during the first century, the day of Jesus’ Ascension was filled with much fear and anxiety.  After all, the day of Jesus’ Ascension is like Good Friday.  Both days cause us to ask:  why should we celebrate the end of a good thing?  Why do we call the day of Jesus’ death “Good” Friday?  Both days point us to one of the central mysteries of our spiritual life:  those who are bound together by love do not have to grow weaker when they are separated.  When we must leave those we love to follow a higher calling, we have the chance to grow in our capacity to love those from whom we’re separated.

In the life of Christ and His bride, the Church, these two events—Jesus’ Death and His Ascension—were necessary parts of God’s plan of salvation.  However, in truth, God is never truly gone from our midst:  not on Good Friday, and not today as He rises from the midst of His followers.  Though He departs, He means to appear in new ways.

The Ascension of Jesus—His leaving this earth in bodily form—allowed his followers to assume their calling to be the Mystical Body of Christ.  Without Jesus leaving this earth, why would the Church need to be the Body of Christ?  Why would the Church celebrate the Eucharist, to make Christ present sacramentally if He were still on earth in human form?

We have to be willing to look for God’s presence.  Back in Jesus’ day, the people of Israel had been demoralized by the Roman Empire.  The nation of Israel had always prided itself on its military power.  Then their nation was taken over by the Romans.  “Where was God?” they asked themselves.

When Jesus walked this earth, He claimed to answer the question of God’s Presence in the world with two words:  “I AM.”  For this answer, He was put to death by His own people, sentenced by the Roman procurator.  At the top of Calvary, the crowd asked the followers of Jesus:  “Where is your God?”  On the third day Jesus answered their question.  But He gave this answer only to His followers.

Why, after His Resurrection, did the Risen Jesus appear only to His followers?  He did so because He meant for it to be their job to answer the question of God’s presence in the world:  that is, to speak and act in His Name, as one Body.

But for some days after the Ascension, the apostles and disciples weren’t sure about this great commission that Jesus had given them.  They were afraid, and they locked themselves into an upper room.  It wasn’t a coincidence that it was the same upper room where He had given them on Holy Thursday the sacrifice of His Eucharistic Body and Blood.  Ten days after His Ascension, God revealed Himself in a new way:  through His Holy Spirit, God bound the followers of Jesus into the Church.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, God began speaking through the followers of Jesus.