The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
Genesis 3:9-15,20 [or Acts 1:12-14]  +  John 19:25-34
June 1, 2020

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

On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2018, 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 Pentecost Monday, which is to say, the day following Pentecost Sunday.  In the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass, this is the second day of the Octave of Pentecost.

In his decree inscribing this new memorial into the General Roman Calendar, Cardinal Sarah noted 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.”

Mary the Mother of the Church

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 30, 2020

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.

Easter 7-6 Ascension

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 25:13-21  +  John 21:15-19
May 29, 2020

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.

Easter 7-5 Ascension

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 28, 2020

“… 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 physical 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.

Ascension medieval 6


Acts 2:1-11  +  1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13  +  John 20:19-23
May 31, 2020

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”

+     +     +

click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (3:49)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (8:06)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2011 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2000 homily for this Sunday

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Solemnity by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 696, 726, 731-732, 737-741, 830, 1076, 1287, 2623: Pentecost
CCC 599, 597, 674, 715: apostolic witness on Pentecost
CCC 1152, 1226, 1302, 1556: the mystery of Pentecost continues in the Church
CCC 767, 775, 798, 796, 813, 1097, 1108-1109: the Church, communion in the Spirit

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The historical event that the Church celebrates this Sunday is described not in today’s Gospel Reading, but in the First Reading.  That’s a telling fact:  the Church’s focus today moves beyond the four Gospel accounts to the remainder of the New Testament.  This is what Jesus wants and wills.

The first four books of the New Testament present the life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.  All of that makes possible what comes next.  The rest of the New Testament’s books present the life of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, continuing Christ’s presence here on earth.

Today’s feast, then, celebrates this transition.  Pentecost is a celebration of God entrusting the life of His Son to the members of the Church, similar to how He entrusted Him to Mary at the Annunciation.  The New Testament books that follow the four Gospel accounts are not merely historical records of the first Christians striving to live as the Church.  These books are a template or roadmap for us in the 21st century as we struggle to live—not as individual Christians—but as the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

The Power of the Holy Spirit alone makes the transition to this way of 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.  He points to “different spiritual gifts”, “different forms of service” and “different workings”.  All of these flow from God.  Consider 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 to the one “Lord”.  The Church’s members serve their Lord through their service to their neighbor.

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.  God the Father we might more easily consider as a “lordly” figure, but less so Jesus, who is more considered friend than Lord.

Even less do Christians today consider as Lord the Holy Spirit, who is often reduced to a gentle spirit who encourages us to follow our spiritual hunches.  Without overlooking the truth of the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Advocate, we need to recognize the Holy Spirit as our Lord.  Christian service serves the Holy Spirit and aims to 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—which proceeds from the Father and the Son—will rule in our world, so as to bring many through death into the everlasting life of the Trinity.

There are many means by which you as a Christian can serve the Lord.  St. Paul speaks to us of the diversity that Christian service can take.  The Church is God’s means to establish the rule of the Holy Spirit.  The 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.”

Pentecost - Louis Galloche

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 20:28-38  +  John 17:11-19
May 27, 2020

“… 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.

Easter 7-3 Ascension

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 20:17-27  +  John 17:1-11
May 26, 2020

“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?

Easter 7-2 Ascension

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 19:1-8  +  John 16:29-33
May 25, 2020

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

This coming Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost is the backdrop for all our weekday readings this week.  Wherever we Christians are, we are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, and together we are praying this week for a greater openness to the Gift who is God the Holy Spirit.

However, we receive God the Holy Spirit not for our own plans and purposes.  He comes to us in order to ‘equip’ us for the vocations that God the Father gives us.  The providential plan of the Father, and the grace of the Spirit, cannot be separated:  both meet in the life of Christ’s Mystical Body, within which we live.

Each of us is called first through Baptism to holiness.  For most Christians, this baptismal vocation—the vocation to live as members of the “priesthood of all believers”—is deepened by a further call from the Father.  The vocation to Holy Matrimony, or to Holy Orders, or to consecrated religious life, gives specific form to one’s baptismal vocation.  Even more specifically, each Christian daily discerns the call of the Father to make small sacrifices with great love, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux teaches us.  So we beg the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit.

Easter 7-1 Ascension

The Seventh Sunday of Easter [A]

PLEASE NOTE:  In some dioceses, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated.  For the reflection for the Ascension, click HERE.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 1:12-14  +  1 Peter 4:13-16  +  John 17:1-11

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come.”

To see life from the Christian point of view, you must view events from multiple perspectives simultaneously.  This is a general truth that rules the whole of the Christian life.  More specifically, sometimes the Church within her Sacred Liturgy asks us to view events from multiple perspectives.

During Advent, for example, there are three distinct perspectives that the Christian must reflect upon:  the historical coming of Jesus into the world at Bethlehem; the present coming of Jesus through the sacraments into the Christian’s soul; and the future coming of Jesus at the end of time to judge mankind.  Each of these three sheds light upon the other two.  All three together reveal the depth of the Advent Season.

Likewise, in the latter weeks of Eastertide, there are three distinct perspectives that the Christian must keep in mind at the same time.  This Sunday we hear one perspective from the Gospel Reading.  The second emerges from the liturgical day within Eastertide that the Church celebrates today, which is illustrated by today’s First Reading.

In the First Reading, we hear how the Apostles and certain other disciples—“Mary the mother of Jesus” chief among them—spent the days between the Ascension of Jesus and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  The nine days that all these disciples—both the Apostles and the other disciples—spent in prayer in “the upper room” as described in the First Reading are the “spiritual space” we are meant to inhabit during these latter days of Eastertide.  We need to ask, then:  what was going through the minds and hearts of all these disciples during those nine days?

As Christians, during these latter days of Eastertide, we look back to the Ascension as much as we look forward to Pentecost.

However, some two thousand years ago, all these disciples did not have our advantage of hindsight.  Their experience was that Jesus had ascended and left them.  What would happen next?  We might be tempted to imagine that those first Christians had plenty of advantages of their own, having been with Jesus during His public ministry, gaining from Him insights into the prophecies of the Old Testament, as well as His own declarations about the future.  We might imagine that they knew about the coming Pentecost and how it would change their lives.

Yet this is where today’s Gospel passage gives us a helpful perspective.  The passage is from John 17.  The setting is the Last Supper, which might prompt us to ask why six weeks after Easter Sunday we’re hearing a passage set on the eve of Jesus’ Crucifixion.  The answer returns to the initial point of this reflection.  The answer is that the Church wants us to view the nine days of prayer following the Ascension from multiple perspectives.

We need to view those nine days of prayer from the perspective of all these disciples during the time stretching from Christ’s Passion to His Resurrection.  At the end of today’s Gospel passage, what does Jesus mean when He declares to God the Father, “now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you”?  Is Jesus referring to His Death, or to His Ascension?

The answer is:  He’s referring to both.  Jesus’ Death and Ascension have more in common than we might first imagine.  Likewise, Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and the Holy Spirit’s Descent from Heaven have more in common than we might first imagine.

Remember how many of the Apostles and the other disciples remained with Jesus at the foot of His Cross.  Only John and a handful of the other disciples remained steadfast.  The infidelity of most of Jesus’ followers during those dark hours helps us understand the spiritual space in which all these disciples stood during the nine days of prayer following Jesus’ Ascension.  They were at a loss to appreciate the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the radical new life of the Gospel.

Given these perspectives, we can look at our own spiritual lives.  This third perspective forces us to admit how much our own spiritual lives are like the lives of all those disciples during both the days between the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and also the days between the Ascension and Pentecost.  As was true of the disciples during those days, we have advantages at our disposal:  what God has revealed to us, and the grace that might enlighten us with wisdom and spiritual insight.

However, in spite of God’s gifts to us, we often lack faith in what God has in store for us.  If we were to make the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage our own, we would understand that every loss in the spiritual life can be filled by God with an even greater good.  “Father, the hour has come.”  Ask God to help you give thanks even for suffering and losses, and to make room within your heart and mind for God’s superabundant life.

The Ascension by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)