Eucharist: Food of Loving Wills

Image result for hernan cortesThe year is 1519.  Hernan Cortes sails across the Atlantic.  He is a conquistador – a conqueror for Spain who arrived at the Yucatan Peninsula of what is now Mexico.  When he senses that his men are being pulled in different directions, he scuttles his ships and sinks them off the coast.  His men would either unite behind him or fend for themselves.  When they were through conquering this new land, then they could build new ships and sail home.  Cortes makes this bold move in other words to unite the will of his sailors and soldiers with his own ambition – which was the glory of Spain.

Happy Father’s Day!  It is interesting that Father’s Day falls on the Feast of Corpus Christi.    We celebrate these two feasts that have quite a bit to do with the will.  Now, Cortes was a conqueror and an explorer, but we are also on the move – choosing our path through this life.  The sequence we sang mentions that we are pilgrims.  Both fatherhood and the Eucharist are integral to our journey as pilgrims and whether we make any progress.

Mothers and fathers are both vital to the family, but for mothers – some element of pilgrimage is natural.  They carry their child in his/her temporary home everywhere for 9 months.  Mothers are always doing their best to make wherever they stop more homey as they journey along the way.  “This place needs a woman’s touch” is not just an expression.  Women, historically, have gone a long way towards beautifying the various places – wherever the human race stops – to be a home away from home. 

While women have cared for and beautified these pockets of material earth, Fathers, on the other hand were given the role of determining where they headed – where was the fertile land, what city had a job and.  They have always had more of an option to remain with the family or not, and too often have sadly turned away from their duties to be husbands and fathers.  Nonetheless, those men who have remained faithful have given direction to their families – in the very decision to remain and be faithful – in the very decision to unite their wills to the wellbeing of the family.  While mothers have always been spiritual heart/cradle of the home, fathers are even charged with spiritual guidance /with being the head of the family.  This was and is the will of God, and through uniting their will to the family, various fathers throughout the Bible (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), have pointed towards Jesus Himself – who perfectly unites His will to God.

            Consider God the Father.  He gave us, His children freedom to choose Him or go our own way.  So that we might unite with Him freely.  We have freedom so that we might love Him and one another. 

            The Eucharist is the food that is Love.  It is the consummation of love.  What does that mean?  Well, love is a choice.  It’s an act of the will.  So, how we understand the Eucharist has to do with how we understand God’s will and our will.  You know when we speak of the gifts of bread and wine and how they are changed in their substances to the Body and Blood of Jesus we speak of mystery.  But it might be helpful to consider that it is not just that what was bread and what was wine is instantaneously gone and the Body and Blood of Jesus are instantaneously there without any real relationship.  No, there must be a relationship between the bread and the body and the wine and the blood – because at least the appearances of bread and wine remain.  The relationship is conversion.  This bread actually becomes the Body of Jesus.  This wine actually becomes the Blood of Jesus.  They are no longer bread and wine, but nothing seems to be physically different.  What is different is that the quiet invisible fire of the Holy Spirit is invisibly consuming the substance of the bread, and the substance of wine – and supplying instead the form of Christ’s Body and Blood instead.  When does the process end?  It doesn’t: this reality of the Holy Spirit converting this bread and wine continues until we receive these gifts…and then the Holy Spirit is supposed to continue this process on us.  That we give Him ourselves and He makes us together into the Body of Christ.  We don’t look any different, but our love is for Jesus and our will is united to His.  

            Remember the parable of the prodigal son and how we have all gone astray in our sins.  It’s important to note what the Father does not do.  He does not say to himself, “Well, my son’s not that bright and he’s probably run out of money.  I’ll kill the fatted calf (which represents Christ) and send my servants with fatted calf jerky to feed him wherever he is in the midst of his waywardness.  There has to be conformity of the will to be union and so the Father allows the prodigal son to get hungry.  He longs to feed on the pods that the swine ate, until he comes to his senses and begins the walk back.  Here’s another image: the way back home that the prodigal takes – while it may have been the same road, it is a different way in just the same way as I-44 Eastbound is a different way from I-44 Westbound.  They lead to diametrically different locations.  The prodigal son follows the Way.  He enters into the Way that is Jesus Christ – into putting his will into union with the will of his father.  This is the only attitude to safely consume the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is famously known as “food for the journey” in other words, it is food for those who have returned to God in their spiritual lives – in their hearts – and continue to journey the rest of the way through the gradual offering back to God of their very bodies.  If the Eucharist is given or taken to people going further away from God, great damage is done.  For there is no union of will if we are heading in the opposite direction of God’s love.  If we never become hungry for the truth of God’s holiness and the need to follow Him, if we are fed the Eucharist whichever road we travel in life, will we even have a chance to know Jesus Christ – to find the true path that is His love, His sacrifice?  If we are told we can already eat of the fattened calf and have union having followed our own will, why ever return to the Father when it seems fine enough to stay with the pigs?

            Hernan Cortes sank his ships and forced his men to follow him to live.  Jesus did something far more radical.  He called all of us to union with Himself by conforming our lives to His life.  By examining our steps and receiving His Body when we are living in a way that puts our wills in His, we will find our way to the Father.

Living The Trinity

Image result for leaning tower of pisa cake cake bossThere’s a difference between relating and living.  I’ll give you an example.  Several years ago I was able to see a few episodes of Cake Boss while I waited for my car to be fixed.  One show in particular involved the Cake Boss people making a four foot sculpted statue of the Leaning Tower of Pisa for a wedding cake and then they even had the guts to push it to the side so that it leaned.  Now, having a balanced diet that involves eating a lot of cake, I could naturally relate to the glory of this show.  A couple years later, however my dream to live the Cake Boss experience seemed within sight.  As a new priest I was assigned to a parish whose youth coordinator became engaged.  I knew I should strike when she was in the infectiously happy phase and knowing that my brother priest, Fr. Nick was a very decent cook – I offered our services to make her wedding cake.  She was so in love she said yes.  Well, with about 2 months to go, she mentioned something about these wedding cakes she was sampling and she said she hadn’t really been serious about the offer for us to do her cake.  My heart was ripped out.  I tried to act hurt and confused, and she wouldn’t budge – but she suggested we could make the rehearsal cake.  As lame as that sounded, and knowing that we had been judged without a fair trial – in my deep humility, I agreed anyway.  Now here is the design.  Image result for shield of the trinity

We called it the God cake.  The idea is from an old teaching tool when describing the Trinity.  Anyway, imagine three cakes joined together as one. Fr. Nick made every one of the cakes I assure you, but the design and the assembly of the cake was my responsibility.  The Father was chocolate cake made from scratch with a marmalade filling because the Father is the source of all fruitfulness.  The Son was white cake for the Son is the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God.  The Holy Spirit was French Vanilla for the French are known for love, and the Holy Spirit is the Love shared by the Father and the Son.  The monster cake in the middle representing the very nature of God – it just so happens can be described in three ways that involve the number three: it was triple chocolate fudge, it was three layers high and it took three boxes of cake mix to make it.  That was not all.  The joints that tied the cake together were composed of Rice Krispy treats with caramel fudge letters on top.  The joints that state the diversity of the Father from the Son from the Holy Spirit were peppermint fudge.  I had gone past the realm of relating to Cake Boss, I was living it – but that would not be enough.   There had to be a way for the couple to “live” the cake even before they ate it.  In a sense – everyone would “relate” to the cake, for everybody would eat it.  So, I assembled the whole cake on about twelve mirror tiles and had them wear mirrored aviator sunglasses.  The point was that they were to reflect the love of the Trinity in their marriage.  I lived Cake Boss and they lived a kind of Trinitarian reflection.

                The Trinity, that God is One and yet that He is Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the central mystery to our faith.  Jesus, Himself, in calling God His Father and teaching us to call God “our Father” reveals this mystery to us.  You see we are called into the heart of this communion of love – we are to take part in it in a more powerful way than simply reflecting it.  We are to be loved and to love from within Jesus Christ. 

                There was a Jesuit priest giving a conference and he was talking about faith.  He said that he had been in London years before and while he was walking and stopped at a light and a woman asked him if he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Yes,” he said, “but I don’t really want one.”  “What?”  “Yeah.  I can have a personal relationship with my friends and with you and with the saints.  With Jesus Christ, I want something more.”  “More?  What more could there be?”  “I want union with Jesus Christ.”  “Oh, well – that’s not in the Bible.”  “Sure it is.  Galatians 2:20 – It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Relationship is not enough in the end.  We want to live in union.

Now union with Christ and therefore with God is possible because on Pentecost Sunday, last week – we celebrated the fact that Christ sent His Holy Spirit upon us that we might no longer live for ourselves or even by an external law, but that we be capable of dying to ourselves and living by His Holy Spirit. 

Today, on Trinity Sunday we celebrate how we can live within Christ (and through Christ we can live within the Trinity).  Through dying to ourselves we are so intimate with Jesus Christ that we live within Him.  Next week, at Corpus Christi – we celebrate how through the Eucharist, Jesus will live within us.  Thus we live in Him and He in us and we have union. 

                So, how do we live within the Trinity?  One way is to remember to pray in a Trinitarian way.  Let your prayer go beyond a one-dimensional relationship to one of the Persons, or to God in general.  Pray to the Father.  He is our goal and our destination.  In His house there are many dwelling places.  Thank Him for making you and ask Him for mercy, and remember to ask through Jesus Christ.  Ask in Christ’s name.  Thank Jesus for His love and for His sacrifice and offer your prayers through His name and through His Body and Blood as a son or daughter of God.  Pray in the Holy Spirit.  Thank Him for uniting you to Jesus and to the Father.  Rejoice in thanksgiving for gifts received from the Holy Spirit.   Begin and end your prayer “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  They are united in this one Name, and yet they are distinct and reveal this great mystery of love. 

                Another thing to recall is how God makes all things new.  Quite often our relationships are defined by sins of the past – jealousy, bitterness, resentment, anger, lust.  We are so limited by fear that these various faults will manifest themselves in us.  Allow God to define your relationship.  The Father is united to the Son in the Holy Spirit and vice versa.  It is within the Holy Spirit that we are to be united to the Father and the Son, but we are also to seek true unity with our brothers and sisters in the same way – in the Holy Spirit.  If we let the Holy Spirit dwell in us with regards to that relationship, the whole Trinity will be present in operation.  Keep before your mind that this person is made for the Father and you will be living not within yourself, but you will be living within Christ and He will be present to them through you.

                Just as my wedding cake was more than just a cake – it was revealed for the purpose of being rejoiced in than people were to unite themselves to it by eating it, this feast is revealed to us that we might pray and love as Sons and Daughters of our Father who has given us His Son that we might live within Him through His Spirit.

Pentecost: Receiving the Ability to Share

 

Image result for squirrel on plateThere are many forms of hospitality.  Here at St. John’s I’ve been truly blessed with summer sausage of varying styles, snow peas…spinach ….eggs….liver sausage….blood sausage.  Other places have of course also been generous.  Some of the ones that are hard to forget were Dried Squid…Twinkie cake…cartons of Asian Meat and rice… ….and my favorite story which I have gotten more mileage out of than it really deserves involves my first experience of eating squirrel.  In my defense up until that time, my impression of squirrels was that they were rats with fancy tails, and since then yes – I have had squirrel that was better.  Actually, I had only been in this parish four days and this gift did not come from a parishioner, but from a brother priest who shall remain nameless.  He had gone hunting for pheasant and came back with some squirrels and then marinated them in Marsala wine.  I don’t remember the wine possibly because of the fact it seemed to have more fur on it after he had cooked it than before he shot it.  Anyway, it was fresh.  You can’t argue with that. 

 

Image result for guests at the doorIf someone visited your house, and you knew they were coming would you offer them your leftovers?  No, if you could – you’d try and make something for them.  If you really wanted to go all out you might even go and buy fresh ingredients just for the occasion.  Or go outside and shoot something.  It shows more thought.  The Jews had a practice of offering their first fruits.  The first of everything they produced they were to offer back to the Lord as an offering.  They would honor Him with a share of their harvest.  So, today’s feast, Pentecost did not start with Christianity – it started with the Jews.  Pentecost referred to 50 days after Passover.  Orthodox Jews celebrated their Pentecost this past week between Tuesday and Thursday. 

 

So, Passover is when the Jews escape from slavery due to the sacrifice of the lamb.  Then in the desert they receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  The Jewish Image result for wheatPentecost celebrates the giving of the Law and what comes from the Law.  You see for the Jews, living according to the Law of God meant He would bless them with not only a land, but the fruits of the land.  Therefore Pentecost was a celebration of God giving them the Law and giving them their harvest.  They had received the two tablets of stone with the Laws, God had blessed them with wheat, and every Pentecost they would make from the first fruits of this harvest two loaves of wheat bread which they put in the temple as an offering.  And because of this offering…God would bless them even more.  So, we’ve got the Lamb, the Law, and the Loaves. 

 

Enter Jesus.  He is the True Lamb of Sacrifice leading Jews and Gentiles out of slavery to sin.  He lives the Law perfectly and teaches that He is not here to abolish, but to fulfill the Law.  He is the Lamb, but remember He calls us His sheep.  We are to follow His example.  He is also the grain of wheat that He says unless it falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies it will bear much fruit – a rich harvest.  He tells us that it is better for us that He go away, for if He goes He will send us His Spirit.  In other Image result for law bearing fruitwords, we’ve got the Old Lamb and now the New Lamb…we had the Law of stone and now we have the Law perfectly followed which involves a dying to self and now rather than the loaves merely of wheat being given back to God – this risen Jesus we read in Scripture is the First Fruits of the dead.  He is our offering to God — given back to the Father when He ascends into Heaven.  That was last week.  What happens today at Pentecost is that God blesses us again.  The Holy Spirit descends upon us in abundance that we might follow Him be filled with grace, that we might be able to live the Law of love and bear much fruit.

 

            What is the challenge to this ongoing outpouring of the Holy Spirit?  Well, whatever God does, the devil tries to distort and manipulate.  So, we want to be one in the Church and praise God together.  Satan has never been successful, but he has tried to destroy the Church by dividing her into thousands of little sects.  Still she perseveres.  Today however, there is a large movement away from any kind of religion at all.  While there is no real unity.  The devil would have us believe that through relativistic thinking, “I’m okay – you’re okay” that all of our little individualisms can coexist peacefully enough.  That’s not what God wants.  Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains alone.  We have never been more isolated.  We need to admit another standard to live by – that for example, we are One Nation under God.  The Holy Spirit can give us a unity that is real. 

 

            When it comes to each of our relationship to God, the Holy Spirit is sent to convict of sin (of our inability to live the Law by our own power) that He might cleanse us of sin.  The devil denies the reality of personal sin.  Oh, you were just a victim of the culture/race/generation/advertising campaign/body shaming – and that’s why you didn’t act perfectly.    

 

Image result for Enemy Sowing Tares

The Devil Sowing Cockle

Jesus relates His famous parable about the wheat and the tares in Matthew.  The planter sows wheat in his field, but his enemy mixes in a bunch of tares or cockle.  The planter says to let them grow together, so as not to lose the wheat along with the tares.  In our own hearts we become one or the other.  Confession is the opportunity to make ourselves ready for the harvest at the end of our lives, but also to be capable of dying to ourselves now and offering up the first fruits of charity.  We do this by rooting up any cockle, that Christ may plant the His pure grain in our hearts. 

 

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            These events we celebrate are never meant to be viewed in isolation.  Christ goes up to the Father in the Ascension and They send the Holy Spirit down to us in Pentecost.  Likewise, every Mass the bread and wine that make their way down the aisle, do not only symbolize the work of this parish – they are purchased with the donations of this parish family – they are the fruits of your labor.  God blessed your labor, and you donated to the Church and we have this bread and wine to give Him each Mass.  Bread represents the most fundamental food necessary for survival and wine has always been festive, unnecessary – but so much the better for the purpose of rejoicing – and it has taken years to ferment.  These are gifts that have not only brought mankind together, but even states that we, though many, “are one bread, one body, all that partake of the one bread.” These first fruits are given to God and He blesses them with His Spirit that we might share in the perpetual Pentecost.

 

 

 

The Ascension: To Boldly Go

Image result for milky way from backyard
I don’t have any older brothers, so I’ve always looked up to four cousins who were a few years older than me.
  Well, the summer when I was nine I had a chance to visit my cousin who lived in Idaho.   We were out behind his house and he liked to point out that from his yard you could literally see the Milky Way Galaxy.  Sure enough that night we looked up at a spiraling strand of stars and in the quiet, he very somberly starts repeating the introduction to Star Trek by heart which ends famously, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Remember I was only nine, but I thought he has to be shining me on – and so I smirked.  But he corrected me insisting in his serious plans to venture into space, which was thrilling to hear, because I shared the same ambition. 

            Image result for ascensionToday’s Feast of the Ascension if anything is a forgotten feast, but it rings out this same adventurous theme.  Jesus Christ launches Himself up into the heavens, past the stars, to the right side of God the Father – boldly going where no man had gone before.  Truly it is strange that we have forgotten this feast.  Not only is it in event in Christ’s earthly life, but it is the final event in Christ’s earthly life.  It also marks the first time human life that has passed beyond terrestrial existence.  There is no wonder that we as Christians have had an insatiable thirst to discover the unknown and to follow after Christ who has led the way beyond our normal everyday horizon.   

            Think of it: Christianity was the religion of those who sailed to the New World.  Christianity was the religion of those that first circumnavigated the globe.  Christianity was the religion of the first man to study genetics and explore how traits are truly passed from one generation to another.  It was a Catholic priest who peered back into how the universe began and is credited with the Big Bang theory.   It was Christians who first went to the moon and did you know that while it was not a Mass, some of those first astronauts on the mImage result for star trek the next generation trapped undergrounddoon actually celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the Lunar Lander?  While is never perfectly followed, Christ has placed a missionary spirit to go and discover and love all people and the universe itself. 

            Jesus actually tells us in the Gospel that He will be with us always until the end of the age.  So, we know that even as Jesus flies into the heavens, He does not abandon us.  Bodily He goes away – and yet we have every reason to rejoice.  Jesus’ mission to earth was always a rescue mission.  So, I did watch a fair amount of Star Trek and they were always going on rescue missions.  We, the human race, while living on a beautiful planet have been trapped spiritually in sin since the beginning.  You could think of all humanity as being imprisoned in a collapsed mine…now if you’ve watched Star Trek you know that the minerals in the rocks would always kept them from simply beaming everybody to safety.  Well, Jesus never had the intention of just beaming us out of danger.  Rather He chose to live among us and through His living our humanity and in His embrace of all that is human and suffering through His Passion – He was able to burrow a path straight up and out of our dark imprisonment.  The only reason He only goes up and gets out of this caved-in mine to throw us down a lifeline: the Holy Spirit – that we might climb out.  It is in going that He gives us this ability to live the Spirit of His life as Sons and Daughters of God and follow Him.

            Yes, Jesus physically goes ahead, but before the Ascension Jesus was always primarily known as outside of us.  This supernatural lifeline that is Holy Spirit is an internal reality.  Because Jesus will bestow His Spirit upon us at Pentecost, Jesus will truly live within us through the Sacraments.   Holiness involves a true internalization of who Jesus is and a surrendering to His will.  This rope, this lifeline will only go so far in our own direction – but it will take us infinitely far and bring us closer and closer into the life of Christ if we follow Him.

            The world can be hard to turn away from, because it tells us that we can do anything we want.  You can do whatever you want.  I can do whatever I want.  However, the reason that the world thinks it Image result for do whatever you wantcan tell us to do whatever we want is pretty dark.  The reason it thinks that I can do whatever I want is because it considers me as nothing – that I couldn’t make any real difference in the world if I tried!  So, go ahead, do whatever you want – you aren’t significant enough to change anything.  The world has lost direction.  It does not believe there is any meaning to our lives and so give it whatever meaning you want.  Jesus Himself proves this wrong.  He is one man who has done infinite good, and He shows us that while we should love others and be concerned about others – we don’t have to fear for a different reason.  It’s not that we can do whatever we want, on the contrary, we should live for Heaven….but if we make mistakes here – even if we make a mess…by ascending to heaven He definitively demonstrates that Heaven is not here.  And He has told us that if we have nothing to fear, for even in climbing our own crosses and dying – we are given more than before.

            Today, actually is a very special day for me for additional reason.  Today is my anniversary and I celebrate six years as a priest.  Every true desire I have ever had in life has been fulfilled in my priesthood, and even the exploratory aspect of space fits in.  Only rather than launching from earth to the heavens, the priesthood is an instrument for the heavens to come to earth.  The priesthood is meant to invigorate the Body of Christ and send it out into the world – to awaken to how much their lives mean because they mean so much.  This is part of why Christ physically left, that Christians everywhere might do His sanctifying work.  Let us join our hearts to Christ in this Eucharist that He might take us wherever He will and that we might love every aspect of His kingdom.Image result for priesthood ordination st. louis 2011

Lowering Ourselves to Win

I was listening to KMOX the other night and during a rain delay they were playing a recording of Tony LaRussa’s speech as he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.  Now, winning isn’t Image result for Bob Gibson I Just Do a Thingeverything in sports partly because not everyone can win – we’ve all heard that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game…nonetheless, LaRussa recalled that after the 2004 Cardinals lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series – that Bob Gibson (Hall of Fame pitcher) walked up to him and said something like, “That was good, but you’re not there yet.  You’re not yet part of the club.”  It was a challenge.  Two years later when Tony LaRussa’s 2006 team won the series, Gibson said, “Now you’re in. You’re part of the club.  To be in the club you’ve got to have that World Championship with the team, and you’re in now.”  To be a part of the club, even in sports there can be another standard where winning is the price of admission.  This is actually the case with the spiritual life: in the spiritual life, winning IS everything!!  And we should have no qualms about saying it, because the Good News is that everyone has the opportunity to win and the victory is eternal life. 

            The challenge is that people forget what true winning looks like and what it takes.  This of course can happen in sports teams, but a better parallel is human love.  Who in their right mind says, “I want to Image result for stubborngive my life to someone that is unworthy of me – who is less intelligent, attractive, caring, etc than I am”?  Well, when couples prepare for marriage they take a kind of survey tool.  150-something statements.  They can answer Yes, No, or Not sure.  There are two that I always speak of together.  “My future spouse always has to win” and “My future spouse sometimes puts me down.”  If one/both of these is true, something is off.  When a man courts a woman, he must see something about her that is attractive – that she is worth everything of himself, because she is in some way better than he is or at least she is as good.  Hopefully, the feeling is mutual.   So, if now that they are engaged the one spouse is simply always right and they always have to win whatever little dispute they have or even puts the other down…they need to rediscover what is so wonderful about the other – or find someone new.

            When it comes to our relationship with God – He is always right.  But He doesn’t seek to win over/above us.  Rather, He plans to win with us and begins the whole process while we are still in our sin, – He forsakes His divinity and is born in a stable to enter life beneath the common man, and then for ourImage result for sacred heart sake He willingly loses everything of earthly value including His own life on a Cross.  Why?  To win for us the chance to be glorified with Him.  Jesus is that on fire with love for us. 

            Even though it is selected from the Last Supper Discourse, this Gospel today is perfect for us as we near the Ascension.  For as Jesus nears His death on the Cross, He puts the depth of His love for the Father and for us into words of prayer.  We are connected to the Father in His Heart.  The heart of Jesus connects us with the Father. 

            For us to participate in this victory of Jesus, it helps to think about this Heart.  He cycles everything up to the Father and receives everything that He has down from the Father.  But He also brings us into this communion of love by sharing the Father with us – we are made brothers and sisters in His name.  To know the Father and the Son in their communion of love from the inside is eternal life.  Consider how joyful you would be to land your dream-job, or if you were to win the lottery and be stupidly rich overnight, or the near out-of-body experience if you who has just proposed to the lady of your dreams or the man of your dreams had just proposed to you and she/you has said yes.  These all get us closer to the elation that the Son shares with the Father, but they fall short. 

            The whole purpose of creation is a reflection of their love, a song that they have sung together.  We want to join in this communion of love, but we hit a snag: lovers cannot be satisfied without feeling like they love as much as they are loved.  But we cannot by ourselves ever equal the love with which God loves us.  Here’s where the Mass is so powerful: take for instance how the priest says every Mass, “Lift up your hearts.”  The phrase is like a shout, “Hearts on high!”  It is Christ the head telling His Body where we are going, and we’re going there fast – so wake up.  We are going to heaven to where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  All that happens – happens there.  “We lift them up to the Lord” is the answer and it says to Christ that we know why you summon us upward and it is exactly where we Image result for eucharistwant to be with You.  If we understand this – we will see into the infinite joy of the Mass.  For while we behold Jesus the Lamb of God, but do not yet see His glory – we are able to surrender ourselves to Him in an act of love that is free (it’s kind of the whole legend of the king who dresses like a peasant to win the heart of a damsel and know she loves him for who he is – not his wealth).   Through the Mass we are finally able to love God with the same love that He loves us, for we surrender to Jesus by meeting Him here in His humility and He allows us to offer Him to the Father.

            On the radio, Tony LaRussa shared another part to his coaching.  He had a habit that whenever they had successfully gotten three outs on defense he would go to the steps of the dugout and start pumping up the players as they came down the steps – c’mon you can do this.  Especially if they were down in the game.  Essentially, he would lower himself momentarily from being coach to being their Image result for tony larussa dugoutcheerleader.  He mentioned that one of his most prized memories came in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.  It was the ninth inning and theyImage result for tony larussa dugout were down by a couple and as he went to the steps to pump them up as the Cardinals got ready to bat, the whole dugout had already gotten into it and were yelling and all riled up.  They tied it twice more and one the World Series that night.  Sometimes we forget how to win.  We desire to love God with a love worthy of His, but the Mass can seem so ordinary and simple.  Well, by lowering ourselves to the simple and seemingly routine ritual of the Mass we share in Christ’s victory, that our hearts might be offer up His Body to the Father.  Then He sends us back out on offense to stay in the game, to go out to the world, and to extend His Kingdom that others might share in the Father’s Glory.   

    

Mothers and the Universe

Image result for motherDear Mothers, thank you for life.  Thank you for choosing to cooperate with life.  Husbands and fathers – thank you for nurturing and accepting life, but we’ll thank you again on Father’s Day.  Mothers, thank you.  Not that I’m a mother, myself – but it doesn’t look easy.  And you still say yes to us, your sons and daughters. 

Now, in the Gospel – Jesus wants to reveal to us the Father.  Image result for jesus teachingThat looking upon Him is the same as looking upon the Father.  He is not the Father, but within His person, the same universe-creating power and love and wisdom that is God is there entirely.  It is there in Jesus, because the Father has given everything of Himself to Jesus – and this is very hard for the apostles to understand because He’s right there.  There is His arm and there is His beard.  God can do that – He can make the universe very particular.  He can be everywhere without seeming to be anywhere and He can be there, right there without seeming to be everywhere.

            Alright, back to mothers.  I have a very short story about my own mother.  The year was 1988 and Pope John Paul II had declared it to be a Year of Mary.  Pope Francis just finished out a Year of Mercy for us where we all celebrated Christ’s mercy – well, in 1988 the focus in the Church surrounded Our Blessed Mother.  Now, I bring this story up as a little example of how mothers do what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel.  They make the universal particular.  My mom was taking us around to all of these local shrines that summer and so one day she took us to Eureka to the Shrine of the Black Madonna.  It’s a very quaint and slightly quirky, holy little place cobbled together out of local stonework from the 1800s by one Franciscan priest from Poland.  Image result for black madonna czestochowaAnyway, my mom showed us that Mary was really our mother, the mother of the Church – and our spiritual mother.  She bought me a crucifix that I lost, and she got me this icon of the Black Madonna.  It’s a very inexpensive little thing, but it’s held up for 30 years.  My mother gave me through her extra efforts that summer a connection to the universal mother of God.  And in doing so, she showed me how to enter into that mystery – it was not just some pious idea. 

             We live in a time today where not only mothers, but mystery itself is under attack.  Now, for a moment I want to draw your attention to the beauty of motherhood and in particular mothers who stay at home, not because I am against women in the workforce.  There are only a few jobs that should really be reserved to men and only a few jobs that should only be reserved to women.  But mothers at home show us the extreme end of the spectrum of what it is to be feminine and caring in this receptivity to human life.  Today, the whole concept of women staying at home to raise children is not even under attack.  The attack has come and gone and left anyone still living in this manner completely behind.  We lose something when there are no women who stay at home full time –  we lose the sense of mystery to the universe  – and with it, we’ve lost that personal connection in many cases to our faith and to God Himself. 

            Back in the beginning, men were given the task of working in the world – of tilling and keeping and cultivating the garden, and then of subduing and civilizing the world.  It sounds pretty neat, but because the task is so broad, that means men had to specialize to get things done. Image result for assembly line Even in Moses’ time when they built the temple you had specialists.  Some guys worked well wood, some with gold, some with cloth, some with stone, and on and on.  What they finished was quite nice, but these huge jobs are made very particular – so much so that you only see a very small part of the product you are laboring on.  Rivet after rivet after rivet…or bolt after bolt after bolt.  Imagine stacking chairs everyday all day for your whole life.  Specialization happens. 

               Women on the other hand were given a very particular role in the family as mothers.  They were to bear children and due to the nature of feeding them – over history – women have done the exceedingly vast chore of bringing them up.  Now I can sympathize with any woman who says her task is hard or heavy at times, but I cannot agree with anyone who wants me to pity her for the triviality of her work, or because it is any way colorless or dull.  Chesterton has said, to be a mother is to be Queen Elizabeth within a certain area – deciding sales, banquets, labor details, and holidays — and pilgrimages to Eureka I might add. Image result for mother helping with toys To be a mother is to be within a certain area a kind of very local supplier of all kinds of goods at the drop of a hat, the original Amazon.com you might say, providing toys, paper, pens, capes, caps, cakes, and books.  It is to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology and hygiene.  I can understand how it could exhaust the mind.  I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.  No, a woman’s function as mother is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.  I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.    

                The devil has his sights on femininity itself.  It seems we face everywhere in society a kind of macho-ization of things.  This is not authentic manhood, but a melting everybody down into a kind of knuckle-dragging kind of least common denominator version of humanity.  God has made women to be feminine and the Church and our Blessed Mother Mary inspire to cherish women who along the whole scale from mothers to virgins.  Over the last 50 years, it is no secret that we have far fewer sisters and consecrated religious.  We overlook this to our own peril.  For on a physical plane, mothers bring us into the world and clothe us with the mysteries of the universe – connecting all things to us, very particular people.  On a spiritual plane, women who are consecrated to Jesus – with respect to the world become very universal – they intercede on behalf of the world itself.  And in respect to Christ they represent us already as His Bride.  Image result for religious sistersThey are the fruit of the Church that goes ahead of us showing us the joy of union with God.  They reveal that femininity is valued not only in bringing new life into the world and nurturing it, but even in virginal form – they are the flower of mankind to God already showing us all the nuptial joy of God.    

            We thank God today for all of our mothers who have embraced the mystery of the lives or your children. Thank you mothers for continuing to open your hearts and be receptive of grace.  May we remember the mysteries that you share with us – for you connect us to God Himself. 

A Mercy the World Needs

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Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!  This Feast and all of Easter should elevate us into realm of supernatural life and a joy amid the world even as it is.  Which got me thinking of this famous scene from Henry V.

SOLDIER: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING HENRY:  What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are
enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The Supernatural life of Easter is like Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech (note the above version is abridged).  King Henry is on foreign soil and vastly outnumbered, but he cares not.  Actually he is happy – and would not want it any other way.  Further, he corrects his cousin for wanting more men from England for the fight.  Henry says that being so outnumbered they’ll be remembered for their valor and those back at home in their beds who one day hear of their deeds will wish they had fought with them at Henry’s side, for their manhood was not so preciously earned as those who bled on St. Crispin’s Day.

This is not St. Crispin’s Day – it is Divine Mercy Sunday, and while as Christians are outnumbered in the world, and persecutions threaten the Church from different directions – it has always been a challenge to speak of Christ and to do great things for Christ – and it has always seemed foolish to be a fool for Christ like St. Paul, but we should not wish it were any other way, for then we still must depend on Him for something and if we depend on Him we shall begin to live the Supernatural life of Easter!

We see the supernatural life beginning in the Upper Room with ten of the Apostles.  Now, if you are looking for that peace from Christ – go to your inner room, shut the door, and pray to God in secret – like these Apostles.  Notice there were only ten – Judas was lost and Thomas was missing.  So it is very interesting that Jesus says, “Peace.”  “Peace” means wholeness, fullness, completeness – and Jesus makes them whole even without being at their full number.  How many of us have families that seem damaged – they are not complete as we would like them to be…Not everyone is around the table and some have chosen to be away physically or spiritually.  Jesus says Peace.  Then Christ shows them His hands and His side and it is written, “They rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”  I think that might be the biggest understatement of their lives.  They rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Rejoice they did for so many reasons.   

We can receive the supernatural life of Easter today – even if it seems we are the only ones in our families who care.  The proper response to this peace is to rejoice!  Notice, the Apostles only rejoice after it mentions Jesus showing them His wounds.  We rejoice because these wounds show us that Jesus is still a man even though He is God, and that His flesh lives on after death and He calls us to the same future.  And even more importantly, His wounds show us how much He loves us – and they show His mercy.  Why?  Well, until He reveals His wounds to us – we and the Apostles all know that we have sinned against Jesus – we were not there for Him in His hour.  Until He shows us the wounds we might think, yes, He’s back – but there’s this elephant in the room that is my sin.  Eventually, He may really come down on me for that.  No, Jesus shows His wounds right from the beginning – Yes, you wounded me, and yes here is my peace.  I choose you. 

            Henry V is so inspiring because he believes so strongly in his victory without seeing any good earthly reason to believe.  I remember a vocation director coming to Kenrick and recounting his story.  He said, “One day when I was about 11 years old I was pedaling my bike down this flat country road when the sky grew dark and clouds appeared overhead and I heard this voice: Bill, become my priest.”  We’re all sitting there like, “Whoah.”  And he says, “Not!  Of course not, that’s not how vocations happen.”  And then he told his real vocation story.  But, in my head I remembered another priest who when I was ten years old I heard tell his vocation story and he really did hear a voice from God in his room.  And I remember telling God/telling myself that if He wanted me, then He could speak to me in the same way.  God never spoke to me in that way, and yet I am so glad I paid attention to the other things happening in my life – that I didn’t wait God out, but I believed without having to put Him so much to the test. 

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            When we meet with Thomas in our lives – with those people who contradict our faith so boldly we should be glad – that God has given us something to do!  He has given us someone to love.  Thomas had not been slighted – he had missed the opportunity to be the first one to believe without seeing.  But even in his failure, Thomas allows the apostles to forgive him.  They must have otherwise he would not be with them when Christ comes the second time. 

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            There’s a famous painting by Caravaggio of Christ and St. Thomas.  Christ’s hand is actually holding onto Thomas hand and putting his outstretched finger into the wound in His side.  Thomas does not seem so comfortable, but because Christ continues to bear His wounds – His mercy is there for us even after we sin even after the Resurrection.  The Supernatural life of heaven is strong stuff!  Jesus does not say to us, “Oh, the world is pretty bad out there, but let’s just try go and make the best of it.”  No, He says “”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Henry V is based on a true story – and his army ended up winning despite being vastly outnumbered.  And St. Thomas – did you know that he is believed to have traveled farther with the Gospel of Christ than any other apostle.  All the way to the coast of India and there are Catholics there who claim that they come from his endeavors.  Let us be filled to the brim with the Supernatural Life of Easter and believe in love and believe in unseen love and believe in love that will yet be seen.

 

Antidote to Hypocrisy

 

Image result for hypocrisyIn today’s readings we hear about the chief priests and their hypocrisy contrasted with the apostles and their forthright speech.  As Peter Kreeft describes, hypocrisy is not what most people think it is.  It is not failing to practice what you preach.  If you are preaching the truth and yet fail to perfectly practice it, that is simply sin.  Hypocrisy is failing to believe yourself what it is that you preach.  This is a bigger problem.  While sin is often attractive to others – the part about preaching the opposite and failing to live it is not attractive.  Not only that, but the person may still feel called to turn their lives toward the standard they are missing.  Hypocrisy however, is a bigger problem because the person who while not believing in something may lead others in a direction that they themselves are not even interested in pursuing.  In that case, how are they themselves to be evangelized.  Even if they themselves led people by their speech toward the truth, they themselves would be in falsehood.  And if what they believe is false, how is the stuff they are preaching going to be anything other than more darkness?!

 

The Law is truth, but reveals a design/plan from God that involves the meaning of our lives.  When we broke this it became impossible for us to fix it on our own.  Broken bones don’t fix themselves and neither do broken laws.  Yet the chief priests seem to think that living their lives according to their own will is going to be enough for God.  They will preach the Law, but then try to execute its justice (if the execution of Jesus could in their minds be called justice) through the hands of “lawless men” (the Romans).  Then even this lip service to the Law fades away, as they spread a complete fabrication, a lie to discredit the disciples.  

 

David, on the other hand, trusted in the promise of God.  He died and was buried, but believed that he would yet have an heir and that his flesh would dwell in hope.  He would not be abandoned.  He had sinned and yet learned to receive God’s mercy in his mortal life, and he recognized that only God alone (rather than the Law) is required for righteousness. 

 

In His sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus repairs the ability for us to live the meaning of the Law, by giving us the Holy Spirit.  This is the Spirit that encourages us to trust completely in God – even to the point of offering our lives if necessary for we will receive everything back 100-fold.

 

Easter enables us to live life as walking signs of the New Covenant.  We have the ability to live in the Spirit and thus fulfill the Law’s purpose: love.  Let us rejoice in Christ and be glad in the fulfillment of His promise – and show the hypocrites that our joy is worth their belief.      

 

Why is This Night Different?

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”  When Jewish families gather to celebrate the Seder Meals at Passover, this question is asked by the youngest member in the family.  It’s important to note that they specifically ask why “this” night is different, for they do not understand these thousands of years of Passover celebrations to be a kind of annual event.  Rather they think of it all as one giant Passover.  It is to be the same night as the night on which Moses and the Israelites slaughtered and ate the lamb putting the blood on the lintel of the door and were spared from death and ultimately freed from their slavery.  Each Passover links them into this same event.  They were spared from death and slavery with their forefathers. 

          This understanding of calling to mind the actions of God and recognizing them in the present and tied to each Jewish family serves a very real purpose.  For the sin of Adam and Eve has effected all of their children down through the centuries till today whether we think of it or not.  God therefore chose this people and prepared them for His own great entrance into humanity.  Through hundreds of years of events, a struggle against sin is chronicled and an appropriate backdrop is established to bring tonight’s saving actions of Jesus into focus. 

          God did something, it involved the shedding of blood and it was vicarious.  This pattern is repeated by Archbishop Sheen in one of his talks – he goes from Adam and Eve….how the fig leaves were not a real solution and so God did something – He gave them clothes from animal skins – well, that involved the shedding of blood.  This is an important detail – book of Hebrews states: there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.  Why, Sheen asks?  Because the sin is in the blood.  It courses through every gateway of the body.  And the sacrifice is vicarious – God doesn’t hurt Adam and Eve – He substitutes an offering.  And when God calls Abraham to go up the mountain and offer Isaac – and Isaac carrying the wood on his back, asks, “Where is the lamb?”  Abraham responds: God will provide the lamb.  And God does something – they see a ram caught in the thicket…it involves the shedding of blood…and it is vicarious.  This set the stage for the Passover – God calls for this sacrifice, it involves the shedding of blood, and it is vicarious.  The blood marked on the lintel of the door – because the blood is precious – it is the life of the victim.  Not only would the Angel of Death Passover, but the Israelites would all pass under this blood, or better through the blood that surrounded these doorways to freedom. 

          Now Aaron was Moses’ older brother and before he and his sons were ordained priests for Israel, they had to undergo an extensive washing and purification ritual.  This is part of the meaning of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles.  Jesus ordains them as His priests.  And every time they were to go into the Presence of the Lord to offer sacrifice they had to wash.  Jesus is the High Priest for all time.  And He is God.  God does something in the Eucharist.  He enters voluntarily into the offering of His Body and Blood through the Holy Spirit and enables them to be partakers in advance of His sacrifice on the Cross.  We call the Eucharist an unbloody sacrifice, because neither the apostles nor we eat of His carnal flesh – His flesh that was mortal, but through the Holy Spirit we are nonetheless united to His Cross and as we eat of His Risen Body and Blood – which is made possible by Jesus dying on the cross and the great shedding of His Blood.  God did something and it involved the shedding of blood.  However, because Jesus is True Man, it is not a vicarious offering for us any longer.  He stepped in and on behalf of humanity gave to the Father His Blood, and Blood that was not only freely offered, but was free of all sin.      

          Why is this night different from all other nights?  The idea that the Jewish people are all saved from slavery every bit as much as the ancient Israelites is not just an idea.  The Holy Spirit is the living memory of the Church.  When Christ tells His apostles to “do this in memory of me,” He is telling them and all of us whom they have reached out to as the centuries have rolled along to “do this in His Spirit.”  In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, the Living Memory of the Church – unites us to His Cross each time that we celebrate Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  And fueled by His Spirit and His Living Flesh we are called to remember that He has given us a model to follow, so that as He has done for us, we should also do.

Christ the Chameleon

Image result for chameleon xleThere was once a brilliant Saturday Night Live parody of a car commercial.  David Spade walks out of a nice restaurant to find his new BMW has been stolen and Phil Hartman’s voice begins to narrate as the camera cuts to him walking in front of the 1993 Chameleon XLE.  “Finally,” he says, “a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car.”  “Inside, the Chameleon XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more.  Outside, authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl.  While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, ‘Hey, not worth the trouble.’  This is craftsmanship no one will steal.  There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard.  A broken taillight repaired with duct tape.  Standard. The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88.  All standard.  A car thief takes one look at this, and keeps right on walking. Of course, it’s equipped with an automatic alarm system – but do you really think you’ll need it?”  As Phil Hartman is walking away he hits the alarm button on his key chain and one the front passenger side wheels seems to blow out while the whole car slouches forward at an angle.  “The Chameleon XLE. They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it!”

It seems to me that the Word of God also has a tendency to sneak under the radar.  If I’m not careful my consciousness doesn’t pick it up at all.  Or I miss its relationship to me.  That God is speaking to me.  I remember in seminary, when the priests who were our formators, our teachers, would be at Mass concelebrating – well they would be up in the sanctuary seated opposite all of us students – maybe during the readings, but definitely during the homily they would all have their eyes closed as if they might be meditating.  I am still tempted to think it was so that we couldn’t catch them if they drifted off….but like I said, I can be caught off guard and I and we should be doing all that we can to claw and scratch open the shell of God’s message and find the seed.  And it’s all kind of ridiculous too – because the word to me…the word to you – the message to us is that we are inheritors of a treasure that makes any Powerball look like chump change.  Imagine if God promised us cash.  Can you imagine during Mass if the readings occasionally announced that so-and-so from our parish was to be awarded 50 million dollars?  Image result for cashWe would be ecstatic.  But, listen to what St. Paul tells Timothy today.  He says that God saved us and called us to holiness according to a design of His own and that He has a role for us to play as Christians (members in Christ Jesus) with the grace that He has laid aside for us personally in Jesus Christ since before time began….and this plan is revealed to us (is brought to light) in the Gospel.

Sounds like we should look deeper into our Gospel.  But before we get to today’s Gospel and the perfect example of our destiny in Christ being revealed in all its light, think back to the Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.  These two episodes are linked together.  For in both cases, we see Christ sort of on display in an unusual manner and the voice of the Father proclaiming: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Well, in His Image result for christ baptismbaptism – Christ went under the spiritually dirty and tainted waters of the Jordan where all of these chosen people had washed their sinfulness before Him.  He does not just identify with sinners – He takes upon Himself all our sins.  The chosen people represent everybody and through them we can understand Christ bearing all of humanity’s burden.  He is nowhere more aptly called, “the Son of Man” than here.  He wants us to know He is with us at our low point as He plunges into the Jordan – which I imagine was particularly icy that morning.  He’s like the outside of the Chameleon XLE, except He is all human outside and inside.

But how about today’s event?  Jesus climbs the mountain with Peter, James, and John and while still fully human reveals His original nature.  It is no accident that this event happens six days after Peter declares Him to be the Son of God.  This seventh day can call us to look upon it as a miracle of a New Creation.  Peter and all of us would be content we think just to stand there and gawk at Jesus.  In Mark’s Gospel, he makes the point to mention that this was not just a trick of Christ wearing really nice clothes – the clothes were as no fuller could bleach them.  He is always depicted in art as lifted up in this scene suspended.  He doesn’t need the Cross to be lifted up, but He will take it so that we can ourselves use our crosses to find a way to this glory.  But back to Peter: he wants to strike out and build a monument in a way.  One forImage result for christ transfiguration each of the figures.  Perhaps Jesus brought these three men – Peter, James, and John – so that they themselves could become the tents in way.  Will they not eventually house Christ within themselves?  The Father booms out again, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and now the Father adds, “Listen to Him,” as in – follow Him to this future for what He holds within you are called to share completely.  And we receive from Him, by listening to His will and not our own impulses.

There is one more interesting parallel worth pointing out.  We see Christ’s Body glorified today – far above our own situation to “This is my beloved Son.”  The Father wants us to wake from sleep.  And at the Last Supper, Jesus says, “This is my Body.”  And holds up what looks like mere bread – so far beneath our situation.  But far enough below that we believe that we can eat of it.  In fact we are tempted to take it for granted.  The exchange is simple enough: if we give Christ all of our sins, than He will give us all of Himself.  That is baptism and confession.  In fact we should not receive without examining our hearts according to St. Paul lest we drink judgment upon ourselves.  Yet, if in the sacrament of confession we reveal to Christ what is within our hearts then He will be allowed into them, as His proper “tent of meeting” with us and He will share with us the glory that He has hidden beneath such a common appearance.
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