CAMPUS PADRE Offers food for thought
Neither be afraid, nor inspire fear!
That’s what Jeremiah faced because he chose to be faithful to God and the mission he had been given. The people, influenced by sinful desire and aroused to irrational emotionally driven reaction, eagerly waited for him to slip up, to make a mistake. Even today, lay and clerical leaders encounter this kind of opposition from both the secular world and their brothers and sisters in Christ. For pastors especially, the challenge of preaching the truth to others, can be very daunting.
We, in the Church of Christ, are not immune to this temptation. We witness this work of the enemy who inspires fear and opposition when there is a new Pope, Bishop, Pastor, Ministry leader, diocesan policy or parish initiative. The crowd, who previously seemed to be so genuinely loving, gathers and waits to rabidly cry ‘crucify him’. But we can avoid becoming guilty of this, if we all keep our focus on the Lord, as Jeremiah did. Healthy relationships with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit will overcome that fear and stir up the courage to follow as God leads.
Jeremiah lived in desperate times, yet he believed in God’s abiding presence. He shares with us his experience of being rejected because of the message, and allows us to recognize in him a kindred spirit when the task of faithful commitment seems overwhelming. He also offers us an example of how to deal with the opposition. He did not turn away from his ministry, but rather, obediently offered himself as a guide to the broken, fearful people who persecuted him and, trusted firmly, that God “rescue(s) the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!". Jeremiah was full of hope and trust in God. His confidence, even in the face of seeming failure should bolster all who, in whatever capacity, serve as ministers of God’s word.
There is a spiritual battle going on in this world, but, Jesus tells the apostles 3 times, not to be afraid. Today’s Gospel reading gives us insight into how Jesus wants us to engage in the battle which rages inside and outside of us. As the apostles are preparing for their first missionary journey, Jesus counsels them about the interior battle that Paul, in his preaching, will go on to frequently describe and focus on teaching others how to overcome. Paul, in the second reading, describes that interior battle which we all must come to terms with, as persecuted and persecutor. He celebrates salvation in Christ as a gift which forever liberates us from the influences of the enemy, death and separation from God, and points us to be open to the grace we need which comes through Christ. That grace not only sustains us in communion with him but with the Father as well
Jesus also assures the apostles and all who walk the way of Christ, in the truth of Christ toward the fullness of life in Christ. He assures us of the Father’s constant and careful attention and that Jesus will acknowledge, before his Father, all those who remain fearless and faithful. Jesus tells all of us to place our trust in God who cares for us, and to ‘fear’ only the one who tries to destroy our souls. The only fear we should have is of spiritual death: a life separated from God. Trusting God should embolden us, more than evil and disbelief in the world should intimidate us.
It’s true that in our weakness we have moments where we question whether the Lord really knows what He’s doing, understands what’s going on, realizes that we might be the wrong choice, or if he truly cares about us. But it’s also true that healthy relationship with God, hunger for righteousness, thirst for justice and desire for holiness… through Jesus Christ, is the remedy against such doubts arising. We are strengthened in the certain knowledge that ‘God so loved the world that he sent Jesus, his only son, to save us’ and that Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the age and send us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our lifeline and the Eucharist is our nourishment of grace for the strength to cling to that lifeline.
At the heart of this message, is God’s infinite love for us and our call to love as God loves. Our love is founded upon the God who cares for us and never betrays us. If we vigilantly put on the armor of God and remain in God’s love, nothing will separate us from his love. Great indeed is the confidence our Savior wants us to have in His care.
If we love as God loves, we will show our love in the way in which we affirm the value and dignity of all human beings, through our words and actions. No one is lost to God’s saving grace until death claims their body. No one is beyond God’s love. Neither the President nor Hillary, not the leaders or workers of Planned Parenthood, not a Pope you fear, a Bishop you distrust, a Pastor don’t want or family, friends, co-workers you don’t like. As the Catechism tells us in its very first paragraph, "For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. "He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. "He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church." Nothing escapes God's all-loving, all-powerful providence. God’s love is never guilty of devaluing human life or acting against the dignity of human beings, just as ours ought not to be.
In those times when we are the persecuted, and when you and I fall prey to feeling that we make little difference in our world; when we are the ones on the receiving end of the attitudes and actions inspired by the one enemy and manifested in the culture of death; when we are the ones who feel helpless and insignificant; and when we like sparrows seem to have little or no value at all… Jesus tells us the same thing He told His apostles: “Do not let men intimidate you… Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Jesus wants to us understand that with God there is no such thing as a nameless, faceless individual human life; not you, not me, not anyone. We all matter. No matter how dark the tunnel of life gets, as Christians, we are always able to see a light ahead: our resurrected Lord. God knows in detail each and every aspect of our lives. Even though at times others make us feel small, worthless and of no significance whatsoever, that is not how God our Father feels about us.
Living free. Living in union with God. Living a life of love that leads others to learn of the God who loves and wants to free them; this is the greatness that is ours, if we have no fear and never inspire fear in others. Embrace God's grace given as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the supernatural courage that gives us strength to resist the enemy and overcome all of his works.
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalms 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; First Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
The Eucharist is essential to Catholic belief and fundamental to Catholic life, the source and summit. Let’s take a story that some people are familiar with, and change the standard characters Priest and Student, to Father and child! It goes like this… A father, while getting his children ready for Mass one morning, was asked by one of his older children “daddy, why are we Catholic”. The father easily answered: "Because of the Resurrection." The child, familiar with the fact that there are children of many faith traditions at school, said: "That explains why we’re Christian, but why are we Catholic?" Again, without hesitation, the father replied: "Because of the Eucharist"!
The father in the story knows his faith and true to his promises at the baptism of his children, engages and forms them to understand and to live their faith. This is, ideally, how it’s been since the conversion, in Christ, of the first families. It was then and now remains a fundamental responsibility of parents toward their children. It was so, until the rise of Martin Luther in 1517, when among other doctrines, Transubstantiation was challenged. Although it had been firmly believed and authoritatively taught since the time of the Apostles. I’m sure you’re very familiar with the history of the ‘Protestant Reformation’.
In response to specific denials of the validity of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, during the 13th session of the Council of Trent in 1545, reaffirmed the doctrine and definitively taught that transubstantiation is, “that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation.”
The Catholic Church, in its ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ manifestations, has unceasingly continued to believe and teach this truth. (CCC #1374). The Eucharist is not a mere symbol of Christ's spiritual presence. It is not an sentimental remembrance. It is Jesus Christ, truly present [body, blood, soul and divinity] in, what is aptly referred to as, “this living and holy sacrament”. A symbol points to a reality, like an exit sign on the freeway points towards a road or a town. But, to believe with the Church, is to believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments, to which all sacraments are ordered as to their end. (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,65,3).
The sacraments are chosen instruments of divine power. They are “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” As outward signs they are God’s means of conveying unseen grace into our souls through things, words and gestures which give significance to what is being done. By divine institution and through divine power, God raises these mere symbolic things, words and gestures to necessary elements through which sacramental graces can be effectively imparted. With this in mind, we can better understand that every time an ordained priest validly pronounces the words of consecration at Mass – it is both Christ himself who acts and Christ himself who becomes present in a mysterious / sacramental way. Therefore, St Paul can say, in today's second reading, Holy Communion is a "participation" in the body and blood of Christ. And as Jesus says in today's Gospel Reading, - 6 times - that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.
As important as it is to understand what we believe about the Eucharist, it’s also important to recognize that it’s very human to ask why Jesus would create such a mysterious and so difficult to believe way of being present to us. The answer is in the question, it seems. To fulfill his promise to be with us to the end of the age, he provided a way for his own life to flow through the entirety of our being; to accompany us always and everywhere, into everlasting divine union. He provided it through the most basic and tangible means for a human being to experience, as actual food and drink. Just as God desired to be fully revealed to us in the most comprehensible manner for us, as one of us. We might say that revealing himself to us in the elements of bread and wine are a constant tangible reminder of how much we are loved by God. He humbled himself and became one of us. He humbles himself every day in every Catholic Church by manifesting his presence to us in the Eucharist. Two persons become one in Communion, truly, a divine union foreshadowing the everlasting divine union. No one and no thing should be an obstacle to our coming to be one with the Lord and, through that oneness, to find the strength we need to live life, with faith, hope and love.
How can it be true?
Why is it so difficult for people to believe that Jesus would and could, make himself truly present in the way in which Transubstantiation describes? We ‘believe’ in ghosts, aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, demons, angels, astral projection, bi-location, levitation, telepathy and any number of other things for which there is either no evidence or limited anecdotal evidence, apart from those things which may be reference in the divine Word of God. If, as we believe, there is a God who created all there is; and if that God is, as we believe, one God in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and if the Son could become one of us by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin… Is it so impossible to believe that that same God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, could make simple substances such as bread and wine, substantially become the body and blood of the Son?
We might also consider, not that God is required to offer ‘proof’ of the truth regarding the Eucharist, that many times throughout the history of the Church God has allowed Eucharistic Miracles to take place which do remind us of the reality of the central miracle of the Eucharist. There are documented cases of consecrated hosts that have begun to bleed, that have turned into flesh, that have been miraculously preserved in the midst of devastating fires.
The Eucharistic Celebration
If a person is never taught or like the Jews in response to the teaching of Christ, reject the truth, then it becomes increasingly easy to become convinced that attending and participating in the Eucharistic Celebration is not necessary or is of cursory value. It becomes easy to justify staying at home to pray, or attending only on ‘special occasions’, or going to services offered by ecclesial communities of other Christian traditions. But Mass is not just a time for praying; it is a time for celebrating community. That cannot be done at home; we can only do that together. The Church is constituted by Christ as his mystical body and so by definition is a community. It is made manifestly present as the members of the body are gathered for worship. Mass does not make a community. The community, as the mystical body of Christ, necessitates the Mass. The ‘Body of Christ’ is gathered by its head and is nourished physically and spiritually by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ. We are not drawn simply in observance of the law to “Keep holy the Sabbath day.” We are not drawn as spectators or indifferent observers as we would go to watch a movie or a sporting event. We are not drawn in order to be entertained by the music, lights, church lobby amenities or dramatic sermons. We are not consumers of a product… but rather, we are drawn to give and receive, to offer worship and praise, to nourished and called to account, to be humbled and raised up.
Pope Benedict said, “The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated.” If I believe, with the Church, then I will be impelled, drawn by the Spirit of God I have received to gather and to worship. I will be impelled to prepare myself in mind, body and spirit so that my dress, my manner and my participation truly reflect my desire and to worship solemnly and appropriately, as is due my God.
This is also why, impelled to generously and appropriately adore God in and through our Eucharistic Celebration, we use precious metals, beautiful adorn the house of God with beautiful and valuable art, we celebrate with splendor and joy, we genuflect when we cross in front of the tabernacle, we dress respectfully and elegantly when we come to Mass, we never receive Holy Communion without having been to confession, if we have committed a mortal sin. Whenever we are inside the Church, we speak with a reverent and respectful tone of voice, in humble recognition of Christ's presence and out of courtesy towards those who are prayerfully preparing. When we celebrate, we do so with beautiful music, vestments, incense, candles, and many other details that aide us in the fullest expression of our faith and openness to receive God’s grace.
But that cannot be the extent of our response. Our experience of worship and reception of the Eucharist must also continue our transformation. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s love for us, then we who partake of it must also be motivated and filled with love. For Christ's grace to make us more like him, we need to intentionally, sacrificially and uncompromisingly live just as Christ lived. Our daily lives must reflect the Eucharist we celebrate. Each day, we must give of ourselves, pour out our lives in service and in love of others. We can find no greater joy in life than to spread to others the love we have received from Christ.
That which we celebrate at Mass, we must live in daily life.
Readings: Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Second Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18
We also affirm this central mystery in our creed, proclaimed together during each Mass. We say that we believe in one God, the Father almighty… we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God… we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified… and in so believing, we are saying that we are created through the love of God the Father, we are restored through the grace of God the Son, and we are sustained and fortified through God the Holy Spirit. In our Christian lives, we need to deepen our relationships with each of the persons of the Trinity.
In today’s Gospel, we are reminded of the experience of the Israelites, and that we not unlike them, we distance ourselves from God. But we are also reminded that God stays close to us, through the Son. We, like Moses, come to know the Lord for who he truly is: “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
It is God’s desire that every one of us spend eternity in union with him. The Father sent the Son into the world to reveal to us that some of us had become distant and others had been completely separated, and to give us a way to be reunited. God demonstrates this definitively in the sacrifice of his Son, as it says in John’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” It is the defining statement of God’s love for us. Living fully, every day of our lives, this divine union with God, is our goal. It is also the blueprint for how we are called to love. Love is wanting the good for another and being willing to do what it takes to bring about this good in the person’s life.
Having been created by this Love that is God and made in the image and likeness of the same God who is a community of self-donating love; means that we can never experience the fullness of Joy, if we isolate ourselves from others, hold ourselves back selfishly from others. Unless we give ourselves in love, we can never be fully human. This is especially and uniquely true in the Sacrament of Marriage, which, ideally, images the Trinity to the world. But is also true with regards to all of our relationships. If God's essential nature is love, so is ours! We are made for community. We are incomplete by ourselves. We are created to give ourselves to others and to receive others. This is the truth of our inner being and the greatest good to which our physical desires are oriented.
If Christianity were simply a religion of keeping the law, our inner life would not matter. In civil society, as long as we don’t break the law, the authorities don’t care what we privately think. Just as, in the case of cultural norms, as long as we don’t publicly go against them, no one really cares what we think or why. It’s entirely possible to follow civil and cultural laws, without ever believing that they are true, good and beautiful.
Relationship with God, on the other hand, is inauthentic and unsustainable if it is not born of belief that God is the author of the true, the good and the beautiful, and that I have been made to love and live according to what is true, seeking only the good and becoming and affirming the beautiful.
Feast of Pentecost 2017
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Audio of preached homily
Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit = Revival in the ‘Body of Christ’
John the Baptist testified that, “the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” John 1:32-34
We heard in the readings this weekend, about the Apostles being baptized with the Holy Spirit by Jesus in the upper room, which took place during the appearances of Christ in the days after his resurrection. John 20:19-23 The 11 Apostles had recently returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room where they were staying and praying. They were joined by various women who followed Jesus, Mary and others. As the days of Pentecost progressed, they were also joined by over a hundred disciples and led by Peter, the community discerned and prayed together about a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:12-26 After he ascended into heaven and took his place at the right hand of the Father, which occurred at the conclusion of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and baptized [with the Holy Spirit] everyone there present with the Apostles, and the Church was ‘officially’ born. Acts 2:1-11, CCC767-768
So it was, the Holy Spirit arrived at the end of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost and as promised in the Old Testament Joel 2:28, CCC 761-762 and by Jesus John 14:15-31. The Holy Spirit came seemingly from the sky, with the sound of a strong driving wind. This was the moment they had been waiting for, a new action of God in the history of salvation. Then the Spirit descended like tongues of fire, symbolizing the presence of God and God’s initiation of the covenant on Sinai in the giving of the Torah.
The apostles were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. They were fully renewed in the Spirit. They rose up and came out from the shadows of their limited understanding, and the safety of their shelter, to stand firm in faith and proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ with nothing more than the safety of the promise of Christ to be with them to the end of the age. They then began to really “lift up [their] eyes” and to “look up,” Isaiah 60:4, and to say, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” Psalm 121:1-2.
The Spirit, likewise, empowers us to leave the security of the ‘upper room’ -- our comfortable ways of doing things -- and equips us to boldly give testimony with joy, in truth and love. This amazing power to communicate the Good News and to move hearts and minds is not due to our efforts or our cleverness. It comes from God's Spirit that enables us to go out to the streets and be witnesses who proclaim the truth of what the Gospel really means for our world. We recognize, that without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. We cannot even say, “Jesus is Lord!” 1 Corinthians 12:3.
I’m just not feelin’ it, so what about me?
Many Catholics would say that they don’t really understand the Holy Spirit, don’t really ‘feel’ the ‘power’ that others do, and wonder about the need for sacraments like Baptism and Confirmation. Filled with a mixture of guilt, confusion, anger, bitterness and ultimately indifference, they say that they don’t experience the life of faith in a way that makes a real difference. There are many reasons this can be true and we each must reflect on the true nature of our faith, or lack of faith. But…
In the early days of the church, baptism was a powerful and grace-filled event that directly connected to a genuine conversion and so the experience of the Sacrament of Baptism was unmistakably by water and the Holy Spirit. As infant baptism became increasingly regular, conversions [as such] decreased. The disciples of the first centuries understood clearly that it was “not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life”. Titus 3:5-7 This doesn’t mean that our situation today is devoid of holiness and the charisms that accompany holiness. It’s just not as common. In fact it can ‘seem’ so rare, that most Catholics can believe that such things are only for the ‘Saints’ and the ‘Jesus Freaks’.
Catholics, unfamiliar with the need for conversion and therefore who are suffering being deprived of the full power of the Holy Spirit to fuel their faith, fail to mature spiritually and are therefore unable to meaningfully proclaim “in the Holy Spirit”, in word or deed, that “Jesus is Lord!” And because they have not reached that point we can reasonable expect that, “Jesus was not able to do many miracles there because of their unbelief” Matthew 13:58.
In order for the Sacrament of Baptism to operate in all its power, whoever chooses to believe, according to the creed and determines to live authentically as a disciple of Christ, must eventually / progressively set aside every sin and everything that distracts from obedience to the Lord. Whether baptized as an infant or as an adult, eventually everyone must intentionally choose to firmly commit to responding vigorously to that universal call to holiness. . . This is conversion – transformation in Christ, “And we all, with our unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, for this is the work of the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 The person who has been a Catholic for any number of years, who experiences conversion and makes a faith decision can expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They will experience the powerful unbinding of the sacramental gifts.
Those who are in the Spirit will want to give their whole selves to the higher instincts of truth, love, compassion, sharing and justice. When we are full of that Spirit, we have truly risen with Christ. We are both alive and life-giving. “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ who lives in me.”
Without this conversion experience, Baptized and Confirmed Catholics suffer mediocre lives of faith because the gifts received at the moment of our second birth / adoption in God, are still sealed up, “unreleased”. We need the outpouring of the Spirit to actualize or revive the gifts of our baptism. This won’t just happen by accident or a unilateral act of God.
When we let go and let God, the fire of the Holy Spirit renews the face of the earth!
There are many sincere Catholics who express concerns, derived from observance of ‘charismatic groups’. Their concerns are not without merit. The Church condemns blind dependence on, universalizing the necessity of, and so called ‘emotionalism’ in the manifestation of the ‘special’ charisms. This is because, with rare exception, it results in failure to become immersed in the fullness of the faith and to live according to the judgement of the Church's teaching authority. This is immediately evident in the examples of those who experience such manifestation of charisms, even when authentic, but reject the sacramental life of the church or determine that they must leave the church. The Spirit of God would never lead one away from the truth about Christ.
The Church teaches that Faith, Hope and Charity are necessary for salvation but the charismata are not. St. Paul contrasts these with "the greater gifts" of Faith, Hope and Charity (1 Cor. 13), which he says have lasting value. These "theological virtues" unite the person's mind and will to God. However, the Church cannot deny the authentic work of the Holy Spirit, of which she herself is first and foremost borne.
Participation in the life of the Church should always lead to a deeper faith, greater practice, fuller knowledge and uncompromising participation in the mission. Since charisms are given to build up the Church, the presence in the Church of dynamic and faithful institutions, organizations, religious communities, youth conferences, college ministries, businesses, nonprofits, lay evangelists, spirit filled artists and so much more… is evidence of the authentic work of the Holy Spirit and the great good that can be done by those graced with authentic charismatic gifts exercised in union with the Church.
One of the greatest modern examples of the power of the Holy Spirit working through the conversions of individuals is the movement known as The Catholic Charismatic Renewal. This year the movement is 50 years old, and as a movement within the Catholic Church it has been acknowledged and affirmed by the current and the previous 3 Popes. Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI
The Charismatic Renewal was initiated in February 1967 when a group of students on retreat at Duquesne University began praying for a fresh outpouring of Pentecost. Many of them had profound “baptism in the Spirit” experiences which resulted in a deeply enriched relationships with Jesus, renewed commitment to prayer, and a desire to know their faith and live it more faithfully. They were impelled by this release of graces to eagerly respond to the gospel call to bring the message of Jesus to others, and to use of the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit to do it. Through their efforts and the continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there are now 9 million American Catholics and more than 120 million Catholics worldwide claim to have experienced this baptism.
For more information about the Holy Spirit, or the ‘Catholic Charismatic Renewal’ please refer to:
The story continues...
Trust and obey! Trust and obey! Those words slide so easily off the tongue, just like praying the Lord’s Prayer at Mass… right! But it’s actually living those words, that’s the part we struggle with… well not me of course, I’ve always rivaled the angels with my angelic behavior! Just ask my mother! Ok, at the risk of having one of my siblings decide that this a good time for a brutally honest comment made for all the world to see… I’ll come clean! My behavior may not always have been ‘angelic’, but, I can honestly say that because of the nature of my conversion and the path that God subsequently called me to walk, I quickly learned what it meant to trust and obey God. I learned the importance of listening and following. I’d like to say that I’ve completely trusted, been unfailing in my obedience, listened with laser like focus and perfectly followed… but, if it were true then I would be a Saint… which I’m not. Siblings, remain silent! Ha Ha!
Each part of this journey depended on the successful arrangement of another part, which meant it all had to come together slowly and one piece at a time. Week, after week, after week! By mid-April it was all taking shape with minor adjustments and in the first week of May everything was set. When I say that all was set in the first week of May, I mean I was set to fly to England on May 8th and the final details for this pilgrimage of prayer, study and renewal were worked out on May 4th! I know what you’re thinking! Truth is, I wasn’t worried, and to be quite honest… I’ve gotten very accustomed to God’s sense of timing which is often not even remotely close to being ‘comfortable’ but never fails to be perfect!
The flight across the Atlantic was a time to separate. A time to leave behind those day to day concerns that often tempt us to sacrifice our restorative solitude of prayerful encounter with God, and instead to begin to follow the interior path toward that inner sanctuary of contemplation. Arriving in Scotland with greater peace, more able to walk at a slower pace, and allowing the Holy Spirit to enliven the senses, I was ready to begin to discover and receive. The time in Scotland was very much about bringing greetings, offering support and sharing with Mary about her experience… but it was also about history. It was about piercing the vail of this present moment and peering into the past. It was about encountering ancestors of blood and of faith. It would be a reminder of the question, ‘will you die for them’? Then, as I travelled the countryside by train on my way to England I was able to process, to more fully receive the gifts of the previous three days in Scotland and prepare for the next encounter with the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit through the Franciscans of St. Pio Friary. The time at the friary would be about reflecting on my own past, my path to the priesthood and a reminder of the joys and sorrows experienced during those years long gone but still living. It would be a time of healing and freedom. It would be a reminder of the question, ‘will you live for them’? On the train once again, through England and Wales I contemplated the revolutionary transformative power of the Gospel of our Lord. I literally embarked upon the Sea, on a ferry across the Irish Sea and gazed for hours into the beauty of the great expanse and wondered about the secrets held within the grasp it’s depths. The previous days had been a continuing interior journey within the inner sanctuary, to a destination that was just over the horizon. In the distance of the depths of the soul, just coming into to view was the hermitage within, the place of adoring worship where you gaze into Christ and he into you, being carried into the nothingness of divine union. The prayer and study during the experience of the monastery would be a reminder of those first days, weeks and months of my conversion experience. It would be an encounter with the liturgical past of Church at worship and the priesthood through the ages. It would be a reminder, that I must decrease and he must increase.
Shhh… enter into the sacred silence.
And, stay tuned for more…
The story continues…
Always an important part of discernment is to ask others for their insight and advice, and then to totally disregard everything they tell you! Ha Ha, not really, but, really, sort of true! I sought the advice of those who know where and how to learn Ecclesiastical Latin and to celebrate the Usus Antiquus form of the Mass… folks who are always genuinely overjoyed to answer that question and uninhibited in the way they share that joy with you! It's not often that we see that kind of joy expressed when folks talk about the Ordinary form of celebrating the Mass… but, let’s be honest, how often does anyone get excited about the ordinary things in life. We should, really. Most of us live most of our days in the miraculous moments of ordinary circumstances. When you read the Gospels, Jesus isn’t often (might be never) approaching anyone while they're engaged in heroic extraordinary moments… but rather encounters us in ways through which he tries to teach us that it’s in the ordinary moments that we are called to live extraordinary lives. Just like in Eucharistic Celebrations, where God takes ordinary people and ordinary bread and wine and makes them extraordinary, transforms them. So really, being fully alive in Christ is to recognize that the visible might seem ordinary but with the eyes and ears of faith, we see and hear the invisible and the extraordinary.
Anyway, enough with the homily and back to the story!
After sincerely letting the voices of others pour living waters of wisdom into my discerning heart and mind, along with my own research and careful consideration of the ways and the circumstances in which I prefer to learn… I let it all swirl around within my prayers and looked for the hand of God pointing me forward… or slapping me gently because sometimes I’m not really paying attention even though I think I’m paying attention. You know, it’s like when you look at someone when they're talking, and suddenly realize you have no idea what they said or, when you’re reading Scripture and realize that you should go back 3 pages because you got distracted! Sorry, I'm sure that never happens to you, does it!?!
Well, since you were paying attention, you’ll remember that I mentioned that God was working things out all at the same time. While I was busy getting advice, doing research, praying and of course doing the ‘spiritual work’ all while being fully engaged in the ministry work, God was helping our Campus Ministry team plan a retreat. There’s no doubt that we needed God's help, because it was going to be a bold step in faith and an approach we had never taken before. I can’t lie to you, (well, I could, but that'd wrong). I was very nervous about the whole thing and ready to pull the plug, if and when it was necessary! The whole time, conventional planning wisdom was screaming, pull the plug… but the Holy Spirit was whispering… trust me! You know that feeling? There's no doubt, when you trust God, the results are great, and sometimes even mind blowing! No less true on this occasion! We trusted. I trusted. It was awesome. Blessings flowed for everyone involved, but something very special happened on the Friday evening before the retreat began and it was the key moment that set the pilgrimage in motion! We had two Dominican Priests leading the retreat. They were studying in Washington and were associated with FOCUS Ministries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Part of their ministry was to lead retreats for college students. It was there that I met Fr. Colm an Irish Dominican from Dublin! Are you beginning to see?
Fr. Colm and I chatted politely and just as most conversations between strangers with a common bond, we began to talk about more meaningful things, and then the moment of Grace arrived when I shared about my quest! “You know”, he said, “there’s a community of Benedictine Monks who have a priory, just north of Dublin. They’re exactly what you’re looking for!” Hmmm… to be honest, in my soul I knew in the slow motion – last forever of that moment when he said Benedictine Monks…that that was it! Words are wholly and completely useless when trying to explain complex spiritual realities, but imagine in the sort of freeze frame reality of the moment that various threads of your life and prayer, desires and interests, dreams and inspirations are suddenly and beautifully woven into a tapestry that becomes a picture worth a thousand words from the hand and mouth of God. Path determined. Details, to be worked out at a later date! Ha ha! No, not really. I mean sure, I had some things to do, but I’d be stealing credit if I said I went on to work it all out on my own. As usual, God was going ahead of me and had already been working things to this end!
By the next day I had found the Priory on the internet, gotten the contact information and eagerly emailed Father Prior of the community. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. You know, in the busy ‘lets get it done’ way of the world (even in ministry at times) we expect things to happen like tumblers clicking on a safe as you turn the knob in the right combination. Monks don’t work that way! Of course I couldn’t just sit idly by, so I started looking into all the other amazing things that needed to be worked out. Not the least of which was how this trip could be what the Spirit of God wanted it to be… which wasn’t just about study. It would be about visiting and supporting one of our students who had graduated and had been led by the Holy Spirit to do a ‘spiritual gap year’ of service in Scotland… at a place that I had been aware of and been interested to spend time at, which, also happened to be in the very same area of Scotland where a part of my family roots are traced all the way back into the 6th century! That’s not all! I knew that God was also calling me to reconnect with a friend who had been in Seminary, in ministry and in community with me a long time ago, and was now the Servant (sort of like in charge) of a community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in England! All of this, wrapped up neatly in a personal desire I’d had for many many years to visit Ireland and Scotland, not just as tourist but as a pilgrim. A pilgrim who could walk the same paths, breathe the same air, see the same vistas, engage the same hearts… a pilgrim who could, in union with Christ, encounter the ‘soul of the early Celtic Church’. Encounter the land of those Saints who gave the world so much in a time of great need and the great darkness of the 5th through 11th centuries.
For 30 years the ‘peregrinate pro Christ’ (Pilgrims for Christ, the Saints of the Celts) have inspired and amazed me!
Stay tuned for more...
and that my friends, means I don’t own a Cassock, I never learned Latin, never experienced the Tridentine Mass and never ever imagined I would ever EVER… well, you get the idea! What's a priest to do… well, Keep Calm, and Learn Latin! But where, how, when… Keep Calm and Pray! Wait, no… how about telling the Bishop how there must be someone else, much better suited and much more ‘seasoned’ than I! Yep, seems the obvious thing to do, right? Nope, it was a conversation that ended with being joyfully told, ‘I have the utmost confidence’ in you! So, okay, back to Keeping Calm while praying and learning Latin.
You know how God has a way of working things out, all sorts of things at the same time? In ways you wouldn’t imagine? Yeah, so God was working things out before I started praying and boy howdy did I like what God was bringing together! Oh wait, don’t get the wrong the idea, I was praying about all sorts things and in all sorts of ways long before this… so, maybe I should say I really started to ‘discern’ how God was leading so that I could trust and follow.
I’d love to tell you more… stay tuned… but for now you can read about the middle of a story about a journey, a pilgrimage to a far away land to learn an ancient language and to walk in the footsteps of family, saints and sinners… on Facebook… at…https://www.facebook.com/CampusPadre
Reflections on whether or not we are, 'Frustrating or Facilitating the Transforming Power of God - 3rd Sunday of Easter 2017
Part 3 of the Easter Series
For Catholics, an essential part of our journey of conversion and transformation, is our Eucharistic Celebrations. Jesus reveals himself to us, just as he did with these two men on the road to Emmaus, through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. This central experience of Scripture and Liturgy draws us to participate in the work of proclaiming the message of Christ and sharing our experience of it with others that they may also share it. The Liturgy of the Word is the experience of having the Scriptures broken open and explained, and, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is where we are reminded of what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection what he still does for us in offering us the bread of life, spiritual food for the journey, that bread which is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood. This story of the disciples who are travelling, teaches us about these two essential ways by which we can enter the presence of God and grow strong in the love and mercy of God.
Jesus speak to us through the Scriptures, the inspired word of God. If we are paying any attention at all, our faith is built up, our spirit renewed. Thus prepared, we move from the table of the Word to the table of the Eucharist. And there we come truly to see and recognize the One all the scriptures tell us about, in each moment, each encounter, each experience of the Presence of that power shapes and changes us. We don't encounter the Holy and stay the same.
In our time, here, in the presence of the Holy and the company of Angels, in fellowship and worship with each other, and having encountered Christ in the Word and the Blessed Sacrament, we are transformed. But, we cannot stay in this Holy Presence of Christ. Rather, we must leave the mountaintop and walk out into the world. Between these Sunday celebrations, where we drink fully from the font of grace and all holiness, we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and yet because of the strengthening grace which we have received, we can do this without fearing evil.
All the readings today are meant to remind us that our journey must be led by the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Jesus and headed home to the Father. “This is my beloved Son of whom I am well pleased. Listen to him,” says the Father, and then as Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Ours is a journey that follows the way of the cross, with the certain hope of the resurrection. But there are things we must do to remain on the right path and firmly committed to the goal of the journey.
The Psalm, echoing the lesson learned by the two men in the Gospel, explains that God is faithful and that if we stay close to him, he will safely "show us the path to life, abounding joy in God's presence, the delights at his right hand forever." St Peter also reminds us, that on this path we must "conduct ourselves with reverence, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb." St. Paul, who never ceases to give good instruction for being faithful on the journey, reminds us not to “model yourselves according to the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change according to the renewal of your mind.” Transformed and renewed by our mountaintop experience in the Eucharistic Celebration “we all, with our unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, for this is the work of the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Every day of our lives we can please Him as we grow in His light, and having been sent to proclaim what we have experienced, allow others to see the glory of Christ in us and through our lives.
Easter Series: Part 2
(Homily as preached, audio)
The 1st reading this week focuses on the nature of a Christian Community, whose hope “safeguarded through faith”, enabled them to be “devoted [themselves] to the teaching of the apostles”, Celebrating Eucharist and engaging in Prayer. Because they allowed the power and the glory of God to be manifested through their faithfulness, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The 2nd reading, zooms in on the nature of the faith of the early Church which was rooted firmly in “a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…” and although they had not seen him they loved him and believed in him, rejoicing as they attained their salvation. 1 Peter 1:9 Together, these Scriptures teach us how to deal with our unbelief and lack of faith, such as seen in the Gospel reading among the disciples whose hearts are growing hard after arrest, torture and death of Jesus.
We have increasingly equated the terms ‘unbeliever’ with ‘non-believer and ‘doubter’ with a person who has no faith, however, very often when Jesus speaks of unbelief, lack of faith and doubt… he’s speaking to those who follow him. “Do not be unbelieving, but believe." John 20:27 “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29 These words were spoken to Thomas, but also to all the disciples in the room that day and to all the disciples down through the ages. The scriptures make clear that the power of God, the manifestation of God’s glory comes through the Church, the mystical ‘Body of Christ’. This power and glory is greatly affected by the unbelief, lack of faith, doubt in the hearts and minds of the disciples of Christ.
There is no way that we can whitewash the history of the Church without altering the Word of God! We can clearly see that amid the varying accounts in the four Gospels, the underlying agreement about the disciple’s reaction to the resurrection of Jesus, is that they were not united in believing that he had really risen from the dead; they were not ‘listening to him’ very well; and they definitely weren’t rushing to go anywhere. The Gospel of Mark most clearly describes the unbelief of the disciples, as well as how Jesus felt about their lack of faith. Is it any wonder that the followers of Christ struggle with what they believe and often grow hard of heart in this age, when even his disciples who lived with him, struggled? Is it any wonder, if Christians experience these difficulties, that others in the world around us would find it hard to believe?
Despite their hardness of heart, and their unbelief. Even though, according to the traditional understanding that except for John, they all abandoned him. Jesus didn’t abandon them. The nature of God’s love makes mercy possible. The kind of mercy that inspires forgiveness which leads to reconciliation and healing. Mercifully, he passes through the wall behind which they hide full of fears, regret, and guilt; and he appears to them. “Peace with you.” He transforms their fear into joy. He affirms their mission; “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” They are to bring about reconciliation between God, humanity and the whole of creation. As Jesus breathes on them and speaks the words, "Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained,” they become apostles of his mission who are ordained for ministry, and participants in his power and authority.
Neither does Jesus abandon us in our weakness, but rather comes to us and helps us to leave sin and death behind and become a resurrection people who are fully alive in their freedom. Just the thought of Christ's mercy fills us with confidence and hope, so much more are we filled when we are fully open to the power of his sanctifying grace at work in us.
To receive the love and mercy of God and be moved to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s essential to allow the gift of faith and fellowship with our brothers and sisters to move us to believe that God will not abandon us, that God does love us and does forgive us. This requires being honest with ourselves and with God. We must admit that although we have faith, we lack faith; that although we believe, we suffer unbelief. If we don’t openly admit these things, we will not be able to overcome them. That’s when, what was once true hope in Christ, is replaced by doubt.
People think that doubt is unforgivable, but obviously, Scripture teaches that it is not unforgivable. Questions or concerns about the teachings of the faith aren’t in themselves a problem. However, when we let them lead us to being trapped between certainties and uncertainties, we will begin to feel adrift in a sea of competing ‘truths’ and increasing doubt. We will experience a multiplication of doubts if we don’t act to address their underlying causes. That’s how the cancer grows, undermining spiritual health and our ability to trust God and understand the faith. It gives rise to fear. Fear leads to despair, the loss of hope. The lack of hope and trust destroys joy, leaving a miserable, defeated, guilt-ridden, angry, bitter, confused or just plain ambivalent believer. For many, this becomes unbearable and inspires a person to turn away from God.
It’s important to guard against erosion of our faith, which is more precious than gold, by taking our cues from the early church in the 1st reading. Fellowship with other members of the ‘Body of Christ’ is essential to spiritual health. We should honestly admit our struggles with each other and our shortcomings to each other and pray for each other. James 5:16-18 Prayerfully read the Word of God, have real and honest conversations with God, choose to have friends who love Jesus, and don’t keep your faith to yourself. Frequently receive the Sacraments from which the grace of God flows and devotion to the teachings of the apostles leads to greater understanding of those teachings. Through these essential aspects of spiritual health our faith becomes firm, our intellects more perfectly formed and our will more united with God.
Doubts breed in our minds, our emotions, our wills, and what do you do about it will determine your world view and the course of your life. When you find that unbelief, lack of faith and hardness of heart are creating fertile ground for doubts to grow, cling to your hope and petition God for help. Be ready to reflect and uncover the root of your doubt by asking tough questions. Turn to your brothers and sisters in faith for the help and support that you need. Don’t let your faith starve for lack of effort. Decide on a course of action, a remedy that you’ll follow to fight the forces that undermine your faith.
God’s love and mercy not only forgives us and reconciles us, it can also transform as it heals us. The unity of community and fellowship which was described in the first reading, “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul,” is only possible if love, mercy, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are at the heart and foundation of all relationships. In this, we are reminded of the words of Christ as to the two greatest commandments.
Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4, or First Corin; John 20:1-9
Easter Series - Part 1
The Resurrection is the definitive, without which our faith is in vain. “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
The basis of our faith is the fact of the empty tomb and the extraordinary transformation of the disciples. Only the reality of the Resurrection can explain the history of the Church. As the Easter Sunday Gospel reading said, the Beloved Disciple saw the empty tomb and believed. Overcome with joy and enthusiasm, all the apostles and the disciples who were present in and around Jerusalem and Galilee at the time of the resurrection, experienced transformation from being fearful people to being afraid of nothing. The weak become strong, the foolish become the wise, the apostles who (it seems) became so frightened for their lives that they didn’t even go to Golgotha, suddenly become the most powerful agents of change the world has ever seen. The Church, founded upon the apostle who denied Jesus three times, grew and continued to spread after they died – even to this day. Only the abiding presence of the Lord can explain this, and only the resurrection explains the abiding presence of the Lord.
Baptism, as Paul tells us, is both a dying to one’s past and an entry into new life. When we receive baptism, we die in Christ. We go under the water to represent descending into death, but we also bind our fate with that of Christ’s and rise from the waters of death into new life. “How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.” Romans 6:2-12 Every disciple who loves Jesus is one who sees — and believes with all his heart, all his mind, his soul… in a Risen Lord. Every disciple who loves God and Neighbor, lives free and does not go back to slavery. By the grace of God, ‘go and sin no more’.
(Preached homily for Easter Sunday focuses on this next paragraph. Listen on iTunes or SoundCloud)
Jesus and Paul lead us into an understanding of what is necessary for living the new life in Christ, by pointing us in reflection to the way in which bread is made, and the importance of the ‘active agent’, the yeast. In today’s second reading we are reminded how, at the Jewish Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Jews were expected to throw out all the yeast, old leavened bread and to prepare new, unleavened bread. The fermentation caused by the leaven, the yeast, was, under these circumstances, understood to be a kind of corruption, as in the way described by Jesus when teaching the parable of the leaven of the Pharisees. Paul says, “Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6
Paul continues, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb…” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, is ready for the leaving that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven, which Christ spoke of when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Matthew 13:33 In this parable Jesus likens the power of the kingdom of heaven as leaven to raise us up, to that of a huge amount of yeast! This is the great truth of living a ‘resurrection life’, the life of freedom found in Christ. Jesus will give new life to every single person who accepts him as Lord, who accepts him as the Way, Truth and Life. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
Today, on Easter - Resurrection Sunday, we have a new hope. It is new because for some it is the first dawning of their conversion in Christ, for others it is a time to renew faith, renew commitment, renew our knowledge and understanding of God’s great love and mercy and to recommit ourselves to living the meaning of our Baptism and Confirmation; that all are called to holiness - "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
As the Catechism states in paragraph 2015, the way of perfection passes by way of the Cross and because "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity," LG 40 § 2 it is always true to say that no disciple of Christ will escape discovering that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” Timothy 2:4 in this new life. Responding to that universal call to holiness means that we become actively engaged in spiritual progress which involves our transformation and transfiguration. The mystic saints taught unceasingly about ascent of the path of spiritual union that gradually leads to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.
God calls us all to this intimate union. This union, called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.