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:
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.