CAMPUS PADRE Offers food for thought
The first major feast of the faith, after the incarnation of God’s only begotten Son necessarily celebrates the Mother of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. She is the mother of God. We reflect with wonder and awe at the unique relationship between Mary and God. We marvel at the meaning of being ‘full of grace’ and the trials of being the mother of the Messiah, and yet we never cease to feel her motherhood of us.
Mary’s immaculate conception, her motherhood of God and her faith filled religious observance are an important part of our understanding of Mary, but none of these would be possible without her absolute faith and very real relationship with the God of her ancestors, which makes possible her unconditional and freely willing obedience to God. Mary became an active, intimate and essential part of the plan of salvation, but her greatness resides in her day to day commitment as wife and mother, to live as God calls, no matter what happens and regardless of whether she is able to understand it all.
Throughout her life, Mary pondered more than what was happening around her. She reflected deeply on the living Word growing before her very eyes. She therefore grew in knowledge of God and herself, as she grew in understanding of her Son. Mary is the model disciple. She hears and sees, and she spends time pondering in her heart. She becomes able to discern God’s action, meaning and will; and she is able to respond. Reflection always leads to a call for response.
Just as Mary pondered the living Word, we should follow her example and ponder that same living Word in scripture, in each other, and in the created world around us. We too can be full of grace.
(Listen to this Eucharistic Celebration on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God)
(View this Eucharistic Celebration)
We are celebrating the birth of Jesus. Jesus Christ is God, God with us. We are celebrating the birth of God who entered our world as a small child that we might become great. Jesus Christ was and is flesh and blood, the “Word become Flesh and makes his dwelling among us.” The Son makes visible the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can touch him. We can hear him. We can see the face of God. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus brings us God.
Today’s Gospel says that the Light shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overpower it. This light is God’s Word in the flesh and through Him “all things came to be”. Think of those extraordinary words as you imagine a new born child. The Word came not to live on the fringes of our human experience but to enter fully into the heart of human existence. in the very center of human activity. This is the reason for our hope and from whom we learn to love.
2000 years ago the Son of God was born, and everything changed. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy. To accomplish the Father’s plan, he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life. In seeing all that Jesus says and does we are being put in touch with the very nature of God. God has become a human person like us; he has come to live and work among us.
What every person searches for in the depths of their souls, is suddenly with us and will abide in us. When we come to know that God is in love with us, we cannot help but open our hearts. We are called to work together with him, to help others break the chains of their enslavements, so that, “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.
So, in the words of the Christian Songwriter Zack Williams…
If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles; If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies; If you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside, there’s a better life, there’s a better life!
If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker; If you feel lost, He’s a way maker; If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior; If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker!
We’ve all searched for the light of day in the dead of night. We’ve all found ourselves worn out from the same old fight. We’ve all run to things we know just ain’t right… And there’s a better life, there’s a better life!
If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker; If you feel lost, He’s a way maker; If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior; If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker!
2000 years ago the Son of God was born, and everything changed. Our Father so loved the world, that in the fullness of time he sent his Only Begotten son to be our savior. Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he shared our human nature in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy. To accomplish the Father’s plan, he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life.
The Annunciation, when Mary said yes and the power of the Holy Spirit descended upon her, is the moment when God launched the ‘boots on the ground’ operation of salvation. God didn’t just humble himself to come to earth as a human. He came as a helpless infant, born in a stinky barn surrounded by animals and dependent upon a man and a woman and their family and friends. He became one of us, and forever “God with us.” He would come to know hunger and thirst, obedience and humility, joy and pain, suffering and death. This Holy Family became homeless and were soon to become refugees in a foreign land.
This Child, who reveals God to man and man to himself will bring us an abiding peace that surpasses understanding, if we let ourselves be embraced by him. He came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find Him. He will teach us what is truly essential. He will empower us that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, we may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of the glory of God.
The beauty of this Feast of the Nativity is so much more than the powerful moment of the birth of the only begotten Son. It is wrapped in layers God’s love for us and ours for God. The YES of Mary, of Joseph, of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The yes of the shepherds, the Maji and even the owner of the stable. Faithful obedience continued to unfold just as a flower blooms to reveal something even more beautiful.
Each Christmas we contemplate this mystery of our God who became man. We gaze upon this child and contemplate His life, death and resurrection; that He will take bread and transform it into his body and abide with us, Emmanuel in the mystery of the Eucharist. He is born in Bethlehem, which literally means ‘the house of bread’. God becomes man. Bread becomes God. He, who rested in a manger, now rests in our entire being, as we receive him in the mystery of the Mass.
Christmas is a day to first and foremost reflect on all of these things; like Mary to ponder them our hearts and to more fully enter into this most incredible mystery.
(Audio Recording of the Vigil Mass)
Last week we reflected on the difficulties we face, not unlike John the Baptist and the saints who came after him, who have also experienced the deepest of spiritual darkness’s and doubt. But that like them, we too must trust in God’s love and care for us, and continue to reach out when our joy and certainty of faith is being attacked. God knows there will be struggles in our lives, of our own making and those inflicted upon us by others, but God will remain faithful to us and provide the grace and power necessary to rise and overcome. God wants our joy to be abiding and our peace to surpass all understanding.
The scripture readings help us, this week, to reflect on how Jesus brings God and humanity together in himself. As the only begotten Son of God, he is fully divine, he is Emmanuel (God with us); and being born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is fully human, he is Jesus (God saves). God becoming man, in order to save the fallen human race, is the greatest story ever told. This is the real meaning of Christmas.
This is symbolized every time we gather for the Eucharistic Celebration. During the offering of the bread and wine, the priest pours a few drops of water into the chalice full of wine. Those few drops of water get absorbed into the wine, and then together, with the words of consecration, they are transubstantiated into the blood of Christ. The water is taken up into the wine, just as, through Christ's grace and incarnation, our human nature is taken up into God.
So, we cannot reflect on the Incarnation of God and His nativity, without also considering the purpose for which He comes. He comes to save us, and that will require his death at our hands to pay the price of our sins if we are to experience now and forever the union with God for which we were made. We can’t reflect on our personal advent journey, the Incarnation and Christs passion, death and resurrection without speaking of the Eucharist; the way in which Christ comes to us at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
God gave the freed Israelites manna in the desert, and Christ tells us that He is the living bread of life that came down from heaven at the incarnation, so that we may eat and not die. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that He gives is His flesh, for the life of the world; because His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink. If we eat His flesh and drink His blood we will have eternal life, and He shall raise us up on the last day. (John 6:48-58).
Christ insisted, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. His were understood as being literally true, by St. Paul when he told the first Christians that those who approached the Eucharist unworthily would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. There could be no question of a grievous offense against Christ Himself, unless Paul assumed that the true Body and the true Blood of Christ are really present in the Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist is the paschal banquet in as much as Christ sacramentally makes present his Passover and gives us his Body and Blood, offered as food and drink, uniting us to himself and to one another in his sacrifice.
At the last supper, before He was betrayed by Judas, Christ instituted the Eucharist and celebrated the Passover as He made himself the sacrificial lamb. He brought to life the memory of their freedom from slavery, as He was preparing to make himself a prisoner by which his passion and death would become the means by which salvation would be accomplished for all.
The Eucharist it makes present and actual the sacrifice which Christ offered to the Father on the cross, once and for all on behalf of mankind. The sacrificial character of the Holy Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution. The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. The priest and the victim are the same; only the manner of offering is different: in a bloody manner on the cross, in an unbloody manner in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory and He remains Emmanuel-God with us, in the Blessed Sacrament. In the Eucharist Christ is sacramentally present in many places and yet no less present at the right hand of the Father in His ascended glory. Through the Church and the sacraments, Christ has wanted to stay with his newly adopted family all throughout history. Thus he entrusted to his Church this memorial of his death and Resurrection. It is a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given us.
Holy Communion increases our union with Christ and with his Church. It preserves and renews the life of grace received at Baptism and Confirmation and makes us grow in love for our neighbor. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future. The Eucharist is the pledge of future glory because it fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing. It fortifies us for our pilgrimage in this life and makes us long for eternal life. It unites us to Christ already seated at the right hand of the Father, to the Church in heaven, and to the Blessed Virgin and to all the saints.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life. In the Eucharist the sanctifying action of God in our regard and our worship of him reach their high point. It contains the whole spiritual good of the Church, Christ himself. Communion with divine life and the unity of the People of God are both expressed and effected by the Eucharist. Through the Eucharistic Celebration we are united already with the liturgy of heaven and we have a foretaste of eternal life.
*See Catechism of the Catholic Church; On the Eucharist
It might have felt as if God had abandoned him to prison and death, as punishment for his own sins, as much as it could be a direct result of doing God’s will and being a faithful prophet. We can imagine how it hard it might have been for him to remain clear headed, and to avoid becoming mired in a maze of doubts about all the prophecies and signs that used to bring him so much joy and certainty, as he struggled between the moments of consolation and desolation and his soul could not find peace. The thought of being wrong about Jesus would be unbearable because If he had gotten that wrong, his whole life and his ministry would have been in vain. But even with his doubts, John had a deep, unshakable trust in Jesus. So he sent disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus would have known about John’s sorrows and grief and the desolation that was threatening to engulf his cousin. Sitting with John’s disciples and among his own, Jesus spoke clearly and with great love as He confirmed for John, through them, that John had been right all along. “Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” John would recognize Isaiah’s prophecy and the Word would bring the peace John needed. Nothing about John’s spiritual and intellectual turmoil stopped Jesus from affirming Johns standing before God and men. “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist;”
Like John the Baptist, the greatest of saints can and have experienced the deepest of spiritual darkness and doubt. Are we so surprised when it happens to us? It can happen because of the kinds of prisons in sin that we build for ourselves. It can happen because of the challenges that we face as we faithfully live according to God’s will and suffer the sometimes unbearable consequences. It can happen to the best of us, and the worst of us.
But John and the Saints who came after him, all shared an important spiritual strength that allowed them to overcome. They had an unshakable trust in Jesus that moved them to reach out, just like Peter walking on the water. We too must trust in God’s love and care for us, and continue to reach out when our joy and certainty of faith is being attacked. God knows there will be struggles in our lives, of our own making and those inflicted upon us by others, but will remain faithful to us and provide what we need to rise and overcome. God wants our joy to be abiding and our peace to surpass all understanding.
When you hear the term ‘MegaChurch’, what do you think of? I’m going to guess that you imagine the famous non-denominational Christian congregations of thousands of people who gather for weekly services at Churches such as Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church or Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek Community Church. Maybe you think of local stadium style non-denominational large churches such as Celebration, Impact or Southpoint Community Church.
The people that form these communities of worship are definitely doing a couple things right when it comes to faith. The first is that they are sharing their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, with people who are not now or never were disciples of Jesus Christ. The other thing they’re doing right is getting Catholics to go to church and rediscover their faith! It’s safe to say that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent or more of the members of the non-denominational megachurches, are made up of self-described former Catholics.
Although the gates of hell will not prevail against the Body of Christ, the Church; when Christ returns, what will His ‘Body’ look like? Our most dangerous enemy, where our relationships with God are concerned, is complacency. Forward and deeper with unwavering commitment and unquenchable desire for holiness must drive us on if we are to become ever stronger living stones of His temple, lifelong citizens of His Kingdom. We all too easily forget that our personal friendship with Christ is to be a living and vibrant relationship that cannot and will not ever fall into empty religious practice. If we are to remain in Him and He in us, we must be vigilant about that most important relationship; living our faith with integrity; and sharing our faith with joyful ease and readiness. We must love as He Loved. We must live as He Lived. We must learn what He taught. We must lead as He walked. A Catholic at Church today is potentially a former catholic tomorrow; a former Christian, a former member of a wounded, broken, bleeding body of Christ.
Salvation only comes to those who give themselves totally into God’s hands and make His will their own. The Baptist preached the eternal message of repentance; a deep and radical change in thinking and behavior. Our baptism of water and fire in the Spirit, brings into existence a union with the divine for which we were made. It brings us into relationship with the living God, not just for our personal re-creation but also for our participation in the remaking of the whole world. We must not become complacent and comfortable.
The readings of this week emphasize that our faith must be more than pious acts and religious appearance, and the Gospel points out that producing "good fruit" is the living testimony of our relationship and commitment to Jesus. As we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent, let us fully realize and activate the gifts of the Holy Spirit which we received in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
In Advent, we remember how God humbled himself and became man, but we also re-live that coming in the "today" of our own lives. He wants to keep pouring out the benefits of our redemption, to make a new surge of grace in the world, in the Church, and in each one of our lives.
If this season is to be meaningful, there must be a genuine coming of Jesus into our lives. It is a time to remind ourselves of our constant need for radical transformation. Clearing the way for Christ to enter more deeply into our society and our lives cannot happen without repentance. After all, only the wounded need healing, only the lost need saving. And, what good is acknowledging our selfishness and sin unless we also decide to leave that sin behind, and then make concrete actions to carry out that decision?
Because God knows how hard it can be for us to repent and allow Him to transform us, God provided the sacrament of His mercy, confession. All we need to do is examine our conscience, recall to mind our sins. Then we kneel before the Lord of unending love and mercy, admit our guilt and seek His forgiveness. Confession is like a new baptism, a fresh start, a rebooting of the spiritual life, a simple, concrete way that God has given us to let his grace and forgiveness replenish our hope and renew our love.
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.