Sunday, December 30, 2012

This Blog Now Being All Stilled

This morning I thought to take a look at this old blog, apply a new template to make it a little more readable and clean up the page elements a bit. Once an effort which I enjoyed attending to at the beginning of each week, it's been dormant since I left the life of a parish priest, first to take up new studies and then to come here to Rome to work at our General Curia. There are hardly any visitors here any longer, but search traffic still brings someone now and then. Through either Providence, the wonders of search algorithms or some combination of both, the little bit of traffic seems to end up at the few homilies that aren't so bad. So for that I leave this quieted old blog up and published.

Should you be interested in what I'm up to and thinking about, click over to my general-purpose blog, a minor friar.


En una noche oscura,
con ansias en amores inflamada,
(¡oh dichosa ventura!)
salĂ­ sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Answer to Prayer

(17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C; Last Mass at Sacred Heart)

In the gospel today we hear some of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. ‘Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Even more, by sheer persistence, Jesus says, we will receive a favorable answer to our prayer.

To hear this can be a little jarring; it can be an occasion of a ‘cognitive dissonance.’ Often it doesn’t seem like we get what we pray for simply by our trust in God and our faithful persistence in prayer. Look at poor Abraham; after all of his haggling for the city of Sodom, we know what happened to them. In the end only Lot and his two daughters survived that mess, if you don’t count Mrs. Lot who turned into a pillar of salt during the escape. Even more, if you keep reading in Genesis you will observe that Lot’s daughters weren’t exactly the most wholesome and righteous girls that ever lived.

So how are we to take what Jesus says, when he assures us that our prayers are answered, and that we will receive what we want from God, who is even more attentive than human parents who know well how to give good gifts to their children? I think we receive an answer when we read carefully.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” There it is. The Holy Spirit is the gift we receive from our trust and persistence in prayer, not anything else that we might think we need or want.

The Holy Spirit Whom we receive in prayer is the same Spirit Who stretches the divine life of the Blessed Trinity into the world to conceive Our Lord through the consent of our Blessed Mother. He is the same Spirit who gives birth to the Church when He comes to rest on the apostles gathered in prayer on Pentecost. Both of these mysteries are present when each of us receives the gift of the Holy Spirit through prayer. Just as with Mary, the Spirit desires to conceive the Word of God in us, that we may bear his presence to the world and the Word may become flesh through our words and actions. By our common prayer here in the liturgy, we are transformed anew into the Body of Christ, ready to be sent into the world as God’s own reconciliation, forgiveness, and sacrifice for the life of the world.

This gift of the Holy Spirit, given to all who ask with faith and persistence, is the perfect answer to prayer because it draws us into the infinite creativity, delight, and joy of the Blessed Trinity himself. This is the heart of the Christian mystery; that we might come to share, through the Holy Spirit, the same intimacy of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. In this sense, all of our prayers are answered because we receive the gift that is infinitely satisfying and delightful, God himself.

This is not an easy gift, however. To be conceived as the Body of Christ in the world also means accepting the Cross. To consent to become the Body of Christ here at Mass is also to consent to the Cross that the Body of Christ carries. The Cross is God’s answer to the suffering we have brought upon this world with our sins: not to magically fix the world, but to show us a way through its suffering to new life. Taking up our Cross means refusing to pass evil on, rejecting revenge and refusing to participate in this world’s cycles of violence. Jesus’ life and death assure us that those who accept the Cross in this way participate in God’s work of renovating the world through the divine life poured out into our humanity in Christ. The mystery of this renovation of our humanity is what we call the Resurrection.

Let us surrender today to the gift which God is (literally) dying to give us, the Holy Spirit. By this Gift we are drawn into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity, and are made sharers in the salvation that Jesus Christ has accomplished for the world.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Christian Freedom

(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery,” writes St. Paul in the second reading today. The spiritual freedom we have in Christ is worth our reflection from time to time. On the one hand, freedom is one of the great gifts that we have in Christ, and one of the most important ways we recover—in Christ—the image and likeness of God in which we were created, and thus find our happiness and fulfillment. God, after all, is infinitely free, and by being free ourselves we imitate Him and share in His freedom. That’s why human beings always strive for freedom and why it makes us happy, because our hearts and minds are always reaching out for the ultimate, divine Love and Freedom of God. On the other hand, we always have to be on guard against the shallow and erroneous understandings of freedom that come from the world and from that mystery of human selfishness and frustration that Paul calls “the flesh.”

Some people think freedom is just being able to do whatever we please. Thomas Merton has a great line on this: “The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 27) Evil and sin make us unhappy by definition. So when I sin by deliberately choosing the bad, thereby making myself miserable—as well as all those who, by their immense charity, put up with me—I am exercising my unfreedom and my slavery to sin. The metaphor of exercise is pertinent, too, because our choices develop our habits and our habits determine what sort of person we become, whether better or worse each day. This is why it’s hard for the wisdom of this world to accept that real freedom is the ability to choose the good, not the false liberty of being able to do whatever we think we want.

This is also why, as St. Paul points out, spiritual freedom and love of neighbor go together. Forgetting about all of the nonsense fed to us by romantic comedies and the like, love is simply to desire the best for another, and to organize our behavior out of that desire. Love means making our life into a right effort for the good and flourishing of the people and earth around us. So, by loving our neighbor, we are seeking the good, and by learning to seek the good consistently we become free and happy. All of this we do in Christ; in fact, this is the very renovation of our humanity that we know as Christ’s Resurrection.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Recognizing the Christ

(12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

In the gospel today we have Luke’s account of St. Peter’s great confession. When asked who he says Jesus is, he responds, “the Christ of God.” This confession is the heart of our faith. For each of us, our Christianity begins when we admit, come to believe, and are willing to say publicly that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew of the first century, is the anointed Christ, Savior, and Messiah of God. For most of us, this confession was made on our behalf when we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ as infants. Those of us who were baptized as adults made our own confession of faith.

Nevertheless, however we came to be baptized, our confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ is not a ‘one time’ thing. This realization, this spiritual knowledge which is at the heart of God’s purpose as Creator, lives in us each day and should animate every thought and action of the Christian soul.

So how do we obtain, or how do we receive this knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, and with such certainty that we become willing to proclaim our faith publicly and begin to base our whole lives upon it? For this we turn to today’s first reading from the prophet Zechariah.

The prophet writes that God will pour out on his people “a spirit of grace and petition, and they will look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son.” These two go together; in fact, it is through looking on him whom we have pierced—that is to say the contemplation of Christ crucified—that we come to notice, appreciate, and perceive the Spirit of God poured out upon us, his people. This is because it is precisely the Passion that accomplishes the handing over of the Holy Spirit to us, which is God’s way of making a home in our hearts and lives. Recall the moment of Jesus’ death in St. John’s Gospel: “And bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit.”

Here we have the dynamic process of faith and prayer which is the heart and the basis of Christianity. By our contemplation of Christ crucified, we become aware of the Holy Spirit we have received through the sacrifice of his Passion. In turn, the Spirit enables us to recognize Jesus as the Christ of God. As this confession of faith wells up in our hearts and minds, we are pushed further into the contemplation of Christ crucified. Prayer and faith live in a mutually growing process and the result is that we become better Christians each day.

This contemplation is what we are about here at Mass, for holy Mass is Jesus’ extension of the sacrifice of his Passion through time such that we can share and receive his broken Body into our lives. Our Holy Communion, then, is the perfect contemplation of Christ crucified because in it we receive his Body into our bodies. It is by our Communion, then, that we also receive the Spirit that recognizes Him Whom we have received.

We come here to Sunday Mass in order to become Christians, to make again the confession of faith that the Spirit prays within us. We become the Body of Christ we receive, and so inherit the saving mission of Jesus. In this we ourselves are called to be the fulfillment of the last part of Zechariah’s prophecy we hear today; to become, as Church, a “fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” The Church is called to be the sign for the world of God’s salvation, and the source of the baptism that can save the world from its selfishness and misery. Let us recognize Jesus as the Christ, accept the mission God wills to embed within us by Holy Communion, and become this baptism for the world.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Corpus (et Sanguis) Christi

(Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, C)

Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, a day set apart to reflect upon and celebrate in a special way the Most Blessed Sacrament we receive here at Mass, and which we adore here in this church, and in all the tabernacles throughout the world.

The Catechism reminds us that it is incomplete to say that the Church celebrates the Eucharist; it is the Eucharist that makes the Church. (§1396) Here, at this moment and in this place, by his own sacrifice extended into our lives, Christ makes us into his Body, the Church.

Our birth as the Church of Jesus Christ begins at the Last Supper. In First Corinthians, one of the earliest books of the New Testament, St. Paul reports on this tradition. At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus blessed and broke bread, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body that is for you.” He then took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” By identifying that broken bread and that shared cup with his own body, soon to be broken on the Cross, and his own Blood, soon to be shed in his Passion, Jesus perpetuates through time the offering of his own one sacrifice. This is a tremendous gift for us; because Jesus has extended his one, perfect sacrifice to us in the Mass, we have an opportunity to share in it. We come here to offer our own sacrifice of praise, to offer our own joys and troubles on this altar, that we may be transformed into the Body of Christ in the world. This is what conscious and active participation in the Mass means: to come and offer ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice and consent to our own transformation in Christ.

At the Last Supper the apostles are given the gift and the command to continue to offer bread and wine—now identified with the Body and Blood of Christ. By the prayer and laying on of hands in ordination, the apostles handed over to their successors the office and power to offer this true memorial of Jesus’ sacrificial Passion. Thus, the Eucharist—the great ‘Thanksgiving’—has come down to us in the priesthood of our bishops, which they have also shared with their helper priests in the Order of Presbyter.

We see a picture of this process of Sacred Tradition in the gospel today: faced with the apostles’ anxiety for the hungry crowd, Jesus instructs the Twelve to “give them some food yourselves.” Jesus blesses and breaks the loaves, gives them to the Twelve, who in turn feed five thousand people. This is an image of Sacred Tradition; Jesus offers himself as the broken bread entrusted to the Twelve, the bread of life which multiplies in the hands of bishops and priests down through the ages until this very morning, when the holy Eucharist is celebrated all over the world.

Today, as every Sunday, we celebrate all these great mysteries. We give thanks to Jesus for giving us this memorial of his suffering and death. By his institution of the Eucharist, Jesus provides us with a way to join our own sacrifice to his here at Mass. By receiving his Body and Blood into our bodies and our lives, we become what we receive, and are built into the Church. In turn we are called to imitate the sacrifice we receive, to let our hearts be broken at the suffering of others, and to pour ourselves out for their salvation.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Most Holy Trinity

(Trinity Sunday, C)

Trinity Sunday is absolutely one of my favorite days to be a priest. Why? Because I don't have to listen to any Trinity Sunday homilies! In the fifteen Trinity Sundays from my baptism to my ordination, I heard a good homily pretty rarely.

It usually goes like this: 'O.k., it's Trinity Sunday. God is a Trinity. He's three, he's one, you can't really understand it, but that's how it is. Please stand for the Creed.' Maybe if you're lucky you at least get the amusement of some limping analogies, or the excitement of a little heresy, usually modalism or Arianism.

I always wanted to stand up and say no! Let us not pass over the central mystery of the Christian faith with mystifying arithmetic or the dullness of obnubilating analogies!

Here's the thing: We can have an understanding of the Blessed Trinity. Not a comprehension, mind you, but some understanding. This is so for two reasons. First, that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and second, God reveals himself as Trinity in the Scriptures.

Let’s start with ourselves. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and this is what is distinctive about us human beings among all God’s creatures, and if God is a Trinity, then we are created in the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, if we look at ourselves when we are most happy and most the creatures God made us to be, we should see in ourselves some vestige or reflection of the Blessed Trinity. And when are we happier than we are in love? Indeed, love makes us happy because God himself is Love, and our experiences of love are a taste of divine joy. But there is no such thing as a love that doesn’t love someone; love is always specific—we fall in love with this particular person, or place, or ideal. So for God to be Love itself, God must be at once Lover and Beloved. Indeed, this is what we are talking about when we reflect on the Blessed Trinity. From all eternity, the overflowing Love we call God self-expresses into a perfect and complete reflection of Himself. God is Lover and Beloved, Father and Son, Source and Eternal Word, or, as we hear in the first reading today, Lady Wisdom at play with the Creator at the beginning of time.

There you have it. God is not some static ‘supreme being’ sitting on a throne somewhere far away. God is a super-creative set of loving dynamisms. Lover, Beloved, and the Love they share, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, this is who God is. But here’s the really good news: because God is a set of loving dynamics, “persons,” as we say in theology, it means that God is a reality that can be stepped into.

In fact, this is what we celebrate by our Christianity. In Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has stretched the love of God the Father and God the Son into the world, that we might have the opportunity to be included in this original Love. This is what we mean in the Creed when we say that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was conceived ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit—the Love between Father and Son—has made a home for that love in our humanity through the mystery of the Incarnation. In Jesus, our humanity has the opportunity to be caught up into the eternally creative, utterly delightful, and perfectly happy divine Activity we call the Blessed Trinity. As St. Paul writes in the second reading today, Jesus is our “access” to the grace of God.

This is the joy of the Holy Communion we receive here at Holy Mass—we receive the sacrificed Body of Christ into our bodies, and so are caught up by the Spirit into the love of God the Father and God the Son. We begin to live in God. This is the good news Jesus announces in the gospel today: The Spirit will guide us “to all truth.” This Truth is God himself, the Blessed Trinity himself, in whose image we are created, and whose divine life is our destiny in heaven. As we are caught up anew into the Blessed Trinity through our Holy Communion today, let us give thanks for the chance to begin to live the life of heaven while we are still on the pilgrimage of this life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creation

(Pentecost Sunday)

Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, this is an act of creation. The breath of the Spirit which Jesus breathes on his disciples is the same wind that swept over the waters at the very beginning of time. That wind is the breath that carried the creating Word of God: “God said…and it came to be.” This same Spirit breathed in Mary and brought forth Jesus, the Word made flesh, the first fruits of the final harvest of love which is the destiny of all created being.

Creation is not just something from the past, as if God made the world and then stepped back when it was all set. God is not “set it and forget it.” God—because He is love—is a Creator by nature, and he is always creating and offering us a renovation of ourselves and the world, drawing all to a perfect fulfillment of love and joy.

The Holy Spirit, just as He is the breath by which the creation came to be through God’s Word, just as He conceived Our Lord in the womb of Mary to make an indestructible marriage between humanity and divinity, now breathes himself on us so that we may become re-created, renovated citizens of the fulfilled creation.

We see examples of this renovation in the scriptures today. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit reverses the prideful and arrogant divisions we bring upon humanity, represented by the confusion of languages that began at the Tower of Babel. In the second reading, St. Paul teaches us about the particular manifestations of the Holy Spirit that each of us will have. ‘Grace builds on nature,’ after all, and because each of us has a nature that is a unique and unrepeatable creation, the Christian each of us becomes through the Holy Spirit will be a unique, unrepeatable, and precious manifestation of God’s grace. From the larger contours of our life’s vocation to the smallest ways in which our personalities become redeemed for the sake of goodness and gentleness toward each other, all of these are the ways that the creating, Holy Spirit of God works to renovate the creation through us.

Let us rejoice today in this beginning. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…a mighty wind swept over the waters.” That wind is here now, calling us into the fulfilled, new creation. Let us accept anew the gifts of grace and love that the Spirit brings to birth in each of us, and take up our new citizenship with joy.