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.