Archive for June, 2011

 

Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord

Monday, June 27th, 2011

     Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, preached a very powerful homily on the Eucharist as the antidote to the many evils in the world.  However, the Eucharist is the antidote only if we, who receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, allow the Body and Blood of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds so that we can go out and transform the culture by being a true witness of Christ.  This is why we are commissioned at the end of Mass to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  We come to Mass not only to worship, but we  ourselves are sacrificed to the Father with Christ really present in the Eucharist so that we may be graced, transformed, and prepared to go out and do Christ”s work, and to be his presence in the ordinary places of secular life.   This is at the very heart of our mission as lay members of the Church.   As the Second Vatican Council teaches us: 

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 31)

 

     Therefore, we must resist the temptation to leave our Catholicism at the door of the church and realize that each one of us is empowered by the Eucharistic Christ to go out and make a difference in the world, to be the presence of Christ and the Church where there is much darkness and sin.   Only through our presence enlightened, transformed, and graced by the Real Presence of Christ can our culture be transformed from a culture of death to the culture of life. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines anymore, there is too much at stake!  We must have the courage and the consolation to know that Jesus is truly with us, and that he will give us the strength, the words, and the wisdom to make a difference in world.  Communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist calls us to mission, and the mission fields are not in a far away country.  The mission fields are here, in our families, in our parishes, in our schools, in the workplace.  These are the places where we must make a difference and make the light of Christ known to all!

     With all this in mind, let us meditate on the powerful words of the Holy Father who is reminding us of the power of the Eucharist in our lives and our calling to go out and share in his redeeming work and be his witnesses to all we encounter:

So from the gift of Christ”s love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus” act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God”s plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail — and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, “I am with you always, until the end of world “(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. “Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living.” Amen.

Got Jesus?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is the day in which the universal Church celebrates with great joy and thanksgiving the gift of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, in which he is truly and really with us until the end of time.  We recall the words of Jesus himself in the Gospel of John:  “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  (John 6:55-56)  This teaching was and has been a hard teaching for many.  The truth of these words is especially evident when many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him after he spoke them.  Jesus does not apologize or give a further explanation for his teaching but instead he turns to the twelve apostles and says, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter replies with the great his great words of faith, “Master, to whom shall we go, for you have the words of everlasting life.”  (Jn 6:68)

     One of the major stumbling blocks concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for some Catholics and non-Catholics alike is that it seems so impossible that Christ could be really and substantially present in the Eucharist when it looks, tastes, smells, and feels like bread and wine.  It is a mystery and it goes against what our senses are telling us.  Our senses perceive what appears to be bread and wine, when in fact, through the power and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the substance itself has been changed from bread and wine into Christ himself.  This doctrine of transubstantiation literally means “change of substance.”  This is relatively simple miracle for us to comprehend, much more so than the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation or the Resurrection of Christ.  Let’s look at how all this happens.

     To better understand this doctrine, we need to do just a little philosophy.   We need to delve into some metaphysics, or the study of being.  Now, everything that exists has what we call its substance and its accidents, or properties.  For example, if I have an apple, the substance put quite simply, is what it is objectively apart from it’s individual characteristics: an apple or its “appleness.”  Now, the accidents or properties of the apple are things like size, shape, taste, color, texture, etc.  So, if I am holding an apple, the substance is an apple and the accidents would be red, round, sweet, crunchy, smooth, etc.  Now, could it be possible to change the accidents of a substance, but the substance remains the same?  Sure.  Let’s say I put the apple in a blender.  What happens?  The accidents change, but the substance remains the same.  It is still an apple, but now it is liquid, yellow, etc.  Let’s take another example.  How about water?  Here is a substance that remains the same while the accidents change quite drastically.  It can be a liquid, solid or gas, but regardless it remains water. 

     Now that we have a better understanding of substance and accidents, we can better comprehend that what God does in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of the accidents changing in the bread, it is the substance which changes.  When the priest says the words of Jesus, “this is my body” over the bread, the Holy Spirit suspends, or keeps the same, the accidents and appearance of bread, but changes the substance from bread to Christ himself.  The very substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, though the accidents remain those of bread.  Therefore, though we see the accidents of bread and wine, the reality of the substance is truly the Son of God who chooses such a humble means to present himself to us and come in our hearts to dwell.  Not a hard miracle for God to perform, but it really throws our minds for a loop!

     Now we need to do some epistemology, or the study of knowledge.  How do we come to know things?  Our intellect or mind is part of our soul, but it interacts with the physical world through the information from our senses to come to know things.  Our mind relies on our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to know and understand the physical world.  Our senses, however, only perceive the accidents of a substance.  When my mind perceives furry, small, four legs, and bark, it knows the object as “dog.”  Our minds completely rely on the accidents of a substance to know what it is.

     However, in the Eucharist, God has changed the substance of bread and wine into Jesus, but has kept all the accidents of bread and wine the same.  Thus, our senses are still telling our mind that the Eucharist is bread and wine, which is all that our senses can perceive.  This is where we must make that intellectual and spiritual “leap of faith.”  Christ has revealed, both through his own words and through the teaching of the Church, that He is truly present in the Eucharist.  So while our senses are screaming to our intellect that what we hold in our hands is ordinary bread, our faith tells us that God has changed the substance to Christ himself!  St. Thomas Aquinas writes a beautiful depiction of this mystery in a much loved traditional hymn of the Church, the Tantum Ergo:

Down in adoration falling,
This great sacrament we hail.
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

 

Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the fullness of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they burst out of the upper room and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This feast is one of the most important events in salvation history for two reasons.  First, Pentecost fully reveals the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The strong driving wind and the tongues of fire that fell upon the apostles are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son poured forth transforming the apostles and empowering them to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth thus fulfilling the words of Christ:  “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     The coming of the Holy Spirit also institutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all four of these marks of the Church are present at Pentecost.  When you carefully read the Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke makes it very clear that this is not just an individual experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit by the apostles and other disciples, but is in fact above all an ecclesial event.

     First, St. Luke makes it clear that all the nations of the ancient world are present in Jerusalem, and, in fact, if you had a map of the ancient world at the time, Luke mentions almost all of the major regions and cities that encompassed the entire world at this time.  And yet, each person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is able to hear the Gospel of Christ preached in his own language.   What is happening here?  St. Luke is making strikingly clear that the same humanity that was scattered in the Book of Genesis at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) is now being intimately united in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  A humanity that was once scattered and divided in sin is now, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, newly created as the Body of Christ, the Church.  Thus, we see that this gathering of the human family at Pentecost is the Church that is both one and Catholic, or universal.  In other words, the Holy Spirit brings about the Church that is intimately united in the Spirit and also knows no boundaries, for the Church is open to every person of every race, language and culture. 

    Secondly, we also see that this Church is holy, first and foremost because it is filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also see that those who are joined to the Church are joined to her by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism through which they die to their old sinful selves and become a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit sent by Christ not only inaugurates the presence and mission of the Church, but that same Spirit makes the Church holy.

     Thirdly, we also see in the Pentecost event that the Church is Apostolic in that it is Peter and the other eleven apostles that are charged with handing on the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to them by Christ.  This is the profound beauty of the Church, that Christ instituted the Church upon the Rock of Peter and the other apostles, and then filled them with a unique charism of the Holy Spirit to hand on, protect, and interpret the Deposit of Faith to each generation.  This handing on of the faith beginning at Pentecost and continuing to this present day in the successors of the apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, is guided, protected, and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Two years ago, I had the awesome privilege of visiting Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter.  Above the altar at the very front of St. Peter’s is the famous stained glass window of the Holy Spirit pouring down from heaven over the Chair of St. Peter.  This was one of the most moving experiences as I truly sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as he guides and protects the Church throughout the centuries.  It is this presence of the Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost that inaugurated the mission of the Church that has also protected and kept the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alive and well as the instrument of salvation in the world for over 2,000 years. 

     As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us not only give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but for the great gift of the Catholic Church that is truly the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)