This week, the Church…Universal…takes a moment in celebration and contemplation of the Mystery found in the Most Holy Sacrament…The Body and Blood of Christ. Again…celebration…fellowship…appreciation of us being called not only to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; but, being made one with Him (Mysteriously) in His Body and Blood…if we allow the Miracle to engulf us.
This week, too, begins the Fortnight of Freedom 2017. We recognize as the Bride of Christ, our need to bring about God’s love and His kingdom on earth…as it is in Heaven.
The people of Jesus’ time were restless and fearful because their nation was occupied by the Romans (who were very brutal at times…just look at a crucifix we have hanging in our homes and work places). They lived with the tension of being faithful to who they were as the people of God and how the Roman governors treated them. In the case of Jesus’ crucifixion some of the religious leaders used the hated Roman law to remove Jesus, a fellow citizen, from the face of the earth. They were blind to the Author and Presence of all truth, God’s Truth. The truth is that we need God and His loving presence, mercy, and Spirit in Jesus. If we take Jesus and the power of His love seriously we have more inner strength to be loving, forgiving, humble and grateful for the blessing of someone as close as a spouse in marriage. Jesus wants what we want – a happy, joyful, life-long relationship of life giving love. As much as we are self sufficient and self-giving, we will find no greater inner peace and purpose than we do in Jesus and His truth that sets us free. His is the freedom that enables us to give without counting the cost…to look beyond petty differences to deepen love…to forgive from the heart so as not to remind the one who hurt us over and over again about how wrong he or she was.
It is the peace of His truth that gives us the desire to apologize for the pain and hurt we have caused. How important it is to live what we pray in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is extremely difficult without our daily bread, especially the Bread of Life in the Eucharist every week.
It is the truth of Jesus that gives us the wisdom to see where we need to speak out against injustice and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Truth not acknowledged…unleashes evil. Truth ignored…expands evil’s reach. Evil unchallenged…contradicts the peace, hope and unity only the truth can make a reality. The Fortnight of Freedom reminds us: once one life is expendable…more freedoms and lives become expendable. Comfort, pleasure and irresponsibility replace sacrifice, generosity and justice. Those who speak truth against the evils of the world are portrayed as the ones who unjustly deprive others of their freedom to choose. Freedom to do evil has divided us and seeks to silence the voice of Truth. There are many Pilates in our nation who echo his question: Truth, what is that? That is followed by the blasé attitude of: Who really cares anyway?
The voice of Jesus calls us to care. Why us? We are the ones He loves and trusts. We are the ones He speaks the truth from His Heart to. How good it is when we have the courage to live it not only for ourselves, but for the good of our nation. And, before I forget: Thanks to all our fathers…those who naturally (often in silence) witness the love of the Father.
St. Luke, frequently emphasized the compassionate side of Jesus. This Gospel is a classic example. In restoring the widow’s son to life, Jesus showed that He is the Lord of life. But in the mind of St. Luke, the story is incomplete without focusing clearly on the widow herself. This is the emphasis on compassion.
Most widows at that time were in bad shape. There was no help from the Roman occupied state: no pension, no welfare, no social security, no unemployment insurance, no tax exemption, and most especially no food stamps. When Jesus came across the funeral precession, we can assume that someone informed Him about the circumstances. A poor woman, who had already lost her husband, was about to bury her only son.
St. Luke observes that Jesus was moved with pity when He saw her. His sympathy was mostly with the widow, not primarily with her dead son. Jesus knew that the widow’s most difficult time was not then; but, later when after the burial she would have to return alone to an empty house. The Lord realized that her sorrow would be deepened by fear about her future and how she could possibly survive. Most of all in His mind, Jesus could see a future widow after a crucifixion following the lifeless body of her only son to the tomb. And so He said to the widow: “Do not weep.” From anyone else the words would have sounded hollow, but from the Christ they gave both comfort and hope. Jesus spoke those compassionate words to the widow as He did with his own Mother. “Young man, I bid you get up.” And then St. Luke carefully adds: “Jesus gave him back to his mother.”
In this second reading St. Paul remarks on how favored he was that God revealed His Son to him so that he might spread the Good News. “But when God, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, so that I might proclaim Him to the Gentiles.” We of the 21st century are the lucky ones…we of Northern European decent are the Gentiles St. Paul is referring to. (How are we doing with the gift of faith and proclaiming it to the world as St. Paul did?) Let’s look at the first reading – note the difference between what Elijah did and what Jesus did when both confronted death. Elijah called out to God and prayed that He would restore life to the woman’s son. But Jesus spoke in His own Name and by His own Authority. The Christ spoke words of real power. Elijah was indeed a prophet of God; but Jesus is Himself the Lord of life.
We admire and honor the prophet, but to Jesus we look to our rising from the dead. We will all die one day (just as both widows’ sons inevitably died). Jesus will not, however, touch our coffin or tell the pallbearers to halt. Instead He will reach out His powerful Hand to lift us up from the dead on the day of resurrection. And then we will joyfully praise Jesus, the compassionate Lord of Life.
As we celebrate this weekend the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, let us remember the intimate relationship that exists in the Trinity. The same Mystery will be best understood next week as well…as we celebrate Corpus Christi. At Mass we remember this not just in words but actuality: Christ is with us in the Eucharist. Receiving Communion is to receive His grace and strength. Just as we need protein, fruits and vegetables to live a healthy life, so too we need the nourishment that the Eucharist can give to live a healthy spiritual life. I think sometimes we may mistake “grace” as some kind of lightning bolt that upon receipt we can do all things. I leave Mass and, boom! I am a literal Christian superhero. Certainly the feeling we get after Mass or receiving any of the Sacraments should be uplifting and yes, grace can manifest itself in very tangible instances. But grace is also cumulative. As eating well builds our body, grace builds our souls. So that we may feel it after Mass; during a contentious argument; while hearing news of illness or death of a friend or loved one; as well as during moments of great joy where we give thanks for our blessings. Communion brings us together as family and faith; the grace received is exponential.
This is the season of graduations and we will soon celebrate these occasions in full measure.
At graduation a few years back, I quoted from the wise philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, and I wish to recall him again today: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” May our students always remember, you are a gift from God (as the Apostle James reminds us)…each of you capable of wonderful things.
In turn, what I ask of all our young people as they move on to new adventures is to remember to keep Christ with you. He will always remain a faithful friend…a faithful Brother. Keep open the doors of your heart to Him. When you keep your heart open to Him…the Mystery of Father and the Holy Spirit comes better experienced.
Holy Scripture tells us that the Lord Jesus returned to the glory of his Father forty days after his Resurrection, and for that reason, the Church traditionally celebrates the Ascension on the Thursday after the 6th Sunday of Easter — forty days after Easter Sunday. In recent years, however, the liturgical commemoration of the Ascension has been transferred in many places from the proper Thursday to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and that is why we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ today.
This mystery of faith does not mean that the Lord was merely taken from our sight to continue in space and time as we know them while simply being in another place; rather, Christ the Lord in His Ascension transcended the created universe altogether, including the created realities of time and space. But in transcending the created universe, the Lord Jesus did not abandon His Church or leave us comfortless. Even as Christ gave us the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth and celebrate the sacraments for the salvation of souls, He also promised to send the Holy Spirit of truth to be our teacher, guide, and consoler, and the coming of the Spirit was accomplished and manifested 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection, a mystery which we will celebrate next week on the great Solemnity of Pentecost. Christ’s Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are the very conditions for the possibility of this time of the Church in which we are called to share in the sublime work of bringing the whole human race to know, love and serve the living God, and in Word and Sacrament, the Savior remains with us to sustain us in that mission.
In describing the final moments of the Lord Jesus with the Apostles, St. Matthew candidly admits that even forty days after the Resurrection, confusion remains: “And when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.” These doubts, however, were resolved by the solemn revelation of the divine nature and glory of the Son of Man: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” And twenty centuries later we are still laboring to fulfill the Great Commission, which begins with comprehending the majesty of this sacred mystery of faith. In the Roman Missal, the first Preface of the Ascension speaks to us of the sacred mystery of Christ’s Ascension in these words:
“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For the Lord Jesus, the King of Glory, Conqueror of sin and death, ascended to the highest heavens, as the Angels gazed in wonder. Mediator between God and man, Judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state, but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells of Saul’s introduction to the remaining disciples. Because of his former persecution of Christ’s followers, “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken of him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.”
Saul (now called Paul) was fortunate to have someone speak up for him, fortunate to have someone mentor him and welcome him into the disciples’ company. We know that Paul went on to become one of the greatest defenders of Church and Christ. He could not have done so without someone believing in him. Who in your life could you mentor? Who could you show ways to improve – in the classroom, the ball field, the workplace? Who could you bring back to the faith, not with judgment but love? This week we honor those who guide, teach and mentor our future: teachers. We are blessed here with teachers and catechists who strive daily to bring out the best in all our children. May God continue to bless their work; and may we be ever thankful to them for their vocation.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Scripture readings and Mass prayers appointed for this day in the Liturgy. Today’s Communion Antiphon, for example, proclaims that “The Good Shepherd has risen, Who laid down His life for His sheep and willingly died for His flock, alleluia.” The Latin word for shepherd is pastor, and this reveals why the Church asks us to pray for more priests on Good Shepherd Sunday.
The call to the priesthood comes from God, and the Lord has promised always to provide shepherds for His people. In the Book of Jeremiah, the Lord promised Israel: “I will give you shepherds after My own Heart.” (Jeremiah 3:15) But He also asks us to seek the gift of pastors in prayer: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
In Africa, in South America, and in Oceania, the number of young men offering themselves for priestly formation is on the rise, in some cases a dramatic rise. As you know already, however, this is not the case in Europe and in North America — the “developed” world — and the disparity points to one of the chief difficulties for the young men among us who are being called today: sometimes the call is not heard because of the noise in which we live. This “noise” takes many shapes (e.g. desire for a lucrative career, fear of loneliness, the presence of so many options that making any choice is difficult, etc), but whatever the source of the noise, if the man being called never hears the call, we may assume he’ll never find his place and purpose in life. But even worse than such noise is the failure to live the Christian life with a full understanding of what a radical way of life it is.
The priesthood is not a life for extraordinary men; it is an ordinary Christian way of life for ordinary Christian men. But the key to hearing and answering the call is that the man must understand what it means to be a Christian, to be a disciple of the Jesus. The radical thing is not forsaking marriage and giving one’s life to the Church; the radical thing is being baptized and giving one’s life to Jesus Christ, knowing that this means following Him in the Way of the Cross. When young men grow up in a vibrant Christian community in which the truth of the Catholic faith is a thing for rejoicing and the beauty of the Mass is lived day in and day out as the source and summit of the Christian life, then those who are being called will have no difficulty hearing the summons of the Savior to serve his flock as priests, as shepherds, as pastors.
When Catholics ask “Why isn’t the Church doing something about fill in the blank?”, what they’re really asking is “Why aren’t the clergy doing something about that?” And that tendency to identity the work of the clergy as the work of the Church comes from a tragic misunderstanding of the dignity and demands of our Baptism. When anyone who is baptized is engaged in making just laws, teaching those in need of instruction, consoling the sorrowful, feeding the hungry, counseling the doubtful, visiting the sick or imprisoned, or serving someone in any kind of need, then the Church IS doing something about those problems, because everyone who is baptized is a member of the Church and bears responsibility for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Even more, all of the baptized have the high privilege and grave obligation to sanctify the world by their witness to Jesus Christ, and this can be done in every field of human endeavor. The Christian businessman who makes or sells something others need and does so honestly while treating his employees and customers with respect and fairness is bearing witness to the grace of his Baptism. The Christian politician who seeks to serve the common good and assist in the just governance of society according to the law of God is bearing witness to the grace of her Baptism. Christian doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians, professors, accountants, journalists, architects, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, engineers, mechanics, soldiers, nurses, social workers, secretaries, pharmacists, artists, and shop keepers who work to the uttermost limits of their gifts and do so with integrity and virtue are bearing witness to the grace of their Baptism.
But if all of the above is true, then the converse is also true: Christians who sin gravely and behave badly and fail to live according to the Gospel give scandal to the world and make it more difficult for others to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. We know this instinctively about priests, but it is true no less of everyone who is baptized and called by the Lord Jesus to be his disciple and follow him in the Way of the Cross. That is among the many reasons why all the baptized must strive with all their might to repent of their sins, believe in the Gospel, and cooperate with God’s grace to live in the evangelical freedom of the children of God.
Finally, while living an upright life is an essential part of fidelity to one’s Baptism, it is no substitute for explicit proclamation of the saving truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. All of the baptized are also called to announce the Good News of salvation in Christ and must be prepared at all times to speak to others about their friendship with the Lord Jesus, the truth and beauty of his Gospel, and the joy of living the life of grace in his holy Church. Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!