All too often, we (as Catholics) will come to Mass or in a common prayer without understanding why. (How often do you hear from a non-Catholic: “Why do you, as Catholics do (blank)?” (Make the sign of the cross, say memorized prayers, use incense, stand, sit…you can fill in the “(blank)”. And our response is something like: “I don’t know…it’s just what we do.”
The “great prayer of the Church” the Mass (or the Liturgy of the Hours), I want to give the parish unique insights on many areas of the Liturgy to help everyone to rediscover the hidden spiritual wealth (and transcendent grandeur) of the Liturgy as the very center of our Christian life (our Catholic life). While other denominations express prayer in their own method, the Liturgy is distinctively ours (given to us over 2000 years). It is not to be seen as a museum piece that is viewed from a distance…or just walked by as painting on a wall done by a famous artist. Our Liturgy is something we touch, see, smell, hear…taste. It is ours to take and experience.
Among the many liturgical areas we are going to look at in the next few reflections, I hope we can discuss fundamental misunderstandings of the Second Vatican Council’s intentions for liturgical reforms (renewal), especially the focus of prayer at the Mass, the placement of the tabernacle, the posture of kneeling, etc.
Other areas of interest: the essence of worship • Jewish roots and (2000 years old) new elements of the Christian Liturgy • sacred times and places • the historic and cosmic dimensions of the Liturgy • the relationship of the Liturgy to time and space • art and music…and the Liturgy • (the often misunderstood concept even among religious and clergy) – “active participation” of all the faithful • gestures, posture, and vestments. I hope…in the reflections to come…when you are asked to fill in the “(blank)”, each of us will be so excited to explain the “(blank)” – others will want to learn the steps of the Dance with us and join the music and the excitement. And, even more important, when you are tempted to think (or worse … say out loud): “Does God really care? Does what we do at Mass only get in the way of worshipping God?” …you will have the knowledge to expel that demon.
One of the keys to loving Jesus is taking the time to appreciate how much He truly loves us. Yes, we know the historical facts and truths that He taught. We can easily read them over and over again in the Bible. But it always comes down to our response to Jesus. There are many things that we do in our lives and there are many different attitudes and reasons. We can act out of love, joy, hope, and gratitude or we can act out of duty, convenience, regret, anger, guilt, or fear or a host of other motives or impulses. The best reason to act of course is love. We love the people we are with and we love to do the things we do. To truly grow in our life with Jesus we need to ask these questions: Do I pray because I have to, want to…or love to? Do I come to Mass because I have to, want to…or love to? Obviously there is a great difference in the reasons we pray and come to Mass. We know the best reason, but is that in the forefront of our minds and hearts? With all the activities in our daily lives it takes discipline to find the time to pray. The fact is we do find time to do the things we want to do and like to do. When and where we find the time to pray every day becomes easier to carve out when we understand how much Jesus loves us and wants us to be part of His life. We can spend hours on the Internet, watching TV, or even reading a book. At times we recognize that we are centering our lives around what we like and our own agendas. But too much self-centeredness leads us to put off what is really best for our spiritual, physical, and mental well being.
This was well-illustrated in a story I read – about mosquitoes and bees:
Once upon a time, some mosquitoes and some bees had an exchange about their views and aims in life. The mosquitoes said: “We do not toil as you bees do, nor have we any desire to do it. We have a leisurely existence. In the night, slowly and unnoticed, we intrude into people’s habitations, and then we sting them and suck their blood. That is what we do. We know that we cause them itching and pain, none of us could care less. As long as we get what we want, it is all right with us. We know that people hate us, but this does not bother us.”
The bees retorted in horror: “Our way of life is just the opposite. Night and day we work hard and struggle to support ourselves from the fruit of our labor. We hate to be a burden or nuisance to anyone. On the contrary, we are delighted to share the surplus of our labor with others. Our aim in life is to support ourselves as well as to give comfort, nourishment, and sweetness to one and all. Flying from flower to flower, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the light of the day, collecting scented nectar and making honey is truly an exhilarating and worthwhile way of living. It is in working for ourselves and others that we find meaning and happiness in life.”
Our response to the goodness and love of others is gratitude and a desire to love them in return. That is the ultimate response to Jesus: to love Him in return. When that happen (as it does when we choose to love others) we make Him the center of our concern and look forward to spending time with Him. Our will is fueled by a desire to do what is truly good for others and Him. Their well being becomes an important part of our thoughts, words and actions.
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.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking from the same place He was for the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus is giving us His last will and testament. What is He going to leave to His followers? His love. That love includes not only Himself, but the Father and Holy Spirit. He fulfills His Last Supper promise: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14: 15-16) Jesus did die on the cross, but He did not leave us. As we see in His words He will come and dwell within us and the Father will come with Him. A few verses later Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance from Him is the fullness of the life of God. We began that life the moment we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (We remind ourselves of this treasure every time we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
When you think about it, those we love do dwell within us. They are an intimate and intricate part of who we are. They are always in our hearts that are filled with love for them expressed in our concern, goodness, gratitude, humility, sacrifices, mercy, and generosity. In this Gospel passage Jesus expressed what was going to happen when He died and rose from the dead. Our inheritance from Him is the gift of Himself, the Father, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. How does this inheritance affect our lives? The more we “use” our inheritance from Jesus, the more we recognize the gift of peace that He also promises in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace we long for as individuals, families, communities, nations, and worldwide. Human efforts have helped us to defeat the countless powers that seek to separate us from God and one another (just ask a faith-filled veteran). Yet still, in all too many places around the world, there is violence, injustice, destruction and the abuse and taking of human life.
So, what is this peace Jesus is leaving us? It is the peace that comes from truly believing that He knows us as we are at each moment of our lives and is with us in all we say, do and think each day. This thought is expressed so clearly at the beginning of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers (for Various Occasions): “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, Who love the human race and Who always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is Your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by His Love, and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us, He opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.” Obviously we need to accept His invitation to be renewed by our inheritance from Him through our heartfelt participation in the Mass every week. Jesus never tires of inviting us to open our eyes to His Love for us and His Presence to us. It is Jesus and our inheritance from Him, which is Jesus Himself, that lifts us beyond the confusion, challenges, and obstacles we face as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Only a nation under God can be one nation. It takes God to not only take away the confusion…but also to enlighten us with the truth of who we truly are and what we are ultimately capable of in the best sense possible.
Those who are an intimate part of our lives dwell in our minds and hearts. They color the way we live our lives every day. When they are sick and suffering they are in the forefront of our thoughts and concerns. Their burdens become our burden. When they are celebrating achievements or special events, we are joyful with them and for them. When they are confused we look to help work out their problems and concerns and at the same time assure them of our love. It is exactly this kind of presence that Jesus promises to us in today’s Gospel when He promises to bring the Father and dwell within us. Are we aware of this presence? Do we want this presence?
During the Easter Season almost every day the first reading at Mass has been from the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the Bible is the account of the first generation of the Church after Jesus rose and ascended into heaven. They faced many challenges among themselves and from outside forces. What is very clear as we read from the Acts of the Apostles is that all who came to believe in Jesus knew that He was dwelling within them and they were dwelling within Him. One very clear example is from Acts 5:17-29:
“Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, ‘Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.’ When they heard this, they went to the temple early in the morning and taught. When the high priest and his companions arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin, the full senate of the Israelites, and sent to the jail to have them brought in. But the court officers who went did not find them in the prison, so they came back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked and the guards stationed outside the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ When they heard this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss about them, as to what this would come to. Then someone came in and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are in the temple area and are teaching the people.’ Then the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without force, because they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, ‘We gave you strict orders [did we not?] to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’
With a little time, the Apostles (and us) can finally figured it out…the need for God in our lives. And, not a god we make up out of our own minds…but…God, Who wants us to have a real…intimate…actual relationship with us (but on His terms…not ours). Our challenge as American Catholics is not to be so influenced by the media, political candidates, and political parties…but to allow the vision of Jesus who dwells within us to illumine the way to the truth for ourselves and for our nation. Our society over and over again dismisses God and sound moral doctrine in the name of convenience and freedom. To be part of that mind set is to walk down the path with your head looking straight up and not where your feet are going. Of course any path like this leads to confusion and destruction (and misleads our young people about what it means to dwell in: Jesus…the Father…or to recognize Jesus and the Father dwelling in us). Take a hint from the Gospel and the angel in Acts this week: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Get busy as Jesus told you: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Last week we celebrated Mother’s Day. As we honored one parent lst week, Jesus honors His Father this week. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about how He is going to glorify God. That glorification is seen in how He suffered the injustice of crucifixion, but rose from the dead and beyond all who tried to silence Him. He spoke (and taught) something that in the 21st century…is absolutely, politically incorrect. Saying – do what I tell you and you will be assured of being correct, and you will find an eternity of happiness. He said: “I am the way the truth and the life”. Well…who does Jesus think He is? After all…is Pontius Pilate more the model of the 21st century…when – looking at Jesus…do we say: “What is truth?” In looking at what is going on in our nation at this point and all the debates about different issues, respect for life must be at the forefront. Whenever we compromise or deny the truth, the seeds of destruction and disunity are planted. We who have the treasure of faith are not obliged to convert those who are not in agreement with us…but we are challenged to speak up for the truth about human life. There is no candidate that is perfect on this issue as far as action is concerned. Some Catholic politicians at least pay lip service…while others are clearly supportive of abortion. I am not a one issue person, but when a basic issue is ignored there will never be peace in our hearts, our nation, and in our world. To look past the issue of abortion is to allow evil to continue to destroy children in the womb and scar the hearts, minds, and souls of all those involved. How could the German people stand by and allow 12 million people to perish in the concentration camps? How can we continue to stand by as almost 60 million children have been aborted since this practice was legalized on January 22, 1973? Evil has wreaked havoc for the past 43 years. How much longer will it prosper? Who will speak up? Politicians promise jobs, reform, lower taxes, refugee programs, and the defeat of ISIS and other evils. (They speak as if they are an omnipotent God.) But wherever innocent life is attacked or threatened and nothing is done, our national spirit deteriorates.
We are grateful to all veterans who have sacrificed their time and even their lives to defend who we are as Americans. Easter time energizes us to muster the courage to look at what is most important to our nation. When we glorify God by our lives as Jesus did, our national health and moral fiber are strengthened.
The Resurrection of Jesus has many aspects. One of them is rising above our fears, hesitancy, lethargy, apathy, and ignorance to live and speak the truth about human life. Life is a gift from God. You who are parents have blessed your children in the God-like way you created them and continue to love and nurture them. You are more fully alive with them than you would have been without them.
As Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the life…let us say: Thank you Father for the gift of life. Thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus. May my gratitude inspire and sustain me in doing everything I can to respect all people and to do all in my power to end abortion and everything else that harms, abuses, or threatens human life. Give me the courage and strength to live in your image each day.
Henri Nouwen said: “Prayer is the way to both the heart of God and the heart of the world.”How blessed, challenged, grateful, and humbled we are to live in God’s world.