Homily: Corpus Christi, Year A

Today, the universal Church is celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. Although Ordinary Time began last week, we set aside today for this special celebration. On this special day, the Scripture reading and prayers are devoted to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, and where we receive Jesus in his body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Today also marks the end of a four-week collective message from the readings. Four weeks ago, at the Ascension, we were sent on a mission by Christ to be him in the world. As we heard, the ascended Christ was no longer limited by temporal trappings – he was now eternal. Two weeks ago, we learned better how to fulfill our mission by confidently knowing that we had the Holy Spirit as our guide. And, last week we were reminded of the efficacy of having a triune God that is not a distant power, but a person in our lives. Today, we celebrate Christ as he will always be with us in our earthly life – in the form of the Eucharist.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, we see into the way that God makes history and its events into lessons of wisdom for his people. At this early stage in the formation of the Israelites people, God brings them out of bondage from Egypt; yet, he allows them to suffer in order to form their obedience to and reliance on him. Manna is also mentioned which, although it is a gift from God, is an imperfect foreshadowing of the true food and true drink by which God gives us eternal life.

In the second reading, Paul says that the “cup of blessing”—likely a reference to the third cup of the Jewish Passover Seder that Jesus offered at the Last Supper—is a “participation in the blood of Christ,” and then that the “bread that we break”—likely an echo of the many New Testament references to the “breaking of bread” as a common facet of the early Church— is also a participation in his body. This word in the Greek is koinonia, which is sometimes translated as “communion” or “fellowship,” as well as “participation.” It comes from the root koina, meaning “common.” In the many uses of the term in the New Testament, it implies a deep form of shared life. Paul goes on to say that this sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ makes for both a mysterious sharing of his life and a mysterious sharing of oneness in his Body, the Church.

Today’s Gospel asks us to examine Jesus’s statement in a new way, because when we really look at them, his words are as shocking now as they were two thousand years ago. Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Little wonder people thought he was suggesting cannibalism when they first heard this teaching.

As Catholics we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ each time we receive the Eucharist. But do we really believe that? It’s a question worth examining because in the Mass, Jesus is truly made present under the appearance of bread and wine.

Each time we attend Mass, we celebrate the fact our God loves us so much that he nourishes us with himself so that we can become saints. It is both the greatest gift—and greatest mystery—of our faith. Ultimately, it is also the principal reason to be a Catholic—in order to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, just as he commanded the Jews of his day…and invites us to do today.

In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus just as he promised. If we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we remain in him and he remains in us.

I would like to close with the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor.”

Homily: Most Holy Trinity, Year A

Today, the universal Church has devoted the Scripture readings and prayers of the day to one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity. This is the day when we focus on what some theologians call the “economic Trinity,” or the idea that God is revealed in his activity in history through the sending of his Son and the outpouring of his Spirit. Two weeks ago, the Scripture passages of the day detailed the events of the Ascension, the culmination of God’s saving act of sending his son. Last week, we heard about Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured onto the earth. It is certainly fitting that, as we move into the Ordinary Time of the Church year, we pause to reflect on these most-significant moments in our Salvation history.

When I was in graduate school, I spent many years researching and studying the various religious traditions in the world. Many of my peers and colleagues wondered how I could stay Catholic after I had learned the “truth.” My counter was always that it was precisely because I knew the truth that I stayed Catholic, because there was no question in my mind that what I was doing was correct. Of the many unique features of Catholicism, there was one that was very significant to me: the God of Catholicism was very personal and cared deeply for me.

We first see this desire for a close and intimate relationship in the first Scripture reading from today. In the reading, God speaks to Moses, saying his own name, Yahweh, and Moses speaks back to him. We do not meet an abstract God. We meet a person, not a power.

In our Second Scripture reading, we get a very similar message to the passage from Exodus in our First Reading. St. Paul, in effect, exhorts the Corinthians not to be “stiff-necked.” If they will mend their ways and live in love and peace with one another, then “the God of love and peace” will be with them. In order to have God remain “in our company,” we must remain true to the great commandment of the new covenant to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. From its foundations, one of the primary characteristics of the Church has been the love that its members show for one another.

We also see this in the Gospel, when we are reminded that God’s son was given to us because of his great love for us. His son is a gift to us, not because we merited it our qualified in some way, but because of his absolute love. Here, we see that love is an action, not a feeling, and that love is expressed in giving.

How are we to do show this love to others? We certainly cannot be expected to do exactly as God has done. Nor do I believe he expects us to. What we can do is use the gifts God has given to us.

For twelve years, I served as the music director for various Catholic parishes in our Diocese. During my tenure, I also served as the Director of Choral Studies for Hackett Catholic Prep. One of the pieces I made sure was always performed was a piece by John Stainer, from his work The Crucifixion. The piece was based on the text from today’s Gospel reading from John 3:16. In my mind, it is one of those pieces that every musician should study in college and possibly even have a chance to perform. As a composer, Stainer did a remarkable of setting these words to music.

To me, John Stainer is an example of someone who used the gifts from God to share Christ with the world. This is what God asks of each of us.

Perhaps we are good at caring for the sick. Perhaps we are good at educating others. Maybe our strengths lie in managing or motivating people. Or perhaps, as with John Stainer, our gifts are with the arts. We have each been given different gifts and have each been called to use them in God’s name.

In my homily for the Ascension, I reflected on the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, who said that Christ has no body now but ours. By using the gifts we have been given, we can share him with the world, and, as the Gospel tells us, to bring Christ into the world to save it. We can make disciples of all nations and confidently know, as St. Paul tells us, that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will be with all of us.

 

 

Homily: Ascension

During this time of the year, our local schools are celebrating the end of the academic year. This year, my family is celebrating two graduations. One is for my oldest daughter, who is graduating from eighth grade. The other is for my youngest son, who is graduating from kindergarten.

As class president, part if my daughter’s responsibility is to write the speech for commencement. The purpose of the speech is to reflect on the years she spent with her classmates – what they learned and experienced. And, to offer words of encouragement for the challenges to come. I think that this is one of the things Jesus hoped to accomplish at the ascension when he said: “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.”

In the first reading from Acts, the disciples ask Jesus when he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. He responds not as he did before, by saying that “not even the son of Man knows” but now by saying, with more levity, that they are not “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” The disciples still do not understand that he is talking about things that are eternal, not temporal. He is speaking not of what is, but what is to come.

The ascension which follows is the final time we see Jesus physically present on the earth. We now only see Jesus through the eyes of faith, and he is only present through his priests, in persona Christi, and through us as the mystical body. The kingdom is wherever Jesus himself is present and God’s will is loved and obeyed. Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire, torture, and persecution. Throughout the world women and men have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

In the Gospel, Jesus admonishes his followers to do as he commanded as they remain on the earth. As we heard in the Gospel just two weeks ago, he said that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” And just last week we heard that him say “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

Jesus is going through the final steps to prepare us to carry out his life. After his ascension, he is no longer limited to having an effect only on the place he is. If Jesus had remained on earth in his physical body, he would have been present and visible in only one place. Now he is present in his Mystical Body, the Church. He is truly present in the Scriptures, in Baptism, in Confession, and in every sacramental action of the Church. And he is really present in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He is now able to affect the world through us, wherever we go. Many of his miracles, such as feeding the hungry and healing the sick, are now our missions.

In the second reading, Paul reminds us of what we are to do on earth. He says: “And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

These words by Paul bring to mind a poem by St. Teresa of Avila. In this poem, which I am sure many of us have heard before, she wonderfully explains the notion that we are now on earth as the mystical body of Christ. She writes: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.”

 

Reflection: Colossians 1:3a-6

For those who have stayed awake during my homilies over the years, you may recall that I often like to focus on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. And, although Scripture tells us that the greatest is love, I personally focus on hope.

To me, I see clear references in this Scripture passage to all of these virtues, but that is not what I am going to reflect on. Instead, I am going to “get real” for a moment.

Paul’s and Timothy’s correspondences with the cities they have passed through are often written as reminders of their teachings. Sometimes, we even see warnings being given to try and stop certain behaviors that are not in line with the truth given to the Church by God Himself. At the end of this passage, we see one such warning. The case of the Colossians is of particular interest because knowledge of their actions came to Paul through a report from his friend, Epaphras. Epaphras’ “report” tells Paul that the Colossians are doing good work and serving faithfully. Their faith community is part of a larger participation in the work of God on the earth. Based on the information he was given, Paul reminds those in Colassae that everything that they need to live a full and happy life has already been given to them through the Gospel. From that, we can deduce that anything that is not from the Gospel is not good for us.

At this point in the Scripture passage, Paul does not name any particular thing, but he uses the faith-driven positives they already know to paint a bad light on the seductions that may cause them to fall away. He later says that the faithful should “see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).

We do not need to pause and reflect for very long before we begin to see ways that these pseudo-spiritualities and false teachings are present in our world today. As we know, Scripture is relevant both for the time it was written as it is in our current day. Just as it has always been if false teachings are given too much of our attention, they can lead to sin. But, this is not because we are bad people – it is because we are human. It is okay if we find difficulty in taking up the cross as Jesus did, but, as long as we continue to try, and ever hope for the best, our effort is not wasted. I like to think of a phrase Matthew Kelly uses in his program, Decision Point. He says that we need to work to be the best version of ourselves. The self God has willed us to be.

Despite what I said at the beginning, there is no way I can share a homily with you without talking about hope. Paul reminds us that our hope should not be in the trappings of the world, but in Heaven. For me, that is enough of a reason to try and be the best version of myself.

Reflection on Psalm 137

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars of that land we hung up our harps. There our captors asked us for the words of a song; Our tormentors, for a joyful song: “Sing for us a song of Zion!” But how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights. Remember, LORD, against Edom that day at Jerusalem. They said: “Level it, level it down to its foundations!” Fair Babylon, you destroyer, happy those who pay you back the evil you have done us! Happy those who seize your children and smash them against a rock.

As I have learned more and more about the great Magisterium, or teaching office of the Catholic Church, I have come to find that many of the guidelines set forth in Scripture, the Catechism, Canon Law, the writings of important members of the Church, and other sacred texts exist not to hinder me or prevent me from living a full life, but exist, rather, to enable me to find true and absolute freedom. A cursory glance at the written word does not always provide us with the opportunity to truly understand what is being taught to us, and often limits our thoughts to serve only pragmatic purposes. That is not to say that all interpretation of written word should be understood in an allegorical or illusory sense, but there certainly is merit in delving more deeply and uncovering meaning that is beyond the surface level.

For this author, one such occurrence of this was with Psalm 137. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to assist with the editing of a well-done musical arrangement of the song “On the Willows” for the school’s production of Godspell. As a musician, and a very “wise” teenage, I zealously related to the idea of being oppressed by those who I perceived as captors and had terrifying it was to imagine that I would be unable to practice my art. For me, the psalm was a rallying cry to stand up to being held down. I also perceived the willow to be the Cross on which Christ would be Crucified, and the life being spent to only being his. Fortunately for me, I later discovered that I was largely mistaken about my interpretation.

Psalm 137 is a song of lamentation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile, a heartfelt prayer for liberation and an expression of longing for the Holy City. When the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem in the sixth century, they were relocated to Babylon. They mourned not only because they had been deported, but also because everything they knew to be true was taken from them. Their lyres actually represented their lives, which they attempted to raise above the twisted and fouled waters that flowed at their feet, and fed the trees on the shore. Saint Augustine speaks of the waters of the river as watering barren trees which bring forth no fruit; just as there are men greedy, covetous, barren in good works, citizens of Babylon in such wise, that they are even trees of that region; they are fed there by these pleasures of transitory things, as though watered by the waters of Babylon. They seek fruit but it is nowhere to be found.

They were also unwilling and, in a sense, unable to sing. Saint Augustine also notes, we are tempted by the delights of earthly things, and we struggle daily with the suggestions of unlawful pleasures; scarce do we breathe freely even in prayer: we understand that we are captives. But who led us captive? What men? What race? What king? If we are redeemed, we once were captives. Who has redeemed us? Christ. From whom has He redeemed us? From the devil. The devil then and his angels led us captive: and they would not lead us, unless we consented.

In an address he gave in December of 2005, then Pope Benedict XVI said of this part of the psalm that:

“Involved in the psalmist’s words are the hand, tongue, palate, voice and tears. The hand is indispensable for the one who plays the lyre. But it has remained paralyzed by sorrow because, moreover, the lyres have been hung on the willows. The singer needs the tongue, but now it cleaves to his palate. The songs of Zion are the Lord’s canticles they are not folkloric songs or performances. Only in the liturgy and in the freedom of a people can they rise up to heaven.”

The grief among the captives was great, they were still hopeful that they would be rescued by their savior. And although they were mocked and persecuted, they would not give way to sinfulness. Before the introduction into the world of the redemption and salvation made possible by Jesus Christ, people assumed that salvation was a literal and experiential principal, understood only in physical terms. There was no sense that what was given by Jesus Christ would be eternal. The prayers and worship offered by the people was important, but did not did not carry the weight of significance that Jesus Christ would add through his death and resurrection.

The Psalm also refers to the person of Edom: a Jewish name for Esau. Just as Babylon and Jerusalem are portrayed as two cities that invite two presences in the world, so do Esau and his brother, Jacob. Babylon represents despair, sorrow, and the devil. Jerusalem is a promise that represents goodness, joy, and eternal salvation. In a similar way, Esau represents the carnal; Jacob represents the spiritual. This idea is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the literal rendering being “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” This suggests an attitude of divine hostility that is not implied in Paul’s statement. In Semitic usage “hate” means to love less. Israel’s unbelief reflects the mystery of the divine election that is always operative within it. Mere natural descent from Abraham does not ensure the full possession of the divine gifts; it is God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow this fullness upon, or to withhold it from, whomsoever he wishes. The choice of Jacob over Esau is a case in point.

The final image in the Psalm is that of the destruction of children. There are historical events when this occurred, but the idea presented here is that the destruction of children represents the destruction of an entire generation. On the spiritual level, Saint Robert Bellarmine, in his commentary upon the psalms, sees an allegory here in which the children dashed against the rock are those who are brought to the Rock which is Christ and who are put to death to their former way of life, to be reborn into new life and salvation. Furthermore, with regards to the “innocence” of the infants who were killed, in the bigger picture it may have been an act of mercy; for if these infants have been rewarded eternal life and happiness in their innocence, far better that than to have grown up in a corrupt pagan environment which may have led to their eternal damnation at the time of their death. The justice and mercy of God extend beyond the grave and we must remember this when confronted with such circumstances of the ancient world—and the present.

Saint Augustine provides us with excellent words to live by. He says:

“Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what you have heard, if you wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goes before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He rules us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? Let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? Let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if you desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If you wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.”

Psalm 137 is not commonly found in the lectionary. It only appears once – during the fourth Sunday of Lent in Year B. When it is proclaimed, the final three lines are excluded because they portray the people of the Old Testament in a bad light. The Psalm is also found once in the 4-week cycle of the Psalm readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. Again, the final three lines are excluded. When it is found in the Liturgy of the Hours, it is always followed by Psalm 138, which is a Psalm that exults and praises God.

During this Advent season, the Church reads this Psalm, with its plea for liberation and its nostalgic yearning for the Holy City, as an expression of her own prayerful hope for the Lord’s coming. As St. Augustine tells us, we are called not only to sing this Psalm, but to live it, by lifting up our hearts with profound religious longing for the heavenly Jerusalem. There is no doubt that this is a Psalm of great sorrow and lamentation but, as will all things temporal, what it describes shall pass. The captors of the Jews in the Psalm can still be found today in people who oppress and persecute Catholics and what is true; in relativism; in complacency or apathy; by those who stand against the good that people try to do in the world. Despite the oppression we face, we must never forget to turn to God for someday we will all be together in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

***For those who have read some of my other works, you will know that I always cite my references extensively. That was not the case in this paper. The quotations I did use came from St. Augustine and St. Robert Bellarmine’s commentaries on Psalm 137 as well as an address given by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Problem with Three Parents

I think there are two kinds of “new” that we experience. The first is inventive, innovative, and has the potential to provide something that is truly lifegiving. The second seems new, but is really just an old idea or method presented in a different way, in hopes that some good can come of it. Now, it is certainly true that much good can come from second chances, but that is not always the case. Here, I think we see an example of that second kind of “new,” without any of the good.

The New York Times recently published an article titled: “Birth of Baby with Three Parent’s DNA Marks Success for Banned Technique.” Here is some clarification on what happens (emphasis added): The maternal spindle transfer technique involves the extraction of the genetic material from a mother’s egg, which is then inserted into a donor egg in which the maternal spindle has been removed and discarded. The reconstituted egg then is fertilized by the father’s sperm before implantation in the mother. The procedure is known as “three-parent IVF.” This term is not preferred by the scientists involved with the procedures, but it is a true representation of what is happening.

I have a guideline that I follow: I never say something that someone else has said more clearly or better. So, I give you a statement from Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster. He issued a statement on behalf of the bishops after a 2015 ruling by the House of Commons to allow this technique to occur, stating that “Whilst the Church recognises the suffering that mitochondrial diseases bring and hopes that alternative methods of treatment can be found, it remains opposed on principle to these procedures where the destruction of human embryos is part of the process.

There are a number of frightening evils present in this technique. First it requires the removal and destruction of an egg. The second egg is then remade using the material from the first. The end result is that the “waste” from each egg is discarded. Another significant concern is the invasive work that is required to accomplish what is needed. Yet another concern – the chief concern in my opinion – is the removal, in a sense, of the parents. With the removal of the conjugal act, there is no opportunity for the couple to unite as God intended. The entire process takes place solely in a medical facility, and the donors are only needed when they are taking their part in the procedure.

My concerns always exist with the current situations we find ourselves in, but also in the worrisome future that can be created. An example is with abortion and what has happened in East Asia. The legality of the act is no longer being contested on a societal scale. And, it is now permissible to choose to abort a child based on the gender. Recent data shows that there are over 55 million missing women from the last census taken in that area. This technique is also starting to take place in North America. It has been banned in only 2 states.

As of the writing of this article, there is no legislation in the works to lift the FDA ban on three-parent IVF. Please join me in praying that we do not reach that point.

Homily: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

During my years as a music director for the Catholic Church, I provided music for hundreds of funerals. At nearly each one, the first reading came from the book of Wisdom, specifically Chapter 3, which reads “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”

The Scripture passage magnifies the first reading from today, which begins with the statement that “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” This is such an important idea for us to understand. Death is in the world because of one man, Adam, and because of sin. It is not something God wants, but it is something he must allow, something we must experience. God certainly has the power to remove death from the world, but doing so would mean that God would have to change our very existence, and take away our opportunity to reconcile our lives and return to Heaven. In Salvifici Doloris, a letter on redemptive suffering, Saint John Paul II writes that “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance.” By the same token, we need to die so we can be born again in to new life.

But, as always, God will not abandoned us. In today’s Gospel, we see two accounts of Jesus’ healing mercy. The first is when a woman, stricken with leprosy, touches his cloak and is healed by him. Even though a great commotion is happening around Jesus, he is able to tend to the woman as though no one else is there. The second account of his mercy is with Jairus’ daughter, who has died. Just as with Lazarus, death does not worry Jesus. He even refers to them both as asleep and not dead. When he speaks the words “Talitha koum” the girl rises. For us, the hearers of this story, this brings meaning to the words of the Gospel Acclamation we just heard that says “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”

Today’s readings confirm for us that death is not permanent, and that eternal life awaits us. However, there is still much for us to do while we are on earth. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul expresses his gratitude to those who have lived their lives well and for others. And he also reminds them of what Christ did for them, and that it is important for them to do the same for others. He tells them they need to supply for the needs of others and ensure that all are taken care of. He even reminds the Corinthians of a principle that was established when the book of Exodus was written: that each person should only take what they need so that everyone will have enough.

Our lives are filled with opportunities for us to live well, to live justly, and to live as Christ taught us. And when our earthly life is over, we can be assured that Heaven awaits us, because Christ conquered death for us.