Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel passage from the end of John 17, we hear Jesus say in verses 20-21, ““I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

“That they may all be one.”

This is Jesus praying for Christian unity.  It is a key verse, and perhaps the key verse, that serves as the call to ecumenism, or promoting the unity of Christian churches.  Vatican II put a special emphasis on having the Catholic Church work to promote this unity with other Christian faiths.  At the highest levels, Church leaders and theologians continue to work toward that unity with the leaders of these other faiths.

But I am neither a key leader of the Church in this effort nor a theologian tasked for this effort.  What can I do?  The Vatican II “Decree on Ecumenism” points toward two things that we can adapt to our individual situations to allow us to help promote better relations with our Christian brothers and sisters on a local basis.  

One is attitude.  Do we make “every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult?” 

Second is dialogue.  Do we engage our brothers and sisters in productive (and not combative) dialogue to understand their perspective and to find common ground on which we can agree?  Do we allow them to explain and then truly listen to those explanations without trying to find an opening to exploit to win an argument?  Do we look first for common ground?  Of course, we can only go out to others in such discussions as thoroughly Catholic people fully formed and completely grounded in our own faith first. 

We must seek unity not only with brothers and sisters in other Christian faiths, but especially with Catholics within our own faith.  We must focus on what unites us as the Body of Christ and not on what divides us.  Confusion and division are tools of the Evil One who rejoices when the Body of Christ is split by division.  We may disagree, but we must do so in a way that does not divide.

In what ways have we contributed to unity? In what ways have we contributed to division?

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today, we hear more from Jesus’ priestly prayer in John 17.  His words are clearly the words of the Good Shepherd.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name

that you have given me,

so that they may be one just as we are one.”

“When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,

and I guarded them, and none of them was lost

except the son of destruction,

in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

The shepherd is praying for the protection of his flock.  His love for them is clear.  As he enters his hour, the beginning of his Passion, he prays especially for them.  This is the love of Jesus Christ.  This is the model for all shepherds.

I realize that it is easier for a parochial vicar than for a pastor.  I have none of the many temporal responsibilities about which a pastor can worry.  People joke that my budget is going to be cut.  Well, it is tough to cut something that is already at zero.  Personnel issues, physical plant maintenance, and diocesan accounting systems are also not things which I have to manage.

Nonetheless, there is a great temptation for priests to worry too much about these things.  We can try to protect the institution rather than to care for the flock.  All those temporal things only exist to support our care for the flock.  As priests, our mission is to serve the people of God…to care for the flock.  The people then are called to sanctify the world.  Yes, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of temporal things like the budget, buildings, and the grounds.  Yes, we must comply with federal and state laws and regulations about things like payroll and employment.  But those are tangential to our need to care for the flock.

Good shepherds’ care for their flock is rooted in their prayer life.  Their pastoral care is an imitation of Jesus’ pastoral care that we see expressed in the Gospel.  Priests need to make time for that prayer.  I make a morning holy hour every day plus take time for the Liturgy of the Hours at other times during the day. And I always try to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the rectory (admitting that I need to pray more in Adoration in the church).  Our work is not our prayer.  Our work is done well by God’s grace and because of our prayer.

Pray for your shepherds.  Pray that they do not lose focus on their responsibility to care for the flock.  Pray for their holiness.  When you see them in prayer, give thanks to God.  If you can, allow them to remain in prayer rather than be interrupted.  Good shepherds are holy shepherds.  It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ and our devotion to the Blessed Mother that we can be the priests that you need us to be.

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri

If we choose the Easter season readings, today is the first of three Gospel readings that cover John 17, Jesus’ priestly prayer.  It is prayed before the Apostles in the Upper Room.  It is sometimes called the “prayer of the hour of Jesus” because his hour has now come.  For us, it is a privileged entry into communication between the Father and the Son.  It is a window into the Trinity.  In witnessing the love between the Father and the Son, we see the Holy Spirit.  This entire chapter is a great gift. 

The whole prayer is full of beautiful sayings, any one of which could prompt a significant amount of time in mediation.  Almost at the very beginning, there is this:

Now this is eternal life,

that they should know you, the only true God,

and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

What does it mean for us to know the Father?  Or to know the Son?  It is not just to know about them.  It does not mean that we become theology experts.  It does not mean that we can quote Church Fathers with ease.  Or even Scripture.  It means to know the Father and the Son by experiencing them.  And we know that we come to know the Father because we know the Son. 

The very next part is this:

“I glorified you on earth

by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.”

Jesus glorified the Father by completing the mission.  He glorified the Father by doing the Father’s will.  And Jesus himself is glorified in this too.  The will of the Father is not different from the will of the Son.  The union of the Father and Son also means that we do not speak of separate divine wills.  Rather, we speak of one divine will.  The Son does not subvert his will to the Father.  The will of the Son is not different from the will of the Father.

In our own prayer life, as we come to know the Son (and thus to know the Father) through experience, our will becomes more aligned with the will of God.  As we become one with God, we want what God wants.  We do not toss aside our wants.  Rather, we allow God’s grace to transform our will to align with God’s will. 

In our current state, do we find ourselves with two lists – one for what we want and another for what we know God wants?  Are we willing to want only what God wants?

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

John 13-17 is known as the Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.  These are Jesus’ last words before his Passion begins.  John 13 is the Washing of the Feet and the announcement of Judas’ betrayal.  John 17 is known as Jesus’ priestly prayer.  It is a prayer to the Father.  So, John 14-16 is the heart of the discourse.  Thus, John 16 is the last teaching before the Passion to the Apostles.  When I read John 14-16 straight through, I see a final review session.  Jesus is working with the Apostles in a cram session on what they need to know before his Passion.  But he also covers a lot of what they need to know after he ascends to the Father. 

I am struck by how much of this discourse focuses on telling the Apostles to have peace.  It also brackets the whole section.  John 14 begins, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”  Jesus’ last words in the Upper Room at the end of John 16 that we hear in today’s Gospel are “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

I am also struck by how much Jesus’ reassurance is based on what awaits us in the next life.  He does not promise an easy life here.  Quite the contrary.  “In the world you will have trouble.”  But we are told to have peace because, in the next life, there are many dwelling places prepared for us (Jn 14:2). 

We are also promised that he will be with us in this life.  He will not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18).  Twice, he promises to send us an Advocate.

We live in this world now.  As we will hear on Wednesday, we do not belong to this world, any more than Jesus belonged to this world.  In this world, we are given what we need to stay on the road that leads back to Christ.  We are given the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  We are given the Church and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  We are given promises of what lies beyond…reasons for hope. 

Amid our difficulties, we are not to lose hope.  Because we are not left as orphans.  Jesus is with us.  The Holy Spirit is with us.  And, whatever we think about the problems of this world, we know that Jesus has conquered the world. 

Are we able to keep our eyes focused on our destination?  Focused on Christ?  In the midst of the storms of this world, can our faith, our hope, and our trust in God keep us from panic?  Do we really believe that the victory has already been won?

Ascension Sunday

I once heard another priest at daily Mass in another parish tell the assembly that one of the most important things for any Catholic was to know what Matthew 29 tells us.  He said that, in his home country, many other denominations were convincing Catholics to leave the Church because those Catholics did not know what was in Matthew 29.  He then asked the assembly whether they knew what was in Matthew 29.  So, people started to shout out their guesses.

Then, he told us what we needed to know about Matthew 29.

That Matthew only has 28 chapters.

Today’s Gospel is from the end of Matthew 28.  It includes Jesus’ final instructions to the Apostles.  This is what we call Matthew’s version of the Great Commissioning.

“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 corporate world, visions and mission statements are important.  I often tell the story of New York Yankee baseball players Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto in the car together.  Phil said, “Yogi, I think we’re lost.”  And Yogi said, “Yeah, but we’re making great time.”  Visions define a common goal.  Mission statements help makes sure that organizations are not merely hubs of often conflicting activity in perhaps only nominal pursuit of that goal.  Both statements help groups of people to align their activities toward the common goal.  They make sure that all are headed toward the same destination.

As Catholics, our vision already exists.  It is that we all become saints.  To become saints and to help others to be the same. 

As Catholics, we might feel a need to also create a mission statement.  But, if we really think about it, we already have one of these too.  This one…the Great Commissioning.  This is what Jesus asked us to do.  Certainly at least with evangelization.

Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church does basically three things.  I paraphrase slightly, but those are worship and the sacraments, evangelization, and care for those in need.    Of the first, Mass and the Eucharist are most important.  So, if we really want a mission for us as Church, we should focus on Mass (and the Eucharist), evangelization/formation, and outreach. 

Have we recognized this vision for our lives and for the Church – to become saints and help others to do the same?  How do we live this out?  Have we embraced our call to evangelization via this Great Commissioning?  What else can we do to fulfill our commission? 

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I came from the Father and have come into the world.  Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

One can only imagine how the disciples are dealing with this message.  Jesus says that the disciples have come to believe that he had come from God.  However, they do not understand what Jesus’ departure means.

Sometimes we struggle to understand situations.  They can seem overwhelming.  Events seem to spin out of control.  We might seem powerless to stop them.  Some can hold their ground during the storm.  They somehow focus on the few things that they can do and let the others simply happen. 

Many of us are familiar with first part of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Some things we cannot control or change.  For the Apostles, Jesus’ Passion and death had to be one example where one feels caught in a crazy series of events for which the best you can do is simply witness what happens.

So often, we understand new things by relating them to what we have known or experienced before.  Jesus’ description of his return to the Father likely did not fit anything to which they could relate.  This inability to understand the end meant that it would be much more difficult to deal with the things that led up to that end.

Sometimes, we too, have to simply stand back and witness events happen.  They are out of our control.  We might be able to respond or react in some small way.  But this small way is not one that effects the events themselves, it just determines our own limited response to those events.

Our faith can be our rock in such instances.  We do not understand, but we trust in God.  We cannot change what is happening, but we know that God can.  And, even if God does not change certain events of this world, we have a belief that what is to come in the next is what is most important. 

When have we felt overwhelmed by happenings in our life or in our world?  Certainly, this pandemic is one example.  How has our faith been our rock in such times?

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “So you also are now in anguish.  But I will see you again, and your  hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

Again, he speaks in the near term about his Passion, death, and Resurrection.  But he also speaks in the long term about what many call the “in-between time” that exists between his First Coming and the Second Coming.

In this time, we still deal with suffering, death, and evil in our world.  Things are not always easy.  For some, they might seem never to be easy.  But we know there is a time coming for us when there will be no more suffering…no more pain.  After this life, there is another.  One in which we are united with the Trinity and partake in their divine life for all eternity.  At that time, we will have joy that cannot be taken from us.  There will be no need to ask for anything because we will be so overwhelmed by the beauty and awesomeness of God that we could not possibly need or want anything else.

But does that mean that we have no joy now?  Does that mean that we are back to square one waiting for Jesus like the Jews waited for the Messiah?  No, the end that Jesus talks about is partially realized today.  When Jesus returned to the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to us.  In this time, despite the continued suffering that we must endure, we know of the Resurrection.  It is not just a hope, but something that we know because of the witnesses that told us.  That Resurrection gives us joy.  Perhaps it is not the complete joy that we will have at the end of time.  But it is a joy, nonetheless.  And it is one that, together with the gifts of the Spirit, can help carry us through what we have in this world.

We do not see Jesus as the Apostles did in their time.  But he sees us.  And he is present to us.  Even though we live here a long way from where Jesus walked with the Apostles.  He sees us.  And he loves us.  From the right hand of the Father.  Interceding for us with the Father. 

Can we think of examples of Christian joy that we have seen in others?  Do others see Christian joy in us?

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel passage from John, Jesus tells his disciples, “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.”  It almost sounds like a game that you might play with a child.  What does he mean?

Notice how, in his divinity, Jesus knows what they are thinking.  He is then able to answer the question that was never vocalized. 

The first thing that comes to mind for us today is likely that Jesus must be talking about his death and Resurrection as the two events.  They will not see Jesus after his death, but they will see him after the Resurrection.  Yes, the world rejoices at his death.  Evil believes they have won.  They were wrong.  Very wrong.  The victory is won by Christ. 

Notice though how the disciples link his statement to his return to the Father.  Ultimately, that is what this is about.  Jesus will return to the Father and will be present to us in a different way going forward.

After the Ascension, Jesus is present in a different way to us.  Yet, at the same time, we are invited into a deeper relationship with him in this different presence.  He can be present to us now.  We are not required to be residents of first century Galilee for Jesus to be with us.  In being present to us now, he wants us to know him and love him in a profound way.  He does not force it to happen.  He offers it to us.  He sends the invitation and asks us to accept it.   Becoming one with the divine by being in relationship with God is the gift that he offers.

How does this relationship affect the rest of our lives?  How do we approach everything else in the light of our faith?  This relationship can, and should, permeate every aspect of our lives.  It should affect all that we do and all that we think.

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

I know a priest who was visiting an old friend.  This friend happened to live in the same area as a pastor who had just been named bishop of this first priest’s diocese.  So, the priest told the bishop-elect a few things about the diocese.  But, after only sharing a few things, he finished with the phrase, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

Why is it that Jesus would have to say that to them at that moment?  Why might he have to say that to us now?

In the midst of what might seem an existential crisis, it can be difficult for us to hear of anything else.  When the Messiah was being taken from them to his death, was anyone remembering the details of the Sermon on the Mount?  Might have been helpful if they could, but the waves of emotion associated with the immediate situation likely swamped them.  All that they could think about was what was right in front of them.  The same is likely true for us many times. 

I recall the story of a spiritual director.  His directee was alarmed at the seemingly increased evil in the world.  The spiritual director pause, smiled, and said, “Yes, evil is increasing.  But so is good.  Both sides are building toward the final battle.  And we know who wins in the end.”

It can seem impossible to have such peace amid chaos, or even evil.  Somehow, the holiest people seem to be able to do that.  Saint John Vianney was tormented many nights by the Evil One.  Then, he realized that such torments always preceded a day when a great sinner would ask for forgiveness.  He came to look forward to these torments because he knew what would follow.  Jesus himself slept in the boat as it was taking on water during a storm.  We all likely know of holy ones who, in times of great need, would simply smile and say, “God will provide.”

Can we too grow in such faith and love for God that we can find such peace during trials?  Yes.  It likely will take time and perseverance in prayer.  Pope Saint John Paul II confronted the evil of Communism, but he did so as a man of tremendous prayer.  So too for us, this peace that we seek is necessarily grounded in a great, great love of God and very deep prayer.  We abandon ourselves to the will of God.  And we can find peace in doing so.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel from John, Jesus tells those gathered for the Last Supper that he is going to the one who sent him.

Jesus’ departure is essential so that he can send the Holy Spirit.  But he is not leaving them completely.  He will still be present to them.  But he will be present in a different way. 

In his earthly ministry, Jesus is present to a particular group of people in a particular time and in a particular place.  In his humanity, he is subject to the same constraints of time and space that we are. 

But, in returning to the Father, he can be present at all times and in all places to all people.  Once his finally glorified with the Father, he can in turn send the Spirit from his place with the Father to those who believe in him.

This was a great change for those who followed Jesus.  But, in making this change, his followers are invited into an even deeper relationship with him through the Spirit.

Are we open to how major changes can be invitations to a deeper relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  With all that has gone on over these last couple of months, with all that the parish has tried to do to remain connected with you, with how your schedules and routines have changed, and with how your whole lives have changed, have you seen an invitation to a deeper relationship with God?   

Perhaps schedules have eased from their normally overwhelming volume of activities.  Perhaps there are more family meals because of our inability to dine out at restaurants.  There have certainly been difficulties, even great ones, but have there also been opportunities?  Opportunities to connect with family.  Opportunities to pray more regularly and more deeply.

What changes have we experienced over these last two months that we want to retain? 

Things are slowly starting back to normal.  Perhaps not the old normal…at least for some time.  Perhaps to a new normal for now.  And perhaps, over these last two months, we have experienced that deeper relationship with God.  That is certainly a change worth holding on to.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Spirit of truth testifies to him. But also, that the Apostles testify to him because they have been with him from the beginning.

In today’s world, some seem to invoke the Holy Spirit as the reason for changes. Others invoke tradition as a reason for keeping things exactly the same.

From Church teaching, we know that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. One of the ways of describing the Church is as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul talked of gifts of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church today as it did at Pentecost.

At the same time, we know that the Apostles testify to Jesus. We look toward both Sacred Scripture and Tradition as sources of truth in the faith. Tradition with a capital “T” is handed down from the Apostles to the successors of the Apostles. We respect all teaching handed down over the centuries. There is a reason why something was the way that it was.

To say that we must choose between the Holy Spirit and tradition is a false choice. If we say that the Holy Spirit speaks to us today and allows us to completely break from the past, then we must ask where the Holy Spirit was in those prior years. Did the Holy Spirit abandon those who had come before us?

Saint John Henry Newman found a way to avoid this false choice with what he called the “development of Christian doctrine.” It allows for continual development of doctrine by allowing change that is not a rupture with the past. It allows us to value what the past can tell us without being resistant to change. He gives seven tests for determining authentic development that would require considerable explanation to cover fully. But we should understand that we do not have to choose between change and respect for tradition.

Are we able to see the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in us today? Can we respect and understand…and value…the Catholic development of teaching over nearly two millennia that opens up what Christ first taught us? Are we open to change in a way that is still consistent with what came before?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

I am in in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

We look all over the world to find fulfillment. But we often fail to take the time to look within. We often fail to find God inside us.

Saint Augustine would readily identify with this problem. In his spiritual autobiography, Confessions, he famously wrote, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.”

Saint Augustine was led to the understanding that he could best find God within himself rather than out in the created world. Rather than chasing outside, he turned inward.

On the wall opposite my desk here in this office, and alongside my copy of Dali’s John of the Cross, I have a copy of the painting of Jesus knocking on the door. It is always pointed out that there is no handle that Jesus could use to open the door. We are the ones that must open the door.

But others have pointed out that we can also reverse this image. In a very Augustinian understanding, we could see Jesus on the inside knocking and inviting us to enter inside and into a relationship with him.

Returning to Jesus’ quote, we also see that he is in communion with the Father. But, if we are in Jesus, then Jesus helps to bring us into that communion too.

Our interior life is necessarily interior. There is no concern there for other’s opinions of us. There is no room for seeking approval from others. There are no to-do lists. There are no worldly pressures. There is just us and God. It is there that we understand our status as a beloved child of God. It is from that simple and yet wonderful fact that we draw our sense of self-worth and our true identity.

Grounded in a solid interior life, we can be better able to encounter the exterior world. We can be more focused on serving others than needing anything ourselves. We can draw our satisfaction from inside rather than outside because we have found God inside.

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

“If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

As Christians, we are in this world, but not of this world. Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that we do not belong to this world. This is not our home. We are mere transients moving through this world. We have no permanent home here. Our home is in the next world. We are pilgrim people. We are going toward a holy place – the ultimate holy place. It is typically a long slow journey in which the journey itself helps to sanctify us as we move toward our sacred home.

We still have responsibilities in this life. We still have a state in life in this life. We have a vocation to live out in this life. We must do so with a sense of mission. Christians take commitments seriously. Jobs should be done to the best of our abilities. In whatever profession that we are employed, we take that profession to be our craft. And we do that craft well. And we always look to improve in our craft. Much as Saint Joseph would have done as a craftsman himself.

At the same time, we have a sense of joy and hope from our faith. We know that something much better awaits us. When we have finished our pilgrimage and reached our sacred place (or, perhaps more accurately, our sacred state of being), we have a hope for the greatness of that which awaits us. We know that our Savior has conquered death. Because of the Resurrection, there is great joy.

Life will always throw us curveballs. Something unexpected always happens. We adjust to the best of our God-given abilities and move on. Knowing that the things of this life are not what is most important. We deal with them as best we can while keeping our eyes focused on the goal. We are always looking at Christ. This is not something that those who are entirely of this world will ever understand. We might even be hated because of it. But that does not deter us in making this journey.

Those who recognize that this life is a pilgrimage can rejoice in the good things in this life without being crushed by its adversities. Whatever duration that our individual pilgrimage might be, we give thanks for the opportunity to make it. But we especially give thanks for the destination that awaits.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

I took a retreat once that was led by a prior abbot at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA.  During the retreat, he said, “Tell me your view of God, and I will tell you how you pray.  Conversely, tell me how you pray, and I will tell you your view of God.”

Some people have a view of God as a very distant and all-powerful ruler.  This God is one to be feared.  If God is all-powerful, then God can do whatever he wants.  In the extreme, God’s will becomes very arbitrary.  This God could even do evil if he wanted.  We talk about evil in terms of moral evil (what someone decides to do) and physical evil (the storms, earthquakes, illnesses, and similar bad things that just happen in this world).  In this view of God, he could bring any of these things upon us at any time.

At the other extreme, God is viewed as a stuffed animal that merely gives us companionship.  Perhaps God affirms whatever we choose to do.  This perspective can also lead to God as a vending machine.  We key in the right code through prayer, and we are given whatever we wish.

Jesus gives a view of the first Person of the Trinity as Father.  He encourages us to call God the Father “our Father.”  A father loves his children with great love.  This Father loves us with an infinite love.  But this is not a love that affirms us in any choice that we make.  This a Father that protects us from the full effects of our sins.  But sometimes we are permitted to feel at least some of the effects of our sins so that we can learn the lesson that God wants us to learn.  This is a Father that encourages us and even challenges us.  This Father wants his children to do what is best for them…to fulfill their potential…that they might experience the results of these good choices. 

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that he calls us friends.  We are not slaves.  Certainly, we are not to cower in complete fear of him.  Instead, we are invited to friendship.  This is an intimate relationship with one who loves us infinitely, not that of a mere acquaintance.  Earlier, Jesus had promised another advocate.  He is the first though.  Not just a legal representative, but a consoler and a guide. 

How do we see God the Father?  How do we see Jesus?  How do we view our relationship with them?  What does our prayer look like?  Who do we encounter in prayer?  And what happens in that encounter?

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Many of you know what is like to share a long and happy marriage with someone.  All of us know examples that we have seen.  I am thinking of those couples who can share beautiful silence together without feeling an obligation to break the silence.  This is not an icy silence of two people that do not want to speak to one another.  This is a loving silence of two people who know of the other’s love for them without it having to be verbalized.

That is a beautiful thing.  It is an earthly version of the communion of the Holy Trinity.  We sometimes describe the Trinity as the Father loving the Son, the Son returning the love to the Father, and the Spirit as the love shared between them. 

If we imagine such a scene, whether the earthly one of the happily married couple or the image of the communion of the Trinity, what comes to mind?  Love, of course.  But we almost certainly also think of peace.  We might also think of great happiness. 

This is an image that should come time mind when we read today’s Gospel.  Jesus tells us of the love that the Father has for him.  And he tells us how that love is a love that he shares with us.  Then he tells us to remain in his love.  Other translations use the verb “abide.”  From our own images, there is also a sense of resting in that love.

Then we are called to love one another.  To be willing to sacrifice ourselves for one another.  Something that seems exceedingly difficult.  But, in the context of our earlier image, it is something that can also seem easier and even natural.  The word spoken to us by Jesus makes us more fruitful and allows us to help others to enter this communion.

What images do we see when we think of the communion of the Trinity?  How do those images include us as part of that communion?

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”

There is so much in just this one sentence.

Jesus is the true vine.  He says this to draw the contrast with all the Old Testament passages which see Israel as the vine.  Isaiah 5’s story of how the vines yield only wild grapes might be the most famous passage, but there are also passages in Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 19:10–14, and Psalm 80:18–19 that see Israel as the vine.  This all would be well known to a first century Jew. 

Jesus points instead to himself as the vine.  He is our link to life.  He is our mediator with the Father.  In him, humanity and divinity touch.  If God neglected us for even a moment, we would perish.  But, joined to the vine, we have life.  If we choose to separate ourselves from God, we forfeit the promise of eternal life.  We have life through our connection to the vine. 

Jesus is the vine, but the Father is the vine grower.  What Jesus does, he does to fulfill the Father’s plan.  He does so in obedience to the Father’s plan.  Jesus and the Father are one in that they share the same divine nature.  They also share the same will.  There is nothing that the Father wants that the Son does not also want (and vice versa).  Just as the vine grower maps out his vineyard, the Father has a plan for all creation. 

The vine and the vine grower are connected in a special way.  Jesus and the Father share a communion of love in the Spirit.  Because we are connected to Jesus, we can share in this communion of love.  That is what we are promised as the fulfillment of our very creation. 

Jesus is also the head of the Church.  We cannot survive as Church if we separate ourselves from Jesus Christ.  When our experience of Church becomes about us rather than about our being joined to Christ and offering worship and prayer to the Father through the Spirit, we die.  Of course, it goes without saying that we also bear no fruit.  A wealth of good vocations is a sign of spiritual health for a parish.  It cannot happen when we are separated from the vine.  It cannot happen when we make ourselves the focus of the Church.  We are called to celebrate divine mysteries and not to celebrate ourselves.  If we have an improper orientation, we bear no fruit.

How do I make sure that I remain connected to the vine?  How do I contribute to the right orientation of myself and others within my parish?

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

What does this mean?

First, remember how the Messiah is associated with peace.  There is Isaiah 9:5 that Handel used in “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” in his Messiah: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”  Jesus is the Prince of Peace. 

We also see this association of the Messiah with peace in other places in Isaiah and in Haggai, which says “Greater will be the glory of this house, the latter more than the former—says the LORD of hosts;          And in this place I will give you peace— oracle of the LORD of hosts.”

In the early Church, we find grace and peace as part of a standard greeting to other Christians.  But it is not a secular peace.  It is a deeply religious one.  It is even part of one of the options for the priest’s greeting at the beginning of Mass – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, what is the peace that Christ gives? 

It is the peace that is eternal life.  It is the joy of salvation.  In this time between the two comings of Christ, this peace does not eliminate the trials and tribulations of this life.  It does not exempt us from suffering.  It does not even completely inoculate us from division within the Church.  However, it does give us hope for what is to come.  And that hope makes our difficulties easier to bear.  Not to mention how the Holy Spirit acts as our consoler.

As Francis Moloney noted, Jesus’ gift of peace leads to a uniting of the faithful person with the Father and the Son.  It is far greater than the fragile peace of this world that might come from politics. 

We can rest in this peace of Christ.  Even as we deal with difficulties, we have this peace.  Perhaps we might find ourselves unable to sleep soundly in the boat during a raging storm as the boat takes on water, although Jesus himself had no trouble.  But, because of this gift, we can find greater peace even in this life.

Need Your Input

I want to understand how helpful these reflections have been for you and whether I should continue them as we start to come back to public Mass and to some increased activity in the parish.

Please take a moment to complete this simple one-question survey.

Please provide your input prior to 7am this Friday.

Thanks and God bless,

Fr. Bob

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

What is love? 

Fifty years ago, the movie Love Story made popular the expression, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Others have different expectations of love.  For some, it means helping another get, or do, anything that they want.  For others, it means simply making the other happy.  Still others think that love is an emotion.

One of many great things about being Catholic is that we have the teachings of God himself in the person of Christ along with almost two millennia of great and holy people interpreting those teachings.  St. Thomas Aquinas gives us his famous definition of love that we can build upon by saying that love is willing the good of the other for the sake of the other.  It is a decision, not an emotion.  It is wanting good for the other, not whatever the other wants.

But that really seems to describe love of neighbor.  The Greatest Commandment is to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  The second is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  How do I will the good of God for the sake of God?  Does God need some good that God does not already have?  How does God benefit from my willing some good for God?

Of course, God is already the source of all good.  And God needs nothing from us. 

So, while we cannot logically want some additional good for God, we can want to do the will of God.  Loving God means wanting to do God’s will.  That is how we love God.  That is why Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”  It is God’s will that we follow the Commandments.  In following them, we are loving God. 

Following the Commandments means following their literal meaning along with the other actions that fall underneath them.  It is not enough to say that we have not killed anyone.  Have we disrespected the dignity of others by causing scandal…by leading them to sin?  Have we harbored deliberate hatred toward another?    The Catechism shows us that all are sins against the Fifth Commandment. 

Are there some Commandments that we avoid?  Some that we think do not apply to us or no longer apply to our times?  Do we realize that these exceptions to following the Commandments are ways in which we hold back on fully loving God?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

When we speak of God, we speak of three Persons.  But we speak of only one God. 

The joke that I have used with youth is to say that the Trinity consists of “three who’s, one what, two processions, and two missions.”  There are three divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Yet, all are God and share the same nature (the same “what”).  The Son was begotten of the Father.  The Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.  Both can be called processions.  Those processions are internal to God.  Or some might say internal to the Godhead.  Both happened before time began.  Missions are where God entered our world at a point in time.  These two visible missions are Jesus’ Incarnation (including his entire life on earth) and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  They are where God entered our world such that we could see it happen. 

Any human description of the Trinity with our finite human language is necessarily an incomplete explanation of an infinite God.  But such explanations are helpful for us.

Jesus’ mission was primarily to save us.  But, in so doing, God entered our world.  Creator becomes creature.  Jesus makes God visible to us.  He reveals the Father to us.  We can see God because we can see him.

God told the Israelites not to worship graven images.  They had no image of God because they had not seen God.  Then the Father sent the Son.  And the world had an image of God.  An image in human form.  We do not worship artistic representations of God.  We only worship God.  But an artistic image calls to mind what we worship.

Yes, we know a lot about God from the prophets that he sent.  But our primary source of information about God is God.  The Son tells us about the Father.  The Son tells us about the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Son that God is revealed to us most fully.

In many other religions, there is a figure that purports to tells us about God.  In Christianity, it is God that comes to tell us about God.  We start with who Jesus is.  What he says is so important because of who he is.

Have we ever simply sat and wondered about a God that chooses to become one of us?  What do we think of God because of that?  What do we think of ourselves because of that?

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Who is God?  What is God?  How can I see this God?

These are perhaps natural human questions to ask.  On some level, we seek these answers.  Once we know that there is a God, we seek to experience this God.  But we also seek to know about this God.  In today’s Gospel, Philip shows this when he says,  “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 

Let me see the Father.  A basic longing.  It reminds us of how Psalm 63 begins.  “O God, you are my God— it is you I seek!  For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts…”

In his exchange with Philip, Jesus gives us insight into how this Triune God works.  And we continue to peel back the layers of what he has revealed. The Vatican II Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, tells us, “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4).”  And, “by this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.” 

It is through Jesus that we know the Father.  Jesus is the fullness of revelation.  As Saint John of the Cross wrote, “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say…” 

He is also the mediator.  God the Son took on a human nature.  In his person, humanity touches divinity.  It is through him that we are united to God. 

This is what Jesus is telling Philip.  Jesus himself is the manifestation of God to us.  If we have seen him, we have seen the Father.  It is through him that the Father makes himself known. 

Through the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ, our head in the Body of Christ.  And we are brought to the Father.  We enter the divine life of this Triune God and partake of the divine nature.

What a glorious and mysterious gift! 

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. 

In Acts 24, Paul describes himself as being a follower of “the Way.”  This is how early Christians were known. 

Jesus describes himself as the way.  He is the way to the Father.  No one comes to the Father except through him.  He is the truth because he is divine.  He is God the Son, begotten by the Father but equal to the Father.  He is the life because his sacrifice redeemed us.  His Resurrection conquered death and opened eternal life for us. 

If we follow the way, we continue to strive to improve.  We allow Jesus Christ to permeate every aspect of our lives.  We seek him in prayer.  We ask the Holy Spirit to help us to live as he showed us.  His whole earthly life shows us the perfection of human life in this world.  We want to live as he lived.

Knowing that he is the truth, we can trust in all that he tells us.  There is no falsehood.  He is not even capable of it because it would be contrary to his nature.   His promises are always kept. 

If we trust in him, we live the life that leads to eternity with the Father.  And with the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus, as God, participated in creation.  He is the Word spoken by the Father that, through the work of the Spirit, gives us our very existence.  As God, he is the source of our existence.  As God the Son, he took on a mission to give us the possibility of eternal life.  In showing us himself, he shows us the Father.  As Saint Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a living man.”  This man, this Jesus in human form, is the glory of God presented to us.  And, as fully human, he shows us the perfect example of this life on earth.

It is possible to live this life as if God does not exist.  We can make that choice.  That is not what God wants for us.  It is not what is best for us.  But, if we choose not just to believe in God, but to live life in imitation of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we become much more.  We become what we were meant to be.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

There are four cardinal human virtues identified in the Catechism: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  There are also the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.  Interestingly, humility is not listed among these foundational virtues.  And yet, it is the virtue that is considered the gateway to the spiritual life.

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ teaching right after he had washed the feet of the disciples.  This Gospel is a little challenging by itself because it gives the conclusion of that story without giving the story itself.  So, we must read what precedes this passage to understand it. 

Jesus has given them a model to follow.  The word that we translate as “model” here is used elsewhere in the Bible (particularly in Maccabees) to mean “exemplary death.”  At the very least, we can see Jesus’ model as being one of emptying self-gift.  The washing of the feet is an example of this self-gift in that God the Son takes on the role of a servant for the good of the others.

Jesus’ model in washing the feet of the disciples, and indeed his entire offering of himself for our sake, is an act of love.  But, as Philippians tells us, it also is an act of humility.

Unfortunately for us, a certain amount of self-promotion in the secular world is necessary for employment purposes.  I have heard it called creating a “personal brand” that you market.  Outside of that necessity, do we understand how to act out the virtue of humility?  In leadership roles, do focus on enabling the success of those that we lead?  Or are we only looking for some success that we can brag about to others?  Do we mentor others?  Or do we take sole credit for others’ work?  Are we willing to admit our mistakes?  Or do we cover for them by lying about them or by throwing someone else under the bus?

If we lack humility, how can we have the necessary relationship with God?  If we believe that we are singularly responsible for our own successes, then we do not give ultimate credit to the first cause of those successes – to God.  Do we become incapable of acknowledging that there is someone greater than ourselves to whom we owe our very existence?  We must acknowledge our dependence on God to grow in our relationship with God.

The branches do not survive for very long apart from the vine. 

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 3:16 might be the most famous single verse in the Bible.  Some of us remember the guy that used to hold up that “John 3:16” sign at televised sporting events.  What does the actual verse say again?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

I almost always insist that any mention of John 3:16 also include verse 17 that follows:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus repeats this idea when he says, “for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.”  Today’s passage comes from John 12.  This is the last chapter in John dealing with Jesus’ public teaching.  The next chapter begins John’s Book of Glory with the washing of the feet at the Last Supper.  So, as we approach Jesus’ Passion, he seemingly has this increased sense of urgency.  He does not just teach, but he “cries out.”  He wants to make this known, and to make it known now.

I find this idea – that Jesus did not come to condemn but to save – to be one of the most consoling aspects of the Gospel message.  Jesus, as the divine Second Person of God, took on a human nature and entered creation as one of his creatures.  He did this knowing that he would give his life on the cross.  He took on this mission this to save us.  Not to condemn us.  In fact, he says in today’s passage that whoever rejects his words will have something to judge him.  “It will condemn him on the last day…”  It is not Jesus that condemns us.  It is our own rejection of Jesus that condemns us.

Jesus want us to know the saving love of God.  This is who Jesus is.  This is who God is.  A God that wants to save us and that does not come to condemn us.  A God of love.  And, consequently, a God of great mercy.

But is that really our image of God?  Do some of us, at least at times, have an image of God as a distant and harsh judge?  Where do we get this?  From the Gospels?  No, I am guessing that we get this from our own experiences.  Perhaps it comes from how we view our own fathers?  Perhaps it comes from somewhere else?

How do we view God?  What do we think God wants from us?  What do we think God wants for us?  For all eternity?

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Here in this passage from Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, the season has changed.  We have moved from the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) just after the harvest to the Feast of the Dedication in winter.  We know this celebration today as Hanukkah.  The setting is still Jesus at the Temple.  And he is still using the theme of the shepherd. 

Jesus tells those who are opposing him that they do not hear him because they are not his sheep.  So many Jews who have been waiting for the Messiah then reject him when he comes before them.  But many Gentiles will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him.

As St. John Chrysostom preached about this from Jesus’ perspective, “For I, on my part, have fulfilled all that a Shepherd ought to do, and if you do not follow me, it is not because I am not a shepherd, but because you are not my sheep.”

If we follow Jesus as our shepherd, where and how do we hear his voice?

We hear it in his words in the Gospel.  We hear it in the words of his disciples in the other books of the New Testament.  We also hear it in the writings of the Church Fathers that provide insight into what was conveyed by Jesus to those around him in what we call the Apostolic Tradition and that complements the New Testament (and Scripture as a whole).  And we hear his voice in the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium. 

We also hear his voice in our prayer, but only if we are listening.  We even hear it in the voices of others who share messages consistent with long-standing Church teaching.  But, sometimes, we put our own obstacles in the way of hearing Jesus’ voice.  Sometimes, our own grave sin is the obstacle that makes us deaf to the voice of the Shepherd.  That is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For each of us, how do we allow ourselves to become more receptive and attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd? 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s Gospel continues the theme of the Good Shepherd that we heard on Sunday.  First, Jesus criticizes those who have not been good shepherds for the Jewish people.  Then, he outlines his own mission.

Jesus draw a contrast between himself and the “hired man…whose sheep are not his own.”  At the first sign of danger, the hired man abandons his sheep to save himself.  This man does what he does solely for the pay.  He has no care for the well-being of his flock.  It is not a vocation.  It is merely a job to pay his expenses.

 As the Good Shepherd, Jesus comes to lay down his life for his sheep.  He has other sheep outside of the Jewish fold, and he will lead these too.

Today, we can find other good shepherds in the Church.  Many of us had examples growing up.  My childhood pastor was one for me.  He was a great pastor for our parish.   He was the Baltimore priest that Bishop Galeone would admiringly tell stories about it.  He was also an Army Reserve chaplain who would manage to get a helicopter to fly over our school at recess at some point during his annual service (and even ended his service one year by having the helicopter land on our soccer field in front of the assembled students).  When he died prematurely, a blizzard left most roads impassable for the school’s memorial Mass the day before the funeral.  But the people could not be kept away.  An army of students and parents walked through the snow to pack the church well beyond capacity.

Who are the good shepherds that you most remember from your past?  Think of one.  What were his qualities?  Hopefully, great personal holiness.  Likely also approachability.  Perhaps great leadership.  He was almost certainly someone who clearly sacrificed himself for others.  A great preacher and/or teacher of the faith?  Perhaps, you felt like you knew Christ because you knew him.  Maybe he was someone who really knew how to bring others together.  He was likely someone who was there for you when you most needed it.  Maybe he was someone who showed you great kindness.

Think about those good shepherds that have gone to their eternal reward.  Pray that they might intercede for us today.  Pray for their intercession to help our current shepherds through this crisis and beyond.  And pray that they might help to inspire the shepherds of tomorrow.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today, we hear Jesus describe himself as both the Good Shepherd and as the door to the sheepfold. 

A good shepherd is one whose sheep recognize his voice when he enters the sheepfold and then follow him out to pasture.  To verdant pastures, as Psalm 23 today tells us.  The shepherd enters through the door.  Robbers enter via other means to do harm to the sheep. 

The door is what governs entry to the sheep and what allows access for the sheep to pasture.  Jesus is that mediator between us and the Father.  His mission and sacrifice are what open the way for us to eternal life. 

The sheep hear the voice of their shepherd.  Yet, the Pharisees do not understand what Jesus is saying…because Jesus is not their shepherd.  They will not allow him to be.

Jesus is still today that Good Shepherd that leads us to verdant pastures.  He remains the door, the mediator, between us and the Father.  He remains our access to those verdant pastures.  While he is no longer with us in the way that he was before, he has left us the Eucharist and his Church to nourish us and to carry us to eternal life.

He has also left us other shepherds to continue to guide us.  First, there were the Apostles.  Now, there are the successors to those Apostles – the bishops.  We also have priests who are ordained to share in the bishop’s ministry. 

Priests do not choose the priesthood.  They are called to it.  The priest is not his own, as Archbishop Sheen wrote.  Just as Christ is both priest and victim, so is the ordained priest.  He is priest by acting in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ, the head of the Body of Christ) at Mass.  He is also victim in offering himself for the sake of his people.

Every priest who fully answers his call hears a two-fold meaning at Mass when he repeats Jesus’ words of institution:

         “…FOR THIS IS MY BODY,

         WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.”

And then again:

        “FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD,…    

         WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY…”

This is both Jesus and the priest speaking.  The priest offers his own body for the sake of the salvation of his people.  He pours out his own blood (and sweat, and sometimes tears) for their good.

While a medical doctor helps our physical bodies in this life, a priest is a doctor of souls who helps our souls gain eternal life.  The priest is also a spiritual father who encourages, counsels, consoles, and sometimes challenges his people to grow closer to God.

Priests become priests for the sake of the salvation of souls.  They answer the call that comes from God.  We might feel that we have a shortage of priests.  But God calls enough men.  We do not have a shortage in the number who are called.  We have a shortage of men who answer the call.

Are we all doing our part to nurture, and certainly not to discourage, that call?

Memorial of Saint Athanasius

If someone asked you why you were Catholic, how would you answer?  If someone told that I could only give a one-word answer to why I am Catholic?  My answer, probably not surprisingly, would not take long.  “Eucharist.”

That is not the only thing that the Church offers.  There are many other great things.  Other sacraments. Especially Reconciliation.  Proclamation and interpretation of Scripture.  Two millennia of tradition and development of doctrine.  Really too many things to mention if I am honest.

But many of those same things are found in other faiths.  Perhaps some are unique to the Church.  But the Eucharist as Jesus gave to us in which the substance of the bread and wine change to his Body and Blood is not found in Protestant churches.  It is not found in non-Christian faiths. 

All this week in John 6, Jesus has been increasing his emphasis on the need to consume the Eucharist.  Jesus first says that he is the bread of life.  Then, he says that we must consume this bread of life.  Next, he says that we must both eat his flesh and drink his blood.  And, in today’s passage, many people leave.  They return to their former ways of life.

Jesus turns to the Apostles to ask if they too will leave.  Peter, once again, is the first to respond.  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are  convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” 

If I answered Jesus himself about remaining in the Church, I would paraphrase Peter.  “Lord, to where else should I go?  It is here in your Church that I can find your Real Presence, body and blood, soul and divinity.”

Even in our own families, we see some leaving the Church.  But do they really know what they are leaving?  Do they really understand?   Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”  G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  It seems that people leave the Church and/or come to dislike it because of a lack of understanding about it.  It does not help that some opponents of the Church have successfully constructed some grossly distorted strawmen of the Church.  If I believed those mischaracterizations, I too would not want to be part of the Church.

But, if only more people knew the truth…if only more people knew what they were missing…if only more people knew what they were leaving behind…

Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

Today, we hear more from John’s Bread of Life Discourse.  Jesus has been telling the people that he is the bread of life and that eating this bread of life is necessary.  The crowd grumbles yet again during this passage.  We can imagine some of their questions.  Is he speaking of cannibalism?  Or is this mere figurative language?

Jesus admits to neither.  Instead, he insists even more on the necessity of eating the bread of life.  On eating his flesh.  Not only that, but, in today’s passage, he tells them that they must drink his blood too.  Jews did not drink blood.  It had been prohibited of Noah and banned in Mosaic law.  For Jesus to demand this was scandalous and repulsive to them. 

Yet, he did not explain that this was mere figurative language.  John’s account emphasizes Jesus’ insistence even more by changing the original Greek verb in verse 54.  Jesus would not have given this discourse in Greek, but the original New Testament texts were written in Greek because it was a more universal language in that part of the world.  John’s Greek text changes the verb that, prior to verse 54, had been a somewhat generic version of “to eat.”  In verse 54 and following, that verb changes to a more graphic one that can mean to gnaw like an animal.  John is clearly trying to make us understand that Jesus is talking about truly eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

As Catholics, our life is centered on the Eucharist.  Jesus calls us to consume his flesh and to drink his blood.  At the Last Supper, he showed us how that would be done and commanded us to continue to “do this in memory of me.” 

We could hear the word of God proclaimed in the churches of other denominations.  We could feel a real sense of community in those other denominations.  We could have our emotions lifted in the services at other churches.  We could even be greatly entertained. 

But we come to the Catholic Church to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We come to be part of the re-presentation of Jesus Christ’s Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  The re-presentation of his sacrifice that was done once for all.  It will be a tremendous grace to be able to return to the public celebration of this wondrous event every week (or even every day). 

In the meantime, how does one prepare for this return?  For a people whose faith, and whose lives, become centered on the Eucharist, how do we deal with the loss of reception of that great gift?  How does someone cultivate their devotion to the Eucharist at a time that they cannot receive it? 

Do not overlook what we do still have.  We can be in the presence of Christ before the tabernacle.  We can adore Christ in the monstrance, albeit from the isolation of our automobile.  Do not despair over what is lost for now.  Instead be thankful for what we have.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today, we continue to hear from the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6.  Immediately prior to today’s passage, the people started to grumble about Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life.  Rather than back down, he is getting ready to double down.

He continues to explain how he is the bread of life.  He starts to tell the people that they must consume this bread of life.  And he is getting ready to really drop a bombshell on the people.  He is not backing down.

This is not a Messiah who comes to affirm everyone where they are.  Certainly, he comes to meet people where they are.  But he calls them to something much more.  This is clearly a Messiah that challenges us.  This is a Messiah that shatters preconceived notions.  The idea that we could say that Jesus was just a good man and nothing more is ludicrous.  If he is not who he says that he was, then we should regard him as a complete fraud.  But, if he is the Son of God as he claimed, then that changes everything.  And Jesus does not just come to change things himself.  He comes to fulfill God’s promises.

Eating another man’s flesh is a shocking idea.  However, knowing of the Eucharist, it is not shocking at all.  Seeing this whole discourse as a call to Mass and to the Eucharist, it makes sense.  Of course, we have the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight.  For the first century Jew, this was an incredibly difficult message.

I am not sure how close we are to the end of this forced isolation.  I am not sure when public Masses will return.  I know that they will.  But I do not know when it will happen and with what restrictions. 

At this point in our time at home, we can take stock of what this forced abstinence has done for our faith.  Do we hunger and thirst for Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist?  Or do we find ourselves falling away from the Church and getting used to being away from the Eucharist?

One thing that distinguishes us as human beings is our rational nature.  It means that we do not have to be a slave to our passions, our emotions, or our feelings.  It means that we can make a decision that overrides those things.  Perhaps it means that we “fake it until we make it” as the saying goes.  Perhaps our feelings will take some time to catch up.  But we can make that decision. 

At this point in this time of isolation…with regard to our faith, what do we decide?