May 28, 2016

The Body of Christ

(Scriptural Background - Who is this strange individual in the Old Testament by name of Melchizedek? He appears and then disappears.  We do not have much to go on except for the context we read about him in both the First Reading from Genesis and the Psalm. 

Abraham, with three hundred and eighteen men, had successfully completed a battle in the desert and they were returning home.  They were, no doubt tired and hungry.  Then, out of the blue, a king arrives who brings bread to Abraham and his tribe.  The king has come down from his hilltop city of Salem, a place that would eventually be known as Jerusalem.

Melchizedek, we are told, was a priest.  What type of priest? A priest, we are told, of God most High. Another mystery? We usually equate the Jewish priesthood to Moses, nearly 500 years after this event. But we are told that Melchizedek was a true priest of God, and a priest, by nature of his office, is one who offers sacrifices to God. 

And then, of course in the psalm, it has God the Father describing the role of God the Son, “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek”. In other words, the Blessed Lord will be like Melchizedek.

So, in this light let us recall what happens in the Gospel. In the same way as the tribe of Abraham had wandered in the desert, and were tired and hungry, so had the crowd who had followed Jesus.  Often people, who are tired and hungry, are grumpy, touchy and get angry easily.  Add to this, that we are told there were many sick people among them.

So the disciples, maybe in an effort to avid a meltdown, want to send them home before fights break out!  But Jesus tells his inner circle to feed the crowd.  But the twelve apostles are only thinking logically. They draw diagrams, make calculations, have consultations, speak with expects, and conclude that with only a few loaves and fishes, the success rate of feeding a crowd of five thousand, was practically impossible.  And they were right.  Scientifically and logically, the numbers just don’t add up.)

So, if you find yourself in the lifeless and barren desert, with thousands of hungry mouths to feed, where is this mysterious Melchizedek of 500 years ago with this supply of bread to feed an army when you need him?

Of course, Christ is this mysterious Melchizedek. And we see him, in the Gospel, healing the wounds of the children of Abraham and strengthening them with the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. What is logically impossible, Christ provides health and strength for his people.

It is the same Christ, the eternal priest who continues to provide for his people through every generation.  Today’s great feast day of Corpus Christi, reminds us that the bread that he gives us, is not the stuff that fills our stomach. He feeds us through his eternal priesthood – by the sacrifice of his body and blood he offers to his Father on our behalf. This is what priesthood is – like Melchizedek, offering sacrifice.    

The bread and wine that we place on this altar, counts for little – it is little.  But in the hands of Christ the eternal priest, it becomes his own life-giving body and blood – Christ becomes our food in the wilderness of the world. 

This is by no means allegorical, or a metaphor. Time and space as we experience it, blocks our vision of what angels and the saints of heaven perceive. From our perspective, we have only a temporal reference point to look towards - our bread and wine. But when we do what the Lord commanded us to do at his Last Supper, God reaches out through eternity and touches our offerings of bread and wine, bringing them into complete and perfected union with the resurrected and eternal Christ. In such a unique encounter between heaven and earth, between time and eternity, our bread and wine have no choice but to become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who in all his power and glory intercedes for us before the throne of our heavenly Father. 

Even though from here, we can not see, nor taste this heaven on earth, when we eat and drink of the Eucharistic elements, our frail and broken bodies are guided, locked into communion with Christ's. This can be as painful as it is beautiful. Painful, because Holy Communion alerts us to our unworthiness, our sinfulness - we are imperfect, unfinished. It is beautiful because the gift of Holy Communion gives us hope that we, and all of creation, will be brought to our finality in Christ himself.

In the meantime, as a people of faith and hope, as children of Abraham we journey through this world with the expectation that it will blossom with new life. As we do so, let us be ever more conscious of our deepest hunger for the Bread that feeds and satisfies angels and heavenly saints - the Bread of Eternity, Christ himself.

May 21, 2016

The Holy Trinity

I remember someone telling me, quite smugly, "I don't believe that God exists". I replied, "Describe this 'god' you don't believe exists". They said, "That there's this invisible being up there on a cloud, watching everything you're doing and doesn't care about the pain and suffering in this world."

My reply, "You are absolutely right. I don't believe that the god you described exists either!"  

Do we have to know that something exists for it to be a reality? Do we have to understand something or someone for them to be real? Of course not. We are truly wise when we are humble - when we stand back and admit that there will always be the unknown, mystery, in the depth of our being, throughout all of creation, and beyond.  

But this does not mean that we are simply passive observers of the world that passes by or around us.  Deep within our humanity, almost like a downloaded program, a command routine, we ask can not help but to ask questions - we seek knowledge and meaning, even to that question as to the existence of God.  

Even to think about the question of God’s existence, is to have, at least, some idea of God.  St. Anselm defines God as "that which no greater can ever be conceived" or imagined. Not the greatest thing that I can think or imagine - but that which no greater can possibly be thought of! Ah! But I can imagine an all-powerful God. I can even conceive in my mind the idea of God as Trinity! But God must be greater than my own imagining regardless how good or incredible my thoughts might be! Is it possible to conceive in one's mind, something that is beyond imagination, a possibility beyond the limitations of science and physics?  (If I’ve lost you - don’t worry! I’ve been lost too!)

The Good News is that because our minds can only go so far, little by little, God gently reveals himself to us, slowly unfolding for us the pattern of his unimaginable thoughts (First Reading - Proverbs 8:22-33). We don’t have to be theologians or philosophers. Through the language of harmony and beauty that we sense in the universe, we gain some insight that God is also harmony and beauty himself, but so much more than our perceptions. (Responsorial Psalm 8:4-9).

But proving his existence or trying to understanding what God is, is not our goal.  Experiencing God, is. But not waiting until the end of our earthly life to do so. God has instead opened up the possibility that we can experience him totally and completely through Jesus Christ. God does this, because he wants to have a relationship with you and me.

Christ is God's very own self-portrait! But more than that. A portrait can be looked at from a distance. God, through Christ's humanity, from that first instant of his conception in the womb of Mary, brings us into direct union with him. God, allowed himself to me mothered (for our sake). God allowed himself to live in the limitations of flesh and blood, God with us, reaching out to us, wanting to draw us closer and closer into his divine life, talking to us directly with words we can understand, lives with us intimately in a love that we can experience, sharing in our joys, in our sorrows, in our pain and also our suffering. To know Christ is to know the love and compassion of God.

Christ is God personal, inviting us even into his own experience of being God. What is Christ's experience in our language? But that of the love between Father and Son.  Of course, our experience of this type of relationship is limited to our own experience or only as great as our best imagination. But Christ invites you and me into his very own perfect relationship that he enjoys with the divine - a relationship of the most perfect love between two persons that can ever exist, not contained or constrained by time itself. Christ invites all of us, all humanity, through him, into the very "life" of the eternal God he dares to call “Father”, “Abba”.

Don't try to get your head around this concept of God. Instead, get your heart around Christ and you will find and experience the greatest intimacy, the closeness that God desires with us. Every one of us craves to be brought into this divine love.  In short, we will be restless until we are united and rest eternally within the eternal movement of personal divine love between God as Father, Son and Spirit - the Holy Trinity.

This is all relational, not conceptual or imaginative.  For example, the Virgin Mary shows us how to engage God at all these levels. To God the Father, she is his daughter. To God the Son, she is a mother. To God the Holy Spirit, she experiences the intimacy of God permeating every cell of her body, making her sing with joy!

Always drawn by God's ever closer presence, let us pray we will allow ourselves to enter deeper and deeper into the life of God, so that one day we might touch the very heart of God and see His face perfectly, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

May 16, 2016

Pentecost - Come Holy Spirit

"El día de Pentecostés (al término de las siete semanas pascuales), la Pascua de Cristo se consuma con la efusión del Espíritu Santo que se manifiesta, da y comunica como Persona divina: desde su plenitud, Cristo, el Señor (cf. Hch 2, 36), derrama profusamente el Espíritu.... La vida moral de los cristianos está sostenida por los dones del Espíritu Santo. Estos son disposiciones permanentes que hacen al hombre dócil para seguir los impulsos del Espíritu Santo... Los siete dones del Espíritu Santo concedidos a los cristianos son: sabiduría, entendimiento, consejo, fortaleza, ciencia, piedad y temor de Dios.”

For forty days after his resurrection from the dead, Our Blessed Lord showed himself, at various times and at various locations, that, not only was he alive, but that his work was not over - his mission would continue

And even though he would enter into heaven to take his place there at the right hand of his heavenly Father, he promised that he would be with us always, accompany us on our journey, until the end of time. How? Having prayed for his disciples, he promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would teach and guide them and keep them united in the truth about God.   

The Holy Spirit we talk about is not a spiritual force. In the same way as we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we likewise acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is God, distinct from the Father and the Son, but of the same God-substance. We address the Holy Spirit as Lord. The Holy Spirit is personal. And as God, we worship the Holy Spirit as we do our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Let’s put the Holy Spirit in Context.

When the earth was formed, He was the breath of God the Father that swept over the first waters of the earth pollinating the great seas with life. The Holy Spirit filled the lungs of Adam and so breathed the first man. And in the gospel we read that Jesus, the New Adam breathed the Holy Spirit into the apostles, so that they might be his presence in the world. 

It is that same Holy Spirit who has been given to us when we were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What we now call Confirmation, seals us with the Holy Spirit we have received in baptism so that, in this sacrament, we become a new creation. 

And as such the Holy Spirit gives us strength and power to become authentic witnesses to our Catholic and Christian faith. As such, we can identify at least seven supernatural gifts in particular that the Holy Spirit gives us, supernatural gifts that are sealed securely and planted firmly in our Christian character. We identify them from the words of Scripture. The prophet Isaiah spoke of them as the identifying characteristics of the future Christ/Messiah (Isaiah 11) . As these characteristics will be given to you, you will be identified with the spirit of Christ - you will be His witnesses, his representatives to the world.  And what are those 

1. Understanding 2. Knowledge 3. Wisdom 4. Right Judgment 5. Reverence 6. Courage 7. Fear of the Lord.

1. Let me start first with Fear of the Lord. Not every fear is good. But when the Holy Spirit prompts us to turn away from sins because we can see and are afraid of the consequences of sin – that type of fear is holy and good. When we fear losing God, the Holy Spirit is at work in us.

2. The Holy Spirit’s gift of courage.  We need this divine gift of fortitude, of strength and courage to help us battle with sin, with evil and when our faith is tested or attacked. We would be fools to think that we can defeat the enemy of our souls and our faith by our own natural abilities. We need the divine armor of courage so that we might not cave in under intimidation. St. Paul reminds us of this when he boldly states, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthen me”.

3. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of reverence, sometimes called Piety. Reverence is not simply formal respect for what is holy. Anyone can be respectful of sacred buildings and beliefs. Piety can also often be mistaken for attention to detail in religious devotion. This, of course can be self-motivated. Instead this gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to appreciate closeness to God as a son or daughter of our heavenly Father. It is in places such as a Church building we become aware of our sacred relationships with God and others through what we see and sense around us – that God is not distant. This gift allows us to sense the mysterious presence of God. So we give him his place and trust him more and more, even though he is shrouded in mystery.

4. And from this mystery the Holy Spirit can also give us the gift of understanding how God is truly involved in our lives and world. To Understand God, our souls must first be purified from sin so that our view of the world is not distorted. The Holy Spirit allows us to understand why God loved the world so much, why God loves me despite my sinfulness and resistance.

5. With this gift comes also the gift of Knowledge. The Holy Spirit can allow us to truly discern what there is in this world that brings us closer to God and to know also what gets in the way. By this gift, the Holy Spirit as an appraiser of the things we hold on to and teaches us not to be afraid of letting go, to be humble and to accept the true values of the things around us.

6. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of Wisdom. Wisdom does not come from books. It is when God enlightens our mind and we can see the world from his perspective. To be truly wise is to be truly at peace trusting that God’s plan ultimately makes sense.

7. And finally we will also pray that the Holy Spirit will renew in us the gift of right judgment, so that we can make decisions that are right and true, even when doing so demands sacrifice. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us come to the knowledge of the truth through the formation of our conscience so that with the Holy Spirit’s help, our minds will always see clearly in order to make the right decisions about the direction my life must take.

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – let us pray that these gifts will be kept strong in your lives, confirmed and sealed with the Holy Spirit!  

May 6, 2016

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 1919, and located east of downtown San Diego, it is 40 acres of holy ground. In its 95 year history over 65,000 individuals have been buried in its consecrated soil or interned in or around the chapel.  One day, after I have breathed my last, I hope to have my body also buried in its holy ground in a section reserved for priests.  There, my body will wait for the final day where I will rise again. It is my hope that I will be in good company! But what will I see?

Many of us have a very poor imagination about the "afterlife". We often talk about our souls going to heaven, gladly leaving behind a world of pain and suffering. Death becomes for many the way to escape from all our burdens, from the cruelty and injustices of this world. We sometimes say that someone has "gone to a better place".  We are often tempted to imagine heaven and earth as two different locations - one place is spiritual where everything is eternal, and the other is physical where in time things get older and eventually decay and crumble.

But it may come to you as a surprise, that nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that after our death, our souls go on to another world and there, in that other place, we live on as spiritual beings for all of eternity.

Even though, the Gospel tells us that Jesus, resurrected from the dead in a glorified body and after forty days is lifted up into heaven beyond our sight, the message given to us is not that we are to wait it out on earth and then "jump ship" to follow him to the better place of heaven.  Instead, we are told, wait "here" on "this" earth - wait "here" because He will be returning.  And when He has returned, what will He bring? He will bring heaven.

Just when we think that we have to wait for this to happen sometime in the future, and in the meantime learn and practice the Ten Commandments and be good so that one day we can "graduate" from boot camp and move up to the next level - the Good News of Jesus Christ is that He is already bringing heaven to earth, right now, right before our eyes even though we might not be able (at this time) to always see it.

If we have the Spirit of Jesus breathing through every cell of our body, does not our faith assure us that somehow we are already living life "on earth as it is in heaven"?   When we enter into the Sacraments of the Church and encounter Christ's true and substantial presence in the Eucharist, are not heaven "and" earth  full of His glory"?  When we live Christ's Sermon on the Mount and embrace the Beatitudes in our everyday lives, we do not pray "get me out of here"! We instead say, "Thy Kingdom come".

Yes, of course there is a difference between heaven and earth, and at times they can seem so far apart. But that's not God's doing. That's ours! We push heaven and earth away from each other 
- when we concentrate on spiritual needs and neglect physical needs, or the other way around 
- when we are more interested in doing good things at the expense of being good ourselves 
- when we are all faith and no works, or all busy without allowing God's grace to keep us humble.

Hell is the stomping ground of  "Jackal and Hyde". Heaven is the perfect union of the human and the divine in one person.  That person of course is Christ himself. And where is He to be found? [Hint: "The Lord be with you...  And...] Can I say with St. Paul, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me". And can I hear Christ say, "as long as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me?"

So after I die and my mortal remains are laid to rest, and then in the twinkling of an eye, I rise up from my grave in a new and glorified body, what will I hope to see? I look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, recognizable from the tiny glimpses I have already been privileged to see (through little slits in the vale) - of a paradise restored - as it was in the beginning, is now and ever will be, a world without end. Amen.

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...