Jun 28, 2019

Up Stream Battle

Luke 9:51-62

The Gospel for this Sunday sees Christ “resolute”, “determined” to reach the city of Jerusalem. Nothing can distract or sidetrack him. This is a man on a mission. However, notice his temperament. He is not like a bull let loose, or a like a galloping horse heading towards the finish line.  Instead he knows, there will be delays and obstacles; there will be disappointments and letdowns.  He knows what ultimately awaits him in a city where he will be opposed, betrayed and rejected by his own people. As Christians, we are to follow in his footsteps and respond to the evil around us in the same manner as Christ did.  

In the gospel, his excitable disciples encounter their first test of what to do and what not to do when their own message is rejected. Calling down fire from heaven every time they met opposition is no way to convince a reluctant people of the goodness of God. Christ’s disciple is called to be patient, and even exhibit “longsuffering and gentleness, not revengeful. They must not be given to wrath or savagely attack those who offend them” (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 56).   In short, Christ rebukes any of his disciples who exhibit religious fundamentalism or impatience - the toxic combination of fear and anger. 

During first three hundred years of Christianity, when the imperial government policy was to actively thwart the efforts of Christians, accusing them of trying to influence the masses with their “doctrine” and “ideologies”, the Gospel was proclaimed most effectively and convincingly, not by the apostles calling down fire from heaven, but by the efforts and the example of ordinary, if not reluctant disciples like Simon of Cyrene who found himself compelled to help Christ carry his Cross, or like Veronica, as the story is told, who wiped blood from the face of Jesus as he made his way to Calvary. Or the soldier who stood by the cross of Christ and beheld the manner which Christ offered his life for the salvation of the world. 

The cross of Christ must be first embraced fully if a disciple is to experience completely the victory of the resurrection!

It is Christ himself who invites you and me, not only to become his disciples but also to journey down the road that same road. He is always the one who takes the initiative. We follow his lead.  It is the Lord who marks out the road we must travel by traveling it himself, “resolutely” and “determined”. 

And along that long road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, “Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst and privation. Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.” (CCC 544) 

What brought many a pagan to the faith, was not the theological arguments but, instead, something completely illogical – the Cross.  “See how these Christians love one another”. “See how they face persecution and death, not with anger or fear – but with an inner joy and peace – a peace that the world can not give.”

As we pass by on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem, let us pray that, faithful to our discipleship, we will accept a piece of Christ's cross, and by doing so, to attract many to journey alongside us, embracing the truth that sets us free, the One who alone can provide fulfillment for every human thirst and hunger. (cf. CCC 1741) This Holy Eucharist provides us with Christ as “food for the journey”.

Jun 22, 2019

Corpus Christi - Heaven and Earth are Filled with His Glory

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, the eternal God enters time and place at the coordinates of this altar. The bread and wine we place upon it are, by God's power and design, brought 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 body and blood in heaven. 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 people of faith and hope, as children of Abraham we journey through this world with the expectation that it will blossom with new life, that all creation with eventually be changed into the substance of Christ himself. As we wait in joyful hope, 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 and approach this altar with holy fear, gratitude and thanksgiving for the greatest gift heaven can give us on earth.

Jun 8, 2019

Take a Deep Breath

"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!  

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Vigil of Pentecost

Gen 11:1-9
Jn 7:37-39

Tonight sees us making the necessary preparations in anticipate of the great day of Pentecost. Taken from the selection of readings, Genesis provides us with great insight into what happens when we try to design and build, shape and form our own lives (cf. CCC 57).

We commonly call this story the one about the Tower of Babel. In fact, the tower is only one component of a much bigger picture. It has to do with the building of a city, within which there would be designed a tower. Its height would attempt to scrape the sky - a "skyscraper". What can we learn from this?

When we take into our own hands the power to build ourselves up - to in a way steal the power of the heavens, we will never be able to complete the project, no matter how hard we try. What Adam and Eve attempted to do for themselves, the citizens of Babel, their future offspring, attempted to do for the sake of the whole of humanity - that's when we try to capture God, put Him in a bottle and manipulate His will, for the sake of own glory, not His.

When we try to build ourselves up, God ultimately intervenes and topples our fortress. That's what happens to our little sand castle when the unstoppable tide comes in. He did so for our own protection as the consequences would have brought about greed and an obsession with power and control to a point, that we would loose all our human dignity, nobility and mystery. We would become like animals fighting over not just the territories of this world, but the territory of heaven itself.

The event of Babel reminds us that even with the progress of science and technology rolling back the frontiers of what we thought in the past was impossible to do, there are boundaries. Often our soul's thirst to touch the heavens is confused with our own sense of inadequacy before the universe. Hence, out of fear, the temptation to grab, be it for power, personal security and self-protection. Since the fall of humanity, this has been our disease. But so that we might not die from this virus of sin that we have all inherited from Adam and Eve, manifested in the human sickness by the likes of the citizens of Babel, God comes to our rescue in Christ.

In the Gospel, the Lord speaks to the crowd at the end of the great celebrations for the feast of tabernacles. St. John Chrysostom comments that since the feast was over and the people were about to return home, he gives them provisions which will get them home. Of course, Christ is the way, the truth and the life that we all thirst for. He calls out and says, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified”. The very dawn of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, now celebrates his glory and with it all creation. In that light we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.”

Jun 2, 2019

Mind The Gap

Even though my natural senses do not notice how can I be assured that Christ still walks with us, shares in our celebrations, joys and our struggles. How does He, in a manner of speaking, tune into what we are doing here on earth? Or is this all simply poetical talk, in the same way as we might say we would wish to keep someone close to our hearts?

Where is Jesus Christ right now? Is He here or there? Does He live on in our mind, in our heart, in our soul? Is He present in the Sacraments, particularly in the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament?  Does His presence echo out to us through the Holy Scriptures, or disguised in some way by the stranger in our midst. The answer must be “yes”, yes to all of these and more. Christ is as present on earth as He is in heaven. With only one difference. We have poor eyesight - on this side of heaven our senses are defective!

Never think that Christ's presence is simply sentimental, or He is in fact far away - in another universe or in some distant unreachable place above the clouds. Take comfort that He is not above us, but before us. In fact, the reality of His presence is now greater than it was with any of His disciples two thousand years ago when He walked among them. We are reminded of this truth in various ways.

For starters, He told us that when two or three have gathered in His name, He would be in our midst. Every time we pray together calling upon Him, not just at church, but at home, in fact anywhere, He is there in our company. Think of it - even when you say the" Grace before meals", He is the unseen guest at every table.

The reality of the Christ who entered into heaven still being with us here can be illustrated by how we listen and respond to the Gospel being proclaimed out loud for the whole world to listen, especially when an ordained minister does so. It’s not a public reading of a portion of the world’s best selling book. Anyone can do that.  Instead, a priest or a deacon allows his hands and his feet, his tongue and his mouth to be consumed by the presence and voice of Christ still announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And how do we respond after hearing the Gospel? We do not reply, "praise to you deacon or praise to you pastor!” We instead respond "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”. It is Christ who teaches and who preaches. And if I should get in the way, then He will put his foot in my mouth!!

And, of course, the Christ of heaven, is before us most intimately by way of the Holy Eucharist - in what we call his Real Presence - in other words - a presence that is substantial, localized. If we could see with the eyes of angels, we would point and say “Look, behold the Lamb of God, heaven has opened up before us and we see the risen and glorified Christ before us.” And that is indeed our prayer of our soul.  

Therefore Mass is not a ladder that reaches through the clouds. Instead, it is more like a bridge, a pathway to heaven that is opened, a veil or curtain pushed aside and with the eyes of faith we can gaze upon Christ face to face, as did the shepherds and Magi in Bethlehem - as did Mary, in the quiet moments of adoration and thanksgiving, as did the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper and after His resurrection from the dead.

And let's not forget that Christ was with St. Paul all along the road to Damascus. When the Lord allowed him to see Him, it was too much for Paul's eyes to behold and they "exploded", blinding him for three days until his sight was restored back to normal when he was baptized.

Today, even though we, who are baptized into the life, death, resurrection and glorious ascension of Christ into heaven, can not see Him as He truly is in all His glory, let us never blind ourselves to the reality of Christ accompanying us on our journey - that heaven itself is always before us in some form or another.

Maybe all it takes is to close our eyes and make just one leap of faith in the right direction. “Blessed are those who can not see but yet believe” that the substantial reality of heaven itself - Christ, true God and True Man is before us.  May our Blessed Mother Mary share with us the privilege of her own insight.

“Today we are not only established as the rightful owners of paradise, but in Christ, we have entered into the heights of heaven itself.” ( St. Leo the Great, Sermon 73.)

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