Friday, June 14, 2024

The Seed of the Kingdom of God

 

Homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 16, 2024. Gospel: Mark 4:26-34. Theme: The Seed of the Kingdom of God 

 In today’s gospel Jesus refers to the “Kingdom of God”, a phrase that’s used 122 times in the New Testament, with 90 of these coming from the lips of Jesus himself! I am not saying this just to throw out some kind of Bible-study stats but to emphasize and re-emphasize that the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ primary focus and theme in all of his preaching, teaching and miracles. And so it should also be extremely important to us who follow him and bear his name as Christians. 

 And so we need to ask: what is the "Kingdom of God''? It’s a concept rooted in the Old Testament that God’s royal authority, that is, his reign or rule of justice, peace and blessing for all people will one day be manifested on planet Earth. The prophets foretold that this would happen most powerfully and perfectly when the Messiah arrived. This is why the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth when he began his public mission were these, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15) This was a way of declaring that he was indeed the Messiah, that the time had finally arrived for the prophecies to be fulfilled. Through him, God was personally breaking and bursting into human history, and inaugurating his Kingdom of love, peace and justice. 

 Jesus calls everyone he encounters to enter into this Kingdom. And in his words which I quoted above, he informs us that the way we do so is by first of all repenting of our sins. You see, our sins are tangible signs or proof that we are not living under the royal authority of God but according to our own authority. We have to dethrone ourselves so that God can have that primacy of place in our lives. The next step then is to believe or trust in the Gospel. Trust is a sign and fruit of a confident relationship, so believing in the Gospel means that we trust in Jesus because we believe he only wants what is good for us. 

 So you see, the phrase, “Kingdom of God'' doesn't refer to a place but to an attitude of loving submission to God and the acceptance of his reign within us and over us. To live in the Kingdom of God means to encounter Jesus Christ and receive from him a renewed and transformed inner state of being. This spiritual experience first happens for us at Baptism and is deepened at Confirmation. Jesus himself taught us this when he said, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) Water and the Spirit. Baptism and Confirmation. And he called this spiritual rebirth in the Kingdom being “born again” because it gives us a new beginning. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the grace of God changes us from the inside out and transforms even the most wrecked and devastated of lives. This is because God doesn’t hold grudges nor keep us locked in the box of who and what we once were. God looks at what we are now and sees what we want to become. 

 So, if having been baptized and confirmed doesn’t seem to have made us any different from non-baptized people, does this mean that the seed of the Kingdom was not planted within us? Not, not at all. But what it might mean is that the seed has not received the proper care and feeding it needs to be activated and begin sprouting a noticeable Christian life. However, it is still there deep within us, waiting for the attention it needs. You see, most of us were baptized as infants and so Confirmation was our opportunity to reaffirm that Baptism and claim its grace in our lives. But it’s quite possible and probable that we went to our Confirmation without any awareness of or real desire for what it offered us. 

 But that can change and the seed of the Kingdom can still be activated! Once we realize that we truly need God and submit our hearts to his royal authority in our lives, the Kingdom-seed of new life planted within us can begin to germinate and grow. If we water it with prayer, fertilize it with the Word of God, and feed it with the Eucharist, it can become like the mustard seed mentioned by Jesus, which goes from being an almost insignificant seed to becoming a large impressive tree. 

 So anyone who has been baptized and confirmed can make a conscious and deliberate choice to activate this growth. At any time in their lives they can begin experiencing the spiritual joy of what it means to be born again! This experience will lead us to enthrone Jesus as King of our hearts and Master of our lives. It will allow and enable Christ to establish his reign of peace, his rule of love and his realm of justice within us, through us and to those around us.



Friday, June 7, 2024

All in the Family

 

Homily for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 9, 2024. Gospel of St. Mark 3:20-35. Theme: All in The Family 

 Quite often when people start reading the Gospels on a regular basis they come upon today’s passage about Jesus’ family conflict and it makes them stop and think. Perhaps they have never really reflected on the fact that Jesus was part of a regular ordinary everyday extended family and that just like the rest of us, his was made up of all kinds of characters and personalities. They had their own firm set of ideas and their own preconceived judgments. The Gospels make it very clear in a few places that Jesus’ relatives (called brothers, and we’ll get to that in a minute) were definitely not members of his fan club! With the known exception of his mother, Mary, they pretty much thought that he was out of his mind. I feel sorry for what the Blessed Mother must’ve had to hear from her kinfolk concerning what they thought about her Son. 

 The mention of Jesus' brothers often confuses people because we are taught that Mary was ever-virgin and that Jesus didn’t have any blood-siblings. Yet, St. Mark and other gospel-writers mention his brothers and sisters…so, what’s up with that? The answer is actually quite simple if we step out of our 21st century American mindset and go back to ancient Palestine. You see, in that culture there was no strict designation made between various degrees of kinship. Apart from parents and grandparents, basically all relatives were simply referred to as one’s brothers and sisters. And this is how Christians have always understood that verse of Scripture. However, as a result of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, those who sought to contest all Catholic teaching also tried to undermine this ancient belief about the perpetual virginity of Mary. Sadly, their efforts persist to this day and cause confusion for some people. 

 But going back to Jesus’ family conflict, I bet many of us can relate to this in our own lives in one way or another. Quite often when we find ourselves being among the few, or maybe even the only one, in our extended family who has a real faith in Jesus, it can become rough going. Our commitment to daily prayer, to reading the Scriptures, to going to Confession when needed, and to faithfully attending Mass can be met with misunderstanding. Our refusal to participate in gossip or other immoral behaviors can become an occasion for ridicule. At times like that we need to think of how Jesus was hurt by his family’s words and actions and ask him for the strength to follow his example of returning only kindness towards those who misunderstand us. 

 Because Jesus’ relatives and villagers were the people he grew up with, they simply could not believe that he was who and what he said he was. They had closed their hearts and minds to the possibility that Jesus, the son of Mary, the village carpenter, their cousin, the guy they grew up with, was the long-awaited much-promised Messiah of God. They just could not perceive that he could be anything more than they were. I think it’s a witness to the truth of the saying that “familiarity breeds contempt”...and if not contempt, then I would certainly say that at least, familiarity breeds apathy. And this is where I think we arrive at a very important and personal question that today’s Gospel is asking each one of us to honestly ponder. 

 Have we, perhaps even unintentionally, become infected with some of that apathetic familiarity virus? Are we so used to hearing and talking about Jesus that he has become kind of like the guy-next-door? What I mean is…when we hear a Gospel story at Mass do we run ahead of it in our minds and finish the story without giving it a chance to really sink in? Are we no longer impressed by the miracle stories because we’ve heard them so many times? Does the drama and intrigue of the Passion no longer move us because we know how it all ends? Has Jesus and the Gospel become an all-too-familiar matter for us? 

 If so, then we need to nip it in the bud and ask the Holy Spirit to reignite the flame of love within us. You know, Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “power from on high” and in its original Greek this is the same word that we use for dynamite! We need to ask the Spirit of the Living God to blow our apathy out of the water and cause an explosion of faith to erupt within us once again. We need to make time to re-personalize and rekindle our relationship with Jesus, like two friends who make a point of getting together regularly to keep the friendship growing. If we are faithful to intentionally re-discovering the specialness of Jesus, he will bless our efforts, deepen our faith and work many mighty wonders in our lives. 

 Oh, and don’t ever give up hope over any family members who may be in conflict with you about faith in Jesus. James and Simeon, two of the Lord’s relatives who originally tried to stop him from making a fool of himself and the family, ended up becoming disciples and saints. Both of them became in succession the first two bishops of Jerusalem and each gave up their very lives in martyrdom for their cousin, Jesus. Just another reminder of what Jesus used to say…”nothing is impossible to God!”



Sunday, June 2, 2024

Looking Beyond the Senses

 

Homily for Corpus Christi Sunday, June 2, 2024. Gospel of St. Mark 14:12-26. Theme: Looking Beyond the Senses 

 Today’s celebration of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, became a special liturgy in the Church in a very unusual way back in the 13th century. At that time, a priest from the Czech Republic, known today only as Fr. Peter was on a pilgrimage to Rome. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena, Italy, to celebrate Mass. He had been struggling with questions about the Eucharist, debating within himself as to whether it was simply specially blessed bread and wine or in fact the Flesh and Blood of Christ. Such thoughts as these were troubling his mind as he began Mass that morning. Then during the consecration when he repeated Jesus’ words from the Last Supper, crimson red blood started dripping from the Consecrated Host in his hands and fell upon the altar cloth! 

 Fr. Peter wrapped the Host in the blood-stained linen and, along with those who had witnessed the miracle, brought it to Pope Urban IV who happened to be in the nearby town of Orvieto. After a detailed investigation into the alleged miracle the Holy Father concluded that it was genuine and had the sacred altar cloth enshrined in the cathedral of Orvieto (where it can still be seen and venerated). He established the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in thanksgiving for the gift of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and he commissioned the great St. Thomas Aquinas to compose prayers and Eucharistic hymns for its celebration that we still use today. 

 But this Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena was not an isolated event in Church history. There have been about 130 documented and scientifically examined similar experiences, all of which point to the fact that what our senses tell us about the Eucharist is not the whole story. Or to put it more simply, when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament what we see is not what we get! The most recent and amazing of these eucharistic miracles happened in Buenos Aires in 1996 and the bishop who investigated it is now Pope Francis. In that particular case, the Host did not just bleed as in Bolsena but part of it actually turned into tangible human flesh while the remainder of it retained its usual appearance. 

 Without revealing anything of its backstory, Church authorities sent a specimen of this transformed host to the most well-respected and state-of-the-art research lab in New York. The forensic results concluded that it contained blood type AB+, which is the same blood type that has been discovered in lab tests of other eucharistic miracles. Curiously, it is also the same blood type that was found on the famous Shroud of Turin. In addition, the tissue sample was assessed as coming from the heart of a Middle-Eastern male, which shouldn’t surprise us because Jesus was a Galilean Jew and the Eucharist is often referred to as a gift of love from his Sacred Heart. But most astounding is that even though the specimen was 3 years old at the time of its examination, the researchers concluded that it was taken from a living person because of the microscopic presence and behavior of active white blood cells. This discovery reminds us that in Holy Communion we do not receive the Body and Blood of a dead and long-gone Savior but rather that of a Risen and Living Lord. This is why our cantor today sang Jesus’ words during the Alleluia that proclaim: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…”. 

The Living Bread. I think most of us can honestly admit that at one time or another we have had our own questions about the Eucharist. After all, it's only natural that such thoughts should eventually come to mind. And we may have also wondered why Jesus didn't just do it differently so that the full reality of this Sacrament could be beyond any question or doubt. But when you really think about it, it makes sense that the externals of bread and wine remain unchanged, because who of us would want to receive Holy Communion if they visibly became what they really are? Who among us would approach this Holy Sacrament if the reality of flesh and blood was tangible to our senses? 

 The tension that exists between what our human senses perceive and what our faith tells us is really nothing new about Jesus. After all, when he lived on planet Earth the full reality of who he really was couldn’t be experienced by the senses either. What I mean is that when people looked at the man they called Jesus of Nazareth, what they saw and smelled and touched and heard was an ordinary Jewish man, in his 30’s, fit and strong from his work as a laborer, speaking with a heavy Galilean accent, and having the smell of many days on the road without a bath. However, what their senses could not tell them was that the Eternal Son of God, the Lord of Glory, was standing right there in front of them! This truth was hidden from them by the outward appearances of flesh and bone just as the truth about the Eucharist is hidden from us by the outward appearances of bread and wine. 

 And so, recalling the words of Jesus and reaffirming what the Catholic Church has always taught about the Eucharist, we have to look beyond what our senses tell us. We have to admit that there is so much more to reality than only what we can see and touch and understand. We need to trust, to make an act of faith, knowing that God would not and could not deceive us. And so we must look beyond the appearance of the Consecrated Host held up before our eyes at Holy Communion and remember that Jesus said, “This is my body given for you…”. We must look beyond the Consecrated Wine in the chalice and remember the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “This is my blood, poured out for you.”

Photos of Some Authenticated Eucharistic Miracles 
where the Host turned to Flesh & Blood.


Saturday, May 25, 2024

Experiencing God's Threefold Love

 

Homily for Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2024. Readings: Romans 8:14-17, Gospel of St. Matthew 28:16-20. Theme: Experiencing God’s Threefold Love 

 The celebration of Trinity Sunday reminds us that as Christians we’ve received a revelation or insight into who God is and what he is like that sets us apart from all other world religions. The doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity seeks to express the inexpressible mystery that the One True God exists as three distinct but co-equal Persons whom Jesus identified as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can this be? We’ll never really know this side of Heaven because it’s something that our human minds simply cannot comprehend. But we believe and profess this doctrine because it was revealed to us by the Son of God himself. We accept it on his word alone because we trust Jesus. His Resurrection affirms that he is worthy of this trust because it proved his divinity and put a stamp of approval on his credibility. And really, this is about all we can know with some certainty about God. 

 No matter how much time we spend thumbing through the pages of the Bible, we’ll never find any explanation of HOW God can be a Trinity of Persons. But what we will find is a hint as to WHY this can be true. You see, once we accept the word of Scripture that says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) then we can begin to consider that there must be more than just one Person who is Divine. The reason for this is that love is by its very nature relational, that is, it only happens within a communion or fellowship of persons. Love can never be a solo affair! And so it can make some sense to say that the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and that this mutual exchange of love is so perfect, so powerful and so unitive that it brings forth yet another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit. But even this is only a feeble attempt to try and understand an unfathomable mystery. 

 But you know, there is something even more wonderful, almost unbelievable that Scripture tells us about this divine love relationship of the Trinity. It informs us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not just keep this love between themselves, but it spills out onto and over all of their creation and to each one of us individually and personally. This reaching out to us took place when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son was sent by the Father into our world as its Savior. He became man and extended to any and all who desire it the invitation to become adopted children of the Father and thus enter into the divine relationship. We see this beautifully proclaimed in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where he says: 

 "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, "Abba, my Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God our Father and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:14-16) 

 We can get a better idea of what St. Paul is saying here if we step back in time for a moment and look at what adoption meant to those Romans. You see, in their culture to be adopted meant to become as much a part of the father as were his natural children. There was absolutely no distinction allowed or even permitted by Roman law. As a matter of fact, it was easier to disinherit a biological child than it was an adopted one. The rationale behind this was that the adopted child was personally and intentionally chosen while the biological child was simply the natural result of human sexuality. Thus, a father knew exactly what he was doing and who he was choosing in the process of adoption. Another interesting and enlightening thing to know is that in ancient Rome people were not typically adopted as infants but as older children or adults. And they had an interesting ritual for doing this. First, a death certificate was issued listing the person’s old name. Then a new birth certificate was drawn up bearing their official adopted name. The idea behind this was that their old lives, their old selves were dead and gone. Now they had a new life, a new family, a new identity, a new beginning. 

 This is precisely what St. Paul is trying to express in the passage we just read, By accepting God’s invitation and entering into a new relationship with the Trinity through Baptism, our old sin-tainted selves die and we become a brand new creation! This is how those Roman Christians interpreted St. Paul’s words and so they thought to themselves, “My old life before knowing Christ is dead and gone. My old way of thinking and acting is over. This is the beginning of a new life. I have a new family now which is the Church, the community of God’s people. I am now a child of God the Father, a sibling of Christ the Son, and a temple of the Divine Spirit. All that rightfully belongs to Christ now also belongs to me and this includes Heaven, which is my birthright and my inheritance.” 

 So you see, today’s Liturgy celebrates the wonderful truth that God binds himself to us in an interpersonal relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in doing so the Trinity becomes not so much a doctrine to be believed (which it is) but an experience of God to be lived. It enables us to know the protective care of the Father’s providence in our lives that provides for what we need and sustains our every heartbeat. It brings us the merciful and redemptive Presence of the Son who loved us to the point of even dying for us and who is with us always through his Word and Sacraments. It blesses us with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our Bond of Connection with the Trinity, who is our Comforter and Companion throughout life. To no other religion that now exists or has ever existed on planet Earth has God extended such an awesome invitation and experience to human beings. This is the great gift and beauty of Christianity.




Saturday, May 18, 2024

Living a Double-Life...in a Good Way!

 

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2024. Readings: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, Gospel of St. John 20:19-23. Living a Double-Life…But in a Good Way! 

 The Solemnity of Pentecost has always been a very special Sunday for me. I like the joy and hope that this feast brings into our lives as we celebrate the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit which is also the birthday of the Church! Because Pentecost commemorates the sending of the Spirit whom in the Creed we call “the Lord and Giver of Life”, it reminds me that we are most fully alive and more surely reaching our potential when we are living his gift of life to the fullest in both of its forms. This means that in addition to the tender loving care that we show for our physical lives, we have to also give full and proper attention to our supernatural lives. 

 We all know that it’s by birth from a mother that we enter into our natural life and that we need to develop it and nurture this gift of our physical existence. But what about our supernatural life, our spiritual self, what we call our immortal soul? It also has needs that must be met if it is going to grow and prosper. As with natural birth, spiritual life also begins with a birth, the kind of birth that Jesus called “being born again of water and the Holy Spirit '' in Baptism. Just like our bodily health, the vitality of our souls also needs attention and development which we can provide for it through prayer, reading the Word of God and receiving the Sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist. And just like our natural lives, the supernatural life also needs the care and loving support of a family, and this is precisely why Christ gave us the Christian community, the spiritual family of the Church. 

 And this is where Pentecost comes into the picture. How so? Well, before Pentecost the Church was being formed by Jesus but it was very much inward-looking and kind of unseen, much like a child in the womb. But on that first Christian Pentecost, fueled by the fire-power and mighty wind of the Holy Spirit, the Church, like an unborn baby, burst out of its spiritual womb and spilled onto the streets of Jerusalem! Like a newly delivered child it had finally received the one last thing that it needed for an exuberant life: air…oxygen…breathing! You see, in the original languages of the Bible, the one same word that means “Spirit” also means “breath” or “air”. The Holy Spirit is the very “Breath of God” who gives us supernatural life. The Holy Spirit is the “Air We Breathe” to keep the divine life pulsating and circulating within us. This is why we call Pentecost the “birthday of the Catholic Church”. 

 St. Paul reminds us of this in today’ second reading that in addition to being a Life-giver, the Holy Spirit is also a Gift-giver. He intentionally places within each one of us gifts or abilities for the support of the family of the Church, for the building up of our spiritual lives. Such gifts might be singing or reading at Mass to enhance worship; it might be compassion to help relieve the sufferings of the needy poor; maybe it’s the ability to visit the sick or the capacity to support those who are struggling emotionally; perhaps it's teaching the Faith to others or exercising a gift of prayerful intercession. The list of gifts is really endless. Whatever it might be, each one of us has received a gift to contribute to the life of our parish and to the support of the whole spiritual family. 

 In our first reading from the Book of Acts we heard of how the Holy Spirit manifested himself in a rush of mighty wind. This got the attention of the disciples who were then pushed by his invisible hands out of the room and into the streets of Jerusalem where they needed to be seen and heard! The Spirit set them on fire with eagerness to bring the message of Jesus to others and maybe that’s what we need to ask for on this Pentecost. That the Holy Spirit gets our attention and sets our hearts on fire for Christ. That he pushes us out of ourselves and into the lives of others, so that they, too, can experience the Spirit’s gift of life, both natural and supernatural, and become most fully the people God created them to be!



Saturday, May 11, 2024

A Promise & A Power

 

Homily for the Sunday of the Ascension of Our Lord, May 19, 2024. Acts 1:1-11, Mark 16:15-20. Theme: A Promise and A Power 

 Today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is the crowning event of the whole story of the Incarnation, that is, of God becoming human. Having successfully completed his rescue and restore mission of salvation Christ goes back to where he came from. He takes up once again the divine powers he had left behind when he came to planet Earth and resumes his rightful place in the full glory and majesty of the Kingdom! 

 However, Jesus still remains 100% a man and so this makes the Ascension kind of like a supernatural gold medal award ceremony for the human race! You see, many people just assume that once Jesus returned to Heaven then his gig as a human being was up and he didn’t need to be a man any more. And on the surface you can’t blame people for thinking like this. But it’s important to know that becoming human in every way that we are except for sin wasn’t just play-acting or a practicality for God the Son. It was at the very heart of his redeeming and sanctifying mission. The mission of rescuing us from sin and restoring us to life with God had to be an inside job, so to speak. He accomplished this by blessing our humanity with the presence of his divinity and so healing us from the inside out became possible. And now Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Man, lives and reigns along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And for the first and only time in our history a human being is enthroned in Heaven, sharing in the very honor and authority of God! 

 And so we see that the Ascension isn’t just telling us something wonderful about Jesus. It’s also saying something incredible about us - about you and me! The Ascension proclaims that we who are united with Jesus by Baptism are also destined like him, to be raised up to a place of glory and honor. We can confidently say this and look forward to it because Jesus himself said, “Where I am going you also will be.” (Jn 14:3) But also like him, we must first do our part in spreading his rescue and restore mission on planet Earth! Christ speaks to us about this in today’s readings telling us to spread his Message and be his witnesses in the world. He assures us that great and unbelievable signs will sometimes accompany our spreading of the Gospel and that we will be enabled to do wondrous things because of the Holy Spirit, whom he refers to as the “Promise of the Father” and the “Power from on high”. 

 The Holy Spirit is called the “Promise of the Father” because in the Old Testament God promised to pour out his Spirit upon his people through the instrumentality of his Messiah. Both Jesus and St. John the Baptist called the fulfillment of this promise a “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Baptism means “immersion” and so to be baptized in the Holy Spirit means that we will be drenched, soaked to the bone, with the Spirit of God and become consciously aware of his love and presence in our lives. It’s a spiritual experience that can change and transform those who receive it from the inside out. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit means a spiritual awakening or a renewal in our hearts that results in a firm personal decision to make and to keep Christ as the center of our lives. Sometimes we Catholics call this personal religious revival among adults a return to the faith or a conversion experience. 

 Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the “Power from on high”. In our readings we heard him say, “you will be clothed with power from on high…” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” We all know that power means the ability, energy and strength to do something that needs to be done, even if it’s beyond our normal capacity. The Power that is the Holy Spirit infuses within us the ability to do things that we do not think we are capable of doing. He also enables us to give credible witness to Jesus among those with whom we live, work and socialize. This Divine Power from on high manifests himself in different and various ways in our lives depending upon what our personal situation is and what our needs, or those of others around us, might be. 

 Both the New Testament and the lives of believers throughout the centuries show us that the Power of the Spirit can work great signs and wonders through us ordinary everyday Christians. Why does the Spirit do this through us? Well, it’s so that we can give credible and tangible witness to the truth of Christ and the power of his Gospel to change and transform those who believe. The Power-from-on-high that we are given can enable us to do such things as obtain physical healings from God and speak the right words that people need to hear and that touch the listener’s hearts. But the greatest of all the Spirit’s power-gifts is the supernatural ability to love others as Jesus has loved us. The Church has always been adamant that it isn’t just the apostles or the saints who work such wonders. The Bible makes it very clear that ordinary everyday Christians like us - just like you and me - can do extraordinary things if we trust in the Power of the Spirit within us. 

 So, let’s spend the coming week between today and Pentecost Sunday next weekend praying for a reinvigorated baptism, outpouring and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let’s pray for the grace to truly embrace the “Promise of the Father” who was first given to us at Baptism. Let’s pray for the grace to allow this “Power from on high” that was bestowed on us at Confirmation to become a living reality in our lives. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit in our prayers during the coming week to renew his wonders among us and through us in our times as if by a new Pentecost!






Saturday, May 4, 2024

Loving Above and Beyond...

 

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2024. Readings: Gospel of St. John 15:9-17. Theme: Loving Above and Beyond… 

 In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is giving us a new commandment about love which goes beyond his original teaching which was, “to love your neighbor as yourself,” that is, to treat others as we would want to be treated. We know this was really nothing unique to Christianity because we find this original commandment in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. Mahatma Gandhi also advocated this kind of love in his Hindu-based promotion of peace. And Muslims, too, have a reflection of it in their sacred duty of extending hospitality to strangers. However, Jesus is calling us to rise above the old and strive to aim higher by living his new commandment. 

You know, some people don’t like that word “commandment”. It conjures up for them a legalistic form of religion filled with lots of “do this” and “don’t do that”. You see, they tend to think of commandments as restrictive moral laws or as a way for the Church to control our behavior. But that’s not the viewpoint that Jesus or the authors of the New Testament had when they used this word. To them a commandment was something very different and more personal than simply a rule or regulation. It was seen in a positive light, as a way of helping us to become what we were each created to be: reflections and images of God in a broken world. 

 The reasoning behind this was as follows: if people saw the way we lived and the choices we made in life because of our faith, then they would be curious about our religion and be able to get a glimpse or an idea of what our God is like and would be attracted to him. So, the commandments were far from being a restriction on our freedom but were meant to give us a plan of life that has a very noble purpose. Living the commandments of God is a tangible way to evangelize, that is, to spread the Gospel message of and about Jesus to others by our behavior more than our words. 

 The plan and purpose, the aim and goal of the New Commandment is to help us become an extension of Christ’s life-giving love. And to do so it begins where the old commandment leaves off and pushes us to go beyond it. The New Commandment urges us on to love others more than we love ourselves, and to prove or show this love by the choices we make and the way we act towards others. This means that we are to strive to love in a way that is self-emptying, self-forgetful, and self-giving, without concern as to what it will cost us as the lovers, the givers. It’s a call to place our personal freedom at the service of love which expresses itself in a willingness to accept even inconvenience to oneself in order to bring convenience into the life of another. And to be honest, it’s a kind of love that can seem like crazy love, like foolish love, because our human nature on its own, without the help of God’s grace, seeks to love with a “me-centered” heart. 

 It’s really important to realize that Jesus gave us his New Commandment at the Last Supper because he wanted us to link it with the Eucharist. By means of this Blessed Sacrament the Risen Lord makes us his living tabernacles who carry him to those with whom we live, work and socialize and then, because of his presence within us, we can find it possible to love them with his love. And the more often we intentionally do this, the more powerful his Presence becomes within us and the more we can love others as he has loved us. 

 This is why at the end of every Mass we are sent out to carry his love into the world. We are reminded of this divine commission at the dismissal when we are told to “go and announce the gospel of the Lord” or to “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives”. These parting words of the Liturgy remind us that the Gospel is best announced and God is best glorified when we go out and “be Jesus” for others by loving the way he loves. This is a way more powerful and influential form of evangelization than just speaking about Jesus. It definitely isn’t easy and we know full well that we won’t always be successful, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. 

 And you know, a very beautiful thing about the New Commandment of Love is that it enables us to live life with God and find deep meaning in our daily existence because, as St. John wrote in today’s second reading, God is love, and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them.