Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Ascension: Signed, Sealed and Delivered

From the Catholic Liturgy for Ascension Sunday, May 28, 2019. Matthew 28:16-30. Sometimes a person will ask, me, “Why is the Ascension ranked so high as a holyday in the liturgy, even above Ash Wednesday or the Annunciation?” It’s a good question and the answer is twofold.  First, because it is the sign that Jesus’ saving mission on earth is accomplished. Second, because it proclaims that the human race has been changed, filled with unspeakable potential glory, and we will never be the same again.

You see, each of the three big “Jesus Holydays of Obligation” in our Catholic Faith speak to us of a certain aspect of our salvation, of what I like to call Jesus’ Rescue Mission. Each of them reveals what He did to rescue us from three consequences of Adam and eve’s original sin. Christmas reveals that Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us), restored humanity to intimacy with God. He shared our life, our existence, our struggles and joys, in every way except sin. Easter proclaims that Jesus conquered the two archenemies of the human race – sin and death – and destroyed their dominion. And the Ascension shouts out to us that the Risen Lord Jesus has handed us and our salvation over to the Father signed, sealed and delivered, so to speak. The Man Jesus now reigns in divine partnership with God as Lord of all creation, and invites us to share this awesome glorified life.

But the Ascension also is celebrated with great solemnity because it is a commissioning of us, his disciples, to engage in partnership with Him here and now. He commands us to participate in his Rescue Mission, making it something real and effective in the lives of others so that they, too, can ultimately live this Ascension-glory. And he empowers us to successfully carry on his Mission by the active presence of the Holy Spirit within us, whose coming we will celebrate next Sunday, on Pentecost.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Paraclete from Heaven

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017 - John 14:15-21. The Promise of the Holy Spirit. This Sunday's Gospel comes from the middle of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper and informs us about the mission of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple and in the Church at large. The word John used in his original Greek version, parakletos, is translated as paraclete in traditional Catholic vocabulary, but is most meaningfully rendered into modern American English as defense attorney or public defender. Other acceptable translations of this original Greek word can be: advocate, counselor, encourager, intercessor, helper but they all carry that same nuance of "someone with authority who attends up for us before others, particularly before those who accuse or persecute us." In other words, we are not in this alone. In our daily living of the Gospel, in our efforts to serve others, in our daily work carried out with a Christian example, in our conversations with peers and friends...the Spirit is ever-present ready to help us with the words and fortitude we need to witness Christ.

But here’s the thing: no matter how good or wise our Public Defender may be, it will be beneficial to us in court only to the extent that we listen to what he or she says and put their counsel into practice, right? Our defense attorney will tell us when to speak up and give our testimony; when to be quiet and just sit still and listen.  The very same hold true with the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. He will tell us what to do, when to speak out and when to remain silent. Our witness to Christ will only be as fruitful and effective as is our listening to the Spirit and putting following His inspirations. And how to we do this? By prayer. Not just reciting prayers, but prayer of the heart, being still before the Lord, asking for advice and then listening in the silence of our hearts. And we need to do this every day for at least a short bit of time.

Today’s Liturgy also links to the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is indeed, along with Baptism and Eucharist, an Easter Sacrament. As a matter of fact, the great solemnity of Pentecost which closes up the Easter Season is considered the first "confirmation" of the Catholic Church! And today’s first reading, where Peter & John lay hands of newly baptized Christians and confer the Holy Spirit, is the classic New Testament text used to illustrate Confirmation in the early Church. And Confirmation is above all the sacrament of mission, of witness, of giving testimony to Christ by our words and behavior. So we can easily see its connection to the Spirit as Paraclete. So, on this 6th Sunday of Easter, let’s renew our Confirmation and recommit ourselves to follow the wisdom and advice of our Personal Defender, the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. Let’s open hearts to his guidance and follow his inspirations so that others may come to know and believe that Jesus is risen and desires to reign as Lord in every human heart.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Hero of Our Rescue Mission

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 5TH Sunday of Easter – John 14:1-2 – Jesus the Way, Truth & Life.  John’s Gospel has 7 sayings of self-revelation by Jesus that tell us about his mission as well his identity. They all begin with "I Am" and they inform us as to what kind of relationship Jesus desires to have with each one of us.  The I Am Saying in this Sunday's Gospel is one of the most encompassing of them all. Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me." (Jn 14:6)   To truly understand this relationship that Jesus desires to have with us, we have to keep that He came to earth, became one of us, for the sake of a rescue mission.

He came to undo the mess caused by Adam and Eve's decision (which we call original sin) to live life on their own terms apart from God and take the consequences.   What did this mean for all of us humans, their descendants? Fundamentally, it meant that the way to Heaven was closed to humanity by our own choosing.  It meant that sin entered into our daily realities and caused confusion and cloudiness in our moral thinking and choosing. It meant that sickness and suffering would plague our lives, which God originally created as harmonious and joyful. Death became the only escape, the only way out of this compromised existence.  And so Jesus came to us as the Way, the Truth and the Life:

Jesus shows us the Way to live as humans and He sanctified our human experiences. So, we are rescued by Jesus the Way from living our everyday lives in alienation from God as Adam and Eve chose to do. Jesus shares our experience and relives it with each one of us if we open our hearts and ask Him to do so.  Jesus proclaims the Truth and we find that Truth in the Gospels and teachings of his Church, which apply the Gospel to our contemporary lives.  And so, we follow Jesus the Truth and are rescued from the misleading darkness of error by reading his gospel frequently and by studying our Catholic Faith. While  to follow Jesus as Way and Truth is excellent,  it doesn’t complete the rescue mission.  There is still that matter of suffering and of death to overturn.

The way Jesus chose to rescue us from these realties was by facing them head-on himself, not exempting himself from these consequences of original sin.  By his death & resurrection he destroyed the power of sickness and suffering to be victimizing and meaningless in our lives.  He actually turns the tide on them and transforms the bad news of suffering into the good news of salvation.  He faced the ultimate evil, the most final consequence of original sin, that of death, and turned that black hole of nothingness into a gateway to eternal life, to a real life, an existence beyond our imagining.

Let’s thank Jesus for the gift of this threefold relationship with us. And let’s ask for the grace to never forget that more than any other voice or celebrity that clamors for our attention, no one goes back to the Father except through Him, the hero and champion of our rescue mission.