Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Lord and Giver of Life!

HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, May 31, 2020. Readings: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, Gospel of St. John 20:19-23.  The Lord and Giver of Life!

The Solemnity of Pentecost has always been a very special day to me. There is just so much joy and hope in this feast on which we celebrate the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, as we call him every Sunday in the Creed. It reminds me that we Christians have two forms of the gift of life within us: natural life and supernatural life. And while they share some similar needs for proper growth and functioning, they are also so very different.

Through birth from our mothers we enter into our natural life, our physical life. And while the details of this life on earth differ greatly among us, depending upon our various cultures and social circumstances, there are things that we have in common, that we all must to do sustain and nurture life. We must breath and receive nourishment. We have to receive formation in knowledge and virtue so that we can grow to be healthy and happy. And of course, this needs to be done within the protective and loving community of the family.

But I wonder how many of us realize that our supernatural life, that is, the life of God’s grace in our souls, can be spoken about in much the same way? Just as with physical life, we are born, or as Jesus called it we are born again, in the spiritual life through a mother, our mother the Church. This spiritual birth happens through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Then, we need the Eucharist to nourish us and Confirmation to enable us to grow strong and mature in the Spirit.  And just as physical life has its wounds and scars, so too in the spiritual life we can be scarred and wounded by sin, but we find healing in the Sacraments of Confession and Anointing. This life of God within us, just like our natural physical life, needs the care and loving support of a family, and it is the responsibility of the Christian community of the parish to be this loving and supportive family for God’s children.

But no matter what form of life we are talking about, whether it be the physical or the spiritual, the most basic thing that both need along with family, for health, survival and growth is air…oxygen…breathing.  If this vital need becomes endangered or compromised, as the present COVID pandemic we are experiencing shows us, we are in deep trouble.  And that’s where today’s Pentecost celebration of the Holy Spirit comes into play regarding our spiritual life.  You see in both of the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek, the one same word that means “breath” or “air” or “wind” also means Spirit. And we see this wordplay in today’s readings. In the Book of Acts the Spirit comes in a mighty wind, and in the Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. These Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit if the very life-breath of God, the power and presence of God in and among his children.

So how does the Holy Spirit bring and increase this very life-breath of God within us? Through the Christian community of the parish which exists as a spiritual life-support for the natural family by preaching of the Word of God and the celebrating of the Sacraments. This is why active participation in parish life is so very important ad truly indispensable for us! This is why we are feeling so terribly at a loss in today’s situation where our access to the parish is so restricted!  Our life, our supernatural life, literally depends upon it!

Where do we first receive the Spirit in Baptism and have his presence strengthened within us in Confirmation? Through the parish! Where are we fed with the Bread of Life in Holy Communion and receive healing for our bodies or souls by Confession and Anointing of the Sick? Through the parish!  Where do we usually hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained to us for our growth in faith? In the parish!

But this supernatural life is not just about receiving. It is also about giving. St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is also a Life-giver in the community through the parishioners who put the gifts of the Spirit they have received at the service of their spiritual family. Each one of us, through Baptism and Confirmation, have received a spiritual gift or ability that has been intentionally given for the purpose of life-giving. It might be singing or playing an instrument to enhance worship; it might be compassion and understanding to minister to the sick and the poor; perhaps its teaching and the desire to share the Gospel with others. The list is really endless. Whatever it might be, each one of us has received a gift to build up our parish and contribute to its life, the life of God.

But this mutual relationship and responsibility we have for receiving and giving life is not put on hold because of social isolation or other aspects of our present pandemic. Very soon Holy Mass will resume in some fashion and we will be able to come together again to offer praise and worship to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit!   In the meantime, our parish church is open seven days a week so you are all invited to come and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration asking Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament to uphold and strengthen us. And if you cannot make it to church then pray and read Scripture from home, but never ever lose contact in some form with the parish community, because it is how God has willed to give, increase and sustain his life of the Spirit within us.

And as we await the reopening of churches and the resuming of Mass and sacraments, let’s be grateful for the life we still have. Let’s reject the fear which is so prevalent around us and is paralyzing so many.  The kind of fear that stifles us, that imprisons us and compromises the gift of life – both natural and supernatural – is not from God but from the Evil One, whose delight is that we cower with this fear.  We can reject and conquer this fear by never forgetting the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and his Great Arrival within each one of us through the Sacraments.  He dwells within us and reminds us of what Jesus said at the Last Supper:  the One who is in you, that is the Holy Spirit, is greater than anything that is in the world. He has made each one of us his living temples, filled us with the fire of his love, enlivens us by the wind of his grace, and protects us by the power of his in-dwelling presence.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Hope To Which We Have Been Called

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – Readings – Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20. Theme: The Hope To Which We Have Been Called

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Risen Lord Jesus into Heaven, to the place from which he first came to us. Many people often wonder why we put such a big emphasis on the Ascension, even making it a holyday of obligation in those places where it is not celebrated on a Sunday. And that’s a good question. Why does the Ascension rank right up there with Christmas and Easter as holydays of obligation?  Well, the reason it receives such an important place in both our liturgy and our profession of faith is because the Ascension completes what Christmas began and fulfills what Easter accomplished.  Let’s look at that a bit closer.

What did Christmas begin? It began the Incarnation, that is, the unbelievable reality of the almighty eternal glorious God becoming a vulnerable limited human being named Jesus. God the Son became human so that he could save, that is heal, our sin-wounded human nature from the inside out, by actually becoming one of us. By uniting his divinity with our humanity Jesus elevated being human from the status of living as creatures of God to the honor of our actually becoming children of God by adoption. So, the important thing to remember when pondering the Ascension in the light of Christmas is that it completes the process of transforming and healing human nature that began in Bethlehem. Human nature, once ravaged by sin, is now sanctified by Christ and made worthy to stand before the Presence of God in Heaven!

So then, how can we say that the Ascension fulfills what Easter accomplished? Because the Resurrection was the marvelous sign and proof that God the Father had accepted the sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth on behalf of the human race. His rescue and restore mission was accomplished! Human nature was healed of our spiritual wounds. The power of sin to drive a wedge between us and God was conquered.  Death, the ultimate penalty of sin, was destroyed and no longer had the last word over human beings. It was transformed from a deep dark dungeon of despair into a hopeful doorway to eternal life. And so, the Ascension takes up from where the Resurrection left off.  It leads us human beings into the glory Heaven. It shows us that the whole person, the entirety of our human nature – body as well as soul - will experience glory once we ourselves have passed through death and trampled it under our feet in Christ. This is why we can call the Ascension the fulfilment of Easter.

You see, I think that many Christians have a misunderstanding when it comes to the Ascension. They think that once Jesus rose up from the dead and returned to Heaven he left his humanity behind and is now worshipped and adored solely as God. But this isn’t the case at all! Such a way of thinking actually strips the Ascension of its purpose and meaning for us. The Risen and Glorified Lord Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, living and reigning with him, as a Man as well as being God.  And that’s what is so awesome and marvelous about the Ascension.  It elevates us humans far above what we were originally created to be by allowing one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, to actually enter into the direct Presence of God and reign there, side by side with the Lord in Heaven. When the Resurrection of the Dead takes place at the end of time, we will be lifted up, body and soul, to live and reign with Christ forever in Heaven. This is the hope to which we have been called that St. Paul mentions in the second reading today.

So, all this is why we can say that the Ascension ranks right up there with both Christmas and Easter as one of our major celebrations and holy days.  But this event in the life of Christ is not just something we remember and look forward to experiencing. In the mean-time we have work to do! Like the disciples, who at the Ascension received from Christ the Great Commission to go out to all the world and proclaim the Good News, we too are sent out to invite others to come to know and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. We want everyone to know the great hope to which we have all been called!  This means that we each are willing to share with others what a difference a personal relationship with Jesus makes in our lives. That we are willing to let them see by our changed attitude and Christ-like behavior that the Lord is continually healing and transforming us from the inside out. And to let them know that he is willing and eager to do the same for them!

Of course, we cannot accomplish this by simply relying upon our own abilities and energy.  But stay tuned…because the way that Christ equips us to carry out this mission will be the focus of our liturgy next Sunday, when we celebrate the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  In the meantime, let’s thank Christ for the Ascension and for what it means for us as part of his rescue mission to restore us to intimacy with God and elevate our humanity. And let’s ask Him to grant us the grace to open our hearts during the coming week to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can be his witnesses among those with whom we live, work and socialize, and invite them, by our words and example to live for God in Christ and experience a new way of thinking, a new way of acting, and a new way of loving.

P.S. Be sure to join with us in our parish-wide Pentecost Novena to the Holy Spirit that is happening right now (May 22-May 30) via Flocknote!  Pentecost is Sunday May 31. Pray with us for a new outpouring of the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, upon each one of us and our parish community! If you are not yet on our Flocknote roster send your name and email address to:

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Three Promises of Jesus

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter – John 14:15-21 – Three Promises of Jesus

This Sunday's Gospel comes from the middle of the Farewell Speech of Jesus at the Last Supper.  And in it, he makes three extremely consoling promises to his disciples and to us. And I think these promises are something we all need to hear and hang on to these days. 

The first promise is one of protection: I will send you another Advocate to be with you always. Jesus is the first Advocate, but he would soon be going away.  The new Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would remain with the disciples, with us, and never depart.  The actual word for Advocate used in the original Greek language of the Gospel is parakletos, which is usually translated as paraclete.  You’ve probably heard that word before in Catholic hymns and prayers to the Holy Spirit.  

But it might surprise you to find out that Paraclete was not a religious or biblical word whatsoever.  Jesus chose a legal title to describe the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives. A paraclete in ancient Greek law was a defense attorney, a public defender. In other words, the promised Holy Spirit is someone who is on our side, who stand up for us and accompanies us, using all of his expertise to safely get us through trials and tribulations. So, let’s keep in mind that as we go through so many new and unusual trials and tribulations these days, we are not alone, we are not defenseless. The Paraclete is at our side willing and able to go through the ups and downs with us, providing counsel and leading the way.

The second promise that Jesus makes is one of companionship: “I will not leave you orphans, I will come back to you.” Remember, he is talking to the disciples on the night before he died and he is saying that he will return to them at Easter. But God’s Word is alive and ever-present and so he is talking to us right now as well.  An orphan is someone who feels the void of desolation, of bring alone, without the company of the ones who love him or her most.  That’s how some of us feel in these days of social isolation and sadly, it is more than an emotion for others. There are those among us who are truly unable to be physically present with the ones they love.

Jesus is reminding us that he, the Risen Lord, has come back to us and remains with us in the Holy Eucharist. He is really and truly ever-present to us in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our tabernacles and, in a certain sense, you can say he is waiting there for us there to claim his promise and be reunited with him. Our parish church is open from 10AM to 4PM seven days a week and we can go to him for peace, strength and consolation in these trying times. Are we scheduling intentional time to go there and be with our Beloved Brother and Lord who has come back to be with us?

The third promise in today’s Gospel is one of an intimate personal relationship. Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” If we think of the special relationships we have in our lives, we will see that truly revealing ourselves to one another is at the very heart of any relationship worth having and keeping. The more we get to know one another in honesty and mutual openness, the deeper and stronger our relationship becomes. The way this happens between us and Jesus, the way he keeps his promise of personally revealing himself to us, is by prayer and meditative reading of the Gospels.

Keep in mind that prayer is really nothing more than taking time to be alone with Jesus in conversation as we would do with a spouse or with one of our friends. Speaking our own words from the heart, we reveal to him what is inside of us, who we are, who we want to be, what we desire, what we are afraid of…and he in turn speaks to our hearts and tells us about himself.

This is where the living Word of the Gospels come into play. In the pages of the Gospel we find the real Jesus. We see how he felt. We observe how we behaved. We listen to what he says. We get to know his mind and his heart. But just as we plan and make time to be alone with the one we love so we need to do the same for our relationship with Jesus. And we need to carry out our prayer and meditation in an atmosphere of silence so that we can hear him gently whispering to the ears of our heart.

You know, the beautiful thing about a divine relationship is that all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in it.  When we live in love with Christ it includes living in love with God the Father, And, this love that so intimately unites the Father and the Son with us is the special work of the Holy Spirit.  We started off this reflection by pondering the Holy Spirit and we are ending it with Him as well. And this is exactly as it should be as we begin to draw near to the end of the Easter Season and prepare to celebrate the Holy Spirit’s Great Arrival on the Solemnity of Pentecost. 

Let’s make a resolution right now to pray the Pentecost Novena this year with special confidence and devotion.  Let's ask for the grace to open wide the doors of our hearts to the power and presence of this Spirit of the Living God, the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter who is our defense, our companion and our strength in these difficult times.