Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) – June 22, 2014

From the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16a

From the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17

From the holy Gospel according to John 6:51-58

Even the most shocking statement, if we hear it often enough, can become mundane and lose its power to shock.  Take Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel for example.  Those that eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them on the last day.  Have you ever heard anyone gasp when that message is proclaimed?  Have you ever seen anyone stomp his feet and storm out of the Assembly?  Have you every noticed someone put her hands over her ears and cry, “Enough!”

Don’t you wonder why the first audience had all those reactions of horror and then cry out that Jesus was a madman?  John is quite clear that at the end of the discourse most of those who had been listening turned on their heels and departed.  Only a few of the stunned and shocked remained with Jesus.  Of these Jesus asked: Will you also go away?  It is impossible to know the thoughts that raced through the heads of those disciples as they watched the scene unfold.  At the beginning of the oration the crowds pressed in in order to catch every word that came from Jesus’ mouth.  By the conclusion near violence erupted.  Some may even have picked up rocks to hurl at Jesus, so revolted were they by what he had said.  The few that remained probably felt an impulse to duck for cover lest they be put in harm’s way.  What degree of confidence do you imagine was in Peter’s voice when he responded to Jesus’ question: Where can we go?  We believe that you have the words of everlasting life.  After all, Peter and the other remaining ones had given up everything to follow Jesus.

What is it that is so shocking in Jesus’ words?  If you her them you are left with no wiggle room.  Remember the line from the song?  With me it’s all or nothin’/ it’s all or nothin at all.  It may be crudely put, but that is exactly what Jesus has said.  For disciples, everything of importance depends entirely upon Jesus.  Life lived today and for all eternity depends on gnawing at this flesh and drinking his blood.  Don’t be offended.  That’s the language Jesus used.  He wants his disciples to devour him.  I am the living bread come down from heaven.

Accommodation takes over after that for many of us.  As we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ we think immediately that we are celebrating the feast of the Eucharist.  Of course that is a significant part of the feast.  The danger is that we objectify the meaning and mystery that Jesus puts before us.  We think of a piece of bread.  We think of a cup of wine.  In the course of the Eucharistic Prayer we look at the bread and proclaim the Body of Christ present.  We look at the cup and proclaim the Blood of Christ present.  We adore.  All well and good.  We are comfortable with that.  But there must be more.  Merely to look and to adore keeps the reality at a distance.  We can focus on the transcendence and not have to deal with the imminence.  Nowhere in the Gospels and certainly nowhere in the Institution Narrative does Jesus say: this is my body.  Adore it.  Nor does he say that about the blood.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Do this in my memory.  Everything depends upon the doing.

Again, accommodation takes over.  It always has.  We look for more palatable interpretations for so much of what Jesus announced.  The centrality of poverty in the Christian walk – surely Jesus didn’t mean that literally.  What, then, do you suppose he meant when he said: Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come and follow me?  Then there is the commandment Jesus voices in John’s Last Supper account in which there is nothing about the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.  During John’s Last Supper Jesus says: As I have washed your feet so must you wash one another’s feet.  The operative phrase is, must wash.  That is quite a bit stronger than, I think it would be a good idea if you would do this.  No.  Basic to discipleship is total dependence on Jesus, simplicity of life, and the pouring out of self in service.  Haven’t you been amazed at the impact on the world evidence of these aspects of living these three aspects in Pope Francis’s words and actions are having?  I just hope that those watching and being amazed aren’t whispering a sigh of relief.  If Francis is doing all this then that lets me off the hook.

There is a term that you might hear frequently today referencing people who are inactive in the practice of their Catholic faith.  They are known as Cultural Catholics.  That means they were baptized into the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, have never denied that they are Catholics, but the faith has no practical bearing on decisions made of lifestyle lived.  They do not enter in Sunday Eucharist.  I think it is safe to say that that is not what Jesus had in mind in issuing the call and challenge if one were to be a disciple.  Jesus expects us to live lives that make no sense were it not for our commitment to him.  That only happens as a result of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood and devouring his every word.  Today’s feast then is a call to action, formation and transformation.

Did you ever ask yourself what difference it would make if Jesus were not in your life?  Would there be any observable difference besides your not having to go to Mass on Sunday?

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is also the feast of the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  That is what the Church teaches.  We are baptized into Christ who lives in us.  We, you and I, all one billion of us are that Body.  What impact does that have on our lives?  Certainly the mere number of members is not something to boast about.  That fact should not become an icon on a tall pedestal to be gaped at in awe.  The truth of being the Body of Christ is a call to action.  We are to be transformed by our Sacramental encounters with Christ.  The result is a prayerful people transformed by that encounter into those who pour out themselves in sacrifice in union with Christ.

The Body of Christ in every age is broken and distributed in loving service.  What we must realize and take to heart is the message we are hearing from Pope Francis.  The Gospel message is about love, mercy, reconciliation and justice for the little ones.  Jesus said it: As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  What is more demanding than Love?

I frequently reflect on the life of Dorothy Day.  She is an inspiration to me.  I admire her.  It was the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ that motivated Dorothy Day’s conversion from atheism and Communism.  She had had an abortion.  She lived the rest of her life witnessing to what acceptance of the reality of the Body of Christ meant in practice.  She was a woman of prayer.  The Catholic Worker movement and houses of refuge for the poor are two examples.  Her life of poverty is another.

Rejoice in the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Rejoice and be glad.  But please don’t stop there.  Embrace the implications.  You will never be the same again.  You will never regret it.  It is not my word that you have on this.  It is the Lord’s

Sincerely,

Didymus

Advertisements

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – A – June 15, 2014

 

 

A reading from the Book of Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9

A reading from the second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 13:11-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 3:16-18

 

It saddens me that this feast’s first reading ends where it does.  Here is another case in which I wish the editors and compilers of the Lectionary readings had not pared the texts but rather had left them in tact.  Gems are omitted for brevity’s sake.  Today’s first reading draws us into a magnificent moment!  Remember, this is the Living Word.  We are present for this divine encounter.  God comes to Moses on Mount Sinai, following Moses’s rant before the chosen people caught dancing before the golden calf.  Moses smashed the Tablets in his rage.  Now, he has ascended the mountain again to ask for new Tablets.

God comes to Moses and a courtship dance ensues as God reveals himself to Moses and proclaims his name, Lord (Adonai), to Moses.  The scene is reminiscent of their first encounter at the Burning Bush when Moses asked the Presence for a name to be given to Pharaoh when Pharaoh asked Moses who had sent him.  Tell Pharaoh I AM sent you.  In Hebrew tradition, to know the name is to know the essence of the being.  Remember in the Garden, God brought all the animals before Adam to see what name Adam would give them.  That is an indication of how wise the Earthling was.  I AM, translated Yahweh, becomes a name so holy that the Hebrews will not pronounce it.  Observant Jews to this day writing in English refer to the Divine One as G-D.  Reverence for the name.

Now God, coming out of a cloud and dancing before Moses, gives his own commentary on the meaning of the name.  The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.  It is the next verse of the text that I wish had been left in the Lectionary.  The Lord continues his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgives wickedness and crime and sin.  Of course I have to admit that I don’t mind that the final phrase is omitted – yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness.  What we are hearing are the implications coming from the rejection of the Lord’s love.  It is important for us to remember God’s dominant attitude toward humankind is one of forgiveness.  What could be left over after wickedness, crime and sin have been forgiven anyway?

The Feast of the Holy Trinity seems a strange one.  After all, every Sunday, just as everything we do as believers, centers in our shared life in the Trinity.  Be that as it may, the readings this Sunday give us an opportunity to focus on the Mystery and to remember.

What should we hear?  First, we ought to hear that this faith of ours is a result of God’s reaching out and embracing us.  Hear God plead with us to let God be our God so that we can be God’s people.  That reaching out didn’t happen because of anything we did or did not do.  The reaching out is not something that we earn.  What we are reminded of in these readings is that our relationship with God is grace, pure and simple.  Hear that in case there is a temptation to get swelled headed because we believe.  Paul took care of that temptation once and for all when he challenged Christians to remember that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.  God empowers everything we do and everything we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  If you believe that Jesus is Lord it is because the Spirit breathed that faith life into you.

We celebrate Trinity Sunday today.  Not all people who believe in God believe that God is Triune.  Recently Pope Francis visited the Holy Land and in a powerful moment reached out to all believers in God, that is, to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and challenged us all to love one another as brothers and sisters, whether Trinitarians or not.

Our celebration today reminds us of some particular implications of our belief.  Those implications are relational.  If we believe in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we see that God’s essence is communal.  We believe that God calls us to enter into and live in that community of Love that is God.  In our Baptism we are given a new life, having died in the waters to the old one of sin, and we rise from the waters with a new identity.  Our union with Jesus that results identifies us with Jesus and so we are God’s beloveds.  We share God’s life in Christ.  Never tire of thinking about that and pondering the mystery, the wonder, and the implications of it all.  Remember what John said?  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  What we shall become remains to be seen.  All this now and Heaven still to come!

Relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is not the only implication of God’s reaching into our lives.  The other implication is our relationship with each other.  Paul says, Rejoice.  Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  In a nutshell Paul tells us what it should mean to be Church.  We are a people on a journey together.  United in the one God we are united with one another.  When we gather for Eucharist, we stand in awe at the Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Bread and the Wine.  We ought not to forget another presence.  The Assembly is the Body of Christ gathered to celebrate Eucharist and to share in the Feast.  Again, Paul, in another passage, in writing to the Corinthians, reminds us that the body though many in parts is one body.  Division in the community we call Church is a scandal that denies that unity.  Shunning individuals, even sinners, in the community is a scandal.  But we are all sinners, aren’t we?  Francis admitted that he is one.  I know that I am.  If we all are, who is there left to shun?  Unless the proclamation that goes out from us gathered in worship is All are welcome here, we are not living the reality.  This faith life is not something we hoard.  It is something we live to share.

Remember Eleanor of Aquitaine’s famous line in The Lion in Winter?  At a moment of high tension and anger and nearly broken, she says, Every family has its ups and downs.  But ups and downs not withstanding, the reality of family remains.  If we believe that we are journeying together on the Way, then we must support and encourage each other along the way.  There can be no judging of worthiness.  No one can deny another’s worthiness to come to the table.    The example we live in love is the call to conversion should someone need to mend his/her life and ways.  But it is the person who determines the rightness of approaching the table.  It has nothing to do with worthiness.  And contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s title You Can’t Go Home Again, return and reconciliation are always possibilities and causes forgreat rejoicing.

(Space does not allow for comment, but regarding a current controversy in the Church, read the biography of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.   Are there implications from these saints’ lives regarding the issue?)

In the end, it is about love.  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  Jesus proclaims that to us in the Gospel today.  Everyone!  Notice.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace that washes over us in the same abundance, as does Christ’s blood in which we are redeemed.  If we recognize that and experience the profound sense of awe and gratitude that ought to result, then the Eucharist we celebrate as the source and summit of all we do as believers ought to empower us to live our Baptismal Priesthood in such a way that it translates into lives of loving service, loving each other as Christ has loved us.  That is what the Greeting of Peace, or the Kiss of Peace as it was first called, is meant to express before we enter the Communion Procession.

Is there anyone you have left out of the circle for a while, anyone to whom you are content not to be speaking to?  Is there anyone you deem unworthy of approaching the Table?  Live what you celebrate this weekend and reach out.  Forgive.  Reconcile.  You never know, maybe there is someone that feels estranged from you who will respond by reaching out and welcoming you home again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

PENTECOST SUNDAY – A – June 08, 2014

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

 

As a boy, sometimes I would sit in our parish church and look at the stained-glass window depicting the Pentecost event.  My child’s mind could not reconcile what was depicted there with what I had heard from today’s first reading.  In that window we see, with Mary in the center, the disciples seated around her.  All look serenely upward.  Each has a little something overhead.  I don’t recall that they looked much like flames.  Of course they couldn’t dance in stained glass.

Contrast that tranquil scene with what Acts tells us: There came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house where they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  I am not a child anymore, but even as an adult the description of the elements of wind and fire sounds a bit terrifying to me.  And I long ago concluded that was the author’s intention.

Place yourself in the scene.  Hear the wind howl as it does in violent storms.  Could you sit calmly while fire danced over your head?  I would have been terrified.  And so should those present have been, even Mary.  Didn’t the thought cross their minds?  What have we gotten ourselves into through this discipleship?   I’ll also wager that none of them thought about leaving what had just begun.

It’s too bad that most tend to think of church as a tranquil place of serenity and silence.  Some get irritated if a baby cries, fracturing the quiet.  If the parents don’t retreat for the crying room (an awful invention, really), angry looks will focus on them.  I pray curses aren’t attached.

The reality is, there ought to be nothing tranquil about our assembling, that is, if we believe what happens in the course of our Liturgy.  Imagine the heavens rending.  Hear God’s voice which in the Scriptures often has the rumble of thunder about it.  Think about how you would feel if you saw clearly the gap between the Gospel’s challenge and the life you are living.  The Eucharist celebrated is about giving thanks to God in the midst of dying and rising and transformation.  We lull ourselves into passivity by dumbing down the words’ meanings.  Dying?  Rising?  Being transformed?  All most Assemblies want to do is get through the hour.  God help the presider if Liturgy lasts over an hour!  Recently I heard a presider congratulated for getting mass, including five infant baptisms, done in under an hour.  And the Assembly applauded.  I winced.

Back to our initial scene.  Was there a lot of damage when Pentecost was over?  Sure there was.  The life of each person present would never be the same.  The former life had been blown away.  The fire burned in their hearts.  Immediately they knew they could not contain within themselves what had begun.  They had to rush out into the public places and begin to proclaim and to live the new Way.

Our Neophytes should be caught up in that wonder now.  Ours should be renewed each time our Eucharist concludes.  They and we are sent to live what has transpired.  We’re sent to be the Body of Christ in the market place, the Body, blessed, broken, and distributed for all to eat.  The common language that all those people from various places heard from those transformed disciples was love.  That should be the common language emitting from our Assemblies.

Pentecost has happened for us.  It happened when we came out of the font, when the oil flowed over us, and when we were called by name as God’s beloved ones.  In that moment we had responded to God’s action in our lives.  What happened was not a result of our own doing.  Paul tells us that in the second reading from his Letter to the Corinthians.  No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Holy Spirit.  What Paul is telling us is that no one can be even an incipient believer except for the grace of God.  That grace comes with the expectation that it will translate into action that will reveal the one Body of Christ continuing to act in these times.  Pope Francis looks for a Church of Misericordia, a Church of compassionate, merciful, and forgiving and forgiven people.  That’s another way of calling for a poor church serving the needs of the poor.  I pray we don’t let his words become cliché and so lose their power to challenge us.

It is a wonderful thing to take pride in the fact that there are a billion of us Catholics in the world.  What do you think the impact on the world would be if all one billion of us let the grace of Pentecost, the grace of our Baptisms and Confirmations, dictate how we lived our relationships with our brothers and sisters at large.  How could wars continue then if a billion people determined to love their enemies and do good to those who hate them?  What would happen to starvation among two thirds of the world’s population if we believed we did not have a right to abundance as long as our brothers and sisters lacked basic necessities for survival?  To whom is Jesus speaking when he says: I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me?  How long would it take for a difference to become apparent if one billion people became convinced of their responsibility for the well being of the planet?  How long would it take then for a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases?

Add any other of the evils that plague society, those that are a result of human decision-making.  If love ruled, every one of them would be impacted for the better.  I believe that.

This Sunday, as you stand in witness to Christ’s presence in the Word, hear Christ say to you, As the Father has sent me so I send you.  Don’t be tempted to stand there and imagine that you are listening to an account of a historical moment.  That is not what is meant by the Living Word of God.  What you are hearing is now.  Jesus, risen, speaks to this Assembly in this upper room.  Jesus speaks to you and to me.  We are sent to act in Christ’s behalf, or better, to act as Christ’s other self.  Christ lives in us.  At least that’s what Christ promised.

We have saints in our Church’s calendar.  Who are they?  Unfortunately for many they are icons, distant and remote with halos around their heads.  It’s true that some of them should be left that way because there is little in their lives with which to identify.  But most of those we acclaim are saints because they did ordinary things in an extraordinary manner.  We should read the lives of the saints and so imagine ourselves doing what they did.  The real saints faced human issues and responded practically.  Maybe practically isn’t the right word.  The saints responded with love.  As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  The saints took those words as the norm for their living.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea if we did that too.

Pentecost has happened for us.  Maybe we didn’t hear the wind or see the fire; but the Spirit took up residence in our hearts.  Jesus breathes on us over and over again and says, Peace be with you.  With the Spirit comes Peace.  The gift of God’s peace means we have nothing to fear as long as we act in union with Christ.  Just as Jesus faced death on the cross confident of the Father’s love for him, so we can face whatever terrifies us, confident of that same love.

Just imagine the difference following this feast of Pentecost if one billion of us went out and committed ourselves to being reconcilers and forgivers (Pope Francis’s words).  That is the challenge of the Gospel we hear.  That is what Jesus expects of those he breathes upon, of those he sends forth.

Will there be much damage when this Pentecost is over?  I guess it depends on what we cling to.

Sincerely,

Didymus