The Gospel for Sunday, May 29th, 2016

The Gospel for May 29th, 2016: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Luke 9: 11B-17

Reflection:

Today’s gospel is the Lukan account of the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle found in all four gospels.  From five loaves and two fish, Jesus provides enough food to feed all five thousand disciples present with enough for some left over. There is no logical explanation for how He might have done this other than He is God. No problem is too big for Him. Simply put, Jesus provides.

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious from the Hotels.com commercials by pointing this out, let me add to it another obvious fact that makes it so difficult for me to accept divine provision in my life. I am a sinner. In particular, I am sinfully proud. Unfortunately, I love this sin. I love to think I am smart enough to figure out solutions to problems on my own. I love to strategize complicated action plans and feel the tingling anticipation of imagining the success of the plans, including the honor and glory that will inevitably be bestowed on me when my genius is revealed. Of course, I hate the reality of the failure of those plans. I hate witnessing those plans unravel due to factors I neither can understand nor control. Yet I risk relearning the lesson of my own limitations time and time again because the fantasy of my genius is so intoxicating. I return to it with stubborn pride rather than trusting in God’s providence.

So entrenched is this habit, I can imagine myself in that isolated field in the presence of Jesus, turning down the miraculous meal of fish and bread just so I could preserve my own ego. Despite my hunger, I would say, “None for me, thanks. I ate a late lunch.” Or perhaps, I would have been so smart as to bring a snack to tide me over. Yes, I stuffed a few olives in my pocket before leaving, so I will make a paltry, mushy meal of those rather than a meal prepared by my Savior. Or worse yet, maybe I would have left in search of food that is hours away, just so I did not have to humble myself to accept the charity of Jesus and His apostles.

It sounds ludicrous, but I do this all the time. Pride has a firm hold on my life. However, as I read this gospel I am struck by how simple it is to trust in God’s providence. The outcome was and is perfect: “They all ate and were satisfied” (17). Those who trusted were fed and at peace. They didn’t have to understand how the provision occurred or come up with a better plan to achieve it. They just sat down and waited patiently for God’s will to be done.

This of course is the beauty of the 23rd Psalm. We are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. He will lead us to all we need if we simply follow. Still, it takes humility to follow. It is the same humility Mary demonstrates in the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), when she calls herself “his handmaid.” It is the humility we speak of in the Our Father, when we pray that “Thy will be done.” And it is the humility of Jesus at Gethsemane when in agony He had the fortitude to resign Himself to His mission of death on a cross, saying to His Father, “[I]f it is not possible for this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 42). So in reflecting on Jesus’s miracle of feeding the five thousand, I pray that for the humility and wisdom to accept God’s providence in all aspects of my life. And I pray for those who share this deadly affliction. May we all return in humility to God’s plan for our lives and His people.

The Gospel for Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

The Gospel for May 22nd, 2016: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

John 16: 12-15

Reflection:

On this celebration of the Most Holy Trinity, I wish to say a few words about family and truth. God comes to us in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As sons and daughters of this triune God, we inherit the blessing of support from multiple relationships with the divine, much like in families where ideally we are supported by relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and so on. In prayer and worship, we are able to call on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each with a unique manifestation of God’s saving grace to meet the particular needs of our petitions at a given moment. Intuitively, this same delegation of response to a family member’s needs happens in effectively functioning earthly families as well. A son may go to his father for advice with a more masculine problem, whereas he may go to his mother for some sympathy that the father may be less suited to give. Perhaps, he goes to a sibling to speak of issues he does not feel his parents can understand due their generational differences. In this correlation between the Holy Trinity and families, there are two key points I find significant for reflection.

First, the Holy Trinity is a reminder of the ever-present accessibility to God’s saving grace in our lives. Whether we feel more comfortable in times of need turning to the Father in prayer, or Jesus in a sacrament, or the Holy Spirit who is near to us at this moment as Jesus’s advocate in the world, we are never alone or far from the divine help we need. There is constancy in faith that comes from the support of the Trinity that may seem impossible to recognize if we try to minimize our Infinite Creator into one person, who at times may appear distant. And like all healthy families, we are enriched by spending some quality time with each family member.

Second, in the relational paradigm of the Trinity, we can better grasp how to live Jesus’s mandate to love others, including enemies, as He has loved us. We grow closer to God as we practice His mission of unselfish love to those around us. For most, this begins when we practice this mission with the family members who surround us daily, whether they are blood relatives or relatives by virtue of their closeness. As we communicate with them, Jesus’s description of the unity of the Trinity is an appropriate guide.  About the Holy Spirit’s teaching, Jesus explains, “[H]e will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears…” (John 16: 13). Notice God’s truth is communicated through the Spirit by considering His will and then putting it into words. How often do we use someone else’s moments of need to champion our own selfish values instead of listening well and attempting to be a voice for God’s truth at that moment? Jesus tells us we can trust the Holy Spirit not to do that.  Instead, He will speak in unity with the Lord. Jesus tells the apostles:

He will glorify me because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.                        Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from        what is mine and declare it to you (15).

The unity of the Lord is desirable in all our relationships, as it is found in the Holy Trinity. One of  my favorite one liners I have picked up from listening to Bishop Robert Barron of the Word on Fire ministry is the Latin expression from Church Father Origen, “Ubi diviso, ibi peccatum,” where there is division, there is sin. If we can practice listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit before we speak in our relationships, I believe we will communicate words that promote the unity of God’s truth. At times, this may be reminding each other of the challenging mandate of the gospel. At other times, this may be providing only words of compassion and support so as not to alienate one who is hurting from sin by passing a judgment that rightly belongs to God alone. As sinners, we do not have the wisdom to know what words are needed. It is imperative that we think first and consider God’s will by turning to the Holy Spirit to give us the words that will speak His truth to all the members of His family.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The Gospel for Sunday, May 15th, 2016: Pentecost Sunday, Mass during the Day

John 14: 15-16, 23b-26

Reflection:

Pentecost Sunday celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, initiating Christ’s new body on Earth, the Church. It is more than just a birthday celebration; rather it is opportunity to explore the nature and mystery of our faith, since the Holy Spirit is mysterious, lacking both the human incarnation of Jesus and the recognizable, relational understanding of God the Father, the first member of the Holy Trinity. What is the role of this manifestation of God that is purely spiritual and lacking in human characteristics?

I would like to reflect speculatively on this question in light of personal experience, rather than from research of doctrinal or theological perspectives. One of the reasons for this personal approach is it highlights the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak to each us personally. Consider the ability the Holy Spirit imbued in the disciples after its descent, the capacity to speak in “different tongues” to “Jews of every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” (Acts 2: 4-5). Mediation on this aspect of the Holy Spirit calls to mind two reflections. First, I think of the value of its invisibility among us; second, Its ability to counsel, one of Its seven gifts.

One problem of faith I encounter fairly regularly is the sense that God is distant. This is wrong-headed, unhelpful, and dangerous. Indeed, it is a notion closely associated with the heresy of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the feeling is understandable. Jesus no longer walks the earth to experience in face-to-face encounters (although the Church gives us access to His grace through the sacraments, prayer, and service). Likewise, God the Father is in Heaven, which could be construed as analogous to an absent parent who lives far away and not involved in his child’s daily life (Keep in mind, I’m just speculating here). As so we are left with the helpless sense captured beautifully by the Negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The words go, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child…a long way from home.” To counter the loneliness brought on by this lack of a human face of God in our midst, Jesus sent us an invisible face of God among us, the Holy Spirit. Granted, the Holy Spirit takes the form of many symbols such as a dove, fire, and water. However, those symbols suggest to me God in all His natural creation, which surrounds us daily. My point is we don’t need a visible face of God to believe in His nearness because we know He is invisibly present in the Spirit. The descent of the Holy Spirit is an invitation to relate to God spiritually, rather than relying on the inadequate senses of sight and hearing, as well as limited experience of human communication, which together lead us to wrongly imagine Him distant or absent entirely.

Once the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit is embraced, not only is God near, but also available to help with our needs immediately. It is the divine customer service plan. We can ask for the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit for every problem that arises. Counsel is a gift of the Holy Spirit along with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. I remember during reconciliation telling the priest I was holding back on witnessing my faith to others because I was afraid to say the wrong thing. His advice struck me as so radical: He said simply say “come Holy Spirit” over and over again and the words would come. I never understood the Holy Spirit in this way, as a first option for help. Since that day I have realized this is what the early Apostles did as they worked out their mission from Jesus without Him there bodily as before. Often in the Acts of the Apostles, decisions were announced as being the counsel of the Holy Spirit. For example, at the Council of Jerusalem over the issue of whether Christians needed to be circumcised. Some translations of their decision use the wording, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15: 28-29). If calling on the Holy Spirit was good enough for the Church fathers, why would it not be good enough for you and me? So on this Pentecost Sunday, I pray that we may all recognize the invisible nearness of God in the Holy Spirit and call on His counsel daily by asking the Third Person in the Holy Trinity to guide us.  For as Jesus tells us, the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all He told us (John 14: 26).

 

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, May 8th, 2016

The Gospel for May 8th, 2016: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Luke 24: 46-53

Reflection:

The Lukan gospel ends with Jesus’s ascension to Heaven: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (50-53).

With the ascension, Jesus departs from His followers dramatically once for a second time. The first time was with His death by crucifixion on the cross. Notice the difference in their reactions. His death brought sorrow and tears; His ascension brought great joy. So why the joy instead of sorrow?

One could argue the ascension lacked the horrifying spectacle of gore and suffering. This probably was a factor. However, the absence of those alone would not necessarily lead to joy, for He was still gone. Another argument could be made that He assured them of their place with Him in Heaven and promised to send the Holy Spirit to them before He left. Still, didn’t He assure them of their salvation before He died as well? He told them, “[T]hey will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21: 27-28). Why didn’t they believe Him then and maintain their faith after His death?

I think the difference is the resurrection. Jesus’s rising from the dead proved to them He was indeed the Messiah and that His words were the truth. Never again would they have doubt simply because He did not appear to be physically in their presence. On this feast of the ascension, their joy can be our joy. We too know he rose from the dead to bring us everlasting life. Furthermore, we know He sent the Holy Spirit as promised which marked the beginning of His Church. Lastly, we know He is with us, even if we cannot see Him. In fact, the more we suffer, the closer He is, if we only open our humbled hearts and believe. So may we walk with joy back to the Jerusalem of our homes. May we praise God in all the temples of our lives. On this holy occasion, let us trust in His word, as the apostles did at Bethany, so that the joy of His unseen presence may fill our hearts.