The Gospel for Sunday, May 27th, 2018: Trinity Sunday

The Gospel for May 27th, 2018: “The Commissioning of the Disciples”

Matthew 28: 16-20

Reflection: Undivided Unity

O the holy trinity,

Undivided unity;

Holy God,

Mighty God,

God immortal be adored.

–the refrain of the hymn, “O God Almighty Father”

As I write this blog on Sunday morning of the feast of the Holy Trinity, I will admit I went to mass last night. Therefore, my reflection this morning is focused on an insight that occurred to me during its celebration. I was thinking about the Holy Trinity, wondering what I would say in this blog on the way to mass and the chorus of “O God Almighty Father” began to play in my mind from memory. Then as it turned out, this was the closing hymn at our church on this evening. In this coincidence, it was if God was saying to me, “Focus on unity.” And so I will.

The great mystery of the Holy Trinity has much to offer in contemplation and adoration of our creator and how He loves us. But in the end, we must act. The mission always follows worship. What is the mission of the Church? It is to gather God’s people into one body through Jesus Christ—“undivided unity.” The challenge of course is that we are all different and selfish and resist surrendering our lives and gifts to loving others unconditionally. So it is no small thing to act toward unity. Indeed, it requires the love taught and modeled by Jesus and animated by the Holy Spirit. Our own individual wills are never enough. And yet,  it is possible; it is the ultimate  destiny. God, the great gathering force, demonstrates this to us over and over again. He is one God in three persons. Marriage is two becoming one. A family is father, mother, sons, and daughters under one name. The church is one body with many parts.

The message of Trinity Sunday, then, returns us to the mission: Focus on unity. Love thy neighbor. Forgive those who have trespassed against us. Care for the poor. Jesus’ final words to His disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel say the same thing:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (19-20).

 

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The Gospel for Sunday, May 20th, 2018: Pentecost Sunday

 

 

The Gospel for May 20th, 2017: Pentecost Sunday

Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Reflection: Many Parts, One Body

On this Pentecost Sunday, I am diverging from my usual approach of focusing specifically on the gospel reading to reflect on the second reading for the daytime mass, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is copied above. Paul’s message of unity through the Holy Spirit is as relevant today as ever. The need for evangelization and ecumenism was as strong then as it is today. Gathering in all of God’s creation under Christ remains the mission. Paul’s insight that we all have been given unique gifts—“spiritual gifts”—to participate in this effort is critical to overcoming the entrenched resistance to loving those who are different from us. We must recognize and appreciate the charisms we are uncomfortable with are necessary to unifying all of God’s people. These differences—the “many parts”—are reflected in the diversity of worship within the Catholic Church and among the many Christian denominations. As long as the focus remains on Christ, this is all to the good. These differences are crucial to the salvation plan.

With Paul’s message in mind, it was a wonderful experience to watch the royal wedding yesterday of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which had a remarkable ecumenical accent and was highlighted by the sermon by American Episcopalian Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry. Bishop Curry’s sermon broadened the message of the highly-watched event by focusing on the unconditional love of Jesus. His gift of preaching, which contrasted tremendously in style and culture with the other presiding clergy, captured the moment, emphasizing this was a transcendent, unifying celebration. Just as the message of Jesus’ disciples was heard and understood by the multi-ethnic and cultural bystanders in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, so too was Bishop Curry’s message as it was watched by millions of viewers around the world. It was a powerful reminder that trusting our gifts to the Holy Spirit to live Christian lives of unconditional love will accomplish the mission of bringing others to Christ. We are not all gifted preachers like Bishop Curry; instead we are called to use the gifts we have to love others as Christ loves us.

The Gospel for Sunday, May 13th, 2018: Ascension Sunday

The Gospel for May 13th, 2018: “The Ascension of Jesus”

Mark 16: 15-20

Reflection: Hope

If the Feast of Jesus’ Ascension is marked today instead of last Thursday, the gospel reading is Mark’s account of that event. Since it is a mystery with which I have frequently struggled, I enjoy this opportunity to reflect on its significance. To begin, the Ascension of Jesus is the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary and is accompanied by the spiritual gift of Hope. This seems like a good place to start.

Why should the fact of Jesus’ ascension give us hope? Hope in a theological or spiritual context is not just naïve optimism or the dream of escape to Heaven from the suffering of this life; it is confidence in the completion of the joining of the perfection of Heaven with the realm of God’s creation, Earth. For an eloquent and clear discussion of this concept, I refer readers to Bishop Barron’s Youtube video called “Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters.” This transformation of our fallen world began when Jesus came into the world and continues with His death and resurrection, His ascension, and His sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This chain of events is God’s salvation plan. The joining of Heaven and Earth in the incarnation of Jesus continues as we are gathered and converted in Him. The divine genius of this plan is that we have been called to participate in this transformation, by loving as Jesus loves. It is a plan that will not fail because God’s love is irresistible. So our hope is a confidence in an eternal life that is no longer marred by sin, death, and decay, but is instead gloriously marked by the perfection of Heaven—not a place, but a state of holiness.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus assures us of that very transformation of our world now that He has come and will send the Holy Spirit to help His Church complete the mission. Notice the description:

“These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (17-18).

These literal images of disciples transforming evil into good and death into life represent all the ways we may love God’s holy perfection into our world and bring about the completion of the Resurrection. In that hope, our sorrow turns to joy. We experience God’s glory now in the moment and recognize all suffering as being purged in the salvation plan. The mistake is to replace this theological virtue with some impoverished notion of hope as an escape from the struggle of this world to a distant reality called Heaven. This is a well-intentioned sham. If we wish for our own escapes, we become selfish and distant from God’s love. If instead we contemplate our faith in Jesus the Savior as the basis of the confidence that God’s love is prevailing and we are both coinheritors and participants in His mission to transform this world, our lives change from lives of “quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said, to meaningful lives of peace and joy.

The confidence of hope assured by Jesus’ ascension is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not a departure of our Lord, but the inauguration of our participation in the joining of Heaven and Earth. Mark’s passage ends with this description:

“But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (20).

To know the confidence of this mission, we need to accept its reality and the need for us to surrender our imagined control over our lives to Christ. It is a move that is the difference between eternal happiness and repeated disappointment and despair.

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, May 6th: 2018: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for May 6th: “The Vine and the Branches,” Part 2

John 15: 9-17

Reflection: Knowing When to Listen Instead of Speaking

This week’s gospel from John continues Jesus’ sermon to the apostles at the last supper as described by John. It is brilliantly simple while infinitely complex. It is divine. The simple message from Jesus is this: “[L]ove one another as I love you.”

And yet, the depth of that statement speaks to an interlocking web of connections that runs through the whole of creation and its relationship to its Creator, God the Father. It is humbling to think about how God loves the world.

When I began writing this blog, that was my main goal–to think about how God loves the world by reflecting on the Sunday gospel. However, I have allowed my ego to creep in frequently in this endeavor. At times, this happened in the pride I have felt in thinking I wrote something really smart and intellectual. At other times, it has been my willfulness in think I had to write something every week because that was my plan.

I am sorry for both giving in to both temptations. This week I listened to Bishop Robert Barron’s homily on today’s reading at wordonfire.org. I honestly don’t think I have anything to add. It is so thoughtful and moving. I think God is speaking through the Bishop, and I just want to share his elegant reflection and get out of the way.

So here it is. I strongly encourage anyone reading this blog to listen to the Bishop’s homily this week on what it means to be loved by Jesus.

Happiness to you all in the coming week,

A Bookish Catholic

The Gospel for Sunday, April 29th, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 29th, 2018: “The Vine and the Branches”

John 15: 1-8

Reflection: What does it means to “remain” in Jesus?

Jesus said to His disciples:

Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
(4-5)

I do not know the original Greek from which it was translated, but Jesus’ repetition of the verb “remain,” as in remain in Him, intrigues me. It is strange word, at once suggesting both action and inaction.

Consider these definitions of ‘remain’ from the online Oxford English Dictionary:

1 Continue to exist, especially after other similar people or things have ceased to do so.

      1.1 Stay in the place that one has been occupying.

      1.2 Continue to possess a particular quality or fulfil a particular role.

2 Be left over or outstanding after others or other parts have been completed, used, or dealt with.

In pondering these two definitions, I think both apply to some degree, especially in the sense that they refer to the time after a significant event or change has occurred. This fits. Jesus is speaking to disciples who have already begun to follow Him. He is speaking to us who are baptized and converted. The fire of the Holy Spirit has been lit in our hearts already. He has already died for our sins and rose in victory over death.

The implication then is that our hearts can change, which of course we know. The freedom to choose sin over eternal life is ever present in this world.

In using ‘remain,’ Jesus is asserting both an active and passive stance of faithfulness. Staying or continuing as 1.1 and 1.2 use, means action is required on our parts in order to remain in Christ. What actions? I think worship, prayer, and works of mercy. It is following His active commandments to love God and others always.  It is not enough to simply say we believe and then act is if our desires and security are all that matters. We must go on the mission we are called to. Given the challenge of that, especially as sinners, more often than that we must repent and return to Christ. Hence, Jesus frequently uses the word ‘repent’ in His teaching. Repentance is turn away from sin back to Christ. It is to seek forgiveness and to forgive as Jesus does. All of that is very active and hard to do.

And yet, there is this almost paradoxical flip side to ‘remain.’ We are already there, like branches on a vine. So on the other hand, the other aspect of remaining in Christ is to surrender to His will, mission, and victory. Thy will, not my will, be done. In that ‘letting go,’ we find a stable peace; we find eternal life and happiness that is purely a gift and does not need to be earned or bought. This passive acceptance animates the active part to love in Christ.

So ‘remain’ is a balancing act, a dance, between loving God and others actively and accepting unconditionally God’s will. Both are needed to ‘remain’ Him. This encompasses our entire life, religious and secular—in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. We can hold nothing back and expect to ‘remain’ in Him. Those who try to tell us otherwise are fooling themselves. The risk is they will become as definition #1 says, those who have “ceased to do.” Rather than joining them on this drift away from Christ was must be an agent of Christ’s mission in the Church and bring them back. Evangelizing and witnessing are the active side of ‘remaining.’ Like the branch on the vine, we will bear fruit then through Him. What an awesome mystery and joy! ‘Remain in Him’–indeed, that is everything.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, April 22nd, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 22nd, 2018: “The Good Shepherd”

John 10: 11-18

Reflection: Bishop Barron on St. Peter’s Pronouncement of Christian Exclusivity

Rather than write my own reflection on this week’s gospel, I prefer to share with readers Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for today on his Word of Fire website about the first reading from Acts (4: 8-12). In this reading, Peter tells his Jewish audience salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. Specifically his proclaims, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (12). The exclusivity of these words is perplexing in light of Christ’s mission to save all.

Bishop Barron’s reading of this passage illuminates the inherent hope in Peter’s words and their consistency with God’s living mission in the world through the Holy Spirit. I invite all readers to listen and reflect on his homily. They are instructive, satisfying, and well worth the time.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, April 15th: The Third Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 15th, 2018: “The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem”

Luke 24:35-48

Reflection: Communion Gathers All

Today’s gospel from Luke recounts Jesus’ first visit to the apostles as a group after the Resurrection. It could well be the same visit John tells about in last week’s gospel where Thomas doubts this man is actually Jesus until he touches the scars from Christ’s wounds. Regardless, Jesus goes to some lengths to prove to the gathering He is not a ghost, but a living, breathing man who has returned from death to life. He allows them to touch Him and eats fish with them.

The Catholic tradition associates the Resurrection with faith, the difficulty of which is on display in these encounters. Do we really need a sign as the apostles did to fully accept the revelation that Christ is our Savior and rose from the dead in victory over sin? In considering that fundamental question, I notice a detail in today’s gospel that speaks to the need to nourish our faith through a relationship with Jesus. Even though we do not have the opportunity to touch Him in person, we can know Him in our hearts through worship and the Church. This grounds our faith, which can otherwise leave us.

The detail is that the first arrivals at the meeting place are the two disciples Luke tells us previously met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They tell the others they met Jesus but did not recognize Him right away. He was “made known to them in the breaking of bread” (35). This is a reminder that the sacrament of communion is a way to know Jesus firsthand, a means to build and maintain our faith in Him as our savior and source of life.

This experience is so direct it cuts through the debates about worship that sometimes divide Christians. I think of Luke 10:38-42, where Martha is frustrated with her sister Mary for choosing to sit at the feet of Jesus rather than serve the guests as she does. Which is more important in knowing Christ, contemplation or service of others? The answer is both are important. Furthermore, God has given us different gifts that suggest the proportioning of time for contemplation and service may vary from person to person. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to stop serving; He tells her to let Mary spend quiet time with the Lord.

My point is both contemplatives and those inclined to active service come together to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. The doubt and weakness found in so many other New Testament stories are not present whenever disciples break bread with Christ. In those moments, we know Jesus and believe.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, April 8th, 2018: The Second Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 8th, 2018: “Appearance to the Disciples” and “Thomas”

John 20:19-31

Reflection: The Gift of Free Will

In the past, I would have read today’s gospel and focused on Doubting Thomas. Possessing a highly skeptical nature, I relate strongly to the apostle who needed to see Jesus’ wounds to truly believe that Jesus had returned from the dead. However, my faith has matured to a point where I am less interested in my own skepticism than I once was. While I still have plenty of moments of doubt, skepticism about faith in Jesus as our merciful savior is less a stumbling block for me than it once was.

So in reading today’s gospel, I am focusing on the advice Jesus gives to the apostles after He breathes the Holy Spirit on them, which I find puzzling. He says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (22-23).  I understand the wisdom of forgiving sins, but what does Jesus mean when He tells them the sins they retain will be retained?

I did a little online searching and found a helpful source on this puzzle. Jesuit academic James Schall wrote a column for the online publication, The Catholic Thing, in 2016 on this very line. He explains Jesus is giving advice to the apostles as confessors, noting retained sins are “[o]nly those that we present or fail to present to be judged as to what they are, along with our participation in their coming to be.” Schall maintains that Christ is making it clear that priests are not in the business of forgiving all sins as confessors, only those the sinner is willing to acknowledge, not those he denies.

I admit I don’t know if this is a mainstream or orthodox understanding of this line, only that it makes sense to me. On the basis of this reading, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the concept of free will and its critical role in salvation. In discussing this historically theological point, I am exercising my blogger’s right to reflect without addressing the debates of Christian tradition on free will as a theologian or clergy might be obligated. I acknowledge I am not well read in this area. Nevertheless, I have given this some thought and think this is the appropriate time to share those insights.

I believe God created us with free will knowing full well we might exercise it by rejecting His love and sovereignty in pride. I believe He did this so that we may authentically share in His creative love, which is free and selfless. If He had created us like robots and programmed us to love and obey Him, it would not be free and holy. God does not need the love of His creatures, but in His generosity He wishes us to share in His glory by participating in the divine love, which is unmarred by the selfishness and idolatry of sin. Therefore, we must choose Him and His ways to participate. The existence of sin on Earth cannot stand next to the Holiness of God either in Heaven or on Earth in eternity. So God’s salvation plan must respect the free will He has given His creation for the full realization of His kingdom on Earth. The final judgment will be complete when His creation rejects other idols and chooses Him as the one true God.

In His divine genius, God has enacted a salvation plan that starts with revealing Himself to the people of Israel so that they might know Him and learn His ways. The plan continues and culminates with His own coming as the Messiah in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. Christ defeats sin and death in all its forms by rising from the dead and forgiving all of us sinners who reject and crucify Him. The love of God as we experience it in Jesus—His person, His story, His teaching, His truth, His ways– is irresistible. Our conversion as Christians will draw the whole world to God as we reflect His Glory in our worship of Him. Eventually all will choose God in the final judgment. I believe Jesus came to save all and He will not fail. Divine time—eternity—will not run out before the completion of the salvation mission.

Still, free will cannot be circumvented. God, despite His omniscient power and infinite mercy, wants us to choose Him freely, whether we like to call it conversion or service or surrender. This brings us back to the moment in the confessional between the priest and the sinner who has come before Christ to confess. The priest cannot forgive sins the sinner denies. That would be a violation of God’s gift and law of free will. The sinner must accept his sinfulness to be forgiven. I think this is why regular confession is so useful. We as Christians become better at swallowing our pride and acknowledging the depth of our sinfulness every time we receive this sacrament. Each time we let go more in the presence of Christ’s mercy. Again, we are gradually choosing God over sin. This takes a lifetime. For some saints, it has been a short lifetime, for example, St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower. For the majority of us, it takes many decades to surrender fully to our humble and glorious destinies as creatures of the one true God. To reach the point where we say, as Jesus did, Thy will, not my will, be done.

I don’t know if some Christians or Catholics will find this explication objectionable. If they are reading, I encourage them to use the opportunity to comment to open some valuable dialogue on this critical topic. All I know is this is where I am at. My belief in the infallibility of God’s salvation plan gives me peace and hope in the eventuality that we will all be saved. If those who say Hell is filled with sinners are right, I am discouraged by the reality that I deserve a place in Hell. My sins are as black as the next person’s. I cannot expect to be counted among the saints, unless Christ’s infinite mercy will eventually turn my heart completely as His victory on the cross so aptly demonstrates He can and will. I cannot do it without His grace and forgiveness. And so I strive on to confess fully the extent of my sins in the hope they will be forgiven and we may all be saved.  Neither priest nor God Himself can skip over this for me by forgiving that which I deny is a sin. I must choose to admit this. In that choice, I choose to love God, His gift to me, so that I may share in His glory, now and forever.

 

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, April 1st, 2018: Easter Mass During the Day

The Gospel for April 1st, 2018: “The Resurrection”

Mark 16: 1-7

Reflection: God Will Roll Away the Stone

Happy Easter to all Peace in the Word readers.

There are multiple versions of the resurrection to choose from between the Easter vigil and Sunday mass selection options. I am choosing Mark’s gospel because it contains a detail that is so important to my struggle to maintain faith. Even though I’m pretty sure I have written about this before at Peace, I hope readers will bear with me for a revisit. The repetition does me good; I hope it helps others as well.

The detail is a conversation between the two Marys who have gone to visit Jesus’ tomb:

“Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large (3-4).

Their concern over how they will enter the tomb when it is blocked with an enormous stone is highly practical. The two women probably could not have moved it themselves and may not have found much help at the tomb. And yet, when they arrive, the stone has been moved already so they may enter the tomb and find a messenger (an angel?) who announces the news of Jesus’ resurrection. God took care of everything. They just needed to go into the direction of Jesus at this moment of crisis in their lives.

I can relate. I would have asked the same question and worried about it all the way to the tomb. I do this all the time in my daily life. I don’t know how everything I think needs to be done will get done. If I don’t give it up to Jesus, I worry and fret and suffer from anxiety. If I pray that God’s will be done, it always works out better than I could have imagined—every time. I—we—just need to trust that God will roll away the stone and provide for our practical needs if we keep Jesus close to our hearts in prayer and worship and works of mercy. The spiritual gift of the resurrection is faith.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, March 25th, 2018: Palm Sunday

The Gospel for March 25th, 2018: Mark’s Passion Narrative

Mark 14 and 15

Reflection: The Women at the Cross

Since I have chosen to write anonymously for reasons I will not share, it may or may not be obvious that I am male. I point this out because I do think gender affects our perception of reality on many levels and being aware of that bias is sometimes important to recognize.

As I read Mark’s passion narrative—where there is so much to take in—this thought occurred to me: Where there is so much hurtful behavior on display, the quiet vigilance of the women who followed Jesus to the cross stands out.

Once the Pharisees ignite the chain of events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, the piling on that occurs by the crowd, the guards, and even his followers is astounding. They mock and insult Him. They physically abuse him sadistically within an inch of His life before they actually nail Him to the cross. Judas betrays Him, and Peter abandons and denies Him. As readers, we can all find a sinner to relate to in this epic narrative. As a male, I can’t help but notice so many of these leading sinners are men.

In contrast to all this are these women who stay with Him without saying anything. First there is the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with the expensive perfumed oil. No words–just this kind, appropriate gesture. Then in lines 40 and 41 of Chapter 15, after Jesus has just breathed his last breath on the cross, Mark drops in these details: “There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”

In the face of so much hatred and violence, these women followed and ministered to Jesus.

I realize the details differ slightly in the other gospel accounts of which women were present. It appears Mary Magdalene was there. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was probably there also, but Mark doesn’t mention her. These are the moments where historical criticism of scripture loses its value. I don’t think it matters specifically which women stayed and watched and ministered. What matters is that they did. It is a reminder to us that often Jesus needs us to do the same and allow Him to deal with the sins of the world. True, sometimes He calls us to action. Yet, other times we must be humble and patient and wait. We must not let our pride convince us we need to fix spiritual problems with human solutions.

I do not conclude that this is women’s work or that women are exclusively made for this role. I think it is true we are all created with certain masculine and feminine qualities in differing amounts. Biologically-speaking, its hormones and chromosomes; yet spiritually-speaking, it is the many parts of one body. We are all called to be like Mary sometimes as Christians. Recently, I realized this. I have claimed her as a patron saint and try to say the Rosary regularly so that she may pray for me to walk with her humility and faith.

Christ’s passion is overwhelming to contemplate. Maybe it takes a lifetime to grasp, just as it takes a lifetime to walk the path to holiness. I find it very helpful to think that sometimes, nay all times, what I need to do about this is follow Jesus and wait to minister as I am needed.