St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

It is said that St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  She is also recorded as saying, “You are called to do more than say, ‘I love you Jesus.’ You are called to be your brother’s and sister’s keepers.”  Her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament combined with her service of others embodies the spirit and purpose of today’s Solemnity, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or more commonly referred to, Corpus Christi Sunday.

For us Catholics, today’s Solemnity is significant in that it draws our focus towards two manifestations of the Body of Christ:  the Holy Eucharist and the Church.  Much like the previous Sunday’s solemnity, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we, the faithful, are called to celebrate one of the great mysteries of the Church.  We are called to reflect upon and profess our sacred belief that the Body of Christ is present and real in both the Eucharist and in his Church.

Throughout history, God has called all of humanity to himself.  It is his desire to make men holy and save them, but not just as individuals, but as a people, a people of God.  A people who are bound and connected to one another.  He created this bond through the establishment of a covenant.  A covenant he made with a people whom he called.

In today’s first reading we heard how God established this covenant with his people through Moses (the law) and through blood, the blood of animals.  This covenant was a pre-figure, a preparation for, the New Covenant, the eternal and perfect covenant instituted by Christ though his sacrifice upon the cross.  This New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Christ, allows all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile, to become one race, not in the flesh, but rather, in Spirit.

As the people of God we perpetuate this mystery, this New Covenant, through the celebration of the Eucharist.  As recorded in today’s Gospel, Jesus gave the supreme expression of his sacrifice for the salvation of men at the Lord’s Supper when he proclaimed, “This is my body which is given for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  He transformed this Last Supper with his disciples into the memorial of his voluntary sacrifice, which, in turn, has been perpetuated throughout the Age of the Church by his Apostles and their successors.

We acknowledge the physical and mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist when we stand before the Host and profess, “Amen.”  By our “Amen” we attest that the offering of bread and wine do indeed become, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, the real and physical Body and Blood of Christ.  We also attest, as the Catechism states, that those who have been nourished by the Body of Christ then also become the Body of Christ.

The mystical Body of Christ, the Church, are those who have been born of the Spirit and have been baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Through our profession of faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we then become the Church, the body of Christ.  Our role as the Body of Christ is to then engage in his work; the mission to make disciples of all nations.

It is my fear that as our society has become more polarized and divided, that we, the Church, have allowed ourselves to mimic, or copy this attitude of division.  We, as the Body of Christ, I fear, have succumbed to the lure of division and isolation and have, instead, turned our attention to the things which divide us, rather than the reality which unites us.  This reality which unites us all, is that each and every one of us are in need of salvation.  The salvation offered through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

On this day, this day of celebration, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, I challenge you to not only profess your faith with your “amen”, but that you also profess your faith in this mystery by your actions.

When you receive the Eucharist you are in fact allowing yourself to be transformed by that which you consume.  You are not only professing your faith in the great mystery but you are also committing yourself to be an active participant in the missionary work of the Church.  When you reach out to those who are suffering, to those who are hungry, sick, and imprisoned in doubt, fear, and shame you are in fact reaching out with the very hands of Jesus.

I ask you to reflect upon the example left to us by St. Mother Teresa.  Her daily devotion to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament manifested in her a daily commitment to be the Body of Christ to those whom she served.  She embodied the reality that those who are nourished by the Body of Christ also become the Body of Christ.  Become the Body of Christ for someone else today.  Let them see in you this mystery…the mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”…

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”… this is not only the most effective way of getting the attention of a room full of Catholics, but it is also our most basic and simplest profession of faith.  As we cross ourselves and call out in the name of the Most Holy Trinity we are, in essence, acknowledging our belief in the greatest two mysteries of the Church; the redemption obtained for us by Christ through his salvific work on the cross and the three distinct persons of the Most Holy Trinity.  Today, in the modern age, the significance of this simple profession of faith may be somewhat diminished, but its importance and relevance is essential and necessary to the life and well-being of the Church.

The development of the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity was not without controversy and conflict.  Throughout the centuries the church’s efforts to clarify this teaching required many councils and the theological work of many Church Fathers.  The doctrine itself, after years of struggle against heresy and false doctrine, was ultimately formulated in both the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and, finally, in the Council of Florence in 1442.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is considered to be the central mystery of the Christian faith.  Though we, as modern day disciples of Christ, may not truly appreciate the struggle and the effort represented in the simple act of crossing ourselves “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, this profession of faith did not come to us without struggle and sacrifice.  Countless men and women endured and preserved in order that this essential truth remained firmly at the center of our faith and witness.

It is this central belief in the mystery and power of the Most Holy Trinity which we find in today’s Gospel reading.  It is also in today’s Gospel reading that we find the challenge given to us by our Lord and Savior.  The challenge of living our faith in such a manner that others will also become disciples of Christ.

In order to meet this challenge we must first be willing to examine our life and how we live it.  We must ask ourselves difficult questions.  Questions such as, “How am I fulfilling the command of Christ to go and make disciples?”, and, “Am I intentionally, purposefully, prayerfully, and visibly living each day in order to fulfill this challenge?”

As Catholics we sometimes fall into the trap of; that is what the Priests and Deacons are supposed to do.  They are responsible for baptizing and instructing.  As good Catholics we are only required to pray, pay, and obey. We are not responsible for making disciples.

Christ’s call to “go and make disciples” is universal and encompasses all who call themselves followers of Christ.  It is not a right, a privilege, or even a “calling”; it is a commission.  A commission from our Lord and Savior to spread his light and love throughout all the world; regardless of title, position, or ordination.

Jesus Christ called his disciples to him on the mountain and, in spite of their doubt, commissioned them to go and make disciples.  We, the fruit of their labor, are held to that same expectation.  Though our individual responsibilities and authority vary according to our unique and specific gifts and talents we all have opportunity to teach and guide others in the ways of our Lord.

We teach others by how we live.  When we stand up against injustice; when we show kindness; when we take the time to listen; when we respond in love; when we provide comfort and support; when we offer friendship; when we give direction… we are teaching others what we have learned from those holy men and women who gone before us.

Our responsibility to make disciples does not require formal formation and the Sacrament of Ordination.  Our responsibility to make disciples rests in our willingness to let Christ, through the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit, to minister through us.  This willingness comes from a choice.  A choice to fulfill the commission of Christ to go and make disciples.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church

Pentecost – Solemnity

Happy birthday everybody. Or, I guess I should use the proper name for this solemn day…Pentecost. So…Happy Pentecost everybody.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. Roughly, some 2000 plus years ago, on this day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, manifested in the sound of a mighty wind and in tongues of fire and filled all who were present with power and grace. This event, as recorded by St. Luke in the 2nd chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, marks the beginning of the “age of the Church.”

This solemn day of Pentecost finds its beginnings in the ancient Jewish festival of the same name, but is also known as the “Festival of Weeks.” In the ancient Jewish tradition, Pentecost consisted of a seven-week season committed to celebration and thanksgiving. By the end of the 2nd century, Pentecost in the Christian tradition, had manifested itself into a 50-day festival starting immediately after Passover. During this time, fasting and kneeling were prohibited as it was a designated period of rejoicing and celebration. This practice of Pentecost continued late into the 4th century when the Feast of the Ascension was added at the 40th day following Easter. It was then, around this period of time, that the celebration of Pentecost as a 50-day celebration was interrupted and the 50th day following Easter was begun to be observed as Pentecost.

I share with you this brief history lesson not just in hopes of providing a little education, but also in hopes of providing a little inspiration.

Our Catholic Church since the 1st Pentecost, has rejoiced and celebrated her birthday from the very beginning. From her very inception, our Catholic Church has remembered her origin and her mission by recalling that glorious and mysterious day. A day in which a promise had been fulfilled. A promise to send an Advocate. An Advocate of truth who guides and empowers the Church to fulfill her commission to spread the Gospel throughout all the world. This commission to spread the Gospel is as real, and as vibrant, and as necessary today as it was 2000 years ago.

I recognize that this commission is a challenge. It is indeed as much a challenge to carry out today as it was for those who have gone before us as they set the example for us. This challenge to live out the command of Jesus Christ to go and spread the Gospel, baptizing and making disciples, is not an easy task, nor was it ever intended to be. Yet, as made evident to us through all three of today’s readings, the expectation to evangelize the world was given to us not without help nor without power.

This power, though not necessarily manifested in the same manner as it was some 2000 years ago, is available to each and every one of us here today. This power, manifested in both word and deed, allowed the Apostles to go forth and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, and is of the same source which guides and directs Christ’s Church today. This power, this power of the Holy Spirit, has been given to those who have been confirmed by the Church in full measure and it is we who are responsible for carrying out the mission and purpose to evangelize and build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Now, there is a cynical and grumpy man who has been known to not have such a high esteem of birthdays. He has been heard to say on more than once occasion, and in his typical curmudgeonly way, something that sounds a lot like this, “Why do people always want to celebrate their birthday? Really, all you have to do to have a birthday is not die in the past 365 days.”

Cynical, grumpy, curmudgeonly men notwithstanding, I challenge you this most solemn and holy birthday to make the next 365 days a year worth celebrating. A year worth celebrating because you endeavored to make it a year worth living. A year worth living not just for yourselves, but a year worth living for your faith, for your Church, and for your Savior.

During the next 365 days, each and every day, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the world in which you live, and in the life you are living. You have an opportunity to show a kindness to someone whose life is full of bitterness and regret. Or, to demonstrate God’s justice by allowing yourself to be an instrument of his mercy to someone who is desperate and full of despair. You have the ability to act in charity by not only giving out of your abundance, but also by giving out of what you have in short supply. This year can be the year you make a friend out of an enemy and promote peace and cooperation instead of conflict and division.

God willing, you have 365 days to prepare yourselves for what ought to be a most glorious and wondrous celebration. A celebration resulting from your cooperation with the Spirit of God to effect positive change in your world through the fulfillment of the great commission of Jesus Christ by spreading the Gospel to all of your world. A celebration, I remind you, which has continued on throughout history…the celebration of the birthday of the church…which started in a small room full of people who were willing to allow themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and make a difference in their world.

Of my many weaknesses,

6th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 15:9-17

Of my many weaknesses, and there are a few, my tendency to “overthink” solutions to problems is one with which I struggle. This weakness causes me to look past the clear and simple solution of a problem, and instead, direct my focus towards the more complex and complicated one. This expense of unnecessary energy and effort has on many an occasion resulted in failure and discouragement and leaves me right where I started; having a problem in need of a solution. I wish I could tell you that as I have grown older, I have been able to eliminate this weakness, however, that would not be entirely true. Yet, that does not mean I am not without a solution. It just means that I don’t always apply it. So, today, I would like to share with you, those who may suffer from this same weakness, a solution. When faced with a problem or struggle the best way to find the fix is to…K.I.S.S it.

If you had a father like mine, you may be already familiar with the acronym K.I.S.S. For those of you who didn’t have a father like mine, I will fill you in. K.I.S.S stands for Keep It Simple… I will let you insert your own descriptor that starts with the letter “S” here. The idea behind this acronym is of course; when presented with a problem the best solution is typically the simplest solution.

Now, with all that being said, I propose that Jesus himself was a proponent of the K.I.S.S method as evidenced by his instruction to his disciples in today’s Gospel.

First, for a little context. If you recall last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus was instructing his disciples about the importance of “remaining” in the vine in order to produce fruit. He said that since he was the vine, and that God, his father, was the master gardener, it is imperative that we, his disciples, remain in him in order that we bear fruit.

If you are like me, then your response upon hearing Jesus’s instruction to “remain” in the vine, may have been to develop of a complicated set of rules. We might have created systems and mechanisms that govern behaviors, attitudes, and appearance. We may have created rules about the places where we can go or the people with whom we associate.  We did this in hopes that these rules will keep us attached to the vine. Rules that we believe would allow us to meet all the perceived nuances and subtleties of our faith and therefore allow us to be considered obedient followers of Christ.

You see, there is comfort in rules. Rules direct our charity, dictate our relationships, and define our roles in our communities and allow us to feel comfortable in a chaotic, lost, and out of control world. Rules provide comfort and support and, typically, when we feel comfortable and supported we tend to think that our rules our right. Once we have convinced ourselves that our rules are right we then come to believe that we are right. And when we come to believe that we are right because of our rules, we are then no longer dependent on the vine, the source of our righteousness, Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the vine, the source of our righteousness, has only one rule, “love one another as I love you.” The quintessential K.I.S.S method, if you will, simple, clear, and direct. His promise for obeying his only rule; “If you keep my commandment you will remain in my love.” To love one another is to remain dependent upon the vine, Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned previously, rules provide comfort, stability, and support. However, the love that Jesus is commanding us to emulate is a love that motivates us to step out of our comfort zone and experience the insecurity and vulnerability of taking risks. Risks that involve offering refuge to the displaced and disadvantaged. Risks that require the removal of labels and ideologies and insisting that our all our human interactions first begin with respect and dignity. Risks that are associated with responding to challenges and struggles in love.

The love that Jesus is speaking of in today’s Gospel is transformative and allows us to be in right relationship with him and with one another. We are his friends and we are friends one with another. We are not slaves or servants who are valued because of our ability to adhere to rules and perform tasks; rather, we are called to relationship, a friendship founded and forged in love and fellowship.

This love is not designed to make us feel comfortable. That is not the ultimate goal of this love. Rather, this love will challenge us to re-examine the rules that govern our behaviors, beliefs, attitudes. This love will cause us to speak kindly to people that we previously ignored and will cause us to engage in service that was once “just something we don’t do.” This love will cause us to look upon the suffering of others and allow us to see ourselves, and our savior, Jesus, in their pain and misery. This love will cause us to respond to that suffering first with love knowing that is exactly how Jesus responds to our suffering.

To love one another as Jesus loves is the simplest commandment. To live out this commandment however, becomes our greatest challenge. There are a host of problems that confront our society, affect our decisions, and cause us to seek the comfort of rules. May we, I pray, respond to these problems; these problems that challenge our positions, opinions, and beliefs, as Jesus commanded… may we respond first in love.

As some of you know

5th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 15:1-8

As some of you know my wife is an English teacher and often times I will ask her to proof read my homilies in order to check my grammar, verb tense, and punctuation. I am truly grateful for this evaluative experience as it; 1) ensures that my homilies are written properly, and 2) has taught me that I have repetitive tendency to misplace my modifiers.

In addition to this feedback my wife also provides me with insight regarding my presentation style. She has frequently made the comment, “Jason, must you always tell stories about yourself?” To which, I reply, “I like telling stories about myself, and, besides, who better to tell stories about… other than myself.” She then, typically, pauses, sighs, and with a very subtle eye roll, says, “But, you’re just not that interesting.”

So, with that being said, I want to tell you about something that happened to me this week.

My employer provides me with an opportunity to learn and develop new skills each year through a 3-day experience called annual training. I must confess that I am not always eager to participate in this 3-day training, but not for any other reason than I just don’t like trainings. This distaste for trainings is most likely a symptom of a flawed personality, but, nonetheless, when I go I do my best to endure the time, gleam as much useful information as possible, and avoid disruptive outburst. This year, however, was an especially unique challenge.

On the last day of training I, along with my co-workers, were treated to a 45-minute motivational speech. The speaker started the speech with the proposal that there are only two ways in which one can choose to live life; happy, or, unhappy. This premise, that life is defined by your own personal sense of happiness caused me to pause and consider the validity of this claim and gave me something to think about for the next 45 minutes.

The question of one being either happy or unhappy, I believe, is an attempt to oversimplify the complexity of the human being. Also, I believe it is an attempt to reduce the value of human suffering and trial and eliminate the need for God’s grace and mercy. However, I digress. The question of living life as either happy or unhappy is not my purpose today. I do, however, want to share with you is the evidence found in today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8) that life is in fact quite binary; meaning that we have the ability live life in one way or another.

The theme presented in today’s Gospel is very much an either/or scenario. Remain in Christ and he will remain in you, and you will bear fruit; or, do not remain in Christ and be removed from the vine, wither, and eventually thrown into the fire. There is very little room for alternative options in this very direct and plainly spoken discourse Jesus had with his disciples.

As followers of Christ it can be very easy to forget this reality; our responsibility to “remain” in Christ. Especially, in light of today’s ever present and often repeated message that “everyone is entitled to live their own truth as they see fit” relativism. This message that the one true God, the gardener, and the one true vine, Christ Jesus, whom his disciples, the branches, must within remain, in order to produce fruit, is often rejected by a world that esteems personal happiness as the sole purpose for existence.

My counter argument to this worldly teaching is that we, as followers of Christ, are called to be fruitful. We are called to be individuals who produce observable, measurable, and definable behaviors of; charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity, or, more directly, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to live life in a bi-dimensional, self-aggrandized, over-generalized, self-defined existence of happiness. Rather, as followers of Christ, we are called to live life to its fullest and in all its complexities. We are called to bearers of fruit.

Our choice to remain in Christ, the true vine, allows us to produce fruit that positively impacts the lives of those around us. Our choice to remain in Christ allows us to assist each other, our families, our neighbors, our friends, our enemies, and those whom we yet do not know, to live life as God himself ordained when he looked over his creation and declared it to be good.

Our responsibility is to remain in Jesus Christ, and we do this through partaking in his sacraments, through the reading of his Word, through the fellowship with and the serving of the body of believers, and through the conscious decision to carry our cross and follow him. We remain in Christ by choice, made possible by the grace and mercy of God through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We remain in Christ, the vine, when we allow ourselves to be pruned and cared for by God, the master gardener, so that we can produce fruit more abundantly.

Now, with that being said, let me ask you, are you fruitful? Is your life charitable, joyful, peaceful? During the course of your day are you responding to people and circumstances with patience, kindness, and goodness? Are you faithful to your promises? When confronted with a challenge are your responding with gentleness or are your words harsh and abrasive? Do you live your life within reason and within your means? And, are you living the vows you have taken? As we remain in the vine we cannot but help but be fruitful.

The challenge presented to us, this day, is to take a moment, examine our life, and identify the fruit we are producing. If we are truly remaining in Christ, the vine, then we must be producing fruit.  Our goal this day, as we prepare ourselves to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, should be with the intention that as we receive Jesus, he will receive us, and we will then effect the world in which we live, with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.