Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost: The Spirit Fires Us Up

Holy Spirit Window in St. Peter's Basilica
Today we celebrate Pentecost – the outpouring of the Spirit upon the early disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem. The lesson of Pentecost: the triune God lives in us; and we live in that trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To paraphrase St. Paul: we are living temples of God.
An awesome truth!

“Pentecost” is a Greek word meaning “fiftieth” – the fiftieth day after Passover. In the Christian tradition, Pentecost celebrated the descent of the Spirit.

The Book of Acts describes the Jews coming to Jerusalem for the harvest festival. Suddenly the Spirit – described in images of wind and fire (symbolizing power and energy and
vitality) – was poured out upon the disciples and fired them up to preach the Gospel
fearlessly throughout the then known world.

The letter of Paul to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece speaks about all the
gifts the Spirit bestows upon us: all to build up the community. We often overemphasize the
individual at the expense of the community. Paul’s words are a powerful reminder to seek the
common good.

The Gospel according to John describes a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. The
risen Christ breathes upon the disciples (as God originally breathed life into us in the Book of
Genesis) and in that gesture bestows the Spirit. It’s an awesome truth of our faith: the God of the
universe lives within us. You may ask: what does God’s Spirit do within us?

The Spirit transforms us into new creatures, with a destiny beyond this earthly life: eternal life
with God. That life has already begun in us, in the waters of baptism, and is nurtured in today's word and sacrament.

To see what the Spirit can do, look at the early disciples: initially cowards hiding in a room; and then suddenly transformed into heroes proclaiming that Jesus Christ is gloriously alive.

The image I like best for Pentecost is the “breath of God” or “gush of wind.” It's something you can
feel, “catching” the Spirit. The power and force and energy and vitality of the Spirit is within us. The Spirit inspires us, moves us, so that we can be a channel of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-discipline.

As the Spirit moves where it will, it can inspire whoever sees its effect. So keep alert for
God’s Spirit. Yes, only humans receive the “breath of God” but all living things inspire us if we
are alert for God’s creative spirit.

Pentecost begins the mission of the people of God, your mission and mine, to continue
the saving work of Jesus Christ until he comes again in great glory. We can continue that work
by embodying the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom (to recognize what really matters in life),
intelligence (to discern what's true), courage (to step up for what's right), compassion (for the
needy), good judgment (to do right), and wonder and awe (to worship the great God of this
universe).

Let us pray that the Spirit whose gifts we already possess by virtue of our baptism will empower us to live more fully the results of the Spirit’s presence in us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, self-discipline.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

How Really Alive Are We

Raphael's Ascension
Monday, Memorial Day, the United States remembers men and women who died in the wars of our nation. I invite all of us to pray with thanks for those heroes and heroines. Some of us may be able to visit a cemetery and leave a flag or a flower on the grave of a fallen soldier.

During these 40-some days we have been celebrating the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ – a mystery that includes his death and resurrection, and also his ascension to his Father in glory, and the descent of the Spirit of God upon the disciples. These are all different aspects of the passage of Jesus from his earthy life through death into a new, transformed reality—anticipating our own future.

The Ascension we celebrate this Sunday is Jesus’ final leave-taking from the disciples, so something new can happen: the descent of the Spirit. Yes, the living Christ continues among us through the Spirit of God.

The Book of the Acts indicates that the Lukan Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are a two-volume work. The Gospel is about Jesus; the Acts about early Christianity. The ascension, connecting Luke and Acts, signals the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry and heralds the beginning of the Church’s ministry.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Ephesus prays that we will grow in wisdom and enlightenment so that we will see more clearly God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. Jesus is indeed the “head” of the “body,” the Church, the people of God. We with our multi talents are called to build the Mystical Body of Christ.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to be missionary disciples. The disciples then, and you and I now, are the hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice of the Living Christ until He comes again in glory to transform this universe into a new heaven and a new earth.

The living Christ, gloriously alive, has created new relationships for us—with God and with one another. And in light of this, I would like to pose three questions:

First, what makes us feel alive? The awesomeness of nature? Hearing Tony Bennett or Carrie Underwood sing? Holding a baby? Accomplishing good work? Watching a space flight lift off – there’s a manned flight scheduled this week; let’s pray for the safety of these two astronauts.

Second question: what does it mean to be alive in Christ? We have been gifted with God’s triune life in baptism, our initiation into a community of disciples. The rite of baptism makes us alive in Christ. At birth, we lack God’s triune life. In the beginning, man and woman walked with God. Somehow they lost that friendship. Genesis describes that they hid from God. But God became flesh in Jesus. God through the crucified and risen Christ re-connected us. Through baptism we enter a community of disciples, a fellowship of grace.

The third question is: How really alive in Christ are we? The Spirit of God is within us, to bring about the design of God on this planet of ours. The Spirit empowers us to be channels or instruments of faith, hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, truth, fairness, hospitality, fidelity, responsibility and self-discipline, in our families, our workplaces and our communities.

This time of year, we would usually hear commencement speeches. The coronavirus changed this season.  But the best advice I ever heard, in a commencement speech, was this: the quality of your life and your soul’s destiny will be measured by your character: going the extra mile to help someone in need; helping a child realize potential; being faithful in your relationships and responsibilities; working for the common good; trusting always in a good and compassionate God who is ever near to us and who will guide us safely home.

If we follow that advice, we indeed will be continuing the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

God is in all of life

Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper
The theme of love in the Gospel is an invitation to reflect upon our own life.

During these “stay at home” coronavirus times, which we will hopefully get beyond soon, our regular contacts may have been limited to a smaller number of people. This can be a blessing, if we have the right attitude.

Let me illustrate my point with a true story.  Over a century and a half ago, “diamond fever” struck Africa. Some people struck it rich. Others made a long, arduous, disappointing search.

One man sold his farm and began trekking through the continent, never finding diamonds.

Meanwhile, on the land the man had sold, the new owner found a strange-looking stone. A visitor noticed it and shouted excitedly, “This is a diamond! It’s one of the largest I’ve ever seen.”
They discovered that the entire farm was covered with gems.

Some people never take the time to see the “gems” in their own families.  So “stop and smell the roses” in your family. Look at God’s love for them. Any gem, of course, may need polishing. But the gem’s there.

So what does Sunday's Word of God have to say to us?In the beginnings of Christianity, a deacon named Philip is traveling to the back-water city of Samaria, proclaiming the “Good News” that Jesus Christ lives. And because Christ lives, we live.

Philip had such remarkable success that the Jerusalem community dispatched Peter and John to Samaria so that they could fire up the newly baptized with the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom (to recognize what truly matters in life), intelligence (to discern what's true), courage (to stand up for what's right), empathy and compassion (for the needy), good judgment, and wonder and awe.

The letter of Peter urges Christians to be patient, especially in adversity, and to speak with “gentleness and reverence.” Like Jesus, if they have to suffer, he asks them to suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil. Jesus is indeed our model.  Remember: in the tragedy of the cross is the triumph of Easter.

Jesus in the Gospel announces his departure from the disciples: his close friends. They feel isolated, alone. But Jesus promises that he still will be with them through the Spirit. He alludes to the mystery of the triune God: Father, Son and Spirit. The triune God lives within us and we live within the triune God. This is called the mystery of the indwelling of God. His presence is as real to us now as it was to the disciples then. The challenge is to find God in our daily lives.

The temptation is that we may tend to isolate God to “church” or “temple.” But God is in all of life: in moments of great joy, in periods of dark sadness, in the nitty-gritty of work. The Gospel invites us to look beneath and beyond ordinary appearances and see the reality of God all around us.

Theodore Roosevelt – author, conservationist, historian, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and 26th President of the United States (the youngest president ever at 42) – had some sound advice when he stated, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

Roosevelt believed that you found yourself by being involved with everyday life. Like people in the Bible. Yes, let us pray for the grace to find the presence of God everywhere--in ourselves, in other people and in everyday situation-and especially in the nitty-gritty of daily life.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Our Destination: Home with God

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Happy Mother's Day.  My prayer for all mothers is this: May the Lord bless and keep you. May He show his face to you and have mercy upon you. May He turn his countenance to you and give you peace. Kudos to all mothers for all you do.

In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus says we have a dwelling place with God. What precisely will this place be like? We don’t know! In death, we will have to let go of our earth-bound existence, with unconditional trust that God will bear us away within himself forever.

Sunday's word of God in the Book of the Acts takes us back to the beginnings of Christianity. The early Church is beginning to diversify. The challenge then and now is how to stay united as we diversify.

Suddenly in today’s passage, a problem arises: the community is neglecting some people in need. The community solves the problem by ordaining some as deacons. The Greek word diakonia means service. And that is why the Church continues to have so many agencies that do so much good for others, especially the needy.

The letter of Peter evokes the image of a spiritual house, a living temple of God. The living Christ is the cornerstone or center of this community.  And we are the stones.

One of my favorite images of the church, one of the oldest, is a boat. We are on a journey, with
a map and stormy weather, people slipping, survivors being pulled in, mutinies, getting off
course, being attacked. A boat needs a captain. Peter didn't seem ideal, yet what his crew and
subsequent crews managed to do has lasted over two thousand years. Today there are more than 1.2
billion Catholics.

Perhaps we might best describe the Church as a community who believe in God as Triune
and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the redeemer of humankind, and who shape their lives
according to that belief; a community which remembers that belief ritually in the Eucharist, and
recognizes the Bishop of Rome as the foundation of its unity.

Like many things in life, this global community lives with some messiness and muddles through as best it can. We continually have to strive to do the right thing, to forgive, to let go of feelings of resentment and bitterness and, as the prophet Micah said centuries before Jesus: "do right and love goodness and walk humbly with our God."

We remember and celebrate the awesome presence of the Living Christ, gloriously alive, in our midst. He is our way into eternal life, our true Good News who scatters the “fake news” all around us, and our life who overcomes death. We retell the stories of Jesus;we  celebrate the sacramental presence of the living Christ in liturgical signs. The same Spirit who transformed the disciples from cowards hiding behind closed doors into heroes proclaiming fearlessly that Jesus is alive, that same Spirit lives within our global community, within us, and can fire us up to do wonders for God if we will only let the Spirit do so.