Sunday, June 18, 2017

Satisfying Our Hunger for God

Happy Fathers Day! The word “father” or “dad” evokes many memories. When I think of my own father, I think of his love, commitment, support, forgiveness, communication, spirituality. We spent time together, and he had a really good sense of humor. Thank God for our “dads.”
Dali's Last Supper

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving,” thanksgiving for the gift of salvation.

The meal table for many is the center of family life. In our global Catholic family, the altar or table of the Lord is the center of our faith community.

In some cultures in antiquity, there was a sense of the sacred around the family meal. Life was sacred, and that which nourished life was, therefore, holy as well. People remembered how God had entered their lives and blessed them. Within the simple ritualistic act of eating and drinking, these families celebrated the mysteries of life.

There are numerous opportunities in our lives for such special and sacred meals: birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, graduations and great holiday feasts like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The occasions are as numerous as our imaginations will allow.

The family table is the place where people often gather in love and friendship and conversation; it stand at the center of home. So too the altar or table of the Lord stands at the center of church.

On this feast of Corpus Christi, the word of God focuses on three historical moments: the 13th century before the Christian era, the first decade of our Christian era, and 2017. Each is an exodus, a going out.

The word takes us back to the wanderings of the Hebrews in the wilderness after their escape from their oppressors. Moses proclaims that we need God’s word to satisfy our spiritual hunger as much as we need food to satisfy our physical hunger.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece speaks about the presence of the Risen Christ not only in the bread we break but also in one another. We are all one human family. And the Eucharist symbolizes our oneness.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that he is the bread of life. And whoever eats this bread, has eternal life. This “I am” saying is one of the seven “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John that alludes to divinity of Jesus.

In another Johannine passage Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and says: As I have done, so you must do. The purpose of the Eucharist is to form us into a vibrant faith community of disciples. Yes, the Eucharist is the real presence of the living Christ, sacramentally and mystically. But it is an empty gesture unless we go out from the table of the Lord to feed the hungry. We are called to go from church to community to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, to be present to others, where they are, in ways that respond to their needs. Then we will experience our own exodus or going out.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Born to Live in Relationship with God

Rublev's Icon of the Trinity
Today we celebrate the mystery of the triune God, a fundamental truth of Christianity: one God in three; completely beyond us and yet completely within us. The God of this universe, a God of wonder and awe, became flesh in Jesus (the mystery of the incarnation, a second fundamental truth) and lives among us by the power of the Spirit. Yes, one God in three distinct modes or movements: Father, Son and Spirit.

In our better moments, or when some crisis may begin to overwhelm us, we may think about fundamental questions, like: what is the meaning of life? The will to live requires that we discover some purpose for living. The mathematician/philosopher Pascal concluded that within each one of us is a space which “can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensées VII) Pascal likely read Saint Augustine who wrote in his autobiographical Confessions, “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” Yes, we were born to live in relationship with God--the triune God--and that's what today's feast highlights.

The Gospel according to John describes God as the Tremendous Lover who became one of us so that we might have eternal life. The mystery of the triune God--utterly beyond us and yet utterly within us, one as well as diverse, a God of distinctive relationships--invites us to ask ourselves: What kind of a relationship do we have with God?

Most people have this perhaps more subconscious than conscious. We are forever trying to find answers to those fundamental questions. As we grow old, we may begin to wonder:  what was my life all about? We appear to have accomplished so little.  Moreover, there are senseless tragedies.

But we also have experiences that shake us out of our dull routine—moments of awe and wonder. Perhaps it’s a glorious sunset or the joy of a friendship or the accomplishment of a goal. Such experiences can lift us out of ourselves and we begin to experience the transcendent dimension of our own lives. Yes, we say, there must be an awesome power beyond us, a purposeful, merciful and compassionate God who is responsible not only for this incredible universe but also for our own lives.

Our God is indeed a merciful God who can heal the brokenness of human life. God became flesh in Jesus and is alive among us. That is the mystery of the triune God: Father, Son and Spirit. This is the same God who freed the Hebrews in Ancient Egypt, who renewed His covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. This God showed his face to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we live in God’s triune life and the triune God lives in us. And in reaching out to one another in love, we become like the triune God in self-giving love.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost or Outpouring of the Spirit

Holy Spirit Window: St. Peter's Basilica
Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem centuries ago. The lesson of Pentecost is simple yet profound: God lives in us; and we in God.

The images I like are “breath of God” or “gush of wind.” It's something you feel. It's catching the Spirit: feeling the Spirit of God moving to recreate us. The power and force and energy and vitality of the Spirit is within us.  It moves us, “seizes us” so that we can be a channel of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-discipline to each other, as St. Paul describes so powerfully.

Pentecost concludes the Easter season and begins the mission of the Church, the people of God, to continue the saving work of Jesus Christ until he comes again in great glory and power. And one way we can continue that work is by embodying the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom (to recognize what truly matters), intelligence (to discern what's true), courage (to stand up for what's right), empathy or compassion (for the needy), good judgment (to do the right thing), and wonder and awe (to worship the great God of this universe).

The word “Pentecost” comes from a Greek word meaning “fiftieth” – the fiftieth day after Passover.  The Hebrews initially celebrated this festival after harvesting the spring wheat in their fields. Later they associated this festival with the covenant God made with their forebears on Mt. Sinai—a covenant summed up in the phrase: you are my people and I am your God.

In the Christian tradition, Pentecost gradually celebrated one aspect of the entire paschal mystery: including the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and also the descent of the Spirit.

The Gospel according to John describes a post resurrection appearance of Jesus where he breathes upon the disciples (as God breathed life into us in the beginning) and in that gesture bestows the Spirit upon the disciples.

So you may ask: what does the Spirit of God do within us? It’s tremendous: the God of the universe, the triune God, lives within us.  Because of this, we are new creatures; we have a destiny: eternal life with God. That life has already begun. To see what the Spirit can do, look at the early disciples: transformed from cowards, hiding behind a closed door, into heroes proclaiming the good news.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit whose gifts we already possess will empower us to live the results of the Spirit's presence in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-discipline.

The same Spirit of God spoke through the prophets of ancient Israel, overshadowed the Virgin Mary, descended upon the disciples, lives within the Church community of believers, and guides human history, despite its ups and downs, toward its ultimate fulfillment.

That Spirit lives within you and me and can transform us if we will let him.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Our Global Family

On Memorial Day, the United States honors our nation’s men and women who died in wars. Washington, D.C., will be at the center of many tributes. At the Vietnam memorial are 58,000 plus names, and occasionally I would read a letter at the foot of the wall that a soldier had written home. And I would think: how many hopes lie buried here.

Then I thought about the Easter season. Our faith assures us that Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection reconnected us to God, that God's life bestowed upon us in baptism and nourished in the sacraments will not disappear.

Rembrandt's Ascension of Christ
We have been celebrating different aspects of the one paschal or “passover” mystery: the death and resurrection of Jesus, his ascension to his Father in glory, and the descent of the Spirit of God upon the disciples. This passage of Jesus from an earthy life into a new, transfigured heavenly reality anticipates our own transformation.

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 is about early Christianity. The ascension connects these. It signals the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry and heralds the Church’s ministry by the power of the Spirit.

Jesus is indeed the head of the body, the Church, the people of God and we with our multi talents are called to build up this Mystical Body of Christ.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to be missionary. The disciples, you and I, 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.”

A week ago, thirty-five of us St. Raphael parishioners made a stirring pilgrimage to central Italy. In Rome, we participated in a papal audience in St. Peter's Square with people from all over the world. Luckily, we stood about ten feet from Pope Francis. Afterwards, I reflected on this global Catholic Community.

First, we are a community of disciples that remembers and celebrates the awesome presence of Jesus Christ—our way, our truth, and our life who overcomes death. The living Christ through the power of the Spirit lives within this community, within you and me, and the power and energy and force and vitality of the Spirit can fire us up to do wonders for God.

The second thing I like is that we are a family: sons and daughters of God our Father, a global family that stretches back to early Christianity: a family that will continue.

Third, we take a stand on peace and justice. I think of the statements of Pope Francis. I think of shelters, hospices, soup kitchens, literacy programs, immigration services, day-care centers, hospitals and schools all over the world that our Catholic Community sponsors.

May the living Christ inspire us to become co-workers with God in doing all the good we can.