Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

            “What sign can you do?” The demand that God prove himself to us just never ends. And yet, he has given us the ultimate sign in the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of his Son. Even as the crowd in today’s gospel asks for “this bread always,” the sign of the Eucharist is still rejected, denounced, and misunderstood. It is as if the people that ask for a sign really don’t believe that God can work one. Their attitude is something like that of the people in the reading from Acts who get bent out shape because Stephen can see into the heavens where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.
            As much as people want God to do something that will convince them God is present and interested, no sign ever truly satisfies. Jesus left us the ultimate sign in the transformed bread and wine that exist at the heart of our Christian lives. If God can indeed create out of nothing, then the entire created order lies open to God. If the Son can take flesh through a virginal conception and become one like us, then anything is possible with God. Just ask St. Luke!
            The living bread come down from heaven is the Eucharistic species we receive at Mass. Although it appears to be what it was, through his power as God, the Holy Spirit enables what looks and tastes like bread and wine to communicate the substance of divinity. Anyone that has a problem with such a claim really has a problem with God acting within the created order on behalf of humanity. We can’t claim to believe in some signs and wonders and reject others. God either can or cannot act within the world of his creation.
             It has always amused me that so many who claim to be Christian want to explain away the miracles of the Old and New testaments. I’m not really interested in a God that cannot act in time on my behalf in ways that are significant for me. And what could be more significant than that I can feed myself –substantially, on the Divine life which is both my origin and my destiny? I couldn’t possibly follow a God who is distant and no longer present. I don’t want to be left alone to my own devices because I know just how dull and insignificant my life would be. Without God acting in and with and for me here and now, life would be miserable, empty and meaningless.
            The living bread come down from heaven, the Eucharist, assures me that Jesus has not left us and that my life matters. Giving what is needed to another is a great sign of love; thus there is no greater sign of love than the Eucharist through which God assures me that I have exactly what I need in order to be fully and freely who I am. This gift of God enables my life to resonate with the same confidence Stephen lived out his, and too it enables my heart to be determined by the same mercy with which Stephen utters his final words. How can bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus? How could God become a man? How could a man who’s God allow himself to be killed? How could the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see? How could a just man give his life in exchange for an unjust man? How could there be anything at all? How come I exist? How could a virgin conceive and give birth to a child? Blah, blah, blah!
            We shouldn’t ask for any sign because we have been given all that we need. Miracles haven’t ceased because God never stops loving us and desiring that we share fully in his life. Jesus gave us the life giving bread come down from heaven on the night before he died. Somewhere in the world this miraculous gift everyday occurs. That’s how much we matter to God, that’s how much he longs to satisfy our hunger to be humanly whole and wholly divine.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday of the Second week of Easter

            What has changed that the community of believers seems to be no longer of “one mind and one heart?” Gather two or three Christians together and chances are you will hear two or three different explanations of what it means to be Christian and how it is that we are to bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
What has changed that we no longer hold everything in common and believe that each of us will be provided for according to our needs? Tax exempt status and the material goods of the Church can seem at times to be more significant than “laying everything at the feet of the apostles” in order that each might have just what is necessary. So, what has changed?  
            Before rushing toward an easy answer by pointing to historical events and external circumstances; before  excoriating others for “deviating from the truth,” and fracturing Christ’s body, it is important first to answer the question from within one’s heart. It’s far too easy to place the blame on other individuals or groups, when the path toward reclaiming the unity Christ intended for his body lies in the heart of each believer.
We have all been “born from above,” regenerated through water and the Holy Spirit precisely that we might become bound to one another in that truth to which Jesus came testifying. This truth alone, the truth of God and the truth of what it means to be human, establishes the inseparable bond of unity that best describes the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In order for the body of Christ to remain united in the manner described in the Acts of the Apostles, each believer must secure his or her heart in the truth that was revealed when “the Son of man was lifted up.”
If we can’t accept Jesus’ testimony about earthly things–what it means to be human–then how will we believe him about heavenly things–what it means to be God? If we can’t accept that the Resurrection secures Jesus’ testimony about earthly things, then we may end up treating the Resurrection as some heavenly thing that happened long ago between the Father and his Son.
            When the heart drifts from the security of being one with the Father, the unity Christ intends begins to deteriorate. It is only within the security of the relationship that perfectly defines us that the unity of the Body can be preserved. Each one of us has a responsibility therefore to secure ourselves in the relationship to which we are opened through the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. In other words, it is my responsibility to secure myself within the life of God which Jesus has opened for me and into which I have been incorporated through the power of the Holy Spirit. If I drift from God, if I allow myself to be pulled in any other direction, if I believe that I can create and establish who I truly am apart from God (or worse, alongside what God is saying to me), then I am responsible for the dissolution of unity and the weakening of Christ’s body. By remaining in God through, with and in Christ, my life lends itself to serving the unity which Christ envisioned and intended for everyone that would come to know the truth of God.
            What is presented in the Acts of the Apostles is not a utopian fantasy, an unrealistic ideal held out as something toward which each believer must strive. It is also not the work of those men and women who first bound themselves around and with the Apostles. The picture from Acts is the “way” of being with each other in Christ. It is both our ultimate destiny and the true source of peace and stability here and now. While the expression of communal unity can change through time and because of social conditions, and too, sin, we are all called to be of one mind and one heart; this must never change. It also isn’t such a difficult thing to realize, as long as our minds and hearts are bound together in that Love which is both the earthly and heavenly truth to which Jesus came testifying.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Acts 4: 23-31
Psalm 2
John 3:1-8

            If we ever wonder why the “places” where we gather to worship do not shake, it is because we have lost the “boldness” that should be ours, the boldness demonstrated by Peter and John and for which they prayed to God the Father. It is never because of lackluster homily, insipid music or frivolous liturgical actions. Never!
If we ever wonder why more signs and wonders are not worked through us in the name of God’s “holy Servant,” it is because we have stopped praying “with one accord,” lifting our voices to God and asking for the gift to speak. Being filled with the Holy Spirit wasn’t an exclusive gift given to the early Church, it is a gift waiting to be claimed and used by the Church in every age. The gifts of the Holy Spirit haven’t been used up; they aren’t being used!
            Every Christian has been “born again” of “water and the Holy Spirit.” Because we have been “born from above” our lives are meant to communicate the saving truths and affect the signs and wonders of the redemption wrought for us by Christ Jesus. There is no excuse! Each of us can speak with boldness just as we have all been called to “stretch forth our hands and heal,” working great signs and wonders. The only obstacle is our refusal to believe that the Spirit, coursing within our lives, “blows where it wills,” moving us to act in the name of the Lord Jesus. Until we once again accept the truth of what we have become in Christ, the places where we worship will never shake, and others will never come to know here and now the gift of God extended in Christ Jesus his Son.
            The boldness which once again must be ours as members of Christ’s body does not imply a forceful proselytism or an aggressive, violent catechesis. Our boldness is born of the same gentleness as the “Lamb that was led to the slaughter.” It flows from the confidence that should be ours in having been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. It expresses the surety we possess in being loved by the Father and our experience of his constant daily outpouring of love, through the Sacraments, in his Holy Word, in the beauty of the “heavens and earth,” and through the members of Christ’s body. The boldness that once again must be ours will be demonstrated by a positive stance toward the world, even and especially in our own time when relativistic nihilism is inculcated, celebrated, and championed. The boldness of the Christian man and woman should be characterized by unflinching hopefulness.
            Make the prayer preserved in the Acts of the Apostles your own! Commit yourself to the new life you have been given through water and the Holy Spirit. Speak with boldness of the life offered to everyone in Christ Jesus. Shake the building where you worship, be of one accord, put all bitterness, division, self-righteousness and judgments aside. Stop looking at the faults of other believers and your own and look instead to that which is above. Your hatred toward the culture must cease! Boldness in the Lord–predicated entirely upon the acceptance and experience of his love–must be your stance, so that you can freely and willfully go where ever the Holy Spirit moves you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday of Easter Week

            “I’m going fishing,” Peter says. Sometimes in the face of the most difficult, confusing and trying times, going back to what we know best can settle our nerves and open us to the peace the Lord Jesus brings.
            That is exactly what happens in today’s Gospel. Thus, in what for the Apostles is so ordinary, they experience something truly extraordinary: Jesus revealing himself to them “for the third time.” When the great catch of 153 fish is brought aboard, Peter is no doubt thinking what John says out loud, “It is the Lord!” There is no way that Peter would not weave this moment of a great catch with the great catch that occurred on the day Jesus invited him to follow. Jesus intends Peter and the other Apostles to begin seeing the whole of their lives, including the past, within the light of the Resurrection. In the same way that Jesus opens their minds to the Scriptures, Jesus opens their minds to their own lives and the unique and irreplaceable dimensions which have existed forever within the mind of the Father. It isn’t that these men had no real choice to follow Jesus; it’s that the whole of their lives are ordered toward the service they accepted when they chose to follow the Lord. It is what makes the most sense.
            This is reaffirmed when Jesus asks them to bring some of the fish they have caught and add it to the fish he has prepared. What each one of the named men has to offer is an essential part of God’s plan of redemption. Together this will constitute the feast the Lord longs to set before us. What we learn in today’s’ Gospel is no less true for each of us, (just as it was true for Mary). We are all asked to offer the gifts that are unique to each in order that the redemption that is for all comes to fruition. Once we are able to see our lives in the light of the Resurrection, then the Lord gives back to us what we have given to him transformed by having become part of his own offering to the Father.
“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,” we are all able to stand within the ordinary moments of our lives open to the extraordinary ways in which Jesus will reveal himself; not only to us, but through us!  All of us that have “breakfasted” with Jesus know that there is truly “no other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved;” not the name of a politician or party; not the name of a scientific theory or medical breakthrough; not the name of a social program or political theory. Only Jesus corresponds to the deepest desires of the human heart such that when he calls us by name we cannot help but to respond.
In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the dawn has already broken upon the world. Jesus, “the cornerstone” stands on a shore that is not too far from where we  are and calls out to us, inviting us to join him in a meal that will sustain us unto eternal life. So tuck in your garments, jump in swim to the shore, and have some breakfast!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday of Easter Week

            Even after his Resurrection from the dead, Jesus has to “prove” himself! With passionate emphasis I’m sure Jesus’ words filled the room in which the disciples were hiding, “touch me and see!” And just in case his pierced but glorified humanity was not enough to convince them, he asks them for a piece of baked fish and eats it front of them. (Maybe this little detail will stop the Lenten complaining)
Like the crowd to whom Peter is speaking in the first reading, the disciples of Jesus certainly react “out of ignorance.” No matter the things they had witnessed during Jesus’ public ministry, they all know what happened on Good Friday. How could it be that the man they followed, “handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence,” “the author of life who was put to death,” should be standing before them? Even though he had tried to tell them that “the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day for the forgiveness of sins,” he nonetheless has to open their minds “to understand the Scriptures,” because it is impossible for us not to be “startled and terrified” without the help that comes to us from Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“Questions will always arise in our hearts.” Throughout our lives aligned with his, there will be times and circumstances which assault that peace which he alone can give. There will be awkward, awful, arduous conditions that “trouble” us. Thus, in this beautiful resurrection encounter, Jesus not only reassures his disciples then, he reassures his disciples now. Peace, as Jesus offers it, comes about when I at last secure my identity in the truth to which he testifies, those “words he spoke while he was with us” which all affirm that God (in the words of Pope Benedict XVI) believes in me! The great sign and therefore sacrament of this truth is the humanity of the Son of God, really, “the flesh and bones” Jesus points out in today’s Gospel. The gift of peace Jesus extends to each of us can never be divorced from his humanity, because it is only through his humanity that we have access to the relationship that defines us: the Trinity. Therefore any claim that the humanity of Christ is insignificant, that “Christ” is something which transcends the man Jesus, suggesting that all that matters is the principles emanating from his words and deeds, is not Christianity at all. An idea, concept or principle, like a ghost, “does not have flesh and bones!”
Today’s gospel is so much more than an attempt on the part of Jesus to prove that he has truly been raised. This encounter has everything to do with what the disciples will preach and why they will preach it. It has everything to do with how we are to live “as witnesses of these things,” because it has everything to do with who we truly are. Only when we can accept that God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–alone defines who each of us is, can we hope to live that peace which is Jesus’ gift to the world. In order to secure ourselves within the truth to which Jesus’ humanity testifies, we must allow him to open our minds to “Mosses, the prophets and the Psalms.” We must stop trying to control and manipulate scripture to our own ends so as to live out our lives “incredulous for joy” and every day amazed. “Peace be with you.”