Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another nun?

A while back I had a post about helping two young ladies take care of their college loans in order to enter into religious life. They both reached their goals and, to my knowledge, have gone to begin their lives as consecrated brides of Christ. While scrolling through Facebook today I came across another young lady, Courtney Chisholm, who has a similar situation. She is a Slidell native seeking to join the Little Sisters of the Lamb, based in Kansas City, but has college loans that are delaying her entry. I ask that you would keep her in your prayers as she continues her discernment and seeks to attain this money to take care of her debts. And if you feel compelled to help by making a financial donation, I know she would be immensely grateful. You can out more about her and how to help HERE

Like Christ and the Church

Readings for Sunday, August 26/ 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69

Today we conclude the five week series of reflections on John 6, Our Lord’s sermon on the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. As we conclude this reflection, I am always struck by this brief conversation Our Lord has with St. Peter. As he sees many of the disciples leaving Him, He turns to Peter as asks “Do you also want to leave?” I find his answer intriguing: “Master, to whom shall we go?” It’s not exactly a bold profession of faith in Christ. He says that believes the Lord is the Holy One of God and has the words of eternal life, but he never actually says he wants to stay. He simply says he doesn’t know where he would go.

That response has always consoled me. Peter knows that Jesus is the Christ and the life, and yet it seems that he doesn’t always enjoy the path. When I was in the seminary I would often reflect on the weight of the cross in the Christian life. My brother seminarians and I would sometimes talk about how it seemed that our lives were easier before we knew Christ and followed Him; we didn’t feel the sting of conscience when we sinned, we didn’t worry about the life to come or bearing others’ burdens on earth. We simply lived in a way that gave us pleasure and enjoyment. And as we reflected on this in moments when the weight of the cross bore down upon our shoulders we always came to realize in the end that while our former way of life seemed easier, it wasn’t. While it seemed better, it wasn’t. We knew that Christ was Christ. We knew that He has the words of eternal life, that He is the Holy One of God, and that He is the way to life. And yet we still struggled, a small part of us wanting to be like those others in the gospel who simply returned to their former way. It’s difficult, I think because it’s difficult to be Christian. When we follow after Christ we must walk the way of the cross. We must die to ourselves.

There are many teachings of Christ that challenge us because they go against our disordered nature. To forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times. To turn the other cheek when offended. To be perfect at our heavenly Father is perfect. These things challenge us because they force us to go against the flow of our lives and our culture. And yet the beautiful thing is that if we pick up these crosses and follow after Christ then we know that just as He was resurrected and glorified, so also will we be resurrected and glorified. We are not without hope.

The scriptures today point to two of the most difficult, but also most transformative, teachings of Our Lord. Ephesians 5 is that infamous passage quote by so many to show how the Church is out of touch with modern man and is increasingly irrelevant in the world today: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” Taken out of context this teaching is indeed offensive and rightly to be cast aside, but understood properly it is among the most beautiful passages of the New Testament. Why is it that a woman is called to be subordinate to her husband? Because he is called to love. St. Paul charges husbands: “Love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church.” Look at how Christ loved the Church - He went without food, without sleep, without comfort, had no place of his own, was rejected by his family, friends and nation, suffered countless other sufferings and then gave Himself up to death all so that the Church, His bride, would be able to have life and everything that is good. Every man is called to do the same - to lay down his life and to do everything out of love for his wife in imitation of Christ. Any woman who objects to that kind of love is, in my opinion, a fool because the call of St. Paul for women to be subordinate is nothing other than for wives to allow their husbands to offer everything he has, even his own life, that they might have everything that is good, both on earth and in heaven.

This mystery is what we celebrate here in the Sacrifice of the Mass; this offering of life for the bride. You likely notice that I use a veil over the chalice on the weekends as a reminder that while the Eucharistic celebration is primarily a sacrifice and partly a meal, it is also partly a marital action of the bridegroom giving himself to the bride in the flesh. He says to us “This is my body” and awaits our reception of that gift that unites us together. Over and over again He does this not for His joy or pleasure, but for ours. He shows us what it is love and calls us to love.

In the gospel this weekend the people are challenged because the Law of Moses said not to taste blood because they believed that life was in the blood and life belongs to God. And to say that we ought to the blood of God was offensive to them because it meant we were receiving the life that belongs to the Lord. And that is precisely the point. Christ took on flesh and gave us the Eucharist that we might receive His Blood and be brought into the life that He has and so generously gives to us. This is a supreme act of love and one which teaches us much. He teaches men how to give entirely of ourselves out of love for our spouses. And he teaches women how to receive the absolute love of their spouses.

These things can be hard to accept and especially hard to live. The call to give everything we have. The call to allow others to give everything for us. The call to profess faith in the Eucharist. But if we persist, if we don’t flee like so many who have gone before us, but remain like Peter, we will be greatly blessed. So let us today make our own those words of Joshua and the people he led: As for me and my household we will serve the Lord, for He has performed great miracles before our eyes and has protected, and will protect us, along our entire journey. Amen. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

So today is the feast of St. Rose of Lima, a beautiful soul who wrote profoundly of the sufferings we endure in this life. I was particularly struck by the text taken from her writings included in the Office of Readings this morning:
Our Lord and Saviour lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”
When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”
That same force strongly urged me to proclaim the beauty of divine grace. It pressed me so that my breath came slow and forced me to sweat and pant. I felt as if my soul could no longer be kept in the prison of the body, but that it had burst its chains and was free and alone and was going very swiftly through the whole world saying:
“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back to the Basics

St. James Church & Statue in Medugorje
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalms 34:2-7
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

As you may have heard, I had the joy of spending the last week and a half on pilgrimage in Rome and Medugorje. Medugorje, as you likely heard from Fr. Mark, is a place where the Blessed Mother has been appearing for over 30 years now to a small group of people and giving messages to them and those who are gathered there with them when she appears. When we first arrived there we sat down and listened to Ivan, one of the visionaries, speak about the story of Our Lady and about the general theme of the messages. One of the things he pointed out was that the messages that the Blessed Mother is giving are not new revelations but are simply repetition of things that she has said before in previous apparitions. She repeats herself, Ivan said, because we, her children are in such great need of keeping in mind what are the truly important things in this life. 

Speaking for my own experience, it is easy to get caught up in so many things going on around us, even good things like activities here at the parish, that I can lose sight of the big picture because I'm so focused on the many details that need to be tended to. For that reason I find it a grace to be reminded from time to time about what is important. Though I may already know it and speak about it to others, I can easily forget to apply it in my life. 

In the Gospel today we hear the Lord using a similar method of repetition to get His point across as well, and to show the importance of the teaching that He is giving. The Jewish people struggle to grasp the mystery of the Eucharist, but Our Lord explicitly states six times that they must truly eat His Flesh and drink His Blood to have eternal life. He repeats and clarifies to be sure that the people understood and received well the gift He was to give. 
In light of this, it seems right to pause today and call to mind once again the basics for receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion. Seeing you come forward to receive Our Lord as reverently as you do each week leads me to believe that most, if not all, of what I say will not be entirely new to you. I simply desire to bring to mind once again, for myself included, the miracle taking place in our midst.

The first thing is that we ought to come hungry to receive Christ. In a physical sense we are required by the Church to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion. This is partly so that we honor the Body of the Lord by not mixing with other substances, including gum we're chewing or food we' e eaten recently. Taking it to a spiritual level, the hunger we experience from fasting is meant to remind us of the reality that it is Christ alone who can bring true fulfillment. The world around us tells us that we can be fulfilled by having lots of nice possessions, having sexual freedom and simply doing what feels good at the moment, but the reality is that those things leave us empty. Fasting helps to remind the soul of this reality. 

Second is that in order to receive Holy Communion well, we must be in a state of grace. Sin isn't a popular topic today because it can makes us feel shame, which is what should happen when we offend God. But the reality is that sin exists and if we have committed a grave sin or mortal sin, we are not in communion with God because we have turned our back on Him and sought our own desires. To receive communion in such a state is to lie to God and to yourself, and is a mortal sin itself. So before we come we ought to examine ourselves to ensure we are in a state of grace. The question is what constitutes mortal sin. Common examples are living in a marriage not blessed by the Church, intentionally skipping Sunday Mass, engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage, the use of pornography and the intentional abuse of alcohol to get drunk. If one finds themselves in such a state, they ought to, ought of love for God and care for their soul, not receive Holy Communion before they have been reconciled through the Sacrament of Confession. 

The third point is to be mindful that it is the Lord whom we are receiving in Holy Communion. Thus when we come forward, the norm is to make a profound bow out of respect for the Lord who is in front of us. Also, in receiving Holy Communion, we ought to actually receive it. Rather than reach out and taking the host we ought to receive it by making a sort of throne to ensure that the host does not fall to the ground. This reception not only helps us to show reverence for the Body of the Lord, but it also helps us to be mindful that the Eucharist is not something we deserve but that it is a gift we are blessed to receive. 
Also, something that can be a source of much more meditation is the reality that even the smallest piece of a host is still fully Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. So if we receive we ought to look after we receive the host to see if there are any particles remaining. And as we look at our hand to see if there is any of Christ there, we ought similarly begin to look at our lives and begin to look for where Christ might be found among us – even in the smallest of ways.

In the end, most of this is likely stuff we have heard before. But just because we’ve heard it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hear it again from time to time to remind ourselves of the reality of the Eucharist and the disposition of heart with which we ought to approach Holy Communion. May we today and every day be found worthy to receive Our Lord and by this gift be found worthy to enter one day into that Heavenly Feast where all the angels and saints await us. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Bread of Life

Gathering the Manna
Readings for Sunday, August 5/ 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
John 6:24-35

Last weekend we heard two accounts of miracles involving the multiplication of food, a clear sign that God will always provide for His people, though often in unexpected ways. And, as so often happens, the Lord takes the miracle of the feeding of five thousand and uses it as a stepping stone of sorts to move to something even deeper and more mysterious. After the miracle the people follow after the Lord because they were nourished by Him and want to receive from His hands yet more food. He points this out Himself when He tells them, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” But He doesn’t stop there. He continues on, going that next step as He now challenges His hearers, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The tactic the Lord uses of taking something familiar and using it to connect to something even deeper is something that happens often in His teachings, but it is also something that happens in the scriptures themselves with what is called typology. Countless examples can be taken of Old Testament stories being used to understand New Testament realities. The Old Testament symbol of the Ark that Noah built and used as a means of safety in the midst of a turbulent storm becomes in the New Testament a symbol of the Church that welcomes all people to take shelter in the midst of a turbulent world. The Old Testament story of the Israelites walking across the Red Sea to be saved from their Egyptian attackers comes up in the New Testament symbol of being saved from evil by passing through the waters of Baptism. Another one, which is brought into the spotlight today is the gift of the Manna and Quail in the desert.

The story of the Manna is, to me, one of the most fascinating in the whole of the Bible. The people of Israel had been moved by the Lord from their slavery in Egypt to pursue the Promised Land. But because of the hardness of the peoples’ hearts, they were detoured and spent forty years wandering in the desert. Knowing that they would not be able to survive, the Lord supplied food for them every day: Manna and quail. Some think that Manna was just a naturally occurring phenomenon in the desert, but that is foolishness. The Israelites were so confused at it that when they first saw it they quickly asked, “What is it?” and had to have it explained by Moses. Furthermore, this miraculous Manna was given only six days of the week. They were to gather twice as much on the day before the Sabbath, so as not to have to work.  And so every day for forty years, God provided for the people miraculous bread in the morning and the flesh of birds in the evening. And the most interesting part: when the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land told of by God, the Manna and quail instantly ceased coming. They had arrived in their destined home, where the Lord would no longer have to provide miraculously because He would be there with them to provide in normal manner once again.

The Jewish people remembered this story clearly and held it in high regard as one of the most important stories because it was a sign of God’s care for them in the midst of trials. Being a pious Jew Himself, Jesus knew this very well and used it as the background for a new journey. When the Lord tells the people to work for the food that endures for eternal life, He shifts the view of an earthly Promised Land to a Heavenly One.

Receiving the True Bread from Heaven
The reality is that as the new Chosen People, we are no longer looking for a special place on Earth, but rather are looking forward to getting to Heaven. In the Old Testament, when the Israelites passed through the water, there was no going back and they had simply to rely on the providence of God to give bread and flesh that would sustain them to the earthly Promised Land. In the new journey before us, the reality is the same. Once we were baptized and all stain of sin removed from us, there is no turning back; we must simply rely on God’s providence for the food that will sustain us until the day we reach our Heavenly Promised Land. And what is that food if not the Eucharist?

Before, they had two separate signs – bread and flesh. Now, those two signs are unified in the Eucharist as we eat what appears to be bread but which is in reality the flesh of God. It was not simply as a figure of speech that Jesus tells His hearers that He is the Bread of Life. It is quite true. He is the Bread of Life, and Bread of Life is Him! This is the reason, as we will hear in the coming weeks, that Christ is so strong in His insistence that everyone partake of His Flesh and Blood, because if He is Life and we fail to receive Him, we have no life in us but belong wholly to death.

One thing, though, must be said. Just because we are commanded by the Lord to partake of His Flesh and Blood, does not mean that we should do so no matter what. Quite the contrary; if God has blessed us with this gift of Himself, we ought to approach it in a serious manner. Here I would like to conclude with four points for reflection:

1-     We should examine ourselves before receiving this Heavenly food. So we must ask ourselves: is there anything keeping me from Communion with Christ? Are there grave sins that need to be forgiven in the sacrament of confession before I can receive Communion worthy once more?
2-     We should spend time in thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion. Rather than running off to take care of the next task on our list, we ought to spend a moment and let Christ fill us with His life and give thanks for that gift.
3-     We should be aware that it is truly Christ that we are receiving and strive each time we receive Holy Communion to do so in a reverent manner rather than letting it become routine
4-     We are all pilgrims on the journey to the Heavenly Promised Land, but the reality is that while we are strengthened with the Eucharist, many around us are spiritually starving. Who in our own lives needs to hear about or be reminded of the Bread of Life? And are we willing to invite them to come to the One who gives us the True Bread from Heaven, that Bread which gives us life both on Earth and in Heaven? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Papal Intentions for August 2012

Let us join our Holy Father in praying especially during the month of August for the following intentions:

General Intention: That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity

Missionary Intention: That young people, called to follow Christ, may be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel to the ends of the earth.