Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pentecost Sunday

Link to the Mass readings for Pentecost: http://www.usccb.org/nab/052310.shtml

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;/there are different forms of service but the same Lord;/there are different workings but the same God/who produces all of them in everyone.”

This is the essence of today’s readings. Christianity has always meant to be universal, and called the Church in the beginning Catholic (meaning “universal”) because it was the church for everyone. Today especially this rings true, because of the widespread feeling that everyone is an individual and has to do what is right for them. If one feels the strongest pull in Buddhism, that is where he should rest his soul. If a girl is gay, that is ok, because she isn’t hurting anyone. If one is Catholic but does not want to live chastely with those they are dating, than it is fine because that is how they live their spiritual life.

This isn’t all wrong, or a lie. There is much Truth to be found in Buddhism, and love is love no matter who feels it. And each path we walk is our own, and each struggle uniquely individual. But there is only one God, and one Holy Spirit, and it is that Spirit that each Jew from all over the world hears when the disciples speak in their language. Because God’s truth is universal, and speaks in whatever language we are able to understand, at any and every point in our walk with God.

And this is what we hear: that our sins can be forgiven; that God is great, and all He creates is good; and He has come to renew the face of the earth. This call is universal and speaks to the heart of each of us, and reminds us that we are each uniquely beautiful.

The Church is universal, with a place for each of us. We each experience God uniquely because of who we are and what we’ve done with Him (and without Him). But He is the same God. And He works in all of us. People feel that because they are different and the Church is the same that they do not fit inside it. But while the Church does hold the Truth is has received from Jesus with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is made of a myriad of unique pieces. We are as many parts of the one body: one may be the hand, and touch the lives of the poor; another the ear, who hears God in music and shares that; this one might be an eye, and see God in those who other people can’t. And we might be one of these, each of these, or none of these but God works in us. God’s people are amazingly different, and sometimes that drives us to ostracize those who seem too different, or reject those ways that are not our ways. But Christ is big enough to hold us all. Just because you speak God in a different language does not mean we are not speaking of the same God.

This is not to say that all things are lawful. There are some which are not. There are things we cling to of the world and not of God, and confuse the two. But how shall we know between the two?

“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.” (1 John 3:19-24).

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ascension of the Lord

5/16 Ascension of the Lord
link to today’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/051610a.shtml

In the readings today we read about the Ascension of the Lord. The 1st reading and the Gospel are both by Luke, and offer slightly different descriptions of the same event. The 2nd reading dwells deaper into the theology of what it means for us that Jesus ascended into Heaven.

For those who don’t know, Theophilus means “Lover of God,” or “Friend of God.” The Acts of the Apostles is addressed to someone already a follower of Christ, but also someone who came to belief the generation after the Apostles. The stories that Luke relates happened in his father’s or grandfather’s time, so recent, but Christians are now relying on the tradition handed down to them by teachers who are not the Apostles. The readings we have as our 1st reading and the Gospel are letters set down so that Christians would not forget and would believe this incredible event.

Luke emphasizes that “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” Jesus will come again and restore Israel (the Church), but we will not know when. And that isn’t the point of His Ascension; the point is that now he is leaving the world, and it falls to the disciples to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so on, through the apostolic tradition to today, we are still called to the Great Commission to be the witnesses of Christ. When the men in white appear at the end of the reading and admonish the apostles for staring at the sky, we also hear that admonishment. It is not for us to wait around for Jesus to come back doing nothing, but to go out into the world in His stead.

But the Ascension is a cause for celebration as well! “God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;/The Lord, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise;/ sing praise to our king, sing praise.” Because the Ascension is the completion of the sacrifice of the cross. When the Israelites sacrificed under the old covenant, the high priest made the sacrifice and then entered the sanctuary in the temple, where only he could go, and only once a year. The sanctuary is where they kept the Ark of the Covenant, which held the stone tablets Moses carved, manna from the desert, and Aarron’s staff. The high priest sacrificed to purify the people of their sin, but Jesus sacrificed himself to take away sin once and for all. And his Ascension into Heaven as the sacrifice allows our entry into heaven, because the temple sanctuary was a copy of the true sanctuary; and now, covered in the blood of the Lamb, we may enter into Heaven.

This is our confession of faith. That Jesus came to die for our sins, and by his death and resurrection he has set us free. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We have through the testimony of those who came before us that all this is true, and we trust their word. So “let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.”

The Gospel reads just like that profession of faith. So let us now be like the disciples, who “did him homage, and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Creation and Purpose

I started this blog because I couldn't not write it. During Mass I listen to homilies that I think could be so much better. I try to let God teach me things through what the priest is saying, but sometimes I can't hear His message through jokes, cliches, and tangential stories. And the readings are so rich...so I want to write these homilies as a layman, for my own benefit and for anyone who wants to be fed from reading homilies based on the Scripture readings provided by the Church, and who isn't being fed at Mass.

The Eucharist is so important at Mass, to take in the Body and Blood of Christ. But so is the Word, that it might feed our souls as His Body feeds ours. So thank you, internet, for being indulgent, and letting me have my small, obscure soapbox.

6th Sunday of Easter

The readings today spoke of the true essential way to follow Christ. So often in our desire to give proper respect to God, we turn worship into ritual. We ritualize giving money, require women to cover their heads in church, fast on these days, come to Mass on those day. In the first reading we see this, with some teachers converted from the old covenant requiring circumcision to be saved, confusing ritual with salvation. The elders of the church saw this, and reconfirmed that it is devotion, and not sacrifice that God requires: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.”

It is not ritual which brings you into communion with God, but true service. Ritual is like training wheels, it is there to train us in the proper way of doing things, but it is not the final step, or all there is. We should not put the trappings of our faith before the faith itself. The second reading brings this to light, because it describes the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is the holy city of Jerusalem, with the apostles as its’ foundation. One the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, symbolizing the whole Church. And the key is that there is no temple in the city, no place of worship where it is required to pray and offer sacrifice. Because the temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. We carry our place of worship with us because “when two or more are gathered He is present.” The glory of God shines in us because Christ shines in us, and wherever we are there we worship God.

So if it is not ritual which saves us, nor our place of worship which makes us followers of Christ, then what is? In the Gospel Jesus tells us “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” We are Christ’s because we do the things he tells us, to feed the hungry and heal the sick, visit those in prison and clothe the naked. Our churches and altars and stained glass and beautiful choirs are good, and help us to pray better and feel closer as a Church, but it is not what makes us a Church, nor just the Creed we pronounce each week. What makes us the Church of Christ is to follow Him. And we are united in the Body of Christ if we do so.

Note: this is not to undermine the Sacraments, but to clarify that the Sacraments are not sufficient. They are outward signs of God’s grace, and one can partake of them without being assured of salvation. To be Catholic, to follow Christ, is to choose the narrow way as he did.