Sunday, June 26, 2011

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Link to Mass Readings:

“Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

The Eucharist is one of the strangest things Catholics have to explain to their non-Catholic brothers and sisters. Trying to explain that at the moment of consecration, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, even though our senses tell us otherwise, is difficult. When I try, the person I am explaining it to usually develops a glossy stare, and I can tell they are trying to figure out how to accuse me of idolatry, in a polite way.

We believe in Transubstantiation. At the time of the consecration, when the priest is repeating the words Jesus said at the Last Supper, we believe Jesus causes the bread and wine to be transformed into His body and blood. Some non-Catholic Christians who believe in the Real Presence believe in Consubstantiation, where it is the congregation’s faith linked with Jesus that causes the host to change.

When the bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, we believe it is the substance of the bread and wine that changes. To focus on the bread, we believe that the bread has the accidents of bread (everything our senses tell us), but also the substance, the breadness of bread. It is the substance that is changed into the body and blood of Christ. We believe that though we can’t tell anything has changed, the bread and wine have become the LITERAL body and blood of Christ.

This is not an easy thing to understand or believe. It requires faith. But Jesus told us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Jesus could have chosen different words to say, but He has given us Himself in this way specifically.

I think part of the reason why we have the Eucharist is because it is hard to accept. Though it’s not included in today’s reading, Scripture tells us what happened after Jesus spoke to his disciples about eating His flesh and drinking His blood: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Then Jesus turns to Peter, and asks him if he will also leave. Peter responds: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

For forty years God kept the Israelites wandering in the desert “so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.” God tests us in the same way with the Eucharist. This is a sign of the mystery of our faith, something we cannot explain and find it hard to believe. Our faith is tested by the hardness of this thing we have to accept.

The Eucharist is a Sacrament, a sign and symbol of God’s love in the world. It is grace we are privileged to receive. But it is also something we have to accept with faith. If we cannot accept it, we are called to struggle with our unbelief, researching and discovering the truth to the extent we are able. If it is a stumbling block, we should struggle to understand it until acceptance comes to us as a gift. But if we cannot accept it, we must accept it on faith.

We trust the One who gave His life for us, and trust His Church which is led by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. On this Solemnity, we should meditate on the gift which He has given us in faith and trust.

The link below is a good place to start for questions about the Eucharist.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Link to Mass Readings:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and we are called to meditate on that mystery. We believe in 1 God in 3 Persons, where there is only One God, but God has a Son; we believe also in the Holy Spirit “which proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified.”

It’s heady stuff; what the Trinity means has been a subject of study ever since the Resurrection, and will be so until the end of the world. But at its most basic, it means love. Love does not exist in a vacuum, love does not exist between one person and themselves. But God is Love, and so much so that He must exist as the Trinity.

God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all one Being, and have always existed, none before the other. “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, begot and not made, one being with the Father.” We believe that even though Jesus is the Son of God, there was no time when Jesus was not. One of the hardest things to understand is that the Trinity has always existed as the Trinity, always One, always 3 Persons.

What is the Holy Spirit? My favorite description of the Holy Spirit is that the love between God the Father and Jesus the Son is so real and powerful and alive that it exists as the Holy Spirit. Because it is God, this Love is God as well.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” If God is Love, and the Trinity is fundamentally about Love, and the Holy Spirit is a Love so real it is God, how strongly are we loved! Everyone knows the verse John 3:16, but its familiarity blinds us sometimes to scale of love involved. God sacrificed His Son to save the world, the Son whom He loves so much that the Love between them is God.

If love could be approximated in terms of size, God does not love us with buckets of love, or mountains of love. He doesn’t love us with continents, or worlds, or galaxies of love. He loves us with more than universes of love, He loves us with God’s amount of Love, and that amount is incomprehensible.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us to think about who God is. We get busy worrying about our lives and the lives around us, and we forget who it is we worship. We worship God, the Trinity of Love. God does not just love the world, but each of us individually, to the point that He knows the hairs on our heads. He loves us with a God’s Love, and today we remember that and what that means.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pentecost Sunday

Link to Mass Readings:

“And we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

How inscrutable are the mysteries of Christ sometimes. The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Assumption of Mary, and the Crowning of Mary in Heaven. What all these Mysteries have in common, at least in part, is how hard they are to imagine and understand. With the Resurrection, we cannot see into the cave behind the stone; does Jesus rise with a wrenching gasp, or is there some more gradual transformation? Does He lie dead one moment, and the next is upright and living? It is inscrutable what happens.

Pentecost is similar. In both the first reading and the Gospel, the disciples were in a room alone. On Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, and suddenly they could speak in different languages, and proclaimed the Gospel without fear. Some days I’m not sure which is the bigger miracle, to suddenly speak a language unknown to them before, or suddenly be able to speak the Gospel without fear.

But the Spirit is powerful. This is the Spirit that drove the apostles to every corner of their world, that converted thousands on the strength of their witness, that drew converts from every walk of life, nation, tongue, and race. This is the strength of the Spirit, that it unifies what for so long the devil scattered in disarray.

So much of the New Testament is a redemption of the Old. Jesus is the new Adam, who removes sin where the other brings sin into the world. Mary is the new Eve, who says “Yes” to God where Eve disobeyed. Clothing in Genesis becomes a mark of shame for Adam and Eve who have just fallen, but in Revelations the righteous are given pure white garments. Pentecost is the redemption of language, unifying God’s people where once it scattered them.

Remember the story of Babel. Humans in their pride tried to build a temple that would reach to Heaven; in their arrogance God broke their common tongue, making the people unable to understand each other because they now spoke different languages. But at Pentecost, God gave the apostles different languages to unite the people with the Gospel. God redeems our broken unity with the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul tells us, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

God has brought us together through the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of Truth, by which we cling with confidence to the teachings of the Church. This the Spirit of Fire, which burns our tongues like Isaiah until we witness to Christ. This is the Spirit of Consolation, which consoles us in the darkness.

This is the Spirit of Peace. Today is Pentecost, a day marked for celebration because today God shared the Holy Spirit with us, and we had the courage to share it with each other. Let us not be shy about sharing the Spirit, about witnessing to each other and speaking Christ to nonbelievers. We have been given to drink of one Spirit, the Spirit of courage and fire!

So often our faith is something private, something we keep to ourselves. This is false, and a great evil. The Spirit is meant to be shared, and of all things is meant to bring us closer together. Let us remember the unity of the Spirit, that we have all been given a share, and are all one body because of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Link to Mass Readings:

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

The Easter season is about the triumph of grace over sin, when Jesus put even death under His feet. He did as He promised, and rose from the dead. All we believe that He can do for us, comes from the power He displayed.

The Ascension, then, is almost like a victory lap. Jesus rises from the dead, spends a little time with His disciples, and then returns to Heaven by rising into the air. He has won, and He goes to take His rightful place. But it is hard to talk about the Ascension without thinking about His return. Like the apostles, we want to know when the Kingdom will be established. And to be honest, we just want Him with us again.

A few weeks ago, a lot of people became convinced Jesus was returning to the world May 21st. Billboards were bought proclaiming the judgment day, retirement savings were spent warning unbelievers to repentance, and ultimately, nothing happened. Most Christians rightly looked at the movement with skepticism, knowing that Jesus told us “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” The pastor who started the “Judgment Day Movement” was absolutely a false prophet. But the attitude of his followers came so close to being so right.

Look at what Jesus exhorts us to do before his Ascension. He tells them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations. Even though He is just leaving, He wants the apostles to have a sense of urgency that they must work now, and quickly. Because He is coming back, and soon, soon, soon.

This is what the followers of the false prophet knew, and knew it with a fear that drove them to action, drove them to empty themselves of money so that people could be made aware. They knew that He was coming, and some people wouldn’t be ready. It is our duty as believers to spread the truth of the Gospel as widely and quickly as possible, because when Jesus comes back, some will fail judgment. And we will wonder if it is our fault.

This is what Jesus has charged us with, our Great Commission as believers. We have been given the Truth, and Jesus Christ dwells within us. It is not just for our salvation, but for the salvation of as many as we can bring personally to Christ. Sometimes we make the mistake of identifying ourselves as the church we belong to, thinking that because we are Christian we are doing great things because our church does great things. And our support is important, but also important is: what are we personally doing?

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” We should take as our lesson from the Judgment Day people that we haven’t a moment to waste. We know Jesus has risen, we know He will come again. We don’t know when, but let us work busily for the kingdom, that we and all we meet might be saved on the last day, and all the nations of the world might be peoples of God, shouting with cries of gladness when He comes again!

“Marana tha, come Lord Jesus!”