Homily for Friday, the Fifth Week of Easter (May 23rd, 2014)

During the Easter season the Church proclaims excerpts from the New Testament book “Acts of the Apostles”.  This text, a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, presents the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ alive and active in the Church.  The Lord Jesus did not just disappear after his resurrection.  What happened is that his manner of being with us was transformed.

Once, Christ’s divine life and presence was given to us in the body of his Incarnation and now Christ’s divine life and presence is given to us in his Body, the Church.

This is what Acts of the Apostles is all about.

The book of “Acts” also presents a glimpse of the earliest years of the Church’s life.  We learn some important details about the ministry of the Apostles and the identity of some of the pivotal players of the Church’s first missionary efforts- particularly the great saints Peter and Paul.

This week we have heard about one of the controversies that beset the Apostles and the first Christians- how the Gentiles who knew Christ and had accept a relationship with him in the Church, but who were not born Israelites and knew little or nothing about the Israelite way of life, how would these Gentiles be incorporated into the Church?

Would they have to comply with the Law of Moses?  Would they have to be circumcised?  How was the Church the new Israel and how did the new Israel relate to the old Israel?

The readings from Acts of the Apostles for this week have permitted us a look at how the early Christians came to terms with what the Church actually was and their own identity and mission in relation to the identity and mission of the Church.

What does any of this mean to us who live centuries after the apostolic age?

How do Christians now understand the own identity and mission?  Or the identity and mission of the Church?  Has our relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church become little more than an addendum to our ethnic identity or ideological concerns?  Do we think of the Church as nothing more than a faith based club?  Do we think of the Church’s relationship to the culture as little more than one of accommodation and assimilation, where out of complacency or self interest, we try to make the Church into the servant or cultural trends, rather than a unique way of life?

Have we forgotten who the Lord is, and in forgetting him, forgotten who we are, and in forgetting both, forgotten what the mission of the Church is actually all about?

All that remains in our forgetfulness is self-reference and narcissism.

Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that the Church does three things- she worships God in Christ, she takes care of the poor and she evangelizes.   These three things sum up what it means to be in relationship to Christ in the Church.

But the first two, according to both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, are made possible by the last- evangelization.  It is for this reason that the Church is, according to Pope Francis, meant to be in a constant state of mission.  A Church that does not evangelize, that is, invites people to have a relationship with Christ in the Church, is an anti-Church.

The Spirit will not bless the efforts of an anti-Church, no matter how well intended those efforts might be.

Are we in a constant state or mission? Is this parish?  In order to be missionaries we must know the Lord Jesus, know who we are in relationship to him, and accept as our mission, the mission he gives to the Church: Worship God in Christ.  Take care of the poor.  Evangelize.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book entitled Acts of the Apostles. We have heard select passages from the Book of Acts since Easter Sunday.
The Book of Acts presents Christ as living, present and active in his Church. Once, Christ revealed his divine life and presence to the world in the body of his Incarnation, but now he reveals his divine life and presence in the Church.
This is what the Book of Acts is all about.
The Book of Acts also presents a glimpse into what the early Church was like and we learn that the Church was governed by the Apostles, who served as stewards and priests for the Church. In today’s excerpt from Acts we learn that the Apostles appointed and ordained deacons for the Church who would serve as their assistants.
A lot of preachers will use this scripture as a means by which to talk about how the Church is organized, governed and ordered for mission. All this is good and true. The Church is not whatever we want it to be. The Church has a structure and a form which is given to us by Christ through his apostles. We receive this structure and form in good faith and the Church flourishes when we cooperate with the structure and form that Christ wills for his Church.
But the structure and form of the Church signals a deeper truth that can be unsettling to many- that the reality of the Church is not just about matters of the spirit, but matters of real, living bodies.

The Church is not just a spiritual reality, it is an extension of Incarnation of God in Christ in the world- and the Incarnation is not just a spiritual reality, and as such, neither is the Church. The New Testament describes the Church as Christ’s Body, highlighting a physicality of both the Incarnation and the Church and this physicality signals to us that neither Christ or his Church can be properly appreciated or understood if our reference points are only ideas or feelings.
Coming to know Christ and the Church is best understood as being like coming to know a Body.
Many folks prefer a spiritualized Christ or a spiritualized Church because the experience seems cleaner and less intrusive. Bodies can be off putting and are not easily under our control. That Christ and his Church are precisely this- off putting and not under our control- makes some people wary and nervous.
But you can’t know God in Christ without accepting his Incarnation “in the flesh” and you can’t know Christ in the Church without encountering the physical means by which Christ makes his divine life and presence known in the bodies of those Christ has chosen.
The glimpse our first scripture provides of the early Church does not present an image of the Church where things are easy and free of conflict. The Church is not meant to be something where we evade the reality of human existence or live in denial of the raw facts of life. Christ did not deny himself these experiences and the Church is perfected in our identity as the Body of Christ by accepting that holiness happens to us in our acceptance of the reality of the circumstances of life, rather than trying to flee from them.
You cannot truly know God without Christ and you cannot truly know Christ without the Church and your route of access to both will inevitably be an encounter with the reality of a body

The Church is a Body, but it is also a Temple- this is the image that the Apostle Peter provides for us in our second scripture.

What is a temple? A temple is a place that is set apart for God’s purposes, through which God encounters humanity and humanity encounters God. It is also a place a sacrifice, where we surrender to God that which best and most valuable to us. A temple displays to us in a concrete structure and form what a relationship with God looks like.
If we are intended by God to represent his holy temple, what might that mean?
Well, consider your life, the manner in which you live, what you value and how you express those values. Consider what you are willing to make sacrifices for and the kinds of sacrifices of you make? What is your way of life, from that you can understand what kind of God that you worship and the kind of temple in which you worship your God. Think of your temple as your way of life.
If you are a Christian, your God is supposed to be Jesus Christ it should be clear from your temple, that is, your way of life, that he is your God and your ultimate concern is fulfill his will and purposes for your life.
But is this really the case?
Let’s bring it closer to home. The worship of the Church is temple worship. Our church buildings are not just gathering spaces or meeting halls or faith based entertainment centers, they are temples. The divine presence is in this temple, because the Blessed Sacrament is here. Our worship is not just songs, stories and faith-based self help lectures. Our worship is made real in a sacrifice. In this temple, the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood is offered and through that sacrifice God establishes a relationship with you. That is what Holy Communion is. God in Christ makes himself really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
This place is made a temple because of the divine presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and you are made a temple if and when you receive the divine presence of Christ as food and drink in Holy Communion. You become a temple!

You become, in your reception of the Blessed Sacrament, a movable temple, ranging about in the world, and as such you are meant to be a place of encounter with God in Christ- people should meet God in Christ in you!
Is this what your intention is when you receive the Blessed Sacrament? Do you know that you are accepting that you are a temple, a bearer of Christ’s divine life and presence into the world?
What kind of temple are you? Are you a worthy dwelling place for the one, true God? Does the divine life and presence of Christ have pride of place- is he the central focus of your life or the divine life and presence of Christ pushed off somewhere to the side or hidden away? Is the temple you have created to receive him unworthy and inadequate? Are you an occasion through which people encounter Christ or is the sanctuary of your life so cluttered with false gods that you are not so much an occasion of encounter with Christ but an obstacle to him?
Your manner of life reveals the kind of temple in which you receive Christ.
Finally in his Gospel, Christ Jesus testifies that he is the way, the truth and the life.
What does this mean?
It means the Christ is the way, because he is the privileged route of access to God. It is through Christ that we come to know the one, true God and we discover to our surprise that knowing God is not simply a matter of ideas or feelings, but a matter of a relationship with a living, divine person. And this living, divine person makes himself known to us in Christ the Lord.
Christ is the truth because he reveals the truth about who God is and who we are. In this revelation, Christ falsifies the claims of the devil who accuses us before God of being nothing more than beasts, unworthy of God’s love and mercy.
God in Christ reveals in his acceptance of a human nature, that the devil is a liar and that God gives to us in Christ a dignity beyond what any of us could ever deserve, a dignity that makes us, in Christ, the sons and daughters of God!
And Christ is the life, not just a merely human life, but the divine life. Christ offers this divine life to us, so that we can much more than what our limited expectations impose. To be in relationship with Christ does not simply mean to have faith-based experiences or feelings, to be in relationship with Christ means to literally share in his divine life.
How does this happen? It happens in the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments are not just cultural customs or symbols of community values. The Sacraments are revelation of God and the means by which we can participate in and receive Christ’s own divine life.
If it is the deepest desire of your heart to receive Christ as the way, the truth and the life, then repent of your sins, profess faith in Christ and offer your life to him and having done all that, then come forward to receive his divine life and presence in the most holy sacraments of his Body and his Blood.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Throughout the season of Easter, the Church proclaims excerpts from the New Testament Book, “Acts of the Apostles” as the first reading for both Sunday Mass and Masses during the week.

I have spoken about the New Testament Book “Acts of the Apostles” before- it is a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, it’s purpose is to make the case that the divine life and presence that was revealed in the body of the Lord’s Jesus’ human nature is now revealed in Church,  “Acts of the Apostles” describes what the revelation of Christ in the Church looks like, the form Christ’s divine life and presence takes as he reveals himself to the world through the Church.

This is very important for us to remember.  If you profess the Catholic Faith, the Faith that is described for us in the Scriptures, you do not believe that the Church is merely some kind of an accidental “add on” to the revelation of the Lord Jesus- instead the Church is integral to what it is that Christ reveals.  This is why the Scriptures describe the Church as being the “body” of the Lord Jesus and as existing in such a profound relationship with him that the relationship of Christ and the Church is aptly described as intimate as the relationship of a bridegroom to bride.

Bottom line: there is in authentic Christian faith no place for a “choice” between Christ and the Church or a Church without Christ.  In attempting to choose you will ultimately end up with neither.

A relationship with Christ, the one true God who gives us the gift of his divine life and presence, is a relationship that happens in all its fullness in the Church.  Our relationship with Christ is not simply a matter of ideas in our minds or feelings in our hearts, but a relationship to his Body- the mystical Body of Christ that is the Church.

The Church is, by Christ’s own will, the visible, tangible, concrete route of access to Christ’s divine life and presence in the world.  The Church is the way that Christ has chosen for us to have a relationship with him!

This is what today’s scripture from Acts of the Apostles is all about as well: Peter, from his place in communion with Christ in the Church, offers to others the invitation to know Christ in the Church.  That’s his mission- to extend to others the invitation to know Christ and share a relationship with Christ in the Church.  Once those invited come into the Church, they accept a new and different way of life- a way of life that is expressive of their relationship with Jesus Christ- and as a way of life, it is expressive of Jesus Christ, not just in some things, but in all things!

Inviting people to know Christ in his Church is also our mission.

The Church does not exist to be a religious discussion club or theological debating society.  The Church does not exist to manage and maintain faith-based infrastructure.  The Church is not meant to be a repository for ethnic customs.  The Church exists to create missionaries for a mission- and this mission, which comes from the Lord Jesus, is to invite people to know him and to share a relationship with him in the Church.

When this is happening, the Church thrives.  When it is not happening, the Church falters.

When the Church is doing the mission that Christ wants it to do, her life is blessed.  When the Church resists doing her mission, the Church fails.

Remember, the Church does not choose her own mission, but receives her mission from Christ and then sets about disappearing into that mission.

Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from the first letter of Saint Peter. 

In this scripture, the Apostle Peter continues a spiritual reflection that he introduced to us last week.  This reflection is about also about Christ and the Church and it is meant as a reminder to us that who we are as Christians, our identity, is a gift from Christ- a gift that was given to us at a great price.

What is that price?  The price is the cross.

What does this mean?  Peter wants for the faithful to understand that our relationship with God in Christ has happened because God in Christ chose to be with us in all things.  This is what the Incarnation of God in Christ is all about.  God in Christ chooses to be with us in all things.

When God in Christ does this, he makes all of human experience a route of access to his divine life- even the raw facts of life like suffering and death.  We see this revealed in the cross. 

Our relationship with Christ in the Church is not meant as an evasion from reality.  Christians are not living in denial of the full force of the harsh facts of what it means to be human.  Where Christ inserts himself, so too must the Church make herself present.  Where Christ has gone, so also must his disciples follow.  In a world gone dark, the Church is meant to bear Christ’s light.  In a world parched in its thirst for God, the Church is meant to bring Christ’s living water.  In a world that feels the absence of God, the Church carries into that breach Christ’s own divine life.

A Church that is authentic, strong, faithful- a Church that truly knows the Lord, shows its authenticity, its strength, its fidelity in its willingness to go where Christ was willing to go.  A Church that does not, in her service to others and missionary resolve, make great sacrifices and in doing so, look like the image of Christ Crucified, is not the Church in truth.

Our Holy Father has spoken repeatedly against a “self-referential Church”, one that is content to celebrate itself, and whose singular focus is placating the needs of its own members, as if membership in the Church was akin to membership in a club. 

This is not a the true Church, but an anti-Church (Yes!  Just as there is an anti-Christ there is also an anti Church!).  Such an anti-Church is a Church that has displaced the revelation of Christ Crucified with a fixation on its own ideas, opinions, causes and goals. 

Such an anti-Church might exhibit strength of conviction in opinions about itself, even have well financed initiatives and institutions, but it will die in its sins.

Finally… our Gospel for today- another excerpt from the magnificent testimony of the Gospel of John.

Christ the Lord’s words about a shepherd, who protects his people is not just intended as a comforting image, a pious generality that indicates that in hard times Christ is with us.  Christ is with us in all things, but that is not the point of today’s excerpt from the Gospel of John.

Christ is referencing an image of the God of Israel that resonates throughout the Old Testament- an image many of you might be familiar with as it is expressed in the 23rd Psalm- “the Lord is my shepherd”- God is likened to a shepherd for his people.

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel has an extended prophecy in the 34th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel in which he foresees that in place of corrupt and faithless shepherds, worldly shepherds, God himself would come to his people and be their leader, their protector, their guide.  God would literally and truly be the shepherd of his people.

The image would become the reality.

Christ the Lord is testifying in today’s Gospel that this vision of Ezekiel has come true!  God has come in Christ he has come as shepherd for his people!

Christ is God the Shepherd and he has come into this world to lead, protect and guide his sheep- that’s the Church.

Here’s an interesting way to think about all this:

Christ is the shepherd of the Church and the faithful are the sheep.  If we stay in relationship with Christ, with our shepherd, then Christ will lead us, guide us and protect the flock (the faithful).  If we wander away from Christ, or separate ourselves from the flock, we place ourselves in great peril.   Most often separation happens when we refuse to listen to Christ and accept his Word spoken to us in the Scriptures or a usurper shepherd, someone who seems similar to Christ, manages to coax us away.

Christ employs sheep dogs to help him keep the flock in relation to him- these sheep dogs are the priests.  Think of priests as dogs (bishops are like the chief sheep dogs).  Think of the collar your priest wears as an indication of his status- he is a dog and that’s his dog collar, Christ uses that collar to keep his dogs in line.  A good priest, like a good sheep dog, is loyal and obedient to his master, the shepherd, and he is vigilant, focused with singular resolve on his master’s commands.  Sometimes a good priest, like a good sheep dog, has to bark at the sheep, even show his teeth, but he does so only to alert the shepherd of danger and to keep the sheep in relationship to the shepherd and to one another.

At times a wolf might try to pass itself off as a sheep dog or sometimes as a sheep, and then the flock is endangered.  This is why it’s best for Christ to have a lot of sheep dogs at his service- to keep the flock safe from the threats of wolves both outside the flock and those wolves that insinuate themselves within (the flock).

Christ is your shepherd.  You are his sheep.  I am his sheep dog.

And I think I’ve been barking at you long enough!

Homily for Wednesday, the Third Week of Easter (May 7th, 2014)

During the season of Easter, the Church presents select excerpts from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles” as the first reading for daily Mass.

The book of Acts of the Apostles is a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke and it continues the great story arc of Luke’s Gospel.  Remember, the story of Luke’s Gospel is a compilation of eyewitness testimony, testimony that insists that the one, true God has done something quite extraordinary- God has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.  This is what the revelation of the Lord Jesus is all about- God has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

This revelation doesn’t end- the Lord Jesus is present even now in the Church- and this is what the book called Acts of the Apostles is all about, how the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ, once revealed in his body of his human nature is now revealed in the Church.

Our readings from Acts of the Apostles have, since Monday, told us the story of the Church’s first martyr- a young man by the name of Stephen.

Stephen was killed much in the same way as Christ was and died as Christ did, offering forgiveness to the very people who had tormented and murdered him.  Sad as his death is, God’s providence worked through it.

The death of Stephen will eventually lead to the conversion of the Church’s greatest enemy to Christ- Saul, who after his conversion will be known as Paul.

And more than this, as the apostles and first Christians are forced to flee because of the threats of their persecutors, they use the opportunity to give witness to Christ in new places and new people.  Many more people accept the invitation to know Christ and share a relationship with him in the Church.

The persecutors of the Church thought that their actions would destroy the Church, but God has other plans, and unbeknownst to the persecutors, their actions actually result in the Church growing.

From the sorrows of Stephen’s death arise great joy.  This is not just a mystery, it is the Paschal Mystery- the creative potential of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is happening even now! The great Paschal Mystery of Christ is happening in the Church.

The Church is perfected in suffering.  The suffering we face as Christians may not be persecutions, but we will be asked to make sacrifices and endure trials.  The Paschal Mystery is happening to all of us.  Through these sufferings we can become ever more like Christ- our sorrows, can, in the uncanny providence of God, lead to our transformation- it can make us more like Christ.

Christ will speak to us in his Gospel this week about his identity as the “bread of life”.  This refers to the Eucharist, and how Christ gives his divine life and presence to us in the great mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. 

The reason the Lord Jesus gives us the Eucharistic Miracle is not simply to edify us or provide us with emotional consolation.  What the Lord wills to accomplish is our transformation- that partaking of his divine life and presence, we might have the opportunity to become ever more like him.  Holiness happens when we are Christ-like.

Becoming like Christ is what our reception of the Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be about.  Christ gives to us what is necessary for this to happen, but we must cooperate with him, allow him to change us.  There is nothing insufficient in the Blessed Sacrament, but there can be an insufficiency in ourselves.  Do we want to be like Christ? He will not coerce us.  We must decide for Christ.  We must want to be holy.

The only thing that keeps us from becoming ever more like Christ is our own resistance.

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Third Sunday of Easter (May 4th, 2014)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from a New Testament Book entitled “The Acts of the Apostles”. Readings from the Acts of the Apostles are featured by the Church as the scriptures for Mass during the season of Easter.

I spoke about the book “Acts of the Apostles last week. It is a companion to the Gospel of Luke and continues the testimony of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel of Luke testifies that the one, true God has done something quite extraordinary and unexpected- he has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. This has happened, not as a myth, but as a real fact of history. God reveals himself as someone like us. He enters into relationship with us person to person and meets us face to face. This is who Jesus of Nazareth is- he is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

This is what the Gospel of Luke is all about and testimony to this extraordinary revelation continues in the Acts of the Apostles. The great revelation of Acts of the Apostles is that the same divine life and presence that was revealed in the body of the Lord Jesus’ human nature is even right now being revealed in the Church.

The Church is not merely an institution or club, but it is a revelation of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles is testifying to this extraordinary claim.

In today’s scripture from the Acts of the Apostles the apostle Peter testifies to what precisely has been revealed in Christ. What Peter has to say is likely not all that easy for many to understand because his point of reference is how what God has revealed in the Lord Jesus explains what God revealed in the Old Testament, particularly how the Lord Jesus fulfills biblical prophecy about the Messiah.

If you don’t know about all that, it is likely that what Peter has to say doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Here’s the gist of it.

The prophets foresaw that God would restore Israel by sending to Israel someone who would do what David when he established his kingdom. The person who would do this is called the messiah.

David did four mighty deeds- he gathered Israel’s tribes into unity, he defeated the enemies of Israel, he restored Israel’s worship, and he established his kingdom.

Peter is saying that God has in the Lord Jesus accomplished these things, and more. He even did something David could not do- he defeated the power of death itself and demonstrated this power in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.

In all this, God has revealed the true messiah to be the Lord Jesus.

Why does this matter to us?

Peter’s testimony from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of what the Church believes about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. The Lord Jesus is not just a creation of our opinions or ideas or emotions. He is not just whoever he might want him to be. His revelation is specific, particular, and objective. If we want to understand his revelation, we have to attend to Peter’s testimony and accept Christ for who he reveals himself to be and not try to accommodate Christ to whoever it is that we might wish him to be.

The lesson?

Believing in the Lord Jesus means believing that he is God, that he is the messiah, that he rose from the dead, and that his life and presence continues to be available to us in the Church. Saying he is a good teacher or a wise philosopher or a social reformer or one of many prophets doesn’t cut it. None of that gets to the heart of the matter or tells the truth about who the Lord Jesus really is.

We live in an age that wants the Lord Jesus to be less than who he reveals himself to be. Why? Because if he is less, than can make his revelation less demanding. If he is less, then we don’t have to change. We can keep our lives at the status quo. We can rest in our easy comforts.

If the Lord Jesus is, contrary to our desires to make him less than who he reveals himself to be, truly God, then we have to accept that, in the words of Pope Benedict, we were not created for easy comforts, but for greatness.

Our second scripture is an excerpt from another New Testament text entitled the First Letter of Peter.

In this scripture, the apostle Peter reminds us that this new way of life that the Lord Jesus has given to us, a way of life called the Church, was made possible by God in Christ’s suffering and death.

In other words, we should never trivialize the Church or our relationship with the Lord Jesus. If we are tempted to do so, we should take a long look at the cross and renew our appreciation for what God in Christ gives to us.

Communion with God in Christ happens through the Church. The Church is the condition for the possibility for our relationship with the Lord.

In an age that wants Christ to be less than who he is, it is also the case that we want the Church to be less than what Christ reveals the Church to be.

We prefer a Church that is merely one of many charitable non for profits (from which we can pick and choose!), a global NGO, a faith based club or expression of ethnicity.

We displace the priority of Christ as our concern and focus on how the Church can satisfy our needs and promote our causes. This makes the Church easier for us to manage and control and allows us to mitigate the true sacrifices that accepting the Church for what Christ reveals her to be would necessitate.

The Apostle Peter sabotages these machinations by begging this question of us:

If Christ has truly given his life for the Church what might I have to sacrifice?

The answer to this question unsettles us, so we try to run around it by making the Church less than what it is and its relationship to the Lord Jesus accidental and tenuous.

And this is the reason the mission of the Church falters and fails.

Because we refuse to accept the Church for what Christ reveals his Church to be.

In this regard, the Apostle Peter compels us to examine our consciences and repent.

Finally, one of the most compelling accounts of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus- testimony from the Gospel of Luke.

Christ manifest that he is indeed alive, and that all that he has revealed has been foreshadowed in the Old Testament scriptures. He is alive, not as a spirit, an idea, or a feeling, but as a living divine person. He manifests his divine life through the body of his human nature, a body that worldly powers tried to kill, but could not.

Christ’s power, manifested in his resurrection, is greater than any other power, even the power of death. Why? Because Christ is God.

Today’s Gospel insists that the same power, the same divine life and presence that Christ revealed in his body, in his resurrection, is given to the Church in the Eucharist. Remember, the Gospel of Luke testified today: “He took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them. With this their eyes were opened and they recognized him”.

The Mass is not merely the community celebrating itself or faith based entertainment, but a revelation of Christ’s divine life and presence. This is what the Mass really and truly is. This is what the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, opens up to us.

What you receive in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, or even just a memory of Christ, but the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

Offering his divine life to you, he gives you the opportunity to become like him.

For all of you who might come forward to receive him, consider this:

God in Christ gives to you his divine life and presence.

What will you give to him?

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Homily for May 2nd, Memorial of St. Athanasius

Today the Church remembers the witness of one of the most stalwart defenders of the Apostolic Faith- Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.

Athanasius was born in the year 296 AD and in 328 AD was appointed archbishop of what was once one of the great centers of Christian faith and culture- the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria in Egypt. Athanasius would serve as a bishop of the Church for 45 years, dying in the year 373 AD.

The Church during Athanasius was riven with conflict and controversy. During his early life, it was illegal to be a Christian. Professing and practicing the Apostolic Faith was considered to be an act of treason against the emperor of Rome. This all fell away when the Emperor Constantine gave both legal and privileged status to the Christian faith, but with this new moment, the Church remained in a perilous state.

The faithful were afflicted by a quasi-Christian movement called Arianism, an alternative to the Apostolic Faith, that believed that the Lord Jesus was something like a demi-god, rather than the Incarnation of the one, true God.

Remember, the Apostolic Faith professes that the Lord Jesus is the one, true God who has accepted for himself a human nature and lived a real, human life.

Arianism rejected the Apostolic Faith and insisted that while the Lord Jesus was immortal, great and powerful, he was not God. For the Arians, this meant that there was a Supreme Being and then there was lesser god and this lesser god was Jesus. The move the Arians were making theologically was one of accommodation to the prevailing religious sensibilities of the time- in their construal of things, Jesus was properly understood as being like the demi-gods of the pagan religions- like Hercules or Achilles.

The Arians wanted a Jesus that a pagan culture would find easier to accept and so they created one. The Jesus of the Apostolic Faith was too extreme for the Arians, too strange, too different (too “Jewish”). In order to draw the pagans in, it was best, the Arians believed, to give them the kind of Jesus that they would want. (And in order to accomplish this goal, the Arians used the best marketing tools at their disposal- popular music).

Athanasius saw what this strategy was doing- it was producing a distorted image of Jesus and a Church that was so pre-occupied with accommodating itself to the culture and pleasing cultural elites that it lacked any real energy or interest for the work of the Gospel.

Athanasius opposed Arianism and worked tirelessly to promote and teach the Apostolic understanding of the divine identity of the Lord Jesus as the one, true God.

Athanasius knew that that the Jesus presented by the Arians was a deception and that what was at stake was not just a theological principle- instead it is the truth of God’s revelation in Christ. But more that this, Athanasius believed that the Arians would deprive the faithful of the greatest gift of God in Christ- participation in the divine life of God.

God has accepted a human nature so that humanity might share in his divine nature. This “sharing” in Christ’s divine nature is what salvation or redemption is all about. If God had not accepted a human nature, humanity was not saved then humanity was not redeemed.

Athanasius’ stubborn insistence that there be no compromises with the Apostolic Faith cost him dearly. He was driven into exile no less than five times and spent much of his life pilloried as a crank.

But in the end, the Athanasius’ critiques of Arianism enabled to the Church to clarify for the faithful the content of the Apostolic Faith and explain why this Faith is true. Athanasius spent much of his life against the world, and in the end it was Athanasius that prevailed.

The witness of Saint Athanasius teaches us that the Apostolic Faith, the Faith we profess and practice is not just a matter of opinions or something that we can just make into whatever it is that we want it to be to suit our purposes.

This is particularly the case in regards to the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus. Precisely who the Lord Jesus is, is not something that the Church is negotiating. The only real Jesus, the only true Jesus is one, true God, who accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

Anything less than this is not Jesus, it is a lie.

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