Tuesday of the 13th week of the year (July 1st, 2014)

The prophets of the Bible are not mythological figures.  They are real people who were embedded in real life circumstances.  We shouldn’t forget this truth.

The prophet Amos spoke the word of the Lord in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II, one of the most decadent and idolatrous of the Israelite kings.  Jeroboam was insulated from the consequences of his sins by prosperity.  The Israelites were willing to look the other way, even countenance Jeroboam’s idolatry, because he seemed to manage the economic affairs of the nation with great skill.

Amos would have none of this.

He knew that idolatry always exacts a price, and the price that was paid, was placed as a burden on poor of Israel, who were marginalized, as the ruling elites were reveling in luxuries.

These elites didn’t care and figured God didn’t either.

They were wrong.

Amos reminds Israel that God is deeply interested in what Israel is doing and if the Israelites will not act as advocates for the poor, then the God of Israel will act and his intervention will have a devastating effect- it will be worse for the Israelites than it was for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.

This kind of prophecy likely makes us stir uncomfortably.  We have become accustomed to reading the Bible with dulled sensibilities in which the scripture is distorted into an affirming self-help manual.  This distortion is comforting, but it is not true.  The Bible tells the truth and the prophets tell us the truths that we often times do not want to hear.

The heart of the matter for Amos is that God has ordered his creation towards justice and love, and when justice and love are deferred or denied, the risk is great.  We can evade the consequences of our actions for only so long.

God hears the cry of his poor and knows their suffering.  If we do not listen to their cries and attend to their needs, then the day may come when God may break our hardened hearts so that they might be opened up to receive the ones that in our selfishness we have refused to love.

In Christ’s Gospel we hear about the power of Christ manifested as he calms a storm at sea.  This power is God’s power, the same power that brought the ancient, primordial waters to peace at the beginning of the world.  Christ is God, and he speaks and acts as God.

But this scripture is also about the Church, symbolized in the story by the disciples in the boat.  The Church is like a boat, in which the disciples of the Lord make their way through the storm tossed winds and waves of culture and history.

The Church is not a cruise liner full of luxury amenities that only traverses calm seas to vacation destinations, and is kept safely in port when there is the slightest hint of storms.

Instead the Church is immersed in the storms of reality, in the waves of the world, as it is.  It goes out into raging storms and treacherous waters with a mission to save the endangered and rescue the lost.  The purpose of the Church is search and rescue, not rest and recreation.

And so we must venture forth, bravely, boldly, knowing that Church is always guided by the Lord Jesus, who is God.  We place our trust in Christ, who is the one who the winds and seas obey.

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Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29th, 2014)

Today the Church marks and remembers the witness of the two great Apostles of the Lord Jesus- Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Why?

There have been, after all, many, many saints in the course of the Church’s long history and there were other Apostles, none of which get the same level of attention as Peter and Paul.

What gives?

I will give you a kind of visual reference point.

Before you enter the great basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, you encounter two monumental statues that stand watch over the entrance of the church.  The  statues were erected by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century and their placement was meant as a public statement about the Catholic Faith.  The images the Apostles of are representations in stone of a great truth about, not only Peter and Paul, indicating the historical importance, not only to the Church but to civilization, but also the statues stand as testimony to a truth about the Catholic Faith itself.

What is this truth?

That the Faith of the Church proclaimed, professed, practiced now is the Apostolic Faith, which means it is the same Faith professed, proclaimed and practiced by the Apostles Peter and Paul.

You want to know what Peter believed about the Lord Jesus and the Church?  You want to know what Paul believed about the Lord Jesus and the Church?  They had the same Faith that the Catholic Church practices, professes and proclaims today.

This is an extraordinary claim- as bold and audacious as the Apostles Peter and Paul were, and it is the Catholic Faith.

When you stand at attention at Holy Mass, rising to your feet to profess the Creed, you are not just meant to be muttering a collection of religious propositions.   You are, we are, at the moment, taking a kind of oath and in this oath, speaking the truth about the Lord Jesus and his Church and you are saying, what you speak, the testimony that at that moment you give, is the Faith of the Apostles.  What we speak here, the testimony we give, is the faith that was given to us by the Apostles, particularly the Apostles Peter and Paul.  That’s what the Creed is all about and that is why the Church professes the Creed with such gravity and solemnity.

Now I know that many cultural elites, even elites within the Church, resist the bold and audacious claim that the Church’s Faith today is the same Faith professed by the Apostles.  Their preference is for a faith in the Lord Jesus that we just make up for ourselves, constructed out of ideas or feelings that we might have, or opinions that we prefer.  That might be the cultural preference, and there are forms of Christian association that opt for a faith of ideas, feelings, and opinions, but whatever that kind of faith is, it is not the Catholic Faith.

The Catholic Faith is the Apostolic Faith, the Faith of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

It is the divine revelation given to the Apostles by the Lord Jesus himself and it represents to the world the truth about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is.

The Catholic Faith does not come from ourselves in the manner in which ideas and feelings come from our minds and emotions.  The Catholic Faith comes from the Lord Jesus, who gives this revelation to the Apostles, and from the Apostles this Catholic Faith is given to us.

Thus, when you profess the Church’s Faith in the creed at Holy Mass or renew your baptismal promises, as we do on Easter day, or when you receive a Sacrament, like Baptism Eucharist or Confirmation, the Church doesn’t ask you to express what you think about the Church’s Faith or ask you how you feel about the Church’s Faith, but the Church asks you to profess the Catholic Faith.

This means that the Catholic Faith is not just whatever you might think it is or feel that it is, but it exists outside of your thoughts and emotions.  You receive the Faith and if you profess and practice and proclaim the Catholic Faith, you are expressing that you give assent to that Faith- you aren’t just making things up for yourself.

And who ultimately did you receive the Catholic Faith from?  The Catholic Faith is a revelation that comes from the Lord Jesus and he gave this revelation to the Apostles, and through the Apostles and their successors, that Catholic Faith has come to you.

This is the bold, audacious and, let’s face it folks, counter-cultural claim, that the Church marks and remembers today by calling our attention to the witness of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

When we profess that the Church’s Faith is Apostolic, that it is the Faith professed by Peter and Paul, we are testifying that the Church knows who the Lord Jesus really and truly is.  Sure, there are many ideas, and opinions, and feelings about the Lord Jesus, but the real Jesus is the Jesus the Church gives witness to- and the Church’s witness to the Lord Jesus, when expressed in its integrity and truth, is witness to the same Lord Jesus who revealed himself to Saint Peter and Saint Paul.  Bottom line: You come to know who the Lord Jesus is by coming to know him in the Church.  The Church is the privileged bearer of the revelation of Christ because it knows who the Lord Jesus is, and can distinguish him from false representations, because we learned who the Lord Jesus really and truly is from Peter and Paul.

And this is also the great challenge to us.  We live in a culture that is filled with false gospels and counterfeit Christs.  There is really nothing unusual about this, as the Apostles Peter and Paul, faced down these dark powers themselves.  Many of these false gospels and counterfeit Christs purport to be new, but they are really just re-packaged forms of deceptions and lies from long ago.

It is easy to get caught up in these false gospels and counterfeit Christs, because like almost all the dark powers, they present themselves to us as being enticing and interesting.  But they really are not.  A facsimile is never are important or interesting as the real thing.

The advocates of these false gospels and counterfeit Christs purport them to be the truth, and usually stake their claim to the truth by insisting that the Church has perpetrated a fantastic conspiracy and is guilty of a cover-up to keep the truth from you.  Or they insist that whatever the Church professes about the Lord Jesus might just be true in some sense, but it is dated, and the Church should just get with the times.

This is an enticing argument for a culture like ours that so privileges progress and is enamored with the new and fascinated by conspiracies, but none of this will lead us to the Lord Jesus, because it seeks to separate Christ from his Church, the Apostolic Faith from your faith- and nothing good comes of this.

It is the purpose of the Apostolic Faith to gather the nations into communion with God in Christ. Knowing Christ, we know the one, true God, and from Christ we receive a new way of life called the Church, which is meant to be the great sign to the world that God is real and present and this world and everything in it is his kingdom.   This would not be possible if Christ did not make himself known to his Apostles and reveal to them the truth of who he is.

From the Church’s beginning, Peter and Paul went out into the world, introducing the world to the same Jesus who had revealed himself to them.  The great sign that their mission to introduce the nations to the Lord Jesus was faithful to who he really and truly is happened as people were gathered into communion with God in Christ into the Church- people came to know the Lord Jesus and share his life in his Church.

When we gather people into the Church, which is our mission, (the Church is not our private club) we carry on the mission Christ gave to Peter and Paul.

If our efforts succeed only in scattering, of dividing the Church against itself- if our efforts are not so much testimony to Christ, but are instead ideas and opinions about him, if what we do on behalf of the Church does not reach out into the world, taking great risks, to gather people into the Church, but instead remain self-interested and self-referential, then we have abandoned the mission of Peter and Paul, and given ourselves over to the service of false gospels and counterfeit Christs.

Do you know the Lord Jesus?  If you don’t and you want to know him, you can come to know him through the testimony of Peter and Paul, testimony that will gather you into the Church.

If you do know the Lord Jesus, then gather up your courage and with boldness and audacity profess the Faith that comes to you from the Apostles Peter and Paul.

And once you have professed that Apostolic Faith (the Faith of Peter and Paul), set about sharing that faith with others and get ready to take risks so that you can fulfill your mission to gather your neighbors, indeed the world, into communion with Christ in his Church.

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (June 22nd, 2014)

This Sunday the Church celebrates the great and awe filled mystery of the Body of Christ or as expressed in the ancient language of the Church of Rome- the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

What does this mean?

There are three ways of understanding the mystery of the Body of Christ.

The first is the physical body of Christ’s human nature.

In other words, the Lord Jesus has a body.

Why is this significant?

Our faith in the Lord Jesus is not faith in an idea about Christ the Lord.  Nor is our faith in the Lord Jesus faith in a feeling about Christ the Lord.  The Church’s faith in the Lord Jesus is not faith in an opinion or a theory proposed by scholars.

Our faith, the Church’s faith, is faith in the person of Jesus of Christ.

What does this mean?

We believe that Jesus Christ is God, who reveals himself in an extraordinary way.

What is this revelation?

God in Jesus Christ has accepted a human nature and lived, like us, a real, human life.  This means that God in Christ has a body- a real, human body.  God has in Jesus Christ skin and bone.  God in Christ has muscles.  God in Christ has fingernails and hair.  God in Christ has eyes to see the world and ears to hear the many sounds this world makes.

God in Christ has hands and legs and arms and feet.

God in Christ has a body.

And it is through this body that he makes himself known to us, that he meets us and offers us a relationship with himself.

This is the Body of Christ that the Church celebrates today- the Body of Christ in the Incarnation- this stunning revelation that the divine person of Christ reveals himself, makes himself known, by accepting as his own, a real human body and lives a real, human life.

The Body of Christ’s human nature was not an illusion or a pretense, but the means by which God united himself to all of human experience.

The Fathers of the Ancient Church called this revelation, this Incarnation, a marvelous exchange.

This means that God in Christ accepts for himself a human nature, with all the implications of what that means, and in doing so gives to us the possibility of sharing in his divine nature.  God gives us in, through and with, Jesus Christ a relationship with himself.

And it is through the body of the Lord Jesus that God in Christ makes this relationship known to us.

What does this relationship, this body of God in Christ look like now?

The Incarnation, that is, the revelation of Jesus Christ, did not end centuries ago.

Christ’s Body did not end up buried in a grave or lost to space in time by drifting away into the stratosphere.

Where is Jesus then?

The Incarnation is extended in space and time, made real and present to us, even right now in the Church.

The Church is mystically, yet really and truly the Body of Jesus Christ- living, present and active in the world.

What does this mean?

It means again, that God in Christ is not limited to the experience of an idea, a feeling, an opinion or a theory.  God in Christ makes himself known in physical, tangible, concrete ways in the world and through these ways invites people into a relationship with himself.

The means by which God in Christ extends this invitation and makes this relationship possible is the Church.

And the Church is so integral to this relationship with God in Christ that it is best understood as his body.  The purpose the Church is the same purpose as that body that God in Christ accepted for himself in the Incarnation.

This is important.

From the time of the Apostles, the Church has been professed by faithful Christians to be the Body of Christ- the privileged means that God in Christ uses to makes himself known and draw people into relationship with his divine life.

And yet in our time there are those who would sever the relationship of Christ and the Church.  Dismiss the Church as either simply a faith based institution or make of it a religion that is ancillary, if not opposed to a genuine relationship with the Lord.

Some folks say, well I follow the teachings of Jesus, not the Church.

This doesn’t work.  It is contrary to the Scriptures.  And it is a denial of Christ’s will and purposes.  Christ’s teaching is not a list of ethical directives, but a revelation about his divine person.  Christ makes himself known in his Body- that body is the teaching of Jesus and it is from his body that we come to know God, come to know who we are and what God wants us to do.

God in Christ wills to makes himself known through the Church and as such we cannot choose Christ while at the same time reject the Church anymore that one can accept the revelation of Jesus Christ in its totality and refuse to believe that the body of his human nature, the body he accepted, was real and significant.

St. Joan of Arc, the great heavenly patroness of Church once remarked that in regards to Christ and the Church, they are simply one, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.

But we do.  And the loss to us in our complications robs us of the very relationship with God that the Body of Christ, living and present in the Church, offers (to us).

Finally, the Body of Jesus Christ is the Holy Communion we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament or the Eucharist is by the power of Christ’s own will and word, the same divine life and presence that the Lord Jesus reveals to us in the Body of his human nature.

In other words, in the Blessed Sacrament, we truly and really, receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus and through communion with this Body and Blood we enter into relationship with God in Christ.

A relationship with God in Christ is not simply a matter of mind or emotions.  It is a matter of Holy Communion with Jesus Christ that happens in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament is the means by which anyone will have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason, that the wise fathers of the Church at the Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” and that the essential nature of being a Christian is not dependent on an international network of faith based institutions, but on the Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament is the central reality of the Church’s life.  It isn’t meant to be something that we shove off to the side of the Church’s life, reducing it to one of many devotional curiosities.  The Blessed Sacrament is not a distraction from the real  work of the Church- it is the real work of the Church. Nor is the Blessed Sacrament just one of many ways the Lord Jesus makes himself known- it is the source and summit of our lives as disciples.

In other words, the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ’s living and real Body- the Blessed Sacrament is the Body of Christ.

And yet many would try to make this Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Jesus Christ, merely a symbol, rather than what the Lord Jesus proclaims the Eucharist to be!

A symbol!

There is a great story told about the American author, Flannery O’Connor, who was provoked by a conversation with a friend of hers.  In the course of this conversation, her friend remarked glibly that the Eucharist was only a symbol.

And in response to this remark, the author testified and I quote “If it is only a symbol, then to hell with it.”

That’s precisely the right response.

Christ reveals himself in a body, his own body, the Body of his Incarnation. This Body living and present in the Church and really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.  It is through the Body of Christ that God in Christ offers us a relationship with himself and invites us to share in his divine life.

This is the revelation of Jesus Christ- not simply an idea, a feeling, an opinion or a symbol.  Christ gives himself to us and makes himself known in his Body.  From the time of the Apostles this has been the faith of the Church.

If you want anything less than this- the best response is the one offered by Flannery O’Connor.

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Solemnity of the Sacred Heart (June 27th, 2014)

Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this significance of this day is highlighted by the fact that today’s commemoration is given the status of a solemnity- the highest “rank” of liturgical observance.

Though not a Holy Day of Obligation, in theory, today should be marked and remembered with an attentiveness that characterizes our commemoration of Christmas or Easter.

Why?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a representation of the greatest and most important revelation of the Church’s Faith- God has, in Jesus Christ, accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.  Remember, the Church’s Faith is not faith in a teaching of Jesus or an idea about Jesus or a feeling about Jesus- the Church’s Faith is in Jesus as a person, a divine person, who at a particular moment in time and in particular place, entered human history, and did so, by accepting a human nature (which means he became a man, God became human.

This revelation is what the Church is all about.

God in Christ’s acceptance of a human nature was so complete that he was, in his humanity, as the scriptures testify “like us in all things but sin.”  This means that God in Christ had a real human body- and this real, human body had a real human heart.

Why did God do this?  Why did God accept a human nature and live a real, human life?

His purpose in doing this is called a “marvelous exchange”, which means that God accepts from us a human nature and gives to us a share in his divine nature.  God in Christ becomes like us so that we can become like him.

The physical heart of Jesus is called sacred because it represents his total revelation- that Jesus is God and man and in the unity of divinity and humanity (God and man) in Christ, God offers us the possibility of becoming his friends and sharing the gift of his divine life.

This friendship, this gift, takes the form of a relationship through which we come to know Christ and receive from him a mission.  Christ presents himself to us in the Church so that this relationship can really and truly happen.  A relationship with Jesus is not merely a matter of your mind or your emotions, it is about meeting him, listening to him and coming to know, love and serve him in his Church.

The great mystery of all of what I have described to you is the God in Christ did not have to accept a human nature, with all its implications, including the experiences of suffering and death.  God was not obligated to do this and he gained nothing from the experience that didn’t already belong to him.

That God in Christ did accept a human nature is total grace- which means it is a gift that is undeserved and was not something that we could ever earn.  Why then did God in Christ do this?  Why did God do something for us that he didn’t have to do?

The answer to this question is as mysterious as the revelation of Christ himself.  God did all this out of love.  It is in Christ that the love of God for us is most apparent because he does something for us that he didn’t have to do and that we didn’t deserve.

The proper response to such a revelation of love is to love God in return, and we manifest this love in the awe and reverence that we bring to the Church’s worship in the Mass, but even more than this, we show the proper response to the revelation of God’s love in Christ by loving what he loves.

And if you want to know what Christ loves, look at one another.

Pope Leo XIII once testified that we see in the Sacred Heart of Jesus an image of the love of Jesus Christ that moves us to love in return.  So right!  So true!

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Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 25th, 2014)

The Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles provides details regarding the royal house of David and the rulers of David’s Kingdom.

And these texts can hardly be described as propaganda for the Israelite monarchy.

Rather than simply extolling the kings and queens of Israel, the books of Kings and Chronicles are brutally honest- most of the men and women who wielded power were corrupt, and even those who were according the standards of the world, successful in their governance of Israel, they were for the most part idolaters and unfaithful to God’s law.

As I have said before the biblical vision is a realistic vision.  The Bible does not prettify reality so that we can be comforted and cajoled by nice illusions, but shows reality as it is- and the great and mighty of this world are not exempt from this realism.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Chronicles presents a rare moment when an Israelite king seemed to get things right.  Josiah, hearing the word of the Lord, submits himself to that word as a servant, and effects a reform of Israelite culture, beginning with the worship of Israel.

There is an important principle at play in Josiah’s reforms- if you truly want to understand a culture, consider carefully the God that a people worships.  Josiah knew that the false gods that the Israelites had come to worship had led the people into corruption and decadence- and their cultural life showed forth this truth.

But he also realized that one of the signs of the corruption of Israelite culture was that the people had forgotten who they were, who God had intended his people to be.  This forgetting had not been unintentional, but was the result of a generation of rulers and priests who had deprived them of the truth, had kept hidden away the great resources of Israelite faith and presented a false worship to the people. 

As it was then, so it is now.

Remember, the stories of the Old Testament are not proclaimed in our churches for the purpose of nostalgia or to inculcate in the faithful the importance of history.  The stories of the Old Testament are given to us as a reference point for how to understand ourselves, how to understand the Church and our culture.  These stories judge us and measure us, revealing not just the truth of the past, but the truth of the present.

Corruption in the Church is often times reduced to being an indolent or ineffectual clergy.  This can be a sign of corruption, but it is more a symptom than a cause.

The causes of corruption in the Church are most often about idolatry, and as the scriptures describe today, emanate from an intentional forgetting of who God in Christ intends his Church to be and from false worship.

And there is the challenge for all of us.

Have we forgotten who God in Christ wants us to be?  If we do not truly know who we are, how can we have the slightest idea what it is that Christ wants us to do?  Have we become merely a sign of accommodation to the world or are we, as Christ is, a sign of contradiction that offers the world a different way.

And have we fallen into patterns of the false worship, elevating merely worldly concerns to a status that belongs properly to God.  Have we been guilty of using the Church to prop up our ideological and political concerns?

If you want to understand a culture, look at that culture’s cult.  Look at what a culture worships.  What false prophets have caused us to forget who we are?

What do the gods of our culture- wealth, pleasure, power and honors- tell us about our culture?