Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter (April 30th, 2015)

In these days of Easter we have heard many speeches from the Apostle Peter as presented in the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”. These speeches are testimony to the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus, and give witness to the extraordinary revelation of Christ the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.

In these speeches, the apostle Peter presents the totality of Christ’s revelation as the culmination of God’s revelation to the Israelites- God’s dramatic interventions on behalf of the Israelites throughout their long history come to a startling fulfillment in Christ and everything that the Israelites esteemed- their land, their temple, their scriptures, their customs, their identity and mission- all this finds is meaning and purpose in the Lord Jesus.

We have heard from the apostle Peter and now we hear from the apostle Paul.

Paul, as we know, was once a terrifying enemy of Christ and his Church, even being responsible for a great persecution of the Church that resulted in many Christians losing their lives. But God in Christ intervened in Paul’s life in a radical way and changed his life. The man who had professed to be the sworn enemy of the Lord Jesus and his Church became Christ’s friend and a servant of the Church.

In today’s excerpt from Acts of the Apostles, Paul tells what is best called “the great story”. The “great story” is how God acted in the history of the Israelites and how God’s actions reached their fulfillment in Christ. In other words, God had a plan, and that plan is slowly revealed over time in the history of the Israelites and the plan comes to its realization in Jesus Christ.

It is only in relation to the great story of God’s revelation to the Israelites that we can truly know who the Lord Jesus is and what he is all about. Thus, in his introduction of the people to the Lord Jesus, the apostle Paul recounts the “great story”.

When the Church even now proclaims at Mass readings from the Old Testament, the purpose is not so that the people can appreciate ancient literature or history, or to have a resource for anecdotes and life skills advice, but so that we can better understand the “great story” and in understanding the “great story”, better understand the Lord Jesus.

How well do you know the “great story” and if the answer is “not very well” then why remain satisfied with ignorance? What St. Paul is doing in the excerpt we heard from Acts of the Apostles today is something that all mature Christians should be able to do. Knowing the “great story” is not knowledge meant only for a privileged few. Knowing the “great story” is a responsibility for all Christians, because if you don’t know that story, how well will you be able to introduce people to Christ?

And the primary mission of a Christian is to introduce people to the Lord Jesus!

Christ the Lord testifies that no servant is greater than his master and in doing so he is telling us that we who are Christ’s servants should not expect to be exempt from the risky and raw experiences that characterized his own mission. We who aspire to the glory of Christ must be willing to accept as our own, the sufferings of Christ.

Knowing Christ will not exempt us from coming face to face with what is challenging and difficult. Christ transformed suffering through love and so must we. That transformation will never happen if we think that our faith exempts us from having to place our lives in Christ’s service, even if that means accepting the difficult and the unfamiliar.

Being a Christian is about much more than matriculating through faith based institutions or being the passive recipient of convenient faith based services. Being a Christian means imitating Christ by loving what he loves and serving what he served, and taking the risk, as he did, that what we love and serve, may not love us or serve us in return.

Parrocel_SaintPaul

Advertisements

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church (April 29th, 2015)

Today the Church celebrates the witness of the great saint Catherine of Siena, one of the most renowned and influential people of her time.

Saint Catherine was born in the year 1347 and died at the age of 33 in the year 1380. She was the 22nd child to be born into her family. (Her mother would deliver 25 children, though most of the children did not survive infancy).

Catherine was a gregarious child whose parents nicknamed her “joy” on account of her pleasant disposition. At the age of five she witnessed an extraordinary vision in the streets of her native city of Siena, a vision of Christ, attended by the apostles, with the Lord Jesus wearing the vestments and crown of the pope. This vision left an indelible impression on Catherine. Catherine’s biographers recall this strange experience as a foreshadowing of her mission.

Over against the protests of her parents, Catherine aspired to be a tertiary of the Order of Preachers, the religious movement that we know as the Dominicans. What this meant is that Catherine would never marry and would live in accord with the evangelical counsels- vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. But unlike the religious women of her time, she would live this radical way of life, not within the enclosure of a convent, but out in the world. Accepted as a Dominican tertiary, a movement soon surrounded young Catherine, and she found herself the spiritual mother of a new religious family- comprised mostly of lay people and priests who were engaged in the ordinary tasks of life.

Catherine was a mystic, whose vivid experiences of Christ, gave rise to extraordinary acts of witness and works of mercy. Her relationship with Jesus Christ was deeply personal and she knew him as a living, divine person who loved her as a husband loves his wife. Though uneducated and barely literate, the great sages of her time sought her counsel and her bold, creative witness to the practices of discipleship warmed hearts grown cold towards the Gospel.

Catherine the mystic who knew the Lord Jesus personally is often overshadowed by her participation in the political and cultural struggles of her time, which were many. Catherine’s reputation for holiness and the confidence the people had in her gave her access to the powerful. The powerful men and women of her time likely saw Catherine as a curiosity, a useful idiot, who could be manipulated for their own purposes.

They were mistaken.

Catherine was no fool and had the determination and zeal that comes to a person who knows the Lord and has fully accepted the mission that he gives his disciples. She was forthright with the powers of the world, the elites of politics and culture- the Church was not to be used as a means towards satisfying their rapacious appetite for wealth, pleasure, power and honors. The Church didn’t belong to the powerful, or even the people, the Church belonged to Christ, and as such, the Church served what Christ served, not the ambitions of the worldly. All should repent of the manner in which they had blasphemed Christ by using his Church as a means to their own egotistical ends.

Distressed that the papacy had been co-opted and was being used by political and cultural elites, she insisted that Pope Gregory XI assert the independence of the Church from the worldly powers who were dominating it. Emboldened by Catherine’s persistent counsel, Pope Gregory XI did this at great personal risk.

Catherine was also distressed at the ways in which Christians were prioritizing their political allegiances over that of the Gospel and their shared baptismal identity. These conflicts were enervating the faithful and a detriment to the accomplishment of the Church’s mission. Time and time again she intervened, even placing herself in harms way in situations that had exploded in rioting and violence. Peace would not come to the society of the Church unless there was sincere repentance and acceptance of Christ’s way of life.

Exhausted from her tireless evangelical witness, her body broken by the extreme asceticism that she practiced so as to make her very life an offering on behalf of those who lived in alienation from Christ, Catherine died at the age of 33 in the year 1380.

The witness of Saint Catherine demonstrates the possibilities that open up for us if we allow Jesus Christ to be the priority of our lives. A relationship with Jesus Christ initiates a great adventure, drawing us out of the narrow, confined life of the ego, that cannot seek beyond the desire for personal fulfillment and safety. A relationship with Jesus Christ emboldens the disciple to take great risks and to engage in great acts of faith, hope and love. Living in Christ, the disciple can become, like St. Catherine, a force to be reckoned with. This force is not like the force exercised by the world, which is will to power exercised on behalf of self-interest, but the compelling power of the Lord’s word of truth that calls all people, great and small, to repentance and to acceptance of the way of Jesus Christ.

Life in Christ does not position disciples on the sidelines or in the safety of domesticity, but sends the believer out on mission. Saint Catherine’s life is the example of this par excellence.

Finally, a word about Saint Catherine’s relationship to the Church- Saint Catherine’s outspoken advocacy of the independence of the Church from the political machinations of her time has at times been used as means of justifying causes that oppose the Church in our times. This is, to use Pope Francis’ words “solemn nonsense”. At no time did Saint Catherine position herself as an opponent of the Church, particularly of the papacy, but always as an advocate. Her advocacy was not that the Church change to meet the world on its own terms. In fact, it was precisely this attitude that had led to the Church’s captivity to worldly powers. Saint Catherine’s advocacy was not about changing the Church, but about the Church being freed from worldliness so the faithful could accomplish their divinely ordained mission.

The Church does not change by conforming itself to this or that age or cause or political party or ideological construct. Nor is it the purpose of the Church to balance these elements of worldliness within herself, and in doing so, give divine sanction to our self centered worldliness.

The accommodation of the Church to our worldliness can bring worldly comforts to Christians, but as the life of Saint Catherine of Siena attests, Christians are not created by Christ to be comfortable. Christians are created by Christ so that the worldly can be liberated from their worldliness by saints.

The Church is meant to be a missionary endeavor, a society of people who, like Saint Catherine of Siena, have allowed Jesus Christ to be the priority of their lives. Only when we allow Christ to be our priority is the Church truly free to accomplish her mission.   Saint Catherine of Siena’s life witnesses to this truth, but what about our lives?

Catherine_of_Siena

Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 26th, 2015)

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved”.

Why Abel and not Cain? Why Abraham and not Lot? Why Jacob and not Esau? Why David and not Saul? Why Israel and not the Egyptians?

Why Jesus Christ and not someone else?

Today’s first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles, presents what the great scholars of the Bible call “the scandal of particularity”, which means, the mysterious manner in which God chooses to act in the world.

Remember, our faith in God is not that he is a distant, cosmic force, who exists only in a relationship of indifference to his creation. Nor do we profess in faith that God is merely an idea or feeling, nothing more than a projection of our dream of our best self. Instead, God is a living, divine person who reveals himself and acts in relation to his creation.

This God acts in particular ways in the world. He makes decisions, choices and through these decisions he has an impact on his creation, changes people’s lives, and reveals his will and his purposes.

The particularities of God’s decisions are mysterious, representing the unfolding of a plan that he has in mind that is uncanny according our perspective and at times very difficult for us to understand. God’s actions provoke questions and evoke wonder. At times, his decisions seem scandalous to us.

The most mysterious and most impactful of God’s decisions is his decision to accept for himself a human nature and to experience for himself a real, human life. This decision alters history- it changes everything. Those who met Jesus Christ were meeting God and those who encounter Christ today through his Church are encountering God.

Thus St. Peter’s off-putting claim today about the Lord Jesus- “there is no salvation through anyone else or no other name given to the human race by which we are to be saved”. Why does he make this revolutionary claim? Because he knows who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- not merely a philosopher or guru, but God himself.

It is in the particularity of the Lord Jesus that God reveals himself, and that revelation in Christ presents how God wants us to encounter him, understand him, and worship him.

All that God wants us to know about himself is given to us in Christ.

That’s God’s decision. That’s the mysterious way God acts in the world. He could have opted for another way, but he didn’t. A Christian is someone who has accepted God’s decision about revealing himself in Jesus Christ. For some, God’s decision to reveal himself in Christ is a scandal, and as such they refuse the revelation.

But their refusal doesn’t alter God’s decision- it doesn’t change his mind or the way that God chooses to act in the world.

Why did God make this extraordinary decision to reveal himself in Christ?

Our second reading for today gestures towards an answer to this question.

God did it so that we could be in relationship with him.

Look at it this way: Ideas and feelings about God are very important, but ideas and feelings about God ultimately prove to be insufficient because you can’t really live in a relationship with an idea or a feeling. One can only have a relationship with a person. God is a person, and he chooses in Christ to give us a way of being in a relationship with him. Thus, in Christ, he makes himself known to us in a manner that we can have a relationship with him. That’s why, in Christ, God becomes man- this is the reason that, in Christ, God accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life.

Once God does this in Christ, we can have a relationship with him because God shares with us a common set of human experiences- even the experiences of suffering and death.

But he also links his own divine nature to our human nature in such a way that gives us a new kind of identity. The scriptures identify this identity as us being God’s children, members of God’s own family. God looks at the humanity of Christ and looks at our humanity and sees a relationship between ourselves and him. He is part of us and we are in Christ, part of him. One of the great prayers of the Church expresses this relationship beautifully when it asserts that God “sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ”.

Those who know God’s revelation in Christ will experience God, think and feel about God, in ways that are different than those who do not know Christ or those, who knowing Christ, have refused a relationship with him.

Being in relationship with God in Christ makes you different, it changes you, transforms you. Christians should be seek to grow comfortable with the ways in which Christ makes them different and see these differences as a great gift for the world.

God in Christ did not reveal himself and offer us a relationship with him so as to affirm us as we are, but to make us different, and through this difference, change the world for the better.

The Christian difference is most radiantly apparent and clear in the lives of those Christians that the Church calls saints. Saints are those people that really and truly change the world- for the world is not changed when it looks more and more like what we think it should look like. The world is changed when it looks more and more like what the saints think it should look like.

We live in a culture that is getting this all wrong. We think that politicians, financiers and celebrities are changing the world through their desires and ideologies. But nothing really changes this way.

God has determined through Christ that it will be his saints that change his world. You want the world to change, be a saint. The more saints, there are the more the world will change for the better.

The people God chooses to be his saints often surprise us and they are at times not the kind of people that we expect. The fact of the matter is that if you have been baptized, God has chosen you to be his saint, and your life will be measured and judged in relation to your willingness or unwillingness to accept God’s decision.

You might be thinking that in terms of being a saint that you could never be worthy, but here’s the thing about that- being a saint is not about whether or not you are worthy, but whether or not you are willing. And most of us are just unwilling and as such, we have to live in a world that needs saints who never seem to arrive. Those saints that never seem to arrive are supposed to be us.

Finally, the Lord Jesus presents himself in his Gospel as our shepherd.

In order to understand this Gospel, we have to give up our romanticized notions about shepherds that are created in our imaginations by people who have no direct experience of either shepherds or sheep.

And also, we have to immerse ourselves in a biblical vision in which it is God who promises that he will make himself the shepherd of his people.

Shepherds in the ancient world were tough guys who accepted a difficult life on the margins of the culture so as to protect the assets that were essential to the survival of the community. Sheep were not pets, they provided food, clothing, and perhaps most importantly, animals for sacrifice, thus their existence insured that, not only would the community survive, but also that the community could have a relationship with God.

Without the sheep the community perished. The sheep needed shepherds to survive. Without good shepherds, by which is not meant gentle, meek and mild men, but men of duty, action, strength and self-sacrifice, the sheep would perish and the community would die.

Those who were shepherds lived a tough life that made them tough and kept them for the most part as outsiders, but they accepted this role for the sake of a greater good.

Think about a shepherd in the way I have just described and you can better understand the Lord Jesus and what he means when he calls himself our good shepherd.

But also think carefully about what it really means to be a shepherd and the surprising fact that being a shepherd is what God chooses for himself. God makes himself our shepherd in Christ. God in Christ chooses for himself what is difficult and tough, he exposes himself to risk, makes himself vulnerable, takes his place on the margins, goes out from where it is safe and comfortable, sacrifices himself so that the sheep might live and gives up his own life so that the people might have life (and not only life but divine life!!!) and it is God in Christ who does all this for our sake.

He doesn’t have to do any of this and let’s be honest, we hardly deserve his gesture, but he does all this for our sake, and thus proves himself to be our good shepherd.

This is what God is showing us about who he is in his decision to reveal himself in Jesus Christ.

That’s what God’s decision to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ is all about.

And that’s why we can say with confidence, as St. Peter did, “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is that any other name under heaven, given to the human race by which we are to be saved”.

We can make this bold, even scandalous claims because that’s the kind of thing you can only say about a God who, in the revelation of Jesus Christ, has proved himself to be our good shepherd.

crucified

Saturday of the Third Week in Easter (April 24th, 2015)

On Thursday of this past week, I placed emphasis on the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”. Excerpts from the text “Acts of the Apostles” is proclaimed as the scripture for daily and Sunday Masses during Easter.

“Acts of the Apostles” includes extraordinary testimony to the events that happened after the Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, including how the apostles who witnessed this event understood Christ’s resurrection. The book also has as its great theme the continuation of the revelation of Christ in the Church. Once, in historical circumstances, in a real time and place, God, who is a real, living divine person, (not an idea or feeling or cosmic force) revealed himself in the body of Christ’s human nature and now the same God, the same Christ, reveals himself in a new kind of body called the Church.

This challenges our tendency to reduce the Church to merely an institution or social club or expression of ethnicity. The Church is not these things- so, what is the Church? The Church is the extension, the continuation, of the revelation of God in Christ in space and in time.

The Church is the way in which the Lord Jesus bears his divine life and presence into the world.

Those who would claim the name Christian and with that name, membership in the Church, intend to conform their lives to Jesus Christ in such a way that their lives are transformed and they become bearers of the life and presence of Christ into the world. In this way, through the Church, God in Christ acts to save and to redeem.

This is the great theme, better said, revelation of the Acts of the Apostles.

All this week the Gospel passage for daily Mass has been an excerpt from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.

The 6th chapter of the Gospel of John is an extremely intense excursus or teaching on the mysterious revelation of Christ’s living in divine presence in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Christ insists that he will make of his own body and blood the “bread of life” that is, food, and with this food he will sustain his disciples in the world and prepare them for a world which is yet to come. Many who hear this teaching are not simply perplexed, but repulsed, and as a result, they break communion with Christ- they refuse to believe the teaching and in doing so they refuse Christ himself!

In response to this refusal, Christ does not back down or adjust his teaching to conform to his listeners sensitivities. Instead, he affirms his teaching about the Eucharist with even greater intensity and zeal. The disciple must not only accept his teaching about the Eucharist, but they must also accept the Eucharist itself- and accept the reality of the Eucharist for what Christ declares it to be- his real and true and living divine life and presence- not merely a symbol of who he is, but the substance of who he is.

The Eucharist is not an encounter with a symbol of Christ, it is an encounter with Christ himself.

Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist is one of many “hard sayings” of Christ, teachings that will not and cannot be adjusted or changed because we find them difficult to do or troubling to believe. All the “hard sayings” of the Lord Jesus indicate to us that essential to an encounter with Christ is that we have to change- our minds, our behaviors, our emotions, indeed our whole of way life.

No one who encounters Christ is ever meant to be the same and in that encounter, Christ does not just “accept us as we are” but reveals to us greater and more important possibilities for our lives than we would ever dare to consider.

Perhaps we would prefer a Christ who would change for us and a Church that would serve merely to give sanction to our qualifications of the Lord’s teachings, but such a Christ would be an anti-Christ and such a Church would be an anti-church.

It is a Christ who demands little of us that is most assuredly a fake and it would be a Church that would oppose itself to the Lord that would most assuredly be a fraud.

We either accept the Lord’s teachings or we refuse him. The Gospel presents Christ to be as relentless in its pursuit of us as it is as demanding in the clarity of the Lord’s expectation.

In response to the Lord’s teachings we will either give our lives over to Christ or we will take leave of him.

There is no other option. There is no other way.

jesus-eucharist-ewtn

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter (April 23rd, 2015)

The great theme of the New Testament book “Acts of the Apostles” is that the Church is the privileged bearer of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus in the world, and, as such, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak on his behalf, teach with his authority and continue his mission. This is all manifested in mighty deeds and marvelous signs and great wonders.

In all this, the Church is like Christ and is revealed to be the extension of his life and presence in space and time. The Lord Jesus hasn’t just disappeared into the mists of history or evaporated into a heavenly stratosphere. The Lord Jesus is present and working in his Church and the baptized are meant to be his witnesses, ourselves bearers of his life and presence into the world.

In this week’s excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles we have heard about the vicious persecution that enveloped the early Church and nearly snuffed out its life. Thus, the Church does not only bear likeness to the glory of Christ, but especially to the sufferings of Christ. In this world, in the body of his human nature, the divine Christ knew the experience of sufferings, and even now, the Lord Jesus knows sufferings in his body, the Church.

The persecution of the Church is not just a matter of historical memory but it is also a reality of the present moment. It might not be our experience, but for many Christians, professing faith in the lordship of Jesus Christ is a risk that can result in torture and death. Just this past weekend, 30 Ethiopian Christians were brutally murdered because they would not deny their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Our generation will be remembered as the generation that witnessed one of the greatest persecutions of Christians in the Church’s long history and our generation will be judged by the blood of these martyrs.

The witness of Christians in parts of the world where the Church is persecuted is creative and bold. What of our witness?

Today’s excerpt from Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the strategy God employed to undermine the malicious intent of the Church’s persecutors. As a result of their evil efforts, Christians go out into the world and create more Christians. The persecution ends up increasing the Church, not diminishing her. Philip’s witness to the Ethiopian servant is a sign of how Christ leads his Church through suffering and death to new possibilities and new life.

The spiritual heirs of Philip’s missionary witness endure to this day, and in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the descendents of the first Ethiopian Christians have proved themselves capable of bold witness to their faith in Jesus Christ- being willing to die rather than deny their Christian faith.

30 Ethiopian martyrs just last week.

What about our own witness to the faith?

Does anyone even know that you are a Christian? Are you ready to do what Philip did and bring people to know the Lord Jesus? How are your efforts increasing the Church and creating more disciples?

The blood of the martyrs is our judge.

wof martyr

Third Sunday of Easter (April 19th, 2015)

The New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles” includes marvelous sermons from St. Peter, sermons that testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. Remember, our faith in the Lord Jesus is not reverence for a man that died a long time ago. Instead, our faith is in the Lord Jesus really and truly alive. We do not gather to honor simply the memory of the Lord Jesus as a great man of history, but to adore him as God and receive from him a share in his own divine life.

Peter and the Apostles encountered the living Lord Jesus in the body of his human nature. That body was tortured and killed, but because it was God’s Body, the means by which God in Christ revealed himself to the world, that body, God’s Body, was restored to life and radically transformed.

Our encounter with the Lord Jesus is different, but no less extraordinary. Christ reveals himself to us in the Church, particularly in the Sacraments and he makes himself most radiantly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, which is the mystery of God in Christ’s Body and Blood given to us as source of his divine life. In our encounter with the Blessed Sacrament, it is Christ that we meet, it is Christ that we receive.

What is the proper response to such an encounter?

St. Peter tells us in his sermon for today- the proper response to an encounter with Jesus Christ is repentance.

Repentance has a moral connotation, which means we accept that we have resisted or refused the will of God by failing to observe his commandments. As the First Letter of John testifies this week, the Christian is identifiable as a person who keeps God’s commandments, and if we do not, and still claim the identity of Christian, we make ourselves liars.

But there is a deeper meaning, no less significant, to a Gospel understanding of repentance. Repentance means that in the encounter with Christ, one’s whole way of life changes. There is a fundamental re-orientation of the meaning and purpose of one’s life. Prior to repentance, we might belong to the world, or the devil- pursuing as our ultimate concern the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power or honors- or even worse- we belong only to ourselves, pursuing as our ultimate concern our own ego-driven projects and plans.

In this sad, ego-centric There is little room for God, or anyone else in our lives, because our lives are simply about what we determine to be valuable or important. In this disposition the human soul languishes in self-centeredness. This self centeredness goes so far as to insist that the individual will determine for themselves the ultimate meaning of not only his or her life, but that of the universe itself. If God exists, he exists only as a means to the accomplishment of my own ends.

The only way out of this kind of soul killing dead end is repentance.

Last week, I mentioned how Pope Francis experienced his own encounter with Christ that compelled him to repent when as a young man he met the living Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This experience changed his life. In the Holy Father’s own words: “The truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt that something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard a voice, a call”.

The “someone” waiting for the young Jorge Bergolio, was the Lord Jesus, living and present in the Sacraments of his Church. This encounter changed Jorge Bergolio’s life, and without that encounter, and the repentance it engendered, there would never have been a Pope Francis.

The encounter with Christ necessitates repentance, a willingness to change, a willingness to conform one’s life to the commandments of God, a willingness to admit what one has done or failed to do. Without repentance, the encounter with Jesus Christ becomes a source of frustration and resistance, rather than an opportunity for a new way of life.

Because of a willingness to repent, one moves from the cramped, narrow outlook of self-centeredness to the generous vista of self-gift.

Consider all this if and when you present yourself to receive the Church’s Sacraments, particularly the Blessed Sacrament. If the experience seems merely habitual, lifeless, lacking, ask yourself if it might be that a lack of repentance is keeping Christ at a distance and frustrating his attempts to reach out to you. It need not be that way. Repentance makes you receptive to the encounter with the living, divine Christ.

Repent. Let the encounter with the living Christ change your life.

Christ’s Gospel for today is a recapitulation of everything that I have just told you- that Christ makes himself known to you- you encounter him- in the Sacraments- particularly in the Blessed Sacrament (in the breaking of the bread).

And also, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a real event that happens in the very real body of the Lord Jesus. The resurrection is not a symbol or idea or feeling. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was not a hallucination, but an encounter with the living Christ.

The Gospel makes this clear to us by testifying that the Risen Lord Jesus revealed himself in a real body, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion and still capable of as mundane an act as eating food.

And also, that our faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus invites us to change, to become different and who we become are witnesses to the Lord Jesus- we know who the Lord Jesus is and where people can encounter him.

We who make an act of faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus know that God in Jesus Christ is living and present in his Church and that we can encounter and receive him in the Sacraments of his Church.

We do not find in the Church mere symbols of Christ, but the Lord himself. We do not hear in the Scriptures tales from long ago, but the unfolding of God’s plan, the plan by which he revealed himself to the world. We do not receive in the Sacraments mere ideas or feelings about Christ, but his living and divine presence.

Lastly…

Pope Benedict once made the very important observation that Christian faith is public, not private. If Christian faith were merely a private matter there would be no need for witnesses. Witnesses give testimony, public testimony. Witnesses tell others what they know and what they believe.

We are the witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We know who he is (and who he is not). We know where the Lord Jesus is and where people can find him.

That information is not just for our personal, private edification- it is the best of all possible good news that God in Christ wants us to make sure that the whole world knows about and hears.

That’s our mission. That’s what it means to be Christ’s witnesses!

Pope-peter_pprubens

Friday of the Second Week of Easter (April 17th, 2015)

Remember, throughout the season of Easter the Church proclaims excerpts from the a New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles.”

The purpose of this book is to provide testimony to the fact that the revelation of the Lord Jesus continues in the Church. The Church is not a mere institutional add on, a construct of culture, but it is the privileged bearer of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus into the world.

Once, the revelation of Christ was manifested in the body of his human nature, and now the revelation of Christ is manifested in his body, the Church. The mode of Christ’s self-presentation has changed, but it is the same Lord Jesus that we receive.

One of the great signs of Christ’s continued revelation in the Church is that his disciples do things that Christ did. The disciples manifest God’s power in mighty deeds that the disciples credit to the active and living presence of Jesus Christ. The fact that they do such extraordinary things and make such extraordinary claims about the Lord Jesus causes people to take notice- and not all the attention that the disciples receive is positive.

The texts this week from the “Acts of the Apostles” present the disciples of the Lord Jesus as the recipients of a great deal of opposition- those religious and political authorities that opposed the Lord Jesus now oppose the Church. The Church is like Christ, not only in signs and wonders, but in suffering. As the body of Christ’s human nature suffered, so now does his Body, the Church.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not about exemption from the hard facts of life nor is being a Christian something that is meant to afford us privileges and dispensations. Faith in Jesus Christ is a crucible, in which holiness is perfected by suffering and love is forged in sacrifice. The Church has never advanced in her mission without risk, especially the risk of offending worldly powers.

The Church, like Christ, is destined to be a sign of contradiction to the world. But oftentimes the sign of contradiction that has the deepest impact is not simply in terms of the grandiose political and cultural dramas of history, but in the more immediate circumstances of our lives.

Christ and his Church insist on the qualification, indeed the negation of many of our desires for those things the world values- wealth, pleasure, power and honors. But also that we eschew our need for control over our own lives, our need to be right, to feel safe and secure, to do things the way we want to do things.

We shouldn’t be so distracted by the pomp and pretense of the theaters of the political and the cultural and lose sight that our responsibility for personal conversion to Christ and being fully, actively engaged on behalf of the Church’s mission.  Christ changes the world by first changing us.

At the heart of today’s Gospel is the mysterious revelation of the Eucharist. Christ the Lord’s power to multiply food is but a sign meant to direct our attention to the much more miraculous transformation of the food of the Eucharist into his living and divine presence.

Christ the Lord in his mercy seeks to fill the hungry with good things (and commands his disciples to do the same!). But he intends to do more than just fill our stomachs with food. Christ intends to fill our very lives with his eternal and divine life. This is what the Blessed Sacrament is and does. In our adoration and reception of the Blessed Sacrament we are recipients of something greater, indeed more miraculous, than the mysterious multiplication of the loaves and the fish.

Statue-of-Christ-façade-of-St.-Peters-Basilica-Rome (1)