Memorial of Saint Justin, Martyr (June 1st, 2016)

The Church recalls the witness of St. Justin, one of the earliest martyrs. He was brutally killed in the year 165 AD, unwilling to offer worship to the emperor and gods of Rome. Fidelity to Christ was more important to him than even his own life.

Saint Justin was a man of prodigious intellectual gifts that he placed at the service of the Church’s mission. The Church, faced with the opposition of the Roman state, had to struggle to survive. Professing the Christian faith was considered to be treason, punishable by death. Further, Christians were cultural outsiders, the elites of Roman culture had their own gods and values, and to many of the Romans, Christian faith just seemed odd, if not unintelligible. Justin took it upon himself to make the case for the Christian faith, presenting reasoned arguments as to the “what and why” concerning the beliefs and practices of the Church.

This made Justin a dangerous man to those invested in Roman system of power and privilege. For those who opposed the Church, there was no god but Caesar and no way of life other than the Roman way, a way of life that valued wealth, pleasure, power and honors above anything else.

We might not experience the Church as being dangerously subversive, but for Justin, the Church was considered to be a threat, and was dealt with as such. Christians were persecuted. Their property was seized. Their institutions were closed. Their worship was ridiculed. Bishops and priests were arrested. And men and women like Justin, who presented Christian beliefs as credible, and the Christian way of life as worthwhile, were considered public enemies.

The Church’s way of life necessitated risk and sacrifices, and because men and women like Justin, were willing to take the risk and make the sacrifices, the Church not only survived, it flourished and grew.

Central to Justin’s witness was that the Church was a public reality, not a private club. The Church existed to engage and create public culture. The purpose of the Church was to be seen and heard, as it had a message and a mission that was for everyone, not just for a privileged few.

Justin’s witness that the Church was a public reality grated on those who believed that Roman power was absolute and could have no rivals. For these opponents of the Church, the Roman way was the only way.

Justin believed that Jesus Christ is the way, and he would die rather than deny his faith in Jesus Christ, and for this reason, above all, the Church remembers him and recalls his courage.

The Church suffers persecution in every age of her life. For us, we have the privilege of practicing the Church’s faith in relative freedom, but many Christians struggle and many Christians will, like Saint Justin, suffer and die because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

On this day that we are asked to remember Saint Justin, let us also remember the many Christians, who today, will suffer and die for what the faith they profess and the way of life they practice.

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Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31st, 2016)

Today the Church remembers an extraordinary encounter, the meeting of Christ’s Mother with her kinswoman, Elizabeth, but also, more importantly, the first encounter of their children- Christ the Lord and John the Baptist.

This encounter is called the Visitation.

If your understanding of the biblical witness in both the Old and New Testaments is sketchy it will be difficult to discern the importance and meaning of the Visitation. It is not merely a quaint domestic scene, a neighborly meeting of two women, but an apocalypse of a particular sort- a revelation.

You see, Christ’s Mother and Elizabeth share a secret, a secret that has quickened to life in the hearts and, literally, in their wombs.

The secret is the revelation that God is coming, and in the womb of the Virgin Mary- he is here!

Christ’s Mother announces the coming of God in Christ in her great statement of her faith called the Magnificat.

The Magnificat proclaims that God has come into this world to set it right. The world is dominated by men and women of power and privilege, men and women, for whom the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power and honors has become a religion- their ultimate concern. These men and women, secure in their pride, think only of themselves and mock God, depriving the lowly of their dignity and the poor of their daily bread.

Christ’s Mother testifies that the child growing in her womb will be a warrior king, foreseen by the prophets, greater than Moses and David. Her child will set the world right.

The words of Mary’s Magnificat are not sweet or sentimental, her tone is not that of a lullaby, but instead it is a battle cry.

The status quo of the world will be interrupted by her divine son and the world will be transformed. God will, in Christ, make all things new.

The new world will not merely be metaphysical or metaphorical, but will be a revelation that happens in flesh and in blood. The new world will be Christ, his impact, his effect and for those who believe in him, their lives will never be the same.

Christ the Lord does not come merely to affirm us as we are or to provide divine sanction for our causes and ideologies. He comes for transformation. He comes to change us.

Christ’s Mother and Elizabeth knew this. John the Baptist, even in his mother’s womb sensed the thrill of the promise of transformation in Christ.

Is this same thrill in us? Do we long to change, long for the transformation that Christ’s Mother proclaimed in her Magnificat? Is our testimony like that of Christ’s Mother- the proclamation that God comes into our world, into our lives in Jesus Christ, and he comes to make us, and all things new?

Or are we content with our narrow status quo, clinging to an old world and old self that offers us comfort and security, but cannot magnify the Lord’s power in our lives, and as such, cannot redeem and cannot save?

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (May 29th, 2016)

Today the Church in the United States commemorates with great care and solemnity, the gift of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, what we know as the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Communion, is not for us Christians merely a symbol of Christ, or an expression of community fellowship, or a metaphor, but it is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself. God in Christ makes himself food and drink, so that, taking him into our bodies as nourishment, we can become like him. Adoring and Receiving the Blessed Sacrament we adore and receive Christ.

This is all very mysterious and mystical, and what else could it be? All actions of the God to reveal himself to us are mysterious and mystical, the breakthrough of God into this world is always confounding and never fits easily into worldly categories of experience and understanding.

The Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, is the breakthrough of God’s life and presence into our lives and into this world. It might seem easier and safer for us to construe the mystery and mysticism of Holy Communion into a symbol or a metaphor, but this construal, is not what the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is.

We don’t make the Eucharist what it really and truly is, God makes the Eucharist what it really and truly is- and what God in Christ makes the Eucharist is the gift of his very life.

The scriptures for today are all evocations of the mystery and mysticism of the Blessed Sacrament.

The first scripture, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Genesis, recalls the ancient patriarch’s Abraham’s encounter with the priest and king Melchizedek, who offers bread and wine to God as an affirmation of his covenant, that is, his relationship with Abraham. In response to the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek, Abraham makes his own offering “a tenth of his possessions”.

The story of this encounter and offering is presented to as a foreshadowing of the Blessed Sacrament we receive from the priest and king Jesus Christ. The Blessed Sacrament establishes us in relationship with God in Christ and our response to the offering of the priest and king Jesus Christ is that we offer him our very lives.

The second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which contains one of the earliest descriptions of the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is not an invention of the Church, but a reality that Christ’s first disciples received from him. It is Christ who declares the Eucharist to be his Body and his Blood and it is Christ who makes the Eucharist the sacrifice of his new worship.

The Eucharist is the worship that God wants for it is the worship that God in Christ gives.

We might desire a different kind of worship and even invent forms of worship to satisfy our desires and needs. These invented forms of worship might even appear to us to be more appealing and entertaining than the worship God in Christ gives to us, but they are not what God wants and they will never give to us what the worship that is faithful to Christ gives. The worship we create may provide us with ideas and feelings and experiences that we associate with God. The worship of the Mass is different.

We do not receive in Christ’s worship, the Eucharist, merely an idea or feeling or experience, but Christ himself. No form of worship, except the form of worship Christ gives to us, can give us the life and presence of Christ himself.

The meaning of our scripture from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians should be taken as this: From the time of the Apostles, the Church has offered the worship that we know as the Mass. It is not just a matter of human custom, but fidelity to Christ, and receiving from Christ, the gift that he wants to give. This gift is his life and his presence, given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

Finally, the Gospel of Luke testifies to the great miracle, a display of Christ’s divine power. He feeds a vast crowd with only a few morsels of food.

There is no natural explanation to what is described in this account from Luke’s Gospel. The people cannot give to one another what they do not have. The disciples cannot give to the people what they do not possess. There is nothing to share, for there is nothing at all to share.

God in Christ provides for the people what they cannot provide for themselves. They can only eat and be satisfied because Christ gives them food that he through his divine power creates.

This miracle foreshadows or anticipates the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, heavenly food that God in Christ gives to us, a food we cannot create or provide for ourselves. Christ accomplishes a miracle to suggest to his followers an even greater revelation that is to come- the gift of his life and presence, given to his disciples as food and drink, given to us as a meal, given to us as the Blessed Sacrament.

A greater gift than the food that fed the multitude is the food that Christ makes of his Body and Blood. Greater than the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the revelation of the Eucharistic mystery.

Throughout the Church’s year of worship, there are reminders to us of what we believe. Knowing what we believe, we know who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Knowing who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus we can also know what God in Christ wants us to do.

If we forget what we believe, we will inevitably forget what Christ wants us to do, and then we will no longer be Christ’s disciples.

The stakes are high when we forget what we believe and what we are supposed to do.

For this reason, the Church reminds us, and today the Church reminds us yet again what we believe the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is- the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

We remember what we believe about the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might be made worthy to receive what we believe.

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Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 28th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament letter of Saint Jude and in this text the apostle evokes mercy: “Keep yourself in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “On those who waver, have mercy”…

Mercy has been the great theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate and we are in fact in the Jubilee Year of Mercy- a time of heightened prayer and penance, a time of pilgrimage. What is mercy?

Mercy is how God’s love is experienced by a sinner- in other words, it is not God’s will that a sinner be lost, but saved. God sees value where the world (or the sinner) sees little or no value at all. That God’s response to the sinner is mercy is his means of rescue, a lure for a sinner who has resisted all other overtures.

Sin means to resist the will and purposes of God and this resistance traps a person in misery. God in Christ reveals that what the sinner in their misery encounters in God is his mercy.

God’s mercy is not an affirmation of who we are, but a rescue from a destructive status quo. Mercy offers us another chance, a privileged opportunity, a new way of life, but as such, it is always insists that we change.

Concretely, God’s mercy happens for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the Church is itself an agent of God’s mercy, not only in the confessional, but also in the world. All the members of the Church are sinners who have been saved, recipients of a divine mercy that none of us deserve or could ever earn. The mercy we have received grows in proportion to our willingness to share it with others.

The world is so often brutally insistent that apologies be offered for every slight real or imagined, but at the same time, mercy is in short supply and is given only begrudgingly at great cost. This should not be so with the Church, where integral to our unique way of life is to seek forgiveness and to offer forgiveness to others.

The letter of Jude insists that mercy is the gift that Christians should offer to those who need it the most- given to them, not because they deserve it, or because they will return the favor, but because we know ourselves to be sinners who are recipients of the mercy of God in Christ.

The Gospel of Mark recounts how Christ is challenged by people who doubt he has the authority to do what he has done or say what he has said.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ is presented as speaking and acting in the person of God, and this is unnerving to those who support him and those who oppose him. Christ is indicating in his words and actions that he is God, and this revelation is the great mystery of the Gospels revealed. Christ is God, the one true God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

The acceptance of Christ for who he reveals himself to be reorients our whole life. If you accept Christ is God, then your life belongs to him, and you belong to him, not just in some things, but also in all things- his authority is total and complete. It is for this reason that many will seek to make Christ less than who he reveals himself to be, or refuse to accept him at all…

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Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 26th, 2016)

In this morning’s scripture, an excerpt from the first letter of Peter, the apostle testifies that the Church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart” and further “you are now God’s people”.

All these ascriptions are biblical allusions to Israel- these are the names by which Israel was first called in the Old Testament. The apostle’s point is that the Church is Israel made new, redeemed and transformed by Christ.

The purpose of Israel was to reveal the presence of the one, true and living God to the world and to exemplify, through their unique way of life, the values of a people who lived in relationship with God. Therefore, the purpose of Israel, was not simply introverted, intended to advance the causes and interests of those privileged to by members of Israel, but extroverted- intended to introduce the one, true God to the world and to invite others to share with them a relationship with the living and true God.

What is true for Israel is true for the Church. The Church is Israel, redeemed and transformed by Christ. The purpose of the Church is to introduce Christ the Lord to the world and invite people to share his unique way of life.

We can only be what the apostle describes- a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set apart- God’s people if we are intentionally engaged in the Church’s mission to introduce people to Christ and inviting people to share his unique way of life. The apostle is not merely complementing us by calling the Church these wonderful things, he is setting a standard, reminding us who we are so that we can do what God in Christ wants us to do.

To be a “chosen race” means to be set apart for mission. To be a “holy nation” means that we are active participants in a unique way of life, that is intended to make us ever more like Jesus Christ. To be a “royal priesthood” means that we prioritize service and sacrifice, and sacrifice for the sake of service. To truly be God’s people means that we are living in accord with God’s commandments- particularly the commandment to love one another as God in Christ has loved us.

Is this who we are?

To be a Christian means we have abandoned the pretense that our life can simply be self-directed and self-created, merely an exercise of will to power and the fulfillment of our own desires. The Christian does not lead a self-directed life. The Christian leads a Christ-directed life and this way of life is called the Church.

Christ displays his divine power in today’s Gospel- healing a blind man of his affliction. It was actions like this that left his disciples both amazed and afraid.

Christ is the revelation of God, and he can only be the revelation of God if he is really and truly God. It was through his mighty and astounding deeds that his disciples saw his divine identity with their own eyes.

Christ heals a blind man of his physical affliction, but a deeper and more penetrating affliction is a spiritual blindness, that, at its worst, is a refusal to see Christ’s revelation. A revelation is first and foremost, a vision, a way of seeing, this new way of seeing provokes us to change our way of thinking and acting. We see Christ first, and from this revelation, we are invited to think and act differently.

And so Christ reveals himself to us, in Word, in Sacrament, in the poor, and in the Church, but are we willing to see him or is his revelation, or do we look away, even blind ourselves to his reality- lest we have to change? If we see we might believe and if we believe we might have to change.

And it is in our refusal to see Christ, to believe and to change, that we choose darkness over light, blindness over vision.

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (May 22nd, 2016)

Today the Church celebrates the revelation of God as the Holy Trinity.

We Christians do not believe that God is a distant, cosmic force, an idea in our minds or a feeling in our hearts. We also do not believe that our opinions determine who or what God is. Instead God reveals himself to us in an extraordinary way and it is through this revelation that we come to know who God is and what God asks of us.

This revelation is Jesus Christ.

Sure, it is true that we can come to know of God’s existence through the our power to reason, but knowing of God’s existence or knowing something about God, is not the same thing as God’s revelation in Christ. Whatever it is we can know of God or do know about God, it is Jesus Christ, we Christians believe, that clarifies the matter and brings what we know about God to its proper fulfillment.

Jesus Christ is the revelation of God.

This means that we Christians do not accept that Christ is merely a great man of history or a philosopher of religion or a political activist. We also do not believe that the primary purpose for which Christ revealed himself was so that he could teach us about ethics or how to behave.

Christ is God or he couldn’t be the revelation of God. What the Lord Jesus presents to us is not a theory about God, but God himself, and it is his revelation that also reveals that the one, true God is the Holy Trinity.

Look at it this way, when Christ speaks about God he indicates that the one God is a relationship. Remember, Christ speaks of God as his Father with whom he relates to as the Son and this Father and Son relate to one another, and their relationship is called the Holy Spirit.   This is whom Christ reveals the one, true God to be- a relationship that Christ describes as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the course of human history, people have spoken about God in many ways and called God many things, but when God reveals himself in

Christ, he tells us how to best speak about him and what to call him, and what Christ tells us is that one God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This one God who reveals himself in Christ to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what we Christians call the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity is not the invention of theologians. It is not a theory about God or an idea about God. The Holy Trinity is who and what Christ reveals God to be. And if you are a Christian, then you accept the revelation of God in Christ as being true.

Thus we Christians privilege the language with which Christ speaks about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not seek to change it to suit our whims or ideologies or replace Christ’s language about God with something we think is better. We accept it, because God in Christ spoke to us about his identity in this unique manner. God in Christ could have spoken to us and taught us about God in a different way, but he didn’t. And because he didn’t the Church testifies to how Christ spoke and about God.

In other words, if we are Christians, we have to believe that God is who Christ reveals God to be- that he is the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God in Christ reveals who God is, but he doesn’t explain to us how God is the Holy Trinity. In this regard, saints and scholars and mystics have proposed ideas, and some of these insights are truly profound, indeed helpful, but none constitute an explanation as to how God is the Holy Trinity. We have to believe as Christians that the one, true God is the Holy Trinity, but in terms of how God is the Trinity, Christ has left this veiled in mystery.

The purpose of this mystery is perhaps to indicate to us that God is not a problem for humanity to solve, but a relationship into which we are invited. Christ reveals that God can be known personally, and that he desires to be in a relationship with us. This relationship is a called a covenant. Christ indicates that the best way to understand the relationship or covenant that God offers to us in Christ is friendship.

This means that if we approach God as a problem to be solved, then he will remain mostly elusive. We might come to know that he exists, but we will not know him as he wants to be known- as a person with whom we enter into a relationship. The saints, who come to know God better than anyone else, never approach God as a problem to be solved, but instead they bask in God’s mystery, loving God for who he reveals himself to be in Christ, rather than trying to figure God out or make him into a math problem or a science experiment.

A merely human relationship would go nowhere if we treated the other person as a problem to be solved or as a science experiment. It’s no different with our relationship with God.

Christ reveals that our relationship with God can be like his relationship with his Heavenly Father. This means that God wants to relate to us in the same manner that Christ relates to his Father. In other words, God doesn’t just want us to be his friends, he wants us to be his children, his very own sons and daughters. God in Christ reveals he wants to be more than just our friends, we wants to invite us to become members of his own family.

The New Testament testifies, and Christians believe that Christ’s revelation of God as the Holy Trinity means that God is love. We do not simply believe that God can do loving things, but that love is what God is essentially is. You can’t have love without a relationship, and God is a relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God could not be love unless he is a relationship and that’s what the Holy Trinity reveals God to be.

It is because of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that Christians testify that God is love. We do not testify that God is love because it is a pleasant idea or a comforting feeling. We testify that God is love because Christ reveals God to be the relationship called the Holy Trinity.

We Christians believe God is love because God is the Holy Trinity.

So what kind of love is God?

This question is answered in what Christ reveals love to be. Christ reveals that love is willing what is the greatest and most important good for another person. That is what love is- willing the good for another.

This is a real challenge to the culturally induced understanding of love that dominates us. Our culturally induced understanding of love stresses affirmation and fulfillment of personal desire or need. Accept me as I am and that is love. Give me what I want and that is love. We might think that this culturally induced conception of love is somehow new or liberating, but what it actually is represents an idol and an illusion. We don’t know what love is because we don’t know who God is.

Christ reveals God and he reveals a very different kind love to us- and he identifies his love as true love, authentic love, radical and revolutionary love. Love is willing the good for another person- not affirming them as they are, or giving them what they want, but willing for someone what is good and giving them what they really and truly need. This love always demands a sacrifice, and it is because of this sacrifice, that the love Christ reveals always has the potential to save and to redeem.

And for us, embedded in this culture, at this particular moment in time, it is this lesson about true love, authentic love, real love, that must be the most important lesson. Have we forgotten how to love because we have forgotten what love is (or maybe we never knew…)? And have we forgotten how to love, because we have forgotten what Christ reveals about God (or dismissed his revelation as unimportant)? How many of our own miseries are a result of this forgetfulness? We don’t know how to love because we don’t know who God is, or worse, we think we know who God is, but what we think God is is not who Christ reveals God to be.

And in the midst of our miseries, let us remember the mercy that is the revelation of true love- God in Christ, the relationship that reveals the one, true God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- One God, the Holy Trinity.

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Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time (May 21st, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Mark, presents the Lord Jesus in the company of children.

Christ indicates that children are the heirs to the Kingdom of God, and that it is the childlike receptivity that they manifest towards Christ that should be characteristic of all disciples.

Most Christians find this all comforting, and it is a comfort, but it is also revolutionary. How so?

Children were literally the least in terms of the society and culture that received Christ’s revelation. Children, though greatly valued in ancient societies cultures, for the most part, had no real rights, and while many were loved and appreciated, many were used and abused, treated as little more than property.

Therefore, when Christ indicates that it is children who will have privileged status in his Kingdom, he is indicating that his Kingdom will not be like the kingdoms of the world, which privileges the powerful, and esteems the greatest, rather than the least. He does not privilege, as our culture does, the politician, the celebrity or the financier, but he esteems the poor and lowly. Christ the Lord insists that the poor and lowly are not here simply as servants for the mighty, but are the ones who the mighty of the world are called to serve.

Christ’s gesture to welcome children into his company and his insistence that his Kingdom would be for them, is a taunt to men and women of power and influence, who wielded that power and influence to serve their own ego driven desires.

Christ’s Kingdom is not merely an otherworldly reality into which we pass after death, but it is re-ordering of the priorities of society and culture. It is a new way of life, through which, the world in which we live is changed so as to conform, to God’s expectations, rather than the expectations of the world.

Christ’s Kingdom overturns worldly expectations. He does not come simply to affirm, but the transform, and it is not only the individual soul that he intends to change, but the societies and cultures in which the individual is immersed.

The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse whose concerns are limited to worship and theological discussion. The Church is the means by which, even right now, Christ is acting to transform the world, upsetting worldly expectations and overcoming our Kingdoms of worldliness with his revelation of the Kingdom of God.

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