Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 3rd, 2016)

This morning’s scripture from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah presents the city of Jerusalem personified as mother, feeding and nurturing her children. Remember, Jerusalem was not just a city, but instead it is a representation of the spiritual heart of the Israelites. It was in the temple of Jerusalem that the one, true and living God made his home and shared his life and presence with Israel, and through Israel, with the world. Isaiah imagines Jerusalem as the mother of all the Israelites.

This imagery is understood by Christians as now an image of the Church, which is not merely an institution, but is properly likened to be our mother, for it is from the Church that we are reborn in Christ through Baptism, fed and nurtured with Christ’s Word and Sacraments, and when mature in our faith, sent out as witnesses into the world.

Many Christians have sadly come to have an impersonal, institutional understanding of the Church- she is no longer a nurturing mother, but an “it”- a non profit corporation whose resources are meant to be leveraged on behalf of our causes. The “it” Church produces little in terms of life, if any life at all and cannot nurture us as no one is ever nurtured by balance sheets, actuarial tables and procedural manuals. Some prefer the “it” Church because, unlike a mother, there is no moral demand placed on us to love her in return and no reason to care for her as one would care for one’s own mother.

Instead, the Church as an “it” or as a corporation is a thing to be used, and if no longer useful, cast aside. This would not be as easy if one considered the Church to be one’s mother.

But the Church is our mother. And we are diminished when we try to make the Church into in “it” rather than accept her for who she really and truly is.

Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies that he boasts (celebrates) in the cross of Jesus Christ. To us, Christians, perhaps over familiar with the cross of Jesus Christ, and so often accustomed to the cross as merely a vague religious symbol or as a religious trinket, it might seem that the Apostle Paul’s boast is unintelligible. What does he mean? Why does he boast in the cross?

Remember, for St. Paul, the cross was not a universally recognized symbol of Christianity, it was an instrument of torture upon which human beings were killed in the most shaming and brutal way possible. Nothing was worse than the cross and no one in their right mind would boast in the cross- the cross provoked only derision and fear.

Not for St. Paul. And not for us. Why?

For St. Paul, the cross represents the unimaginable- God in Christ descends into shame, into suffering, into death. The cross is not simply the occasion in which Christ dies heroically, merely as a martyr for a cause, but it is a startling revelation that illuminates God’s willingness to identify himself with humanity, not just in some things, but in the midst of all the events and circumstances of life- even shame, even suffering, even death.

The entry of God into our shame, our suffering, our death, transforms the reality of these experiences forever. However these things might feel or seem, God is with us in the midst of them, and he is there with all his power to save, to transform and redeem. We may not be exempt from the experience of the hard facts of being human, but we are not alone as we make our way through them- God is with us. How do we know?

The cross. Christ’s cross.

If God can transform his cross into an occasion for hope and resurrection, we can trust in his promise, that he will not allow our shame to be without vindication, our suffering to be devoid of meaning and our death to be our final end. The Christian does not believe in a God who remains aloof and distant from the world or who engages with us as some vague cosmic force.

The Christian believes in God in our flesh, God in Christ, the one, true God who accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. The God who unites his divine nature to our own nature, and through the power of that divine nature, penetrates to the depths of all that it means to be human- even the experiences of shame, suffering and death. And because of the God in whom we believe, do we Christians, along with St. Paul, boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Christ presents Christ the Lord appointing seventy two disciples to go out on mission, sharing with others what they have received from Christ.

This Gospel passage mirrors Moses appointing elders for the Israelites in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Numbers (Numbers 11:16 and Exodus 18:25). In other words, we are to understand Christ as acting as a new Moses, having founded a new kind of Israel, he calls forth from this new Israel, servants for the mission of the new Israel.

The new Israel is the Church.

Pope Francis aptly refers to Christians who are mature in their faith as being missionary disciples. We are as disciples the servants of the Lord Jesus and our service to the Lord Jesus takes the shape or form as a very specific mission.

This mission is to introduce others to the Lord Jesus and invite people to share a relationship with Christ in the Church. In other words, our mission is to increase the numbers of the new Israelites, going out, as these first 72 disciples, as missionaries.

To be a missionary seems to many Christians to indicate oversees social work in third world countries, but this is really the wrong way to think about what it means to be a missionary. Christ calls people into relationship with him in the Church so that they can be his missionaries. Which means, missionary is not the work of a privileged few in the Church, but all the baptized. Missionary is to happen, not just as social work in countries far away, but in our own neighborhoods.

The public (and private) spaces right outside the doors of this church, indeed, right outside the doors of your own home, (including the family that dwells within your home) are the people that every baptized Christian has a responsibility to introduce to Jesus Christ. This missionary task is not a job for someone else- it is your responsibility and it is Jesus Christ himself who has asked you to do it.

Are you ready for this mission?

For many years, parishes, have been considered by many Christians, as branch offices of a corporation church from which a person can receive faith based services if the requisite fees are paid and the correct procedures are followed. This understanding of the parish has dominated people’s perceptions and the spiritual poverty it has inflicted on people has left the Church in a state of precipitous decline.

The work of the Church was limited to paid professionals and the mission of the Church reduced to matriculating through institutions and programs.

All this has been contrary to the nature of the Church as presented in the great Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) and the modern popes from Pius XII to Pope Francis (and most importantly, but the Lord Jesus himself). The Church is not merely an institution, but a mission, and a parish is not merely a branch office of a faith based corporation, but it is mission territory- it is the area that a community of missionary disciples has been assigned in which they work to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to share a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church.

Is this how you understand what a parish is and does? Is this how you understand who you are and what Christ wants you to do?

To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple- and unless this is who you are and what you aspire to be, the Church will falter and fail.

But if you will to become the missionary disciples Christ desires you to be, that like the 72 chosen to be missionaries in today’s Gospel, you will witness a Church that flourishes and grows!

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings is one of the historical books of the Bible, describing people, events and circumstances that contributed to the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David is important because it was the means that God used to unite the tribes of the Israelites into a single people. Strengthened by their unity, the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to invite the world into a relationship with the one, true God.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from its beginning by pride and idolatry, yet despite human folly, God’s plan would be accomplished. God’s plan was fulfilled when the Christ-child was born into a remnant of the family of King David. Thus God came into the world. The Kingdom of David would fail to bring the world to God and so God would come into the world in Christ.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of David, God would send prophets to the Israelites to remind them of their unique mission. Two of the greatest of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Both men were forces to be reckoned with, great wonderworkers and today’s scripture details how the prophet Elisha was summoned by God to mission.

Elisha abandons everything the world considers to be important- his family and wealth- for the sake of his mission. His focus on what the Lord wants him to do will be singular. He risks poverty and loneliness, trusting that God will provide for what he lacks. Heroic efforts always necessitate heroic commitment and true prophets are God’s heroes and no one becomes a hero without risk and sacrifice. Where an act of faith in God is accompanied by risk and sacrifice you have the possibility of a hero and the potential for a saint.

The heroism of Elijah and Elisha, indeed of all the biblical prophets endures in the Church in those men and women who eschew family and wealth for the sake of the Church’s mission. These men and women can be found in what are called religious orders, communities like the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. Without the witness of the prophets, the Israelites languished in mediocrity and lost a sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Without the witness of men and women religious, the Church falters and fails in its mission.

The Church is not merely a secular corporation or a nation state, whose goals can be accomplished by only by salaried employees and bureaucrats. God advances the mission of the Church through the efforts of men and women willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices. Inasmuch as the Church’s communities of prophets, men and women who accept a religious life of risk and sacrifice, fade and diminish, so also will the Church. As the Church fades and diminishes, so also does the love of Christ that the Church bears into a loveless world.

The mission of the Church by necessity requires heroes- men and women of risk and sacrifice. The age of God’s heroes did not end with Elijah or Elisha, but even now is the age of heroes. Who are God’s heroes right now? Who will be God’s heroes for his Church? Who is God calling into mission- into risk and sacrifice? Is it you? Remember: It is not just you who choose your mission- it is God who has chosen a mission for you.

In the Church’s second reading for today the Apostle Paul offers a distinction between a way of life which is given direction by the flesh in contrast with a way of life given direction by the spirit.

This might seem confusing. St. Paul is using the categories of “flesh” and “spirit” to indicate the difference between a way of life that is directed by God’s purpose as contrasted with a way of life that is directed by self-interested or self-indulgent purposes.

A self-interested or self-indulgent way of life tends towards conflict, antagonism and violence, whereas a truly spiritual life, one that is intentionally directed towards God’s purpose tends toward love- and by love St. Paul means willing, or desiring, the greatest good for other people.

St. Paul muses that if only we could love one another as Christ has commanded us to love, then most of the laws that become so necessary to reign in our selfish ambitions and desires, laws that can so quickly become stifling and oppressive would fall away. Loving as Christ loves opens up for us the possibility of true freedom, for freedom is not getting to do what we want, but doing what is good.

Love for the Christian is not merely an emotional experience or the fulfillment of a personal desire. Love is an act of the will, and it is willing for another person what is really and truly good. This good is not by necessity what the person wants, or even what you prefer to give, but it is what is good, it is the good that God wants.

Love reduced to emotional need or affectation will inevitably lead to antagonism and conflict. It becomes an exercise in self-interest and self indulgence. Love expressed as willing what it is truly good for other people is the manner in which God in Christ loves us and it is the way in which Christ commands us to love one another.

Christ the Lord has some words of advice for his disciples as they go out into a culture on mission. Remember, the purpose of the Church is missionary. The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse or an institution that we matriculate through and use to fulfill our personal goals. The Church is a missionary endeavor. The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share his unique way of life. Through the Church people meet the Lord Jesus and from the Church people receive from him the gifts he wants people to enjoy.

Christ’s advice to us as we go out into our neighborhood and introduce people to Christ is this:

Number One: Accept people’s hesitancy, even opposition, with an attitude of kindness. Do not threaten those who refuse our invitation. As Pope Benedict aptly said the Church proposes, it does not impose. We seek freedom to live our unique way of life, but our way of life must be freely chosen, it cannot be imposed on people by force or threats.

Number Two: Mission will always entail sacrifice and risk as well as an attitude of trust in God to provide what we need. You cannot, as a disciple, postpone your mission until you have everything figured out. We might have plans, but Christ’s plan takes precedence. What Christ asks of us is never all that easy, and at times outcomes may be uncertain, but as I said earlier, without risk and sacrifice there cannot be heroes and Christ wants us to be his heroes- he wants us to be his saints.

Number Three: Mission necessitates that we have a broader understanding of family than one that is limited to merely our own relatives. The Gospel expands our sense of family to include people in our lives who are not related to us, different than us, and people who we may not of our own desire want to know or become friends with.

The Church cannot by her essential nature simply be limited to those people with whom we are related, or those people whom we feel comfortable with, or those people that we prefer to associate with. Christ makes the Church his family and chooses those whom he wants to be in his household. The Church is not a sect or a club. The Church is not simply an expression of nationality or ethnicity. The Church is the people Christ has chosen, not only those people that we have chosen.

The Church is not just ours to make into whatever we want, it is a gift that we receive from Christ and this gift is a mission- a mission to introduce people to Jesus Christ and share with people the gifts that Christ wants all people to enjoy!

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Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter (May 7th, 2016)

In this morning’s scripture from the New Testament Book of Acts, we are introduced to Apollos, a disciple of the Lord Jesus who would become a person of great influence in the early Church.

Apollos is introduced to us as a man who can eloquently speak and teach about the Lord Jesus, but who does not possess the fullness of the apostolic faith. What he has to say about the Lord Jesus is true, but it is also incomplete. Further, Apollos has not received the baptism of the Church, and as such, does not share in the fullness of the Church’s way of life. Two disciples, Priscilla and Aquila, who are friends of St. Paul, introduce themselves to Apollos, and share with him the teachings about Christ and the Church they have received from St. Paul.

There are two aspects to the Church’s missionary project. One aspect is to introduce people who do not know the Lord to Christ and invite them to share Christ’s gifts in the Church. The other aspect is to invite those who know of Christ to share in the fullness of the apostolic faith. There are many disciples of Christ, who, like Apollos, know the Lord, but not in the fullest sense of how Christ wants to be known in relation to his Church.

Christ wants people to know him in the Church, learn the apostolic teaching about the Lord and to experience and receive his life and presence in the Sacraments. When Christians are gathered together into the community that we call a parish, the purpose of this gathering and parish to make the Lord Jesus known and invite people to know Christ in the Church. The Church is not an optional add on to one’s relationship with Christ, but is integral and necessary.

Those who know and experience Christ in his Church have as their mission to share what they know and experience with others.   Like Priscilla and Aquila, our efforts to introduce people to Christ must be intentional. Disciples do not believe that knowing and experiencing Christ in his Church should simply be left to chance or delegated to an elite corps of believers.

The Church grows through introduction and invitation and disciples are the ones who make the introduction and extend the invitation.

Who have you introduced to Christ? Who have you invited to share a relationship with Christ in his Church?

Christ the Lord speaks again about his departure. His disciples will no longer know him in the manner that he presented himself to them in the mystery of his Incarnation. He will present his life and presence to them in a new kind of Body, the Body of the Church. It is through the Body of the Church that Christ presents himself to the world and invites people to be his disciples.

Christ the Lord assures us that through his Body, the Church, he will continue to care for us and act on our behalf. He hears and attends to our prayers with the same concern that he manifested when he heard and attended to the needs of those disciples who knew him in the flesh of his Incarnation.

Christ has not abandoned us. He has not become merely an idea or feeling or memory. He extends the power and presence of his Incarnation throughout history in the Church and it is through his Church that he is present, active and working for our salvation and for the salvation of the world.

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Solemnity of All Saints (November 1st, 2015)

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. The Saints are the great heroes of our Faith. The Church describes a Saint as a person of “heroic virtue”.   This means that while many Christians might be willing to settle for lackluster accomplishments as disciples, the Saints engage their relationship with the Lord Jesus vigorous creativity and absolute dedication. Most often, the work of the Saints will go unnoticed and unseen. Saints are not celebrities, and those Saints who capture the attention of the world, view that renown as the imposition of a cross.

Most Saints will disappear into the mission of the Church.

In heaven, we will know the profound impact thousands of hidden Saints had on our lives, but here on earth, as I said, most of the Saints move about and work among us, and do so for the most part unnoticed and unseen.

The work of the Saints is not completed with their deaths. The Saints know better than most Christians that life here in this world is not merely an end in itself, but a means by which God prepares us for a greater and more important mission in heaven. No one who is in Heaven is indolent. Heaven is not a place of indifference to this world but one of interaction and intercession. This means that the Saints continue their mission as disciples of the Lord Jesus, supporting and sustaining the Church, acting to help and support all the baptized.

The first scripture for today’s Mass of All Saints is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is one of the most mysterious, complex, and misunderstood books of the Bible. It is a theological commentary on events from the past, present and future and it communicates important spiritual insights through fantastic images and symbols. The common impression is that the Book of Revelation is about the end of the world, and as such people are often terrified by its content.

But, properly understood, the Book of Revelation is not simply frightening, but reassuring, as it foresees the victory of God in Christ over all the dark powers, worldly and otherworldly that oppose him.

The Book of Revelation is not simply about the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world in which the great enemies of God, and therefore the enemies of humanity are defeated by the power of God in Christ. These enemies are sin, death and the devil.

The conflict between the dark powers of sin, death and the devil has consequences for the Church as it engages her mission in the world. The Church is opposed as Christ was opposed. The Church suffers as Christ suffered. And in all this, the Saints are on the front lines of the battle.

The Book of Revelation displays all that I just described in symbolic or metaphorical terms. What you heard about was a vast assembly of people from all over the world, clothed in white, who proclaim the coming victory of God in Christ. Who are these people? The text tells us- they are Christians whose heroism was revealed in their willingness to be killed rather than renounce their Christian Faith or cooperate with the dark powers.

Thus, our first scripture for today is about a particular kind of Saint- the martyr. We live even right now in an age of martyrs as multitudes of Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are persecuted and killed because they are disciples of the Lord Jesus. We might think that the greatest challenge to the Church today is whether or not we should conform to secular values, but far more important than this is the brutal fact that for millions of Christians, professing and practicing the Christian Faith can cost you not just your livelihood, but also your very life.

On this day when the Church celebrates the Saints, it would be good for us to remember, that what is demanded of us as followers of the Lord Jesus is often times far less than what it demanded of others.

We are not compelled by circumstances to die for our Faith in Christ, but are we willing to live for it? If our sacrifice is not to be that of a martyr, what is the sacrifice we will offer?

Our second scripture is a brief passage from the First Letter of John, in which the evangelist articulates an important insight about our identity as Christians. We are not as Christians merely members of a faith-based social club, an ethnic or cultural association, political action committee, or supporters of a 501C3 non-for-profit initiative. In the words of Pope Francis, the Church is not an “NGO”- a non-governmental social service organization.

What are we then? The evangelist John tells us- we are the children of God.

This means that God has made us in Christ his beloved children, and just as children are an expression of their parents love, so too Christians are meant to be for the world an expression of God in Christ’s love.

Being a child of God, means aspiring to be like the One who is revealed to be God’s only beloved Son- Jesus Christ. Being a child of God is not just some privileged title, but a responsibility, an identity, a mission that a Christian accepts. The Christian, as a child of God, is meant to be an expression to others of Christ himself. Thus, when a Christian is baptized, he or she is proclaimed to be what is termed an “alter Christus”, that literally means “another Christ”.

The Saints are expressions of Christ-likeness par excellence. The Saints “re-present” Christ to us and through the Saints Christ acts and introduces himself to us. Saints are not just nice, friendly people who do good things for society, but they are Christians who aspiring to serve Christ as disciples, are given the gift of becoming ever more and more like him.

And that observation brings me to an important clarification: when a Christian is baptized, what is happening to that person is not just inclusion into a community. No!

What happens when a Christian is baptized is that person is chosen as Christ to be like him- a person is chosen by Christ to be a Saint. The realization of your life as a Christian is not simply that you become a member of a faith based club or matriculate through faith-based institutions, but that you become a Saint. That’s what Baptism is all about, indeed, that’s what the Sacraments are about, indeed what the whole life of the Church is about. Being a Christian is about being chosen by Christ to be a Saint. “You have not chosen Christ, he has chosen you!” You will never begin to understand what the Christian life is all about until you understand this universal summons to holiness, this summons to be a Christian, which is God in Christ choosing you to be a Saint!

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents what are known as “The Beatitudes”- a proclamation of those who are truly blessed by God and who enjoy God’s favor.

In worldly terms the blessing of God, the favor of God is many times construed in categories of worldly success or exemption from the harder facts of human existence. Some consider God’s blessing to being the recipient of prosperity and wealth, talent and good looks, power and prestige. God’s favor happens, according to some, when they are exempt from having to suffer or to struggle. Christ the Lord upends these kinds of expectations, and declares that the blessing of God and the favor of God is given, not to those who have the most, but those who have the least; not to those whom the world esteems as successful, but to those who seem to the world to have failed; not to those who have power, but to those who seem to have no power at all; not to those whom the world considers to be significant or influential, but to those who go mostly unnoticed and unappreciated.

In other words, in his Beatitudes, God in Christ announces a revolution!

Blessing is not getting what we want, but having the opportunity to give to others what they truly need. God’s favor is not an exemption from the hard facts of life, but God’s favor is found within the hard facts of life.

The Saints will exemplify in their lives the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus, their blessing and favor will look like the strange blessing and favor that the Lord Jesus describes. The Saints will not only exemplify the Beatitudes in the decisions they make about the way they live, but also in whom they will seek to serve and choose to associate with. The Saints will seek the company of the kinds of people that Christ describes in his Beatitudes.

Consider the decisions you have made about your life. Have these decisions made you a person whose life looks like the life described in the Beatitudes? Consider the people with whom you associate and whom you esteem. Are these people like the people described in the Beatitudes?

And in our answers to these questions is the challenge for all of us would be saints, saints in the making- do our decisions make of us men and women of the Beatitudes? How many of the people that we seek the company of and consider to be our friends look and live like the kinds of people Christ describes as being truly deserving of his blessing and favor?

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Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time (September 24th, 2015)

In the year 587 BC the temple of Solomon was razed to the ground by the armies of the Babylonian Empire. This event was not mourned by the Israelites as merely the destruction of an important civic monument, but as a sign, that the God of Israel had abandoned his people.

For years, the Israelites languished in exile, beset by the fear that God had given up on them. The prophets reminded the Israelites of their many refusals of God, and this cast a pall over them. They could not deny their infidelity to the covenant. Had they driven God away? Would God ever return? If God didn’t come back to his people, would they ever get to go home?

This week the Church has selected readings from Old Testament Books of Ezra and Haggai. Both men spoke the Lord’s word of truth around the year 520 BC, during a time when the Israelites had returned from a long exile and had begun the difficult task of rebuilding the temple. The temple was not, as I said just a civic center, it was a house for God to dwell in. From this house, God reigned over Israel as their king and offered the people communion with his divine presence. The rebuilding of the temple was an act of faith that God had not abandoned his people and the covenant had been restored.

There were many obstacles to this project of rebuilding, and political intrigues brought everything to a standstill, money ran out, and it took the intervention of a foreign king to get things going again. Ezra and Haggai acted to organize and encourage the Israelites to rebuild the temple and to get on with the mission God had given them. Their long exile had ended. God had brought them home. God had not abandoned them. The Israelites were not to live in nostalgia or in regret, but to be the people God had created them to be: a light to the nations, witnesses to the world of the living, divine presence of the one, true God.

The lesson in all this is not just historical, but immediate to the mission of the Church right now. The Church is the continuation of the story of Israel. The stories in the Old Testament are reference points for understanding what the Church is and what the Church is supposed to be doing.

The mission of the Church is too often blocked by nostalgia, mitigated by practical concerns that are construed as insurmountable obstacles, fear holds us back, too many times we prefer to argue about the mission rather than doing it. The Church’s mission is that of Israel- to be a light in a dark world, to be an invitation to the world to bask in the divine life and presence of the one, true God Jesus Christ. In the temple of the Church’s worship, God in Christ offers communion with all who would come to him in faith and humility. We build up that temple through lives of virtue and works of mercy. Christ’s faithful are the missionaries of the temple of the Church, the Lord sends us from the temple of the Church out into the world so as to invite people to come in.

Today’s Gospel testifies that Herod (the son of Herod the King who tried to murder the infant Lord Jesus and killed the children of Bethlehem) is both curious and fearful of Christ, wondering if an even greater prophet than John the Baptist (whom he had killed) had been sent to the Israelites.

John had proclaimed that the Lord God was coming to Israel to set things right that had gone terribly wrong. God would drive out the family of Herod who had usurped the kingdom of God and purify the temple that the Herod had gilded as a monument to his own glory. The family of Herod hoped that with John’s death, none of his prophecies would come to fulfillment.

News of the signs and wonders worked by Christ troubles Herod because it seems that John’s death didn’t stop what he had set in motion and his prophecies would come true.

Thus, Herod wants to see Christ. Why? The Gospel of Luke will testify later that it is because he wants to see if the Lord Jesus can perform miracles for him, provide him with an experience of faith-based entertainment. He doesn’t seek the Lord Jesus so that he can be liberated from his sacrilege and blasphemy, but so that he can be entertained! He thinks of Christ as a kind of celebrity whom he can use for his own benefit!

The desire for Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit but even that gift can be distorted and destroyed by sin. Had Herod opened himself up to the authentic potential of the gift of Christ, he would have been freed from the debauchery that imprisoned him.   But that would have meant Herod would have to let Christ be himself- Lord and Savior. Herod would have to repent of the terrible things that he had done. Faith based entertainment was easier.

The reduction of our relationship with Christ to superficiality and worship to entertainment is a perennial temptation for us all. Herod’s tragic refusal of Christ displays where that temptation leads. It is not enough to be interested in the Lord Jesus, even fascinated by him. Instead, we must be willing to be changed by him.

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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)