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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Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time (June 16th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Sirach. This particular passage is a hymn of praise to the prophet Elijah, the mighty wonderworker, who spoke God’s word of truth in his defiance of wicked men and women of power and worldliness.

Elijah was one of the greatest of the Israelite prophets, but he was not the last. God continued to speak through the prophets, but his word of truth spoken through the prophets was preparing Israel and the world for Christ. Christ is not just a prophet, but he is God. At one time, God’s word, was mediated by the prophets, but in Christ, God speaks for himself- and he speaks to us.

Christ is not silent, his word speaks to us in the Church, and like the word of the prophets, what Christ tells us is the truth.

The prophets were opposed because they spoke God’s truth, and Christ was opposed, so to the Church. God’s truth is more often than not precisely what we do not want to hear, and it often insists that we change and asks that we do what we find to be difficult. For these reasons, we tend to resist God’s word. Our resistance cannot bend God’s truth to our will, no matter how hard we try. God will not compromise in a matter as important as our salvation. He wants to save us, redeem us, deliver us, free us- but will we let him? His word of truth is always a lure, an invitation, to receive from God what we need the most, but will we accept what he wants us receive?

The Bible reveals that there are true prophets and false prophets, and in every age, both true and false prophets will be revealed. This is as true for now as it was in the days of Elijah.

True prophets are witnesses to Christ and inasmuch as their word is an invitation to know, to love and to serve Christ, their word is true. The false prophets of our time are cunning with their flattery, insisting that Christ’s Gospel is about affirming us as we are, rather than transforming us into saints.

False prophets have little use for Christ, except to use him as a means to advance political causes and ideological agendas. For the true prophet, Christ is the way, the truth and the life. For the false prophet, Christ is merely a slogan.

The Church must resist false prophets, with the same courage and tenacity with which Elijah resisted the false prophets and worldly powers of his own day.

The story of Elijah makes it clear that the Church’s resistance will not come without cost, but if we acquiesce to false prophets, we risk betraying Christ.

Christ the Lord encourage us to pray, and to pray in the words that he gives to us. His prayer is revered by Christians, and rightly so, but Christ does not give us in his prayer simply words that we are to reverence, but a way of life.

The way of life that Christ offers us acknowledges that God is foremost our Father, which means that we are his sons and daughters. And further, that we pray for the coming of his kingdom, not merely for the success of worldly kingdoms of wealth and power. The kingdom of God is revealed inasmuch as we adhere to God’s will, which happens when we keep the commandments that God gives to us.

We are to beg God each day for his bread. The clumsy, English translation of this text conceals that kind of bread Christ asks that we pray for- it is not merely earthly bread, but heavenly bread- the food that is Christ’s own Body and Blood. And we ask that we have the opportunity to forgive those who have wronged us, for in our willingness to forgive, we become like Christ who forgave those who hurt him, and he forgave them even when those who harmed him did not deserve to be forgiven.

We pray also to be delivered from temptation and evil, which means from the lure of worldliness, from the desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, from the false security of self interest and the tyranny of ego-centric desire.

Christ’s prayer, the prayer he insists we pray, is all about asking God to help us to live a different, a unique way of life- the life of a disciple, the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

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Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time (June 9th, 2016)

For the past few days we have heard proclaimed as the first scripture for daily Mass an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings describes the rise and fall of Kingdom of David. In one respect it is a history book, in another it is a commentary on the sheer folly of the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and honors, and in another respect it is a theological statement regarding how God works in the world, bringing even that which resists him to act in accord with his will and purposes.

We have been listening to the proclamation of a particular section of the Book of Kings, which includes the story of the one of the most important of the Israelites prophets- Elijah.

Elijah ministers to the Lord in the aftermath of a great catastrophe. The death of David’s son Solomon is the precursor to a bitter civil war, the result of which is that the Kingdom of David is divided in two, with one kingdom comprising the northern territories and the other the south.

The story of Elijah takes place in the northern kingdom, during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Both Ahab and Jezebel were idolaters and their dissipated lives of privilege and self-interest brought misery upon the Israelites. Elijah publically excoriated both Ahab and Jezebel, warning them that God is not mocked, and that their actions would lead to their own destruction. Ahab and Jezebel, insulated by their power and privilege, would not listen. The king and queen believed that they were answerable to no one- not God, not the prophets, not the law.

As a result of the king and queen’s stubborn refusal to repent, the blessing of the Lord is withdrawn from the land and a terrible drought, followed by a famine overtakes the northern kingdom. The king and queen, with all their worldly wealth and power, cannot compel the land to bring forth the harvest or the clouds to bring forth rain. They will not invite the poor to dine at their table. But Elijah, who is God’s servant, can and he does.

In today’s scripture it is the power of Elijah the prophet, not the power of Ahab the king that lifts a curse from the land delivers the Israelites from drought and famine.

The lesson? Trust in the Lord and not in worldly princes. If you make idols of your rulers, your politics, your causes and ideologies; if you think that worldly wealth and power exempts you from keeping the commandments of God then be warned- God is not mocked and the end result of idolatry is inevitably misery.

Christ the Lord summons his disciples to a righteousness greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Not knowing whom the scribes and Pharisees are, Christ’s words in this respect may not be all that clear.

Think of the scribes and custodians and commentators on the Sacred Texts of the Israelites, what we call the Bible. The Sacred Texts were privileged as a source for knowing God’s will, and the scribes would dedicate their lives to discerning what the Sacred Texts meant to tell the Israelites concerning what God wanted for his people. An imperfect point of reference to our own experience is to think of the scribes as those university professors who make a career out of the study of theology or the Bible.

The Pharisees were a movement that arose after the catastrophic events of 587 BC, when the city of Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple was destroyed. The Pharisees proposed that the unique Israelite way of life, it’s religion and culture, could still be maintained without king or land of temple. How? They proposed a strict understanding of who was or wasn’t an Israelite and insisted that a code of ritual purity, one that would have been meticulously applied to Israelite’s priestly clan, be extended in all its severity to all Israelites. Only those Israelites who conformed to what the Pharisees construed as the right standard were true Israelites. An imperfect point of reference for the Pharisees in our own time might be those who insist that the laity of the Church be “clericalized”, replacing the priests, rather than assisting the laity in realizing their own unique spirituality and vocation.

The contemporary version of a Pharisee is pre-occupied with getting the laity to do the things that priests are expected to do- lobbying for their position in sacristy and sanctuary.

Christ the Lord insists that his expectations for his own disciples would not be the kinds of expectations that the scribes and Pharisees expected from themselves or others.

Sadly, for many of the scribes and Pharisees, their way of life had become an argument to be won, rather than a life of service to God, being faithful was more about accuracy, than it was about virtue. Holiness was an appearance, rather than reality. Faith was a burden that was imposed, rather than an act of saving grace.

Christ then insists that a day of reckoning is coming for the scribes and Pharisees, a day when they will be held accountable for their acrimonious and divisive debates, their harshness, and lack of receptivity to Christ’s revelation.

Christ warns them, that his arrival in their lives is an offer of grace, a privileged moment of mercy- opportunity to forgive, seek forgiveness and be forgiven. The time was now to repent, not later.

As it was for the scribes and the Pharisees, so it is for us.

Christ comes now, not later. He comes into our own lives, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments and in the bodies of the poor and with his revelation, comes an opportunity to repent, to forgive, seek forgiveness and be forgiven. Will we take the second chance Christ offers? Some of the scribes and Pharisees accepted Christ’s offer of grace. Will we?

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Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 8th, 2015)

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

The First and Second Books of Kings detail the rise and fall of the Israelite Monarchy and reads at times like chapters that should be included in George R Martin’s “Game of Thrones”. The human pre-occupation with power (and its disastrous consequences) and the folly elevating politics to a quasi-divine status are both on full display. Eventually the weight of corruption brings the Kingdom of David crashing down, a fall from grace that was devastating in its impact.

The excerpt from the Book of Kings we heard today is about the prophet Elijah, who was one of the greatest and most fearsome of the Israelite prophets. Elijah was not just a speaker of God’s truths, truths he often expressed in threats and warnings, but he was also a wonderworker, whose power was manifested in both blessings and curses. Elijah was a force to be reckoned with and a corrupt king and his queen stood right in his path. The king was Ahaz and the queen was Jezebel, and both provoked the wrath of Elijah and would suffer terrifying consequences.

The lesson of the story of Elijah is simply and direct: Don’t mess with the prophets of the Lord.

Today’s story of Elijah presents the prophet seeking refuge with an impoverished widow and her son who are suffering because of a devastating famine. The two are at the limit of their food reserves and are literally preparing their last meal. Elijah begs the woman for some food and the woman, believing in the prophet’s assurances that the Lord would provide for their needs, surrenders the last of her food reserves to the prophet. As a result of this gift, Elijah works a miracle, multiplying the woman’s reserves of food so that what was a last meal, becomes enough food to feed the woman, her son, and Elijah for a year.

There are many directions that one can go in an interpretation of this story. One is that it is a moral exhortation, a story with a lesson, and in this case, a story about the benefit of treating the prophets of the Lord with deference and respect. Being kind to the prophets brings with it the promise of a reward.

Limiting the interpretation of this scripture to “be kind to the prophets” is not enough, for this story, like all the stories of the Old Testament, only really and truly yields up its meaning in relation to the revelation of Christ- of whom the prophet Elijah foreshadows, meaning, that in a mysterious way, Elijah is a kind of “stand in” for Christ in the story and when we accept this, the meaning of the story becomes very interesting.

Elijah is a stand in for Christ, whom we encounter in a world that is in the midst of a spiritual famine, a world that is starving for God, and without the necessary means to feed that hunger. Our own efforts to feed our souls are paltry and limited, as represented by the woman’s desperate food reserves. We haven’t the means to feed our starving souls and what we have leads us only to death. Into this situation comes Christ, who with a power greater than that of Elijah, transforms what we offer to him into something must greater- bread becomes his Body and wine becomes his Blood and with both Christ the Lord feeds our starving souls with the food of everlasting life.

This story of Elijah and the widow is a story that foreshadows the story of Christ and his Church, a story that we ourselves participate in each time our hungry souls gather for the Mass- for Holy Communion.

You see, we do not simply receive bread and wine at Mass, but the bread and wine that we offer is transformed by Christ into a reality much greater that anything ordinary and natural. What is offered as bread and wine is transformed by Christ into his Body and Blood so that what we receive in Holy Communion is life, and not just any life, but Christ’s own divine life.

The story of Elijah and the widow is meant to call to our minds the deepest meaning and most important purpose of the Mass, which is that Christ feeds our starving souls with his divine life and in doing so, saves and redeems us (just as Elijah saved the widow and her son from the famine and redeemed them from death, so also does Christ do this for us through Holy Communion).

The meaning and purpose of the Mass is also impressed upon our minds in today’s excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews.

We have been listening to select passages from the Letter to the Hebrews for the past few Sundays. The Letter to the Hebrews is a lengthy essay about the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus- who he is and what he does, and it utilizes imagery from the temple worship of the Israelites to advance its presentation of who the Lord Jesus is and what his mission is all about.

Today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews references a sanctuary, that is a temple, that the Lord Jesus enters into as High Priest and from which he emerges with a gift for all humanity- this gift has the power to save us from sin and death.

All of this is mystical language, symbolic language, which explains how Christ the Lord acts during the Mass as our High Priest. You see, the worship of the Church is not merely some form of faith-based entertainment- it is not just stories and songs and sermons, but the Mass is something much more wonderful- the Mass is the privileged moment when Christ gives to us a gift that can save us from the power of sin and death, and this gift is his own life, his sacrifice, and this gift is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is during the Mass that Christ, the great High Priest, emerges from the sanctuary of heaven, and gives to his people his sacrifice- his divine life. This is what the Mass is for. This is what the Mass is about. The Mass, when reduced merely to entertainment, to songs, stories and sermons, quickly becomes boring.

Yet, when the Mass is allowed to do more for us than entertain us, the experience can become far more interesting. In this regard our expectations must change from the desire to be entertained (which may or may not happen) to the desire for Holy Communion with God in Christ.

The Bible has much to say about worship, especially the worship God wants. The kind of worship God wants, he reveals in Christ and Christ reveals this worship to us every time the Mass is offered. The Mass is the worship God in Christ wants. At times the faithful may be tempted to construct a worship that they feel would be pleasing to God, or worse, construct a worship that pleases our selves. This temptation is often times manifested in elevating an element of worship, like songs or sermons, which we “like” to a status they shouldn’t have. Elements of worship like songs and sermons are important, but they can only serve God, and be what he wants them to be, when they lead us to the Eucharist. When you leave Mass your take away should never just be “that was great music” or “that preaching was excellent” but instead “God in Christ give his life to me”.

Giving into the temptation of making worship into something God doesn’t want is very dangerous, for it ultimately deprives us of the very gift that God in Christ wants to give to us- his sacrifice- the gift of Holy Communion with his own divine life.

In his Gospel Christ identifies a gift that has little or no worldly value as being more significant and pleasing to God than gifts that the world would consider to be far more impressive. A poor widow’s nearly valueless pennies are esteemed by Christ as being of greater value than gifts of great extravagance and cost. What gives?

Christ is highlighting the sacrifice inherent in the contrasting gifts- the impoverished widow gives everything, while others give only something. The impoverished widow’s sacrifice is made in humility while others who give only something give not out of love, as the widow did, but out of an ulterior motive- the motive of making themselves appear important.

The great St. Therese of Lisieux once said that “love does not calculate” and there is great wisdom in this insight.

The widow Christ observes did not calculate the cost of her gift to herself- she made her sacrifice. So it is also with Christ. He does not calculate the cost of the sacrifice he makes for us, he makes his sacrifice, and for the sake of his love for us, his sacrifice is his own life.

The lesson of Christ’s Gospel is severe, especially for all of us who are willing to give only in the measure that what we offer is recognized or whether the sacrifice we make is ultimately for our own benefit.

Christ asks that we love without calculation and that we offer to him a sacrifice that is not just something, but everything…

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 9th, 2015)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the First Book of Kings. It describes how the great prophet Elijah was driven nearly to despair and begs the Lord to end his life. He falls asleep and is awakened by an angel, who offers him food and drink, and once nourished by this heavenly gift, he overcomes his despair, is renewed in strength, and continues his mission.

The prophet Elijah, perhaps second only to Moses in terms of his power and significance, was sent to proclaim the Lord’s word of truth during a perilous time.

The mighty Kingdom of David had been fractured by civil war, with two kings and two kingdoms now competing for the allegiance of the Israelites. Elijah is sent to the Israelite kingdom of the north ruled by King Ahab and his pagan queen, Jezebel. King Ahab, hoping to solidify his power and increase his wealth, sought to ingratiate himself with the pagan kingdoms that surrounded his territory. To do this, he introduced the worship of false gods and promoted their cults to the Israelites. Idolatry is recalled in the Old Testament as the greatest of evils, an evil that is at the root of so much of the cruelty and injustice that we inflict on one another. As such, the one, true God sends Elijah to warn the king that terrifying consequences await the worshippers of false gods.

Ahab and his queen were angry beyond description with Elijah, whom they believed, quite rightly, was questioning the legitimacy of their right to rule the Israelites and sowing the seeds of rebellion.

They acted with all the force they could muster to drive Elijah into the wilderness, hoping that exposure to the elements would do him in and rid them of an insolent prophet. If not for the intervention of the Lord, Ahab and his queen just might have succeeded.

The Church presents the story of Elijah in the wilderness as a kind of allegory for our own spiritual lives. We might never face the trials and tribulations of an Israelite prophet or have to face down wicked kings or queens, but all of us have a mission and all of us will face a struggle of some sort and be tempted to despair as a result of the demands our mission will place on us. What then will the Lord offer to us? How will he intervene?

Today’s scripture foresees that the Lord’s intervention will be somewhat like what he offers to Elijah.

The angel who brings heavenly nourishment to Elijah, food and drink to sustain him for his mission, is meant to be understood as a reference to the Blessed Sacrament- to the Eucharist.

In the midst of the difficulties of life with its temptations to despair, Christ sends to his faithful the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, making his own divine life food and drink to sustain us for the mission he asks us to accomplish.

This is important to remember. The purpose for which we gather together is not to be elated emotionally by entertaining talent or eloquent speeches, but to partake of heavenly food and drink, given to us, not simply by an angel, but by Christ himself.

In our second scripture for today, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the apostle warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God by engaging in behaviors that would tear apart the unity of the Church and paralyze the Church’s missionary endeavors.

The apostle begs of us an examination of our own consciences in regards to how we are treating one another, and whether or not our actions are building up the Church or tearing it down.

Saint Paul highlights bitterness, anger, malice, and shouting as symptomatic of severe sickness of soul, qualities that are contrary to the Gospel and make us more like an anti-Christ and less like Christ.

There have been in the recent past ideologically driven movements in the Church that have sought to drive momentum for their agendas by inciting anger, inventing grievances and leveraging disappointment. These movements have left many communities of Christians in utter ruin and have so compromised the mission of the Church that in some areas, it seems the Church is in total retreat.

All this grieves the Holy Spirit and restoration of the Church is only possible when people repent of their anger, abandon ideology, and live with the same attitude towards their neighbor that Christ has for us- that attitude is one of self-sacrificial love. Much more momentum is possible for the Church’s mission to be accomplished if our attitude towards one another is one of self-sacrificial love. Unfortunately too many Christians just don’t believe this or just don’t want to do it, and prefer to use anger and ideology to advance their causes.

This grieves the Holy Spirit.

We are moving deeper into the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Remember, this year, the Church places emphasis on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Why?

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about the Blessed Sacrament, about the Eucharist. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus tells us in his own words what the Blessed Sacrament is and why he is giving the Eucharist to us.

What he tells us about the Blessed Sacrament is truly extraordinary.

The Blessed Sacrament is the Lord Jesus himself- it is his own life, his own divine presence, given to us as food and as drink. What is revealed to us in the Eucharistic mystery is not merely a symbol of Christ or an expression of the values of the community, but the revelation of the Eucharist is the Lord Jesus himself.

Christ gives himself to us in the extraordinary way so that we can be sustained for the mission he gives us in this world, but today’s Gospel gives us another reason that Christ gives us the Eucharist- to prepare us for heaven.

This world and this life is not all that there is for us. Christ reveals this truth to us definitively in his resurrection from the dead. Life in the here and now is a passage to a different kind of life and the mission Christ gives us now is preparing us for a mission in a world that is yet to come.

The qualities that will be necessary for us to fulfill our purpose in heaven are those qualities that make us most Christ-like. Christ gives us the Blessed Sacrament so that by receiving his own divine life, we can become more and more like him.

This is the purpose for which Christ gives us the Blessed Sacrament, so that receiving his life we can become more like him.

Some folks don’t appreciate this truth or reject it entirely. A lack of appreciation for Christ’s purpose for giving us the Blessed Sacrament reduces the Eucharist to merely a symbol, an artifact of culture or an expression of ethnic identity. None of this compels one to become more like Christ.

Others recoil in horror at being anything other than what they want to be. Being like Christ is a detriment to a project of self-fulfillment and self-realization. As such, they insist that the Eucharist is only important inasmuch as it might advance their own causes or agendas, or satisfy emotional needs. If the Blessed Sacrament doesn’t deliver my best life now in terms of personal and emotional fulfillment, then the attitude is that Christ can keep his gift to himself.

Refusals of Christ’s gifts, or worse, accepting his gifts and using them for purposes that are contrary to Christ’s will, are not without consequences, and this is, bottom line, what Christ is insisting that we understand today in his Gospel.

Christ gives us his divine life in the Blessed Sacrament so that we can become more and more like him. Is this what we want from the Eucharist? Is this what we have prepared ourselves to receive?

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Saturday of the Second Week in Advent (December 13th, 2014)

Today, the Church’s scripture for the Old Testament is from the Book of Sirach, and the reference is to the prophet Elijah, one of the greatest of the Biblical prophets.

We might be inclined to limit our understanding of a prophet to being someone who predicts future events, but the Bible is not so narrow in its understanding.

Prophets are wonderworkers, living channels of divine power, who manifest God’s will through mighty deeds and mysterious miracles. The prophet serves as an oracle for God’s word, speaking God’s word of truth in ways that confound and challenge. And yes, prophets bear as a burden an uncanny insight into the past, present and future, foreseeing possibilities that are have been, are now and still yet to be.

Elijah was an example of all this par excellence. His story is told in the Book of Kings and it is a harrowing adventure tale that positions the prophet Elijah in opposition to Ahab, a king of the Israelites and his wicked queen, Jezebel.

Ahab and Jezebel were idolaters, worshippers of wealth, pleasure, power and honors, and to satisfy their desire for these false gods they oppressed the Israelites and tempted them with rewards if they abandoned the worship of the one, true God.

Elijah stood against Ahab and Jezebel and they unleashed the full force of their power against him, and in response, Elijah unleashed the power of God in terrifying warnings and mighty deeds.

This passage from the Old Testament Sirach is to be understood, not only as a recollection or remembrance of Elijah, but as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah. Remember, the Messiah was to be a person of extraordinary power, sent by God, to set a world gone wrong back right. Prior to the revelation of this Messiah, someone like Elijah would appear as a sign that the Messiah was on his way.

Christ testifies that the sign of Elijah appeared in the person of John the Baptist, this is why the Church has for centuries referred to John the Baptist as the “forerunner” of Christ, which means that when John appeared, the revelation of Christ was soon to follow.

John the Baptist, like Elijah before him, opposed corrupt worldly powers. His death would foreshadow the death of Christ.

My guess is that many of us are accustomed to an experience of religion that has been quietly accommodated to culture. The work of religion is generally supportive of the culture and its goals. As such, the experience of being religious would not bring us face to face with the dark powers, both worldly and spiritual, that are opposed to Christ.

Being religious is akin to being part of a club, and being a member of that religious club is for the most part a private affair. Intrusions of that private affair into public life make us uncomfortable and so as not to offend other people’s sensibilities or disrupt our reception of faith-based services we keep religion at home or in church “where it belongs”.

Though we are familiar with this experience of religion, the prophets of the Bible, would have found it insufficient. There is no such thing as private religion in the Bible, and when God speaks through his prophets, he makes it known that his word of truth is for all to hear and attend to.

God is not at war with culture, but he acts, boldly, and at times defiantly, against the corruptions of culture that lead to idolatry.

God’s word is not a private word that invites easy accommodations to culture, but God’s word is public and insists on repentance. God’s word of repentance was delivered by Elijah, and John the Baptist. God’s word was spoken throughout the ages by all the Biblical prophets, until it was finally delivered by Christ into his Church, so that the Church might speak that word of repentance to the world.

That word of repentance measures and judges the culture, and it measures and judges us, especially in our refusals to speak God’s word in spirit and in truth.

Elijah