Friday of the Second Week of Easter (April 28th, 2017)

Our first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Acts, describes the Church in crisis- facing a persecution that threatens its young life.

An unexpected advocate emerges who intervenes on behalf of the persecuted Christians, insisting that the Church’s opponents stand down and let the Christians alone. Time will tell if this new movement survives, and as the Church is beleaguered and weak, it poses no real threat. And besides, if the Church is, as the adherents of this new Faith testify, a work of God, no merely human power will be able to stop it.

This advice seems to be accepted and the persecutors relent, at least for a time.

The Church has known persecution in every age of its life. Hatred from the outside oppresses the Church while wickedness from the inside subverts her mission- and yet the Church mysteriously endures. Why? Not because of merely human ingenuity or accident. But, instead, the Church endures because the Church is not merely an institution, a construct of our own making, but instead is mystically Christ’s Body, the continuation of his Incarnation in space and in time. The Church is Christ’s life and presence enduring in history. Like his earthly body, the Church is afflicted and suffers, but this affliction and suffering cannot overpower the divine power of God that the Church, as the mystical body of Christ, bears into the world. And because the divine power of Christ resides in the Church, affliction and suffering can become redemptive.

The early Christians knew and believed this. Do we?

Today’s Gospel is a brief selection from the Gospel of John, testimony to the divine power of Christ to work miracles. What does Christ do? He multiplies mere fragments of bread and fish so as, to satisfy the hunger of a vast crowd.

Christ does what only God can do, and in doing what God can do, he gestures towards the mystery of his identity- that he is God.

But today’s mysterious revelation in the Gospel does not just signal to us Christ’s divine identity, but also presents a type or foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist.

How so? The Eucharist is a marvelous intervention of God in our lives, bearing into our lives a power that effects a surprising change- mere fragments of food and drink become Christ’s Body and Blood, imbued with his divine power to reconcile us to God and draw us into an extraordinary relationship with him.

The Eucharist is no more just a symbol or metaphor than it is merely bread and wine. The Eucharist we receive is Christ’s life and presence, given to us as food and drink, given to us, to satisfy the hunger of our souls for communion with God, but also given to us, so that partaking of his life, our life might become like his.

May we who partake of this holy mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, appreciate what Christ is giving to us, and permit ourselves to become like the One that we receive.

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Funeral Homily

(The following text is the notes for the homily I delivered at the funeral Mass for my father. May all the blessed dead know the solace of the beatific vision and help us as we make our own pilgrim way to a world that is yet to come).

The Church’s first scripture proclamation was an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth centuries before the revelation of Christ, and in his spiritual vision, foresaw Christ’s revelation.

In this scripture, the prophet Isaiah envisions a holy mountain, upon which God will act to destroy the power of death and deliver his people from power of their sins. Is this holy mountain an actual place or merely a dream? When will God act to accomplish such wonders?

The holy mountain the prophet foresees is the place of Christ’s cross, for it is in this place, and at that moment, that God acted in an extraordinary way to impart an undeserved forgiveness and to transform death forever. Remember, the revelation of Christ is not merely that of a kind teacher of timeless spiritual truths, but of the one, true God, who surprises us all, because he does something God should not do- he accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life.

God in Christ does this, not for himself, but for us, so that he might create for us a possibility beyond death and so that we might know that his power is manifested in his willingness to love us and forgive us, even when that love and forgiveness is not deserved or appreciated.

Christians believe that God in Christ enters into death on the cross so that when we die, as all mortal creatures do, what we encounter in that experience is not merely an end, but a new and mysterious beginning. Death has become in Christ a route of access to God because God in Christ has permitted himself to die.

In that moment of his experience of death (on the cross), God in Christ does something remarkable, and again, surprising, he demonstrates his willingness to forgive us and this act of generosity, for his forgiveness is undeserved, gives us hope that what we encounter after death is not a cold rebuke, but a merciful Savior, the one who will, as the Gospel testifies, “save us from our sins”- from what we have done and what we have failed to do.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw all this in shadows and suggestions. God would reveal centuries later in Christ the Lord what the prophet Isaiah foresaw, what we know and believe in Christ.

The second scripture is another excerpt from the scriptures- this time from the New Testament, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies to the power of the Sacrament of Baptism to change us, to transform us. St. Paul illuminates God’s purpose for Baptism.

Baptism is not, as many have made it, merely a quaint cultural custom. Instead it is an act of God, a revelation and through this act of God, this revelation, a Christian is changed, not by human choice or merely an act of our will, but by God’s choice and God’s will. God chooses us and through Baptism he changes us, making us his members of his family, giving us the identity that the Lord Jesus himself has- the identity of a child of God. In other words, through our baptism we belong to God in a way that a child belongs to his parent or a person belongs to her family. What Christ has in his own relationship with his Heavenly Father, the baptized are also given.

The significance of this is profound. Throughout our lives we grasp at (or are grasped by) identities that we might be tempted to treat as being of ultimate importance- family, nationality, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, class etc. And while these identities have worldly importance, they are not all that important to God. And God signals the relative importance of these worldly identities by making these things temporary, passing away, we take none of these identities from this world to the next. These things are inevitably left behind.

Worldly identities, or things of worldly importance, like beauty, youth, athletic prowess, academic degrees, bank accounts, real estate, (all the things the world believes matter most) pass away and do so by their very nature. We can enjoy these things for a time, but all these things have an expiration date and they will not pass with us from this life to the next.

What does last is that relationship given to us in Baptism, our identity as a child of God and a member of God’s own family. When we meet Christ face to face, this is what he sees, this is what we bring to him.

This is the meaning of St. Paul’s testimony to us today.

Finally, in his Gospel, Christ testifies that he will give his divine life to us as food and drink. He does not come to us merely to teach us ideas about God, but he comes to be for us a living source of holy communion with God. What we receive in Christ is not merely an insight or an opinion, but God himself- and how will God in Christ give himself to us?

Christ will give himself to us through the mysterious reality that we know as the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The Eucharist is mysteriously God in Christ, not merely a symbol of Christ, but God in Christ himself. God’s life is not far from us and his presence is not off somewhere at a distance. God reveals himself, not merely in ideas or opinions, or as a vague cosmic force, but he places himself in our midst in the Eucharist and then through that Eucharist, asks us to receive him, in the manner one receives food and drink. This is the Eucharist- God in Christ gives us a share in his divine life and presence as food and as drink. Thus, in the Eucharist, we do not simply remember Christ as a historical reality from the past, but we encounter Christ in the present. The Eucharist is Christ’s revelation in this world, in our lives, in the here and in the now.

Receiving God as food and drink we have an opportunity to become ever more like him. Receiving God in the Eucharist we have an opportunity to become more that what believe that we are- we can become ever more like Christ.

This is the great mystery, and the great meaning of the testimony we heard from the Gospel of John today.

Over eighty years ago, **** ****** was baptized. (Whether the motive for this Baptism was custom or something else is not as important as the gift that he received). This gift, this Baptism, indicated that God in Christ had chosen **** as his own and given him a mission, a meaning and purpose for his life.

Over time, the mystery of **** Baptism would unfold, leading him through the other Sacraments, of Eucharist and Confirmation, and what was given to him through these Sacraments was the startling revelation that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ to be Love.

The revelation that in Christ God is Love is given to us in a way of life called the Church. In the Church, we do our best to become for others an experience of the love that God in Christ has given to us. The Church is meant to be a way of life, a way of love.

Love is not for the Christian merely a sentiment or a feeling, but a way of life. Love is what we do for others by doing what God in Christ asks of us- willing for others what is good, testifying to what is true, appreciating what is beautiful, and giving to others what merciful.

The way of love, the Christian way of life, takes the form of a unique mission or vocation and **** accepted this in the Sacrament of Marriage and through his relationship with his wife, *****, and in communion with his children and grandchildren, family and friends, he sought to give to others the gift he had received in his own Baptism- the way of love.

We would know, through him, through sacrifices great and small, through a low-key death to self (that would set the needs of others as more important than his own needs), how God in Christ loves all of us.

Love in any of our lives is never perfect in its expression or motive, but **** sought, as best he could, to impart to others what God imparts to us- what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful- the gift he has received from the Lord he gave to others.

St. John of the Cross, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, remarked that in the evening of our lives, we are examined by love. This means, as years pass, and worldly concerns and pre-occupations become ever less important, it is our love, for God and for others, that remains, and it is this love that we take with us as we make our way from this life to the next.

Concluding Remarks

(These remarks were offered at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass)

On behalf of my mother and my brothers, I would like to express our deep appreciation for all the gestures of consolation and kindness that we have received. These past two weeks have been the occasion for both grief and grace and the support that we have experienced from family and friends has been gracious indeed.

I cannot do a better job testifying to the life and interests of my father than my brother did in the text of the obituary that he wrote. My father was a thoughtful and kind man, who was faithful to his wife of nearly sixty years and whose quiet influence is manifest in the lives of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him, but his faith, faith that believed that life is not ended but changed, enlivens us with a hope greater than mere memory, a hope that believes that he is still with us in ways that are unseen, and that he awaits us in a heavenly life that is yet to come.

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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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Wednesday in the Octave of Easter (March 30th, 2016)

In today’s scripture from the Book of Acts, Peter and John manifest the power of Christ by doing what Christ did- in this case, healing a man of an affliction that prevented him from walking.

The man’s disability not only prevented him from walking, but from walking into the holy temple, and once he is healed, he walks into the temple, praising God for the gift he has received from Christ through Peter and John.

The lesson in this text is that the disciples of Christ should act like Christ and though this might mean for some, becoming the means through which Christ will work miracles, it will mean for all us that we act like Christ by loving what he loves and serving what he serves.

Becoming Christ-like is what Christian spirituality is about. Holiness for the Christian is not a matter of appearing pious or fulfilling regulations, but of becoming ever more Christ-like in what we say and in what we do.

There is another aspect of this text that is worthy of our consideration- the Apostles offer healing, healing is received, and this healing enables a person to enter into worship, to enter into the temple.

The healing the Church imparts through her ministers, is not simply a matter of the body, but of the soul. We are all soul-sick and the Church has been given Christ’s healing power for our soul-sickness through the ministry of the forgiveness of our sin. Once forgiven, we are able to participate in worship, enter the Church’s temple, which we experience in the Mass. The worship of the Church is not simply a matter of custom or entertainment, but it is an expression of our relationship with Christ. If we have little or no relationship with Christ, or we have resisted Christ through a willful disregard of his commandments, then our worship will become truncated and frustrating. Thus, the ministry of forgiveness is offered to us so that we might be reconciled to Christ and once reconciled, be made ready for worship.

Rarely or never seeking the healing power of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the equivalent of never having recourse to a doctor for medical care. Even if we are feeling healthy, we should occasionally visit the physicians who care for our bodies. Our soul needs this kind of attention as well, and if we don’t we might find that we have become seriously soul-sick and spiritually disabled.

The worship of the Church is the heart of the matter in Christ’s Gospel for today.

Again, we have another account of eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of the Lord. Christ presents himself as alive to people who believed him to be dead.

The culmination of this encounter is that Christ presents himself to these people in the Eucharist, it is in the Eucharist that they come to know for certain that it is truly Christ the Lord who has revealed himself to them, and that he is alive, not dead.

Christ is alive, not dead, and our encounter with him may not be to see him now in the body of his Incarnation, but he gives himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is not merely a custom or a symbol, but it is an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself, who makes himself as really and truly present to us as he did to those who were privileged to be witnesses to his resurrection.

The manner in which Christ presents himself to us is different, but it is Christ who makes himself present in the Eucharist and it is the living Christ that we encounter, adore and receive.

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Second Sunday of Lent (February 21st, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today takes us back to the beginning, to the first book of the Bible- the Book of Genesis.

We heard an excerpt from the great story of Abraham, whom God chooses to be the founding father of all the Israelites.

God offers Abraham a relationship, what the Bible calls a “covenant”. Remember, the God of the Bible is not an idea or a feeling or a vague cosmic force. The God of the Bible is a living, divine person, and as such he desires we relate to him person to person in a relationship.

Today’s excerpt from the great story of Abraham presents dramatic scene in which God presents his plan to Abraham, a plan which will place Abraham in a pivotal role- Abraham will give rise to a family and this family will become the means by which God will act in the world in extraordinary ways.

God’s relationship with Abraham will have real life and real world effects and consequences. So must it also be with our own relationship with God.

A relationship with God is not merely a quiet, passive, inner experience, but it always initiates a new way of life. A relationship with God changes us, indeed, it compels us to change. Change is one of experiences that we tend to dread because it compels an act of faith in the encounter with the unknown. Our status quo lends credence to the illusion that we are in charge and in control of outcomes. A relationship with God accepts that God is in charge and purpose and meaning in life are revealed, not so much in an attitude of control, but in an attitude of receptivity that is willing to accept God’s will as ever more important than our own.

Where will Abraham’s new way of life take him? He cannot fully know. He can only trust and wait. Where will the Church’s way of life take us? We cannot fully know. We must trust and wait.

Abraham’s experience of what I have just described provokes in him what the Bible describes as “a deep, terrifying darkness”. It is in Abraham’s encounter with what frightens him and what is unknown that engenders in him the experience of genuine faith- Abraham accepts God’s offer of a relationship, knowing that this relationship will be on God’s terms, not his own, and it accepting a relationship with God means that his life will change forever, opening him up to experiences he will not control and to possibilities that he had never considered to be possible.

Abraham’s experience, and the description of faith as “a deep, terrifying darkness” might confound our sensibilities, accustomed as we are to a culture’s construal of faith as limited to a positive, emotional experience. Faith can and does evoke positive emotions, for authentic faith imparts meaning and purpose to our lives. However, limiting faith to positive emotions distorts faith’s true significance, and risks making faith into something akin to how Karl Marx described religion- as an opium of the people. Authentic faith, accepted for how the Bible describes it, looks and feels a lot like what Abraham experienced- an experience that didn’t just make him feel good, but that changed his life, and ultimately, changed the world.

The other reality of authentic faith that is presented to us in this story is the relationship of authentic faith and the acceptance of a relationship with God with sacrifice. It is in the midst of a sacrifice that Abraham encounters the Lord.

There is no relationship with God without a sacrifice. Why? Because a relationship with God is always about love and the condition for the possibility for love is sacrifice. A relationship with God without sacrifice is merely pretend and love without sacrifice is merely a pretense. As it is with our relationship with God, so also it is with our relationships with one another.

Thus, the pinnacle, the high point, what the Church proclaims as the source and summit” our lives- the Holy Eucharist, is a sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God as a sacrifice in response to God offering himself to us.

 

The Eucharist is a great sacrifice, indeed the greatest sacrifice. It can only be this, because through the Eucharist we receive God who is love- and there is no love without there also being a sacrifice.

(The presence of the crucifix in our sanctuary signals this truth to us, what we receive here is a sacrifice, what we do here is a sacrifice- there is no other worship that God desires, except the sacrifice of the Eucharist, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice offered on the cross).

Our second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which the Apostle highlights for us the truth that this world is not all that there is, and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead reveals this awe-filled truth.

The limitation of human experience to this world is a persistent temptation, but to do so misunderstands the purpose of the world, which has not been created by God as an end in itself, but as a means- a means by which God introduces himself to us and through which we pass to a world greater than this world. We call this new and greater world heaven.

During Lent, the practice of fasting highlights to us to truth that this world is not all that there is, and that ultimately, they pass away. We do not live by bread alone, at least worldly bread (or worldly food) for worldly bread only satisfies us for a moment and we will hunger yet again.

Instead, our desire is for the food that sustains us and prepares us for our lives in the world to come. This food is the divine life of Christ himself and this nourishment is given to us in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist prepares us for heaven, which is why our participation in the Eucharist cannot be accepted by us as simply a spiritual option, but it is a grave necessity. For, without the Eucharist, we will face our journey to the world of heaven malnourished and find ourselves in the presence of Christ unprepared.

The hunger we experience in our fasting and the longing for food we endure should be taken by us as a sign that our hunger should be for the Eucharist and our longing should be for the food that the world at its best directs us towards, but cannot give- the divine life of Christ.

Christ the Lord reveals that the purpose for which this world was created as a means to introduce us to God and to get us to heaven. When we construe the purpose of this world as being as an end in itself, the meaning and purpose that this world is meant to give, becomes elusive and our experience of the world becomes frustrating.

The Eucharist reminds us again and again of the purpose for which God created the world. The world was created to take us to heaven. We return again and again to the Eucharist to remind us of this revelation.

Finally, Christ’s Gospel for today presents the dramatic mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus.

By this is meant that the disciples of the Lord Jesus see him, if only for a privileged moment, for who he really and truly is- he is God.

It seems just a few weeks ago that we gathered to celebrate the dramatic mystery of the “Christ-Mass”, the privileged moment when the Church reveals to us through the awe-filled wonder of our worship the mystery of God, who in Christ, has accepted as his own, a human nature, and through that human nature has experienced for himself, a real, human life.

As Christians, we do not believe that God is merely an idea or a feeling. Nor do we accept that God is merely some vague, cosmic force. Instead of these reductions, we believe that God, in Christ, was born, lived and died as one like us, and in doing so, demonstrated his love for us. For God in Christ did not have to do these things, but accepted them as the means by which he would meet us face to face.

The story of the Transfiguration reminds us that the humanity of Christ is not the end of who he is, but the means by which he uses to reveal to us that he is God.

There is a line in the text of today’s Gospel that presents all this to us in a way that should cut deeply into our hearts.

It is a line at the beginning of today’s Gospel that reveals that in Christ’s conversation with the prophets Moses and Elijah, that the three spoke about “his exodus” and what “he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem”.

What is Christ’s exodus? What did Christ accomplish in Jerusalem?

Christ’s exodus and his accomplishment is his acceptance of suffering and his passage into death on the cross. It is here, God in Christ’s experience of the reality of a human nature becomes total, complete- God enters into the rawest facts of being human- the experience of death itself, with all its fear of the unknown, with all its terror of oblivion. He permits himself only the act of faith that we all must make in the face of death- an act of faith that believes that death is not an end, but it is a new kind of beginning. All this Christ does so as to draw humanity close to himself. All this Christ does so that when we enter into the raw facts of life ourselves, we do not do so alone, but we do so with him.

An idea cannot do what I just described. No can a feeling. Nor can a symbol. Nor will a vague cosmic force.

But God in Christ can, and for our sake, he does.

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Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time (January 27th, 2016)

The Old Testament Book of Samuel details how the tribes of Israel were united into a single Kingdom. This transition was not easy, in fact, the condition for the possibility of a united Israelite Kingdom was a crucible of violence.

Israelites fought to clear the land of enemy tribes and rival kingdoms.

Israelites fought Israelites for the sake of power and glory.

When the battles were all fought and the dust cleared, David was the King.

With the warlike days over, David set about establishing a legacy for himself. David the warrior became David the builder and today we hear of his plans to construct a temple for the God of the Israelites, a fitting house for worship that would also serve as testimony to David for generations.

We learn that David’s plans to build a temple are frustrated the Lord God himself- it is not the Lord’s desire that David build a temple, but that the Son of David build a temple.

David’s son, Solomon, would build a magnificent temple, but this is only a foreshadowing of the temple that the Son of David would create. The real temple, the true temple, would be built by Christ the Lord, the one whom the Gospel acclaims to be the Son of David- and the temple Christ the Son of David would create would not be a monument of stone, but of flesh and blood. The true temple is the Body of Christ’s human nature.

The true temple is Christ the Lord himself.

The temple of Christ Body is made present to us in the Church, for the Church is the Incarnation of Christ extended in space and time. The worship of the temple of Christ’s temple is the Mass, and it is in the Mass that we enter into the sanctuary of Christ’s temple and once there, in his sanctuary, we share Holy Communion with his Body and his Blood.

Thus the promise of the Lord to David recalled today by the Church in our reading from the Book of Samuel, is fulfilled here, in this Mass, and in every Mass the Church offers.

All this signals to us that there is much more going on in the Scriptures than the merely literal and that there is much more going on in the Sacraments than what the senses perceive. To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus is to open oneself to ways of seeing and understanding that takes us beyond the limitations of our prosaic experience and into a deep mysticism.

The deep mysticism of which I speak is not limited to our experiences of the Scriptures or the Sacraments, but it is the Scriptures and the Sacraments that give order and are essential to making sense of the mysteries that God discloses. The Scriptures call us to the temple of Christ while the Sacraments take us within the temple of Christ.

The Lord doesn’t want us lingering outside the temple he has created for us, he wants us to dwell within his temple.

Our lives are revealed in Jesus Christ to be suffused with his divine life and presence. God has united himself to us in Christ in all things, and thus all the events and experiences of life, even the raw facts of our sufferings and our grief, can serve as routes of access to him.

Thus, a disciple of the Lord Jesus will inevitably become a mystic for the disciple recognizes, as all mystics do, that the one, true God who transcends the world also makes the world his home and as such we are invited to encounter him, as he presents himself to us, in real space and real time, in real history, and in the Real Presence of his Body and his Blood.

This is the deep mysticism that Scriptures evoke and the Sacraments deliver- the deep mysticism of an encounter with God in Christ, not simply in heaven far away, but right here and right now, in the Blessed Sacrament he invites us to receive.

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 17th, 2016)

 

Today’s Gospel is an excerpt from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautiful of all the biblical texts, indeed of all the literary texts of the world.

The Gospel of John presents testimony to the Lord Jesus- testimony to Christ’s identity and mission.

The testimony of the Gospel of John presents 7 great signs, each of which reveals something extraordinary about the Lord Jesus. The first of these seven signs is presented in the Gospel text you heard today- the transformation of water into wine that takes place at a wedding feast in the town of Cana.

The wedding feast is about to become a total disaster, when it happens that the hosts of the wedding banquet run out of wine. Saving the whole event from being remembered as the worst wedding ever, the Mother of the Lord Jesus intervenes and requests that her Son rectify the situation, which he does in a display of divine power- he transforms water into wine, and not just any wine, but the best wine.

What does this mean?

On a literal level, the testimony to this extraordinary event directs our attention to the truth that the Lord Jesus is speaking and acting in the person of God. Christ does things that only God can do- he effects the material world in ways that are absolutely extraordinary, in this particular case, transforming water into wine.

Testimony to the divinity of the Lord Jesus is what the Gospel of John, indeed all four of the canonical Gospels are all about. The revelation of the Gospels is not “here is an interesting teaching about ethics or a new theory about religion”. Nor do the Gospels present a self-help manual. Instead they provide the testimony of eyewitnesses to the extraordinary person, whom people came to believe, is God, who had in Christ, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

While the literal meaning of this Gospel directs our attention towards the revelation of the Lord Jesus as God, it should not be reduced to this meaning alone.

The merely literal is always an incomplete explanation for the meaning the Scriptures. The literal is always intended to disclose a deeper meaning, a more significant truth than what appears to be obvious.

In the case of this Gospel, the deeper meaning is revealed when we consider whose wedding it is that took place in Cana- who was the bridegroom and who was the bride?

The answer is that whosever wedding it was, it was gesturing towards a wedding celebration that was heavenly, rather than earthly.

The bridegroom is God and the bride is his people Israel.

The understanding of the relationship of God and Israel as being like a marriage is referenced throughout the Old Testament. God’s relationship with his people is most like the relationship of husband and wife (and a very passionate and stormy relationship at that!).

Christ is acting to save a wedding celebration from disaster is signaling that God is acting in Christ to save his own wedding, indeed his marriage with his people from disaster.

I know this sounds deeply mysterious, but if you are impatient with mystery, you will never understand the testimony of the Gospels. The Gospels present the uncanny, the strange and the confounding, for this is how God’s revelation usually appears in our world. God is not just a bigger and better version of ourselves, but God is other than what we are and that is why his revelation is always mysterious.

 

Christ is the most mysterious of God’s revelations, and the most important, because he reveals God in a way that should be impossible, but nevertheless, God makes possible. God shouldn’t be able to accept a human nature and live a real, human life, but this is precisely what God does in Christ.

Through his human nature God makes himself accessible to us, but he in doing so he doesn’t make himself easy to understand, but all the more mysterious. Thus, while the Lord Jesus will always be receptive to us, and we can come to love him as one love’s a friend, there will always be a reality of our experience of the Lord Jesus that will be strange, off-putting, even at times frightening.

Christ the Lord is holy mystery through and through.

The relationship of God and his people, Israel, comes to its fulfillment in the relationship of Christ and his Church.

The relationship of Christ and his Church is best understood in this way as deeply personal as the relationship of bridegroom and bride, and husband and wife.

Christ is a living, divine person. He relates to his Church in the manner that a husband relates to his wife. He is not merely an idea or a feeling. Being in a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church is not the same thing as belonging to a club that might honor him as a significant historical figure, someone who is dead, and who endures only in our memories.

Instead, Christ is alive (he is the living and true God) and being in a relationship with him is best understood as being in relationship with a person.

Today’s Gospel is in its own mysterious ways, gesturing towards all of this- how to best understand the Christ’s relationship with his Church. And the best way to do this is to understand the relationship of Christ and his Church who as a bridegroom and a bride, a husband and a wife. And Christ the Bridegroom will act in extraordinary ways to save his relationship with his Church from disaster.

We experience Christ’s intervention in our own lives in the Mass, where Christ effects a transformation that is far more mysterious and wonderful than his transformation of water into wine.

At the high point of the Mass, Christ effects a transformation- the bread and wine we present to him, he transforms into his Body and his Blood. This is what our Holy Communion really and truly is- we receive what Christ has transformed, bread and wine into his divine life and his divine presence.

Once this happens, he invites us to take his Body and his Blood, his divine life and divine presence into ourselves, consuming what he has transformed as food and drink.

When we do this, when we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we are opening ourselves up to be transformed by what we have received. The purpose of our Holy Communion is meant to make us ever more like what we receive.

Becoming ever more like Christ is what Holy Communion is all about. We receive him so as to become like him. What he is, we hope to be.

Thus, receiving Holy Communion is always a bold and risky decision. What we are offered in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, but the means by which we become like Christ. Anyone who receives the Blessed Sacrament faces a test of their sincerity- if you receive this, you are professing before Christ and the Church, that you want to be like him, that you want Jesus Christ to make you like him.

You are saying that you want Jesus Christ to change you, to transform you and re-make you, not more and more like yourself, but more and more like him.

The test of your sincerity is to ask yourself is becoming like Jesus Christ really what you want? Do you want to be like him? And further, if you are willing to receive him, while having no intention of letting him change you, then what you are doing amounts to what is called perjury.

You are telling a lie- to Christ.

Christ transformed water into wine, and through his Blessed Sacrament, he wants to transform you so you can be like him.

You see Christians, if we just remain like ourselves, resisting transformation in Christ, resisting becoming like him, we become like water that was supposed to be transformed into wine.

And in our resistance to being changed, being transformed, experiencing what the Gospel calls conversion, then we risk ruining the wedding feast of the Bridegroom and his Bride, the wedding feast of Christ and his Church.

But if we let him change us, transform us, what a wedding celebration we will have!

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