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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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 26th, 2015)

With this Sunday, the Church begins a presentation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. (Excerpts from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John will be the Church’s Gospel reading for the next few weeks.)

The Gospel of John is in its elegant literary style, perhaps the most beautiful of the four Gospels. It begins with what might be described as a hymn of praise to God in Christ, who revealed himself to the world by accepting for himself a human nature and living a real, human life.

God is not presented in the Gospel of John as merely an idea or feeling, but as a living, divine person who offers his creatures (that’s us) the extraordinary possibility of sharing a relationship with him. This relationship imparts great gifts to those who accept it- foremost being the forgiveness of our sins and friendship with God.

John writes from the perspective of one who knew the Lord Jesus intimately, personally. His Gospel is not presenting a theory about the Lord Jesus, the kind of which historians create, but testimony to how the Lord Jesus revealed himself as God- a revelation that John himself encountered in real flesh and blood. The Gospel of John is not about how a man named John knew a figure of historical importance, but how he met and became friends with Jesus Christ who is really and truly God. Jesus Christ is not for John a symbol of God or a new kind of prophet, but he is God himself, who surprised everyone by revealing himself in the world as a flesh and blood man.

John insists that this privileged encounter with God in Christ is not the stuff of legends or myths, but of actual fact and real life circumstances. Thus he describes how not only his own, but how other people’s encounters with God in Christ transformed their lives forever.

John presents the revelation of God in Christ in the context of seven great events or signs. In each of these events, God in Christ speaks and acts in the person of God and what he says and does upsets the status quo, throwing people off, initiating total conversion in some and inciting great anger and opposition in others. In each case, the Lord Jesus compels people to make a decision about him, and if that decision is accepting him for whom he reveals himself to be, then that person’s life is transformed.

Whatever our decision might be, for or against, the encounter with God in Christ changes people’s lives forever.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about a great miracle through which God in Christ manifests his divine identity. This miracle is feeding a vast multitude of people with a small quantity of food.

Now I know, some preachers try to sell this idea that the great miracle is that people were provoked by the Lord Jesus to be generous, and there was no real multiplication of the food. This is not only a bad, corrupted interpretation, it is not what the testimony from the Gospel of John is about.

Sharing what we have with others, especially with those in need is a good thing for us to do, but the testimony in the Gospel of John you heard this morning is not first and foremost about us, it is about the Lord Jesus, and in this particular case it is testimony to a miracle that John believed indicated to him that the Lord Jesus was God. Precedents for this kind of miracle existed in the story of Israel’s great prophets, and one was referenced today, a story about the prophet Elisha from the second book of Kings, but as the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John progresses, it becomes clear that what the Lord Jesus has done in this miracle was about much more than showing himself to be a wonderworking prophet. Jesus Christ is acting and speaking in today’s Gospel in the very person of God!

I can’t stress to you enough that this revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ as God, is what the Gospels, indeed, what the Church is all about.

Testimony to the revelation of Jesus Christ as God is extraordinary, indeed upsetting for many, especially now as God is viewed as little more than an idea or feeling, rather than a living divine person with whom we can relate to.

Ideas and feelings are our own, we make them and give them whatever significance that we prefer. Persons are different, as in every person we meet, there is always a potential demand placed on us, a decision- if this is the case with the human persons that we encounter, how much more so for Jesus who is a divine person, who is God.

It is because of the demand and decision that Christ places upon us that it seems easier for some folks to make him less that who he claims to be. It is for this reason that some folks take a Gospel, like the one we heard today, and want to make of it a nice, pleasant story about sharing, rather than a weird and wonderful miracle. Nice, pleasant stories are emotionally satisfying and let’s face it, place little if any pressure on us to do anything. Miracles are emotionally upsetting, and if accepted for what they imply, the pressure to change one’s life in response is immense indeed!

Jesus Christ is not just a maker of stories. Jesus Christ is a maker of miracles.

There is one more thing about today’s Gospel that is important to know about. John is up to something in the sixth chapter of his Gospel and if you miss this detail you miss the point of what he saying not only about the Lord Jesus, but also about his Church and how we come to have a relationship with God in Christ in his Church.

John presents this miracle story knowing that stories about the miracles of the prophets anticipated and foreshadowed the Lord Jesus. When the prophets worked wonders, they were signaling to the people what God would one day reveal in Christ.

John wants us to understand that what Christ does in this miracle anticipates and foreshadows a wonder that he will work in the Church- he will feed his people, with something greater than that of the multiplication of food. God in Christ will feed his people with his own divine life and this will happen in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.

The miracle story you heard this morning is really a kind of introduction to a greater revelation that God in Christ will reveal in the Eucharist.

The remainder of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel will provide startling insights from the Lord Jesus himself regarding the Eucharist, and like the miracle of today’s Gospel, what Christ the Lord has to say about the Eucharist will place a demand on us and compel us to a decision.

Demand and decision.

These two categories are likely not ways that many Catholics nowadays are accustomed to think relate to the Eucharist.

The Eucharist has become for many Catholics a nice gesture, a pleasant custom, a way of feeling good about oneself, that the Eucharist places a demand on us to change our lives and compels a decision for or against Jesus Christ is likely not what many might think when they come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

But more than anything else, this is precisely what the Eucharist is doing and compels us to do.

Why?

Because the Eucharist is not just an idea about God or a feeling about Jesus, instead, the Eucharist is an encounter with the divine life and presence of God in Christ.

And as the Gospel of John, makes it clear, the encounter with God in Christ will always and is supposed to change your life.

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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.

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