Sunday, April 28, 2013

Love and the Eucharist

The Last Supper and First Eucharist
Readings for Sunday, April 28/ 5th Sunday of Easter:
Acts 14:21-27
Psalm 145:8-13
Revelation 21:1-5
John 13:31-35

***First Communion Weekend***

As we continue looking during this Easter Season at the meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection for our lives, both here and in eternity, the scriptures take us back to the Last Supper just before Jesus showed His love by undergoing His Passion. It is there that the New Commandment of Jesus is given to the Twelve and to all of us who call ourselves Christians. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” When we first think about it, Jesus telling us to love others doesn’t seem new. After all, the Jewish leaders held that loving God and neighbor were to the two highest laws of the Torah. So what is new about this commandment Jesus gives? The fact that He calls us to love like He does.

When Jesus became a man and lived among us, He showed us what real love is. It can be summed up in a nice little acronym FUSS: Forgiving, Understanding, Selfless, and Sacrificial. The love that Jesus showed  was a love that didn’t worry about how far He would have to go or what He would have to do. His loved wasn’t about what He would get out of the deal. It wasn’t about just loving the good parts of people, but instead loving all of them, even the bad. And even when those He loved abandoned Him in His time of need, He still loved them and showed that love with the sign of peace. Jesus’ wasn’t about Him at all, but about us – all of us. And that is the love He wants us to have too.

Now I don’t know about you, but to love like Jesus does sounds incredibly difficult, almost impossible. I can love people to an extent. It’s easy to love others when we set boundaries – I’ll love you this much but no more, I’ll sacrifice for you but only so far, I’ll forgive you but only when if you’re really sorry for it. There are all kinds of conditions that we can put on our willingness to love others, but the love that Jesus invites us to goes beyond all of those. And if He invites us - and even commands us - to love like He does, it has to be possible. So how can we do it? How can we love like God loves? Well, think about where this story is in the Scripture – the Last Supper!

The Apostles had just received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in that First Eucharistic Celebration! That’s how they were able to hear the call to love like Jesus and start putting it into action. Does it mean they did it perfectly? No. After all, just a few hours after this story they’ll all have abandoned Jesus. But as they continued to gather and celebrate the Eucharist together, they grow in their ability to love like Jesus. At the beginning their love was a very human love, and imperfect love. But as we hear later in the Scriptures, their love became a love like that of Jesus. Ten of the original Apostles even gave their lives us for others just like Christ! But it was only because they were sustained by His life in the Eucharist.

If we come and receive Holy Communion, we can love like Christ. If we don’t come and receive Holy Communion, we can’t love like Christ. That’s the power of the Eucharist – it changes us! But we have to want the change to happen. We can come week after week and receive Communion, but if we don’t expect a change to happen and don’t ask for God to help with anything in our lives, nothing will happen, nothing will change because we don’t invite Him to do it. He can’t change what we won’t let Him. But if we come to Communion with a prayer on our heart – ‘Lord, help me to fight against this particular sin’ or ‘Lord, help me with this situation going on at work or school or home’ or something similar – then when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist He will give us the grace to change and be changed. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

Benedict XVI distributing Holy Communion
Often I have people ask me why we have to go to Mass each week. It’s usually stated something like “I don’t know why I have to go. I mean, Jesus can hear my prayers just as well at home as He does here.” I absolutely agree – God hears every prayer we prayer regardless of where we are. But there is more to it than that. We come here week after week for many reasons – to be members of the Christian community, to show our faith in public action, to fulfill God’s command to observe the Sabbath. But practically speaking and more personally, we come so that we can be filled with the Life of God. Every one of us, I’m sure, has a cell phone, iPad or something that requires batteries or recharging. And what happens if we don’t charge them or keep power to them? They die. I can have a great phone, but if I don’t charge it, it fails to do what it is meant for and instead I just have a really nice paperweight. And the same thing goes for our spiritual lives. If we don’t come and get charged up by Christ in the Eucharist, if we don’t come and receive His life, then we fail to be what we are called to be. In Baptism we are made like Christ and are supposed to be His presence in the world – we are supposed to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the leaven of society, that change everything because we’ve been changed. But if we don’t let ourselves be changed, then we’re not really Christians. We’re just acting like them.

So the invitation from the Lord today is to be love in the world and to be that love, we must first be nourished by He who is Love itself – Jesus Christ. Let us come and receive Him with joy in our hearts. Let us ask and even beg to be changed, that all might see and know that we Christians by the love of Christ which we share.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Praying for Vocations

The IVE (brothers) and SSVM (sisters)
Readings for Sunday, April 21/ 4th Sunday of Easter:
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
Revelation 7:9, 14-17
John 10:27-30

Today we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations, so Mother Church invites us to take a moment to pray for more priests, deacons, and consecrated religious, and to continue to reflect on the ways in which we are encouraging – or sadly, sometimes discouraging – religious vocations.

In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus tells His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” And so we all receive this divine mandate to pray for an increase in vocations. This increase in vocations, though, doesn’t mean that God will call more young people to pursue a religious vocation. He has created them with that in their heart already, the call to prayer is that those whom God desires to follow Him in this unique way would be able to discern that calling in their hearts and have the grace to be able to respond. The shortage of vocations is not because God isn’t calling them; it’s because so many simply don’t hear it. And so we pray. We pray for more vocations throughout the world, but we also pray for them specifically for our diocese, from our parish, and even from our own families.

This last part can often be the most challenging aspect of encouraging vocations. Everybody wants to have more priests, but so often they want that priest to come from someone else’s family. I know when I first entered seminary my mom was a bit unsure of the idea because she feared that I wouldn’t be fulfilled living a life of celibate chastity instead of having a family like most people. Indeed I have found that fulfillment and I rejoice in it, and I rejoice also that my mom sees that in me and has peace with it as well. The reality of giving up a son or daughter to Christ and His Church can be a bit scary, but if God has created them with that vocation in mind, then that is where they will find true joy in this life.

This openness and encouragement of a vocation from one’s own family is a good and necessary step, but the need for prayer is still there. It may not result in a child pursuing a religious vocation, but you never know how those prayers might be put to use by the Lord. About seven years back when my paternal grandmother passed away, we began to divide all of Grandma’s belongings between us and, being that I was pursuing the priesthood, I was the default recipient of anything religious. One day I was looking through her prayer book when I came across a holy card with a Prayer for a Vocation from One’s Family. It struck me that while none of my Grandma’s eight children discerned a vocation, the fruit of her prayers came in the form of my discerning my call to the priesthood. Prayers are never wasted!

So let us pray! The world needs priests and consecrated religious especially today because our society makes it easy to focus on so many things but the Lord, but the priest and religious speak an entirely different message. Our calling is to always and only listen to the shepherd, to be those sheep that have no concern but hearing, following, and being pleasing to Him. This is the source of my joy: that I have been set apart to give all of myself and my life to Christ Jesus who is love and life itself, and whose presence always brings peace. There is nothing else I’d rather do with my life than serve as a priest and I thank God for calling me to this blessed vocation. So let us pray for our world, diocese, parish and families, that others too might discern in their hearts the seed of a vocation and with our prayers and God’s grace, respond generously to the Lord and seek always to listen for His voice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

HWP: Hail, Kecharitomene!

A couple of weeks back I was talking with a friend of mine about the Blessed Mother and she mentioned a post (HERE) about the Greek term 'Kecharitomene' that is used by the Angel Gabriel to greet Mary at the Annunciation. At the end of the post is a striking litany of praise to Our Lady from the lips of St. John Chrysostom. Though not a prayer strictly speaking, it surely lifts our hearts to Mary, who always points us toward Christ.

Hail, Kecharitomene, unreaped land of heavenly grain.
Hail, Kecharitomene, virgin mother, true and unfailing vine.
Hail, Kecharitomene, faultless one carrying the immutable divinity.
Hail, Kecharitomene, spacious room for the uncontainable nature.
Hail, Kecharitomene, new bride of a widowed world and incorrupt offspring.
Hail, Kecharitomene, weaving as creature a crown not made by hands.
Hail, Kecharitomene, habitation of holy fire.
Hail, Kecharitomene, return of the fugitive world.
Hail, Kecharitomene, lavish nourisher for the hungry creation.
Hail, Kecharitomene, interminable grace of the holy virgin.
Hail, Kecharitomene, lampstand adorned with all virtue and
with inextinguishable light brighter than even the sun.
Hail, Kecharitomene, challenger of spirits.
Hail, Kecharitomene, wise bearer of spiritual glory.
Hail, Kecharitomene, golden urn, contaning heavenly manna.
Hail, Kecharitomene, dispensing sweet drink ever flowing to fill those who are thirsty.
Hail, Kecharitomene, spiritual sea who holds Christ, the heavenly pearl.
Hail, Kecharitomene, splendor of heaven, having the one uncontained by the heavens in herself, God confined and unconfined.
Hail, Kecharitomene, pillar of cloud containing God, and guiding Israel in the wilderness.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HWP: O Domina Mea

Happy Easter! For the past couple of months I've been reflecting much more on the role that Our Blessed Mother has in my own life and in all of our lives, so my prayers have taken on a much more Marian theme - both spontaneously and in rote prayer. One of my favorite practices is the triple-recitation of the Hail Mary with the O Domina Mea as a concluding prayer. I was introduced to this threefold petition to Mary via a book on chastity, wherein the author recounts the story of people being freed from sinful lifestyles by the daily recitation of this prayer. As I'm always in the market for a powerful tool against sin, I took up the practice myself and have found that it fits perfectly with the Marian spirituality as encouraged by St. Louis de Montfort and which I attempt to live. So without further rambling on my part...

Recite the Hail Mary three times, praying after each the simple prayer: 
By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, purify my body and sanctify my soul.

Then conclude with the O Domina Mea:
My Queen, my Mother, I give myself entirely to you, 
and to show my devotion to you I consecrate to you this day (or night) 
my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, and my whole body, without reserve. 
Wherefore, good Mother, as I am your own, 
keep me and guard me as your property and possession. 

***It is a good practice to make the Sign of the Cross over your eyes/ears/mouth/heart similar to the way they are signed during Mass at the Beginning of the Gospel and then to make the regular Sign of the Cross over yourself as 'my whole body'. ***

Monday, April 8, 2013

Divine Mercy

Readings for April 7/ Divine Mercy Sunday:

Acts 5:12-16
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19
John 20:19-31

There is a tradition in the Church of referring to certain days of the liturgical year by specific marks from the liturgy itself – for instance Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday for obvious reasons, Candlemas Day when church candles are traditionally blessed, and Spy Wednesday when Judas was spying on the Lord to find a time to betray Him. Like those feasts, today too has a series of names by which it has been referred throughout the centuries. One of my favorites is “Quasimodo Sunday”, not after the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but rather from the words of the Introit or Entrance antiphon “Quasi modo geniti infantes” (As newborn infants). It has also been known as “Dominica in Albis” or “Sunday in white” when the neophytes came once more in their white garments to signify their recent baptism. To that we could also add “Low Sunday” as the celebration is slightly lower than Easter and “Pascha Clausem” which means simply “close of Easter.” In 2000 Blessed John Paul II added to that list Divine Mercy Sunday, which came as a surprise in the midst of his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska.

St. Faustina was a young Polish nun who, in the 1930’s, had regular visions of the Lord Jesus. This had happened throughout the centuries to various holy men and women, often saints of the Church, for their own edification but sometimes the Lord appeared in order to convey some desire of His Heart. This was the case for St. Faustina, to whom the Lord revealed the His desire to spread the awareness and depth of His Divine Mercy. She recorded most of these visions of the Lord, which today is compiled as a book entitled Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

One particular passage is quite relevant in explaining the mission entrusted to her:
My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy (Diary, 699).
This message of Divine Mercy being poured out upon is a powerful one and one that every one of us is called to receive for ourselves. It’s not just a private revelation from Our Lord, though. This reality of God’s infinite Mercy is all throughout the Scriptures, especially in the selections were hear proclaimed today.  The Psalm beautifully reminds us three times that “His Mercy endures forever.” This fits perfectly with the revelation to St. Faustina of the depths of the Divine Mercy and is but another voice reminding us of this truth.

The Gospel, though, not only speaks of the reality of Mercy but also shows it in action. We see that familiar scene when the Lord Jesus makes Himself present in the locked room with His disciples for the first time after the Resurrection. And what are His first words? “Peace be with you.” To the one who denied him three times, as well as to the other nine who abandoned Him in His our of greatest need, He comes and wishes them peace. Mercy in action even from the first! And I love how St. John recounts to us that as the Lord said “Peace be with you” a second time He opened His hands to show the wounds and revealed His pierced side as if to say “See my wounds, you have nothing more to fear for I have conquered everything that can do you harm.” And with that showing of Mercy to the disciples and the gift of peace they received, He also gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that they might share that peace with the whole world through the forgiveness of sins.

Often I have heard the questions from Catholic and non-Catholics alike “Why do I have to go to a priest for confession? What does he have to do with my forgiveness? Can’t I just go straight to God?” The questions are good ones, but the truth is that the sacrament of reconciliation or confession is not something we made up but is something that Jesus Himself gave to us. Rather than the priest being some sort of wall that should be avoided between sinners and the Lord, the priest is the means through which the grace and mercy of God flow – and Jesus Himself set it up this way: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained.”

The truth is that all of us are in need of grace and mercy. Not one of us is perfect but rather we are all sinners and are all in need of God’s mercy. It doesn’t matter if we are farther from God than we’ve ever been, closer than we’ve ever been, or somewhere in the middle. God wants us to come to Him and find forgiveness and, through that forgiveness, peace. His Mercy is inconceivable – as He said, no mind can every fathom it throughout all eternity. This inconceiveable mercy also longs to be poured out not just on a few but upon all. The large numbers of people healed in our first reading are a sign of the immensity of the grace and gifts being offered by the Lord if we but open ourselves to receive them. So let us not keep our Lord waiting any longer. Come to confession. Receive His Grace. Receive His Mercy. Receive His Peace.

St. Faustina, pray for us!
Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Mercy, pray for us!
Jesus, I trust in You!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

HWP: Regina Coeli

It is a common practice throughout the year to pray the Angelus three times each day - at 6am, 12 noon, and 6pm. This pious practice invites Our Lady into our hearts during these times that she might bring us to Jesus. During the Easter season the regular 'Angelus' is substituted with the 'Regina Coeli'. This beautiful hymn is a song of rejoicing offered to Our Lady in honor of the Resurrection of her beloved Son and prayer that by the power of that Resurrection we might enjoy eternal life with her and all the angels and saints. Let us pray!

Regina Coeli

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray.
O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, 
our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, 
that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, 
we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. 
Through the same Christ our Lord. 

Here is the Latin chant of the same prayer:

Monday, April 1, 2013

His Presence

Readings for March 31/ Easter Sunday:
Acts 10:34, 37-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4
Luke 24:13-35

I don’t know about y’all but I’m excited to be able to say the ‘A-word’ again.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

What a blessing to be able to come here today to begin this most solemn feast by singing over and again the praise of God with that word that brings such joy to our hearts – Alleluia! We rejoice because today Christ has conquered death. He has cast out the darkness and brought us into His light. Where there was one darkness, sin, and fear, Christ comes with light to sow life and peace. If we cannot rejoice in this, there is nothing in which to rejoice!

Not to take anything from the joy that we experience in this moment, but I would like to take a moment to reflect on Holy Saturday before returning to Easter Sunday. I’m sure most all of us know of the pious practice of visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament from time to time to pray. A visit to a church, a stop at the Adoration Chapel – these are little moments where we come before God and come into His Presence to find guidance, peace, and consolation through our prayers. This type of prayer is good and enjoyable for the most part because we often receive some grace in the end. But a few years ago I was challenged through a reflection by a religious sister to spend Holy Saturday praying with the absence of God. Holy Saturday is that one day each year when there are no official liturgical services – the Easter Vigil being an anticipated Sunday liturgy – and so there is no activity and often the tabernacle remains empty awaiting the consecration at the Vigil. Praying in this way, what I’ve found year after year is that those days are difficult ones. I came yesterday into the Church with it decorated for Easter and the smell of flowers in the air to signify the end of Lent, and yet as I stood there I felt something missing – or rather Someone missing. I sat before tabernacle, with it’s door wide open and nothing inside and began to pray. In the midst of that, though, I couldn’t help but feel this constant longing for the Lord to return.

Later in the evening at the Easter Vigil, as happens each year, as the words of consecration are spoken over the host and chalice, the emptiness is gone and a certain light and fullness, for lack of a better description, becomes truly present once more. Life has returned and the joy of that moment is tremendous as the darkness fades away.

I was praying with the contrast between those two experiences and it struck me that those points are actually short experiences of what eternity will be like. Hell has been traditionally understood as a profound absence of God because we by our sins have chosen to send Him away forever. Hell is the place where you feel completely empty and perpetually await the return of the Lord to bring life once more, but it never happens. On the flip side of the coin, the joy that is experienced in this celebration of Easter joy and the fullness of the Presence of Christ with us is a foretaste of the joy of Heaven. But the most incredible part is that the joy we experience now is as nothing compared to what is to come.

Often we think about heaven in our own terms. We take whatever thing or activity we enjoy the most – cars, fishing, shopping, eating, etc. – and we make it exist on a huge scale and imagine that as heaven. But the truth is that heaven is so glorious that it is beyond anything we can ever think of. That’s the good news that we celebrate today – that Christ by His victory over death has flung open the gates to Heaven that all the righteous might enter into that place which we could never have the courage to ask for, nor the imagination to make up. It is something entirely new and yet open for those who long to be received into it.

This something new is hinted at today in the Gospel passage as St. Peter runs to find the empty tomb and the clothing. Remember that Peter had been with Jesus when Lazarus was raised. He was there when others were raised up as well, so Peter knew well what Christ had the power to do. But when Lazarus was raised up, it was to the same life he had before. That’s why when Lazarus came out of the tomb they had to unwrap him. He had been covered in the burial shroud and simply revived, later to die once more. Peter saw that. But as he went into the tomb where Jesus had been, the cloths were in the same place as before, except He wasn’t in them. It is as if the Lord simply passed through them by sitting up and going about His way. This is shown to us later, as the Lord continue to pass through doors to get to the disciples. Something new has begun, and although, as the Scriptures tell us, they didn’t fully understand what being raised from the dead meant yet, they knew something was different. Something had changed.

My brothers and sisters, that something was the glorious life Jesus was living and to which He invites each of us today. So let us like the beloved disciple, not simply stop at seeing this miracle, but letting it also bring us to a conversion of heart and belief in Christ that compels us to go out and proclaim this good news of eternal life by our words and by our deeds. Let us today choose Christ once more and let Him choose us for Himself, that rather than feeling His absence we might rejoice today and for all eternity in the gift of His Presence.