Sunday, August 11, 2019

Are we ready to take off in faith? (19.C)

Life in the rectory has sure changed. Now that Father Giovanni has left, there’s a lot less pasta, no more espresso at breakfast, no more wine at lunch. I’m already missing him!

But the arrival of Father Jeff has brought other consolations. For eight years I have been living with priests who didn’t know any of the music, TV shows, or news stories that I grew up with. Until Fr. Jeff came along, if I said, “that reminds me of a Beach Boys song,” our assistant pastors might ask me “what boys?” or “what beach?”

Now, Fr. Jeff will just start to sing the song!

Of course I have the same problem preaching to a congregation of different ages and backgrounds. From time to time I mention a TV character or popular song and the younger half of the congregation gives me a blank stare.

But this morning I think I can mention a song most of you have heard, called “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Although John Denver wrote it in 1966, it’s a catchy tune and you still hear it on the radio from time to time.

The song opens with the words “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.” All three of today’s readings turn that into a question for each of us: “Are your bags packed? Are you ready to go?”

As the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says, all three of the readings at Mass today “require us to live in a state of departure.” Our bags are packed with faith, with what God has said to us, and we are ready to face the accounting God will require of us.

The second reading is probably the best passage about faith in the whole New Testament, but it’s a commentary on the best passage about faith in the whole Old Testament—the story of Abraham.

The author of The Letter to the Hebrews is writing for a community of Jewish Christians. They already know the whole story of Abraham, so the point of today’s text must go beyond that. The scripture scholar F.F. Bruce says that it points out that in Old Testament times “there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God” to rely on, “without any visible evidence that these promises would be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them” that they lived their whole lives in their light.

“Their faith,” writes Professor Bruce, “consisted simply in taking God at His word and directing their lives accordingly.”

The second reading gives us the famous stories of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, while the first reading turns to another chapter in the history of salvation, the Exodus from Egypt, the Passover. Here a promise was not fulfilled in the future but immediately, as the Chosen People were delivered from Pharaoh’s armies.

And the first reading reminds us that even the glorious victory of the Passover night was a fulfillment of earlier promises made to Israel by the Lord. Her escape from the slavery of the Egypt, the text begins, was made known beforehand.

One verse jumps out at us in this regard: “The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by your people.”

In the two stories, the life of Abraham and the first Passover, we see the way our own faith plays out.

Sometimes, like Abraham, we do not see God’s promises to us fulfilled. He never saw, obviously, that his descendants would be as many as the stars of heaven and as the grains of sand on the seashore. But he believed the promise, and lived his life by it.

Sometimes, like the people Moses led to freedom, we get to see God’s promises in action. What we believed he would do, he did. We experienced what we hoped and prayed for.

But note two important points here: first, in both situations, we must have faith. Faith precedes the answer to prayer. The answers to prayer rarely if ever produce faith. If we pray without expectation, we’re really not engaging with God at all.

Second, when there’s no visible answer to prayer we cannot surrender our faith. It took centuries, perhaps millennia, for God to fulfill all his promises to Israel with the coming of the Messiah. His time is not our time any more than his ways are our ways.

It’s all summed up in the opening words of the second reading today: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

What does all this mean for our daily lives? Obviously, we’re being taught a lesson not only about faith, but also about trust and patience. But the Gospel goes one step further, and tells us that people of faith live by faith.

Faith guided Abraham and Sarah, and Moses and his people, each and every day. They were ready for whatever God wanted to do.

Faith must also move us to be ready for what God wants to do with us. We don’t know whether or lives will be long or short, peaceful or troubled. But we know in faith what he plans for us—a life lived with faith in his promises, a life on which we can be judged without fear.

Constancy is a word that sums up the Christian’s daily call. And faith in what God commands and promises is what makes it possible over the long haul.

So today we just ask ourselves: Are my bags packed? Am I ready to go?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Be Rich Toward God (18.C)

Today's the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. It's also the 12th anniversary of my appointment as pastor of Christ the Redeemer parish.

Before I could become the pastor, Church law required that I make a profession of faith and promise to fulfill my office faithfully.  Since I was living in Rome when I got the Archbishop's letter of appointment, I made that profession at the tomb of the Apostle Peter beneath the high altar of the Vatican basilica named after him.

As if that weren't blessing enough, it was the anniversary of my priestly ordination.

Getting permission to say Mass at the tomb of the first Pope took some work. But that was nothing compared to the work it took for archaeologists to find the tomb: it was always believed to be somewhere underneath St. Peter's basilica, but no-one knew quite where.

Only in 1950 did Pope Pius XII announce that the tomb had been discovered, after a search that lasted more than a decade. And it took another 15 years to decide that bones discovered at the tomb belonged to St. Peter.

Although I've known this since I was a seminarian in Rome in the eighties,  I only learned the rest of the story last month when a priest friend from Texas gave me a copy of a book called The Fisherman's Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican's Secret Searchby John O'Neill.

The book recounts how a Texas oilman named George Strake actually helped Pius XII to finance the hunt for the tomb after a whole cemetery was discovered underneath St. Peter's during excavations for the burial place of Pope Pius XI in 1939.

The archaeological adventure is a great story, but it's not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is George Strake.

Strake became fabulously wealthy when he struck oil near Houston. He'd already made and lost a fortune more than once, so he was gambling everything on the Conroe oil field. His wife Susan said she'd accept the risk of poverty so long as George never again questioned her spending habits if he did get rich.

(Apparently he kept his promise, since O'Neill's book says that when Susan died people looked to see if the flags on Houston's department stores were flying at half-mast!)

Anyway, Strake's story relates to the Gospel story this Sunday. Which may seem odd: how can one of America's wealthiest men help us understand a parable about riches, especially one where the rich man comes off badly?

The answer is simple enough: what we know of George Strake suggests that, despite his fortune, he guarded himself against greed, and knew that his life was not defined by what he possessed.

Three things stand out from what the book tells us about this dedicated Catholic. First, that he saw his fortune through the eyes of faith. He didn't think of himself as the sole owner of the vast Conroe oilfield; he said he was part of a team of two. His wealth was a gift from God.

Second, Strake believed he was bound to use his wealth to serve worthy causes, particularly the Church. On his desk, he kept the saying of another oilman: "God doesn't care how much money you have when you die. God cares what you did with the money you had when you are alive."

And third, he followed the Gospel's teaching "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing." He had one condition for the support he gave the search for St. Peter's tomb: anonymity. That was how he made all his contributions, anonymously. Which is why the only Wikipedia page dedicated to George Strake is about his son, a politician. 

Of course nowadays it can be hard to give anonymously, because major donors are often urged to let their donation be recognized so others will be encouraged to give. But even in such cases the gift must come from the heart, without any calculation of return.

Today's parable can sound rather stern: "You fool," God says to the rich man, "This very night your life is being demanded of you." But at its heart, the message of Jesus is positive and beautiful: "Be rich toward God," he says.

Can it be painful to show to God the generosity he has shown to us? Living as a steward of our possessions, and not as their absolute owner, makes us free, protecting us from greed, selfishness, and the corrosive effects of too much money.

To conclude, we should remember that today's Gospel is not only addressed to the rich. It reminds all of us that all the good things we have come from God and must lead us to God, be they many or few. Whether we're a pensioner or a student, a priest or a millionaire, we are able to use what we have to do the good that needs to be done, just like George Strake.

Being rich toward God means living in partnership with him, joining in his plan not only for our welfare, but for the good of the Church and society.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Philip and Angie: Wedding Homily

On Saturday, I officiated at the wedding of Angie Scandale and Philip O'Reilly. The celebration would have been memorable for the music alone - the choir consisted of Philip's past and present students from St. Andrew's High School, where he teaches music, along with members of the choir of St. Andrew's Cathedral.

But for me, there was something even more beautiful than the exquisite music. I have known the groom since he was three years old and shared the life of his family just before I entered the seminary. In the O'Reilly's living room I announced my decision to study for the priesthood to my parents, with an adoring Philip on my knee. 

My mother said that made things rather more difficult for her! But no one could say I was unaware of the costs of sacrificing a family of my own. At the same time, sharing in Philip's progress through life has been one of the experiences of fatherhood that has ensured my deep satisfaction as a priest. 

More than thirty-years ago, I took Philip by the hand and walked with him down the hall on his first day of preschool. Since his Dad was a teacher, he was otherwise engaged that morning, so I got to accompany Bernadette.

I cried then—and I will probably cry now—as Philip takes Angie’s hand and walks with her into a future full of hope and joy.

I’ve often wondered what the teacher thought as a sobbing man handed Philip—who was crying louder than I was—and headed back down the hall. Something along the lines of “we are sure going to have problems with that father!”

What she couldn’t have known was that Philip’s first day of school was my last day in Victoria. I left later that morning for the seminary in Rome.

During the three years I spent in Victoria, this Cathedral church was where I began my journey to the priesthood; this afternoon the same sacred space is where Angie and Philip begin their journey to married life.

Can you blame me for being a bit emotional?

But Angie and Philip, you’ve chosen Scripture readings for this celebration that make it easy enough for me to preach today, despite my strong feelings. Like the tapestry that hangs on the O’Reilly’s dining room wall, these texts beautifully weave together the strands of human and divine love.

First, you chose a passage from the Song of Songs. While Jews and Christians alike have found deep spiritual themes in this ancient book, it is first and foremost a series of love poems—some from a man to a woman, some—like the one we heard today—from a woman to a man.

It’s good that we celebrate the human dimension of your love for each other. That alone is something to celebrate.

But you two are mature and wise enough to know that the breathless romance of the Song of Songs needs to be rooted in more than the exhilaration and passion of love. So you chose St. Paul’s famous chapter on love—a concrete, even tough, definition of what you two are freely embracing today.

If I can give you one simple piece of advice today, it’s this: keep a copy of St. Paul’s words handy, and read it to each other every time you find yourselves fighting. Now that I think of it, when I get home, I’m going to laminate two copies and send them to you!

And there’s one more ingredient you need to add to the romance of the Song of Songs and the practical wisdom of St. Paul, to ensure a truly blessed life together. To complete the recipe, I want to recycle part of a very clever sermon I gave at a wedding about six years ago.

The sermon was very clever because Philip helped me write it!

I was celebrating the marriage of our parish organist, and I wanted to make a key point using music. So, I called Philip the music teacher.

What I did was simple—I struck middle C on the piano. It wasn’t a grand piano like we have here, but the note rang out clearly enough.

Then I played E together with the C, creating the first harmonic in a series, Philip expertly informed me: Combining the two notes, each with its own musical identity, produced something one note alone cannot—an obvious musical conclusion obviously related to our first reading, where the beauty of love between two people is so evident.

But Philip sent me back to the keyboard to add G to the first two notes. Even I knew that was a chord, but he told me that for music students it was a triad.

If the harmony of C and E can represent what happens when a man and woman are united in marriage, what lesson can we draw from the chord produced by adding G?

Well, G quite easily might stand for God. Our faith tells us that marriage is not only a natural, original good, but a supernatural one as well.

Jesus elevated the marriage of Christians to a new level. The union of man and woman is no longer just part of God’s plan, but part of God’s work. The couple unite themselves as one flesh, but by no merely human power they are joined together by God himself.

Jesus says this explicitly in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. But Philip and Angie, you’ve chosen words from the Gospel of John where Jesus takes us even deeper into the mystery of human and divine love.

The Lord says that love isn’t just something to which he invites you; love is his own command. And while love is certainly all those things St. Paul says—patient, kind, enduring and the rest—at its deepest level it is sacrificial.

By choosing this Gospel for your wedding Mass, you commit to a total gift of self, imitating Christ who loved us so much that he gave himself up for us (cf. Ephesians 5:25).

There’s both a modern song and a jazz standard that wouldn’t fit with the beautiful and meaningful music you’ve chosen for this wedding. But the title “All of Me” describes just what you are offering each other when you offer to love as the Lord has loved you.

Dear Angie and Philip, may you spend your lives together in complete harmony with each other, and in perfect harmony with God’s plan for your earthly happiness and eternal salvation.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Suffering (16.C)

Today’s readings offered two subjects for my homily. On one, I’m an expert. About the other, I know almost nothing.

I’m an expert on hospitality—both receiving and showing hospitality are very important to me. And Father Jeff made me feel proud last Sunday when he suggested in his homily on the Good Samaritan that the welcome he’s been shown in our parish has helped to bind up his own wounds.

I’m proud of our reputation as a hospitable community, which we show in many ways including the meals we serve to our young people and Alpha guests, the efforts we make to welcome newcomers, and even the way the rectory is used by CCO missionaries, visiting priests, and other travelers.

So a homily on hospitality would be a slam-dunk today, given the story of Abraham and Sarah in our first reading, and that of Martha and Mary in the Gospel.

Suffering, which St. Paul talks about in the first verse of today’s second reading, is a much tougher subject. And as I’ve said, I don’t know much about it, since I’ve suffered very little in my life.

Two possible topics for our time together this morning. An easy one, and a hard one. Which do you think I chose?

I decided to tackle suffering. In the first place, it’s more central to the Christian life even than hospitality. Suffering is connected to key aspects of our faith, to understanding Christ himself. At the same time, it’s a human reality that few of us escape entirely, even if some folks seem to carry much more than their share.

In other words, it’s something we really need to talk more about.

There’s no Christian teaching misunderstood more often than suffering. Simple sayings like “God never gives you more than you can handle” just cause confusion. Even when we know better, we can think “God must be punishing me” or “if God really loved me this wouldn’t be happening.”

We were blessed in recent memory to witness the physical sufferings of St. John Paul,
and the mental sufferings of St. Teresa of Calcutta.

An un-canonized saint, Billy Graham, also died after a long and painful illness. And all three bore the painful sufferings of public attacks and violent criticism.

It’s an error to think that these great figures don’t feel pain like ordinary people. Billy Graham said “In my own life, the pressures at times, mentally, physically, and spiritually have become so great that I felt like lying down in the cemetery to see how I fit.”

“When asked how he felt about his Parkinson’s disease and if he considered God responsible for it,” Dr. Graham replied “I don’t know. He allows it. And he allows it for a purpose that I may not know. I think that [for] everything that comes to our lives, if we are true believers, God has a purpose and a plan.” *

That reply from the famous Protestant preacher squares completely not only with Scripture but also with Catholic theology. You’ve many times heard me quote Romans 8:28, my favorite verse in the Bible, where St. Paul teaches “that all things work together for those who love God.”

I may be no expert on suffering, but St. Paul certainly was. On a Catholic website, I found an entire catalogue of his sufferings, both the ones he wrote about and the many recounted by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. He has personal credibility when he talks about suffering, something I can’t claim.

A lot of what St. Paul says about suffering is easy enough to accept. He told the Corinthians “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities” for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). That makes sense—the suffering Christian has to depend on God’s strength rather than his or her own resources.

He also talks several times about being joyful when afflicted, which points us to the power of a positive attitude and a spirit of acceptance. In fact, Paul is so convinced that Christians can find joy in all things that he repeats himself and says it twice: rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

And when the Apostle writes “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us” (Roman 8:18) he’s saying something we understand quite easily. All earthly suffering is temporary; heavenly glory is eternal.

Today, St. Paul takes our understanding of suffering to the next level: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.

That one sentence ruined my plan for a short homily!

In the first place, Paul introduces the idea that our suffering can help others, even the whole Church. But in the second, he confuses us because he seems to suggest that Christ’s sufferings weren’t enough, which we know they were.

That first point is one of those things we don’t have much trouble with. As children, we were told “offer it up” when something unpleasant happened; as adults, we’ve heard of holy people fasting for their children or friends in time of difficulty. Following the example of Christ, we instinctively know we can turn our pain into prayer for others.

But the second point, that he is completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, is puzzling. “Paul seems to imply that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was somehow incomplete.” Again, we know that’s not true, as Paul already made clear a few verses earlier: God has completed his rescue of us and our salvation has fully been accomplished in Christ.

So what can he mean? Scholars explain that the Greek words used by Paul are complex. “What is lacking,” for instance, can be translated “what remains to be completed.” And Christ’s afflictions “can mean the afflictions that inevitably accompany the mission” of any disciple. Our sufferings, commentators suggest, are Christ’s sufferings. In union with him, we carry on his work of redeeming the world. (Dennis Hamm, SJ, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 185).

Paul’s basic teaching—that God uses our suffering for good, that suffering can protect us from pride and self-reliance, that accepting suffering (as Jesus did) makes it much easier to bear, and that heaven is an ultimate answer to even the greatest of sufferings—is part of our Catholic DNA. But today he takes us further into the mystery of Christ, whom the prophet Isaiah called “a man of suffering,” “despised and rejected by others.”

When our suffering is united with Christ’s, two things happen. As I’ve already said, we share in his work of redemption. But we also lighten our burden, because the Lord invited us to take on his yoke—to join him—and promised that we would find rest.

Rest is another name for peace, and that is what God promises to those who suffer. Not an end to suffering, but peace in the midst of it.

Jesus says to the suffering person: “Come to me.” When the TV interviewer David Frost asked Billy Graham how Christians should get ready for hard times, Dr. Graham replied “The most important thing we can do is to grow in our relationship to Christ. If we have not learned to pray in our everyday lives, we will find it difficult to know God’s peace and strength through prayer when hard times come.”

“If we have not learned to trust God’s Word when times are easy, we will not trust his Word when we face difficulties.”

Some of you are suffering right now. All of us will suffer sooner or later. So I want to end by suggesting we become more intentional about our suffering, by learning more about how God works through it and in it.

One way, of course, is by spending some time with the Scriptures. Google “Bible texts on suffering” and you will have a prayer program for the rest of the summer, if not for the rest of the year.

The parish gift shop is actually a great resource for those who would like to learn more about how to deal with or prepare for suffering. For one thing, it’s selling booklets that help you memorize Bible verses—a very helpful thing. To quote Billy Graham one last time, “The Scriptures speak to us in those moments when we look to the Lord for sustenance and strength.”

And the gift shop has a number of books about peace, one of God’s answers to suffering. Just about everyone has heard me talk about Father Jacques Philippe’s modern classic, Searching for and Maintaining Peace. But he continues his basic theme in his other books, including Interior Freedom.

I’ve preached before about acceptance and detachment as remedies for suffering, but recently I read a book called Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us by Father  Wilfred Stinissen. Abandonment takes acceptance up a notch, and this little book can be specially helpful to those whose suffering is particularly hard.

One last word: let’s not only think about how to use and bear our own suffering. We should pray for one another: reminding us that we are the body of Christ, St. Paul writes “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). 

All quotes from Dr. Billy Graham are from Lewis A. Drummond, The Evangelist: The Worldwide Impact of Billy Graham, which has a chapter devoted to “Billy Graham and Suffering.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Summertime Ideas for Intentional Discipleship (13.C)

I celebrated thirty three years of priesthood on Friday. Every one of them has been happy, but none happier than the years I have spent at Christ the Redeemer.

I like everything about being a pastor… except for one thing. Busy-ness. I really hate how busy I am. And, to tell the truth, I really hate how busy you are. What’s worse, I really don’t know how to fix it.

In my life, email gets a lot of the blame. At the moment, my inbox has 257 emails, although I spent hours answering them last week.

I’m not sure what fills your so-called free time, but if you have kids I can bet sports keeps you busier than email.

It’s easy enough to blame it all on the pace of modern life. My grandfather got up around 7:30 and caught the streetcar to work at twenty after eight. He got off the streetcar every night about twenty after five. My father got up at six and was out the door by seven, back home about eleven hours later. I get up at five and finish work at seven or eight in the evening.

And yet the scriptures we hear today suggest that people have always been busy. Elisha wants to fulfill his family duties before he replaces Elijah as the great prophet of Israel. Three potential disciples of Jesus also give reasons why they can’t follow him right away.

What I like about these stories is that the excuses are good ones. Hard to think of better ones—the funeral of a father, a fond farewell to family. Elijah is sympathetic—okay, go and kiss your parents. But Jesus doesn’t buy the excuses—not because he’s mean, but to make a timeless point for us: nothing matters more than following him.

The Psalm today proclaims “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Another translation says “My happiness lies in you alone.”

Obviously, Christians don’t reject the many good things that surround us: family, hiking, sports, parties, and so on. But as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, we are both flesh and spirit—and the flesh likes to get its own way.

It’s a struggle to put first things first. It’s so tempting to work on email when I should be praying. An earlier start to the hike can be more attractive than getting to Mass. We’re surrounded by things demanding our immediate attention.

The American general and president Dwight Eisenhower coined what’s called the “Eisenhower Principle”: “What’s important is seldom urgent and what’s urgent is seldom important.”

Our spiritual lives are rarely urgent, but always important. They deserve as much planning as our summer holidays, if not more.

So to keep this homily short and to the point, I’d like to issue two challenges for those who’d like to try just a bit harder to answer the call to discipleship.

First, try to fit the 9 a.m. Mass into the family’s crazy schedule for Canada Day. Start the day tomorrow with half an hour of worship, thanking God for all that’s wonderful about our country, and asking him to help us fix all that isn’t.

Second, our parish leaders are hard at work mapping out a discipleship path to share with you in the Fall. Why not get a head start on that path over the summer?

Today's bulletin has a whole page of ideas for a more spiritual summer. Take a copy with you today, and tick off two summertime plans. Then put the bulletin on the frig door, and do a couple of simple but intentional things to move forward on “the path of life.” 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

I believe; help my unbelief: the Real Presence (Corpus Christi.C)

Our young adults had a barbecue last night. They fed me one hamburger, one hot dog, and one homily.  Today’s homily.

Before I’d even reached for the mustard, a young parishioner asked me whether most Catholics believe in the Real Presence. I answered that I don’t know, but that I am fairly sure many Catholics do not understand the Real Presence.

Opinion polls, which are extremely helpful to the Church, can’t answer the question—because to ask people whether they believe in the Real Presence, we’d have to define it. And that’s something you can’t do on a survey.

But it is something you can do in a homily. So let’s just take a survey sample of one, and ask ourselves “Do I believe in the Real Presence?”   But before you answer “yes, no, or maybe” let me try to do what a survey can’t, by explaining something of what the Church teaches about the Body and Blood of Christ.

Of course when we talk about the Real Presence or the Body and Blood of Christ we’re talking about the Mass. You can’t separate today’s feast from Holy Thursday. And when we’re talking about the Mass, we’re talking about the saving sacrifice of Jesus. You can’t separate Holy Thursday from Good Friday. And we sure can’t separate anything we believe from Easter Sunday.

Already you can see that no ordinary survey can accurately determine whether or what Catholics believe.

Today’s feast presumes all that we believe about the Mass, but it focuses on one aspect. That aspect was defined with theological precision at the Council of Tent, in 1551. It taught that “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’”

That’s a real mouthful of theology. What St. Paul writes in our second reading is plainer: Jesus said “this is my Body” and told us to eat and drink in remembrance of him. From the beginning, the Church has taken Jesus at his word.

And why not? It seems obvious why Jesus should want to remain present to his Church in this unique way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us ‘to the end,’ even to the giving of his life” (CCC 1380).

St. Paul VI explained that this presence is called ‘real’ not because the other types of Christ’s presence are not ‘real’ too, “but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Mysterium Fidei, 39).

Although we speak of the Real Presence, we know that Jesus is really present in many other ways: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, where two or three are gathered in his name, in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the other sacraments and their ministers, and in the sacrifice of the Mass. But he is present most especially in his Body and Blood (CCC 1373).

A very simple example: Jesus was truly present at last night’s barbecue, where the young adults were gathered in his name. It was an event of small-c communion. But I got an email from one of them written at two in the morning—because after the party he’d gone to spend time with Jesus in the adoration chapel at Holy Trinity. Because Jesus was present there in a special way, a way so special it was worth a very late night.

Today’s Gospel might remind us more of the barbecue than Eucharistic adoration. But it’s a miracle of power that should turn our thoughts more to heavenly than earthly food. Jesus shows not only that he’s powerful but generous. I wonder if the struggle to believe in his Real Presence is because we’re not sure he’s powerful enough or generous enough to perform the miracle of all miracles, transforming ordinary food into the Bread of Angels, the healing of wounded hearts, the source of holiness, and the cause of unity.

So let’s take the survey. Do I believe that Jesus is present in that tabernacle, and will be present soon on this altar, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity?” Putting it another way, do I take Jesus, who said “this is my Body” and “this is my Blood,” at his word?

Some of us will answer with a firm yes. Some, perhaps, with a firm no. But many of us will answer with the famous words of the father whose Son Jesus had just healed: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24).

What do we do to strengthen our faith in the Eucharistic presence? Pope Francis answered this question in one of his daily homilies. He called prayer, adoration, and acknowledging that we are sinners the three paths which help a Christian know and understand the mystery of God. Then he added something rather bold: “one cannot know the Lord without [the] habit of adoring, of adoring in silence” (Homily, October 20, 2016). 
The Pope said that adoration is not always found in the Christian life. “I believe, if I am not mistaken”, he said, “that this prayer of adoration is the [prayer] least known by us, it is the one we do the least”, as if it were a “waste of time before the Lord, before the mystery of Jesus Christ”.

He called us to rediscover “the silence of Adoration.”

Whatever answer you gave to the personal survey, that sounds like good advice. There is, as I mentioned, an adoration chapel nearby at Holy Trinity. And we hope to schedule more adoration of the Blessed Sacrament here at Christ the Redeemer, starting in the Fall. But every day the Lord waits for you in the church, which is open daily from about 7 to 5, and very often until 9.

Take Jesus at his word, and meet him in his Real Presence.

(Looking for more? here's a video from the remarkable Bishop Barron.)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Thinking About God the Father on Trinity Sunday

When Trinity Sunday falls on Father’s Day, priests and deacons breathe a sigh of relief. The doctrine of the Trinity is, on the one hand, as simple as 1-2-3. But on the other, it is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.” It is “the mystery of God in himself” and the source of all the other mysteries of our faith (CCC 234).

In short, even the cleverest preacher can’t even begin to do justice to this core truth of Christianity.

But on Father’s Day we can at least try to relate our human experience to the Trinity, and particularly to God as Father. Even then we’re just glimpsing some of the wonders of belief in the Triune God, but it’s a start.

Last night’s Summer Celebration was a huge success. It was a sell-out crowd, but in many ways it felt like a family barbecue. The event testified to many things, including the generosity of our volunteers, the closeness of our community, and the affection we have for Father Giovanni, who was the subject of farewell speeches and songs.

(Speaking of the songs, one of them was sung to the tune of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and included the line “Monsignor’s already so lonesome he could cry”—at which point the cheeky singer paused and said “Not that that means much: Monsignor cries at everything.”)

Fair point. But it’s worth a tear or two when we reflect that the greatest thing about last evening was that we were gathered as children of a common Father, truly as brothers and sisters in God who loves us.

The relationship we enjoy as brothers and sisters is an important element of life in the Church. But much more important is the relationship with God as our father. We hear a lot about the need for a personal relationship with Jesus, but we should remember that we are also called to a personal relationship with our heavenly Father.

The monthly scripture magazine The Word Among Us asks a great question in its meditation on today’s feast: “So how is your relationship with the Holy Trinity? Do you tend to focus only on one Person and ‘forget’ to deepen your relationship with the others?”

And it gives us some simple and practical advice: “If you want a better relationship with the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, just ask God to reveal himself to you more deeply. You might just discover some new facet about him” as you continue the conversation.

Just ask. That’s more or less what I said about the Holy Spirit last week. If we feel we lack the relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—that we hear so much about, we might think over what St. James says in his epistle: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)

And when asking God to reveal himself more deeply to us as Father we have a bit of a head start. Although earthly fathers come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of imperfection, we do know what a father is. If our fathers showed us a father’s love, that’s a great place to start. But even if they didn’t, we know what was lacking and what we truly need now.

The first reading today highlights the creativity of God. Of course fathers are pro-creators of their children, a necessary part of their conception.

(For some reason, what are called “Dad jokes” have gone viral on the internet lately. Every one of them is a real groaner, way too corny to tell from the pulpit. But I did stumble across a joke about dads that emphasizes their role in procreation. Four men are in the hospital waiting room because their wives are having babies. A nurse goes up to the first guy and says, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.”

“That’s odd,” answers the man. “I work for the Minnesota Twins!”

A nurse says to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!”

“That’s weird,” answers the second man. “I work for the 3M Company!”

A nurse tells the third man, “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!”

“That’s strange,” he answers. “I work at the Four Seasons hotel!”

The last man is groaning and banging his head against the wall. “What’s wrong?” the others ask.

“I work for 7 Up!”)

If the first reading has a certain focus on biological fatherhood, we might say that the second reading applies well to adoptive fathers. St. Paul tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit—love is a free gift because we have been chosen to be God’s sons and daughters.

A couple of young adults and I found the time before Easter to watch Father Dave Pivonca’s video series “The Wild Goose.” It took us a few months to watch all the episodes, but it was worth it—you might want to do the same on YouTube. One of the best episodes was called “The Spirit of Adoption.” In it, Father Dave pointed out that Roman fathers could fairly easily disown their natural children.

“If they angered him, he had the legal right to disown his children, sell them into slavery or even kill them,” one history blog states clearly. (I am glad I didn’t live in ancient Rome!)

But an adoptive father had no such rights. Since the adopted child had been chosen and desired, he was a permanent member of the family. St. Paul has this in mind when he tells us “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15).

So whether we look on God as our creator, the one who formed us in our mother’s wombs, or as the God who has freely poured his love into our hearts, Father’s Day is a great day to ask for a deeper and closer parent-child relationship with him.

There’s no opposition between the persons of the Blessed Trinity, so approaching God in his fatherhood will bring us closer to the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s clear from what Jesus says in the Gospel this morning: “All that the Father has is mine.” These words echo his words earlier in John’s Gospel: “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

So today, let’s ask God, who has made himself known to the human race, to make himself known to our hearts, through the Spirit of truth.