Sunday, August 30, 2015

22nd Sunday per annum (OF) - Obeying the Law of God

If there is one constant complaint made against the Church, it is concerning the various rules which she imposes upon the faithful.  Mass obligations, fasting and abstinence, what is or isn’t a sin, what one can or cannot do; all these things seem too much for many people.  They will perhaps use today’s Gospel account against the Church, saying that she erects manmade traditions against the law of God.  They will call for the Church to change this rule or to relax this belief so as to conform to the modern, enlightened view on the matter.  Our opponents are terribly mistaken in understanding the distinctions between the laws of men and the law of God.
The law of God is that which has been established by God Himself for either a certain period or until the end of time.  This law is given to us by God so that we may come to know the truth and begin to live it out.  We can compare the law of God to the law of parents imposed upon their children: the parents want their children to be responsible, mature adults.  To do that, they must impose rules upon the children which give them some guiding principles.  The parents make the children brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, clean their rooms, and so on, because this will be necessary for them in adulthood.  It is the same with the law of God: God our heavenly Father gives us these rules and beliefs so that we may mature to the fullness of faith, toward truly becoming His adopted children.  Whether it is belief in the positive things such as the Trinity and the Incarnation or the negative such as the avoidance of abortion and contraception, all these things are given to us by God through the Church for our good.
The law of man, however, comes from within humanity itself.  This law does not necessarily oppose the law of God, but it is concerned more with the current day.  The speed limit is a law of man which is good in that it helps protect people while driving.  But the law of man can be established in opposition to the law of God.  More and more do we see this latter done in the ways in which our society continually counteracts the law of God.  You don’t feel that you are the gender which God has given you?  No problem; redefine yourself however you wish.  Don’t believe that the marital act is meant for the procreation of children?  No problem; we’ll just provide you with contraception to counter that nasty side effect, or you can get an abortion if that doesn’t work.  Can’t stand that marriage was created by God for one man and one woman?  Never fear!  We can make marriage in our own image and likeness, letting anyone marry whomever they want.
This is the danger of forgetting how we were fashioned in the beginning.  God has implanted within us the ability to grasp His law from a natural perspective along with revealing to us the essentials of that same law.  It is not difficult for us to know what it is that God desires for us and from us.  Yet humanity seems more and more eager to embrace its own interpretations instead of God’s will for us.  Saint James tells us in our second reading that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God who is without alteration or shadow.  But our society desires to dwell in the shadows and the thousand various alterations of the law to its own misguided purpose, instead of receiving from the Father of lights the truth which is meant to illumine our hearts.
We as Catholics are called to observe all which holy mother Church teaches and commands as coming from God.  This means that we must reject the ways of sinful society which writes its own law.  But this also puts us against that same society, which wants to force the Church and force us to obey it.  This is the “dictatorship of relativism” as it has been famously defined by Pope Benedict XVI before his election to the papacy.  The world is tolerant of any number of man-made rules or definitions, but it is intolerant of the lone voice of the Church proclaiming that there is something true, that there is Someone who is Truth Himself.  “He was in the world ... and the world knew Him not,” Saint John proclaims at the beginning of his Gospel: the Word sent from God ‘came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
If we are to remain Catholic in this spiralling swirl of society, we must cling to the law of God given to us by Christ.  Furthermore, we obey this law not in a rigid legalism which sees the Faith as a punch ticket: attend so many Masses, do so many fasts, and your ticket for heaven is completed.  We must live as Moses exhorted the Israelites to live so that the other nations around them would marvel at their wisdom and intelligence in understanding the law of God.  We must live as Saint James tells us to do: to be doers of the word and not merely hearers.  We must live above all, the command of Christ to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourself.
Let us pray to God that we may receive the grace necessary to overcome the dictatorship of relativism and to live uprightly before God.  Let us purge ourselves of all which is within us which leads towards being unclean in the law.  Let us desire more and more to follow God not as a robot follows its programming, but as a child follows their parent.  Let us love God for the law He has given us, for the Church which teaches us this law and pours upon us the riches of this law.  Let us do the justice of God’s law so that we may live in the presence of the Lord for all eternity.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

21st Sunday per annum (OF) - The Scandal of the Eucharist

As we conclude our reading of John chapter 6, we come to a point where we see something that does not occur anywhere else in the Gospels except during Our Lord’s Passion: people abandon Christ.  Certainly, there have be situations where those around Christ have questioned His sayings and teachings or have left not understanding His words.  But in this instance we find the one occasion where we hear the Gospel writer declare that not only did some of His disciples left Him, but they also returned to their former way of life.  We see in this passage the scandal which the definition of the Eucharist caused in Christ’s own time, and the shadows of the scandal of the Eucharist which remains to our own day.
For certainly, the Eucharist is a scandal to our Protestant brethren, especially fundamentalists.  They uphold a literal reading of the Scriptures as essential to the faith, except when it comes to this specific passage.  They will seek to reinterpret or downplay what Our Lord declares here, trying to show that it is only symbolic or that Christ is really meaning faith or the Scriptures or anything else other than the Eucharist.  Their folly is exposed simply by carefully reading the passage.  Does Christ stop those who are leaving?  Does He correct them and say that He is only symbolically the bread of life or that we must symbolically eat His flesh and drink His blood through the bread and wine of Communion?  Never!  In fact, Saint John’s Greek is very scandalous: John uses a Greek verb for eating which was associated with how animals ate.  It denotes rending, gnashing, gobbling, the simple, stupid, slovenly way that animals eat as compared to a normal human.  There can be no doubt about it: the Catholic Church, from the very beginning, has maintained the literal reading of this passage along with the whole Scriptures in contrast to the falsities of the Protestants.
The Eucharist is scandalous to non-Christians as well, those who live united to the sinful world rather than those seeking after the good God.  We see this in the way they elevate their bodies as their god instead of the One who gave them both bodies and souls.  Our society is filled with those who seek the pleasures of the body as the means of happiness and let nothing in the way.  The rampant use of abortion and contraception demonstrates this principle most sorrowfully to us.  One author remarks that abortion is the devil’s parody of the Eucharist, for in both the key phrase to understand each is “This is my body.”  For when your belly is your god, then your Eucharist is only found within, and this leads to destruction.
The Eucharist is lastly scandalous to those Catholics who have not remained faithful to Christ, whether they have remained in the Church or not.  For we are reminded once more in this passage of the necessity of faith and its very essence as a gift of God.  Christ reminds those who are about to go away that no one comes to Him and to His Church except the Father draw them in through the Holy Spirit who bestows life upon us.  St. John Chrysostom teaches that in this passage Christ is desiring to remove the scandal of the Eucharist from the hearts of His disciples so that they will believe.  Yet they still abandon Him because His words ask too much of them.  Saint John remarks that Christ, being divine, knew who would believe and who would not believe, and even knew the one who would betray Him to His passion and death.  In the example of Judas we see those bad Catholics who have abandoned the faith while still remaining within the confines of the Church.  For Judas was chosen to be an apostle, one of the Twelve sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the world, yet he chooses to abandon Christ for his own sinful reasons.  How tragic it is to see Catholics receive the Eucharist when it means so little to them and when it will bring not eternal life but eternal punishment upon them!
If we are to avoid that same fate, if we are to avoid the pains of Hell and to receive eternal life, we must do as Saint Peter and the faithful Apostles did.  We must believe what Christ tells us and receive His flesh and blood in the Eucharist faithfully and worthily.  We must not let our reception of Holy Communion be wasted, but lead us into a deeper relationship with Christ really and truly present in this mystery of faith.  We must be nourished by the one who, as Saint Paul reveals, loves the Church as a husband loves his wife, so much in fact that He is willing to die for her, willing to die for us.  We must seek to free our lives of every sin which separates us from the love of God and from worthily receiving the bread come down from Heaven.
Let us do our part, then, to imitate the example of the Israelites in our first reading, by readily clinging to God above all else.  Let us not be fooled by the devil into our own interpretations but receive this mystery with a willing heart and being transformed by Christ each time we receive Him.  Let us cleanse our hearts of sin through our more frequent reception of confession so that we may receive more fully the graces and gifts Christ desires to pour upon us in our need.  May our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to eternal life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

First Day of School

Please pray for me as I begin my first day of school as a teacher.  You would think that nearly a quarter century of being in school would prepare me for this, but it is far different being on this side of the desk.  Pray also for all the students, faculty, and staff at Covington Latin, where I am also the chaplain.  Mass of the Holy Spirit will be offered this morning to get things going aright.  Oremus pro invicem!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Virgin by Peter-Paul Rubens
(NB: This weekend, I am celebrating the Assumption in lieu of the 20th Sunday per annum because this is the feast of my parish.)

“Mary is assumed into Heaven; the angels rejoice, praising they bless the Lord.”  Thus the Church begins this feast of the Assumption in the Office as found in the Extraordinary Form or the more traditional liturgy.  Heaven rejoices to receive the one who is so pure, so loving, so intimately united to the King of Heaven.  The angels rejoice to receive her who will be crowned the Queen of angels.  They bless the Lord who has worked such marvels through her and for her.  In hearing this antiphon we receive a key to understanding today’s feast.
We all desire heaven.  Any sensible person does not desire to descend into the fires of hell for all eternity, but instead wishes for paradise.  But what does it take to get there?  What must we do to gain eternal life? We see this played out most particularly in the life of the Blessed Virgin.  She demonstrates to us what is necessary in order for us to gain heaven.  They are: the grace of God, a willing heart, and our own efforts.
First must come the grace of God.  Our Lady is the hallmark of this principle in her very being.  We celebrate her as being conceived without the stain of original sin.  But this did not come from herself; it was the almighty Trinity, in preparation for the incarnation of the Son, that bestowed this grace upon her.  We have not been blessed with this immense gift and grace, but we have received the graces necessary to enter into the Church and receive the sacrament of baptism, which washes us clean of that same stain.  We continue to receive these graces through our continued participation in the sacraments, most especially the healing grace of confession and the vivifying grace given to us whenever we receive the Eucharist. If God did not and does not continue to will this for us, it would not have happened; and this offers us the first reason to rejoice in this feast.
The next matter which is required in order to gain heaven is a willing heart.  While God lovingly pours out His grace upon us, yet He never coerces us or forces us to respond.  We are creatures given the gift of a free will, and it is only in accepting that grace that we can begin to direct our lives towards the eternal mansions.  We can compare Eve and Mary to see the difference a willing heart makes.  Certainly, Eve was not created with any sin upon her, yet she still made the choice to disobey God along with Adam in the garden, and thus merited for herself and we her children the effects of sin on the human condition.  Yet Mary reverses this with the Yes that she offers God when the archangel Gabriel tells her that she will be the Mother of God. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second-century Church Father, identifies her as the New Eve in union with Christ our New Adam, as highlighted by St. Paul in our second reading, undoing Eve's disobedience with her obedience. We rejoice on this feast day because Mary's fiat has lead to her assumption and entrance into Heaven.
Finally, we must not only receive the grace of God with a willing heart, but we must also supplement this with our own work. While Heaven is certainly a gift of God, it is a gift that we must begin to receive in a foreshadowed sense here and now. If we are truly animated by God's grace and our good will, then how can we not desire to bring this to fruition in our labors? We see this demonstrated in our Gospel, when Mary rushes to the side of her cousin Elizabeth. Our Lady not only desires to love God, but recognizes that we must love God through our neighbor. All of our actions, in fact, are meant to be directed towards this goal, even the menial tasks such as our eating or cleaning or sleeping. Our Lady's assumption thus does not occur only in a physical sense at the end of her earthly life, but is spiritually occurring every day in her prayers and actions. Each moment of her life draws her closer and closer to the glories of paradise, until that blessed moment when she follows her Son in entering body and soul, in the totality of her being, into the blessings of eternal life.

Let us rejoice, then, on this glorious day, that God has willed that His holy one would not see corruption. Let us rejoice in the triumph of Our Lady over the devil through her mission as the Mother of God. Let us rejoice that she has entered into the final glory to stand at the right side of her Son arrayed in glory for all eternity. But let us also pray to her that we too may receive the grace necessary to be converted from sin and directed on the path of holiness. Let us beseech her motherly aid for we her spiritual children: that we may not fall into temptation, but be elevated so as to imitate her perfect obedience to God. Let us be more fervent in praying our Hail Marys and our rosaries that we may imitate her example of obedience and charity, so that she who is praying for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, may raise us to join her, to join her Son, and to join all the angels and saints in the marvels that await the blessed in the beatitude of heaven.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

19th Sunday per annum (OF) - The Eucharist: The Mystery of Faith

Every time we participate in the Mass in its Ordinary Form, we hear the priest utter this phrase after the consecration of the elements: “The mystery of faith.”  This phrase, originating in the sixth century, has been a constant feature of the liturgy we have used in the western rites of the Church.  When the priest says this phrase at the Mass, we respond with one of three phrases, all of them emphasizing the Eucharist as the memorial of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ and our eager hope for His continual support.  Yet, in conjunction with our readings today, this phrase helps us to understand more greatly the centrality of faith in our life and how the Eucharist aids us to be faithful and to be faith-filled.
When we hear the word “mystery”, we often think of detectives trying to solve a crime and discover the culprit.  This offers a hint to us of the root meaning of the word, since it comes from the Greek μυστηριον, which means something hidden or secret.  Anything that fell under the term μυστηριον was something which was not meant to be revealed except to those who were in the know.  The Christians took up this term early on in the Church’s history to denote those beliefs and practices which are of a supernatural character, such that we could not understand them on our own.  This is why the term became extended to the mystery of faith, which we find used in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  These mysteries could only be understood as such by those who were Christians.
Our Gospel helps us to understand why this is the case.  Christ, in rebuking the Jews, tells them that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.”  Our Lord reveals to us the beginnings of this belief which enables us to grasp the mysteries of faith.  It is not of our own power or volition, but the gift of God the Father who created us.  God draws us to Himself and to the one Church wherein dwells the wellspring of faith.  It is not by our willing that we have received the faith, but by the will of God.
Yet that faith which we have initially received from the Father can be accepted or rejected by us.  We see this in the soul which decides either to continue to practice the Catholic faith or to reject it and to search elsewhere, to its eternal detriment.  That faith can also be increased or decreased, which leads us back to the Eucharist.  Since, as we have seen before, Holy Communion is the source and the summit of the Christian faith, it is in the Eucharist, the bread of life, that we are able not only to find expression of our faith, but also to be given the grace necessary for our faith to be maintained and even to increase in relation to God.  Just as earthly bread increases our strength so as to live as material beings, so too does the Eucharist increase our spiritual strength to live as spiritual beings.
If we are faithful Catholics, we will desire the Eucharist more fervently each day, because we believe what Christ proclaimed and what the Church has professed and maintained to our present day: that Jesus Christ is still among His people, nourishing them with His body and blood so as to draw them to Himself, most especially on the last day.  St. Pio of Pietrelcina said, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass.”  It is in the Eucharist that we find our faith most eloquently expressed, but in a manner that only those with the grace of God are able to receive.  To be a Catholic is to be one who is enveloped in the mystery of faith, most particularly the mystery of faith in the Eucharist, and who lives that faith out not merely in the church, but in every aspect of our lives.
Let us not grow slack, then, in our faith, but be nourished by the bread of life so that our faith may increase.  Let us be nourished as Elijah was nourished in our first reading, so as to go forth and do the will of God in our lives.  Let us taste and see the goodness of the Lord with the eyes of faith.  Let us live in love, as St. Paul urges us to do, being imitators of God, who so loved us as to give His only Son for our salvation, and who continually gives His Son to us to be our bread of life.  Let us appreciate the Eucharist more and more as the mystery of faith; not something to be solved, but some one to be discovered and loved in the embrace of faith, a some one who desires us to live with Him in the reality of eternal life.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

18th Sunday per annum (OF) - The Eucharist: The Bread from Heaven

We Americans have become a people of snacks.  We certainly cannot complain about lacking any food in our diet, but we are known especially for our consumption of snack foods.  How much chocolate do we enjoy on a weekly basis?  How often do we partake of some form of chips or popcorn when we are enjoying some free time?  We love to eat these tasty treats, perhaps to a fault, as repeated warnings concerning obesity remind us.  Yet we still have a fundamental understanding that man does not live on snacks alone.
God reveals to us that this is also the case not merely in our physical reality but also in our spiritual relationship with Him.  Just as our bodies are meant to be nourished by a solid diet, so too are our souls nourished by a proper diet and not merely on snacks.  Look to our first reading to begin to understand this.  The Israelites are complaining because they no longer have their luxurious meals as they once enjoyed while being slaves in Egypt.  God has freed them from this subjugation, yet they are sorrowful that this has been done!  Insteading of beseeching God for His help, they complain to Him!  Yet God, ever mindful of their needs, pours down upon them bread from heaven.
This miracle is above all what strikes the Israelites for generations to come.  Few other events are recalled as often as the bread come down from heaven, as we see from our psalm.  It is this event which the people recall in our Gospel today, when they ask Our Lord for a miracle.  Nothing else done in the desert was as remarkable as God providing the food needed to make the great journey out of Egypt.  And this is what stands out in this episode of the Gospel which began for us last week.
Recall that Christ fed 5,000 men last week at the beginning of this chapter.  Continuing this week, we hear that many of the crowd followed Him after He left, seemingly desiring more.  They want to understand who is this Jesus who can seemingly produce bread from so little.  His miracle recalls to their mind the manna from the desert, that bread from heaven we heard about in the first reading.  Christ points them towards seeking that which lasts unto eternal life, trying to elevate them and us beyond merely physical concerns.  But the crowd raises a question: How can we do this?
Two answers are given to them.  First, Christ tells them to believe in the one whom the Father has sent, that is to believe in Him.  All must start from faith in Christ if we are to be what God desires us to be.  Saint Paul wishes this for all of us as expressed in our second reading when he tells the Ephesians to no longer live as the Gentiles they once were, but to live in this faith which comes to the new self.  The second answer given is to receive the true bread from heaven, which brings life to the world.
But what is this true and life-giving bread?  As the end of today’s Gospel reveals, Christ Himself is the true bread come down from heaven, the bread of life given to us by the Father.  It is Christ who will aid us in maintaining and even increasing our faith in Him.  He becomes for us the spiritual food necessary for us to live as spiritual beings, just as regular food aids us to be corporeal beings.  The Eucharist is the meal we are meant to receive so that our souls may be nourished.
If the Eucharist is truly the bread of life, then we must receive it in accord with why Christ has given it to us.  We must prepare ourselves for so great a meal by calling to mind the reason this is offered to us: our growth in and with God.  We must cleanse ourselves of everything that prohibits us from receiving this spiritual meal worthily and to our benefit by receiving the absolution of confession frequently.  And we must not disregard this spiritual food which we have received as if it is only a nice snack.  What we are given is the true nourishment of the soul, that which is most necessary for us to live in union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.  We must receive and treasure this gift in every way possible.

Let us then receive the bread of angels become our bread of life with joyous and thankful hearts.  Let us receive this bread as often as possible so as to truly fulfill that wondrous phrase we pray in the Our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Let us not disregard or belittle this immense and necessary food as we would some earthly food, but treasure each time we receive Him from the hands of the priest.  Let us be mindful of the necessity of the Eucharist in our own spiritual lives, as the food whereby God cares and feeds us just as He did for the Israelites.  Let us desire to be strengthened by this heavenly bread so as to live our lives more oriented to God each day and to be prepared for the glories of the feast which awaits us in eternal life.