Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost and First Holy Communion (OF)

We celebrate today the two most important gifts that Our Lord left to us after His ascension into Heaven: the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Eucharist. For today is not only the great feast of Pentecost, but it is also the day when four of our young members will join us in receiving Holy Communion for the first time in their lives.  Yet these two events are intricately linked together, so that we could not have one without the other. How is this so?
We first could not have the Eucharist without the Holy Spirit, because we would not have the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church without that same Spirit.  Pentecost is among other things traditionally called the birthday of the Church, the moment when the Church truly came into being.  It is the Holy Spirit, the gift of God Himself from God, who brings forth the Apostles so as to begin to exist as the Mystical Body of Christ.  For only in the Mystical Body can one receive the Real Body and Blood of Him who died for us on the Cross, rose again on the third day, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Without the Church, there is no Communion, and without the Holy Spirit there is no Church.
Yet we Christians cannot have the Holy Spirit without having Holy Communion. Indeed, God has sent the Holy Spirit down upon the Church so as to unite us into one, demonstrated by the unity of tongues seen at that first Pentecost.  But what helps us to maintain that unity, or to make that unity more perfect?  It is in the means which Jesus Himself has passed on to us at the Last Supper before His saving Passion and Death: the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion.  In the Eucharist is found the means whereby the soul is drawn ever closer to God and through the Holy Spirit towards the one with whom we are meant to be united both in this life and in the life to come: Jesus Christ our Lord.
How wonderful are the mysteries of our faith, by which all things draw their sanctification from the Holy Spirit while flowing from and leading back to the Holy Eucharist! The act of receiving Holy Communion is an act that should be treasured by all who are made worthy by the Holy Spirit to receive it. These things are not rewards for being good or doing what one is supposed to do, but they are aids in becoming what we were created to be from the beginning: the children of God, adopted in the Spirit, unified to the Father through the Son who makes us like Himself whenever we receive Him with a clean heart.
Let us celebrate, first of all, the great event of Pentecost on this day.  Let us rejoice that God comes to dwell within us through He who is gift of God’s love.  Let us desire to be united more than ever with the Spirit of sanctification by receiving frequently and with the right intention the instruments of that same sanctification: the sacraments. Let us be united to the Church who is ever united with the Spirit that gives her the holiness to be able to distribute the sacraments which aid in our salvation.
But let us pray this day for our four young ones who are to receive for the first time the ultimate fruit of the Church’s sanctification in the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray that they may be prepared for the day when they shall be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation so as to be the full member of the Church as God desires for all of humanity.  Let us also recall our own reception of the Eucharist, and consider whether we allow this sacrament to lead us to a more intimate relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or whether we inhibit the action of the Spirit in our salvation by unworthily receiving Communion. Let us be stirred up anew to a greater love of all that God has given us in Himself so that we may not be alone, may not be led astray, but that we may receive the desired effect of His Spirit and His Eucharist: the union with God that awaits in the eternal banquet of Heaven.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Vigil Mass of Pentecost (OF)

St Philip Neri and the miracle of the catacombs

As we prepare to conclude our Easter festivities, the Church presents to us in her liturgy this Vigil Mass for one of her most important feasts: Pentecost.  This Vigil Mass echoes some of the actions of the Vigil Mass for Easter which we celebrated 50 days prior, in particular the extended readings to prepare our minds and hearts for the feast we shall celebrate tomorrow.  Pentecost is so important an event that the Church has this Vigil Mass to give us an additional opportunity to recollect the events of tomorrow and to celebrate them more joyfully.
Our readings this evening show us how Pentecost is the start of a new age in the life of the world and in the history of the Church.  We begin, of course, at the beginning, with the Tower of Babel. Humanity, continuing in its sinful state after the fall in the Garden, decides to build a tower so as to oppose God, whom they believe will disperse them throughout the world. Yet God desires to bring humanity together in Himself, the opposite of what these people believe. What causes the dispersal of humanity is sin which is completely opposite of the holy God. To demonstrate this, God causes the men at Babel to be dispersed not in place but in language.  By their sinful actions, humanity is separated from each other.
It is only in God that unity can truly be found for humanity, and this is demonstrated on Pentecost.  For on that day, the Apostles who receive the Holy Spirit are able to be understood by all attending.  At Babel, humanity was confused because of the variance of speech; but on Pentecost, humanity is confused at the comprehension by all! Thus does Pentecost begin to unravel the sinful effects of humanity’s beginning so as to prepare us for our ultimate end.
The second reading marks the archetype of Pentecost as concerns the law, for it is the time in the book of Exodus where Moses receives the law engraved by the finger of God upon the stone tablets. On that occasion, the Lord came in a terrifying storm to write out the law needed for humanity to abandon sin and to draw nearer to Himself.  But on Pentecost, God comes more peacefully so as to write out the new law of grace and holiness not on stone or paper, but in the hearts of believers, as the prophet Jeremiah told would happen on this day (Jer 31:31-34). What use is it to have some truth or belief engraved on the outside if we do not engrave it within? But only by the instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit are we capable of receiving that law and living it out most perfectly.
We then hear Ezekiel recall his vision of the dry and dead bones being brought back to life by the Spirit of God.  These dead bones are given life anew through the words of Ezekiel and the action of the Spirit, rising from death unto new life.  This reading bears witness to the desire of God that none should perish, but that all should live through, with, and in Him.  God sends down His Spirit so as to revive us from our sinful ways, from those actions that cause our spiritual death and our eternal death.  It is by the Spirit that we are able to be freed of our sins and to begin to live out the holiness marked for each one of us, as the prophet Joel proclaims in the next reading.  It is the Spirit who excites us towards not merely avoiding evil and sin, but towards doing the good, persevering in the good, remaining in the good.
The Holy Spirit, as Jesus bears witness in the midst of the Temple, is the living water who pours forth from the pierced side of Christ. The Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son, and the means whereby that love is shared with each one of us.  The Spirit is the one who comes so as to renew the face of the earth with His continual presence in the Church.  Only through the Spirit are we able to worship God, to call Him not merely “God” but “Father”, to become the adopted children of our Heavenly Father.
It is by the Spirit that we are able to become saints, as each of their lives bear witness to, in particular the life of Saint Philip Neri.  On this exact feast day, the Vigil of Pentecost, St Philip was praying in the catacombs, as was his custom in Rome, praying fervently for the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, when a great miracle occurred.  There appeared a ball of fire before the saint, which then entered into his heart. His heart literally grew in size, so much so that the two ribs in front of his heart were cracked from that moment until his death, yet he experienced no pain, only immense joy and longing. For the rest of his life, St Philip’s Pentecostal heart burned with the love of God and love of humanity, striving to pour out that love to those who needed it most.
While the same might not happen to us, each of us is called to be enlivened by the Spirit so as to spread the joy of salvation to all.  It is the Spirit who pushes us to cry out the truths of the faith so that others might share in that joy.  It is the Spirit who sends us out to execute the mission of the Church in our daily lives.  It is the Spirit who offers us comfort and consolation in those times when life seems to grow sour, when the world seems to encircle us and mock us for our beliefs.  And it is the Spirit who promises to remain with us and to aid us as long as we seek to do the same.
Let us pray most fervently this day and tomorrow that the Holy Spirit will renew our parish. Let us pray that we might be receptive to the promptings of the Spirit speaking within the recesses of our hearts, calling us to something greater than anything the world can offer.  Let us be stirred up to live out our faith more radically than ever before, emboldened by the Spirit so as to imitate the Apostles in their own bold proclamation of the Gospel.  Let us ask the Spirit to pray for all of us, knowing better than we do what we need in order to be holy. Let us not be recollected anymore in our Easter joy, but let us spread that joy to every corner of the world, so that the joy of the Gospel may not be fruitless, but that all may come to share in this joy both now and in the life to come.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ascension of the Lord (OF/EF)

Each year, Holy Mother Church commands her pastors to bless a large candle at the Easter Vigil. This candle is then processed through the Church and placed in the sanctuary, where it burns at each Mass of Eastertide until today.  This Paschal candle is meant to be the symbol of the resurrected Christ, who is the Light of the World banishing the darkness of sin. This candle reminds us that He who once was dead lives once more and does not rest in the tomb, but remains close to His apostles, showing them His sacred wounds and further instructing them on the mission that He has given to them. But on this, the feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven, Holy Church commands us to extinguish this candle so as to better awaken us to the reality of this feast: the reality that our Lord no longer physically remains on this earth, but has ascended to the right hand of the Father, as we profess in the Creed.
Yet we should not greet this moment with sorrow over our Lord’s Ascension, as if He is leaving us behind or abandoning us. For, on the contrary, the Psalmist tells us that “God ascends in jubilation, and the Lord ascends with the sound of the trumpet” (Ps 46:6). We are called to rejoice on this day, not to be sorrowful. We are to rejoice, for our God and King mounts His throne prepared for Him, to reign over His Kingdom. We are to rejoice, for our High Priest ascends to the altar of Heaven, where He who is ever-living makes a continual intercession for us before God (Hebrews 7:24-25). We are to rejoice, for the Lamb who was slain goes to prepare the wedding feast in which the faithful will be united with Himself at the end of days (Rev. 19:7-9).
We should not be sorrowful that He has left, because this world is not ready for Him to rule. Our Lord now possesses that glorified and incorruptible body which is promised to all on the last day, but this day has not yet come. Our world is still filled with corruption and sin, still remaining dark in many corners of the world, still blind to the true Light which burns without being extinguished. How can He remain here in that state of finality when the world remains incomplete? Our Lord ascends to Heaven so as to remind us that we are not meant for the world as it stands now, but for the glories that await in the world to come.
But whom are these glories meant for, if not for all of humanity? And how will all hear of these glories, if no one preaches them, if noone is sent out to preach? (Rom 10:14-15) This is why the last command given by Christ to His apostles is to “go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”, waiting for the Holy Ghost to come so as to be His witnesses to the utmost parts of the earth (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). This is the mission of the Church, that mission which we will pray for over the next nine days and commemorate on the 10th.
Let us then rejoice at this Mass today, that the Lord has risen on high and taken captivity captive (Ps 67:18). Let us pray to our Lord this day that He may be nearer to us not in His physical presence, but in His real presence in the Eucharist. Let us also pray for the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, that we may be strengthened and encouraged to proclaim the Gospel message to every creature. But let us also prepare ourselves for that day when He will return, as the angels promised. Let us be watchful and look to the East in eager expectation of our Lord coming as He left us, so as to subject all beneath His feet and to rule in that eternal Kingdom where all shall be gathered to Himself and share in His glory for ages upon ages.