Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi (and First Weekend at St. Pat/St. James)

I must admit that I am still surprised to be here. When the bishop called me in to tell me he was naming me pastor of St. Pat, I was dumbfounded. I am grateful to God for the chance to return here as a priest and a pastor. I always felt like this was a second home to me, and I hope it will truly be that for me now. I want to start off by expressing my thanks to Father Black, for all the work he has done for our parish for the past two years. I hope he’s ready, because the real work now begins.
But what is the work of pastors and priests? What is it that we are called to do? Our feast day today gives us the answer, for our priests and pastors are ordained to give us the sacrament at the center of our faith: the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Our Lord did not leave us a book or any sort of writings; the New Testament was written by His Apostles and disciples. He left us the sacraments and the sacred liturgy, because in them we find Him present once more to us. And this divine presence is found in its fullness in the Eucharist.
The Church calls the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy the source and summit of the Christian life. Everything either directs us to the Eucharist, such as baptism and confession, or flows forth from the Eucharist, such as the works of mercy. It is because Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the bread and wine consecrated at the hands of the priest. What we receive in the Eucharist is not merely a symbol or a sign; it is actually Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who gave Himself up for us on the Cross. Far different and far greater than the manna God gave the Israelites in the desert, the heavenly Father pours upon us the bread of angels become our food for the journey.
The sacred liturgy - which is the Mass and the rituals surrounding the sacraments - is meant to communicate to us this truth: that Jesus Christ did not abandon us when He ascended into heaven, but that he is now present to us in the sacraments or mysteries of our faith. Each time the priest proclaims, “The mystery of faith,” he calls us to believe what Jesus said so clearly in the Gospel: This is my body, this is my blood. But only with the eyes of faith can we see that presence so real yet so difficult to apprehend. Only in faith do we receive what we believe is true.
Yet the sacred liturgy cannot be ignored or put aside to focus solely on the Eucharist. Everything in the liturgy points to or aids us to understand more completely what is happening and who is present to us once more. Jesus didn’t simply establish the sacraments to be something we merely do, but the means to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life, so that we may be happy with Him in the next. The liturgy is like the frame that accents or highlights the picture, giving us a better means of seeing what we are supposed to see.
My hope as I begin my pastorate is to help you understand far better the sacred liturgy so that you can better appreciate and receive Jesus in the sacraments, most especially in Holy Communion. If you can put the puzzle pieces of the liturgy together, then you can see most clearly Jesus Christ, who is for us the human face of God. This may require changes or challenges to what you have known or experienced, but all of this is done so as to more boldly and more clearly proclaim Christ our Lord. If we do not proclaim Jesus Christ in everything we do here at Saint Pat, whether in the church or in the school, then we are not doing as Jesus commanded us to do.
Let us pray that God will pour out His Holy Spirit upon our parish, that we may be awakened to His promptings and His call for all of us to be holy. Please pray for me and for Fr. Black as we serve you, as we seek to bring you Jesus Christ, that we may be humbled before the Lord mysteriously present in the Eucharist. Let us pray for one another, that we may be elevated by all that the sacred liturgy offers, from the texts and chants to the incense and candles, so as to truly encounter not an idea or a philosophy, but a real person, a person who hides in the Eucharist so that we may not be overwhelmed by His greatness, but humbled by His smallness, to draw nearer to Him and become what we receive. May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ truly bring us to everlasting life.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday (and Last Sunday at Saint John)

The Shield of the Trinity

Traditionally, today’s liturgical office includes an ancient text commonly called the Athanasian Creed. This text begins with a phrase which is quite politically incorrect in our over-sensitive days: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” The text then professes the Catholic belief in that most central of doctrines for our faith, that which we are celebrating today: the Most Holy Trinity.
With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church last week on Pentecost, God reveals to us who He really is in His fullness. God, being greater and more exalted than humanity, desires us to know Him, so that we may love Him and serve Him in response. The Bible can be summarized as God’s gradual revelation of Himself to the greatest of His creatures: man. We hear in the first reading about one of the greatest of those revelations to Moses on Mount Sinai. The encounter we hear, however, is not the great exchange in which God gives Moses the Ten Commandments; this particular encounter is after the sin of the Israelites in creating the golden calf and worshipping it as a false god. Yet the Almighty deigns to reveal, even after the sins of men, who He is: the one supreme Lord, He who Is as the actual Hebrew name of God translates, a God slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.
Yet this does not fully reveal to us mere mortals who God is at His innermost being. It is not until the coming of the God-man that we are given the fullness of God’s being, a revelation that still leaves us in mystery. While the reception of the Holy Spirit concludes this revelation, we are still shrouded by questions. How can One be Three, and Three be One? How do the Father and the Son and the Spirit all relate to each other? The great danger in talking about the Holy Trinity is slipping into error, and it’s not too hard to do that. But what can we really say about the Trinity?
It is hard to say everything that could be said about the Trinity in a short homily, but the essentials must be covered. We worship one God, not three; the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. All three receive the adoration and glory that is due to God alone. Yet they are distinct from each other: the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. The deity at the heart of our Catholic faith is one in the divine substance yet three persons as well, each with their particular role: the Father as the begetter, the Son as the begotten, and the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Clear?
Of course it isn’t that clear. This is why we describe this belief as the mystery of the Trinity. It is mystery because it is something that cannot be completely comprehended by our rational faculties. Saint Anselm defined God as that than which nothing greater could be conceived. If we can conceive it, it is still limited, yet God is infinite, incapable of being bounded by our lower corporal minds. If you think that you understand completely who God is, then you’re not thinking of the living God. While God’s complete being may be beyond our complete comprehension, yet He still desires us to know Him as He really is.
This is the work of the Church: to reveal God to the world. Everything the Church does is ultimately with this goal in mind: to reveal God as God revealed Himself, through Jesus Christ - His Son and our Lord. But the Church cannot carry out this task without that revelation itself. This is why the Church is not just a group concerned with external activity, but is also concerned with interior reflection and development, which is found in her sacred liturgy. For the liturgy is not primarily a tool for evangelization and conversion of non-Catholics; it is meant to be the means whereby the Christian faithful, those already members of the body of Christ, come to encounter more deeply and more richly the transcendent Trinity who becomes immanent through signs and symbols so that we may not be ignorant of Him, but drink deeply of His fullness.
While my time here at Saint John and Transfiguration has been short, I hope that I have helped you to realize more completely this essential truth of our Catholic faith. This is why I have sought to restore the traditional posture of the priest and people turned together to face God. This is why I have tried to make the sacred liturgy as noble and as beautiful as it can be here. Because we are not here to just be family or a club or anything the world offers; if that were the case, we’re doing a terrible job of it. We are here in this church because we are ultimately meant to be turned towards God, the Triune God, the God whose inner being as the Trinity reveals what our patron Saint John declares simply in his letters: God is love. It is that regular encounter with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that is meant to transform us so that the rest of our lives are sanctified by His grace and we can then live not as we did before our baptisms - living in sin and error and darkness - but to live in the glorious and loving light of God.
My prayer for you all as I leave is that you may continue to grow through the wondrous exchange of the Mass to be the holy people of God, to be what you are meant to be. Do not keep to the old ways of ignorance, but draw nearer to Him who has so much more to show you than I could even if I were to stay for forty years. Do not be like so many around us who focus on themselves, but radiate with that same divine light as did Moses when he encountered the living God on Mount Sinai. Turn to Jesus, the one Word spoken by God before all time, and listen to Him, for He is the best teacher and priest you will ever have. May the light and love of the Trinity burn in your hearts more fully each day, and may everything Saint Paul commands and exhorts today be yours as well, so that we may all do as the Psalmist exclaims: to give the Trinity glory and praise forever in the banquet of Heaven.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost

We conclude the Easter season today with the feast of Pentecost. While we spent forty days in penance during Lent, today marks the fiftieth day of the Easter celebration, reminding us that our joy in the victory which Jesus won in His Resurrection is greater than our sorrow over our sinfulness. In fact, the name Pentecost literally means fifty in Greek. It is this day in which God pours forth the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to start the Church.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate this day as a harvest festival and as a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai after God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is most appropriate, then, that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on this day, to remind us that it is by the Spirit of God that we have everything we possess: not just our salvation but the fundamentals of existence, such as food, clothing, shelter. God always acts with the Spirit: we should recall how Adam received the Spirit of life in the very beginning in order to live, or how the Spirit is called upon by the psalmist to renew the face of the earth. But what or who is the Holy Spirit?
Put simply, the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. This love is so real, so tremendous between the two, that it is a divine Person, hence the Most Holy Trinity, which we will celebrate next Sunday. But this Person who is love does not remain only between the Father and the Son; He is sent down upon humanity to be the bond of love between God and man. It is in the Spirit that we are able to be united to Jesus Christ, as Saint Paul highlights in our second reading. It is through the Spirit that we are able to become holy, for only by His presence in us are we able to pray as we ought or to know what it means to be holy.
Above all, God sends forth His Spirit so as to renew the face of the earth. How does He do this? By His indwelling within our souls. God does not send the Spirit only on one occasion, but pours Him out upon us like water from a fountain. We are always in need of the rejuvenating graces and the ceaseless presence of the Holy Spirit to become holy, to be what we are supposed to be. We ought to make our own what the sequence for today’s feast beseeches of the Spirit: “Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded. Bend that which is inflexible, enflame that which is chilled, correct what goes astray.” Only in the Spirit can we be good, only in the Spirit can we be just, only in the Spirit can we be holy.

Let us beseech God on this day to pour out upon us once more His Holy Spirit so that we may be what we were created to be. Let us make our own those wondrous words, “Come Creator Spirit! Come from thy heavenly throne, and make our souls thine own!” Let us beg God to renew us by His Spirit so that we may be engulfed in the fire of His love, transformed from mediocrity into the saints we are supposed to be. Do not remain cold or lukewarm, but be stirred anew to live by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May our parish truly be a temple of the Holy Spirit, where the fire of love burns day and night, the unquenchable fire that does not destroy but purifies and prepares all for the glories that await the faithful in the eternal splendor of Heaven.