Commitment

Dear Folks,

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8). This does not mean that if doubts pop into our minds it kills the power of our prayer. If we look more closely at the text, we see it refers to people who want to follow Jesus sometimes, but then want to switch back and forth between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. Which way is the wind blowing?

When the Israelites were in the desert, they actually became nostalgic for their slavery in Egypt. “The riffraff among them were so greedy for meat that even the Israelites lamented again, ‘If only we had meat for food” We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks the onions, and the garlic. But now we have nothing to look forward to but this manna (Numbers 11:4-6).” This is the classic image of the Christian who has converted but is starting to get nostalgic for his old sinful ways (we remember how they were fun, and not how futile they ultimately were). It is one thing to be faithful when we are full of fervor and we are not (at the moment) being tempted, but when the road is long and hard, that is when we are really tested.

Christianity calls for us even to give up ownership of ourselves. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, who you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” There has been a lot of buzz about Tim Glemkowski’s book “Made for Mission.” He talks about the core mission of the Church, which is to form disciples. “A disciple is someone who does what Simon and Andrew did when they left their nets and followed Jesus. A disciple is someone who has bade, in Saint John Paul II’s words, a “personal and conscious decision’ to give their entire life to God.” He contrasts this with the rich young man in Matt 19:16-22, who was challenged to give up everything and follow Jesus, instead walked away sadly. Giving our whole lives to Jesus does not necessarily mean that we sell or give away all our stuff, but we now decide that everything we have, including the twenty-four hours of each day and all our skills and opportunities, actually belong to Jesus and are for his purposes. We are now stewards of all these things.

If crisises are coming to our Church (and it is hard to imagine they are not), that will likely shift the cultural Christians from the intentional disciples. Those with shallow commitment will likely drift away, but the intentional disciples will grow stronger.

Have you had an encounter with Christ that has lead you to give yourself entirely to Him?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Realizing What a Treasure we Have

Dear Folks,

This is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We read the story of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes in the Gospel of Luke, which prepares us to learn that Jesus is the Bread of life.

Notice that the Twelve underestimate Jesus, though not unreasonably. They had seen Jesus healing the sick and calming a storm, but this was new. Our natural tendency is to underestimate the gifts of God. Throughout history there have been constant attempts to trim down the Gospel message and make it less than what it is. The Arian heresy said that Jesus is not God, but that God sent one of His creations to suffer. The Docetists claimed that Jesus was not truly human and did not really suffer. These make the message of God’s love less complete, and therefore less demanding on us. Lately, there have been attempts to explain away miracles and even the resurrection itself as not really having happened. I have heard people argue that what really happened with the multiplying of the loaves was that when Jesus started sharing, other people started sharing what they had and there were a bunch of folks who were secretly carrying bread and fish. The first problem with this is that there is nothing in the text that indicates this. If this were a lesson about sharing, why would all four Gospel writers hide the real message so that no one could figure it out until the twentieth century?

We have read many times that 70% percent of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. That should amaze and horrify us, but not surprise us. I encountered programs for preparing for first communion that talked about Eucharist as our family meal with nothing about how the bread and wine actually become Jesus, much less how it is our personal participation in Jesus’ sacrifice. I would ask the director why and was told, “Because it was so overemphasized in the past.” I never saw the logic to that, but I know there was a lot of it out there.

The point is that for generations now, we have been led to believe the Catholic faith is much less than what it is. My message is not, “Woe is us; we should be ashamed” but rather, “Oh, we are in for such a treat.” The more we open this treasure we have been given, the more wonderful we will find it is. In 1987 I graduated from a Jesuit school of theology with honors. I had some great teachers. What I have learned about the faith since then has been amazing. What I have learned in the last ten years has been precious beyond diamonds. I am looking forward to what God will teach me next.

You may have heard the story of Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violinists, with his priceless Stradivarius violin played in a subway station for 43 minutes wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. Over a thousand people passed by. 27 gave money ($52.17) and seven stopped and listened for a bit. What if they’d had any notion of the great gift they were given?

The challenge for today: think of ourselves as God’s kindergarteners. We have so many wonderful things to discover. Let us look for God to be teaching us. Let us look for God to be touching us. Let us look for God to be changing us into more than what we are now. Especially when we come to Mass this weekend, let us remember what is happening; there is a mystery and a treasure deeper and wider than the ocean. Let us expect God to do

something.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Do We Want More Priests?

Dear Folks,

We rejoice to have ordained three new priests for our diocese. I am confident that they shall be a great gift to our Church for many years to come.

Now the more difficult news. We still don’t have enough priests to fill the current openings. We have parishes without priests, and no extra priests to send there.

How can we be a church that better nurtures vocations to the priesthood? Imagine a young man growing up in the Church surrounded by adults who deeply love the Eucharist, who

are fiercely dedicated to growing in holiness, and who are zealous for the mission of the Church. I suggest that we would have to build a fence around the seminaries to keep them

from getting overrun with applicants.

The more Catholics demonstrate love for the Eucharist, the more someone could believe that it is worth dedicating his life to celebrating the Eucharist. Obviously, putting a high

priority on attending every Sunday and holy days is a good first step, and participating fully consciously, and actively is a second (see my recent articles on the subject; we can all grow

in that area). We can also learn more about its meaning. There is some great stuff on FORMED and there are some great books. Anything by Brant Pitre, Tim Grey, Edward Sri, or Scott Hahn is well worth reading (I especially love Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through

the Mass” and Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist”. There is another book called “Music and Meaning in the Mass” by Annamarie Carinalli, and it looks from a

very different angle. Have you been to a weekday Mass just because it is a good thing? Even once a year? How about adoration when we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, I know that schedules are hard, but if you can’t come once a week, how

about once a month? Every three months? Try once a year? The biggest step is usually the first one. You might find you need to do it more often. When we talk about the Mass, do we do it in a way that conveys awe, reverence, and love? This could help us grow in

holiness.

How to grow in holiness in a huge topic, but think about how often during the course of the day we attend to the presence of God? Do we seek to have a well-rounded prayer life? There are many different ways to pray, and each one engages a different aspect of

ourselves. How many choices do we make in the course of the day that are attempts to put God first?

If someone sees the Church accomplishing great things, it is easier to believe that it is worthwhile giving his life to being a leader in the Church. We can all only do so much, but if we do what we can, I trust God will make it enough. How anxious are we to support and

participate in what our church is accomplishing? Or do we have to be coaxed? Do we give up if we are offended or frustrated? How good are we at cooperating with those who see things differently?

Each one of us can make a difference. If we are concerned about not enough priests, we can channel that concern into making our parishes more fertile ground for vocations. These are just some ideas. What others do you have?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Pentecost and Peacemaking

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit came and brought people together, breaking down barriers between people, and enabling them to have relationships. This is a path to peace. This is the path to peace.

With the recent shooting that was in the news, I think it is good to talk about some violence in our society. There has been so much lately, such increases in different kinds of violence and cruelty, from shootings to rioting, to assaulting people on the subway, to suicide. What has caused this? I think as a society we need to put our collective energy behind building some values, some norms, and some habits.

On is empathy, an awareness and attentiveness to the state of another person. Often, we are focused on how things affect us, but deep awareness of what’s happening in others is precious.

This is built in good relationships, interacting sharing, and working together (texting is not enough). Essential is good fathering and good mothering. Could we agree that fathering and mothering are crucial, heroic vocations that should be honored and celebrated? Could we work to develop respect for people when we disagree, and try to understand them rather than insult them? This requires recognizing that the way things look to us in not always how they look to others, and we can’t just demand they see things our way.

Humans have a desperate need for agency. I have observed that we humans have a real need to make a mark in the world, ideally to do great and noble things, but if we feel we cannot, it is easy to make a mark by being destructive. We must nurture the potential greatness in each person, so they can see themselves as heroes and not victims. We must build the fortitude to keep going when that road gets harder than expected (which it will). We must focus on strategy and tactics for making changes large and small.

We need reverence for boundaries. Because we think we are right does not give us the license to use tactics that we would condemn in the other side (they think they are right too). We must measure violence by those on our side with the same scale we measure violence by our opponents. We need support and for law enforcement and consistent enforcement of laws.

Some people have been proposing what they consider the solution, and berating those who do not agree. They do not make a case for their solution but seem to presume it is obviously the thing to do, and they say that those who don’t follow their plan do not care and do not love children. I think this is the exact opposite of what we need. What if there are intelligent people of good will who do care very much, but believe that this proposed solution will not help, but will in fact do harm? This approach is guaranteed to fail. It completely neglects to look at other people’s point of view. It makes both sides feel more helpless and pushes people farther apart. No amount of browbeating is going to make me accept a solution that I think will just make things worse. Let people make a case for their proposed solution, recognizing that their other side has their case too. We need to go through how it would be implemented in practice. We need to recognize that we are all biased in favor of our own arguments, and we need to work harder on making our case than we think we do.

As a Christian, I believe that the starting point is Jesus, and I highly (very highly) recommend getting to know Jesus better. However, if anything I’ve said resonates with you, my efforts have not been wasted. Let’s move the conversation forward. Let’s make the situation better.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Ascension: Now What?

Dear Folks,
This Sunday we celebrate Ascension Thursday (one of life’s paradoxes). This is a celebration of Jesus going back to heaven (for which I’m sure He was glad) but also a transition to being without Jesus’ visible presence. He will always be with us, but we have a sense of Him being absent.
The Mass is our central and most important prayer, so how could we not have an interest in praying the Mass well? The Second Vatican Council teaches us a great deal about how to pray the Mass well. Whenever we try to pray, we succeed. No one speaks too softly or clumsily for God to understand.
However, there is such a thing as praying better, and that involves bringing more and more of ourselves to God, opening more and more of ourselves to God, and engaging more and more of ourselves (God is already doing His part perfectly).
To pray the Mass well, we need some understanding. “With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example (Constitution on the Liturgy #19).”
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all Constitution on the Liturgy #48).”
We need to respond internally. “For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He [Jesus] also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God (Constitution on the Church #34).”
We need to respond externally. “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (Constitution on the Liturgy #30).
So, as we prepare for Mass, we recollect what we have done with whatever God has given us to work with: our 168 hours this week, our material resources, our abilities, our energy (such as it is), and our opportunities. We place it on the altar with the bread and wine (fruit of the earth and work of human hands), so that it may be consecrated. In prayer we participate in offering the One Sacrifice to the Father. In the Mass we are made more perfectly into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 2:15-23), and this is a body offered as gift to the Father. As it says in the third Eucharistic prayer, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you…”. We seek to respond to Him with our whole selves, so that we may be completely His.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The Mass as Gift of Self I

Dear Folks,
Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him (John 14:23).” Take a moment and soak in that thought: God making His dwelling with us in permanent, personal union. Ahhh. That is abundant life (John 10:10), true freedom (John 8:31-32), and the fullness of Joy (John 15:11, 16:20-22). Let’s take a look at what that means for us.
When the Book of Revelation describes the New Jerusalem, an image of heaven, we are told “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb (Rev 21:22).” We remember there was no temple described in the Garden of Eden. Yes, God is present everywhere, but He touches us uniquely in the liturgy. God call us to places of worship, and we must be intentional about participating in the liturgy because of our limited, sinful perspective, but in heaven it will not be necessary, and the heavenly liturgy will be everything. Fish in the ocean do not travel in search of water. Now we take sips of what will then be an ocean. Now we are distracted by lesser things, less open to receiving Him, and hold back from giving ourselves completely to Him. Jesus teaches us and enables us by grace to give ourselves to Him ever more perfectly. The journey of discipleship is essentially growing in our ability to receive Him and give ourselves to Him. This includes the call to worship, most especially in the Eucharistic liturgy.
We are called to be disciples, and that means we are about knowing Jesus better and sharing Jesus better. This is the way to the fullness of life, the abundant life, and the fullness of joy.
That is the essence of what Church is about.
The essence of the Gospel is the Gift of Self. Our Lord, in His Pascal Mystery, gave Himself as the perfect gift for our salvation. He offered one sacrifice, once for all, that we might be wedded to Him forever. There is a paradox: The Bible says we are to offer sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12:1: Colossians 1:24; 1Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 5:1-2). But there is only one sacrifice, therefore we are to offer that one, suffered once in time, eternally before the Father). In the heavenly liturgy in Revelation 5, we see Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain.” He enables us to give ourselves as gift to Him. More on that next time. Participating in the Eucharistic liturgy is not simply one activity among many for Christians, but the “source and summit of life.” It is our most intimate encounter with the Lord this side of heaven, and it gives form and meaning to all other aspects of our lives.
When a couple gets married, they give themselves to each other sacramentally in their vows. Then, when they go out and live their married lives, they give themselves to each other in practice, fulfilling their vows. Their vows would mean less than nothing if they did not intend to live them out in practice, and what they do for each other in practice is given shape and meaning by their vows. Each is essential for each other. Jesus gave Himself sacramentally in the Last Supper, and then in practice by dying on the cross. Without the Last Supper, the cross was just an execution, and without the cross, the Last Supper was just dinner. At Mass, Jesus and we give ourselves to each other sacramentally, then as we go out and live the Christian life, we encounter Him and give ourselves in practice. If you ask which one is more important praying the Mass or living the Christian life, I will ask you which is more important: inhaling or exhaling.
Therefore, coming to Mass is just the beginning. Praying it well is important beyond my powers to describe. How do we pray the Mass well? That, folks, is for next week.
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Love as Jesus Loves

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” Sounds very nice, doesn’t it? It should scare us.

The command to love was not new, way back in Leviticus, we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” What is new is to love one another as He has loved us, and He loved us infinitely and perfectly. We are called to love everyone, without exception. This means seeking their greatest good.

First, we need the strength of soul to be willing to do this. Secondly, we need some ideal of what is really going to do good. That requires being attentive, and willing to continue to learn about what is really going to help. You may have experienced people who want to help you, but they have pre-determined what they are going to do, and it is not going to be helpful for you. In fact, it is causing you trouble. Then they get mad because you are not appreciative or cooperative in their intended benevolence. This is not love.

Love does not always mean doing what people want. We do not love people by affirming, agreeing with or enabling their sinful behavior. They may accuse you of being unloving, but we remember that God loves all people; He does not love all behaviors. This does not always mean doing what people want or appreciate. Think about when He made a whip of cords and drove the moneychangers, the buyers and the sellers out of the temple. I expect they did not feel loved at that moment.

I have said repeatedly that we don’t ask if someone deserves help; we ask what is the most helpful thing to do? This means there are two separate issues: our willingness to help, and our understanding of what is the most helpful. People tend to be satisfied with having good intentions and presume it is obviously true that they are helping. My mother was a nurse, and she told me about how they used to do bloodletting for pneumonia patients (long before her time, of course). Pneumonia, of course interferes with taking in oxygen, and blood is what brings oxygen from the lungs to the parts of the body, so less blood is the worst thing for them. The doctors who did this most certainly believed they were doing good, and God certainly recognized that. We do not condemn the intentions of their hearts nor call their actions sinful, but recognize their behavior was still wrong.

Many times I see some version of, “you don’t support what I think would be helpful, therefore you don’t care about helping.” I’ve seen this a lot in the gun control debate, and I’m seeing it a lot in the abortion debate. It hampers the conversation and hampers it really badly.

As we seek to love one another as Jesus loves us, let us ask God (1) for a more loving heart, (2) the clarity of vision to see what we can do that serves the good of others, and (3) the wisdom to participate helpfully and productively in disagreements about #2.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Voice of the Shepherd

Dear Folks,

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).” In chapter 10 of John we see Jesus talk about Himself as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep and who brings the fullness of life. As we read this, it is good to keep in mind the background of Ezekiel 34, the shepherd chapter. In the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John 6, there is explicit mention that Jesus has them recline and there is plenty of grass in the area. I wondered why the grass got a special mention, then I realized, “Who makes us recline in green pastures?” The Lord our Shepherd (Psalm 23). John is telling us that Jesus is feeding His people like a shepherd feeds his flock (Isaiah 40:11). Once again, the Old Testament foreshadows, and Jesus fulfills. This told the story in a way that people could recognize.

When Jesus said, “I know them” we might think that since He knows everybody, there was no need to say this. We must understand how the word “know” is used in the Bible, often meaning “Having a life-giving relationship with” someone or something. We see in Genesis 4:1: “The man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Psalm 1:6: “For the Lord knows the way of the just, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Psalm 95:10: “Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: ‘This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.’” “’Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ but he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ (Matt 25:11-12).” We remember that in the Gospels many of the scribes and Pharisees had lots of knowledge but did not have a life-giving relationship with God. Stories can touch people deep down in their hearts in ways that philosophical explanations often cannot.

We are called to tell the Gospel story in such a way that people can recognize the voice of the Shepherd. Since we are all made to have a relationship with Jesus (Colossians 1:16) everyone who is open, who is willing, can be touched if approached well. The challenge is to develop the art of telling the story. It doesn’t have to be the whole story, and it doesn’t have to be much. We remember that God’s plan is much larger than we are, and we might be a very small part of how He is working to touch a particular person. If we learn something new about our faith and share it, or if we tell someone one good thing about our faith community, we have shared good news. Enough raindrops can make a flood.

In Acts of the Apostles, we learn how the early Church spread the Gospel. One of the things they did was tell the story of Jesus, and the two biggest story tellers were St. Peter and St. Paul (two great examples are Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 17). We also see something very interesting with their storytelling. St. Peter has an experience of God teaching him something using a blanket full of critters and a lunch invitation in Acts 10. Then, in Acts 11, he tells the story of what just happened, in part repeating word for word what we had just read of the same story. We see St. Paul in Acts 9 having an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Later, in Acts 22, he will tell the same story, repeating much of what we have already read. Why the repetition? It is certainly not because the sacred author was paid by the word. Writing was laborious and paper was expensive, so they would not pad the text with anything that was unnecessary. I suggest to you that it is done this way to drive home the point that part of telling the story of Jesus is telling the story of what Jesus has done in our lives. The story of salvation continues, and it includes us. What story could you tell about how your relationship with Jesus got you from where you were to where you are now? You never know who might need to hear it.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Jesus who Reconciles

Dear Folks,

As we continue to celebrate the Easter season, we encounter the risen Jesus in John 21. It is worth looking at it a little closer.

We see an echo of Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus called Peter, James, and John. After a night of catching nothing, it was morning (See Luke 1:78), Jesus calls them to put out their nets again. As with several of the resurrection accounts, they don’t immediately recognize Jesus. They bring in a very large number of fish (153!), but unlike in the Lucan account, the net is not tearing (John 1:11). Scholars have said that in those days there were 153 different species of fish, and this is a foreshadowing of the Church being able to hold all kinds of people together (when there is a schism in the Church, that is a result of human failing, not a limitation of God’s Church).

Jesus calls them to bring some of the fish they had caught, but he already had bread and fish cooked on a charcoal fire (John 21:9-13). This makes no sense at first, but it echoes all the accounts of multiplying loaves and fishes, in which He calls them to bring forth what they have, but it is He who feeds. This is a paradox in Christianity: it is all the work of His grace, but it requires every last bit of effort that we have. Grace is not an excuse to slack off, and our efforts do not allow us to boast before Him as if we had accomplished something that He has not given us.

Notice it is a charcoal fire (details matter in John, and we must keep our eyes sharp). Remember John 18:18, in which Peter was warming himself around a charcoal fire when he was denying Jesus. Psychologists tell us that our sense of smell is the most powerful sense for evoking emotional memories. Do you think his three-fold denial was on Peter’s mind? Weighing heavily on him? Hmm. Jesus does not address the denial directly, but calls for a three-fold affirmation, each time bringing a call to take care of Jesus sheep (we remember that Jesus is the good shepherd as He taught in chapter 10). Jesus reconciles with Peter and sends him forth as shepherd. The gift he was given was not just for his sake, but for the sake of Peter’s service to the mission of the Church. Going through Acts of the Apostles, we see that God will protect Peter and Paul again and again, but still allow them to suffer and eventually be martyred. It is about what serves the mission.

As an Easter people, we come to Jesus confidently, knowing that He has won the victory. We can bring our sinfulness to be reconciled, knowing that the gifts we receive are not just for our sake, but so that we can serve the mission of the Church. We are called to put forward our mightiest effort, but know it is He who wins the victory. To be an Easter people is to be a people of mission.

Blessings, Fr. Jim

Spirit of Peace

Dear Folks,

As we continue the Easter season, we reflect on how to be an Easter people. Our Gospel last Sunday has two parts: the giving of peace and the Holy Spirit for the sake of reconciliation and showing Thomas something to help him believe. My thought on this is how we as Christians should be reconcilers, and that will help people believe, Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed (John 20:29).” This does not mean they believe without reason. People may not see the wounds of Christ, but if they see that our behavior is different from the general population because of our faith, then they will have grounds to believe that what we say about Jesus is real.

One of the ways we can strive to be different is being better reconcilers and peacemakers. There is a lot that can be said about how to do that (and I have tried on different occasions). Easter is a good time to talk about how peace can grow from being less concerned with our own desires and more concerned with pleasing God.

St. Paul teaches, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above not what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).”

If our desires are paramount, our desires will always get in the way of each other. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You cannot possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:1-3).”

Even if we are fighting for God’s truth, against the forces of evil, we do it as people of faith. We can spend ourselves generously to build goodness without the desperation that comes from thinking it all depends on us. We remember people thinking they could save the world without God (I’m thinking of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) who were sure they were building a better world and that they were so important that they should have no limitations. They killed millions because they thought the tradeoff was worth it. We do what we can do, careful to show that we love even those who oppose us, knowing that God Himself will bring about the victory. The greatness of our cause calls us to higher standards of behavior, not lower. Church people have done nasty stuff when they have forgotten that.

We remember that the ability to do this depends on the Holy Spirit. We are not just celebrating the great season of Easter (though that would be plenty in itself), but also preparing for the great feast of Pentecost. This is a time to reflect and consider how our relationship with the Holy Spirit is enabling us to live as an Easter people.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit (from Isaiah 11) are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, council, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. The traditional explanations of the first four tend to be a bit subtle, but I think they boil down to knowing that God is more important than anything else, understanding how that affects the way we look at life, and what is life is truly of value, seeing how it all connects, and knowing how to respond. Fortitude is the strength actually to do what we now know we should do (based on the first four). Piety is a sense of awe toward God and attentiveness to Him. Fear of the Lord is, of course, not about fear in the usual sense, but a deep desire to be pleasing to God and a deep horror of displeasing Him.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit (from Galatians 5) are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we prepare for Pentecost, we can pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to increase these attributes in us, that we may better live as an Easter people, may better be peacemakers, and may better be witnesses of the Gospel to the world.

Alleluia! Fr. Jim