Monthly Archives: May 2022

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