Like the Israelites, Jews and Christians who came before us, the members of the family of God have been a community that lives within a larger community of people for whom God, in practice hardly exists. We live among people who don’t understand from whom their inherent dignity and value come and subsequently seek to find their meaning and identity from myriad other current secular ideals, things, or philosophies. Unlike the disciple of Christ, they more often than not seem to have little direction and meaning in their lives beyond having a job, getting money, excelling at achieving social status and indulging in some level of enjoyment. For God’s family members, in the past as well as today, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage have great depth of meaning: “The harvest is great, and the laborers are few.”
At the time of Christ, there were an estimated 170 million people in the world and by the end of the first century there were approximately 80,000 followers of Christ. Today there are 8 billion people in the world. Of that 8B there are almost 2.5 billion Christians and of those, 1.3B are Catholic, 75% of North America is Christian, 73% of the United States is Christian and of those there are 75.4 M Catholics. The ancient believers clearly did not labor in vain.
However, looking at belief in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 3 of 4 people have not yet heard or believed, a large proportion of which is agnostic or are practical atheists – they live their lives as if God did not exist. And how many who once knew Christ have subsequently rejected the faith?
As well, among so many who do call themselves Christians, how many could be accurately described as being actively engaged in the mission, laborers in the field bringing in the harvest? Too often, by “laborer” Catholics think of priests, or religious brothers and sisters. One hears people expressing regret that today there are so few “vocations”. What will the Church do? How will it carry on? We should become like the protestant churches; we should have married and women priests. But in the early days and years of the Church, there were very few priests or religious. In the mind of Jesus – and in the mind of the early evangelists – everyone who was known as a follower of Christ was expected to be a laborer in the harvest field. Paul was a layman and made his living as a tentmaker.
All of us are called to be Christ's coworkers in the vineyard, missionaries of his mercy, peace, and love. Some of us are called to dedicate ourselves in sacramental and apostolic ways to this spiritual harvest, but for the most part when Jesus admonishes us to "ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest", he is referring above all to the vast majority of disciples who are not Priests and Religious missionaries.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once speaking with a young man who wanted to do something for Christ. He was saddened by the problems he saw in the world and expressed his frustration to Mother Teresa. He told her, "I'm only one person, and the world is in such a mess! What can I do?" She answered, "Pick up a broom."
Living our faith as missionaries is not just an expectation of God for us, it isn’t one more rule, sharing faith and the message to repent and believe is above all a corporal work of mercy, a labor that brings greater peace into the hearts of human beings and therefore the world, and it is an act of love for neighbor – our loving responses to God’s love for us. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let all the earth cry out with joy!
We believe that the best way to increase faith in the eucharist
is the full and authentic celebration of the Mass – the source and summit of our faith.
(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 10)
Based on the Word of God proclaimed here today we can reflect on the Eucharist in a couple of very important ways. On the one hand we can reflect on our own participation in the Mass and our reception of the Eucharist in communion. We can also reflect on the Eucharist. In the Catechism, paragraph 1334, it says that the mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."
As we heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus took the loaves and fishes that were brought to him and multiplied them. The little that the people had become an abundant source of nourishment and joy. The Eucharist is the pattern of this process. In paragraph 1335 of the Catechism we read that the miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist. The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus' glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father's kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ.
It is no accident that we as Christians make our offerings to God while the bread and wine are presented to the priest during the Mass. Our offerings represent our lives and work. Our offerings are both the fruits of our labor, and the means by which we stay alive, just like the bread and wine. We give to God simple bread and wine. Then, through the ministry of the priest, Jesus takes these gifts, blesses them, and transforms them into his very self, his real presence, body, blood, soul, and divinity.
At the moment in the Mass when we give these offerings to God, we should be aware of this. We should never live it as an empty ritual or dry obligation. It is part of the liturgy, part of our sacred prayer. By that gesture we give our lives to Christ anew, just as we did at our baptism and confirmation. We ought to consciously renew this gift of ourselves, holding nothing back. Christ will multiply and transform every offering we make to him, and often he will give us even more in return.
Although many Christian denominations commemorate the Lord’s Supper in some way, and focus their attention on the first reflection, they don’t go so far as to say that this truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. However, even though the Church has strenuously taught this truth since the beginning, people struggle to understand and therefore to believe this truth. Sadly, Priests sometimes struggle to understand and believe as well.
In 1263 A.D. there was a priest, Father Peter of Prague. On a pilgrimage to Rome from his home, stopped along the way in a little Italian town called Bolsena. He had been struggling in the teaching about the Eucharist, finding it hard to believe that the bread and the wine actually changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Still, the priest was faithful to his duties, and went to the chapel to celebrate Mass. While he was celebrating Mass, as he elevated the host, the host began to bleed. The blood dripped from the host onto the corporal, the square white cloth that lays on the altar. Father Peter stopped the Mass and asked to be taken to see the Pope, who happened to be staying a couple of miles away in Orvieto. The Pope, Urban IV, sent his delegates to investigate this extraordinary occurrence. The miracle was quickly confirmed, and the host and corporal were brought to the Pope in Orvieto, where he enshrined the stained corporal in the cathedral for all to look upon and believe. That corporal is still hanging above the altar in the Orvieto cathedral to this day. It was Pope Urban who declared this universal Feast of Corpus Christi, the first time that any pope had instituted a feast to be celebrated by the entire Church.
Originally called Corpus Christi [the Body of Christ], the solemnity had its origins in thirteenth-century France. St. Juliana (1192 – _1258) was the abbess at the Augustinian Sisters at Mont Carvillon near Liege in Belgium. After a vision, she persuaded Bishop Robert de Thorte of Liege to institute a feast to the Blessed Sacrament; he established it in 1246.
Since Vatican II, the feast has been called “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” The name change is significant. The emphasis is no longer on the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle and presented for adoration by the faithful. The emphasis is on the celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, the preface from Holy Thursday is used. In the Collect (Opening Prayer), we acknowledge that we “revere the sacred mysteries” of the Body and Blood of Christ, and that through this sacrament, we experience redemption.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria - “The Priest cries aloud, Lift up your hearts. For truly ought we in that most awful hour to have our heart on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. In effect therefore the Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God. Then you answer, We lift them up unto the Lord: assenting to it, by your avowal. But let no one come here, who could say with his mouth, We lift up our hearts unto the Lord, but in his thoughts have his mind concerned with the cares of this life. At all times, rather, God should be in our memory but if this is impossible by reason of human infirmity, in that hour above all this should be our earnest endeavor.”
1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord's command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: "He took bread. . . ." "He took the cup filled with wine. . . ." The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine,154 fruit of the "work of human hands," but above all as "fruit of the earth" and "of the vine" - gifts of the Creator.
Sixteen hundred years ago a Bishop of Jerusalem addressed some converts regarding the Holy Communion that they were to receive for the first time. He said, “When you come up to receive, make your left hand a throne for the right. For it is about to receive a King. Cup your palm and so receive the Body of Christ, then answer ‘amen.’ Take care not to lose part of it; such a loss would be like a mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast. Not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer.”
1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares: It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.
And St. Ambrose says about this conversion: Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. . . . Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."
1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2)
Understanding the mysteries of our faith, such as the Most Holy Trinity is made possible by both Faith and Reason. God reveals the truth of the Trinity through revelation to the faithful. But God has also created us with the desire to know the Truth through rational contemplation of our human experience, which we call Philosophy in particular and through intellectual analysis which we would call the natural sciences.
I am who am. God is. God is a total unity of three persons, an everlasting community of living love, of mutual self-giving. There is no holding back, there are no hidden agendas, there is no manipulation - the inner life of God is absolute, no-holds-barred generosity, eternal and unlimited self-donation. God is: three perfect divine persons who perfectly share the unique divine nature.
The way of redemption showcases these roles in a clear manner. The Father designed and organized how mankind would be redeemed (Galatians 4:4-5). The Son carried out the plan (John 6:37-38). The Holy Spirit sees to it that every person experiences a desire for God's saving grace (John 14:26, John 16:8; Romans 1:19-20). For those who receive and cooperate with that grace, their lives are altered through the transformation of their minds and hearts.
God has been revealed to us as Trinitarian and has invited us into that inner life and communion of love, which alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As we read in the Catechism, “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221). On Trinity Sunday, the Church proclaims the truth about God—that God is love (1 John 4:8)—and the truth about us: we are made for this love. We eternally belong to God—we have an eternal home!‘What’ is the Trinity?The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the most fundamental of our faith. On it everything else depends, and from it everything else derives. Hence the Church’s constant concern to safeguard the revealed truth that God is One in nature and Three in Persons. The Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life…[and is] the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234)
All teaching in the Church about the Trinity begins in Scripture which shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills a specific role, and it also reveals how those three roles interrelate. The Church has conceived “a theological process by which an essential aspect of the Trinity – common to all three divine Persons – is specifically attributed to one of them,” explains the Dominican Gilles Emery. For example, the Creation is attributed to the Father, the Redemption to the Son, and the sanctification to the Holy Spirit; omnipotence to the Father, wisdom to the Son and goodness with love to the Holy Spirit. In simple terms: The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan.
The three divine Persons are only one God because each of them equally possesses the fullness of the one and indivisible divine nature. They are really distinct from each other by reason of the relations which place them in correspondence to each other. The Father generates the Son; the Son is generated by the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son [CCC 48].
We must keep in mind that the action of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is always one and the same. Each act of God is the work of Trinity as a whole. So, we cannot attribute a property or an action to one specific divine person alone. But to this, we must immediately add that the way the divine persons operate depends on how one of them relates to the others: the Father to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, and vice-versa. So, in the Trinity, the Father is the One who loves – the source and the beginning of all things; the Son is the beloved and the Holy Spirit is their love for one another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church stipulates: “… each divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258).
At the beginning of time, we were slowly made aware of the reality of God the Father. The Great I AM. It was revealed to us through the prophets and patriarchs that there was one God and only one. But as time passed, we were also made aware of the Messiah who was the Son of God. As we came to know this Son, in the person of Jesus, we came to realize that He also was I AM. He also was God. Then the Son began to reveal to us that He would send His Advocate, the Holy Spirit. And we came to realize that this Holy Spirit is also God, also I AM. This was God’s way of slowly revealing the full truth of Who He is over time. He is One, yet He is also Three. One God, three divine Persons.
The more deeply we ponder and absorb this revelation of God, the more we know and love God. Since we are created to love God, we will be happier with abiding joy and peace the more we love. Because when we do what we were made to do, we experience fulfillment of our meaning and purpose.
To love him more, we must know him better, as the old proverb says, "You cannot love what you do not know." To use a crude example: someone who has never tasted apple pie can't say, "I love apple pie." But if that same person has experienced a piece of home-baked apple pie, right out of the oven, then he knows what it is, and he can say, "I love apple pie." If we know who God is, if we go beyond vague, fuzzy ideas and really get a clear view of his glory and his goodness, it will stimulate our spiritual taste buds and stir up our love. This is the reason that God has revealed himself to us. He wants us to know him, to love and serve him.
Today, on this feast of the Blessed Trinity, we need to ask ourselves: how well do we know God?
How will we come to know God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit better?
To Live, Love, Learn and Lead… we need a relationship with the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit
Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity.” In my experience as a Catholic and a Priest these last 30+ years, I would definitely agree. Although there have been so called ‘charismatic’ movements in the Universal Church, most recently in the past 60 years and, although there have been documents from various Popes and of course our belief and teachings regarding the Sacramental Theology of Baptism and Confirmation-the Holy Spirit still ranks in the average Catholics faith life as a sort of ‘oh yeah, and the Holy Spirit’.
I think that the role of the Holy Spirit, even though we intellectually understand that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person of the Holy Trinity, who exists as the communication and personification of the mutual, flowing, and never-ending relationship of love and unity between God the Father and God the Son – we do not know what it means for us to ‘have a relationship with that person of the Trinity, nor do we fully understand how we are to experience the Holy Spirit at work in ourselves and our Church.
All teaching in the Church about the Trinity begins in Scripture which shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills a specific role, and it also reveals how those three roles interrelate. The Church has conceived “a theological process by which an essential aspect of the Trinity – common to all three divine Persons – is specifically attributed to one of them,” explains the Dominican Gilles Emery. For example, the Creation is attributed to the Father, the Redemption to the Son, and the sanctification to the Holy Spirit; omnipotence to the Father, wisdom to the Son and goodness with love to the Holy Spirit. In simple terms: The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan. However, we cannot forget that first and foremost, even though each has their own role, according to the scriptures, all three members of the Trinity are fully God:
The way of redemption showcases these roles in a clear manner. The Father designed and organized how mankind would be redeemed (Galatians 4:4-5). The Son carried out the plan (John 6:37-38). The Holy Spirit sees to it that every person experiences a desire for God's saving grace (John 14:26, John 16:8; Romans 1:19-20). For those who receive and cooperate with that grace, their lives are altered through the transformation of their minds and hearts.
It is important to point out that the age we are in now, the age after the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son, is especially the age of the Holy Spirit! This is the time when the Holy Spirit is especially active in our world and in the Church. The Father is especially seen and revealed in the creation of the world, the Son is especially seen and revealed in the redemption of the world after it fell from innocence, and the Holy Spirit is now clearly seen and revealed as the one active in our lives and in the Church sanctifying (making holy) all who follow Jesus and all who seek the will of the Father.
Pope John Paul II wrote, "Having accomplished the work that the Father had entrusted to the Son on earth (John 17:4), on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify the Church for ever, so that believers might have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit" (Eph 2: 18).
What is Pentecost?
Now that we better understand the nature of the Trinity so that we can more clearly reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit, we can enter more deeply into the experience of the apostles who were all gathered in one room at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The feast was the only Old Testament festival determined by counting. On the day after the Sabbath after Passover, the ancient Israelites selected a sheaf of the first grain that had been harvested in the spring. This grain became an offering, and the priest waved it “before the Lord” (Leviticus 23:11-12). Judaism came to regard Pentecost as the anniversary of the giving of the old covenant and law at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20–24) fifty days after the Exodus Passover. For St. Luke this would be seen as having a Christian fulfilment in the giving of the Spirit fifty days after the Christian Exodus Passover, the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
The Spirit coming in human minds was a kind of “second giving of the law”; the Spirit replaced the law as the guide for God’s people. It was, in Paul’s expression, “the law of the Spirit who gives life,” which came through the new righteousness that is in Christ (Romans 8:1-2). The Spirit-filled church made possible by Pentecost existed in continuity with Israel. In the Pentecost experience, the Spirit becomes, in Paul’s words, “the righteousness of God has been made known…apart from the law…to which the Law and Prophets testify” (Romans 3:21). This makes it possible for humans to experience oneness with God through the connecting link of spiritual love. As Paul wrote, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).
Until the age of the Church and the Holy Spirit, the way of life for the faithful was Torah- or law-centered. The new covenantal way of life for the faithful became and remains Christ-centered and Spirit-directed. On this day, the “first-fruits” of disciples would be transformed by the Spirit as a token or representative offering, giving evidence that one day all the nations would seek God, and his truth would cover the earth (Isaiah 2:2-3, 11:9).
Descent of the Holy Spirit
John the Baptist had spoken of the Messiah carrying out a baptism of the Holy Spirit (hence, “wind”) and fire (Luke 3:16). For the disciples as well, these signs were instructive. They understood that Jesus Christ was bringing to fruition something he had promised (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8).
The descent of the Holy Spirit, as we heard, was described as the sound of a mighty wind from heaven filling the whole house. The word in Greek for ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’ is the same, so the wind clearly indicates the Spirit of God. First was the sound of a hurricane-like wind (Greek, pneuma) (2:3). Both the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek pneuma can mean either wind or spirit, as determined by the context. The wind was a physical manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The wind symbolized the Spirit of God. The sound of a strong wind is also reminiscent of Old Testament theophanies in which God manifested himself (Ezekiel 13:13). The loud sound of this wind also had a practical result: It attracted God-fearing Jews who were curious as to what was happening.
The Jews who were present in Jerusalem and near to the location of the Apostles seemed to have become attentive due to the sound of the wind, and they were certainly awed by the second manifestation of the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. Due to the “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (2:3), each heard the apostles speaking in their own language. Fire was another symbol of the divine presence. We remember that, as the Israelites wandered through the desert, they were accompanied during the night by a pillar of fire – God was with them. God appeared to Moses in flames coming from a bush (Exodus 3:2-5). Fire was a frequent feature of Old Testament theophanies, especially those surrounding the Exodus and the giving of the law. [Exodus 13:21-22; 14:24; 19:18; 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:12, 24, 33; 5:4; 10:4.].
These two signs — the wind and fire — were the outward demonstration of what was happening inside the disciples. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). The church — the Israel of the Spirit — was born through the Holy Spirit, and the disciples were spiritually transformed. All Christians continue to participate in the internal transformation that Pentecost symbolizes. In the Sacraments of baptism and Confirmation all receive and are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Acts 2:38; 9:17; 11:17; 19:2; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 6:4; 1 John 3:24.]
A message for all, speaking in various languages
On that first Pentecost a third manifestation of the Spirit’s presence occurred. Immediately, the apostles go out and begin to speak to the crowds of people in other languages (“tongues”), “as the Spirit enabled them” (2:4). Simple Galileans appeared to have sudden skill in most of the languages spoken in that region of the world.
Luke tells us there were “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” staying in Jerusalem (2:5). Among the crowd there were also converts or “proselytes” from paganism to Judaism (2:11). The multitude was made up of devout Jews and proselytes, who were in Jerusalem to worship God during the festival of Pentecost. They were visitors and emigres from all over the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, Egypt and North Africa, even Rome, to celebrate the feast. Luke’s account makes it clear that the “tongues” were real languages, and they could be understood. The supernatural aspect of this was not lost on the hearers, who were “utterly amazed” (2:7). More than this, each person in the crowd heard the disciples speaking in his own native language (2:8). The Greek literally means, “We are hearing in our own language in which we were born.” The meaning is clear. What the apostles are preaching is a message destined for the whole world.
One authority estimated that over 100,000 people attended Passover in Jesus’ day. Josephus wrote of the large crowds in Jerusalem for this feast. [Josephus, Antiquities 14:337; 17:254; Wars 1:253; 2:42-43.] Jews would come to the city from throughout the Roman Empire, and from eastern kingdoms. Philo (20 B.C.–A.D. 50), a Jewish philosopher from Egypt who lived at the same time as Jesus and Paul, said that there were “vast numbers of Jews scattered over every city of Asia and Syria.” [Philo, Embassy to Gaius 245.] He claimed that there were about a million Jews in Egypt. [Philo, Flaccus 43, 55.]
Luke’s point is clear. The miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit was witnessed in Jerusalem by Jews from all over the world. Many of these individuals from far-flung international areas believed the gospel and received the Spirit. They were later scattered because of persecution and “preached the word wherever they went” (8:1, 4).
In the experience of our own ‘personal pentecost’ during Baptism / Confirmation – being born of water and the Spirit, we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those seven gifts according to Catholic Tradition are, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. The standard interpretation of how we are to understand these gifts, has been the one that St. Thomas Aquinas worked out in the thirteenth century in his Summa Theologiae:
These are heroic character traits that Jesus Christ alone possesses in their plenitude but that he freely shares among the members of his mystical body the Church. These traits are infused into every Christian as a permanent endowment and are nurtured by the practice of the seven virtues, and sealed in the sacrament of confirmation. They are also known as the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit, because they serve the purpose of rendering their recipients docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, helping them to grow in holiness and making them fit for heaven.
These gifts, according to Aquinas, are “habits,” “instincts,” or “dispositions” provided by God as supernatural helps to man in the process of his “perfection.” They enable man to transcend the limitations of human reason and human nature and participate in the very life of God, as Christ promised (John 14:23). Aquinas insisted that they are necessary for man’s salvation, which he cannot achieve on his own. They serve to “perfect” the four cardinal or moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and the three theological virtues(faith, hope, and charity). The virtue of charity is the key that unlocks the potential power of the seven gifts, which can (and will) lie dormant in the soul after baptism unless so acted upon.
Because “grace builds upon nature” (ST I/I.2.3), the seven gifts work synergistically with the seven virtues and also with the twelve fruits of the Spirit and the eight beatitudes. The emergence of the gifts is fostered by the practice of the virtues, which in turn are perfected by the exercise of the gifts. The proper exercise of the gifts, in turn, produce the fruits of the Spirit in the life of the Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Gal. 5:22–23). The goal of this cooperation among virtues, gifts, and fruits is the attainment of the eight-fold state of beatitude described by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–10).
Today’s second reading speaks of the gifts that the Spirit of God and Jesus gives to each one for this work. We are not all called to the same thing in the same way. “There are all sorts of service to be done but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.” We all have exactly the same ultimate goal, energized from the same Source, but, with our different qualities of character and ability and depending on the environmental situation in which we find ourselves, we aim at that goal in different ways.
Working together in different ways towards a common aim, Paul compares us to a human body. It consists of many parts but each part is ordered to the well-being of the whole. That should be a picture of the Christian community, of our diocese and of each parish and of each community within a parish. We are all equal in dignity – Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, man or woman, cleric or lay – but different in calling and manner of service.
On this feast of Pentecost, as we celebrate the formation and the mission of the whole Christian community, we also need to reflect on the particular role that God has for me, to reflect on the particular contribution that I can make to the corporate mission of the Church and of the particular group with which I am involved.
It would be wrong to conclude from the account of the decent of the Holy Spirit in the first reading, that the Holy Spirit's normal way of acting is through dramatic fireworks. The truth is that God's actions are most often gentle and hardly perceptible at first. How does Jesus send the Spirit to his Apostles after his resurrection? He breathes on them - quietly and subtly. How does St Paul describe the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church? Like the soul of a body - powerful, essential, but invisible and subtle. The Holy Spirit works quietly.
There is only one condition attached to this gift. To experience God's transforming presence in our lives, we must obey his will out of love: "Whoever loves me will keep my word," as Jesus says in the Gospel. All of us here today want to obey God's will in our lives - some want to do so passionately, others reluctantly, but we all want to - otherwise we wouldn't be here. The Holy Spirit quietly reveals God's will to us in two ways. First, he inspires and guides the teaching of the Church through the commandments of the Bible, the instructions in the Catechism, the examples of the saints, the regular updates from the pope's encyclicals - the Holy Spirit wants us to know how a Christian should live.
Being the Church...
The First Reading, reflects the areas of difference and conflict that are bound to arise when Christians come face to face with new problems and new questions for the articulation of their faith. Such conflicts, when properly handled, are necessary, even desirable, if we are to have a deeper understanding of the real meaning of our faith in a changing world.
And God speaks to us through the changing situations in which the world finds itself. Both calm and conflict have something in common. They remind us of the different ways in which God speaks to us. Through his Spirit, which Jesus promises to send after he has left his disciples in the flesh, he will continue to be present, to be with his community, the Church.
Love, as has been said, is not a feeling – it is a verb. There can be no love (feeling) without loving (doing). And anyone can start the process.
For Jesus, love, by which he means loving, is achieved by “keeping his word”. The “word” of Jesus embraces everything we know about him through the Scripture – his words, his actions, his relationships with people of all kinds, the guiding principles of his life, his values and attitudes. The “word” of Jesus also comes to us from all our interactions and experiences within the Christian community where Jesus still speaks to us. It comes to us through the whole of creation of which Jesus is the Head and with which he identifies through his Creator Father.
The Church is much more than an organization founded 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ. It is, as the Second Vatican Council emphasized, a people. It is a community – at times a rather fractious, disjointed, flawed community – whose members in varying degrees share their faith and hope, their love and caring. A community which, with and in Jesus, is called to work for the transformation of our world of sin and weakness, to make it, in the words of Revelation today, “a city where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple,” the focal point of worship.
It is through this community, that the Spirit continues to speak as it did in the days of the first disciples. That Spirit of the Father and Jesus speaks not only through pope, bishops and priests but can and does speak through each and every one of the members of Christ’s Body – old or young, educated or illiterate, men or woman, friends or enemies.
We see the same tendency in the Church today. People who want to turn the clock back and resurrect old customs and impose them on others. These people tend to make the Church an end in itself. The Church is primarily a vehicle, a means by which the experience of God’s love is extended to the whole world. And, if the Church is to be true to the Spirit, it must remain open to the world for it is the world which, in the words of one theologian, “writes the agenda for the Church”.
It was precisely because they listened to the situation of the new non-Jewish converts, that the Church realized where the Spirit was leading it. When the Church becomes an enclosed, elitist society sitting in unbending judgement on the rest of the world it is no longer the Church that Jesus founded.
Collectively and individually, we need to become aware of the wonderful ways that the Lord can come into our lives. If we give a little time to God each day, if we can remain completely still for even a short while, we can experience an overpowering desire to share in the loving that is reaching out to us from God. And then start reaching out ourselves. God wants to share with us more and more of what he has and is. The problem is that most of us hardly give him a chance. Loving is not only a verb; it is a two-way street.
Through missionaries we become missionaries
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Good Shepherd Sunday
Throughout the letters of Paul, he speaks strongly of the unity of faith and love that binds all Christians together. Of that unity, he teaches that we are not all the same. Each has his gifts, each has her role within the mission, each is a unique member of the Body of Christ the Church. When all the members, in their uniqueness and unity, are faithful to the graces of God they will be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit and fulfill their mission to bring others to the heart of Christ making them delighted and glorifying the Word with them.
But sheep, as we are called in the Gospel today, are not perfect; sometimes we wander. But Jesus, like a good shepherd will be keeping watch over us and when one of the sheep starts to wander away, just as a shepherd whistles to his sheep dog, and the dog sprints off in pursuit of the wanderer, chasing it back into the safety of the flock; he calls out to the angels, the saints and some of us to find the lost sheep of his flock.
Every Christian is a missionary. He gives us the living word, grace, and sacraments, and sends us into the world, to gather all the wandering and lost sheep. Our mission is to bring them back to the flock. It's not always easy. It takes all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit given to us, and the use of the theological and cardinal virtues. It takes an ongoing effort on our part to know the faith well enough to be able to answer objections. But above all, it takes sharing Christ's own love for his people, for every person.
Each one of us has an entirely unique circle of acquaintances, an entirely unique network of relationships.
If out of fear or laziness we fail to share the good news of our saving relationship with God, those lives may never receive the light.
It won't be easy - Our own self-centeredness will resist - The devil will throw up obstacles.
But when we care about the people God puts in our path, we will do whatever we can to bring them closer to Christ, because we know that if they go off on their own, they will easily get lost, and they will be vulnerable to attacks, to the deadly lies that say happiness can be found in money, pleasure, prestige, or the glamour of a false religion.
If we stay attentive to opportunities that God sends us to speak clearly and encouragingly to others about the gospel, to invite them to follow Christ, we will spread the light. If we follow in the footsteps of Christ and of the many generations of faithful Christians who have gone before us, if we strive every day to live as Christ would have us live, giving a constant example of kindness, courage, concern for others, forgiveness, responsibility, and hard work, we will spread the light.
We owe our faith and hope to the perseverance of missionaries from the past who, like Paul and Barnabas, carried the torch of truth and grace courageously, never backing down in the face of difficulties, just as Christ himself backed down.
Interpreting the Living Word of God
In the readings during the 50 days of the Easter Season, we continue to read about and reflect upon the growth of the early Church through the experiences which the apostles and disciples were having of the Risen Jesus and the activity of the Holy Spirit.
Other Christian denominations often criticize the Catholic Church for not reading or preaching about The Book of Revelation to John. If you’ve followed the readings recently, you will know the criticism of us ignoring the last book of the bible is unfounded, although it is somewhat true that we don’t often focus our preaching on its content. Part of the reason for that, in our Church, is that this book is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader. And, because this book is an outstanding example of apocalyptic literature, full of symbolic language, it is exceedingly difficult to preach from, without relying on a great deal of speculation as to the meanings. If anyone, who has not had a direct experience from God, who revealed the meanings, tells you that they know what it all means… that person has overstepped the bounds of the purely human ability to understand.
From the introduction to the Book of Revelations we learn that the author of the book calls himself John (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), who because of his faith has been exiled to the rocky Island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. Traditionally we understand that this John is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one at the foot of the Cross with Mary. The date of the book in its present form is probably near the end of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81–96), a fierce persecutor of the Christians. What we can reasonably ascertain about the content is that to be able to comprehensibly share his mystical experience with the community of his time, John made use of the symbolic and allegorical language which was very likely extensively borrowed from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel.
The symbolic descriptions are not necessarily nor always to be taken as literal descriptions. The author used these images to suggest Christ’s universal (seven) power (horns) and knowledge (eyes). A significant feature of apocalyptic writing is the use of symbolic colors, metals, garments (Rev 1:13–16; 3:18; 4:4; 6:1–8; 17:4; 19:8), and numbers (four signifies the world, six imperfection, seven totality or perfection, twelve Israel’s tribes or the apostles, one thousand immensity). Finally the vindictive language in the book (Rev 6:9–10; 18:1–19:4) is also to be understood symbolically and not literally. The cries for vengeance on the lips of Christian martyrs that sound so harsh are in fact literary devices the author employed to evoke in the reader and hearer a feeling of horror for apostasy and rebellion that will be severely punished by God.
The Book of Revelation cannot be adequately understood except against the historical background that occasioned its writing. It was composed in response to God, first and foremost to meet a crisis in the Church at the time. The book itself suggests that the crisis was persecution of the early church by the Roman authorities; the harlot Babylon symbolizes pagan Rome, the city on seven hills (Rev 17:9). The book is, then, an exhortation and admonition to Christians of the first century to stand firm in the faith and to avoid compromise with paganism, despite the threat of adversity and martyrdom; they are to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Though the perspective is eschatological—ultimate salvation and victory are said to take place at the end of the present age when Christ will come in glory at the parousia—the book presents the decisive struggle of Christ and his followers against Satan and his cohorts as already over. Christ’s overwhelming defeat of the kingdom of Satan ushered in the everlasting reign of God (Rev 11:15; 12:10). Even the forces of evil unwittingly carry out the divine plan (Rev 17:17), for God is the sovereign Lord of history.
The Book of Revelation had its origin in a time of crisis, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the face of apparently insuperable evil, either from within or from without, all Christians are called to trust in Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Those who remain steadfast in their faith and confidence in the risen Lord need have no fear. Suffering, persecution, even death by martyrdom, though remaining impenetrable mysteries of evil, do not comprise an absurd dead end. No matter what adversity or sacrifice Christians may endure, they will in the end triumph over Satan and his forces because of their fidelity to Christ the victor. This is the enduring message of the book; it is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe.
The Gospel reading today also comes from John who, recognizes the presence and work of the Father and the Son and so is impelled to cry out: “It is the Lord!”
Although, as noted above, the “disciple whom Jesus loves” is identified with John we can in the context of this Easter Season, understand it to also apply to all the children of God universally. In the symbolism of the gospels, the boat and those in it represent the church, and the fish ‘caught’ as the members of the Church.
It is good to recall that when John is writing this account, there is much to be concerned about among the disciples of Christ. At this time, Peter is already dead. In fact, all the Apostles except for John have been martyred. As well, John has been subject to three Popes and is about to have his fourth! In fact, most of the early Church members have died or like John are nearing the end of their lives. This was no small issue, since Jesus had yet to return and the Church seemed to be struggling against many enemies and false understandings about Jesus, the Church and the practice of the faith. Many of those struggles are detailed for us in the letters of Paul.
The Gospel of John was most likely written in Ephesus, and the final editing of the gospel and arrangement in its present form dates from between A.D. 90 and 100, although it is very likely that it was completed prior to his imprisonment at Patmos. One of John's themes in all his New Testament writings, is the power of the Church to grow and to endure even through difficult times, and violent persecutions.
This account of the third resurrection experience of the Apostles and disciples, is full of symbolism and imagery. John is very much giving a lesson about the Messiah, the Church, faith, challenges, and expectations. Consider the number of fish, 153 – thought to be the complete number of types of fish, which we take to symbolize the universal call to the heart of Christ through receiving the Good News of Salvation. Interestingly, it’s also the number of Hail Mary’s in a full Rosary!
After a whole night’s fishing, they had caught absolutely nothing. They had forgotten the words of Jesus: “Without me, you can do nothing.” Just as he had 3 years before, Jesus, engineers a miraculous catch of fish. When they come ashore, Jesus has fish already, a fire burning, bread – this also recalls the feeding of the five thousand and turns our hearts to recognize the Eucharistic overtones.
The image of a fishing net full of fish - an analogy for the Church that appears more than once in the Gospels. John, rather than using the imagery of the boat for the Church he uses the net in which the fish were caught and does not break. It is filled with believers whom Christ gathers out of the ocean of time and history through the ministry of Peter and his successors, the popes. Peter is the one who hauls this supernatural community onto the shores of eternity at the end of time, where they will all feast with the Lord. Peter brought the overstuffed net onto the shore safely, in obedience to Christ who makes this possible.
Jesus then hands over to Peter and to his companions the mission he himself had been given by the Father. “Feed my sheep.” This is the responsibility of the Church and, as members of that Church, a responsibility that rests in varying degrees on every one of us. It is not just bishops, priests, religious who have this responsibility. It is also that of parents, teachers and simply as brothers and sisters to each other.
Despite sufferings, scandals and sins, as well as obstacles, challenges and persecutions, Christ's Church will continue to grow and expand under the ministry of Peter, and it will stay intact until it is brought safely home to heaven - Peter's net will not tear.
A Prayer to Live By
The words of a prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
Part Seven – Easter Sunday
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: Living Freedom, Living Peace
In preparation to write this seven-part Holy Week Homily series, I have spent much of the past two weeks studying the Scriptures which were proclaimed this past Holy Week, as well as a great deal of time refreshing my memory of and studying European History as well as reflecting on what I learned from those studies. Given recent events in Eastern Europe, I have also considered all these things as I reflected on the experience of the children of Fatima and the words of the Blessed Mother, shared with them during what was once called the Great War, the war to end all wars.
The Word of God during this week spoke of prophesy and fulfillment, tragedy and triumph, sin and salvation. Additionally, it has spoken of covenant and betrayal, love and hate, humility and pride. European history can be said to speak of all these same things. In brief, the scriptures testify to God’s enduring love which ceaselessly offers by way of the Cross of Christ, the only way of freedom for us and peace in the world. European history, indeed, the history of mankind from its outset, attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart as a consequence of the abuse of freedom. History testifies to man’s great in humanity to man, sometimes in the name of God and always contrary to the way, truth and life of Christ.
On May 5, 1917, Pope Benedict XV wrote a pastoral letter to the world, asking the faithful to petition Mary to bring an end to the war, "that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world." Eight days later, Mary appeared for the first time, on May 13, to three shepherd children.
In 1947 speaking of Fatima, a Dominican Priest named Fr. Vincent Ferrer McHenry said, “To overcome these causes [of war], Mary had to lead souls to peace. How profoundly did she understand that true peace flows only from union with God! From the moment the Lord had done great things to her, Mary had realized the meaning of peace. She knew that without Christ, the “way and the truth, and the life” Jn 14:6, there could be no peace in the souls of her children and none in the world. Despite the present indications of the nearness of war, the world can still obtain the peace promised by our Lady at Fatima, if enough souls meditate on the mysteries of her Rosary and imitate the goodness it contains.”
I agree with Fr. McHenry, Despite the present indications of the nearness of war, the world can still obtain the peace promised by our Lady at Fatima, if enough souls meditate on the mysteries of her Rosary and imitate the goodness it contains.”
One of the key elements of the message of Fatima is the summoning of the children of God to make reparation for personal sins and the sins of others, to become conduits of the mercy of God so that, if we can help it, no soul will be lost. Our Lady showed the 3 children the fires of hell and asked them to pray and offer penance for the conversion of sinners. “You see Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. See, my daughter, my Heart encircled by thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you, at least, strive to console me. Tell them that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, in order to make reparation to me, on the First Saturday of five successive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the ... mysteries of the Rosary. “When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.’”
Mary also said to the children of Fatima, that “To prevent this [grave consequence of sins], I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world. If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred, and the Holy Father will have much to suffer; certain nations will be annihilated.”
The reference to Russia was not the county whose borders we know today. The Russia of those early days of the 20thCentury was much vaster, extending farther north, west and south. Nor is it a general reference to the Russian people of the time. Many of the people within its borders and reaching back into history were faithful disciples of Christ. It is undeniable and incredible that the faith gave rise to a great devotion to Mary Mother of God, as is evidenced in the number of shrines and Churches dedicated to her as well in art, and architecture. Prior to our modern age, no one would be surprised to hear of Russia being described as the ‘house of Mary’. No, the reference is much more focused on the ideologies, philosophies and governing systems that would seek to separate the children of God from their Father and annihilate the knowledge of the love of God within them, represented most clearly and immediately by the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution who were soon to take power and usher in an as yet unended tyranny of the Godless, the unrepentant carriers of the heart of Cain.
Before she died Sister Lucia, the last surviving of the three children of Fatima said that this third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the message itself asks of us. And that, Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc. And let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible.
Mary also said, “But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and the world will enjoy a period of peace.” At this promise of Mary we are reminded that Sister Lucia described an affirming vision in which she saw, “At left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated toward him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’”
Thus, on this day of the resurrection of our saving Lord, on this day on which we celebrate our own rebirth as children of God, we are reminded of our mission in the world. We are reminded of our great and ever-present responsibility as members of the Body of Christ the Church.
The suffering sacrificial love of Christ is possible because of the humility and obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father. In the freedom of Christ, which is ours, our only escape from the horrors of a darkened world is the increase of the family of God and among them an increase of humility and obedience to the will of the Father so as to live freely that same salvific sacrificial love of God.
Christ is for us an example of what is necessary for our triumph over sin and to live in freedom and peace. Jesus heard and did what the Father desired, he listened and was obedient. He was and remains moved by his love to encounter us in our depravity and communicate grace so that we might be transformed and enter that new life of freedom in truth.
In the garden, Jesus stands authoritatively firm and charitable to those who came to arrest him, even to Judas who betrays him with a kiss. In the face of ridicule and interrogation, he maintains his dignity and remains steadfastly resolved. During the betrayals of Peter, the silence and absence of the other apostles and the lukewarm faith of the ones who followed him; he continues to think of nothing but the needs of humanity, forgiveness of the persecutor’s crimes, and the coming victory of his love over death and darkness.
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 Saint Paul, in Chapter 5 of the letter to the Galatians, speaks of freedom and calls for total commitment to Christ which is to be lived in total freedom by the power God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Created in the image and likeness of God, we have a deep desire to know and a great capacity to understand. Freedom in fact, presupposes knowledge of the truth, the truth that sets us free. John 8:32 and ignorance is an obstacle to freedom.
We were created in the image and likeness of God. We were free. We fell from this original state of grace and entered the fallen state by original sin, which in our birth, no one escapes. Due to original sin, we, in our fallen state are inclined to sin. Christ died to set us free from sin. Our hope is in him, for having died in Christ I also rise in Christ, freed to fulfill the call to holiness, to remain free and unbound by sin. If we are to accomplish God’s plan for us, we will need His grace and abiding presence; "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
Saving and sacramental grace allows for the full exercise of human freedom, the proper use of which, enables us to gradually align our will with God’s. As this happens, we experience increased perfection of intellect, allowing us to determine good from evil and, free will increases in us the ability to choose between good and evil. As we choose more frequently the good, we increase in perfection. However, continued rejection of God through choosing of evil increases the chains of sin that bind and further disables us from recognizing, choosing and being able to do the good.
The freedom that we have been given by God, no person of state can take away. It is freedom for love. It is not freedom from responsibility or restriction. It is freedom to establish a loving relationship with Jesus Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. A person who chooses to reject this call becomes a slave to his passions, and over time loses the freedom to choose.
We experience our freedom as limited precisely because we are limited. Original innocence and freedom were lost through original sin. Since true freedom is rooted in the truth about man, we must individually and as a human community constantly more deeply discover and rediscover our nature and identity in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the only way that true human freedom can and will be properly and ultimately oriented towards communion and the common good.
Freedom and truth are inextricably intertwined, but not inseparable. The intimate relationship between freedom and truth is broken when a person tries to determine what is right and wrong according to his likes and dislikes. The proper use of freedom increases our capacity to know the truth and grow in love of moral virtue.
The Christian believes that God set down the good we ought to do and to avoid the evil we ought not to do. Jesus clearly set out what is good by his words and the conduct of his life. Hence, Christian morality is the most effective means of acquiring the dignity proper to us because it is a morality of imitating Jesus Christ. This entails a development of all our faculties—being intelligent, free, and, consequently, responsible for our actions. Right moral conduct perfects the human being, and wrong moral conduct degrades the human being.
God created us free, and in Christ, God frees us once more. We cannot blame God for the human evils that find their origins in the abuse of our freedom. We are not puppets on a sting attached to a stick in the hand of God. As children of God, although we are inclined to sin, we are not bound to sin. Original freedom and freedom in Christ never mean that we are free from personal responsibility. There is no such thing as a freedom that is independent of responsibility. To abuse our freedom is to sin because in doing so, we are acting contrary to our nature which is against the will of God. Freedom makes man responsible for his acts and progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.
Freedom is the power that a person has over his own acts and this power can only be exercised to the extent that correct moral choices have been made habitually. In this way we become virtuosos of the moral life (saints) When the conscience is properly formed, one sees the true harmony between morally binding just laws and human freedom. To be free, we must plan to make the correct choices and carry them through. At the end of each day, one ought to examine his conscience to understand the results of all the moral choices and eliminate things that lead to sin, as well as seek the graces available in those sacraments through which we receive forgiveness and new strength.
A question that I often get asked by students and adults alike is, ‘how I can actually keep from sinning, from committing the same sins over and over again! They passionately and sincerely express desire to know the freedom that is promised in scripture.
There is no doubt, for anyone that has read scripture, that Christ sets us free, and would like us to stay that way. He’d like us to continue to be free from sin so as to grow in holiness and avoid ‘backsliding’. He would like us to be holy and stay holy. Seems like an impossible task! But what kind of God sets before us a call to what is impossible? Certainly not the God that we believe in. Our God calls as to be holy and promises that with our cooperation, God’s grace will get us there.
So, let’s focus on our part of this effort. There’s good news! We can cut the goal into realistic and reachable portions. So how do we do that one day, one week at a time.
Now you’re rooted in keeping your focus on Jesus and now you can be more sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is trying to guide you every single day. It’s really just one day at a time. Don’t look back to the ‘stuff’ that you’ve been freed from, rejoice in a brighter future. Whoever and whatever it is that makes you a slave to sin, walk away. If you need help, get some. Embrace the freedom and love that you were made for. Count your blessings every night and thank God for one more day, every morning.
Over time you’ll begin to notice the changes in you, your relationships and that you are more fully free than ever before. You’ll be able to say, even though I’m still struggling with overcoming a particular sin or temptation, by the grace of God, personal effort, prayer and prayerful support of others… I am living victory because I am better than before, stronger than before. I have a victory attitude, not a victim attitude!
Of course, if you happen to have really slipped, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can catch you and bring you back to solid ground and freedom.
To understand more about Grace: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c3a2.htm
To understand more about Freedom: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a3.htm
Part Six – Easter Vigil
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: Being made Free
St. Anselm, who was the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, a ‘Doctor of the Church, said in his book entitled Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”), that human sin has “infinitely offended” God and that God requires an “infinite satisfaction” in order to restore divine honor. He taught that Christ's sacrificial death was necessary to liberate humanity from sin and restore communion with the Father, that the blood of Jesus was "payment" to God for human sin. The Scriptures foretold this divine plan of salvation and, citing a confession of faith that he himself had received, St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”
Concentrating our reflections on the sufferings of Jesus only has meaning when they lead us into reflections on the resurrection, new life, and new joy. The pain and sufferings of our lives even when they are the consequence of our sins, in the plan of God can become sources of good. They help us to become more like Jesus when they lead to our own liberation and the liberation of others.
Palm Sunday is both the beginning of Holy Week and the climax of our Lenten journey. The Eucharist we celebrated leads us into the depths of the Lord’s passion and to gaze into and through the cross with hope toward the resurrection, toward our Easter Hope. Why did Jesus become “one like us in all things but sin”; because “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” An unmerited gift through Christ who freely chose to “give his life as a ransom for many.” As St. Paul said, God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” “in accordance with the scriptures”.
The readings from Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week moved us to more firmly identify with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, and the challenge as his adopted brothers and sisters to love as he loved, sacrificially. Our celebration of Holy Week has been a deep reflection moving us toward the depths of each of the mysteries, together with Jesus. By prayerfully entering into these mysteries through guidance by the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand our brokenness and need for salvation more fully. We more deeply recognize that there can be no peace in the world until the peace of God reigns in our hearts. There can be no true freedom without having first been liberated from slavery to sin. In our baptism we die and rise in him, we are made free in rebirth, a new creation. The Word of God throughout this week has been increasingly pointing all the baptized to remember, repent anew and rejoice in this sacramental way salvation.
Holy Thursday spoke to us of the humility of the Savior who emptied himself for love of us. He was not a victim, but rather “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The Scriptures are clear that what Jesus freely chose to experience for us; the ridicule, arrest, torture and death, is a preeminent manifestation of God’s boundless love. Out of love for his Father and all of creation, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death to destroy the power of death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. He says to all who hope in Him, “because I live, you shall live also”. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.” By being obedient to death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our sins and made satisfaction to the Father.
Good Friday spoke to us of the tragedy of the dark forces at work in human hearts, that inspired rage and hatred. And even in his closest friends, fear and despair. But as emotions raged, fueled by the words, "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation," spoken by the Sanhedrin after the raising of Lazarus; the voice and plan of God could also be heard and seen in the words of the high priest Caiaphas as he unknowingly prophesied: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The sacrifice of Jesus "for the sins of the whole world” expresses his loving communion with the Father. From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son". Although Man's sins are punishable by death, we "were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the "lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and as the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover. Christ's whole life expresses his mission: "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” In suffering and death, by embracing in his human heart the Father’s love for us, his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men; that is, our freedom from slavery to sin.
It is love "to the end” that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemptive and reparative, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. No person, not even the holiest, was ever able to take upon themself the sins of all and offer themself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
At the moment of His death, when Jesus "released the spirit", at that moment a power was released into the world, the power of the Love between the Father and the Son which proceeds, as the Holy Spirit. The power which would soon come to fill the Apostles and complete the work of giving birth to the Church. The Holy Spirit that leads us into the Truth of God and empowers we who believe that “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Saint Paul affirmed in his teaching that just as those who seek to live by the law must carry out all its contents, so those who have faith and live by promise must stand firm in their freedom. Galatians 3:10-12 “for freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
It is that same power of the Holy Spirit at work here tonight, in a special way, which makes these Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – effective. The three sacraments of initiation which will be received by the catechumens and candidates here tonight and recalled with great affection and gratitude by all here who have received the same sacraments of their salvation.
The Sacraments of the New Testament were instituted by Christ the Lord and entrusted to the Church. As actions of Christ and of the Church, they are signs and means by which faith is expressed and strengthened, worship is offered to God and our sanctification is brought about. Thus, they contribute in the most effective manner to establishing, strengthening, and manifesting ecclesiastical communion. (The Code of Canon Law (CIC), 1983. Canon 840).
From the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in several stages. This journey can be covered rapidly or slowly, but certain essential elements will always have to be present: proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, Baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic communion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1229)
The sacraments of Christian initiation lay the foundations of every Christian life. The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the sacramental way of salvation and outpouring of the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1212
Part Five – Good Friday
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: The cost of Freedom
The Palm Sunday liturgy was both a reminder of triumph and tragedy. It is triumph as he entered Jerusalem and a bittersweet tragedy as his unjust persecution set in place the means of our salvation. For the followers and the curious, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an occasion of great joy and celebration. They loved Him, shouting and waving branches and making a royal path. The people were joyfully celebrating Jesus the king, the Liberator of the heart and mind, the destroyer of sorrow and restorer of life and joy. There was a triumphant joy among his followers that Jesus himself joined to all of creation which had groaned for this moment of salvation, as he said "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
The readings from Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week have helped us better understand that it was also a tragedy because of sin, disobedience, and of pride: our embracing affection for evil which wrought the necessity of our redemption through the greatest act of love and mercy. What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. By identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘Passover’ from sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom. Our celebration of Holy Week has not been just a deep reflection on our need for redemption, nor of thanksgiving; but of entering into the depths of each of the mysteries, together with Jesus, so as to rise with Him, reborn, a new creation. It is meant to be real and not merely a religious, pious, or devotional ‘make-believe’. By prayerfully entering into these mysteries through guidance by the Holy Spirit, we are able to encounter God anew. We are able to understand our brokenness and need for salvation more fully. We more deeply recognize that there can be no peace in the world until the peace of God reigns in our hearts. There can be no true freedom without having first been liberated from slavery to sin.
At the Mass of the Lords’ Supper on Holy Thursday as we reflected together on how Jesus initiated the sacramental way of grace and salvation through the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood through Holy Orders. We further this contemplation of the path made open to us today as we gaze upon Christ on the Cross. Christ, the paschal lamb without blemish who establishes a new testament, a new covenant in his blood in which we are washed just as the blood of the lamb was commanded by Moses to be sprinkled on the doors the saving power of which was not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it was a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, “when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.” From the Catechesis by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop (Cat. 3, 13-19: SC 50, 174-177)
As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, the words of God in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, the prophetic description forgotten and rejected by Peter, ought to ring true in our own experience of life in Christ, “…my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless…” We find ourselves reminded and so humbled, that “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”. We are reminded that although we are made children of God through the Sacrament of Baptism, a pure and purifying experience, this was made possible because Jesus handed himself over to evil to be tortured and executed, a horrible experience for Jesus. And, lest we despair of our condition before God, Isaiah reminds us that by his wounds we are healed. His suffering is not in vain. He has won pardon for our sins.
We call this moment in the life of Christ, good, because through our suffering Christ a way was made for our salvation. Christ on the Cross reminds us that he was not then nor is He now, ignorant to our sufferings. We know everything he has endured for us; therefore, we know that when we’re truly sorry for what we’ve done he’ll grant us his mercy. We just have to ask.
If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse, the execution of an innocent man should. To be actively cognizant of the joy of our salvation every day, is to be actively aware of our call to holiness and the ways in which we fail to live in the freedom for which we were made free. Jesus continually asks the Father to forgive us. And so, today is a day not to dwell solely on the tragedy but also to bask in the warmth of God’s mercy and love.
Christ wants us to know without any doubt that his love for each one of us is total, eternal, personal, and unlimited. We are loved simply because we exist, not for what we can do. However, we need not only to be loved, but also to love.
Mindful of the cost of our freedom and in light of the new commandment which Jesus gave “love one another as I love you”, our freedom, won at such great cost, must be lived in imitation of Christ. We must love each other freely, fully, and fruitfully. Unless we learn to love as Christ loves, selflessly, constantly, through storms and droughts, to the point of sacrificing our own comfort and dreams, we will remain spiritually immature. He loved us not only in important ways each day but as we heard last night, “he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end”, even unto death. No longer slaves, we must be willing and become able to love more greatly; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” John 15:13-17
Today when we receive in Holy Communion the same body and blood that suffered for us on the Cross, let's thank Christ for our freedom by his love, and ask him for strength to continue to live free.
The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. That water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, a symbol of the Eucharist. Don’t allow this mystery of His divine mercy to be passed over so quickly in your reflections, since it is why we say that the Church is born from the wound of side. From the blood and water: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and from the Holy Eucharist, Christ fashioned the Church. By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life and freedom.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.