Homily: Corpus Christi

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year C)
Genesis 14:18-20

Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1st Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17


The Easter Season ends with four great feast days in a row: The Ascension, Pentecost, then a week later, Holy Trinity Sunday, and a week after that, today’s feast day, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for “Body of Christ”).


You would think then that our Gospel reading would be about Jesus at the Last Supper instituting the Eucharist, but you’d be wrong. As we just heard, our gospel reading is about Jesus miraculously feeding the crowd of 5000. I want to highlight just three important points from this reading.

First, the words used to describe what Jesus does. It says, “Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” Taken, blessed, broken, given. That is an important sequence, and we hear it over and over. We’re going to hear it again when St. Paul recalls the Last Supper in the second reading, and we’re going to hear it again after that, when we recall the Last Supper in the Eucharistic Prayer. 

The second thing I want to point out in the Gospel is an unusual reference to Moses. In Exodus, Moses is serving as Judge of Israel, settling all their disputes all day long. His Father-in-law comes along, and says, there’s a better way to do this. Find some holy, trustworthy men, and set them as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. By the 1st Century, the idea of twelve judges organizing the people of Israel into multiple groups (the one that gets highlighted is groups of fifty) becomes an image associated with the organizational structure of the Exodus. So when Jesus does something similar, taking twelve men and appointing them to organize the people into groups of fifty, he’s revealing his identity as the new Moses. The twelve Apostles are like the new twelve judges, and the people are like a new Israel, because this is the new Exodus. You might recall that prophecy by Jesus to the Twelve: that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel.

And the third highlight from the Gospel is their location. They’re in the desert wilderness, which of course has lots of spiritual significance. In the Old Testament, it’s the location of the Exodus, and the miraculous bread of the manna, the bread from heaven, the food for the journey. In the New Testament, it’s the location of Jesus’ three temptations from the devil, where Jesus was fasting and hungry, and the devil tempted him to use his power to miraculously provide himself bread. Here in our reading today, Jesus uses his power not for himself, but to provide superabundantly for the sake of his followers. So Jesus again is revealing his mission as the New Moses, who deputizes his appointed leaders to administer his authority over the New Israel, and provides a miraculous outpouring of the New Manna, bread from heaven in the wilderness, on the way to the New Promised Land.

While there is definitely an intentional scriptural connection between the miraculous multiplication of loaves, and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, we can see how the Church understood the distinction of these two miracles of bread. Yes, we should feed the poor, and not withhold our generosity in meeting their human needs. Jesus does (often miraculously) meet our needs, and we need to do likewise, and meet the needs of others. But Jesus didn’t institute the Last Supper in the presence of the multitudes, telling them that it was his body, and to do so in remembrance of him. He instituted the Eucharist among those who were in communion with him (Judas then carried out his betrayal, breaking communion, to his own downfall). St. Paul, at the beginning of the letter that is our first reading, reprimanded the Corinthian Christian community for tolerating or accepting someone living in an immoral relationship, and instructs them that “the one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst” –essentially excommunicating him (for the sake of his conversion and salvation, which continues to be the Church’s goal in any censure). The Catholic Church, which is unusual but far from alone in practicing “closed communion,” often endures criticism for withholding the Eucharist from those who are not living in full communion with the Church. This practice is clearly rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, and so cannot validly be put aside.


In our first reading, we have the three lone verses of a figure that looms large in the history of Jewish conscience, and especially of Christian conscience, the priest-king Melchizedek.

Abram (long before God changes his name to Abraham) had just defeated five Canaanite kings to rescue his nephew Lot, and he was returning home with his nephew and his spoils of war, when in the valley of kings, he meets Melchizedek. “Melchi” means “king” and “zedek” means righteous. He’s the righteous king… of Salem, a word that later evolved into the word “Shalom,” “peace.” (He is the righteous king of peace). The place where Melchizedek was king—Salem—later became known as Jerusalem.

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In the first lines of Psalm 76, David sings, “In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel. His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.” Judah is the southern region (eventually the southern kingdom), whose capital is Jerusalem. Zion is the mountain Jerusalem is built on. Salem, Jerusalem, Zion, are all the same place. 

And Melchizedek is a king, but he is also a priest. He offers a thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine, and pronounces a blessing on Abram: two distinctively priestly actions. Why does the Church have this reading for the feast of Corpus Christi?

In the three-year cycle of the Sunday readings, there is a different theme each year for this feast. In Cycle A the theme is the Eucharist as our food and drink; in Cycle B the emphasis is on the Eucharist as the sign of the covenant; and in Cycle C (this year) the theme focuses on the priesthood of Jesus.

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament goes to great lengths to show that King David of Jerusalem, and his sons after him, also saw themselves as priest-kings, after the pattern of Psalm 110, our psalm for today (a coronation psalm, singing “you are a priest forever”). And Jesus, as the ultimate Son of David, not only inherited the kingship of his ancestor-father David, but also his priesthood. Jesus is the fulfillment of the figure Melchizedek, the righteous priest-king of Jerusalem, who offered the sacrifice of bread and wine, in thanksgiving (in Greek, eucharistía) to God for having delivered him from victory over his enemies. 


And lastly our second reading. St. Paul emphasizes that although he wasn’t at the Last Supper, this is a firm part of Christian Tradition; Tradition, from the Latin meaning, “to hand on.” Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” And what does he hand on? “That the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me,’” and so on. That sequence of verbs should ring a bell. We heard it before, right?

I’ll just end with this. Paul continues after the end of our reading, saying, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

According to the commentary on these verses in the New American Bible…Paul uses a series of wordplays in these verses; references to judgment (krimakrinō) discernment (diakrinō), and condemnation (katakrinō).

We are called, by our human nature, and our Christian vocation, to unite ourselves to God, in mind, heart, soul, and strength. If we participate in the sacrament of communion, but in reality having broken communion by mortal sin, we disrespect the truth; and we profane the gift of the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament. We will invite not grace but judgment on ourselves. The prayers of the Mass forgive the non-deadly venial sins we commit. But if we are guilty of grave sins, mortal sins, then we must seek healing in the particular sacrament of Reconciliation, the power of the keys given to Peter to bind and loose sins, before we can worthily share in the sacrament of communion. 

In the mystery of this sacrament, the body and blood of Christ, truly present in the thanksgiving sacrifice on the altar, we unite our whole human nature, body and spirit, with Christ,  worthily participating in the communion of the mystical body of Christ, that we might be nourished on the Way to the true Promised land, our heavenly and eternal home.

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Homily: Trinity Sunday

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Year C)
Proverbs 8:22-31
Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15


Many people will say that God is the greatest mystery of existence—an infinite mystery. And they would be right. But they would also say that what we know about God is the smallest drop of this infinite mystery, so it’s foolish to attempt to say anything at all. And they would be wrong. God created humanity to be in an intimate relationship with him… as it is said, “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. For that, God freely revealed himself to us. But because God is infinite, and we are not, there’s only so much that God could give us to understand, and even then, only in symbolic, allegorical images; which on the one hand can speak to a greater truth than a detailed explanation, but on the other hand, can lead to misinterpretation. But by using the gifts of our nature God gave us, such as reason, faith, and love, we can say quite a few things about what God has revealed to us about himself.

In the scriptures, Jesus reveals distinctions between God the Father and Himself, the Son. The Father is essentially what the Jews always believed God to be: the One, the Source, the fountain of goodness and being, the source of justice and peace, the Creator of all things, and also the one who cares for His people, and revealed for us the right way to worship Him and live by His truth.

Jesus reveals Himself as the eternal Son of the Father. “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He said. He uses language referring to being and time, to convey that His existence is beyond the scope of passing time, like the Father.Rublev Trinity He is the presence of the Father, the mediator with the Father. He is the ambassador of the Father, and yet He and the Father are one. If you have seen the Son, and if you know the Son, you have seen and know the Father.

It has been speculated, because of this relationship—that the Son is the One who reveals the Father—the “interface” between God and His Creation—that it is in fact the Son who Moses encounters in the Burning Bush, who said that His name will be “I AM.” And as I have said in previous posts, the mechanics of the Hebrew might be rendered less succinctly, but more as the Hebrew would convey it, as “I AM for/toward you, in the way that I always was, am, and will be.” This, to me, connects beautifully with the Incarnate Son’s title of Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is one truth, revealed at the Burning Bush, made manifest in the Incarnation of the Divine Son, and enduring forever with the Ascension and Pentecost: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

It is the nature of the Father to be the source of all, and to generously give all from Himself. It is the nature of the Son to be the recipient of all that the Father gives. The Father perfectly loves and gives Himself to the Son, as a perfect Bridegroom might strive to love and give himself to his Bride. And in experiencing the Father’s perfect self-gift of love, the Son, like a Bride, rejoices in the Father’s self-giving love, and reciprocates by pouring Himself out in perfect generosity to the Father, as would the perfect Bride on receiving the perfect love of her Bridegroom, strive to reciprocate the perfect gift of herself to him. This is the exchange eternally going on in the interior life of the Holy Trinity. And this exchange of divine persons has his own divine personhood, his own identity, which is the Holy Spirit (similar to how the relationship of love of a bride and a bridegroom has its own nature, and in some ways, its own personality, that is beyond either individual).

In the sacrament of Marriage, the Bridegroom is like the incarnation of (sacramentally participating in and making present to the marriage and to the world) the provident, protective, generous care of the Father. And the Bride is like the incarnation of (sacramentally participating in and making present to the marriage and to the world) the receptive, reciprocating, beloved person of the Son. And their fruitful exchange of love (sacramentally participating in and making present the self-giving love of the Holy Spirit) is incarnated as their children (as God might will for them, and the imperfection of our material nature not impede). This is the truth at the heart of the sacrament of marriage—the heart we cannot excise to redefine marriage according to our will and pleasure.

In our experience of love, there are these three elements: the subject/the lover; the object/the beloved; and the relationship/the love. Of course, these are human terms for human understanding, so while God is something like this, God is also infinitely more than this; a more intense (more real) reality than our imagination can conceive of.


In our Gospel reading, we hear of the three divine persons. Jesus tells the disciples that the truth is beyond what he can convey to them. They’re not ready yet, even at the time of the Last Supper. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth… he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine…” What the Father is and has, he perfectly shares with the Son. And the Holy Spirit will share it with the Disciples. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are equal in dignity and nature; whatever it is to be of the substance of God, they are consubstantial
in these Three Divine Persons, as the One Divine God.


The week before Pentecost, we celebrated the Mystery of the Ascension: the return of the incarnate and victorious Son to the Father, who welcomes his Son home to Him. It is the Father and Son’s joy in their union with one another that is the joy of heaven, and heaven’s feast. At Pentecost, we celebrated the outpouring of that joy in the Holy Spirit into the Church through the power of the Sacraments, the healing, the wisdom, the inspiration, and the love of the Father, won for us by Christ, and shared with us in the Holy Spirit. Now, a week after Pentecost, we have the mystery of the Holy Trinity, who we can now intimately know and serve in love because, unlike the Disciples at the Last Supper, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “loops us into” sharing in the interior life of God, as the Spirit, now within each of us, is the bond of love in the Holy Trinity. 

As the Bridegroom’s and Bride’s love overflows into fruitfulness, creating a family, so does the Fathers’ and Son’s love, the Holy Spirit, overflow into fruitfulness, creating the Family of those reconciled and united to God. This is the message of Paul’s writing in our second reading. “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand…” In our tension and suffering endured in conflict with the world of Flesh, our spiritual union with God (particularly the paradox of the Cross), transforms all our sufferings into joy by grace. All their attempts (inspired by the Enemy) only go to encourage us in hope and holiness. “…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” In the Life of the Spirit, our union with Christ, the cross doesn’t lead to despair but to glory.


We couldn’t have a complete celebration of the Holy Trinity without talking about the creed that we say almost every Sunday. The first part of the Creed is about the Father. The large middle part is about Jesus, the Son. And then the third part is about the Holy Spirit, and the effects of the Holy Spirit, namely the Church, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation. This was developed in the context of heavy conflict on the question of who or what Jesus is. Some popular, brilliant theologians of the 4th century were arguing that Christ is not divine, but the first of God’s creations, and through which all other things were made. In their defense, Greek philosophy had ideas of the one creator god, and the logos—the intelligible “interface” between god and creation. John taps into this in the prologue of the Gospel, when he says, “In the beginning was the logos” (the Word, the intelligibility, the reasonability, of God. But John also made sure to identify the logos as divine: The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But these 4th century theologians were not as careful, hence their confusion and error. And one of the key scriptures used to support their incorrect argument was what we have as our first reading, from Proverbs Chapter 8. These theologians were Greek, arguing in Greek, over the Scriptures, which were in Greek. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, but the Old Testament had been translated from Hebrew into the Greek (the Septuagint) about 200 years before Jesus. In the Greek, our first reading says, “Thus says the wisdom of God: ‘The LORD created me, the beginning of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; from of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.” “The Lord created me.” There’s the rub. In the Hebrew, the word there is qaneh, which (like most ancient vocabulary) has a wide range of meaning, including “created, acquired, begat, possessed.” The Greek translation rendered it as “created.” But in the larger context of Scripture, the word is best translated as possess, or beget, as in being part of one’s personal nature, like one possesses a talent or acquired a virtue. “The Lord possessed me; the Lord begot me.”

A person creates something that might reveal something of himself but is unlike himself. An artist creates a painting. But a person begets something like oneself. A parent begets a child. The child shares in the nature of the parent. A painting doesn’t share in the nature of its creator (even though the painting reveals something of the artist). Creatures made by God bear something of an image of God, but do not share in the divine nature of God. But the Son begotten by God does. So when the whole controversy resolved (at least temporarily) at the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church wrote out the Nicene Creed. And that (for the most part) is the creed we still profess about the Holy Trinity through all these centuries later: our belief in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.” These were the arguments and images used during the controversy to articulate and solidify the Church’s understanding of the truth of the Holy Trinity, and so they were enshrined in the words of the Church’s creed. (I had to look up the meaning of “born of the Father before all ages.” This is in correction to those who held that Jesus was “adopted” by God as his Son at his baptism, or some other point. The word “born” is being used allegorically, affirming that Jesus was born of Mary his mother, in time, in his human nature, and born of God the Father, in eternity, in his divine nature. The Son exists eternally as the Beloved and Recipient of the self-giving love of the Father. If the Son is not the eternal Son, then the Father is not the eternal Father.


So lastly, to apply some of this. Since God created us, and we reflect the image of God, how we understand what God is affects how we understand what we are. If the Son were not divine, then God could not be love, as a solitary person. There would be the eternal lover, but no eternal beloved, and no eternal relationship of love in God.  But what a difference it makes that the Son is a divine person within God! This image then is not one of eternal solitude, but of eternal, self-giving, fruitful, relationship, three persons of Love, in an eternal embrace and exchange, like a perfect dance, within the interior life of the One God in Three persons. Only if the Son is Divine can God truly be Love and Communion. And that reveals that our own human nature is not perfected in isolation/solitude, but in relationship/communion. We (even we introverts!) flourish and are perfected in communion with God, and in communion with all others in communion with Him: We are perfected in and as the Church: our holy communion as members of the mystical body of Christ, the family of God the Father, united by the Holy Spirit. Happy parish feast day of the Holy Trinity. God bless you.

Holy Trinity Door
(We worship) the True God, One in Trinity and (the) Trinity in Unity. Come Let us Adore.

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The Athanasian Creed
(St. Athanasius defended the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea). 

Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith.
Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith:

    That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.
        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

    What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
        The Father is uncreated,
        the Son is uncreated,
        the Holy Spirit is uncreated.

        The Father is immeasurable,
        the Son is immeasurable,
        the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

        The Father is eternal,
        the Son is eternal,
        the Holy Spirit is eternal.

            And yet there are not three eternal beings;
            there is but one eternal being.
            So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
            there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

    Similarly, the Father is almighty,
        the Son is almighty,
        the Holy Spirit is almighty.
            Yet there are not three almighty beings;
            there is but one almighty being.

        Thus the Father is God,
        the Son is God,
        the Holy Spirit is God.
            Yet there are not three gods;
            there is but one God.

        Thus the Father is Lord,
        the Son is Lord,
        the Holy Spirit is Lord.
            Yet there are not three lords;
            there is but one Lord.

    Just as Christian truth compels us
    to confess each person individually
    as both God and Lord,
    so catholic religion forbids us
    to say that there are three gods or lords.

    The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten from anyone.
    The Son was neither made nor created;
    he was begotten from the Father alone.
    The Holy Spirit was neither made nor created nor begotten;
    he proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    Accordingly there is one Father, not three fathers;
    there is one Son, not three sons;
    there is one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

    Nothing in this trinity is before or after,
    nothing is greater or smaller;
    in their entirety the three persons
    are coeternal and coequal with each other.

    So in everything, as was said earlier,
    we must worship their trinity in their unity
    and their unity in their trinity.

Anyone then who desires to be saved
should think thus about the trinity.

But it is necessary for eternal salvation
that one also believe in the incarnation
of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.

Now this is the true faith:

    That we believe and confess
    that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son,
    is both God and human, equally.

    He is God from the essence of the Father,
    begotten before time;
    and he is human from the essence of his mother,
    born in time;
    completely God, completely human,
    with a rational soul and human flesh;
    equal to the Father as regards divinity,
    less than the Father as regards humanity.

    Although he is God and human,
    yet Christ is not two, but one.
    He is one, however,
    not by his divinity being turned into flesh,
    but by God’s taking humanity to himself.
    He is one,
    certainly not by the blending of his essence,
    but by the unity of his person.
    For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh,
    so too the one Christ is both God and human.

    He suffered for our salvation;
    he descended to hell;
    he arose from the dead;
    he ascended to heaven;
    he is seated at the Father’s right hand;
    from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
    At his coming all people will arise bodily
    and give an accounting of their own deeds.
    Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
    and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.


 

Homily: Pentecost

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Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23


The Jewish feast of Pentecost was called Shebuoth, or The Feast of Weeks. It was a harvest festival, for which the people of Israel would pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer the best, the first fruits, of the harvest to God in thanksgiving. It was called Shebuoth, the Feast of Weeks, because it was the day that crowned seven weeks of seven days after the Passover. So the evening of the forty-ninth day began the feast of the fiftieth day, Shebuoth. The Greek word for fifty is Pentecost.

In the Jewish liturgical celebration of Shebuoth, one of the readings would be from Exodus, Chapter 19, which tells of Israel through Moses receiving the Stone Tablets of the Law from God at Mount Sinai, which was wreathed with smoke; and it says, the Lord descended upon it with fire. If one were to study the book of the Exodus, one might also notice that this receiving of God’s Law at Sinai happened fifty days after the Israelites departed from Egypt at the Passover. So this Jewish Feast of Weeks, of Shebuoth, Pentecost, was also a celebration of Israel having received the divine law from God.  


That sets the stage for our readings today. The disciples—not just the twelve, but a hundred twenty, including the Blessed Mother—were gathered in prayer, as the Lord had told them at the Ascension to do. Meanwhile, outside, people from all over the world—some Jewish, others, gentile converts, others, pagan worshipers of Israel’s God—were all gathered to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. It was a very lively moment. And into that moment, in the presence of the disciples, our first reading tells us, there was a rushing wind. In Hebrew, the word “ruah” means wind or breath or spirit. It’s the word used at Creation when it says the Spirit (ruah) of God hovered over the waters, and the ruah that God breathed into Adam. So the ruah, the wind, the divine breath, rushed through the room, and tongues of fire rested above each of the disciples.

According to Jewish Tradition, it took 10 people to establish a synagogue, a local church. They have already replaced Judas with Matthias, so the Eleven are back to Twelve Apostles, and enough other disciples to establish a synagogue under each one. At Sinai, the Lord descended with fire upon the twelve tribes of Israel. Here at Pentecost, the Lord descends with fire upon the Twelve Apostles, and their “tribes,” their churches, of the New (worldwide) Israel. James (the Less, the Son of Alphaeus, “James, the Brother of the Lord”) will stay and lead the Jerusalem church. Peter will go to Antioch and then to Rome. Andrew will go to Greece. Thomas will go to India. John will be exiled to Patmos, and so on. Yet they are all united by the Holy Spirit as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. “Catholic” comes from kata-holos, “according to the whole.” The Church taught (and was) everywhere the same truth, and the whole truth. 

Image result for pentecostAs God made the covenant at Sinai establishing Israel as the People of God, and gave them the Law of the Covenant on the stone tablets, here at Pentecost, in Jerusalem, the city of God’s presence with his people, the Holy Spirit in a similar way establishes the new covenant with the New Israel with his own divine ruah, and fire, and, as the prophets had said, he establishes the new law not carved into stone, but written into the flesh of their hearts.

In the first half of the reading, we have the experience of the Church. In the second half of the reading, we have the experience of the Church with the world. The disciples go out, and with great joy and excitement, start sharing the good news with the whole crowd gathered from everywhere for Pentecost.

And we have another connection to the Old Testament: the Tower of Babel. In Genesis, in the generations shortly after the Flood, Image result for tower of babelhumanity, still speaking a single language, decides (as fallen humanity often tries to do in different ways in different ages) to build a giant tower—a siege tower—to take heaven by force. God observes what they’re doing, and divides and confuses their language, reflecting the division and confusion in their hearts and their relationships to Him and to one another. Thus confused and confounded, they each wander off to different parts of the world. But “Babel” is the root for our term “babbling,” that is, making unintelligible sounds.  The city that opposes God is also the city of unintelligibility. Opposition to God leads to moral and intellectual confusion, the loss of truth and goodness. And we see this today among those who oppose God’s truth and his Church.  

So in Pentecost, and we have the reversal of the confusion of Babel. People of all different languages come together and understand the disciples, who are full of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and truth. We might notice the progression of responses among the crowd—first they are confused, because they understand the apostles, then they were astounded, then amazed. As we open ourselves to God working within us, first it is confusing, then as we begin to understand, we are astounded and amazed, at how he works in our life and our situations.


So that’s the event of Pentecost, but what’s the importance of Pentecost? It means that everything Jesus accomplished in his mission into the world—his life, his healing, his self-giving love, his word, his wisdom and light, his forgiveness of sins, his sacraments of grace, his life-giving body and blood, his death to separation from God and resurrection to eternal life, his ascension and holy communion with the life and power of the Holy Trinity—all that is given to us. The divine power that said “Let there be light, and bang, there was light”—that power is given to us by Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the power of the sacraments, the fire of God’s love that changes the nature of material things into signs of sublime spiritual realities that communicate himself to us. The Holy Spirit is the lifeblood and soul that binds the Church into the mystical body of Christ, and we as members of the Body, sharing in its glory, and in its sufferings, but suffering with faith, hope, and love. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God within us, prompting us to accomplish his will for us, and through us to the world. Pentecost is the big bang of the new creation. It is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this changes everything. It is the power of God in us. The holy communion of Emmanuel—God for us, God among us, God within us. And it is the mission to bring others into this holy communion of God’s love and truth. Pentecost is still a harvest festival!  

How do we respond? By putting sin behind us, by living by the inspired teaching of the Church, and not the errors and sins of the world. That’s the first and most basic response: Go and sin no more. But more than that, we respond by frequent and devout prayer, by weekly or even daily (worthy) participation in the holy liturgies and sacraments of the Church. We read and study and contemplate the Divine Word of the bible, filling our hearts and minds and uniting ourselves with his Word. We ask for the intercession of the saints in glory, especially our Blessed Mother, whose last words in Scripture are, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Blessed Mother was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, conceiving the Divine Word in her womb, and her response was that she went with haste to minister to the needs of Elizabeth, and sharing her joy. The Church receives the Holy Spirit, and our response must likewise be that we go with haste to minister to the needs of the world, sharing our joy.

Pentecost is our invitation to continue in ourselves the life and ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord. By the Holy Spirit of his love, he gives us the power to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him, through death to everlasting life in His glory.

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Homily: Jesus, the High Priest

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The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year C)
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
John 17: 20-26


Don’t worry this isn’t the wrong homily! Just setting the stage for the Gospel reading!

The Mass that ends the season of Lent, and begins the Easter Triduum, is the Mass of Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist, and the Priesthood. In the homily for that Mass, I said that we can see Jesus instituting the priesthood through three aspects of the Last Supper.

First, in the Gospel of John, Jesus begins the Last Supper by washing the feet of the disciples. This hearkens back to God’s instruction to Moses for preparing Aaron and his sons to be the beginning of Israel’s priesthood. Anytime they were to offer the priestly liturgical sacrifice, they first had to bathe (which I’m sure the altar servers were thankful for). So that’s the first aspect of the last supper instituting the priesthood.

Second, At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body, and this is my blood, for the forgiveness of sins.” So Jesus is making a flesh and blood sacrifice. And anyone at that time knew that only priests can offer ritual flesh and blood sacrifice for the atonement of sins. And so when Jesus then followed his words by saying, “Do this in memory of me,” he is telling his apostles to continue offering this sacrifice. So to do that, he is instituting a new priesthood, that is like the old priesthood, but made new, and participates in his own priesthood as high priest. That’s the second aspect of the last supper instituting the priesthood.

The third aspect is Jesus offering the high priestly prayer. In Judaism, the high priest would enter into the “holy of holies,” the sanctuary of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, one day each year, the Day of Atonement. And on this day, the high priest would offer the high priestly prayer, which has three parts. First the high priest would pray for himself. Then in the second part, he would pray for all the other priests serving as an extension of his own high priesthood. Then in the third part, he would pray for all of Israel. At the Last Supper, Jesus offers a long discourse, over 3 chapters of the Gospel of John, a discourse which culminates in his offering of his High Priestly Prayer.

In this prayer, Jesus prays first for himself. He begins by saying, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.” Second, Jesus prays for the twelve. He begins this part by praying, “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” And he ends this second part by praying, “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.Image result for jesus high priestSo where the high priest is praying for the other priests who share in his high priesthood, Jesus, the true high priest, prays for the Apostles, and for their consecration and ministry. Then he begins the third part, which is our gospel reading today. Jesus prays, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” So where the high priest is praying for Israel, the people of God, Jesus prays for the Church, the New Israel, the New People of God. Jesus is praying for all the Christian faithful, the Church built on the foundation of the Apostles.

In the three-year cycle of the Lectionary, the gospel reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter each year is one of the three parts of this prayer. This year we’re in year C, so our reading today is this last third of the High Priestly Prayer. In the Gospel reading, Jesus prepares his Church for the sacramental liturgy of the end times—the pouring out of the grace of His Paschal Mystery into the Church, and through the Church into the world. He prays for the Church, that they may be one, as God the Son and God the Father are one; which is to say, in the perfect self-giving agape love of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Holy Trinity. It is this witness of love—within the Church, and outward toward others—that is to be the signature feature of the Church and her members, not just so that we might be one with God, but so that the world might believe.


Throughout the Easter Season, the second reading has taken us through the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, today we reach the end of the book. It is said that Martin Luther wanted to omit this admittedly confusing writing from the canon of Scripture, saying “Revelation should reveal something.” Of course, it does reveal something. In simple terms, the Book of Revelation operates on two levels: First, it gives a symbolic representation of the times it was written in, expressing the experience of the early church amidst great suffering and persecution, revealing it as a reason for hope and joy in the accomplishment of the divine plan for salvation. And second, it is a mystical prophecy of the second coming of Christ in judgment at the end of time. The difficulty comes from the book using the same mystical words and images to mean both levels, both events, both times, together.

Related imageIn our second reading for today, which is the end of the book of Revelation, we have Jesus promising his return, the promise of judgment and justice on the good and the bad, a blessing for the suffering faithful, and finally, the reminder that we want this, we pray for it. The Church, the Bride of Christ, and the Spirit, the love that gives the Church unity, the Spirit and the Bride say to Jesus, “Come!” Let all who hear this say, “Come!” Then in the final verse, John as the narrator joins this chorus, saying, “Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!” And except for one short verse of blessing, those are the final words of the bible. Not only will it be an end to the persecution and suffering, but it will be the manifestation of all that we know by hope and faith, the dropping of the veil between our world and the true eternal world, the coming of the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City of God.


And then finally, after talking about the final end of Christian persecution in the second reading, we have the beginning of it in the first reading. Saint Stephen said he saw the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Related imageThis is the only place that describes Jesus as standing, rather than being seated, at the right hand of God. A king seated on his throne would rise to greet an honored guest, and Jesus stands to welcome Stephen, whose name means “crown,” as the first after Christ to win the crown of martyrdom, of witnessing to his faith in Christ to the extent of giving his life. Stephen had been mentioned earlier as one of the men nominated to be the first “deacons” in the Church, to help the Apostles by ministering to the temporal needs of the Christian community. He was described as a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. After testifying to Christ against the Jews who rejected him, Stephen was stoned to death. The description of his death is meant to set a model for future Christians, of imitating (and so, participating in) Christ’s giving his life. Not necessarily by the cause of death, as Jesus was crucified and Stephen was stoned, and later Christians would be killed in a cruel variety of methods. But like Christ, and like Stephen, Christians were to follow the example, in their final moments, of commending their spirit to the mercy of God, and praying for God’s forgiveness for their persecutors.


And so next Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit to give the Church its life, power, and unity. And with that, we will finish the season of Easter, and begin Ordinary Time—not “ordinary” in the sense of bland and unremarkable, but “ordinary” in the sense of time ordered, organized, for living out our Christian Life, toward sharing in Christ’s mystery of suffering and hope, sorrow and faith, the cross and resurrection: that through the grace of the sacraments, we are united into this mystery of God’s self-giving love, and we carry out the Church’s mission in Christ: to bring God to the world, and the world to God.

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