Category Archives: Easter

Homily – Ascension of the Lord C


Acts 1:1-11
Ps 47         R/. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Eph 1:17-23
Lk 24:44-53


Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, one of the five great feasts of the life of Jesus. In many parts of the world, this Solemnity was celebrated this past Thursday, the 40th day after the Resurrection, the actual day on which the Lord ascended into Heaven. When this feast is celebrated on Thursday, it’s a holy day of obligation — this speaks to its importance in the life of the Church. In many other parts, like in Canada, we move this Solemnity to the following Sunday. This was done in an attempt to make it easier for people to attend Mass on this feast. While it may have made it easier for people to celebrate this feast, it’s also regrettably obscured its importance. Since it falls on a Sunday, it seems we barely take notice of it. But the Ascension of the Lord is a significant moment in the life of the Church!

Our first reading today, describing the event of Jesus’ Ascension, helps us to see why. As I’ve mentioned before, repetition is always a call to pay attention. In these eleven verses, Luke uses repetition to call our attention to several key themes, but today I want to focus on just two of them: the Kingdom (vv. 3, 7); and, the Holy Spirit (vv. 2, 5, 8).

The ‘Kingdom of God’ was a major theme in the preaching ministry of Jesus. He often spoke of the ‘coming of the Kingdom’ or of the presence of the Kingdom. This was related to the ancient expectation Israel had for a Messiah King who would deliver it from its enemies and rebuild the kingdom of David. This expectation is explicit in today’s verse 6, Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6).

But this notion of a kingdom is more than just a political reality. For the Jewish mind, it included the reunification of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who had long been divided and scattered (cf. Sir 48:10; Jer 50:19-20; Hos 11:11; Lk 22:30; Acts 26:6-7). It also carried with it the hope that all God’s people would once again be gathered together under His Name and under His sovereignty.

However, as we know, Jesus spoke of a Kingdom that was much different than a political reality. While Jesus’ Kingdom embodied the aspects unity and Divine Sovereignty, its deliverance wasn’t in regards to political powers like Rome or the gentiles, but rather in regards to sin and death. This we discover more clearly through the Passion and Resurrection. That’s why Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as not being of this world (Jn 18:36).

But more than just these two mentions of the Kingdom, the whole scene is full of this symbolism. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus ascends into Heaven to take up His throne at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20-21; cf. Acts 2:33). This is why our feast today is so important: it’s the enthronement of Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven. First, as He said, in order to prepare a place for us so that He might take us up to the Father’s house (Jn 14:1-3). And second, in order to send us the Advocate so that His Kingdom might be built up in this world (Jn 16:7ff)

This is why the Ascension is necessarily tied to the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday. And Luke makes this link clear in today’s reading: you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (v. 5).

Jesus’ bodily Ascension to the Father is so that He might bestow on His disciples the gift of divine Life, which is the Holy Spirit (cf. Nicene Creed). It’s precisely through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Christ will unite His Kingdom, and not just the Tribes of Israel, but all peoples, together as one in His Name, in His Spirit, in His Kingdom, which we call the Church. Luke mentions this explicitly in our Gospel today, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Lk 24:47); and in the first reading, too: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

And so, my brothers and sisters, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins is the mission of the Church — of all the disciples of Jesus —, until the Kingdom of God is spread throughout the earth and all nations proclaim His Name. Because the great desire of the King is that none should be lost, but that all might be one in Him as He is in the Father (cf. Jn 6:39; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9; Jn 17:20ff). Again, this is why He has sent us the Spirit of unity.

In the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus has not abandoned us or left us orphaned (Jn 14:18ff), but rather has gone up to the Father for our advantage, so that we might be clothed with power from on high (Lk 24: 49) and be united to Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And all of this He does, not because of any merit of our own, but because of His gracious and merciful love for us; not for His own profit, but for our sanctification. Jesus is taken up into Heaven so that He might return to take us up with Him and share with us fully the glory that He has in the presence of the Father.

And so, my brothers and sister, you can begin to see now why the Solemnity of the Ascension is an important event in the life of Christ and of the Church: it further demonstrates His love for us, and continues His mission to draw us all to the Father for our salvation.

As we rejoice in this great gift today, may we open wide our hearts to the Lord, asking Him to make room in us for the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw us more closely to Himself, to conform us more perfectly to His image and likeness, and to enkindle in us the fire of His love, for our sanctification and the salvation of the whole world. Amen.

 

Comments Off on Homily – Ascension of the Lord C

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter VI C


Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Ps 67         R/. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Jn 14:23-29


Have you ever wondered why the Church teaches what she teaches? Have you ever wondered how the Church arrived at her teachings and why she continues to defend and promote them? It’s easy to miss it, but our first reading this Sunday gives us a beautiful insight into the life of the Church and into the historical development of doctrine.

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts for us the first major theological crisis in the Church. We’ve been reading it all week at daily Mass, but today we get a summary of the event, which has come to be called the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, the first ever Council of the Church’s Pastors.

The question at hand is about whether one is saved by the Jewish practice of circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, or by Baptism into Jesus. In other words, do those who want to be Christian first need to become Jews? Some said yes, others said no; and so began the first theological fight in the Church.

This was a major event in the life of the Church. The outcome established a method of dealing with theological problems, gave a specifically Christian direction for the Church, and instituted a benchmark to evaluate future challenges to the teachings of Jesus.

As our first reading indicates, the theological conflict began in Antioch, in the missions, if you will. Certain Christians, former Pharisees (cf. v. 5), were teaching that in order for gentiles (or pagans) to become Christian, they first had to be circumcised and taught to live according to the Law and traditions of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them and decided to bring the matter to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Church’s leadership at the time.

What an inspiration for Paul to have! He didn’t insist he was right, but humbled himself to go to ‘experts’ for advice. Who better to tell us what Jesus wanted and intended than the Apostles? This is now the role of the Bishops. And the ‘elders’? Well that’s just English for the Greek word presbyteroi, also translated as ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’.

Here the Apostles establish a new method of interpreting the teachings of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit: conciliar discernment. The Apostles and elders gathered together in prayer to better understand what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church, and debated the matter as a tool of discernment. This particular portion of the text is omitted for this Sunday’s reading, but I encourage you to go back and read it. You’ll notice some very interesting points, namely Peter’s authority as Chief of the Apostles (he’s the first to make a formal statement); and James’ authority as Bishop of Jerusalem and host of the Council (he summarises the discernment).

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem set firm in the life of the Church a new course that separated her from the Jewish Religion, establishing a specifically Christian Faith.

After the debate, Peter, based on his experience with the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10) spoke out in favour of the faith: God, who knows the human heart, testified to [the gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith He has made no distinction between them and us. […] we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (vv. 8-9, 11).

In other words, salvation is through Jesus, not through the Law of Moses; and salvation through Jesus isn’t just for the Jews, but for all peoples. This is the reason why the Church is catholic, or universal. It’s meant for all peoples, not just a select group. It’s for this reason that the Christian Faith continues to spread to all nations; it knows no boundaries. Jesus died for all, and desires that all be saved. This is the purpose and mission of the Church.

The conclusion of the Council is also of particular importance, not merely for the decision that it makes, but for the way it arrived at this decision. After having debated the matter and reached a conclusion through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council writes to the Church in Antioch (and everywhere): it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us — notice the collaboration with the Holy Spirit — to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well (vv. 28-29).

Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostles established a guiding principle for Church doctrine and discipline that has lasted even unto today: nothing should be imposed on the faithful except what is essential. Throughout the ages, in every controversy, this has been the litmus test used to evaluate the demands of the Faith.

So how did we get from the four precepts listed in this letter to the tome that is the Catechism? Well, there have two thousand years of sinful human history since then, with many, many challenges to the Faith over the years, each of which called for a clearer definition of what is essential. There were questions about whether Jesus was human or divine (He’s both); questions about Mary’s motherhood (She is mother of God); questions about the reality of the Sacraments (i.e., the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus); and so on, and so on.

Though the Bible is important and essential, Christianity is not a faith based on a book; it’s a faith based on a Person, a living Person — Jesus —, who invites us into a dynamic relationship with Him. As such, then, it’s a living Faith that deepens and grows over time. It doesn’t change or abandon its roots, but like a tree, it matures and blooms into the fullness of its nature over time.

I find this reading gives us hope, because if there’s ever anything in Church teaching that we don’t understand — or perhaps don’t like — then we owe it to ourselves to seek to better understand it. Where does it come from? Why does the Church teach this? What does it reveal about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and to what He’s calling us?

My brothers and sisters, nothing in the Church is random or accidental; it all serves a purpose: to proclaim Jesus Christ as the loving God who has come into the world to save mankind. May we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that He might guide us in the paths of Christ and into the heart of the Church. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter VI C

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter V C


Acts 14:21-27
Ps 145       R/. I will bless your name for ever, my king and my God.
Rev 21:1-5
Jn 13:1, 31-33, 34-35


One of the greatest challenges of our society today is that of selfishness. People are generally only concerned with themselves. In our Gospel this week, our Lord gives us the remedy to such egoism: Love! Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (Jn 13:34).

You see, my brothers and sisters, love is the opposite of selfishness, it opens us up to others, and it causes us to want to give of ourselves for others (cf. John Paul II, Message for the XI World Youth Day, no. 6). Love leads us out of ourselves and toward others. That’s why love is the cure for selfishness, for injustice, for poverty, for every evil. That’s why love is the way of God; that’s why love is the way to God.

But in our Gospel today, Jesus doesn’t just invite us to love, He commands us to love: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another (Jn 13:34). So what does it mean to love one another? Jesus gives us two answers to that question.

First, this commandment is given to us in the context of the Last Supper, and it’s in this event that we find our first clue to understanding Christian love. Do you remember what’s unique about the Last Supper in John’s Gospel? If you said the Washing of the Feet, you’re right. If you remember Holy Thursday, John recounts how Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, and it’s in this context that He gives us this new commandment. And we need to keep these two parts tied together: the Washing of the Feet, and the Commandment to Love. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15). Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (Jn 13:34).

So to love as Christ loves is to wash each other’s feet, to serve each other, to care for each other. This kind of love is best called ‘charity’, the virtue of loving God and others. The theological virtue of charity is a supernatural virtue: it’s one we receive as a gift from God, not one that we achieve by effort. That means it’s rooted in prayer, and is the result of God’s grace working in our lives. This is what distinguishes Blessed Mother Teresa from, say, Bill Gates or some other philanthropist. Charity is about receiving others for the sake of our love for God, and for love of them, and sharing ourselves with them in return. It’s unconditional and unlimited.

Second, the first verse of today’s Gospel gives us another clue: Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father (Jn 13:1). John repeatedly uses this term ‘hour’ to refer to the moment of Jesus’ glorification, the Cross (cf. Jn 3:14, 12:32). So to love as Jesus loves is to embrace the Cross: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13). To love one another as Christ loves us is to lay down our lives for others. Charity isn’t just sharing with others; it’s giving ourselves to others.

To love as Christ loves, then, is a demanding love; it isn’t for the lukewarm or the half-hearted! To love as Christ loves is to die to ourselves, it’s to sacrifice our lives, it’s to serve. That’s why it’s a supernatural virtue, because it can only be the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us. But in order for the Spirit to transform us into vessels of love, we must open our hearts to God; we must first encounter His love. That’s why prayer and the Sacraments are essential for the Christian life, because it’s through them that we open our hearts to God; it’s through them that Christ teaches us to love; it’s through them that we receive the grace that sanctifies us. This is why Jesus made charity the distinctive mark of His disciples: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). That’s why in the Acts of the Apostles Christianity is called ‘the Way’, because it is the way of Love.

Now this isn’t new to you. Parent’s, whether you realise it or not, you’ve been living a similar love since the day your child was born. To wake up in the middle of the night to feed or console a child, to make sure they have clothes before you do, to provide for their needs first, these are acts of love. Combined with prayer and offered as a sacrifice of love to God, they begin to take on the character of charity.

It’s because of acts like this that Catherine Dougherty, the founder of the Madonna House Apostolate, was able to coin the phrase ‘I am third’: God first, others second, me third. Or that Blessed Mother Teresa was able to challenge us to ‘give until it hurts’.

Charity, as the supernatural virtue of loving, is a way of participating in God’s action, because through charity we share in God’s act of love; we’re able to love as He loves. In fact, charity is God’s love working in and through us. That’s why St. Paul called it the greatest gift that never ends (cf. 1 Cor 13:8, 13). It’s this love that makes all things new, that transforms the world in which we live.

In this Easter Season, as we continue to celebrate the Eucharist and receive the gift of God’s love made flesh, may we contemplate this mystery so as to learn to love as Christ loves, to grow in the virtue of charity, and to live according to God’s commandment to love one another as He loves us, so that through Him, with Him and in Him, we too, can make all things new with His love. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter V C

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter III C – Do You Love Me?

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/pereroger/doyouloveme (Follow me on SoundCloud!)


 

Acts 5:28-32, 40b-41 Ps 30   R/.  I will extol you, Lord, for you have raised me up. Rev 5:11-14 Jn 21:1-19


In our Gospel passage today we continue with the accounts of Jesus’ apparitions after the Resurrection. Once again, John doesn’t disappoint with his carefully worded retelling of the encounter. The whole scene ties in several previous key events the disciples experienced with Jesus.

We begin with the disciples — including Simon, James and John — fishing on the Sea of Galilee, but without catching anything throughout the night. Jesus is on the shore. This scene reminds us of their call to discipleship (Mt 4:18-22).

As Jesus tells them to cast their nets again, it recalls the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:1-11), when Peter made his first profession of faith — Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man! (Lk 5:8).Jn21Icon.jpg

Ashore, Jesus invites them to eat bread and fish; this brings up the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (Jn 6:1-13), which began the discourse on the Bread of Life.

The mention of a charcoal fire (Jn 18:18) recalls Peter’s triple denial of Jesus during the Passion (Lk 22:64-62; Jn 18:15-27). The three questions that follow reinforce this connection.

Finally, Jesus speaks directly to Peter calling him Simon, son of John (v. 15), recalling Peter’s elevation as chief of the Apostles, when he’s given the keys (Mt 16:18).

I mention these things briefly because I think they’re important for us to keep in our hearts and minds as we hear the words of our Gospel today. John subtly recalls them so as to help us to understand what Jesus is saying and doing in this final encounter.

You see, the key part of our Gospel passage is precisely this interchange between Jesus and Peter; everything else serves to help us make sense of it. Having denied Jesus three times, Peter must now profess his love for Jesus three times; having run away from Jesus’ Passion, he must now embrace the passion that awaits him. And all of this Peter will do by loving Jesus to the end, and by humbly and faithfully caring for the flock of Christ — that is, the Church — now entrusted to his care.

Jesus gave Peter the keys to loose and to bind; now he’s being told about what that’ll look like: self-sacrificial love (for God and for others) — Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? (Jn 21:15); and, He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God (Jn 21:19).

This love will be expressed not merely through Peter’s death, but also in his care for the Church, by tending and feeding the sheep. Here I think John is tying-in his previous mention of the fish and loaves: Peter must feed the flock of Christ with the Eucharist and help them to follow Jesus.

But there’s another aspect here that’s lost in the English language. When Jesus questions Peter, they’re not using the same words. The details are lost in English because we only have one word for love, but the Greeks have at least four words, each describing a different kind of love or relationship.

Jesus asks Peter, do you love me?do you [agape] me? Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love (cf. DCE, 7). So Jesus is really asking Peter, ‘do you love me with your whole heart? Will you die for me as you once said you would?’ (Mt 26:33).

Peter, on the other hand, responds with another word, philia, which is a friendship kind of love: ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I [like] you’, or ‘you know that I’m your friend’. This contrast also appears in the second question and answer.

In the third question, Jesus mercifully lowers His expectations and changes His question to match Peter’s language: do you [philia] me?, that is, ‘do you like me?’ Obviously not catching on to the differences, Peter responds in a wounded manner, Lord, you know everything; you know that I [like] you.

Jesus mercifully lowers His expectations because He sees that Peter doesn’t yet understand and can’t quite raise himself to say it, but that he will in due time. Peter wasn’t ready for agape — for a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love — on that morning by the Sea of Galilee, but he certainly was by the time he joyfully laid down his life in Rome nearly 35 years later. Jesus accepted Peter where he was at so that He could help him to grow into what he should be.

My brothers and sister, the Lord Jesus does the same for us: He consistently invites us to the high dignity of discipleship, even when He knows it often seems beyond our capacities. But He doesn’t stop inviting us if we’re not yet ready to love Him as He desires us to. Instead, like He did with Peter, Jesus is patient with us and is willing to walk with us along the path to perfection. He doesn’t give up on us, but walks with us.

We don’t need to fear that we’re not where Jesus wants us to be. We don’t need to fear we can’t do what Jesus asks us to do. He’s patient with us. But we can’t give up either: we can’t just walk away because what Jesus asks is challenging. And we can’t just sit back and expect that Jesus will accept us if we do nothing. He invites us, but we need to respond in order to receive the gifts He has in store for us. Our ‘yes’ doesn’t need to be perfect, but we do need to open the door at least a crack in order for Him to enter.

Peter didn’t stay stuck in his inability to love Jesus perfectly. Rather he loved Jesus as he could, and through that love, Jesus drew him closer, and perfected his love. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, we need to respond to the best of our capacity. We can’t just mope and wallow in self-pity because we’re not as good as He wants us to be. Rather, like Peter, we need to offer Jesus what it is we do have, what it is we can do right now, and then allow Him to lead us to a deeper love, a stronger commitment, a holier way of life.

Jesus invites us to perfection, but He accepts what we can give Him. The key is that we have to give what we have, and let Him raise us up. Are we ready to do that? Are we ready to follow Jesus with what we have? Are we able to let Him change and transform us, so that we, too, can love Him perfectly with an agape love?

Through the Sacraments, the help of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of Mary and the Saints, may we be lifted up by the grace of Christ to become what He calls us to be: one with Him in the love of the Father. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter III C – Do You Love Me?

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Pentecost 2014

Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104       R/. Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13
Jn 20:19-23

*        *        *

“Chasuble of S’ Thomas Becket”, by The Saint Bede Studio (http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.ca/2013/09/chasuble-of-s-thomas-becket-3.html). This copyright image may not be reproduced without permission.

I think that of all the liturgical colours of the Church, red is my favourite. It’s my favourite because it’s a vibrant, powerful and bold colour; a passionate colour that evokes two equally bold and powerful things: fire and blood.

Fire is powerful and passionate; it’s alive, and in a sense, it’s zealous: it always seeks to grow, to spread. But fire isn’t just a force of destruction; it’s only destructive when it’s wild and uncontrolled. When it’s controlled and tempered, fire is actually a force for good, because it purifies and strengthens.

Fire purifies by burning away impurities, junk that contaminates. We see this most clearly in how refiners use fire to purify metals by burning away the dirt from the precious metals, to leave behind only what is pure, perfect and precious.

Fire also strengthens. A blacksmith uses fire to soften metal so that he might shape it, bend it, and fold it, making it stronger and fit for a variety of uses. Fire purifies and strengthens.

Blood, too, is passionate, because it carries life: our bodies need blood to function; without it, we die. And so blood represents life and carries with it a sense of sacredness. That’s why, in the Old Testament, animal blood was poured out in sacrifice (oblation) to God to represent the offering of life. And that’s precisely the meaning Jesus gave it at the Last Supper: Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood… which will be poured out for you … for the forgiveness of sins (Words of Institution). In other words: ‘Take my life, O God, that they may have life and have it in abundance’ (cf. Jn 10:10).

The Martyrs of the Faith deeply understood this reality, that’s why they found joy in offering their lives, in shedding their blood for God in imitation of our Lord. There can be no greater offering than giving one’s own life to God out of love for Him (cf. Jn 15:13). Blood is life and passion.

Fire and blood — purification, strengthening, life and passion —: this is what the colour red symbolises, and it’s not just my own sentimental interpretation; it’s the very reason we use the colour red for the feast of martyrs and for the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we celebrate today, because the Holy Spirit is ‘fire’ and ‘blood’.

confirmation2As the Acts of the Apostles recount in the first reading, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire, flames resting on each of them (Acts 2:3), because the Holy Spirit, like fire, purifies and strengthens!

The Holy Spirit, whom we received at Baptism, softens and shapes us as fire does steel, and if we abandon ourselves to His grace, He also purifies us as one refines silver and gold. But just like fire burns, so also the Spirit’s work in us is at times painful, because we really do need to be purified. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the imperfections we carry, and then allow the fire of His grace to burn them away. And this is often painful, because it means letting go of things: it means letting go of our sins and changing our ways and our minds; in some cases it means letting go of certain friends or activities; it means growing in faith and love. But the rewards are far greater than its pain! The more we’re purified, the closer we get to the Lord, the more intimate we become with Him; and that’s precisely what it’s for!

As the silversmith melts ore in fire to burn away the impurities and reveal the beauty and value of the silver, so too the Spirit burns away our impurities so that our beauty and value as children of God is made more and more visible. But this process takes time. Like silver, we can’t take the whole process of purification in one shot; it has to be carried out gradually, allowing the impurities to burn away at successive degrees, beginning first with the big stuff, and then with the smaller stuff.

But I’ll warn you: the closer we get to Christ, the more imperfections we notice in ourselves. But this shouldn’t lead us to despair, because it’s a sign of progression, a sign that the process of perfection and growth is working! And as the silversmith knows that the silver is ready when he can see his own reflection in it, so also will the Holy Spirit have accomplished His work of purification when we perfectly reflect the image of Christ in our lives.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is the goal of the Christian life: to become the perfect image of Christ. And the role of the Holy Spirit is to purify us into living icons of Christ, and to strengthen us in that journey so that we might better and more joyfully reflect this image to all those around us. This is what we mean by ‘holiness’, and it’s to this that each of us have been called by Baptism.

The goal of following Christ is to become like Him: discipleship means imitation, and the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches and helps us to imitate the Lord. That’s why the He’s ‘fire’.

But the Spirit is also blood. As flowing blood is the sign of life in the body, so too is the Spirit working in us the sign of spiritual life. And as blood is the bond between family members, so too is the Spirit the bond that unites us as members of the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ.

The gift of the Spirit at Baptism enters into us as the spiritual life-blood of our relationship with God and with each other: we belong to God because His Spirit dwells in us, and we belong to each other because we share the same Spirit. This is renewed and strengthened in us through the Sacrament of Confirmation, where we’re ‘strengthened’ — ‘confirmation’ means ‘strengthening’ — with the Spirit for the prophetic role of service and mission to the world, because our sanctification in the fire of the Spirit isn’t just for ourselves: it’s also with and for others, those in the Church and those outside her embrace.

And so this life in the Spirit is meant to be shared, and shared joyfully! The experience of being purified and strengthened by the Spirit (in being sanctified) is Good News! And so the life we receive from the Spirit is one of evangelisation and zeal; it’s meant to send us out to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus: Receive the Holy Spirit, as the Father sent me, so I send you (Jn 20:22, 21). The Holy Spirit isn’t a secret to be kept, but a joy to be lived and shared.

My brothers and sisters, as we rejoice today in the Solemnity of Pentecost, may we abandon ourselves to the fire of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to purify and strengthen us, to renew in us a share in His divine life so that we might bring Christ to all nations, and all nations to Christ. Amen.

Pentecost, by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11). Located in the Museo Dell'Opera Del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

Pentecost, by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11). Located in the Museo Dell’Opera Del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V/. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
R/. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

2 Comments

Filed under Easter, Feasts of the Year, Homily

Homily – Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11
Ps 47         R/. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Eph 1:17-23
Mt 28:16-20
Illumination from the Drogon Missal (Metz), ca. 845-855 AD.

Illumination from the Drogon Missal (Metz), ca. 845-855.

We celebrate today the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, the feast of the “the final act of our redemption” (JPII), whereby Christ returned to the Father to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:1-3). You see, the Ascension is really the culmination of the Incarnation. Jesus took up our flesh and our nature so that He might unite it to God. In the Ascension, Jesus brings that very nature and flesh into the presence of God for all eternity. In Baptism, we were joined to Christ, we were made members of His Body; that means, then, that Jesus brought us into Heaven with Him as He ascends to the Father. Think about that for a moment! Through Baptism, we already have a share, even now, of Heaven!

As we reflect on this great feast and mystery, I want to share with you some of Saint Pope John Paul II’s thoughts from a homily he gave for the Ascension (24 May 1979).

Reflecting on the readings associated with this feast, he found that “the richness of this mystery” can be summarized “in two statements: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place” (JPII). I want to focus on the first statement, ‘Jesus gave instructions’.

*          *          *

In the days that followed the Resurrection, Jesus helped the Apostles to understand what had taken place over the first Holy Week, why He had to suffer and die, and what He had taught them.

Now, in His last moments on earth, Jesus commanded the Apostles to be [His] witnesses … to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), and to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). Jesus gave them, and through them, the whole community of believers, the Church, the mission to share the Gospel, to evangelize the world. He instructs (commands) us to continue His mission!

But, as St. John Paul II wisely points out, “The instructions indicated, above all, that the Apostles were to wait for the Holy Spirit, who was the gift of the Father [cf. Acts 1:4]. From the beginning, it had to be crystal-clear that the source of the Apostles’ strength is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the way of truth; the Gospel is to spread through the power of God, and not by means of human wisdom or strength” (JPII).

My brothers and sisters, our mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world is rooted not merely in our own encounter with Him and the joy that this relationship brings us, but more importantly, it’s rooted in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation.

It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the zeal, the joy, the wisdom, the courage, the fidelity, and the words that we’ll need — when we need — to fulfill this mission of evangelisation, this mission of proclaiming Christ to the world. “Like Jesus, [we, too, are] to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. [We, too, are] to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began” (JPII).

My brothers and sister, we — you and I, today! —, we need to rediscover this missionary era! This is what the Church means when she speaks of a time for a ‘new evangelisation’. We need once again to proclaim the Good News and salvation of Jesus Christ, each one of us!

But if we’re to do that, then it means that we ourselves first need to rediscover this beautiful gift. We ourselves first need to be renewed in the love and mercy of God, and re-strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this isn’t an ‘optional’ part of being a disciple of Christ! If we truly believe what we profess by coming to Mass; if we truly believe what we say in the Creed; if we truly believe that Jesus is our Lord and God, and that He saves us by His Body and Blood, then we have a moral and religious obligation to share that salvation with others, because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4; cf. 2 Pet 3:9). We believe because we believe it to be true; so if it’s the truth, then how could we ever keep it to ourselves?! And so, with this command to preach the Gospel, Jesus shares His mission of saving the world with the Church, with each one of us who follow Him.

"The Ascension", illumination from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 184r at the Musée Condé (Chantilly), ca. 1410.

“The Ascension”, illumination from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 184r at the Musée Condé (Chantilly), ca. 1410.

That’s why it’s vital for each one of us to know Jesus, to know Him personally, and to always continue learning more about Him and about what He’s done for us. And there are really only three ways in which this knowledge of Jesus can be gained:

First, through prayer. We need to spend time with Jesus in order to get to know Him; we need to be with Him, to speak with Him, to listen to Him. A relationship can only be built through time and conversation, so if we’re to grow in our love and knowledge of Jesus, then we need make time to pray, every day.

Second, through Scripture. St. Jerome, the great Bible scholar once said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. So if we’re to know who Jesus is and what He’s done for us, then we need to read the Bible. I recommend beginning with the New Testament, and then going back into the Old Testament for a deeper understanding. And since the Bible is the Word of God, reading it with prayer is a great way of discovering and listening to God’s voice.

Third, through the Saints. If prayer is conversation with Christ, and Scripture is His Word to speaking to us, then listening to what the Saints have to say about their life with Jesus is like talking with His family and friends. Our knowledge of Jesus and our intimacy with Him can grow tremendously through a dialogue with the Saints, by reading about their lives and experiences, and by feeding our prayer life with their spiritual writings.

And so these three things: prayer, Scripture and the Saints – these are the principal means of deepening our relationship with Jesus and strengthening our love for Him; these are the tools required for our mission of evangelization, for bearing faithful witness to who Jesus is and what He’s done for us. But of course, as St. John Paul II reminds us, all of this is rooted in the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the grace to grow in faith, in love, in holiness, and increasing our capacity to be faithful and courageous witnesses in the world, for the world.

This is the vocation of the whole Church, not just of the clergy, but of all the baptised. “This is the mystery of the Ascension of [the Lord]. Let us always remember: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place” (JPII). May we be faithful to that instruction, and so come to share in the place He has prepared for us. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Ascension of the Lord

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter V A

Acts 6:1-7
Ps 33      R/. Let your love be upon us, Lord, even as we hope in you.
1 Peter 2:4-9
Jn 14:1-12
 
"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14:6) "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mt. 16:24) "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:19-20)

“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24)
“I have been crucified with Christ;
and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20)

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6)

My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel passage is a challenging one that hits to the core of Christianity, as Jesus’ words from the Last Supper echo in our hearts. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and by no other name is there salvation. As Peter himself preached, There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

My brothers and sisters, Jesus isn’t ‘some other nice guy who teaches nice things’; He isn’t just ‘another prophet’ among many, nor is He just ‘one way’ to find God: Jesus is the only way to find God. He is the cornerstone upon which is built not only our Faith, but the whole of creation (cf. 1 Pet 2:6-8). No one else has come from the Father; no one else has revealed the Father to us; no one else has died for our sins or is risen from the dead; our salvation, our faith, our hope rest on Him, and on His union with the Father (cf. Jn 14:9-11).

I am the way: Jesus is the Way to the Father, and His Way is the Cross. That means that to be disciples of Jesus we, too, must do battle against sin and temptation; we must persevere in carrying the crosses of our lives, and mustn’t despair or lose heart: Do not let your hearts be troubled, said Jesus, Believe in God, believe also in me (Jn 14:1).

My brothers and sisters, we’re not alone in carrying our crosses: Jesus is there with us in each moment of suffering, in each moment of temptation, waiting for us to hand Him our crosses. Just as Jesus had the help of Simon on the Way of the Cross, so too, we have Jesus who will carry our crosses; we only need to let Him do it. We need to resist the temptation to do it all by ourselves, because the truth is we can’t. Evil, temptations, sin, death…, they’re all bigger than us; we cannot defeat them. But Jesus already has! We need only allow Him to make His victory alive in us. That’s why we must constantly get back up and turn to Jesus imploring His mercy. That’s why we must turn to Jesus in prayer, everyday (!), to get to know Him and His Way.

But to turn to Jesus means to follow Him: I am the truth, He said. The Way of Jesus is Truth, and it demands from us conversion: a conversion not merely of heart, but also of life. With Jesus, we cannot live like pagans; we cannot ‘believe’ in Jesus and then not try to live like Him; there’s no truth in that!

Through Baptism, we’ve become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, says St. Peter (1 Pet 2:9); we’ve been called out of darkness to live in Christ’s marvellous light (1 Pet 2:9)!

That means, as St. Paul says, we must cast off the deeds of darkness (Rom 13:12). There’s no following Jesus if we’re not willing to change the way we live. But again, this is why we need to turn to Jesus in prayer everyday, because without Him we just can’t do it. Prayer helps us to better know Jesus, to grow in our love for Him, and it allows the Holy Spirit to show us what must change and to give us the courage to carry it out. And yes, that change is often painful, because we’ve grown attached to our sins and our way of life. But again, this is why Jesus’ Way is the Way of the Cross: we must put to death … whatever in [us] is earthly (Col 3:5), for if [we] live according to the flesh, [we] will die; but if by the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body, [we] will live (Rom 8:13).

And this, my brothers and sisters, is why Jesus is the Life! Because only through the Cross can we come to the Resurrection; only by carrying our crosses and turning to the Lord can we have eternal life; there is no other Way!

This is what it means to believe in Jesus; this is what it means to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts and lives into the communion of the Trinity, so that where Christ is, there we may be also (cf. Jn 14:3), not merely for a moment, but for all eternity.

Let your love be upon us, then Lord, even as we hope in you (Psalm refrain); show yourself to us, Lord, so that, through you, we may come to the Father. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter V A

Filed under Easter, Homily

Why the Crucifix during Easter?

As we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and the Easter Season the question inevitably arises about why we continue to display Christ crucified on the Cross: shouldn’t we show Him as risen; the Cross as empty?

At first, Crosses were usually bare, without a corpus (Latin for ‘body’). What had been an instrument of torture quickly became synonymous with Christianity, and for the baptised, it was a symbol of hope and salvation. In the 4th century, as the Church began to be public, the Cross appeared openly in art and architecture, and adoration of the Cross, as on Good Friday, started.

As Christianity grew, Christian art moved from allegorical (symbolic, figurative) to more realistic representations. In the late 6th century, we begin to see drawings of the Crucifixion as expressions of personal piety. By the 9th century, the Crucifix (a Cross with the body of Jesus) becomes more common, but Jesus isn’t suffering: while He’s nailed to the Cross, He’s alive; triumphant, glorious.

As realism grew in art, the Crucifix shifted to the suffering Christ. By the 13th century, Crosses almost always had a figure of Christ in His agony. This was to arouse in the faithful greater sorrow for sin and deeper love for Christ. But it was also tied to the biblical theology found in the writings of St. John and St. Paul.Christ on the Cross, by Diego Velazquez, 1632

St. Paul tells us he wanted to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2), and that we proclaim Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). In his Gospel, John holds that Jesus’ purpose, His ‘hour’, was the Cross: When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I am He (Jn 8:28); and, They will look on the one whom they have pierced (Jn 19:37; cf. Zec 12:10). In the book of Revelation, St. John also describes his vision of the Heavenly Liturgy, which takes place before the Lamb, who has been slaughtered but is alive (Rev 5).

The Crucifix, then, is a sign of Christ’s victory over sin because it’s on the Cross that Jesus atoned for our sin. But it’s also a sign of His victory over death — a sign of the Resurrection —, because it’s on the Cross that Jesus revealed His glory, where He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, so that the Father might exalt Him up and give Him the name that is above every name (Phil 2:5-11).

The Crucifix is not a denial of the Risen Christ; rather, it’s a powerful reminder of the Father’s love and the Son’s fidelity, and a symbol of Jesus’ glorious triumph.It’s for these reasons that the Crucifix has a place of honour in Catholic faith and worship: Christ’s humility is our glory, His shame is our honour, His suffering is our salvation… (cf. 2 Cor 8:9) And we want to remember this every day, especially at Mass, even during the Easter Season.

Comments Off on Why the Crucifix during Easter?

Filed under Easter, Pastor's Message

Homily – Sunday Easter IV A

Acts 2:14, 36-41
Ps 23   R/. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
1 Pet 2:20-25
Jn 10:1-10

 *        *        *

I particularly like this image because Jesus is carrying a black sheep...

I particularly like this image because it’s not the usual. In this one, Jesus is carrying a black sheep…

Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter is commonly called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the Psalm, the Second Reading and Gospel for today all speak to us of Christ our Shepherd.

As most of us know, I’m sure, the metaphor of the shepherd was something well understood in the days of Jesus (and even well before that), because, in the regions of Israel and the Middle East, the shepherd was (and still is) a very common and important job. So when Jesus spoke of the shepherd and the sheep-gate, everyone had a pretty good sense of what He was talking about. It would’ve been the equivalent of a sport or business metaphor for us today.

Now, most of us today are pretty unfamiliar with shepherding, though we kind of have an idea of what it’s like, especially if we have any knowledge of farming. But that’s only the literal/practical understanding of shepherding. Since Jesus is using ‘shepherd’ as a metaphor, it means there’s also a symbolic meaning attached to it, and that’s what I’d like to open up today.

First of all, the image of the shepherd in relation to religious leaders and to God was quite an ancient one for the Jewish people: remember, Abraham, Jacob and Moses were all shepherds… So for us to understand more fully what Jesus is saying to us in today’s Gospel, we really need to look back into the Old Testament for answers. And perhaps the best place to do that is to look at Ezekiel 34, where Ezekiel prophesies that, since the religious leaders aren’t being faithful, God Himself will become the shepherd of Israel. We will see in the verse immediately following today’s Gospel that Jesus fulfils that very prophesy, when He says, I am the good shepherd (Jn 10:11).

So what does Ezekiel tell us about God as a shepherd? Well, he says, I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and strong I will watch over. I will feed them with justice (Ez 34:15-16). The Good Shepherd seeks, brings back, binds up, strengthens, watches over and feeds.

And we see throughout the Gospels that Jesus perfectly corresponds to this image: He, the Son of God, came down to earth and became a man to seek out His beloved creatures, His lost brothers and sisters, so that He might bring us back to the Father. And He does this seeking and bringing back by healing the blind and the lame, by raising the dead to life, by sharing the love and mercy of the Father, by preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and finally by laying down His life on the Cross to free His sheep from their sins and raising them to new life with Him at the Resurrection.

And only Christ has done this: no one else is God made flesh; no one else died for our sins; no one else has been raised from the dead to experience the glory of the Father… Only Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd; all others, as He says, are thieves (cf. Jn 10:8).

But Jesus also chose to associate His Apostles to this ministry of shepherding when He told Peter to feed and tend His sheep (Jn 21:15, 16). That’s why the Church calls her Bishops and Parish Priests ‘Pastors’, for they are to shepherd in the manner of Christ, the Good Shepherd. And that’s why she also asks us, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, to pray for vocations, especially for an abundance of good and holy Priests who will shepherd God’s people with the heart of the Good Shepherd, who will lay down their own lives so that God’s sheep may have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).

Let us, then, pray for an abundance of such Priests; pray for those who are discerning this vocation, that they may have to courage to answer; pray for those who are already Priests, that they may remain faithful to their ministry; pray for those who are now in retirement, giving thanks to God for the lives they laid down for our sakes.

Lord of the harvest, send us many good and holy labourers into your vineyard! Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter IV A

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter III A

Acts 2:14, 22b-28
Ps 16      R/. Lord, you will show me the path of life.
1 Peter 1:17-21
Lk 24:13-35

 

Christ and the Disciples in Emmaus, by a follower of Caravagio. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This picture is a mirror image of a composition by Caravaggio (London National Gallery) dating from around 1600.

Christ and the Disciples in Emmaus, by a follower of Caravagio. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This picture is a mirror image of a composition by Caravaggio (London National Gallery) dating from around 1600.

My brothers and sisters, as we continue to celebrate the holy Season of Easter, we continue to rejoice in God’s overwhelming love and mercy: a mercy that’s far greater than our weakness, far stronger than our sins; a love that’s much more powerful than even death itself.

What a gift! And it’s in this gift of salvation that we continue rejoice; this free and undeserved gift of God’s love and mercy given to us in the person of Christ Jesus, and made known to us in the Paschal Mystery.

But it’s only through the lens of the Resurrection that the Passion and Death of Jesus make any sense. As we heard in the Gospel, the disciples were sad and confused after Jesus died. My brothers and sisters, it isn’t until the disciples encounter the Risen Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. First Reading) that they understand how the wisdom and glory of God was manifested through the Cross. And this is the Gospel scene we encounter on the road to Emmaus.

The one whom the disciples believed was truly the Messiah, the King who was to rule them and redeem Israel had just died the death of a common criminal (cf. Lk 24:18-21). And now they were hearing stories that this Jesus had risen from the dead. They were sad and confused, and didn’t know what to make of it all.

Then along comes the risen Jesus — though they don’t recognise Him —, and He invites them to share and revisit the story of their journey with Him over the past three years.

And here’s where the Gospel passage really begins to take off! Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the Scriptures (Lk 24:27). After listening to their story, Jesus helps them make sense of their experience. And then, while sharing a meal with them, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised Him! (Lk 24:30-31)

Let’s review this again: the disciples were walking together and Jesus came to them, and they recounted the events that happened on their journey of faith, then Jesus reviewed for them the Scriptures and helped them to understand what happened, and then revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread. Now, doesn’t this sound familiar? Where have we seen this before?

Do you see where I’m going with this? We’ve just uncovered the theology and structure of the Mass!

At each Mass, we gather together as disciples of Christ walking on our journeys of faith, to revisit and recount the story of our relationship with God, the story of God’s action in our lives. That’s why we always have the reading of Scripture, and we include in that both the Old and the New Testament, because as Jesus revealed to us on the road to Emmaus, Moses and the Prophets all point toward Him as the Son of God, our Messiah (cf. Lk 24:27).

Then, when the readings are done, the Priest or Deacon, who ministers to us in the person of Jesus Christ, interprets for us the things about Jesus in the Scriptures. And if Dcn. Ken and I do that well, then your hearts, like those of the disciples in the Gospel, should also be burning within you as we interpret the Word and confirm you in the Faith (cf. Lk 24:32).

Then, from the altar we relive the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, as the Priest unites himself to Christ in His sacrifice and takes bread, blesses and breaks it, giving it to you, where, through faith, you cry out with Thomas: My Lord and my God! (Jn 20:28).

The proclamation of Scripture and the Homily are meant to stir within our hearts and minds the flame of Faith we received at Baptism, so that we might come to recognise the Lord, who reveals Himself to us in the Breaking of the Bread, who gives Himself Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

This is what we celebrate at every Mass! This is the heart of our Faith! And the Church gives us the obligation to attend Mass every Sunday because she knows that we need this as the bare minimum to sustain our faith; because she knows that we regularly need to be lifted up and set afire in the Faith, so as not to lose hope and be overcome by sadness like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Christ is our Light! He is our Life! And if we are to live, we must do so in His light, in His life, and that’s what he transmits to us in the Eucharist, where our bodies receive His Body; where we’re conformed to His likeness, and strengthened in faith, hope and love, so that we too, like the disciples, may have our hearts burning within us and go out to proclaim the joy of the Risen Christ to all we meet (cf. Acts 2:14ff). Because we too, my brothers and sisters, are witnesses to the Resurrection! Each one of us is called to preach and testify that Jesus is the Lord, the Lamb of God who brings us salvation (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-21).

This is the joy and hope of our Faith, and we’re called to allow it to overflow into all areas of our lives, into everything we do, everything we say, everything we think. And because this isn’t always easy, we need God’s grace; we need Christ’s victory; we need the Eucharist. This is the gift He’s given us through this Easter Mystery, the gift we’re called to receive, the gift in which we rejoice. May we open our hearts to receive that gift each and every week! Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter III A

Filed under Easter, Homily