May 31, 2012 - Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Zephaniah 3:14-18 or Romans 12:9-16
Isaiah 12:2-6
Luke 1:39-56

Can you name all the people involved in today’s Gospel? We have, first of all, Mary, the Mother of God. Within her womb is Jesus, still only an embryo. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, whom she has come to visit, is present, along with John the Baptist, her son, who is still within her. The Holy Spirit is present, because Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit”. The Father is present, not only because, as God, he is always and everywhere present, but also because the Father is always present when the Son and the Holy Spirit are present.

So it is that there are six people in today’s Gospel: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. An external observer of the occasion would only see two women talking. So it is in our everyday life. We consider only the external, only what is seen. Unseen realities are no less real. Proof of this blindness is the fact that we consider a mother killing a child who has been born to be a worse crime than a mother killing a child who has not been born. We forget that existence is not dependent on our own perspective.

So in this moment, as we are gathered here today, we ought to consider who is actually present among us right now. We have gathered here in Jesus’ name, so we know, according to his promise, that he is present here among us. So too is the Holy Spirit, who is present in the soul of every confirmed Christian. So too is the Father, who is always present along with his Son and Holy Spirit. Also present here right now are all the saints and angels of heaven. They are with God, and God is here.

There are demons here too. Wherever sinful humanity is, the demons who would like to see us abandon God and go to Hell are present too. There is a spiritual battle going on in the invisible world. The existence of this battle is not dependent on whether we can see it. Just as all the people on the other side of the world go on living their lives even when we are not paying attention, so too this battle is fought every day as we live naively ignorant. Someday we will see things as they really are, and we will be amazed at what has been happening all around us.

May 30, 2012 - Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Peter 1:18-25
Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
Mark 10:32-45

I love St. Peter's casual example of perishable things here: silver and gold. We were not ransomed by silly, useless, passing away garbage like silver and gold. These shiny metals that people have killed for, that armies have conquered for, are like nothing in comparison to what we have found. A huge ransom in the ancient world would be a talent of gold, a pile of gold as big as your fist, but St. Peter assures us that we were not ransomed with something as worthless as that. We were ransomed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

And so we were. When people ask me if I have been saved, I answer, “Yes I have”, and when they ask me where and when, I say that it was on a hill just outside Jerusalem about 2000 years ago. I was ransomed by Jesus Christ, who spilled his blood willingly so that I could be free of the chains around my heart.

And so we are free, but free for what? Free to sin? Free to rewrap those chains that lie broken? St. Peter suggests that, given this enormous ransom that has been paid to free us, we are now free to love one another.

We were born into this slavery, so when we were ransomed, we did not even know how to be free. Jesus is the example for us of a truly free man. He is walking toward Jerusalem when he announces that upon his arrival there, he will be mocked, spit on, tortured, and killed. Then he keeps walking to Jerusalem. He is free. He does what he wants, and what he wanted was to give his life as a ransom for many.

We are not free so long as there are conditions that restrict our ability to live, to love, to serve. If our time is limited because we have shows to watch every night, we are not free. If our generosity is limited because we are afraid of not having enough tomorrow, we are not free. If our time is wasted in obsessive addiction and entertainments, we are not free.

Jesus Christ willingly went to death so that we could be free. The potential exists for us to love freely and give ourselves in return. Yes there is prudence. Yes there are different vocations. But if I am not free right now to give everything to God if he asked, I hold cheap the priceless price that Jesus paid for my freedom.

May 27, 2012 - Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2.1-11
Psalm 104:1+24, 31+34, 29-30 Resp. 30
1 Corinthians 12.3b-7, 12-13 or Galatians 5.16-25
John 20.19-23 or John 15.26-27; 16.12-15

In the first article of question one hundred and six of the first part of the second part of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas takes up the question of what exactly the new law is, and concludes that it is the grace of the Holy Spirit. When I first learned this I found it very confusing because I did not understand how the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is to say the action of God in our lives, could be called the law.

In the old covenant there were 613 commandments which formed the law. There were 365 “thou shalt not”s, one for every day of the year, and 248 “thou shalt”s, one for every part of the human body, as they used to say. Today we celebrate the feast of the sending and reception of the Holy Spirit. This is the day that all that changed. If Jesus only came to give us some more commandments nothing would really be different. Christianity would just be a harder version of Judaism. But Jesus Christ did not come with more commandments for us. He came to give us the Holy Spirit.

In the gospel today Jesus uses two different names for the Holy Spirit. The first name he uses is translated here as “Advocate”, which is in the Greek “Paraclete”, which means attorney for the defense. In the ancient languages, “Satan” means prosecutor, accuser. So the image here is of a courtroom, and God is the judge, and Satan is for the prosecution, and the Holy Spirit is defending us. Before, the prosecutor had his way, because he could point to the law and he could point to us and say “you did that and you did not do that and you did this and you did not do that.” But now when Satan comes out with all his accusations, we have a lawyer, a good lawyer, a really good lawyer, like even better than Matlock. He will not deny that we are guilty of breaking the law, because we are, and he is the Spirit of Truth, but he will make the case that Jesus Christ died for us for the forgiveness of sins and that we have sought out that forgiveness.

This does not mean that we can do whatever we want and expect the Holy Spirit to get us off on a technicality. In our reading from Galatians today, St. Paul explains what it means that the Holy Spirit is the new law. Instead of just being commandments about what we should and should not do, the Holy Spirit is our guide, leading us on a mission. In the old framework of the law, each of those 613 commandments were like walls being put up. People were free to walk around within the walls as long as they did not try to cross over one of them.

This is the framework of the old law, but it is not how we should understand the new law, because the new law is not a lot of commandments, the new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is the action of God in our lives. The new law is not about what we have to do or what we cannot do but rather what God is going to do and how we can cooperate with that. The old law set limits, but the new law give life a purpose.

St. Paul writes, “if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” If we are not under the law then we must be above the law. That usual meaning of that phrase “above the law”, someone ignoring the law and disobeying it, is not right. They are not above anything at all. They wallow in sin. They are enslaved to sin. Sin tells them what to do each morning, and sin lets them know when they can go to bed at night.

We, however, are above the law. Our law is the Holy Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we love our neighbor. If I love someone, I do not need a law that tells me not to kill them or steal from them. If I love God above all things, with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength, I do not need a law to tell me not to worship other gods. This ought to be our attitude toward every sin. If we looked at our lives as an opportunity to serve the Holy Spirit, an a long string of opportunities to know, love, and serve God, then what meaning does the law have? None.

To be above the law means to be too good to obey the law. To be above the law means that we do not have the slightest inclination to disobey it. To be above the law means that our lives are not framed by decisions like whether to commit perjury. We Christians are above the law; we live guided by the Holy Spirit rather than sinful desire. We love God and our neighbor. We are free to be good. We Christians are above the law, or, at least, we should be.

Because we know that this is in some way simply the ideal situation, the way it should be. Even with the gift of the Holy Spirit we are still inclined to break the old law; we wish to follow the Holy Spirit, but we end up doing what we did not want to do. As St. Paul says, the flesh and the Spirit are in opposition and we often do not do what we want. We do what we desire in the moment but not what we want for ourselves.

The Christian life is not really a question of what we have done or failed to do. What is important is what we are trying to do. If, every time we sin, we condemn our actions and go to Confession, then the one who loves us will find a way to get us to himself. If we commit ourselves right now to the new law who is the Holy Spirit, making the purposes of God the purpose of our life, following the Holy Spirit as a sure guide to all truth, then when we stand someday in that courtroom, before the judge who loves us, accused of all our sins, the Holy Spirit will come to our defense and get us into heaven.

May 26, 2012 -- Pentecost Sunday at the Vigil Mass

Genesis 11:1-9 or Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b or Ezekiel 37:1-14 or Joel 3:1-5
Psalm 104:1-2, 24+35, 27-28, 29b-30
Romans 8:22-27
John 7:37-39

Tonight is the vigil of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. Tonight we are waiting expectantly to receive the Holy Spirit. How should we feel tonight? We ought to feel like children on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow we are going to receive the gift of God, the Holy Spirit. As a child who hopes to receive a new toy on Christmas might spend the night before planning how they will play with it the next day, so we should be planning now what we will do with the Holy Spirit. Tonight our minds should be filled with contemplating the gift we hope to receive.

To begin with, the Holy Spirit is so misunderstood. The greatest misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit is that he is a tool of God or a servant of God. We hear that Jesus is going to send the Holy Spirit, so we think that the Holy Spirit is like an angel, something God created to serve us Christians, but this is not true! The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is equal to the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together are the one God. The Holy Spirit is in no way inferior to the Father or the Son.

The Holy Spirit is the gift of God, but the Holy Spirit is God. God is giving us himself. We call the Holy Spirit the gift of God, because he is the greatest gift of God to us. Truly, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the dirt we stand on are all gifts from God. Yet, above all of these, God gives us himself. Really, all the rest is the wrapping. It is not unheard of that a child wants to play with the wrapping paper and boxes, rather than the gift, but we need to be mature. We can admire the beautiful paper, we can even have fun opening the package, but our focus needs to be on the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, God himself.

On Pentecost, the disciples were assisted in receiving the Holy Spirit by outward signs. The Holy Spirit worked great miracles to reveal his presence. Another general misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit is a confusion of the Holy Spirit with these signs. Jesus is not the healings that he accomplished. He is not the feeding of the 5000. He is not the walking on water or the calming the storm. He did all these things, but he is not these things. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He is not the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples. He is not the great wind that blew through the room. He is not the gift of speaking in tongues.

Jesus was not less present when he was walking down the street than when he was healing a blind man. So too, the Holy Spirit is not only present where we can see him working a miracle. He is not even more present when we see him working a miracle. He does not move from here to there, working magic tricks wherever he goes. It is not good to say, “The Holy Spirit is here right now”, as if he is not always everywhere.

The disciples were prepared to receive the Holy Spirit by the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. John writes in the Gospel today, “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” The Spirit absolutely existed. He had already made an appearance in John’s Gospel at the baptism of Jesus. St. John means that there was no reception of the Spirit yet, that the Spirit had not yet changed the lives of the disciples.

Tomorrow is not really a celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit but of the reception of the Holy Spirit. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere, at all times. The Holy Spirit did not move from one place to another when he was sent; he was always present in the world. We see his actions all throughout the Old Testament. He has spoken through the prophets. If Adam and Eve had been ready to receive the Holy Spirit, they would have received him. The Holy Spirit was not holding back, rather, he was not welcomed.

So when we sing, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”, we are asking for what we already have. The Spirit has been here all along. What we need is not a new sending of the Holy Spirit. What we need is a new reception of the Holy Spirit. We say, “Lord, send out your Spirit” but we mean “Lord, help me to receive your Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is right here, right now. He is not the one holding back, we are.

What we need is not a new sending of the Holy Spirit. We do not need to discover where his next appearance is going to be. What we need is a new reception of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we received the Holy Spirit at Baptism. Without a doubt, we received the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Nevertheless, let us receive the Holy Spirit all over again. Let us receive him tomorrow and every day.

We must not let anything prevent us from receiving the Holy Spirit. If there are any locks on the door of our hearts, let us unlock them. If our hearts are a mess, filthy with sin, if we are embarrassed to invite the Holy Spirit in, we should confess our sins and be forgiven. If our hearts are not big enough to accept the Holy Spirit, let us expand them with love. And who is the love that will expand our hearts? It is the Holy Spirit. And who will forgive us our sins? The Holy Spirit. And who is the key to our hearts? The Holy Spirit. We cannot even prepare to receive the Holy Spirit without the Holy Spirit.

How unusual this gift is! Usually a gift is made for a person, but, in this case, a person was made for a gift. God made each one of us because he wanted someone to give himself to. How unequal this exchange! God gives us himself and all he asks in exchange is that we give him ourselves. It is clear who is getting the better deal here. How foolish would we have to be to refuse to accept this gift!

May 25, 2012 - Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Acts 25:13-21
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20
John 21:15-19

Today Jesus tells Peter that he must give up his life. He must first give up his life in service to the flock of Jesus over which he has been appointed as shepherd. He must give up his life by never again serving himself. This is a kind of death. It is a very hard calling for us selfish human beings. Second, Peter must give up his life in martyrdom. After spending his whole life not on himself but caring for the Church, he will have to suffer and die for the faith.

What a hard teaching Jesus has for Peter today! And yet, how gently and lovingly does he teach it. “Do you love me more than these?” “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?” These words, in the mouth of any other would sound very needy. Any other person would only ask these questions because they wanted affirmation, but this is not any other person; this is Jesus Christ. He is not asking because he needs the love of Peter or anyone else. He is helping Peter to know his love more.

Loving God is the point. We were made to love God. Love is the purpose of our lives; it is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” in order to draw out his love. We know that Peter is right when he says to Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus does know, but Peter does not know how much he is going to have to love Jesus. He wants Peter to know about the love that is within him.

When we say, “yes, I do love you”, we commit our soul anew to love. It is not enough that love would be just silently presumed, it should be spoken aloud. This is an essential truth in marriage, and how much more do we need to tell God, who we cannot see, about our love for him!

Our love cannot merely be words; it must also be actions. If we love God we will feed his lambs and tend his sheep. If we love God, we will go where we do not want to go and do what we do not want to do, all for love. Words alone are not enough, but they are a very good beginning.

May 24, 2012 - Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Acts 22.30; 23.6-11
Psalm 16:1-2a+5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
John 17.20-26

We have been contemplating in the Gospel the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. This prayer is confusing. On the one hand, Jesus uses the very simplest of words, yet, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible to understand what he is saying. On the one hand, Jesus is speaking to God the Father. On the other hand, this prayer was heard by St. John who wrote it down so that we can still read it today. On the one hand, Jesus is asking the Father to accomplish something in us. On the other hand, in this conversation between the Father and the Son, the will of God for us is being revealed in a most singular way, and what is a commandment but the will of God?

Let us consider one part of one sentence today: “I pray not only for these, 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.” If a theologian wants to say anything of real importance they usually begin making up ten-letter words, but there is no word in that sentence that a three-year-old would not know. Nevertheless, the meaning here is deeper than anything that any philosopher or theologian ever said.

Jesus prays that “they may all be one.” Who are they? He said that “they” includes his disciples and anyone who comes to believe in him through the preaching of his disciples. This is how all Christians came to believe; we are all unified because we all heard the Gospel from Jesus, either directly or through others. So already Jesus has given us the basis of the unity that he is praying for. What do we have that we have not been given? If we were given the faith, how could anyone act as if they owned the faith as their personal possession?

Jesus clarifies what it means to be one: “you, Father, are in me, and I am in you.” The unity of Christians should be like the unity of the Trinity. What is the unity of the Trinity? Love. The unity of the Trinity is a unity of essence, and God is love. The Father is in the Son because the Son loves the Father. The Son is in the Father because the Father loves the Son. We Christians will be unified in each other when we love each other without reservation.

May 23, 2012 - Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter.

Acts 20:28-38
Psalm 68:29-30, 33-36
John 17:11-19

Eventually we all have to turn over the fruits of our hard work to someone else. Whether you have spent forty years building up a company, sixty years maintaining a home, or eighteen years guiding and protecting a child, when the inevitable moment arrives that you have to let someone else take over, it is not possible to simply let go in an instant.

We see this emotion in St. Paul, in the first reading, and Jesus, in the Gospel; they are both saying goodbye. They have both been preparing people for years and the end of the preparation is near. God’s will called each of them to something else. They are ready to do the will of the Father, but they each take one last moment to say goodbye.

Jesus offers his goodbye in the form of a prayer to the Father. He is praying to the Father, but he knows that the disciples are listening. He prays that the Father will consecrate his disciples in the truth. He contrasts being consecrated in the truth to being from the world. His disciples will have to live in the world in order to convert the world, but he does not want them to be from the world. Instead, he wants them to be in the truth.

Jesus knows that he is leaving us in a dangerous place. The world is a dangerous place for a Christian. More dangerous for what it does to our soul than what it might do to our bodies. He knows that he has prepared his disciples. He has given them the greatest possible weapon against the world: truth. He has told his disciples the truth, but he knows that that will not be enough. He has prepared them as well as possible, but they need more. He asks the Father to wash them in the truth, until every lie is gone. Every false promise of happiness that the world tells us is destroyed by the truth that our happiness is in God alone.

If Jesus was willing to leave the Church in the hands of his eleven Apostles, we can surely give up control over anything we have taken care of. We do not need to fear. Not because the world is not dangerous (it is dangerous), nor because our preparation has been perfect (it has not been perfect), but because we have a Father in heaven who is guiding all of history to his good purpose.

May 22, 2012 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Being a Midwesterner through and through, I always look for the best deal on a menu. Even if I am not paying for dinner, I want to find a deal. Of course I could just order the first thing I see, and it will probably be fine, but what if I missed something better?

Each of us has been given one life to live: perhaps you are young and just looking over the menu, getting ready to order, or perhaps you are halfway through your chicken dinner and wondering whether you should have gotten a hamburger, or perhaps you are just deciding on dessert at the end of a full meal. Regardless, we all live with existential fear: am I getting the best deal? Am I missing out on something? Who am I? Who should I be?

Then St. Paul comes along and says something absolutely bonkers: “I consider life of no importance to me.” He does not merely mean that he is ready to die. He is speaking of “imprisonment and hardships” ahead. Something we can forget is that St. Paul did not know that he was St. Paul. He did not know that 2000 years later people in Rochester, Minnesota would be discussing this speech. More importantly, he did not care. Paul did not preach the Gospel for money or fame. He preached because the Lord Jesus told him to.

Life, as the world sees it, exists in the past and the future. What have I done? What will I do? This is where all the fear comes from. Have I done enough? Can I still do something great? Living in the present means waking up in the morning, looking around, and living as a person in our situation should. It means giving up ideas of what we ought to have, and also forgetting our failures except inasmuch as the consequences are part of our situation. There is nothing unfair, because there is nothing fair. There is just whatever is.

Imagine if you woke up each morning in a completely different life. One morning you are a rock star; the next morning you are a stay-at-home parent with 12 children. A Saint could live that way, just doing whatever is right in each situation. We kind of do live that way. Each morning we wake up, and our life is what it is. What our life is does not matter, so long as we follow Jesus Christ.     

Funeral Homily

Every night at 7:00, ******* prayed the Rosary along with a CD. And every Hail Mary ended, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” 50 times they said this every night; year after year, they prayed this prayer. Throughout *******’s life he prayed the Hail Mary hundreds of thousands of times, each time saying, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Last Thursday, at 1:30 in the morning, as *******’s breath changed from the steady, labored breath we had heard all day, I prayed over and over the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Because it was the hour of death. All of those prayers over a lifetime were for that hour.

That hour is going to come for all of us. That hour is a certain fact that no one can take from us. We do not know when it will come, but it will come. Rich or poor, everyone experiences that hour. How we react to this fact is our decision. Sometimes we notice the shadow that that hour casts over every other hour of life. This is the realistic view. Every accomplishment, every little success, every moment of pleasure exists in the same reality as death. Usually we try as much as possible to forget this fact, seeking happiness in ignorance or at least forgetfulness. But we are going to die, and everyone we love is going to die. This is not a religious doctrine but a fact, indisputably true. And when death comes for someone we love, we are forced to deal with this fact.

It is in the context of this reality that Jesus speaks: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Death is part of reality, but so is Jesus. Jesus is a man who came to earth and said that death is not the end. He said that he came from a reality beyond our senses and that in that reality there is a place for us. Jesus, who claims to come from the reality beyond death, tells us that he has prepared a place for us to live after death. The fact of death is indisputable, but what exactly death is, we do not know. Death is an experience that none of us have had, so how could we think that we know what the experience really is? We know what we can see: the functions of the body stop, but this is merely what we who live can see.

It is like birth. Before they are born, what does a child know about life outside the womb? Nothing really. And if we imagine twins, and one is born, what does the other know? Only that their twin is gone but nothing about where they went. Yet all of us, having been born, know that, though we were alive for those first nine months, our lives as we now know them did not really get started until we were born. So we count our lives from the day of our birth and can even forget the life that came before.

This seems to be what Jesus is saying, that death is like birth, that our lives now are like the life of a child in the womb. And just as a child is not meant to live forever in the womb, so we are not meant to live forever here. Ten thousand years from now, will we look back on this life as a mere prelude of what is to come? If we consider life and death in this way, then death is not the end but the beginning. ******* has stepped through that door and right now he knows what is on the other side.

If we view reality in this way, then this life is a time of preparation. Our purpose in this life is to get ready for the next life. What matters about this life is not what we have accumulated nor what we have accomplished, as the world sees accomplishment. Whether we have become famous or rich or successful in this world that is passing away is sort of beside the point, because none of that is going to make us ready for the world to come. What matters is that we become humble and generous and loving.

When I think of *******, that is what I remember. He is for me the example of generosity. I do not think I ever heard him say “no” when someone needed him. Whether he was looking after the widow of a friend, running into a burning building without oxygen to save someone, or providing for his own family, he did not think of the inconvenience to himself or what he would get out of it. He taught me what I know about forgetting myself and serving others. I do not mean to say that he was perfect, but he was a man who, by the end of his life, never settled for just accepting his imperfections but was always trying to be better.

And how did he work at being better? By hours spent in that Adoration chapel, by a certain prayer he said every day for sobriety, by attending Mass every week and many weekdays, by confessing his sins, and by the Rosary he prayed every evening. He followed the instruction of Jesus, who says in this Gospel concerning how to get to those dwelling places in his Father’s house, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus has prepared a place for us on the other side of death, and Jesus is the way to prepare ourselves for that place. Jesus granted us entrance to that place by his own death and Resurrection. Considering all that Jesus has done for us, would he refuse someone who placed their faith in him? Absolutely not. He created each of us so that we would choose eternal happiness with him. ******* can see something now which we are still blind to, ******* has begun an adventure which is still in our future, but really, he began that adventure in this life when he decided to follow Jesus.

May 21, 2012 - Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Acts 19:1-8
Psalm 68:2-7
John 16:29-33

Have you heard that there is a Holy Spirit? Christianity is not a tame religion. It is not just a mix of morality and Fall Festivals. There is a Holy Spirit, and if you are trying to be a Christian without the Holy Spirit, you are missing out. The Holy Spirit is our Consoler when we have to live through troubles. The Holy Spirit is the source of our love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, and temperance.

The Holy Spirit is the power of God dwelling within us. He is the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, equal to the Father and the Son. In short, the Holy Spirit is everything to a Christian. A Christian without the Holy Spirit is like a water balloon without water, like a day without light, like a fruit salad without fruit. In other words, a Christian without the Holy Spirit is basically just a normal person. We Christians are not supposed to be normal people; we are supposed to be inspired.

We Christians are supposed to live in the world, but act like strangers. We Christians are supposed to be simultaneously incomprehensible and awe-inspiring. We Christians are supposed to be like gods walking among men. How are we supposed to do that on our own? At best, Christianity lived out with human strength is a slight improvement on every other religion in the world. If there is no Holy Spirit, if we do not have God living inside of us, our claims fall flat.

I do not say this to make you depressed. I am not telling you all this to point out where you, and I, fall short of the glory that God has destined us for. I tell you, I tell myself, all this because it is still possible. We can still be converted. We can still be another St. Francis, Blessed Mother Theresa, St. Therese. It is never too late to be amazing. Not on your own, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is not going to be easy. Satan will be against us. The world will be against us. Our own fallen human nature will be against us. If we decide to become true Christians, we will face troubles for the rest of our lives. All of the regular troubles and more, but we will stand above them all because we do not belong to the world.

Jesus gives us, in the Gospel today, all the encouragement we need to begin following him today as if yesterday never happened:
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

May 20, 2012 - Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23 or 4:1-13 or 4:1-7, 11-13
Mark 16:15-20

At Easter we celebrated the Resurrection. Today we celebrate the solemn feast of the Ascension, on which Jesus, forty days after the Resurrection, went up into heaven. Just as, on Easter, the Resurrection was the cause of great joy for us, so too, today, the Ascension of our Lord into the highest heaven is a reason to celebrate. This is the day when our humble humanity was carried up, in Christ, above every angel, beyond the most powerful creatures in the universe, to God the Father.

Today, in spite of what could reasonably have been expected, in spite of the withdrawal from sight of him who is the cause of our joy, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, love does not become lukewarm. We celebrate today because Jesus, the head of the Church, is with the Father, and we celebrate today because the Church, the body of Christ, survives, not without Jesus, but without being able to see him.

This event in the life of the Church proves how well Jesus had prepared his disciples, how great a light he put into their minds. After the source of light was gone, they continued to see by faith what they could no longer see with their eyes; they began to desire what they could no longer see.

Indeed, the current invisibility of our Savior allowed a great step of maturity in our faith, which no longer had to depend on what was visible. Our faith is stronger and more excellent, because sight, which comes and goes, has been replaced by a teaching, which remains. The illuminating rays of this supernatural teaching fills our hearts as no earthly light could. Before the Ascension, the disciples worshipped Jesus but doubted. Afterward, they worshipped Jesus and wondered.

This new faith, forced upon the disciples by the Lord’s Ascension, would have died away quickly if left to human strength. This faith is more than anyone can sustain by their own efforts. Yet, as we know, nothing was able to frighten it away, neither chains, nor prisons, nor exile, nor hunger, neither fire nor wild beasts, not even the most horrible tortures ever invented. Throughout the whole world, not only men but also women, little boys and girls as well, died for this faith. This faith sustained them through all, and, moreover, it has driven out demons, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

How did this faith survive and become so strong? It was not by human strength. Consider how, forty-three days earlier, the Apostles, who had had their faith confirmed by countless miracles and teaching, were too afraid to stand with Jesus while he suffered and were not able to accept the Resurrection without doubt. Yet after the Ascension of the Lord what had before filled them with fear, now filled them with joy. Their faith that was conceived in the teachings and miracles, which was first tested in the pains of the Cross, and grew to maturity in the Resurrection and Ascension, is sustained entirely by the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension taught the disciples to think of Jesus as God alongside the Father, since the body of Jesus no longer stood in the way of their faith. Surely it was difficult for the disciples to worship someone whom they lived with, shared meals with, and talked with so easily. They knew he was God; Jesus had taught them that he was equal to the Father, but only after he left them, were they able to realize that he had always been in heaven even while he walked on earth.

Now they knew that Son of Man was truly the most excellent and holy Son of God, that he is worthy of all honor and glory with the Father. After the Ascension, even for those who had known Jesus in the flesh, he began to be understood as God. Most wonderfully, in a way that cannot be described in words, Jesus was now closer to them as God than he had ever been in his humanity.

Today the body was taken away from them, but Jesus came closer. He remains and always will remain fully human; his glorified body maintains its human nature, but we, his disciples, do not know him by physically touching or holding or seeing. We touch the Only Begotten One with our spiritual understanding. God has given us a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, resulting in knowledge of him. So it is that we know the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know God through God by the power of God.

Someday, Jesus will come again. We must not let fools cause us to doubt the coming of the Lord. People often predict the coming of Jesus, and they have always been wrong. This does not reflect badly on his coming, but on the predictive power of those people. If the coming of Jesus is predicted a thousand times before he comes and he fails to come each of those times, that is no reason to doubt that he will come. He told his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” We do not know WHEN he is coming, but we do know THAT he is coming. It is only our responsibility to be ready for the end of this age.

In the meantime, we have his promise: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” He did not say, “I will be with you” but “I am with you”. Even as he was leaving us, he was with us. Even now, he is with us. Where is he? Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. He is present when someone pours water and says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He is present when a priest says, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He is present when the bishop anoints a Christian with the Sacred Oil of Chrism and says, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” He is present when two people give their bodies to each other in the lifetime commitment of marriage. He is present when a bishop lays his hands on a man and prays the prayer of consecration, making him a deacon or a priest or a bishop. He is present when a sick person is anointed by a priest who says, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

In these six sacraments, our Lord Jesus Christ, is still present among us. These have been his presence among us from the time he ascended into heaven until he comes again in glory. In each of these visible sacramental actions is the invisible action of Jesus. The seventh sacrament, of course, is different. There too the action of Jesus dying for us on the Cross is present when the priest says “This is my body” and “This is the chalice of my blood”, but it is only in this sacrament that the entire presence of Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity, remains with us, so that we can say as we enter this Church, “We are in the presence of Jesus Christ”, and we can say, when we receive Most Holy Communion that we have received Jesus Christ.

May 19, 2012 - Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 18:23-28
Psalm 47:2-3, 8-10
John 16:23-28

“Until now you have not asked anything in my name.” Does this sentence apply to you? Surely we have all asked for something in the name of Jesus. We are Christians. The name of Jesus should be always in our thoughts, on our lips, and in our hearts. Yet Jesus may be speaking in hyperbole here, as he says, “I have told you this in figures of speech.” He says, “you have not asked for anything”, but perhaps he means “you have not asked for anything of real significance. My Father is rich beyond measure. You have asked for small things, but, until now, you have not asked for the most important thing. Expand your imagination.”

What else could be meant in this case, other than the Holy Spirit? Anything less is nothing in comparison. We are being invited to ask the Father, in the name of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to send the Holy Spirit to dwell within our hearts. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us. The Holy Spirit is God himself. God is always trying to give himself to us, if only we would ask. As the Son came from the Father to us in order to die for us and rise again, so too does the Holy Spirit come from the Father and the Son to help us die and rise again. The Son has returned to the Father, but the Holy Spirit remains with us, to strengthen us.

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” What other gift could possibly complete our joy? The Holy Spirit is a fire that consumes our soul with desire for heaven. When we have the joy of the Holy Spirit, nothing can make us forget. Our greatest danger in this life is that we will forget our joy. Our greatest danger in this life is that we will live like people without hope.

The Holy Spirit is the only sure antidote to this threat. Without the Holy Spirit, the world begins to look like the best we have got. It is not much, it is certainly not enough, but perhaps, we fear, it is everything. With the Holy Spirit, the world takes on a different aspect. It is one of the gifts of God to us and not even the greatest.

May 18, 2012 - Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 18:9-18
Psalm 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
John 16:20-23

Praise God! We were made to praise God. Our existence is only meaningful when we praise God. The Lord has made us to praise him. We should praise God for the many gifts he has given us. Indeed, our desire to praise him is itself his gift. Nothing feels as wonderful as desiring to praise God. This desire is unlike any other desire in our soul because it is the desire to fulfill our destiny. What could be more wonderful than praising God? The Lord made us to praise him and gives us the desire to praise him, because that is the most wonderful action that is possible.

Indeed, our desire for God is joy itself. True joy is when we feel a longing to shout out in praise of God. There is no happiness of this world that can compare. We forget about joy from time to time, and then we look for cheap substitutes, but when we have joy, when our soul is on fire with the burning desire to praise God, nothing in this world seems to have any value at all.

In such a moment, we have caught a glimpse of heaven. God has many such glimpses available, but we often turn away because of sin. When we sin, we can no longer see heaven. Eventually we stand in the midst of our sins, having forgotten the joy of our youth. Then, having forgotten heaven entirely, we begin to believe that the only happiness we can have in this world must be taken by sin. It is in this state that a Christian, no longer able to feel joy, becomes an atheist or a hypocrite, or does something truly remarkable: they repent.

Joy and sin are incompatible. Trying to feel joy while indulging lust or greed would be like trying to enjoy caviar while chewing gum. Some Christian Saints have lived without joy for a time because God wanted to test them and teach them to praise him without feeling joy, but, for most of us, an absence of joy in our lives indicates the presence of sin. We must be ruthless; do not make any compromise with sin. The sooner we realize that every evil desire in our hearts is a lie, the sooner we will be able to hear the voice of truth. The sooner the last vestige of sin is thrown out, the sooner we will be able to taste joy again.

May 17, 2012 - Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 18:1-8
Psalm 98:1-4
John 16:16-20

Jesus is talking about his death and resurrection today. He spoke the words recorded in the Gospel: “A little while and you will no longer see me and again a little while later and you will see me.” Then, after a little while, he died on the Cross and was buried in the tomb and no one saw him, and then a little while later, he rose from the dead and his disciples saw him again.

The reason we have this Gospel today, when we finished with our yearly remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection over a month ago, is that these words can be applied to the second time that Jesus disappeared. Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he ascended into heaven. His disciples did not see him again. Someday, after a little while (but what exactly is a little while for God?), Jesus will come back and we will see him.

In the meantime, while we wait for Jesus to reappear, we “will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices.” This is the lot of Christians. The world rejoices, but we Christians weep. Why? Because the world rejoices in sin. The world rejoices in greed. The world rejoices in lust. The world rejoices in violence. How can a Christian rejoice in sin and greed and lust and violence?

I know that the world rejoices in these things because it is what I see on television and in movies. The world rejoices while Jesus is gone, but are we weeping? We are in the world, but the world is also in us. The world comes knocking at our soul, and we let the world in. “It is only reasonable,” the world tells us, “after all you are in the world.” Are we not going to watch television and movies? Are we going to be like foreigners in the world? Are we Christians just supposed to be weird?

Yes! If the Gospel is foreign to the world, and the Gospel is the standard of our lives, then we should seem strange to the world. The world tells us that normal people act a certain way. We must not give in to this peer pressure. When Jesus comes again, there will be a new normal. When Jesus comes again, the cool thing to do will be to love your neighbor as yourself and God above all else.

May 16, 2012 - Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 17:15, 22-18:1
Psalm 148:1-2, 11-14
John 16:12-15

The sermon recorded today in the first reading is beautifully crafted. St. Paul makes his point so cogently. It is one of St. Paul’s greatest failures. In Athens, the birthplace of philosophy, Paul is unable to make much of an impression. Some laugh at him openly; others tell him to be quiet in a more polite fashion. Only a handful are converted.

After this sermon in Athens, the height of intellectual culture, Paul went to Corinth, the Las Vegas of the ancient world. After failing with this sermon filled with wisdom, Paul claims that he resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. After very little success in Athens, Paul converts crowds in Corinth.

From the Athenians today we learn that sometimes wisdom can stand in the way of learning. So long as Paul spoke in a way that fit with Greek philosophy, the Athenians continue listening. As soon as he mentions an idea that Greek philosophy rejects, the resurrection from the dead, they decide that he is not worth listening to. In other words, the philosophers are glad to have Paul tell them what they already know, but as soon as their philosophy is challenged they are no longer interested.

How similar to modern religion, where we keep whatever parts of our religion seem right to us and reject what seems wrong! This is judging the Gospel rather than learning from it. Whichever teaching of Christianity is most opposed to what we already know is precisely the teaching we have the most to learn from. If we believe in the 90% of Christianity that we would have believed anyway, and reject the 10% which contradicts the wisdom of this world, we are not Christians. Christianity cannot be judged according to what we already know, what everybody already knows; our standard must be Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Which brings us to the other lesson we can learn from Paul’s experience in Athens. Apologetics is the art of expressing the faith in terms that the world can understand, but conversion comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. Apologetics can be useful after conversion, to help new Christians understand the faith, but conversion happens best when we preach nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

May 15, 2012 - Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 16:22-34
Psalm 138:1-3, 7-8
John 16:5-11

We know that our relationship with God is found in prayer and in contemplating his creation, but it would be nice if it were more tangible, like in our readings today: the relationship that the apostles had with Jesus sitting at table with him; the relationship that Paul and Silas had with God so that when they were in prison an earthquake came and opened the doors; the relationship that Jesus is talking about with the Holy Spirit whom he will send, who will be our advocate.

We must not get a false idea though. Paul and Silas were beaten and wounded and locked up before God came to the rescue. The apostles were close to Jesus, but they had to suffer through his leaving them, even those who ran away suffered fear and doubt. Mary herself, who had a relationship with God that we could never fathom, suffered greatly because of her son.

Even in Eden man's relationship with God was distant. It is written that God would visit Adam each evening, but he was alone all day. God said to that it was not good that man should be alone so he created woman, Eve, to be with Adam. Still the question remains: why did God not just spend more time with Adam? It is not as if he is busy. If God had been visibly present next to Eve, would it have been possible for her to reach out and take the wrong fruit?

We do not have daily visits from God every evening anymore. And we do not get to follow Jesus wherever he goes anymore. And our relationship with the Holy Spirit is not one of constantly felt encouragement. We know and sympathize with the cry of Jesus from the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only in distress, but pretty much every moment of every day we feel the fact that God is not present to us as we wish he would be.

Some versions of Christianity attract people with the promise that God will be present in their lives if only they would sing a certain way or pray like this but the feeling never lasts. That is what heaven is: the perfect and constant sense of God's presence, and we cannot have heaven here on earth. Here on earth we are left reaching, stretching, grasping, for something out of reach. That is fine. The thing is to keep reaching, to keep stretching forward. Never fill that desire with the lesser things of earth in such a way as to forget that it is really a desire for heaven, a desire for God.

May 14, 2012 - Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Psalm 113:1-8
John 15:9-17

Today we celebrate the feast of the apostle Matthias. He took the place of Judas, who killed himself. Betraying Jesus was perhaps the worst action ever done in the history of the world. Nevertheless, if Judas had actually been sorry for what he did, he would have gone to Jesus and begged his forgiveness. Who can doubt that Jesus would have forgiven him? No, Judas was not sorry for what he did; he was only sorry for himself. He regretted doing it, but, instead of asking for forgiveness, he committed suicide. He was a selfish person beginning to end: he stole from the poor; he sold out his friend and teacher for 30 pieces of silver; and when he regretted his action, feeling sorry for himself, he killed himself.

There are many lessons we can learn from Judas. We ought to learn to hate money, since it was his love of money that caused him to sin. When a person falls in love with money, they will do anything for the right price. Every person ought to look at their own heart, and if they see there a love for money, even a little love for money, they ought to ruthlessly burn that evil love out of their heart.

Second, we ought to learn that there is no problem that can be solved with suicide. Perhaps, from Judas’s perspective, it looked like his only option, but, from the outside, we can clearly see what he ought to have done: gone straight to Jesus, which is our third lesson. When you sin, go straight to Jesus; go to the priests whom Jesus has appointed for confession, confess your sins, and be forgiven.

And our fourth lesson, we draw from the Scriptures today: you could easily be replaced. Judas belonged to the twelve, the most exclusive group in the history of humanity. Today the apostles hold a very high place in heaven. When Judas gave up his prominent rank, God replaced him easily. God has a mission for each one of us. He has a plan for your life and a plan for my life. But if we choose not to follow God, we can be replaced. When we serve God, it is not because he needs our help, but in order to give us dignity. God’s plans are going to be fulfilled with or without us. He can use Judas or he can use Matthias. For our sake, let us be on the right side of history, God’s side.

May 13, 2012 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98:1-4
1 John 4:7-10
John 15:9-17

We must not pass over the amazing phrase that Jesus said, “As the Father loved me, I also loved you.” The love between God the Father and God the Son is the power that holds together the universe. The love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. God is love. So when Jesus says that he loves us, as the Father loves him, he is saying that he loves us unconditionally, completely, perfectly. This fact becomes the most important fact in our lives.

What should our reaction be? Jesus tells us. It should be to remain in his love. How do we do that? Jesus tells us. If we keep his commandments, we will remain in his love. What commandments? The 613 commandments of the Torah are distilled into the 10 commandments. Jesus simplifies this into the 2 commandments: love God and love your neighbor, which can be combined into the 1 commandment: Love. “This is my commandment,” Jesus says, “love one another as I love you.” So there is this progression of love. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves us as the Father loves him. We love others as the Son loves us.

It was Love that created humanity. And when we had fallen and needed a savior, it was Love that sent us Jesus. It was love that allowed Jesus to offer himself on the Cross. It was love that raised Jesus from the dead. Love is an active power in our world. Love is the measure of every action. We no longer need the other commandments to guide us away from danger and sin; we only need the commandment to love. Love is our guide through life. We will not go wrong if we deny all selfishness and follow love to the end. Love will never lead us astray.

Jesus commands us to love, and thereby implicitly denies the idea of love as an emotion, a feeling, an experience. He would not command us to feel love, to be in love. That would be impossible. He would not command us to have a particular emotion. Emotions and feelings cannot be commanded. Only actions can be commanded. Love then is an action verb.

What is love then? How does a person do the action of loving another? The action of love is threefold: to see the good in the other, to do good for the other, and to let the other love you. This describes all love, whether of a parent for a child, a husband for a wife, a person for their enemy, or a human for God. Step one: look and see the good. It is always there. God is good, and everyone whom God made is good. Step two: do good for the other. Jesus taught us how to do this by becoming a servant of the other. Step three: let the other love you, thereby acknowledging the inherent dignity of the other. God lets us love him, and that is our greatest joy. If we go out into the world and see someone in need and see the good in them and help them but do not do this last part of love, we are acting like aliens to them, placing ourselves above them, treating them like an animal.

We look to our perfect example of love, Jesus Christ. We must love one another as Jesus loved us. God is love. It was because of love that God sent his only Son. Everything that Jesus Christ did was an act of love. His life was pure love. The supreme moment of that life, and therefore the greatest example of love we possess, was the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”

We will be the friend of Jesus if we do what he has commanded us. We will be a friend of Jesus (and talk about friends in high places) if we love him as he loves us. We must love him in every member of his Body, the Church. Jesus has proven his friendship with us. He has told us what the Father told him. He says that we are friends if we do what he has commanded of us. This is reasonable. If we have heard the Word of God Incarnate speak the Word of God, as spoken between the Father and the Son, what response could we possibly have to this generous gift but obedience?

St. John tells us in the second reading that what really matters about love is not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us. Love first comes from God. Love is the source of our existence. God loved us into being.

May 12, 2012 - Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 16:1-10
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
John 15:18-21

Not only in our Gospel reading today but in many other places, Jesus makes it clear that the world is going to hate his disciples. He is so adamant about this that we can be sure that if the world hates us we are doing well, and if the world loves us we are doing something wrong, but this benchmark requires some clarification. What kind of hatred exactly is a good sign? If we are obnoxious, the world will hate us too. The world hates many things; not all of them are good.

There are those who are always taking the “common sense position” which means the position that most people are going to take. They are not rooted in the truth, so they float wherever the prevailing winds take them. A disciple of Jesus Christ is not like this. We are attached to the truth. Anything which tries to pull us away from the truth will hate us because we will not go.

The hatred of the world is frustration and anger. The world tried to conquer but failed, so it throws a temper tantrum. What we want to inspire in the world is not just hatred at us because we are mean and selfish but confusion because we are not. Many people have made peace with the world because they were convinced that they could not be good or that there was no such thing as good. The true disciple of Jesus is a living contradiction to the world.

Mother Theresa is a perfect case study for this question. She was loved by the vast majority of people. She did not compromise the truth to make this happen. She freely preached against abortion and other evils. Still there were those who hated her. One man wrote a book filled with lies arguing that she was a terrible person. The world does not refer to the majority of people, nor even to any group of people rather than another. The world refers to the love of sin which lives in our own souls.

The people that a Christian should delight to be hated by are those who have embraced sin and made their attachment to sin public. Above all, each Christian should see a war within themselves. An excellent sign that we are doing well is when a part of us, the old self, hates the new life we are living, even though we are truly happy.

May 11, 2012 - Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 15:22-31
Psalm 57:8-12
John 15:12-17

Today the Lord Jesus commands us to love. With this command, he implicitly denies the idea of love as an emotion, a feeling, an experience. He would not command us to feel love, to be in love. That would be impossible. He would not command us to have a particular emotion. Emotions and feelings cannot be commanded. Only actions can be commanded. Love then is an action verb.

The action of love is threefold: to see the good in the other, to do good for the other, and to let the other love you. We look to our perfect example of love, Jesus Christ. We must love one another as Jesus loved us. God is love. It was because of love that God sent his only Son. Everything that Jesus Christ did was an act of love. His life was pure love. The supreme moment of that life, and therefore the greatest example of love we possess, was the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”

We will be the friend of Jesus if we do what he has commanded us. And what has he commanded? Love one another as I love you. We will be a friend of Jesus (and talk about friends in high places) if we love him as he loves us. We must love him in every member of his Body, the Church. Jesus has proven his friendship with us. He has told us what the Father told him. He says that we are friends if we do what he has commanded of us. This is reasonable. If we have heard the Word of God Incarnate speak the Word of God, as spoken between the Father and the Son, what response could we possibly have to this generous gift but obedience?

It was Love that created humanity. And when we had fallen and needed a savior, it was Love that sent us Jesus. It was love that allowed Jesus to offer himself on the Cross. It was love that raised Jesus from the dead. Love is an active power in our world. Love is the measure of every action. We no longer need the other commandments to guide us away from danger and sin; we only need the commandment to love. Love is our guide through life. We will not go wrong if we deny all selfishness and follow love to the end. Love will never lead us astray.

May 10, 2012 - Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 15:7-21
Psalm 96:1-3, 10
John 15:9-11

Acts of Apostles has been relating the story of the most difficult controversy in the early Church: whether a Christian is a Jew who follows Jesus or just a follower of Jesus. We saw last week how the message spread beyond the Jews to the Gentiles, but the question remained whether the Gentiles, in order to be good Christians had to follow the Jewish law.

There are many arguments in favor of this idea. Jesus is a Jew. He followed the Jewish law. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God. Christians still read the Old Testament, which is filled with laws about being clean and unclean. So it should not surprise us that a number of Christians believed that all Christians should follow the Jewish laws.

Peter, in his role as the head of the Apostles, stands up and reminds those Christians why they are wrong. He does not try to find a compromise or settle the disagreement. He stands up and explains the Gospel all over again. Jesus has saved all of humanity. His salvation is the only salvation for all peoples. Peter reminds his fellow Jewish Christians that they are not saved because they follow the traditions of their ancestors.

All who are saved, are saved because of faith in Jesus Christ. There is only one way, one truth, one life: The Old Testament, which contains all the regulations of the Law, is the word of God, expressed through human beings. For a time it was the only light by which anyone could see God. Jesus Christ, however, is the Word of God incarnate. The light of the Gospel outshines the light of the old Law as the sun outshines a candle. The Law was good, but it has been replaced by something greater.

The Old Law was a series of commandments, some forbidding evil actions, some regulating rituals. This Law was a burden, as St. Peter says, “a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.” The New Law is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a burden; he lifts us up to God. By the power of the Holy Spirit we become people who do what is good without any law. The Law was not enough, but the Holy Spirit is enough. He is everything we need. When the sun is out, we do not need candles. When we have the real thing, we need no imitations. When we have the Holy Spirit, we do not need the old Law.

May 9, 2012 - Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 15:1-6
Psalm 122:1-5
John 15:1-8

Jesus explains to us today a great deal through this metaphor of the vine and the branches. He tells us that he is vine, which is to say that he is the center, the foundation of reality. There are branches on this vine. We are the branches. We are peripheral and contingent.

Some branches do not bear fruit, so they are removed. These branches have failed at their purpose in life. There is a long standing debate between philosophers who believe that life has a purpose and philosophers who believe that we make our own purpose up as we go along. Jesus falls on one clear side of this debate. Every branch has a purpose: to bear fruit. It is not up to the branch to decide what it is going to do with its life. Every life has a purpose: to bear fruit. To be good means to bear fruit, to fulfill your purpose. To be bad means to be fruitless, to waste your life.

What is fruit? Fruit is the part of a plant that is not meant for itself. It is meant for others. A branch that does not bear fruit is completely self-concerned. It may be a strong, healthy branch, but it has never lived for others. What is fruit? Fruit is the part of the plant responsible for reproduction. A branch that does not bear fruit is doing nothing to prepare the seed of faith which they received for others.

But if a branch is bearing fruit, Jesus says, it must be pruned, which is to say, cut back. It is not enough to bear just any fruit. Jesus wants us to bear good fruit, so he cuts back what is going astray and allows what is promising to come to maturity. He prunes us with his word, his teachings which tell us what parts of our lives we need to cut off and what we need to encourage.

Jesus also tells us what would be a supremely arrogant phrase unless he is God himself: “Without me you can do nothing.” We branches exist to remain with the vine. A branch that has broken off the vine is not even a branch anymore; it is just a stick. Even if we were producing wonderful fruit, but then broke off from the vine, it will never mature. All of our nourishment, all of our life, comes from the vine.

May 8, 2012 - Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 14:19-28
Psalm 145:10-13, 21
John 14:27-31

Today we see the conclusion of what is called the First Missionary Journey. We have been following it for the past week now in the book of Acts. There would be other missionary journeys, longer missionary journeys, more successful missionary journeys, but there was only one First Missionary Journey. One week ago, Paul and Barnabas left Antioch, the most important city in early Christianity. Today they return, perhaps a year later. They met resistance on the way, but they kept preaching. They were abandoned by John Mark who started the journey with them, but they kept preaching. Paul was stoned to death and dragged outside of Lystra, but he just stood up, walked back into the city, and kept preaching.

It was not all trouble though; there was joy. There were great signs and wonders worked through the hands of Paul and Barnabas. Crowds of people began to believe in Jesus Christ. In every city, there were some who resisted the Gospel, but there were many who submitted to the Gospel. When they arrived back in Antioch, where the journey started, they called the Church together and reported what God had done with them.

God had done amazing things with them, and he would yet do greater things with them. What about us though? We know what God did with Paul and Barnabas, but what has he done with us? What is he going to do with us? God can do anything. God can work any miracle we can imagine, and a lot that we cannot imagine. We know that our world needs great things to be done. We know that God can accomplish great things. The only variable left is us. What is God going to do with us?

He gave us free will. He is waiting for permission to do great things with us, but we need more than a simple act of will, “God you may do great things with me.” Although that is a wonderful start, we need more. A hammer has to be hard and heavy, and a screwdriver has to be straight and strong, and if we are going to be tools in the hands of God, we have to be humble, faithful, obedient, and pure. Above all, we have to love. When we are ready, when we have let God forge us into the tools he needs, sometimes in the fires of suffering, he is going to do astounding things with us.

May 7, 2012 - Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 14:5-18
Psalm 115:1-4, 15-16
John 14:21-26

Paul and Barnabas go from almost being killed in one city to almost being worshipped in another. Clearly the message that they are preaching is no ordinary message. Wherever they go, people gather together in mobs to react to the message. Some people hate the message because they love sin, and they cannot love the light of the world who shines in the darkest places. Other people misunderstand the message, comically even.

The image of Paul and Barnabas having to convince the crowds that they are not Zeus and Hermes is sort of ridiculous. They are trying to tell the crowds that there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is God, but they are completely misunderstood. Paul and Barnabas have no interest in being worshipped as gods. They have to shout and tear their clothing to convince the people that they are not gods. We can see here the humility that Paul and Barnabas have learned. They are able to heal the sick because they have learned to be humble in all circumstances.

Pride may be standing in the way of our working miracles. Perhaps God knows that if I had the power to heal the sick by commanding them to be healed, my pride would become so great that the small good I did would be completely undone. No, I would not want bulls sacrificed to me, but I do not know whether I could overcome other temptations to pride.

Any good I can do can either result in the glorification of God or the glorification of me. We repeated in the psalm a prayer which captures our need for humility: “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.” This prayer should be studied and prayed constantly by anyone who wants to work miracles.

This world needs help. It is falling apart. Our world needs help in so many ways. We Christians are particularly ready to help, because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. God can do amazing things through us. He can use our hands for healing. He can use our mouths to speak words of encouragement to those who need it. He can use our feet to take us wherever he needs us. We must not allow pride to stand in the way. We need to study humility, whether through suffering and unjust persecutions or through prayers. We need to be humble.

May 6, 2012 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31
Psalm 22:26-28, 30-32
1 John 3:18-24
John 15:1-8

St. John in the reading today writes about our hearts condemning us. Is this an experience that you have? When you reflect back on something you did does your heart condemn you? It can be something slight or something very serious but when we remember it is for a moment we cringe. We go through life accruing memories, some good and some bad, but worst of all are the memories of something we did or something we fail to do that when we recall our hearts condemn us.

To be condemned by your own heart is on one level a good sign. It proves that we know the difference between right and wrong. There are some people, it seems, who have done great evil and yet their hearts do not condemn them. That is a most pitiable state. To look back with regret and sadness on your own past proves that you are not defined by what you did. It proves that there is something within you that knows better.

Brothers and sisters, if your heart condemns you, remember what St. John tells us: “God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.” If your heart condemns you, God can still forgive you. He knows everything, so there is no need to come to God with excuses or explanations. He already knows. He knows what you are feeling. He knows what you were afraid of. When we come before God, it is only sensible for us to drop every pretense and disguise. He sees through them all anyway. When we are judged by God we will know that we have been judged absolutely justly. Everything will have been taken into account, and when we hear the judgment we will have to admit that it is exactly right.

Since God will not condemn us but rather forgive us, we can move beyond the ways in which our heart condemns us. It is not only these negative memories that have power. It is not only our sins that are true. There is something else that is true and creates positive memories that we can rely on, memories of love.

“Children,” St. John writes to us, “let us love not in word or speech by in deed and truth.” We all acknowledge that love is good. We all acknowledge that we should love one another. But that is not enough if we do not actually love. And how can we love, if we do not know what love is? Love is not a feeling. There are feelings associated with love, but love is not a feeling. God commands us to love, and he cannot command us to feel he can only command us to act. So love is an action. Blessed John Paul II taught in his book Love and Responsibility that love consists of three actions. We are commanded to love others so we should do these three actions.

The first action is seeing the good in the other person. We cannot love another person without seeing the good in them. Love begins with this act of seeing. Sometimes this is easy like love at first sight where all you can do is see the good in the other person. Sometimes this is extremely difficult, such as when loving an enemy or someone who has hurt you. Nevertheless, since God made every person it is always possible to see the good in them. We have to look at them the way God looks at them.

The second action of love is the most obvious: we have to do good for them. The action of loving a person requires willing the good for them. We come to someone we love as a servant, the way Jesus came to us. “What can I do for you?” That question is the essence of love. It implies that we are placing ourselves completely at the service of the other person.

The third action of love is to allow the other person to love us. Love demands an openness to being loved. This requires making ourselves vulnerable enough to be loved. We do not go to the person whom we are loving as an alien or a superior being who only comes to offer love. We come as a fellow human being equally in need of love. God himself allows us to love him.

These three actions provide a specific definition of love. This is true whether we are speaking about loving a spouse or loving a stranger. Let us consider this definition with the spouse. You look at your spouse and see the good in them. You see their beauty. You know them and all of their skills and strengths. And you see someone whom God has made. So you do good for them. You care for them in sickness and health, in good times and bad. You give your self, your work, your body, to them. This gift of self between husband and wife is so complete that it is an image of how Jesus Christ gave himself to the Church. And this relationship would be absurd and unreal without the third action: you allow your spouse to love you in return. You are completely vulnerable to them, allowing them to see you, to know you, to serve you.

Let us consider this definition with the poor stranger who asks you for help. You look at them and see them and see the good in them. You see someone whom God has made. So you become their servant. You do good for them. Not necessarily everything they want because they are not perfect, but neither do you do for them something that comes entirely from you and your plans, because you are not perfect. You try to discern together with them but God's will for them is and then you do that. And through all this, you allow them to love you, because you do not come into their life as someone above them doing a good deed but as another human being just like them in everything except circumstances.

When love is broken down into these three actions, it becomes clearer what we should do in order to love everyone, but there is still the question of how. Loving not merely in words but in deed and truth requires an enormous energy. We can never do this on our own. The energy to love comes to us from the one who loves us unconditionally.

This is what it means, the parable of the vine and the branches. Just as the life of the branch comes from the vine, so too the love that we do comes from remaining connected to God. Without God, we are like broken branches drying out in the sun, brittle and useless. But if we begin by loving God, seeing how good he is, giving him our complete self, body and soul, to serve him in worship, and then allow him to love us in return, we cannot be detached from the vine and the infinite life-giving energy that comes from God will fill us and overflow in our love of others.

May 5, 2012 - Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Acts 13:44-52
Psalm 98:1-4
John 14:7-14

Enough is a splendid idea. We humans seem to have limitless greed, desires for every good thing which are never satisfied. This excessive desire is the center of all religions. It is this desire that proves to us that we are not merely animals. Give food and companionship to a dog, and it is perfectly happy. Give a human food and companionship, and they will write poems about unanswered desires.

Philip makes an unreasonable demand of Jesus: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” The demand is unreasonable because no one has ever seen the Father, except the Son. The Son, Jesus Christ, is the revelation of the Father. It is impossible for us to see the Father except through the Son. Philip is right though: God is enough. Furthermore, nothing else in the universe is ever going to be enough.

The world believes that the answer to our unlimited desires is an unlimited amount of satisfaction. We know that this is false because when we look at the very rich who can afford to have every satisfaction, they do not come across as a perfectly happy demographic. Certain Eastern religions say that the answer is to destroy the desire, that the perfectly happy person is the one who has learned to appreciate what they have and not want any more.

Christianity, however, rejects both of these extremes and insists on another answer. Christianity tells us that there is an infinite answer to our unlimited desire. If we want to have enough, we should forget about all these insufficient satisfactions and turn to God. We should not moderate our desires but realize that what we have really been wanting all along is God.

Earth is earth and not heaven. It cannot satisfy our desire. Our desire for happiness is so strong, because our happiness someday will be equal to that desire. It is possible to have enough here on earth, so long as we remember what it is that we truly want, so long as we know why it is never enough.

May 4, 2012 - Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Acts 13:26-33
Psalm 2:6-11
John 14:1-6

A lot of people have been saying that the world will end in December this year because the Mayan's calendar cycle resets then. It is really nonsense, but people do like getting excited and having something to talk about. As for the end of the world, I am not going to say that the world will not end in 2012. Jesus tells us in the Gospel today, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” We are indeed waiting for Jesus. He will come. The world will end. It might be December 21st, but it might be tonight or it might be 10,000 years from now. If one fact about the end of the world is clearly written in Scripture it is that we cannot calculate when it is going to be.

The response of some doubters to all this talk of the world ending tomorrow has been rather illogical. They say things like, “people have been saying that the world is going to end for 2000 years now”, as if that were any argument against the world ending. We Christians are clear that the world is going to end, but we also are clear that it is not going to end before it ends.

St. Paul talks about this from another perspective in our first reading today. Moses, speaking the Word of God, told the Israelites that Jesus would come. He said this about the year 1500 BC. During the next millennium and a half, many people doubted if Jesus would ever come. Even up to the day before Jesus came, people doubted. Then he came. As St. Paul says, “We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

It has been almost 2000 years since Jesus promised that he would come back for us. Up until that day when he comes, the world is going to go on the way it has been going on so far. Then, one day, tomorrow, today, or 10,000 years from now, Jesus will come. Just be sure you are ready to welcome him whenever it might be. The end of the world is not a cause of fear for us Christians. We are anxiously awaiting the day when the sky opens and Jesus appears.

May 3, 2012 - Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, Apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Psalm 19:2-5
John 14:6-14

Some people try to read the Gospels as if Jesus were merely an intelligent person who taught interesting things. Such people consider the Gospels as a source of wisdom, but reject the idea that Jesus is God. Our reading from the Gospel today shows that this is impossible. If the Gospels are not reliable, we will not be able to find more wisdom there than we already have, since it will then be up to us to pick and choose what is wise and what is foolish. If the Gospels are reliable, we cannot cast aside the reading today.

Everything we know suggests that the Gospels are reliable. They have been a source of wisdom for two-thousand years. The Gospels are responsible for every idea of freedom and justice which have developed in the western world. This is not to say that everything that Europeans and Americans have done is good, but that everything good we have done can be traced back to the Gospels. The Gospels have been responsible for more good in the world than any philosophy or theology every invented by human beings.

The words of Jesus today, however, go beyond the words of a wise man. As has often been noted, if Jesus is not God, he must be either a fool or a liar. He must not be a fool, since he is the source of so much wisdom. Is it possible that he is a liar? He himself said, "I am the truth." He said that Satan is the father of lies. He said that our "yes" should be "yes" and our "no" should be "no". He seems particularly opposed to lying. Of course, liars usually are opposed to being lied to. It does seem wrong to accuse him of lying though when there is no evidence that he ever did.

Is it certain that Jesus is claiming to be God today? Well, he claims that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. He makes this an absolute claim. We might say that we see God in a holy person, but the holy person would tell us that God is so much greater. Jesus claims that it is not possible to reveal God more than he has done. He makes this an exclusive claim. He claims that no one comes to the Father except through him. A wise person would say that anyone can see God by following the same way that they have followed. Jesus claims to be the way itself.

May 2, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Acts 12:24 -- 13:5
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
John 12:44-50

It is possible, because of the structure of the book of Acts, to seriously misunderstand St. Paul. We read about his conversion, and then, a few chapters later, we read about how he is chosen to go on a mission to preach to the whole world. Of course, St. Paul had studied Jewish law for years before his conversion, but he was still not ready. The events of today’s reading happened thirteen years after St. Paul’s conversion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was St. Paul.

We know some of what happened during those thirteen years, but they are mostly a mystery. St. Paul was a Christian for 33 years before he died, and he only preached the Gospel for the last twenty. The life of St. Paul should teach us two very important lessons. First, preparation is extremely important. When someone first has a conversion, they are usually very excited to preach the Gospel. They should not. Much damage has been done in the Church by people who begin preaching too soon after their conversion.

Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, is a prime example of this. At age 37 he converted to Christianity. He spent the next 10 years writing some of the most important books that have ever been written in Christian theology. By age 47, he had joined a group of heretics and split off from the Church. When a new convert becomes a teacher too quickly, pride follows. The most important lesson St. Paul learned in those thirteen years was humility. He never could have become the great apostle that he was without superhuman humility.

The second lesson we should learn from St. Paul’s life is how much a person can accomplish in twenty years. When we think of everything St. Paul is remembered for, it all happened within twenty years. It is easy to waste twenty years in front of the television or surfing the internet. Imagine what we could do in the next twenty years if we all stopped wasting time and started working. Some of you are just beginning to walk seriously with Jesus Christ, are just beginning your own thirteen years of preparation. Some of you ought to be out converting the world by now. Imagine what God could accomplish if, starting today, starting right now, we put aside every vestige of selfishness and committed ourselves perfectly, uncompromisingly, to love God and our neighbor.

May 1, 2012 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today's Readings

We live in the time of fulfillment. That which is prophesied in the psalm today has been fulfilled in our sight. All the nations praise the Lord. In every nation on earth, there are people who turn to Jerusalem as the holy city. God’s salvation has spread throughout the world. Jesus Christ poured out his Blood, as he told the Apostles, “For you and for many.”

Who were the “many” whom he was speaking about? It is us. We form just a small part of that many. Jesus told the Pharisees, “you are not among my sheep”, but we are among his sheep. We are gladly numbered among the innumerable sheep who follow the good shepherd. Innumerable to us who are incapable of counting so many, but to God it is numerable. God not only knows the number of his sheep, he knows each one of the many individually.

Jesus assures us that no one can take us out of his hand because no one can take us out of the Father’s hand because no one is greater than the Father. He says that he and the Father are one. This is the clearest declaration of the truth behind the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. Perhaps without this statement, a case could be made that Jesus is somehow less than the Father, that he is the greatest creature but not actually God, but with this statement, Jesus makes himself equal to God, which is why the next verse after our Gospel today is “The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him.”

So, if Jesus truly is God, as he said, and he has poured out his Blood for the many, as he said, and we, forming part of that many, part of his flock, cannot be taken out of his hand, as he said, the world begins to look different. There are still troubles, but who ever rejected a gold mine because of all the dirt mixed in? Life is hard, but so long as the gold is there, it is worth it.

Without Jesus our lives are meaningless as a sheep without a shepherd. Without Jesus, we wander around this life without any idea of why we keep going. What is the point? What is the purpose? But when we hear Jesus call our name, and we turn and follow him, joining his flock, we have a reason greater than ourselves, we have a treasure that Jesus calls eternal life.