Sunday, May 25, 2008

God Works in Mysterious Ways

(Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ-Year A; This homily was given 24 & 25 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read John 6:51-58)

I am sure you have heard the expression: “God works in mysterious ways.” So often when God reveals Himself in our lives, when He guides us through this life and into eternal life, He works in powerful, beautiful, and mysterious ways. The Feast of Corpus Christi that we celebrate this weekend is no exception.

The story of our feast goes back 800 years and begins with one woman (one little girl to be precise). Her name was Juliana and she grew up in the city of Liège in Belgium. At the age of five she became an orphan and was sent to a nearby Monastery to live with the Augustinian nuns at Mount Cornillon. She eventually joined the order.

When she was sixteen she began to receive extraordinary visions. She saw a full moon, darkened in one place, where there appeared to be a piece missing. She had no idea what that vision meant. Eventually God revealed to her that the moon represented the Church’s Liturgical Year and the piece missing was a feast that He wanted in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Of course, she was helpless to accomplish such a task.

After nearly twenty years she confided in a nearby priest, the Archdeacon of Liège, Jacques Pantaleon. He believed what she shared with him but was equally powerless, in his position, to do anything about it.

After Juliana’s death, Jacques Pantaleon became the Archbishop of Jerusalem, sent there by the Pope to bring unity and peace to a place that was in a great deal of distress. Several years later he returned to Rome and soon after his arrival the Pope there died. The Cardinals in Rome then elected him the new Vicar of Christ.

Jacques Pantaleon became Pope Urban IV, an elderly but well accomplished Pontiff who lived only three years after his election. In that brief time he did two things that touch our lives in a particular way today:

Firstly, he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, remembering young Juliana and her extraordinary visions.

Next, he commissioned a young Dominican priest named Thomas to compose the office (the music and prayers) for the celebration of the feast. We know him today as St. Thomas Aquinas, and the hymns he composed—Pange Lingua (the final two stanzas of which are the Tantum Ergo), Verbum Supernum (the final two stanzas of which are the O Salutaris Hostia) and the Adoro Te Devote—are still popular and cherished today.

This great feast, and some of the greatest music our Church has ever heard, all began with a five year old orphan in Liège! God does indeed work in powerful, beautiful and mysterious ways.

But the God who works so magnificently and mysteriously in the lives of Juliana, Pope Urban IV, and St. Thomas Aquinas, works in the same way in our own lives.

In fact, that mysterious vision of Juliana—the one of a full moon with a piece missing—is a beautiful image for each one of us. We are all created with an empty space, a piece missing, which only God can fill. No matter what we try to stuff into that place, nothing else will ever work but God. He alone can satisfy the deepest longing and yearning of our hearts.

St. Augustine said it well when he prayed: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

That deepest yearning and longing we have is something that God alone can fulfill, and today we celebrate the truth that He has done so. In the Holy Eucharist God meets us at the point of our greatest need: our desire and hunger for Him. In all the places that God makes Himself known to us and gives us Himself, the Eucharist is preeminent. It is the Sacrament and the encounter with the living God Himself, and the foretaste of eternal life.

Christ tells us in the Gospel of St. John this weekend:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
—John 6:53

Do we really believe that? Do our lives as Catholics reflect this great truth and the life-giving power of the Eucharist? He continues:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.
—John 6:54

In heaven we will live in union with Christ, physically and spiritually, for all eternity. Today we taste here on earth that eternal life of heaven in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist has the power to transform our lives, to re-invigorate our families, to renew our communities and bring new life to the world we live in.

Then why doesn’t it?

In November of 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a reflection on the importance of worthily receiving Christ in the Eucharist called, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper”. That reflection spoke about the power of Christ in the Eucharist and the personal effects we experience when we receive such a tremendous gift.

But it also mentioned the preparation that God expects of us, and the way we should be living on a daily basis in order for those effects to occur as God intends. It is possible to make the reception of Holy Communion fruitless, not because of God but because of us!

Specifically, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper,” mentioned three things that should be a part of our daily lives.

The first is Christian prayer and the daily reading of Scripture. Do we take time each day to be alone with God in prayer? Do we listen to the words of God in the Bible, and allow God to shape and mold our understanding or reality? Do we listen to what He is saying to us in the Scriptures and then respond to that word in prayer. It is in daily prayer that we grow in intimacy with God as we prepare to meet Him here in the Eucharist.

Secondly, we are called to faithfully live out our vocation wherever God has called us to be. Whether we are married, single, a religious brother or sister, or ordained, God calls us to be faithful day in and day out, to love Him and our neighbor. That is not easy to do…and when we fail…and we will—no one is perfect in loving God the way He calls us to, and in loving those around us; we all fall short—but when we fail, then we have to be mindful of the third requirement in the life of the Christian: Daily repentance and Reconciliation.

We are called to live lives of repentance. When we get to the end of the day, we humbly acknowledge those places where we have failed to love God and neighbor, and we say we are sorry. We seek His mercy and forgiveness in our lives on a daily basis.

If we have committed any grave sins then we need to seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which He gave us for that very purpose. “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper,” names several “thoughts, actions, and omissions” which would constitute “grave matter” and would require one who has knowingly sinned in that way to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion:

Failing to worship God by missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation without a serious reason, such as sickness or the absence of a priest.

Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage.

Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name.

Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography.

Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else.

These are all serious sins that would need to be forgiven in Confession before receiving the Eucharist. Regular confession, in fact, is one of the most effective ways of living a repentant life.

Daily prayer and Scripture, living faithfully our vocation, and living lives of repentance: When these practices are a part of our daily lives, then Christ can work powerfully in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and accomplish so much more than we could imagine.

God wants to unite Himself to us in this Sacrament and make us the holy men and women we have always been called to be. That is the goal of the Christian life; not to be decent people, or as good as the person next to us, or as nice as the person across the street. No, we are called to be saints…which brings me back to Juliana of Liège.

Later on, after her death, she became Blessed Juliana of Cornillon, and in 1869 she was canonized St. Juliana by Pope Pius IX. In the same way, that young Dominican priest became St. Thomas Aquinas. These were ordinary men and women who were touched by Christ in an extraordinary way in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. God works in extraordinary, powerful and mysterious ways.

How will He work in us on this Feast of Corpus Christi, in this coming week, and all throughout our Christian lives?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

God's Innermost Secret

(Trinity Sunday-Year A; This homily was given 17 & 18 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read John 23:16-18 and CCC #221, 2201-2213)

Do you have any secrets? Is there something in your life that is so personal, so beautifully intimate, that only one or perhaps two people in the entire world know it? Maybe it is your own special recipe for gravy and meatballs, or the way you first met, and fell in love with, your spouse.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us God has a secret! God’s innermost secret, says the Catechism, is this:

That God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that he has destined us to share in that exchange.
—CCC, #221

From all eternity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are pouring themselves out to one another in love, and receiving the love being given. Now, by an absolute and total gift of goodness, mercy and grace, we are called to share in that exchange.

But how do we know that? Who let the cat out of the bag on that secret? The Catechism says that God did when He sent us His Son.

St. John, in the gospel this weekend, words it this way:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
—John 3:16

God loved the world. This powerful and overwhelming love that God has within Himself from all eternity is suddenly turned loose on the world. The Father sends the Son, not to condemn us but to save us and bring us into eternal life. Now, if we believe in Him—place our hope, our faith, our trust in Him—we can share forever in that eternal exchange of love that is God Himself.

This life-giving love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what we come here to celebrate this Trinity Sunday. There is nothing in all the earth as remarkable and beautiful as the Holy Trinity…well, almost nothing!

There is one thing, here among us today, that is the very image of the Holy Trinity, pointing us towards that love which exists within God Himself: the Christian family. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a communion of persons in love, even so is the Christian family. In particular, there are two dimensions in which the Christian family reveals and imitates the love of the Trinity: in its creative love and in sacrificial love (CCC, #2205).

One of the most obvious ways the Trinity is expressed is found in the created world. God, in love, creates the world we live in. He brings it to life in love.

In the same way, when a husband and wife express their love for one another physically, they open themselves up to the possibility of new life. Whenever I prepare couples for marriage, I always tell them that the love they share in marriage is so powerful, so real, that in nine months they could be holding it! In nine months they could be giving him or her a name. That is what it means to share in God’s creative love.

But families do much more than that; they also make sacrifices. How many sacrifices have you made in this last week alone for the ones you love? We make sacrifices for our spouses, our children, our parents. When we do that in faith, we participate in the sacrificial love of Christ Himself.

Lived out to the fullest, this plan of God for the human family will not only reveal God’s love in our midst, it will also build up society and the world around us. That is why the family is the basic building block of society itself. God intends it that way.

Pope John Paul the Great used to say, “As the family goes, so goes society and the rest of the world.”

Isn’t that a beautiful quote? Society stands or falls with the family. If our families are responding to God and His plan, the world around us is built up and strengthened, and everyone benefits: Christians, and even those who do not believe in or follow Christ. As the family goes, so goes society and the rest of the world.

But in newspapers across the country this week, there was a similar quote using the very same phraseology of John Paul II. The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom said “As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.” California?

He was talking about the new law that was passed there this week recognizing “same-sex marriage.” Pumping his fist in the air, he triumphantly declared:

"As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation. It’s inevitable. This door’s wide open. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not."

The problem with his statement, of course, is that California is not the image of the Holy Trinity. Now, please do not misunderstand me. I love California. Think of all the wonderful things we have been given from California. They have given us Disney Land and navel oranges; they even gave us Ronald Reagan! But Disney Land, oranges and Ronald Reagan are not the image of the Trinity.

And either is "same-sex marriage."

"Same-sex marriage" does not image or reveal the Holy Trinity, and neither does it mirror the creative love of God nor the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.

It is biologically impossible for the physical act of love between two men or two women to bring forth another human life. No matter what the law says, in Massachusetts or California, that will never happen because the way God designed our bodies simply does not allow such a thing. He has never intended it. Furthermore, it is the clear and consistent teaching of our faith, revealed directly and unequivocally in Sacred Scripture, that for a couple of the same sex to express their love, physically, in that way, is a grave sin. “Same-sex marriage” does not reflect the creative love of God.

But neither does it participate in the sacrificial love of Christ. How could it? How could any two people, or a state, or a supreme court, or anyone reject God’s plan for the human family, God’s design for the building up of culture and society, and replace it with their own plan, and call that sacrificial? How could that ever be a participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? That is not sacrificial. It is selfish.

The teachings of our faith, speaking specifically about the state and not the Church, clearly affirm the opposite when it comes to defining and promulgating marriage:

Civil authority should consider it a grave duty to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity.
—CCC #2210

The state and the courts have a grave duty not to redefine marriage and tell us what they think it is, but to get down on bended knee and accept the “true nature of marriage and the family” that has already been given to us by God. Whenever that word, “grave,” is used, by the way, it means serious business. It means that if we do not follow the direction God is trying to lead us in, there will be fewer souls in heaven. It is that serious.

So what are we called to do in such challenging times? When the laws and the society around us are being taken in a different direction than the one God intends, what can we do if we are not sitting on the Supreme Court or actively working within the legislature?

There are two simple, yet profound, things that we should all be doing, and they are the very things that have brought us here today.

Firstly, we live out the plan for the family as given to us by God.

We remain open to that creative love that brings life into this world, and continue by teaching our young people right from wrong and about what it means to follow God, and how to be led into eternal life with Him.

And we continue to make sacrifices for the people we love, united to and in imitation of the selfless love of Christ who gave everything on the cross to bring us home to God. That is at the heart of the sacrificial love we are called to in the Christian family.

And secondly: Pray. Pray for our society and our culture. Pray that the Mayor of San Francisco will be proven wrong, because it is not how California goes, but as the family goes, so goes society and the rest of the world. California is not the image of the Holy Trinity. You are.

Pray, for God’s sake and for our own, that the families here in this parish, the families in this state, and the families of our nation will live out fully God’s plan for us, reflecting His own creative and sacrificial love, so that, seeing us, all the world may come to know God’s innermost secret:

That God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that he has destined us to share in that exchange.
—CCC, #221

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Lord and Giver of Life

(Pentecost Sunday-Year A; This homily was given 10 & 11 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read Acts 2:1-11 & John 20:19-23)

Mickey Mouse. Cinderella. Pinocchio.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

These characters can seem so real to us, they have made us laugh and entertained us so often on TV and in the movies, that we can sometime forget they are only images on a piece of paper. They are merely sketches drawn by an artist’s pen.

But Walt Disney had the power and the ability to bring them to life; to make them walk and talk, and do so many of the things we do every day. The word used for that power or ability is animation. It is taken from the Latin verb animo, and means to give life to or to bring to life.

We are reminded this Pentecost Sunday that Walt Disney is not the only one who has the power and ability to do that. God Himself is the Great Animator. As we profess each week, speaking specifically about the person of the Holy Spirit, He is "the Lord and giver of life."

The work of animation is something God has been doing from the beginning. In the Book of Genesis, in the story of creation, He fashions a world of beauty and splendor. He creates the land and the sea, and all living creatures. But as the pinnacle and masterpiece He creates man and woman in His own image and likeness. We are told how He made Adam from the clay of the earth, and then breathed into him the breath of life. He animated Adam with His very own life’s breath.

But unlike Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio, we are given something that allows us to be like God Himself: Freedom. We are not puppets on a string, moved along on some set course that God has totally determined. We are completely free to live and love like God. We have the ability to be creative, to make decisions and choices of our own.

Yet along with this freedom comes the ability to do something that God never wanted. We have the ability to reject Him, and to refuse the love that He offers. We are able to be disobedient. In short, we are able to use our freedom to turn against the God who gave us life. We have the ability to sin.

That is the story we find immediately after creation. It is the story of the fall, when Satan tempted our first parents, and attempted to separate them from each other and to separate them from God. With their original sin, and all of our personal sins which we commit on a daily basis, we are driven further from each other and further from God Himself. His perfect story and magnificent plan for us was ruined. In fact, it was now doomed and destined to end with God being forever separated from the creatures that He made in such great love.

And so God did something truly amazing and remarkable, beyond the wildest imagination of even Walt Disney. He entered into His own creation in order to re-animate it from the inside. Imagine if Walt Disney could actually enter into one of his own cartoons, literally. That is what God has done. The Creator enters into His own creation; God becomes man, in order to redeem us.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and becomes man. He comes to teach us how to live and how to love, and He suffers and dies on the cross to grant us the forgiveness of sins and the very mercy of God.

In the face of our disobedience and rejection of God, Christ comes straight for us. He comes at us not with a vengeance, but with a Passion. He comes to suffer and die on the cross to redeem us and is raised from the dead to offer us new and everlasting life.

Then, once He ascends to heaven and is seated at the right hand of His Father, the Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit upon the Church, to re-animate the world we live in. That is the feast we celebrate this weekend. The Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is sent forth to continue the work of re-animating and giving life to a world yearning and crying out for God.

As we hear in the Responsorial Psalm this weekend:

When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
—Psalm 104:30

This eternal plan of God to re-animate the world He created has, at its center, the dignity and vocation of women. In a document he wrote twenty years ago, Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul the Great spoke of this eternal plan of God to redeem us and establish us in that eternal relationship of love with Himself. That plan, says John Paul II, has a specific order of love, and women are first in that order. It is the woman, he says, “who receives love, in order to love in return” (Mulieris Dignitatem, #29). Women teach us all what it means to receive love, and to return that love again.

Think about the natural world for a moment. A woman receives the gift of love from her husband and she nurtures that gift for nine months. Then she returns that gift, lovingly introducing the child of her body to her husband, her family and to the world. So too, explains Pope John Paul the Great, in the supernatural world. The two great women he highlights are the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; she conceives in her womb and bears a Son. She offers that child to God in love and to the world for our redemption. On the day of Pentecost, still with Our Lady present, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church and “the love of God is poured out into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Church then returns that love by freely and joyfully giving Herself in faithful service and love for God and neighbor, manifesting in concrete ways the love She has received from Christ, Her Bridegroom.

This recognition of woman as first in the order of love is something inherent to every woman, says John Paul the Great. Yet this weekend, as we celebrate Mother’s Day throughout our nation, we remember our own mothers who taught us all so well what it means to receive love and to return that gift to God and the world. Today we pray in thanksgiving for them and seek to imitate them in our personal lives and in our Church.

How is God challenging us to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit more completely in our daily lives and in our Church? How are we called to surrender to the work and the will of God as He re-animates our faith lives, our Christian discipleship and the work of the Gospel that we have been entrusted with?

Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day and Pentecost, we pray with the Psalmist:

Lord, send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
—Psalm 104:30

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"This is Eternal Life..."

(7th Sunday of Easter-Year A; This homily was given on 3 & 4 May, 2008 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; See John 17:1-11)

If you had the opportunity to go to heaven, today…if God offered you that invitation, now…would you say, “Yes”? Of course you would! That is the reason why we are here. It is the goal of life: to enter into eternal life with God.

But what if you were told that in order to go, you would have to change your opinion about something; or see things differently; or change the way you look at God, or heaven, or the Church, or people in your life? Would you make that change in order to go to heaven?

Again, it sounds like a silly question. Of course you would! There is a fiction novel written by the great Christian author C.S. Lewis, called The Great Divorce, which hovers around those very questions.

Despite the unfortunate title, The Great Divorce is not about marriage and divorce; instead, it is about the divorce or separation between heaven and hell. As the book begins the characters are in hell and they do not even realize it. The land they are dwelling in is dreary, rainy and it is perpetually twilight. The people are all miserable and isolated.

As the book continues, several of them get onto a bus and soon find themselves in a strange new country. They step off the bus, into a land that is bright, beautiful, and frightening (it is completely different than the place they have been).

What they do not know is that the place itself is an ante-chamber of sorts for heaven, the very entrance way. Suddenly people from heaven come towards them, people that they have known: friends, relatives, acquaintances; people that perhaps they liked while on earth, and in some cases people they did not like!

These are the ones who have made it to heaven, and now they come to speak to these visitors and to try to convince them to let go of whatever they are holding onto, whatever it is that has kept them from heaven to begin with. They essentially come with the intention of convincing them to go to heaven.

Shockingly, almost all of them refuse! They are determined to hold onto whatever opinions, ideas or ways of life that have kept them from eternal life. To the question I asked at the beginning of this homily—Would you be willing to change?—they answer, definitely, “No!”

There is one character, a big and rather gruff man, who has worked very hard all his life. In fact, he is convinced that he is entitled to a sort of universal recognition of this very fact. Over and over he insists: “I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

The person sent to him is an old acquaintance, a man who lived a much worse life. But apparently he had been forgiven and by the grace of God had entered heaven. Now he is trying to convince his friend that heaven is not something you have a “right” to, but a gift that needs to be received, even asked for.

The Big Man is hearing none of it. He is offended even by the very act of kindness and assistance. I should be the one in heaven, he tells him, not you! Then comes the tragic conclusion. He turns to the heavenly visitor and defiantly says:

“I’d rather be damned then go along with you.”

Almost all the characters have something similar that they are holding onto. There is another character, called the Grumbler. She grumbles and complains continuously. The person sent to help her cannot even get a word in edgewise. It is as if the Grumbler realizes if she gets to heaven, there will be nothing to grumble about! She goes on grumbling until she actually ceases to be a person in the strict sense, and to the amazement of the narrator, she becomes a grumble!

At times it is a very humorous book but also very sad, because we are able to notice a little bit of ourselves in many of those characters. That is the reason why C.S. Lewis wrote the book. His intention, as he explains in the preface, is to help us realize that not all roads lead to heaven! Not every choice here, not every opinion, not all of our words and actions, will lead us to eternal life with God. In fact, some will actually prohibit us from reaching that end! Some things are able to keep us out of heaven, forever.

That is why it is so important for us to understand what God means by heaven and eternal life. It is why I asked:

“What if you were told that in order to go to heaven, you would have to change your opinion about something; or see things differently…Would you make that change in order to go to heaven?”

In our gospel this weekend, Christ is praying to His Father, asking for eternal life for all of us! And in that prayer, He defines eternal life. He tells us what He thinks it is (and since He is the one who made heaven, we do well to listen). He prays:

Now this is eternal life, that they should know you [Father], the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
—John 17:3

Heaven and eternal life, then, is not some vague happiness or a place of tranquility or merely the absence of pain. It is more than an eternity doing the things I enjoy doing. Eternal life is a living and growing relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Eternal life means living in a relationship with the God who loves us, who came here to suffer and die on the cross to offer us His forgiveness and to be with us forever. It means trying to understand what pleases Him, and to do those things; or to know the things that displease Him, and to avoid them. This is eternal life: a deep and intimate, personal relationship with the living God.

It should seem rather obvious by now that this is not the definition generally accepted in our culture. Just a few weeks ago, when Pope Benedict XVI came to our country, the bishops of the United States asked him about the secular culture we live in. In that gathering in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception they asked him what he thought of the difficulties the Church faces in confronting a secular world with the message of Jesus Christ. He replied

“At this point in her history, [the Church in America] is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment.”

To recapture the Catholic vision of reality. In other words, in many ways we have lost that vision. So many people today do not have a vision of reality that places God at the center. They do not understand themselves and the world we live in as ultimately created and redeemed by God. Or if they do, they often do not build their lives on that premise. It is up to us, says our Holy Father, to recapture that vision and present it “to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment.”

Our society has many ideas of what it means to be happy and fulfilled:
Success, power, wealth, etc.

We have a wide range of options for what it means to be fulfilled forever in heaven:

Heaven for me is eternity on the golf course.

Heaven is me and my dog, sitting by the pool, forever.

Heaven is eternal happiness with my spouse, my family, my friends, my car, my iPod shuffle…

But none of those things, in and of themselves, is heaven. In fact, if that is all we understand about heaven, then we’ll probably never get there, because heaven is a personal relationship with God. It is an invitation and an extension of mercy and forgiveness and a life united to the God who created us, loves us and redeems us.

Which brings us back to the original question:

If God was inviting you to heaven today, would you say, “Yes”? Would you be willing to change your perspective, your way of looking at the world around you, or God, to get there?

Because God is inviting us, now, to experience a foretaste of eternal life and heaven in the Eucharist. Here at the altar of God we are given a taste of heaven in the person of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. But before we do that, do we first need to look at Him, or heaven, or the people around us differently?

How is God challenging us all to see things more clearly the way He sees them?

How are we called to recognize now, more than ever, that:

This is eternal life, that they should know you [Father], the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
—John 17:3

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ascension-The Life of Christ, Book II

(Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord-Year A;This homily was given 1 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read Acts 1:1-11)

Everyone loves a good story. There is something about a great story that leaves us sitting on the edge of our seat, or eagerly turning the pages to find out how the book will end. And some stories are so good that we simply cannot get enough of them from only one book or one movie. They require a sequel, another edition or subsequent film just to complete the enthralling tale begun in the first.

The life of Christ is a story very much like that. There have been innumerable volumes written about Him, and still we only scratch the surface. The entire New Testament is filled with people telling His story, from the first disciples and Apostles like St. Peter and St. Paul, to people whose names we do not even know (Letter to the Hebrews).

But one of the authors we do know is St. Luke, and we listen to what he has to say in the first reading this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke is one of the four evangelists, one of the four great gospel writers. In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles he reminds his readers of what he has already written about Christ:

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
—Acts 1:1-2

That was the subject of his first book, the Gospel of St. Luke. But now, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke continues to tell that remarkable and powerful story of Christ by describing the life of the early Church. It is St. Luke’s sequel to the life of Christ, Book II in the remarkable story of the Son of God and what He came to do here on earth.

Truly it is a breathtaking story. The Acts of the Apostles goes on to describe the challenges and the joys of the first century Church under the leadership of the apostles appointed by Jesus Christ Himself. It tells of the sacrifices of the members of the Church, and of many who gave their lives for their faith in the God who suffered and died for them. By the end of the Acts of the Apostles, the faith of the Church has spread to the far reaches of the world as they knew it.

In many ways, that story is one that still being told. Certainly the Acts of the Apostles is complete. There will be no new edition to that book, or to any of the books of Sacred Scripture. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, we await no new revelation.

But the story that St. Luke begins in the Acts of the Apostles about the activity and mission of the early Church is continued even now in our own day. It is essential that we understand that fact as we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension.

Jesus Christ ascends into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. This event is not something separate from our own daily lives. The ascension is not simply something that “happens” to Christ “back then,” having nothing to do with us.

When Christ ascends into heaven, God is now ready to continue His saving work by sending the Holy Spirit upon the Church. He sends us His gifts and divine assistance so that He can continue His ministry of reconciliation through us. Our story is an intimate part of His story. Are we able to recognize that in our daily lives?

When we experience the tragedies and triumphs of life, when we are filled with sorrow and distress or joy and hope, it is Christ who continues to live in us.

This Ascension Thursday, may we be able to see that the story told by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles some 2,000 years ago, and the story which will be completed by God Himself at the end of time, is the very same story that is unfolding before our eyes right here, right now.

May we truly recognize that Jesus Christ is continuing to tell His story, and live out His life, in us.