Monday, May 22, 2017

Preparing for Pentecost

June 4th the Church will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. But the way our lectionary is structured we actually start two weeks out with readings that help us prepare for Pentecost.

In John's Gospel the Holy Spirit is called by another title. He is the parakletos. The most exact Latin translation would be Advocate, literally the one who is called to stand at your side. Today Jesus tells us:

When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.

In our creed we say that He "proceeds from the Father and the Son." And in fact, Jesus says the same thing slightly differently. Jesus says that He will send the Spirit, and the Spirit is from the Father as well. The Spirit is from both Father and the Son.

It is the Spirit of Truth. It would be impossible to understate the importance of our belief that what the Spirit speaks is not a truth, but the Truth.

The Spirit testifies, the Greek word from which we get martyr. Its original meaning was to testify, to give witness.

The Holy Spirit is the wise counselor, but is also the witness.

But where do we fit into this picture?

Whether we use the Greek "Paraclete" or the Latin "Advocate," either implies there must be a call made, a call for help. Before there is a call for help, there must be a recognition of a need for help. And there's the rub.

The Son ascended to the Father, and the Holy Spirit (equally God) has been sent into this world to be the Advocate for every man, woman, and child; to give us wise counsel, to plead our cause, to lead us step by step on the path of salvation.

And yet, too many days we think and act as if we can do it on our own. We only want to call for help when we are in "real trouble." Otherwise, we want to run our own lives. We think that is freedom.

There may be no dumber person on earth than the one who thinks he is smarter than his lawyer.

You want to be smart? You want to be free? It's very simple. Walk through every day remembering that your Advocate is with you and don't say or do anything without clearing it first through Him.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Humble Service

Yesterday we welcomed three new deacons into the clergy of the Diocese of Richmond. For priests, it is a reminder that a part of our Catholic theology of priesthood is the belief that when we are ordained priests we remain deacons. Even when one is ordained a bishop, one remains a priest and a deacons. Each successive ordination builds on the previous one. It does not replace it.

More broadly the ordination of a deacon is a reminder to every Christian that diakonia is the very foundation of every ministry in the Church. In the rite of ordination the meaning of diakonia is captured in two words, humble service.

The original seven deacons in the Acts 6 were ordained to care for the widows (and other needy people) so that the Apostles could focus on prayer and preaching. They were waiters and hence the name deacon.

In those moments when we are most honest with ourselves we can see that every day we wrestle with both words, humble and service. God is the Master and we are the servants.

At various points in the mass we kneel before God, we bow before God, we genuflect in God's presence. We physically lower ourselves. It can feel strange, awkward or uncomfortable because it is the opposite of what our ego and our culture calls us to do.

As we start a new week let us look for those small opportunities that we have each day to lower ourselves, to raise others up, to put them ahead of us, to let them go first — the chance to peace humble service.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Measuring Love

All Christians can recite the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But my guess is most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about the very real possibility that we don't love God.

If I call myself Christian, if I go to church, then I guess I love God. At least I love God enough.

In a single verse at the beginning of today's gospel Jesus gives us a very simple way that each of us can find a definite answer to the question: do I love God.

Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.

Notice he says "my commandments." He does not say "the 10 commandments given to Moses interpreted in the narrowest possible way." Jesus's commandments includes everything that he commanded us to do or not to do, not simply our narrow reading of the 10.

One of the great things about the Catechism of the Catholic Church is that you can go to Part Three/ Section 2 and you will see the combination of the 10 commandments and those things which Jesus taught which expanded and deepened our understanding of each of those commandments.

To the extent that I know and strive to keep these commandments, I can rightly say that I love Jesus, I love God. To the extent that I choose to remain ignorant, or chose to ignore certain commandments, I am forced to admit that I don't really love God. I chose love of self over love of God. I do my will and not His.

Perhaps it would be good over a period of day to take the commandments one by one in the Catechism. Read through each one. Meditate on each one. Ask the hard question. Am I really ready to embrace all that this commandment entails?

Only when we do our best each day to keep all of the commandments can we truly say that we love God.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fatima 100 years later

Today the town of Fatima Portugal hosted Pope Francis for the canonization of two children, and the 100th anniversary of the beginning apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having grown up Baptist, Marian devotion was probably the aspect of the Catholic faith I wrestled with the most. I understood the difference between devotion and worship. I understood that devotion to Mary, is supposed to deepen our relationship with Jesus. I had read the theory, but deep down inside I just didn't get it.

As far back as I can remember Jesus and I were always close. I could always talk with him. What else did I need?

It wasn't until the death of my own mother that I finally understood. It was when that relationship was ripped away that I realized its uniqueness. No, she had not been the one to give birth to me, but she was still my mother in every other sense of the word. And there is no substitute.

God made us male and female. Now more that ever we understand that this is more than an anatomical difference. And so, paternity and maternity are two distinct but complimentary realities. We need both in our lives.

It was shortly after my mother's death, that a friend in Rome pointed out to me that I had been ordained on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. I would mull that over for a couple a years before I finally made the pilgrimage.

There are some who will try and argue that Jesus teaching us to call God "Father" is mere cultural convention. The same people will argue that when God became incarnate it was as a man because he needed to fit in. It seems to me that there is more going than we can fully comprehend. When we call God "Father" there is a true paternity there.

Jesus understood God as his father and Mary as his mother. If all Christians can agree that we are to imitators of Christ, then how can we say that we are not supposed to imitate this.

At Fatima, I took a leap of faith. I stopped trying to find the fully rational explanation and embraced it. I had long ago embraced God as my father, and Jesus as my brother, there I embraced Mary as my mother.

We need the whole family. That I simple truth.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rediscovering Truth

In today's gospel we hear one of the simplest and yet most profound statements in the Gospel, when Jesus describes himself with three words: way, truth, and life. That Jesus is the way to eternal life is the bold claim at the heart of the Christian message. But it is the middle word that we need to focus on, truth.

We live in a culture in which for the first time, the question of Pontius Pilate

What is truth? (Jn 18:38)

has become the central question of our time.

Gradually, over the last few decades at least, we have been sliding away from a belief in objective truth. More and more people conflate opinion and truth. Your opinion is "your truth." People are encouraged to find their own personal truth. This error is often dressed up as something profound. It is simply wrong and dangerous.

The corollary danger is that if there is no such thing as truth, then there is no such thing as a lie. That person isn't lying, they are only speaking their truth. And at that point lies become like wire grass in the lawn, enmeshed.

Some act horrified as day after day statements coming from the White House are shown to be factually incorrect. And yet we have no one to blame but ourselves. Some want to blame the culture but we are the culture. We, collectively, create the culture. We have created this culture of personal subjective truth, alternative facts.

Let us pray that the current crisis will force left and right to come together around some fundamentals.

There is such a thing as objective truth.

It is knowable.

And we should all want to hear it, even when it runs contrary to what we want to believe.

The truth is the truth. A lie is a lie.

Without searching for the Truth we will never find the Way that leads to the Life.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Knowing Our History

Some Christians act as though Christianity is merely a philosophy or spirituality. We read the Bible and we glean from Jesus instructions about how we should live. I once had a rabbi tell me that if it was absolutely proven that Moses never existed it would not chain his faith. His faith is rooted in a book of law, the Torah.

Christianity is different. Our faith in not rooted in a book but in a person, Jesus Christ. Our faith is rooted in historical events: his passion, death, and resurrection. We believe that through those event God opened the way to salvation for humanity. Take away those historical events there would be no Christian faith.

Because ours is an historical religion, we should not be ignorant of our history. Not just what is in the Bible but how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church since.

In our first reading today we hear the story of how the Spirit led to the rise of the Church in Antioch. How it became the cradle of Greek-speaking Christianity. It was at Antioch that Christianity as we now know it took shape under the guidance of St. Paul. It was in Antioch that the word Christian came into being.

Too many Christians think only of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, the cities of Hebrew Christianity. But the vast majority of us are the children of Greek Christianity, Gentile Christianity. There is a reason our New Testament is not in Hebrew but Greek.

As we study the early history it is important to note that the Church did not spring up in a random fashion,with groups of people forming their own communities and choosing their leaders. The Spirit guided the formation of the Church, and like the story of creation itself there was order in the formation of the Church, so that the link to the Apostles was always maintained.

Sometimes we get the urge to take out our Bibles and jump straight from the Bible to the 21st Century, as if the Bible were only a book of moral principles. The Bible tells only the beginning of salvation history, the earthly life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church. To be truly Christian is to hunger to see how the Holy Spirit has guided the ongoing formation of the Church, century by century.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Transforming the Church

For American Catholics today the Second Vatican Council was the most transformative event in their lifetime. There are those who think it went too far and those who think it did not go far enough; those who think it ruined the Church, and those who think it is their job to fix what got ruined.

What we forget in all this argument is that throughout the Church's history there have been many moments when the Holy Spirit called the Church to radical transformation. Today's first reading takes us back to the first of these internal earthquakes.

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles we hear the proclamation:

God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.

From its inception the Church had been Jewish. After all, didn't Jesus say regarding the Gentiles,

It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs.

We of course know that this statement was merely a test and not one of exclusion, but many in the early Church were afraid of the Church losing its Jewish identity. For them, to be a Christian meant first of all being a Jew. A Gentile was welcome only if they converted to Judaism first. In the book of Acts we see this early struggle played out and resolved at the first great Council in Jerusalem.

It reminds us of how the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes the Spirit gently guides the Church, little by little. At other moments the Spirit gives her a good shake. What the Spirit never does is let the Church wander too far off the road.

We should not be scandalized by in-fighting in the Church. The Bible tells us such in-fighting has been there from the beginning. As long as there are the imperfect humans in the Church, there will be struggles. And the Holy Spirit uses those struggles to move the Church forward on the road to her final destination.

As long as we hold on tight to the Church, we need not fear, remember the word in John 21 regarding the role of Peter

even though there were so many, the net was not torn.