The Pope and his un-involved (in Church) niece

A Baltimore priest had noticed an interesting article about Pope Francis last Summer. Through the priest and his parish web site, I was called to its attention, too. In the news back then, an interview had pointed out that the niece of Pope Francis, Christina Bergoglio, had said ‘she had no personal need for Church.’ Christina is a pretty famous artist and she sells paintings for up to $25,000 in Spain, and, while that is nice, she said in an interview with a Spanish tv station that she considers herself “to be spiritual, not religious… and (thus) doesn’t need the Church, though she thinks that her uncle is great and that he will help to renew the Church.”

I thought: How about that! The pope has un-involved Catholics in his family circle. Like we all do. It makes no difference to them that their close relative is The Pontiff. Interesting.

After that article got out, you know that someone would have alerted Pope Francis. If you read the things that he publically wrote and preached about in the next month (after that interview of his niece), then you would have noticed that his niece’s indifference to the Church was a real concern to him, and probably high on his prayer intentions to God. He was affected by his niece’s words. Just days afterwards, the Pope gave a talk where he said that Jesus MEANT for His followers to be part of the Church. Yes, especially even the niece of a pope, his talk seemed to say. Pope Francis did not want the words of his niece to misguide anyone. Pope Francis spoke out that it was important for us all to remember to be part of the Church in following Jesus. He said: “We are not isolated and we are not Christians on an individual basis, each to his or her own, no, our Christian identity is to belong! We are Christians because we belong to the Church.” The pope added on another point about community and needing others in The Faith: “I remember the nun who taught me the catechism when I was a little child… (meaning that she was important, and had influenced the man to be the 268th pope) ” So, the Pope said, ‘likewise, we all need to also share that faith with others in the Church.’

The Baltimore priest preached on those same points that Sunday last Summer (on the Feast of Peter and Paul), saying: “Just like you and I have our first and our last name, that, if we are Christian, our first name really is I am Christian, and our last name is I belong to the Church. And the Pope said that really, all of us have benefitted from OTHER PEOPLE showing us the faith: Parents, godparents, grandparents, family, friends….they all taught us to make the Sign of the Cross and to see God in other people. (Point: We have needed other Christians from the start.)

Then what about young adults who wander off thinking it doesn’t matter that they do have community in The Church or not? What about when they self-justify their actions as saying that they can be believers without others’ support in The Church? These kinds of attitudes are ones that might call from you a comment or two to one you know in such a situation. What can you say to them?

Well, for starters, for Christians not to be in community with others is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught us to do. He did not say we could check out and go solo. He said that we should come together. His one great New Covenant commandment was that we would “love one another,” and by this sign people would see Jesus. It is His message as relayed in the Gospel of John chapters 14 through 17.

In another image, as matching the great First Psalm image, we were called to become one great fruitful tree besides His Living Waters.il_570xN_496430999_mcpy And the fruit on that tree is explained in Galatians chapter 5, as compared in that same chapter to the bad fruits of the world, as apart from Him and the tree. “I am the Vine and you are the branches,” said Jesus.

Going back to the papal story, the pope’s niece had probably disturbed the Holy Father a little bit, as when she said so casually that : ‘Well, I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church… I can maintain a personal and direct relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church.’

I was examining other things that the pope said publically last Summer. He made this comment: “It’s true that walking together is challenging, and at times can be tiring: it can happen that some brother or some sister creates problems, or scandalizes us…. But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to human beings, with all their gifts and limitations, and Jesus told us that He would come to encounter us and make himself known through the Church.”

As the Church ponders the eventual return of the Lord Jesus in Glory, we think of what He has told us about being prepared for it. His teachings speak of being not just individually prepared, but of being mutually prepared and in service to Him and one another.

Indeed, Jesus’ Matthew 25 parable story of God coming to review our lives includes a group of five maidens who are together in a shared vigilance in watching for their Master’s arrival, and the text says that this pleased the Lord. They had their flasks filled with oil for the night watch coming of the Bridegroom to call the wedding party together. This could be applied to being with others in the Body of Christ and serving Him until His Coming. Five of the ten maidens stuck together out of concern of the upcoming wedding and the Groom’s expectations of them to be prepared for it. The oil signified their lives being full of the Spirit of God.

(I don’t remember much about the ancient Jewish practices for weddings, but I seem to recall how the Groom sometimes came to gather the wedding party, and then to take themn (hence, the maidens) to go surprise the Bride-to-be. Since the Bride was to be unsure as to when the Groom would arrive, so too then would the maidens also to be surprised as to when the Groom would come to initiate the Wedding celebration. The five maidens were together and expecting the Groom; while the five foolish ones were off doing something else, and symbolically without the oil of the Spirit full in them. I see those foolish maidens as those Christians who do not realize how they are called together to serve the Lord until He comes and to be in communion with other servants for the Eternal Wedding. Jesus is Coming; His Church is called to await Him. St. Paul speaks of the Eucharist as part of the waiting, when He says we “proclaim the death (sacrifice Offering) of the Lord, until He comes.” We in the Church aren’t sure as to when the Groom will be coming. We just know that He is coming. We know to be ready. It is a call of our being “Church.” As Hebrews 7 speaks of the Lord Jesus even being as Priest among us now, in our liturgies, so more does our vigilance matter. In certain ways, The Lord Jesus is among us in the here-and-now. Hebrews 7:26-28; 8:1 says “It is fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens… a priest who has offered Himself…a Son who has been made perfect forever…. we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true ‘tent’ that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up.” Can you notice how this verse is a reference to the Church and Her Savior and High Priest Jesus and His activity among us?

We are told that the Return of the Lord to us should be taken as a call to be together and to work in God’s purposes.
We are like maidens doing the prep work for the Marriage of The Church to Christ in Heaven.

*In wedding prep, sometimes the family and wedding party are quite needed and invaluable to the readiness for the Big Day. Right? Jesus has asked His Church to be the ones readying for the Big Day.

In Matthew 22:44 this expectation was clearly laid out. Yet, as Matthew 25:2-3 reveals, the other five maidens were foolish, and the text says “they took no oil with them…and as the Bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept…and could not come out to meet Him when He came. The wedding feast was started and the doors closed, and those (five) who were ready went in with Him…afterward the other (five) maidens came also, saying: ‘Lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

This Parable teaches us that Church involvement and being co-prepared for Jesus is an important aspect to Church practice. Just some verses later in Matthew 25, Jesus explains how their must be Other-centeredness of the Faith in the Son of Man. But there were five other scattered maidens. They missed their opportunity. Yet the others had reached out to the hungry and thirst…and to strangers… and even went out to prisons looking for the estranged (Matthew 25:35-40). These activities sound like what the Church is still doing—bringing in the hungry for food, the thirsty for God, and the strangers to God’s flock and getting them into the flock–whomever they are. Jesus says: ‘Truly as you did it for the least of people, so you did it as to Me.’

I think of some of the things that I do in God’s Name in the Church are fulfilling Matthew 25. I think the Church calls us to do things that we might not choose to do on our own. In reviewing Matthew 25′s list of visiting the hungry or visiting a prisoner in prison—I was inspired to do because I was part of the Church. I think I would not have done early-morning cooking for the poor or visits to prisoners of my own accord.

The Pope knows that he needs to get people, such as his niece, back into the Fold. While his niece may be doing some charitable things or acting as a nice person, Pope Francis knows that Jesus did not die on a Cross so to just inspire some nice things on earth; He came to save a people to Himself. He is the re-gatherer of humanity back to God.

Pope Francis looks back to St. Peter, the first pope, for a little inspiration. Let’s do that right here. It says that in Acts 15, Peter and Paul had some problems to overcome. Could the Gentile believers and the Jewish-only believers get along now as Christians? Should each group just stay alone and isolated from one another? In Acts 15, the apostles and leaders look to become united and to agree to work things out. They turn to a prophecy of the Old Testament for inspiration. “As it is written, in the prophets Amos and Jeremiah, I will come… and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; and I rebuild its ruins and I will set it up, that people may seek the Lord there and be called by My Name, says the Lord.”

Peter and Paul and all the others hear God calling them together to be His people. They hear that there is work to be done. They hear that their community of faith is meant to be as a Home for those seeking God and called by Him.

This sounds like Church to me.

I bet Pope Francis wants to see his niece come to Church and practice a shared Christianity. While Christina probably is a nice woman, Francis knows she is wrong when she says she can be good while “just being spiritual but not religious.”

Francis well knows that Jesus never said anywhere in the Bible that we should be “spiritual but not religious” and he also didn’t say anywhere in the Bible that Christians should look to the Bible alone or towards themselves alone for Jesus’ authoritative teaching. It does say, over and over, that Jesus gave authority to the Church which Peter and the apostles were given the job to start, and Jesus said that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church and it would last until He returned in glory (Matt 16:13-19). And not only that — for as St. Paul himself wrote to the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.”

If only some people could hear those words in Ephesians 5 as applying to them: Christ loves them for uniting with others in His Church, so to be His one body. We are called to become one as the believers in Jesus. It is among the highest priorities for a believer. Just read John 17. It’s right there (that we should be right there in community, in something like a parish). dicianni_the_covenant  

Holy Trinity Homily

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Today is Trinity Sunday. What is the application of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity into Christian living, and why should we care?

I will base the thoughts of answering that question from the Romans Epistle Reading from Mass. Hear the key part of it announced again: Brothers and sisters: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer (in our obedience) with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

The simple answer to the question of why and how we should care to apply the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is this: We are redeemed children of God, and we were created to be as images of God to bear likeness and union to our God-Source. Our highest and deepest inner happiness of our reborn life is to live the image of the Trinity in ourselves. There is joy there and awakening to our most profound identity and meaning for existence.

Our Creator, our Source, is a God in Three Persons, as revealed to us in our Faith. Tradition and Scripture tell us of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit as God. It is One God in Three Persons. The Trinity is The Who we are to reflect in our living. We need to exist as those people who are created by God and for God. Christ Jesus, God come to our humanity, has accomplished the Way for us now to be back into friendship with God, and no longer to be lost or cut off in separation from God, since He conquered our sin and death. Rather, by His Spirit now, with the Divine Cleansing of our lives to receive Him, we are offered the indwelling of God to our souls and bodies— and we are called (and yes even led) to join to God (as children in Christ) and then to serve as His Redeemed to Glory the Way of the Lord. We have an eternal life to live in God! For our Triune God lives eternally. It is The Father, Son, Spirit forever– and we are called into Their communion! What’s more inspiring than that?!

Here, then, are two important applicable lessons from The Trinity about living our lives in the human community who believes in the One, True God in Three Persons. Let us see The Blessed Trinity as 1) a model of community and 2) of mutuality –for our own living as children of God.

First, in the doctrine of The Trinity, we find our model for community. As God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit relate to one another, and demonstrate love for each other, and work in concert to accomplish the purpose of God in the world, we get the idea of community.

This idea of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit has been depicted by many Christian scholars using the term “perichoresis.” That’s a Greek word which means, literally, “dancing around.” I like the implications of God — Father, Son, and Spirit — in a divine dance, interacting with one another, expressing love for one another, and complementing the work each has to do. I once saw a work of art show the Father, Son and Spirit drawn as if in that perichoresis wonder, The Dance of the Three Persons arm-in-arm-arm. The artist depicted the scene to be like that of a wedding and its dance. This is very Scriptural, for the wedding supper of the Lamb has that dance coming up in Glory. Our communion (or “communio”) on earth is our beginning that intimacy with God.

The Wedding Dance of the Trinity is a mind picture I’d like for you to paint in your thoughts. Put yourself into the scene as of the children of God about that celebration. Community life is all about celebrating the cooperation and the shared happiness that the Holy Trinity models for us. We were made to be in that communal spirit of joy. The Trinity inspires community. After all, this is what “family” and “church” are meant to celebrate.

Secondly, The Trinity also inspires mutuality. In the many Scriptures passages that mention the Holy Three-In-One, we find some elements of mutuality. Jesus says that the Spirit will guide his disciples, glorify Jesus, take what belongs to Jesus and give it to the disciples. But, everything Jesus has, as The Blessed Son points out, does comes from the Father, and that is why the Spirit can make it known to the disciples. The Father has sent the Son, so He puts things in the hands of His Son. Then, as the Spirit gives glory to the Father, in fulfilling the work to be done in us, He entrusts the fulfillment of that work to form into the embodiment of believers under Christ Jesus, the Glorified Son. And we are called into marriage with the Blessed Lamb. The Holy Spirit comes to bring it into every man and woman and child that will accept it.

That is what mutuality is: God the Father creates, God the Son redeems, and God the Spirit illuminates and equips and brings to perfection. In this mutual work, each Person of the Godhead complements and builds on the work of other members of the Trinity.

How is this applied to us? We learn to live in mutuality. Marriage and family life and community life is all about mutual respect and honor and love and cooperation. God inspires us to live in this way. And the love of man and woman in a procreative way leads to a child. Life and love is fruitful from our mutuality. This is the Divine Pattern we see of The Trinitarian life in humankind.

We can apply the Trinity’s lessons for community to take prescendence in all our relationships and their charitable ways. In the body of Christ, as such in parish life, we all can benefit from helping one another, serving one another, and working together to a common bond of love. As Mother Teresa said: “What I can do, maybe you cannot, and what you can do, maybe I cannot, so together let us do some beautiful together for God.” Amen to that!

As you look at the ministry start of Jesus Christ, at the Baptism in the Jordan, you can see mutuality going on with God. At His baptism, Jesus demonstrates His obedience to the plan of God through baptism. There is a submission to a Way that the ministry will be started and how it will be lived. God the Father announces his approval, and then the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus for ministry. The Blessed Son will then be trusted and supported by the Father and Spirit for a salvation plan to the world. This is one of the illustrations of the Holy Trinity in mutuality.

Now it’s our turn in ministry. As we take these two things, community and mutuality, into consideration—we see what the life of the Church is called to be. We are in ministry to imitate God and bring God and the kingdom of God into application on earth. “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done” is what we pray. The Kingdom is Communal and Mutual Love.

As Jesus moved things from His Holy Land ministry of AD 33 to the ministry of His Church, you hear Him teach in the Gospels that He would be in us, but also that the Spirit would empower, equip, and embolden the believer to live the Gospel Life. Jesus says that we too would be “drawn by the Father” to glory. Jesus tells us to pray to the Father, as through His intercession now, and by the power of the Spirit. Jesus says: “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” Just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world to do the Father’s work, equipped and accompanied by the Spirit of God, to offer all to Abba.

So, I hope I helped you think anew today about the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit call us to be living “images of God” –in Christian community and mutuality.

P.S. Note
If you still need clearer application of all this, then you could do American Christianity a favor and help her see that the Trinitarian call for community and mutuality means that the emphasis on “I” and our personal salvation in the Church today does lead to an imcomplete conversion. As a Catholic, declare to fellow believers that we are not just individually saved but also saved to be a people of God. One cannot just ask ”Have I Been Saved?” Or “Am I Being Saved?”—but, because we serve the Trinity of Persons in One God, we should also ask: “How are we being saved?” Or “How are we acting in community and mutuality as One Church and Body of Christ being formed to be the Bride of Christ, for life as children into the Trinity as the people God Shepherds?”
Remember what Paul says in the epistle today: “we cry Abba… we are joint heirs or co-heirs…and we are children of God to be put into Glory and union with God forever: This is who we are; This is for Whom we are. As your pastor, I call you to live this life.

More Holy Trinity Thoughts

The Varied Attempts to Explain the Trinity

From explanations from St. Patrick and the shamrock, to others trying to compare water being water but in three forms as ice, water, and mist/cloud—— people have tried to give an illustration to help the Mystery of The Holy Trinity be better understood.

Of course, sometimes the attempt to explain the Mystery leads to more mystery about it. All the comparisons of God to something will fall short. Even some explanations lead more to heresy than orthodox practice of the Holy Faith.
We’ll explain it in this blog…

Several years ago, an interesting book titled “The Shack” became a bestseller. As one reviewer told it: The Shack story was compelling, but one aspect of that book sparked discussion and disagreement among Christians. Author William Paul Young represented the Trinity in a very unique way. For God the Father, Young portrayed God as a large black woman, who was outgoing, warm-hearted, and kind. For God the Holy Spirit, Young’s persona was that of an Asian woman dressed in bright colors who seemed to dart in and out of sight in a Tinkerbell-like fashion. For Jesus, the author pretty much stayed with the stereotype of Jesus as a workman, in the guise of a man with jeans, flannel shirt, and a toolbelt. Each of these personas of God exhibited unique characteristics, and each had a specific role to play in the fictional story. But, as creative as that portrayal was, Young’s attempt to give the Trinity personality fell short of capturing the theology fully.

Still, this book got people thinking about the Holy Trinity… which is good. To see them each as Persons was also a good depiction by Young in his Shack ideas. Maybe replacing the large black woman with Shaq O’Neill (NBA superstar center) would be preferred in my Shack version of the book. Then the title would have had a double-meaning to it. Anyway…

Let’s take a history lesson…
As Christianity was permitted officially into the open after the Peace and Edict of Emperor Constantine (in recognition of Christianity as a religion in the Empire), then the Church and her leaders in that early 4th century a.d. had the business of meeting and defining what our Creed would be exactly. We call those leaders back then as our Church Fathers and we call their meetings as Church Councils. In places like Constantinople and Nicaea, the Church wrote down our Creedal beliefs. It was a defining time for the belief in One God in Three Persons, and the understanding of God as One Holy Trinity. The Nicene Creed we pray today has its history back to 325 a.d.

In those 3rd to 5th centuries, some people brought in early Heresies About the Trinity…

This idea of the Triune God, the Trinity, was a difficult idea to grasp. Some attempts in the early centuries of The Christian Faith failed miserably to capture the three-in-oneness of God completely. These imperfect attempts, which led people away from the foundation of Christ’ teachings and into a new interpretation, had to be declared as wrong by Church leaders. The pope and patriarchs of the Church had to define what was “orthodox” or right, to what was “heresy” and ideas too far off-the-mark. The faithful had a right to the Truth. The Holy Spirit was busy in the Church helping to establish the Truth.

Two primary heresies of the early Christian era (about the Trinity) were “modalism” and “sub-ordinationism.”

First modalism: there were those who said that God was One God who just appeared in three different roles — or modalities — as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The problem of this view of Trinity was in the word “appeared”–which suggested something less than reality. An illustration of this approach is the innocent one still used today to try and describe the Trinity, but which unfortunately falls short. Here it is: I am John. I could be pastor to my nephew, as well as his uncle, and as well his guitar teacher. I would be three things to him, but one person called John. That’s a nice easy way to try to explain a different personhood, but I would be in error to take it too far. Yes, I can be one person in three roles. But while this sort of gets at explaining one aspect of the Trinity, it is actually a good example of the heresy of “modalism” — of one god playing three different parts. In modalism and it heretics, their departure denied that each Person was a Person. They denied that the Father (was) is a Person, AND that the Son is a distinct Person, AND that the Spirit is a distinct Person. So that, Fr. John and Uncle John and Coach John I can all be, but not distinctly each as a person. So the explanation falls short. The Modalists didn’t see the need for identifying each Person in the Holy Trinity, but the error would be more obvious to people down the theological road in history. Yet God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit are all and each Persons, and need to be. The Church was able to comprehend and teach that as she prayed her Creeds.

The other heresy was fragmented into many varied heresies that we could call together as sub-ordinationism. (There are better terms, but which are more complex. Let’s take the simplest approach here.) The heresies against the Holy Trinity belief were bad, because they taught that God the Father (was) is the supreme figure, while both Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to Him in some way. The Church said that each needed to be Co-Equals and working perfectly together. To lessen the Son and Spirit in any theology would be to make them mini-gods or Ones subserviant or subordinates to the Father. That wouldn’t do. Catholic leaders said that Jesus the Son needed to be Divine and worthy and equal to the Father so that His Offering for humankind would have the Holy and Perfect standing necessary for us to be saved by Him. Jesus taught that He was so worthy and equal to the Father. He said: “I and the Father are one.” Plus, when Jesus went up to the Heavens for us, the Book of Revelation shows Heaven and the Father and Spirit accepting Jesus’ as Worthy as our Lord and Savior. He was truly God and truly man, and He needed to be in being the Savior. So the Church showed by the teaching of the Holy Trinity that Jesus is God as part of the Triune Persons in One God. It became vitally important to believe this. It still is essential and true.

So the Early Creeds Addressed These Misunderstandings About the Trinity…
Living in the Truth is why we are a Creedal Church. We profess what is real and true and so revealed by God. We pray our belief in this High Order of things, so as not to have any compromised or lower faith. We exalt the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All are praised in The Blessed Trinity.

In order to correct the theological conversation, the early Church developed creedal statements that expressed what the Church believed. The first was the Apostles’ Creed, which would have been the expression of faith before the official Church Councils. Then came the official creeds. Today we call them both by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (325,381) and the Athanasian Creed (500).

The Apostles’ Creed simply affirms in three statements a belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
1. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
2. And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord;
3. And I believe in the Holy Spirit.
But The Apostles’ Creed left the door open for misunderstanding about the Trinity, so the Nicene Creed was developed from 325 AD, and took its final form in 381 AD.

In the translations five decades ago for the Modern English Mass, some words were put in for Creedal texts that the Church approved for use in her new language Mass. However, a few years ago, the Church updated some of those translations to be more to the Latin (original) understanding, than simply to be words comfortable to us in the English. The most obvious of the updated version was the change of praying the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed in English to say “one in being with the Father” to now say “consubstantial with the Father.” Not everyone understands the nuanced improvement in spiritual terms of that change, but it is a little different to say and pray ‘a big word’ like consubstantial. In this term, “Con” means a oneness shared, and “substantial” means a substance or divine identity. So, now perhaps, we realize how a Oneness of Divine Identity shared helps us to know that it takes more than one person to share in some unity. God the Son is a Person who shares oneness to the Other Person called The Father, and the Holy Spirit is also a Person to believe in, and He shares oneness with the Father (and Son). In fact, most definitions show Him to be the connected Love between the Father and Son, as Love in the Middle is a Divine Person.

Some people are fascinated by such study of the Trinity; others are happy to just say that they believe in the Holy Trinity as the Church defines it, and they need not to comprehend it all, but leave the lofty mind awareness of the Trinity to the theologians and highest saints.

We have been praying these Creeds ever since the Church went official, and we were praying them in the earliest decades and centuries of our journey. It is an important declaration of who we are as Christians today; thus we pray it in our Sunday Masses and on some other occasions in liturgy.

Someone asked what might have been the earliest ‘declarations of faith’ or ‘short creeds of Christianity.’ I told them that Scripture records some possibilities, such as “Jesus is Lord” or “My Lord and My God” or “This truly was the Son of God” of “He is the image of the invisible God…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…the Mystery hidden…now manifest to his saints.”

We Catholic Christians (and the Orthodox Christians and other long time creedal Christians like to get our Faith expressed as to what exactly was revealed and believed in the early Church. We profess oneness with that Church, the One Church of Jesus Christ, Lord of All, and her Head.

A River Runs Through Here Pentecost Homily

I’d like to talk about Heaven and about the flow of Heaven running through our souls, Who is Christ’ Spirit in us.

I had to go and anoint a few persons in the Last Rites recently. We believe in the Sacraments as Catholics and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us through them, and some families requested me to be at the bedside of loved ones who were in serious decline and possibility of death soon. I came with the Oil of the Sick, Viaticum in my pyx (last Communion), a stole, holy water, and the Rites book filled with prayers. I also came, personally, with stories of hope about Heaven to tell.

I leaned in to each of two separate persons whom I anointed just recently and, even if their senses were failing them now or even if they were off in sleep, I talked to them and prayed for them. I knew I could communicate to them and reach them in the Sacrament. How so? Because we were communicating soul-to-soul. I aimed there to their souls in my communication, because I believe it is the part of a person which remains fully aware and in the moment. I asked each of them to repeat with me lines from Psalm 103. I invited their souls to pray along. The Psalm goes “Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His Holy Name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits–who forgives your iniquities, who heals all your disease, Who will redeem you from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Who satisfies you with good…so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”

I reminded these persons that they were joining into a Psalm of which I am certain that Jesus prayed in His trials. Jesus saw Psalm 103 into fulfillment with His own inner commitment, so I prayed that He would lead these struggling persons in their waning moments to Hope on God and Heaven.

May Jesus speak to His followers and bid them to Victory. It is a Psalm for us too. We are preparing for the ultimate to come as well. This Psalm gives us a river of gladness to pray.

You can hear the Spirit of Christ encouraging us all as Psalm 103 does continue its hopeful prayer: “As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is the Lord in steadfast love towards those who fear Him…the Lord has compassion on those who revere Him. The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His kingdom reigns over all…So bless the Lord, O my soul.”

Following right on the heels of Psalm #103, today’s Psalm of Mass is #104 which continues the approach to the Most Blessed, from our inside-out. It prays: “Bless the Lord, O my soul…and Thou come, O Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” Amen! We are connected to Heaven by the Spirit the Lord Jesus has given. Renewal is ours. We are also connected spiritually to angels and the saints and all of God’s beloved, and we pray, to our beloved departed.

In the Last Rites on these recent calls, I asked these persons being anointed to look for angels and for the Light of Heaven and of Christ. I reminded them of Jesus’ words of Resurrection Appearances, as He said to the apostles: “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.” Those words are comfort for us, too. Our lives are touched by the Eternal Presence of God, as Christ is alive in us. He says ‘Let My Peace be in you.’ We can imagine Peace is like a stream flowing within us, which has come down into our souls like water from a waterfall.

The Sacrament gives the anointing as of blessings come from Heaven. In the words from the rite there is the main part I pray in it, with is the invocation of the Spirit and the laying on of hands, then the anointing of the body with oil, assisted with invocations and scriptures and pleas to God for his needy son or daughter.

As it was the close of Easter season, I spoke to the anointed persons about the Ascension and of Jesus on the Throne in Heaven for us. I said: ‘Heaven is where Jesus reigns for us as our Savior and Deliverer and Conquerer and God-Hero. Look for Him on His Throne….’ Then, I added, ‘…and also look for Jesus as the Lamb of God, so you see His great mercy and of His connection so many times to you in Communion and/or Holy Mass and in your prayer and worship to Him. Do remember, too, that in Heaven Mercy may be depicted as a river or a great body of water (ref. Revelation 4:6, 14:2, 22:1-3).’

Sometimes, when I am with people of faith who are anticipating their going Home to God, I get a sense that some people are already soul-seeing some of the River of God flowing from His throne or of His Ocean of Mercy. I recall a man who started singing a favorite hymn of his childhood. I still recall what song it was:
“Heaven is a Wonderful Place. Filled with Glory and Grace. I’m gonna see my Savior’s place: Heaven is a Wonderful Place. (I wanna get there–) Heaven is a Wonderful Place. Filled with Glory and Grace. I’m gonna see my Savior’s place: Heaven is a Wonderful Place. (I wanna get there–)…

[Below, a 2015 photo of me at a restaurant besides a rolling river. A delightful spot!]
IMG_20150315_133451_684.

Part Two of the Homily: We’ve talked a bit about Heaven as a future hope and vision. Let’s now talk about the flow of Heaven running through our souls, which is Christ’ Spirit in us. Presently this is going on. Heaven is presenting itself to us in the here-and-now. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God.” Seek first the kingdom of God, He said. He wasn’t talking about the afterlife, but the present experience we can begin in.
This is what I will call today as “going with the Flow” in the Life of the Holy Spirit–yes, in the Living Waters River of Life moving in us. It is started at our Baptism. Jesus said of this divine participation: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.”

You know, I have pictured Heaven as a place with pure water and rivers and waterfalls. It’s a blessed image. Yet the Lord says that our souls have this flow going on in it, in a spiritual mystery, in the right-now moment. So I have tried to relay an image in prayer of hearing the Water move and stir within me, and seeking to bring new life and refreshment to me.

Rivers of living water flow from within you…. and how do we get it? “If anyone thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink. It is given to he who believes in Me.” The Gospel makes it clear. It says: Thirst for God! If you do so, then God will send His Spirit to bring the fruits of the Spirit through you (e.g. love joy peace kindness self-control and more to be in your life). Today’s epistle of Galatians 5 tells us what to expect from the Spirit’s flow in us.
A related verse in Luke 17:21 says how the Spirit flows: “The kingdom of God is within you.” Imagine into spiritual understanding what refreshment God is offering within you, and then asking you to live out to others…

There is Some Power within us, like a moving river, maybe sometimes He is even a waterfall in us. The Holy Spirit–sometimes He can be noticed on the surface of things, but much more so He is hidden in the movement and flow below and within a life. Flowing Water. Something active. Something dynamic and changing, yet constant and dependable.

Know this: A river with living water is not stagnant; but it is fresh. It is not silent, but rather it speaks.

Those who believe in Jesus will be renewed by this internal river. Through the Spirit of Christ, which first came upon Christian believers at Pentecost and which first came upon us at our baptism, we’ve become filled with streams of “living water.”

This isn’t automatic, however. We must cooperate with the Spirit that has been given to us. As St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, we need to “stir up the gift of God” (1:6). Stir it up with virtuous living, spiritual formation, and frequent reception of the sacraments, and then I propose, with more community life in your parish and with response to the movement of God there. As we all have to overcome our human weaknesses and unwillingness of spirit in some areas, let me remind you that the Holy Spirit is there to especially help in that department, if we but plead His assistance. In Romans 8:23-27 it says how “the Spirit comes to help in our weaknesses..that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

So we are asked to wade into the Living Water of God and get into the Flow. “The Spirit and the Bride say come.” This line from the end of the Bible tells us: Get into the Spirit. Get into the Flow. Christ’ Body of believers is designed for renewal by His Streams of Grace.

David Letterman leaves the air

It is not as big as Johnny Carson leaving the Tonight Show, but it IS bigger than either :) of Jay Leno’s retirements from the NBC Tonight Show of the 90′s and 2000′s. David Letterman is leaving the late night talk show business on this Wednesday night, after being on tv for decades. It’s a pretty big retirement. “Dave” began in television as a former weather tv man and a stand-up comedian who just found the right opportunity to step in and do a 1230 a.m. slot for NBC as the later show after Carson. (Unbelievably, there even was another show on next on NBC after Letterman. It was Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow Show.”)

Letterman was expected to be the heir apparent to Carson, but it fell to Leno. However, Letterman made the switch to CBS in the same slot and carried a big audience head-to-head with NBC. I made the switch; I never liked Leno. Letterman did his show from New York City in the Ed Sullivan Theatre. That was cool, too. I never got to see it in person, but I have figured that I have seen it on tv at least 500 times. It amused me now and then. I wasn’t a huge fan, but a fair-occasional one. Due to the Late Show’s lateness of hour, I have watched the show more on my tv recording devices and with a remote in hand for the highlights–but that still counts.

Dave changed the late night television programming to a new broadcasting approach. (He would joke to a new low.) It was kind of a crazy, funny-man approach, but it entertained enough viewers that his act caught on, with his Indiana down-to-earth ‘I kid you style’ that seemed to almost mock celebrity (at least the pretense kind of Hollywood). He asked for something different from his guests than fawning mutual admiration (something that Jimmy Kimmel sadly specializes in these days). Dave did things in his own silly way. It probably helped that he was on so late in his early years (as he probably didn’t think that many were watching him, or ready to call in and complain–since who’d answer the call?!). Thus, Dave started to do most any silly tv thing. Of course he was not on the unbounded cable tv, so he had to be decent and clean of language, so perhaps that guard was helpful to my sensibilities too. (He would not be like a vulgar Howard Stern). Some of Dave’s far liberal jokes or commments did, though, make me hit the off switch from time to time.

One of my Bowie friends informed me one late October that his kids were to be on Letterman’s Halloween night show. How so? I asked. He said: Letterman wants to fake that some trick or treaters are ringing his Late Show address for candy. His staff happened to see my kids and others in a funny children’s show. They’ll be wearing some ridiculous costumes the show dreamed up. I tuned in that night.

Like Johnny Carson did, Dave developed a familiar routine. He had his early acts, such of tossing different things off his city roof and replaying the crash (watermelon, wedding cake, tv set) in slow motion. Weird, for sure. He would have people bring in their pet and invite them to show the stupid trick they had taught it to do (like a skateboarding dog). He would devote a show each pre-Christmas season to testing out weird toys and new kid’s things on the market. If that caught your interest, then you were watching to see again if Dave would have some really odd toy to laugh at or be amazed by. You also knew that he would end the bit with his riding on some bike or rolling device across the stage–and you knew he was going to aim for the Christmas tree, in hopes his crash would knock it over and get a laugh from the audience. Also, every pre-Christmas he had on the same soul singer to belt out his favorite holiday song. It was “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love. I kind-of-liked it! I also liked his regular stream of pretty clean stand up comedians who he would bring on the show. They had some great 5-7 minutes of comedic material. Seinfeld, Wright, Crystal and other names came on; and some unknowns came on (who wouldn’t stay unknown for long).

The Late Show featured a regular Top Ten List that Dave and his comedy writers would put together, to come on after the opening monologue. Some were awful; some were hilarious. I remember trying to write a few Top Ten lists of my own. I don’t think I have saved any, but I remember one from lots of years ago that I think was onto a good topic. It was Top Ten new renditions of Dr. Suess books. Let’s see how I do with it today. I remember two of the real ones*; the rest below are mine.

Top Ten new renditions of Dr. Suess Books
10. Green Eggs in Disgustin’ McNuthin’ Land (Green Eggs and Ham)
9. Oh The Places your Stolen Identity Will Go! (Oh the Places You’ll Go)
8. Are You My Surrogate Mother? (Are You My Mother)
7. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Mercury Poisoning* (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
6. How the Grinch Stole Kwanza! (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
5. The Cat with the Bat who Socks for the Sox but Hopped on Steroids (The Cat in the Hat; The Fox in Sox, Hop on Pop)
4. Horton Finds the Loo (Horton Hears a Hoo)
3. Yertle, the Dunkin’ Maryland Turtle (Horton Hangs on the Rim ?!)
2. The Lorax Hooked on Xanax* (The Lorax)
1. On Beyond Letterman–Zero! (On Beyond Zebra)

How did you like my Top Ten List?

A Catholic Bible Study of Psalms #40, 43 and 47. (Ascension Lesson)

Here is a Catholic Bible Study on three Psalms. One of them was used in Ascension Mass, as it so appropriately fits the feast. Yet it actually is in a run of psalms that shows how the Paschal Mystery was anticipated in God’s plan, in a millennia before Jesus’ coming. As Jesus knew and prayed these Psalms, we can notice how it guided Him on to what was prophetically to come in finish to His ministry on earth. (Suggestion: Read and Pray through Psalms 40-47, with a perspective of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost in them.)
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By using three Psalms of the Bible, including the Responsorial today in this Ascension Mass, I’d like to show how The Ascension of Christ has made something great possible. I want to use the three Psalms to best explain how the Paschal Mystery (our theme in Lent and Easter) does fit into the Mystery of the Ascension. Jesus knew these Psalms by heart, prayed them faithfully, and helped them to lead to fulfillment. I’d like you to know these Psalms in this way that Jesus understood them for His ministry.

Psalm 40 has a line in it: “A body Thou has prepared for me.” What does it mean to Jesus and now to us? It means that God has come bodily as a sacrifice in Christ, and in giving Himself to the Father (and being worthily received and raised and enthroned above for humankind as Lord and Savior), Jesus also gives us His Body on that Cross. We can be pardoned in His sacrifice and become His body of believers, as joined under Him, the body joined to The Head, The Lord Jesus. “This is My Body, given up for you” now has more meaning to it! So does the Eucharist as His Body given! So does the Victory of the Resurrection of Christ’ Body, for where He has gone, so also will we, in a resurrection of the just. Therefore, we can understand now, a little better, of what Psalm 40 meant in “a body Thou has prepared for Me.”

This understanding of “Church” as the Body of Christ and of our Catholic Faith being Sacrament or an embodiment through/with/and in Jesus is a huge point for our proper orientation to God. It is a point made in every doxology prayer of the priest concluding the Eucharistic Prayer and leading to the peoples’ “Amen.” Let us listen to Psalm 40 from the way Jesus prayed it anew, thinking even of its context in Holy Mass and the Paschal Mystery. Here Jesus pray at the Last Supper altar and also at our altars today: “A body thou hast prepared for Me. I come to do your will, O God… You, O Lord, be gracious to Me, and raise Me up….You have upheld Me because of My integrity, and set Me in Your Presence forever.”

What did Jesus hope to accomplish in His Offering on The Cross? He planned to win the lost from separation from God to a merciful union to Him to God–even as a body of believers. As His Body was offered to be worthy, now He has offered us a sharing in His Body so that we can be worthy in Him to God. It’s the whole secret of the Mass and of Eucharist, for those who don’t see it yet or believe. We were meant to be saved and embodied into Jesus. We are the body God has prepared for being united in Christ.” Yet it is in union with Jesus’ own Body and Blood. HE is the Worthy One, the Redeemer, the Vine, the Life for us.
So we need to make a clear and true response to the Lord to His offer of salvation.

As Jesus is risen, He fulfills, then, the task of getting us forgiven and restored to having a relationship to God. Now we are ready to understand how Jesus leads to understand Psalm 43, which is a response to what God did in Psalm 40. The body of believers is called to pray. Psalm 43 says–and hear it as Jesus’ Church prays it anew—”Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me! For You are the God in Whom I take refuge… O send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise You… Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.”
This should be our prayer of response to the Resurrection Mystery of Christ.

Yes! Because Jesus fulfills Psalm 40 and all such expectations, and He becomes worthy to save the human race in Himself, He ascends with a body of believers to co-raise up and co-ascend in Himself to Glory. He then sends the Spirit of Grace to us that He can live in our souls, via baptism and the lived life of faith in such Grace, so that who Jesus will inhabit will become His body to raise up in His victory. Thus, Psalm 43 can have the person of faith in God pray: “Vindicate Me! Defend me in the ungodly time and from all this rebellion still against You, O God….I shall hope in You… Praise You!… I want to live and take refuge in You…. Send Your light and truth into me and lead me…. I come to Your holy hill and to your dwelling and to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy… here is my hope!”

That Psalm 43 is a prayer of a person today who wants the effects of the Ascension of Jesus to take place inside of them. The believer wants to be in Christ. Let’s go through it again, as by the Paschal Mystery. It is an interesting Psalm of the Redeemed with three parts.

I will go to the “holy hill” (which is Calvary, of the Dying Mystery of Faith). That’s Paschal Mystery Stage One.
I will go to be in God’s “dwelling” (which is Resurrected New life, the Rising Mystery of Faith, as to dwell in the Lord–or as last Sunday’s gospel said it– to remain and abide and keep in the new life of The Lord and the power of His Rising). That’s Paschal Mystery Stage Two.
I will go to “the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” Again, Psalm 43 takes us to the Paschal Mystery and its third stage which is the Glory Reign of Jesus. The altar of God in Heaven is described several times in the Book of Revelation in Scripture. I like Revelations 19 where it says they “worshipped God Who is seated on the throne, saying: Amen, Hallelujah! From the throne came a Voice saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants, and all who fear Him, small and great…(then a sound of the multitude returned the call,) crying out: Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…And the angel said…Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Now I take you to a third Psalm that is written with Psalm 40 and Psalm 43 in mind. It is Psalm 47. It is our Responsorial Psalm today, and is much a celebration of The Ascension, even while written a millennia before Christ did it. (He had it in mind even then.) Psalm 47 is used at Ascension in our liturgy as for a great purpose. Because of our present and future hope in glory, God’s faithful body of believers pray: “Alleluia. All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness,For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. God (in Jesus the Lord) mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord. Sing praise to God, sing praise!”

Yes, this is the description of the summation of the Paschal Mystery, of going to the Altar of God as the Bride/Body chosen to wed Christ forever. The Groom has taken His place at our goal of Heaven. In Heaven’s Sanctuary, at the altar of God, He takes His place, at the throne, amidst song and music! He bids us to draw near to Him and come.

Other Psalms ring out in agreement, pre-proclaiming the Ascension, as well. Consider what Psalm 110 says: “The Lord said to My Lord: Sit at My Right Hand, till I make Your enemies your footstool. The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.” Psalm 111 is the people’s response to the Messiah’s victory, as they shout “Praise the Lord. I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” This Ascension Mass of 2015, this was the Church’s intent–to gather in thanks and as one people (one bride).

Side note: And some brides and grooms wonder why we ask them to be married in church?! It is all in imitation of The Wedding Union of all people to God, made possible by Christ’ Ascension. Now He waits at the altar and sanctuary for to process in. A celebration of Holy Matrimony in a church is a living sign of the love that God has for His people (He has laid down His life for us) and that God’s people have in return to Him (by accepting and wedding Him forever).
The Sacrament of Matrimony mirrors the Greater Mystery of Love. Ephesians 5 is a Bible chapter all about it. As couples are called to become one in His Name and by His inspiration, as a human blessing– so are people called to love God and be His own forever, in a true surrender of the heart. And the reminder of that great, divine Wedding and Supper is in every prayer before Holy Communion, as the priest says: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Then we say in words: ‘Say the Word and my soul shall be healed’ Or—we can paraphrase it this way: ‘You have said the word of invitation–You love me and you are calling me– so I come to be whole in Your love.’ (Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.) Our actions of coming forward to receive Communion means a whole lot to God, and it ought to be sincere on our part, in approaching Eucharist, because it is something like the kiss of the engaged. As we come up to the altar (or even celebrating a spiritual communion with God), we are saying that we want to our love to be fully consummated at the altar on High of God’s sanctuary in Heaven. Holy Mass has this intimate connection to that hopeful moment of Glory. So, at Holy Communion in Mass, we are invited to be one with God. We come fearfully forward, or otherwise said, we come with great respect and reverence and in humility; we come forward to intimacy with God.

The Paschal Mystery and the Ascension go so together! As the Mystery of Faith sings out: “We proclaim Your death” (Your sacrifice, Your proposal of Divine Love), O Lord, and we “profess Your Resurrection” (O Jesus, Your new life alive within us, by means of Your Spirit), and we celebrate this “until You come again” (yes, indeed, we hope for glory–and our living for Christ and in His Body is all worth it).

More Ascension thoughts

What is significant about Christ’ Ascension?  I think of a trio of things here… which were on my mind this past weekend.

1. The Ascension of Jesus restored humanity’s possibilities to live again with God in the center of our being.  
2.  Christ Jesus went from being one anointed man on the earth Who was pleasing to the Almighty, into implementing His secret plan to multiply His Presence into the souls of millions and billions of believer.  
3. Christ made Himself to be God’s Tower for all of us to be connected to God.

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Such deep concepts as these are hard to write about.   How can one describe the eternal workings of God in Christ in some paragraphs and words?!    Oh, but I’ll try, so as to make best sense of this Ascension feast of ours.

The one and perfect Jesus had lived on earth and then was received up to God.  So, there was One Christ on earth. He was The One anointed person on earth Who was pleasing to the Almighty.  (Several Bible verses bear out this truth.)  Jesus was both God and man.  He was God in Spirit (The Supreme Eternal Being) and He was God come now in flesh among us (The Incarnation).  Then, after being risen and ascended, He explained that now our lives were made clean in His Mercy, and in that forgiveness we were now free and able to believe and be partakers in the Divine.

The Mystery of 1 went on into the Mystery of 1 partaking in 1,000,000,000 and more. Because of Christ at the Throne (taken at the Ascension) Christians now are Christ’ embodiment in the world. As a saint once phrased it: ‘Christ’ body now is you. Yours are the feet and hands in which He moves compassion around in this world…’
Thus, a Mystery unfolded in this Incarnation. God had tabernacle Himself in the world (as John writes about in His gospel in chapters 1-3) and then Jesus said in concluding His ministry time that “in three days He would raise up a restored Temple.” He was talking of His body and of believers in it. He was coming to live in His people. He explained: “The Kingdom of God is within you.” “I Am with you always, even to close of the ages of this world.”
Of the Mystery of One Lord being given out to the many, Jesus liked to show it in the breaking of bread. His Mystery of Life would be as like a multiplication of Himself. While we would not at be saviors or lords, as only Jesus is Savior and Lord, he would make us to be able to have and share His life within us, and then spread His life everywhere in the world. The mystery of 1 into billions. It is why the Church Fathers liked to call the believers as “other Christ’s.” While the idea got distorted by some cults of modern times, it is a good concept. We were made to bear Christ in us. He will live His life out through us. We are God-bearers or God-carriers, a nice title once given to St. Christopher.

This Plan of Jesus matched up to what was God’s original plan for us. We were designed to have God live in the midst of our lives, anointed in power and love and unity to all other people and all creation. It was the originally graced life. But sin disrupted all of that, as we all blew it, but now it was a design to be recovered. Since Jesus arose and ascended to God’s throne, and since Jesus reigns, now God in Christ could live within the scores of people who would be open to receive Him (ref. John 1:12). 

What a marvelous, secret plan this was of God! In post-Ascension time, Jesus went from living on earth in His one person, in the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ of Nazareth— now onto living in others. St. John in his epistles exulted in this plan, saying that we are now children of God and children of light (not equals of God), and what we are to finally become has not yet been revealed, but perfection is God’s aim for us. St. Peter from his epistle marveled in the divine/human participation newly going on, preaching how we are partakers of the divine nature in the Living, Reigning Christ (ref: 2 Peter 1:4).  St. Paul had great things to say in Ephesians 1 in the epistle for Ascension Sunday. Because of His Ascension to His Right Hand, the Father gave the Son “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, (to receive)
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” There it is again. The Mystery revealed by the Reigning Christ is now in His indwelling to believers. I like best how Paul puts it so succinctly to the Church in another epistle; Colossians 1:27 says: “It is Christ is in us, the hope of Glory.”
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=== <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< ^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ ========= ========= ===== ##### Excuse the doodling, but I was thinking of satellites and cell towers at the moment... I liken of what Christ did in His Ascension as in the fixing of the signal between God in Heaven and our bodies and souls on earth.  Humanity before sin and our Fall from grace had once a soulful and bodily fellowship with God.  We were friends.   We had a God-shaped place within us, and had the indwelling of God.   We were God’s to inhabit and God was God to us:  all love and light and goodness and inspiration to us.  It was good.

But then, by our sinning as humankind, in choosing the wrong way to go with our freedom of choice, we had become separated from God.  The problem of the cut-off signal was at our end, our souls now were lost to this once wondrous relationship with God.   So God became one of us to repair it.  (I am purposefully using communications terms.) There really was no way we could fix our communication break with God; not on our own power.   Our salvation had to be from God.  Our reparation had to be from God.   This is what Jesus did.  He came as our reconciler, our Savior, our Redeemer.

Jesus once explained all of this to Nicodemus in the John 3 dialogue on becoming born again.   He said:  “There is no one who has gone up to Heaven, but there is One who has come down from Heaven, namely the Son of Man whose home is in Heaven.”  And to Nicodemus, Jesus explained how a person needed to be “born of water and the Spirit, or they cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  Flesh gives birth to flesh (but now flesh gives birth in sin) but The Spirit of God gives birth to spirit…so you must be born from above…”

You know, when I have a phone in my hand, or a computer on, or a tv receiver on my house— I can’t get communications going until something is done to make it so.  The phone or computer internet or tv access people need to do their thing.   Satellites and towers need to be up.    This is what God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit do.

We the Christians and the Church, then, are granted access and we communicate in a spiritual realm in Jesus, as well as in a holiness of the body in Him.

When Jesus took His throne, the New Covenant and New Life operations went into effect.   It gives new meaning to me as Jesus as the “Tower of Strength” or the “Cosmic Christ” or “Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

Now we can see how Christ’ finishing His earthly ministry led to an Ascension.   He had repaired us by being our offering for sin and giving our souls and bodies a cleansing in His Blood so that we could begin again.  By His entering death and going through it to Heaven’s side, He made it a gateway.   He gave us Sacraments and His Word for means to reach Him, and He asked for prayer from our renewed minds and souls, and service to Him through our blessed bodies.    We need not a Wifi password–our born anew lives are the passcodes.

We can now receive God in our souls as regular believers in Him, and its more that an internet signal, it is God in Christ Jesus that we receive.   As St. John said in his opening line of the Fourth Gospel, “but as many as who received Him, to them He gave right to become children of God, of those who believe and trust in His Name for living.”

A Story for the Ascension– An Inner City Application of Faith’s Power

Here’s the story of the Catholic lawyer who applied this above lesson, of getting back to realize how Jesus is on The Throne and is due our praise and service. It some city unrest and violence in his boyhood streets (where his parents still lived) to shake him up into practicing faith again.

The lawyer man had once been a good practicing Catholic boy, but he had lost much of the practice once he left home. He still considered himself a Catholic, but mostly a coasting Catholic, coasting on his childhood faith. He was the only son of two practicing Catholics from an inner city parish, and that parish and neighborhood was now seeing bad times. When he returned back to see his parents three times a year, he was disgusted at the decline of the city of his youth. As he visited, the parents could see that success in his lawyer career path was all he was set upon in focus, and that his Catholic faith practice was lukewarm and waning. This young lawyer was starting to come into some serious money, and the comfort and pleasures and power of it was what fooled him into thinking he didn’t need help from God or any guidance any more. He was doing fine on his own, so he thought.

Yet this particular return trip back home to his parents’ house had woke him up. It was dramatic, too, for their was unrest in the city area of his parents, due to some stir-up between police and some locals. That had led to some looting and fires, and street mayhew. The lawyer man was hoping to convince his parents to move out immediately and come out west to live near him. He would pay for it all. He had the money. The parents heard his appeal but wouldn’t go for it. This is our home and parish, and the church and its people is the anchor of hope left here, so they said to him.

The Back Story. This man remember the neighborhood as a boy. It was an industrial city back then, with factory jobs, though the industry was starting to down-size and move away to cheaper foreign places. It led things to being a struggle for his parents and family, and others, to make it through during the downturn of the industry there. However, while things were getting drearier in the city, his parents would rely even more on prayer and participation in their Catholic parish. He followed his parents’ example back then. They always seemed to be in prayer, whether in the parish church or at home, or else they were doing some Christian neighborly things with others in the parish.
One very neighborly thing done his way was from a retired man down the block. The neighbor had offered his free time to be his tutor to help this young man with his studies all through middle school and high school. This resulted in him graduating with honors, which led to the break at 18 years old of a full scholarship to an out-of-state college in California. From that opportunity, he turned his college success into law school and a successful start of a law career out there on the west coast. His parents remained on in the old city neighborhood and they kept strong in their Catholic Faith.

He had not come home to visit his folks like he ought to have. Not recently, anyway. Yet the unrest in the city back home had worried him (about his parents’ safety). He decided to come back for the week of Palm Sunday through Easter. At Palm Sunday Mass, he noticed that man was still around in the parish who had tutored him in his youth. Now he was an usher at Mass, and still friends with his dad and mom. Just seeing him again made him humble of heart, thinking that his successful career in law was somewhat owed to that man’s charity and time given to him.

So it was “Holy Week” which meant lots of church with his mom and dad, though he was not used to so much church anymore. His elderly parents still lived in the same row house in the city, right across from the church. He walked them over for Palm Sunday Mass, daily Mass, St. Anthony Tuesday night prayers, and Holy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday liturgies. Being in church rekindled some of the faith of his youth. The steadfast example of his parents’ faith also embarrassed him in comparison to where he was at now in his journey. Back-sliding. Yet he had been a good son, if mostly long-distance at it. Through these years, he was helping them live with payments for their assisted-living help and for repairmen to come in and keep up the row house home. He wished now, though, that they would move out west with him. The violence in the streets a couple of weeks ago was reason enough to provide their escape. He had the good money to fund it all.

This lawyer and son was really dismayed at the poor condition of the whole neighborhood–with the local youth center and gym closed up, the playgrounds all abandoned due to broken equipment and worn conditions, and other things lost that had been enjoyed in his own childhood there. He looked at this experience as like Good Friday in his soul. It was difficult to see the old neighborhood in so much suffering.

Discussing with his parents the possibility of their moving, he was startled at their desire not to move. ‘We are keeping the parish going here,’ they said, ‘and this is a source of hope for the hurting people here. We want to be buried in the church cemetery. This is our home, son.’

He wondered and prayed on that Good Friday at the parish (and with his folks in church) of what he could do to help this city place.

On Easter Sunday the church had a good crowd (half-full) and he enjoyed the message of the homilist about Christ’ Resurrection Victory which led to His Ascension. The homilist said: Look to Christ at the Throne to get your true bearing. The Resurrection is Christ’ Victory for you and His Ascension Mystery is about the power Christ invests in you, as from His Throne, and also put into you in His Spirit to reign in your hearts. Your soul is the God-shaped middle source where life is meant to run in holy inspiration.’ The returned son and lawyer man was touched by those words, and then he took a jet back westward to his home and law practice. Monday’s work was calling.

In the Spring season that followed next, when he was back at his West Coast law practice, he kept his eye on the news stories to see if calm had come to his home neighborhood. He wondered what the police and mayor and governor were doing to help the old neighborhood get back on its feet again. Then a small voice in his thoughts was heard: ‘I am on the Throne, and I send power to you to do something about your old neighborhood. Bring some peace there. You are My channel.’

A huge case was won by him and his firm, bringing in tons of money to him, and some great publicity for his law talent. He took this blessing to mean that there now was a way for him to bring a helping hand to the dying parts of his folks’ neighborhood. With advice from his parent’s pastor back in the city, via phone calls, the lawyer man offered strategic help and funding (anonymously) to the fixing up of his boyhood community, including the church community center, the gym, the area playgrounds and to parks and sidewalks in the neighborhood. It was Rising Time! He had a connection with the mayor to get the work going quickly. He found a few Catholic lawyer friends to pitch in fund more to the project. It was a wonderful start. The funded renewal project continued all through the Summer and into Autumn.

The next trip to his parents’ city home was for Thanksgiving week. Unfortunately, his folks both died, though peacefully, at home on November 19th. So, there would be a funeral Mass on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving for both of his parents, who had died in their sleep on the same night. It was a little strange to happen that way, but also so touching, for the kind of togetherness his parents had always shown. So he stayed that week in their humble row house, and while there, he noticed that the neighborhood was better now, with new sounds of children and youth playing, and families walking about the streets and on re-paired sidewalks. Some people were sitting on restored park benches in the spruced-up parks. With just a few months of loving attention, and with the mayor’s private approval, this charitable lawyer’s efforts had done a lot for his childhood neighborhood. His California lawyer buddies flew out for the funeral to see him, and they all smiled to see such improvement around the city blocks. ‘It is good to give back,’ they agreed.

People came out to the funeral in good numbers. No one had really been told it was he (the couple’s lawyer son and some of his friends from work) that had paid for all of the recent neighborhood renewal. Yet some of the neighbors had guessed that he was the probable one who did it, especially with his look of appreciation that he gave when passing by the fixed up places. At the funeral Mass, word of that probable donor being him had leaked out and it had filled up the church with grateful neighbors. Nobody asked him if he was the donor, they just smiled his way and they gave some nice witness in the wake and Mass and burial rites to him about his nice parents and how good it was that such original owners in a row house had stayed on in the city.

Suddenly, in that moment of offering up his parents to God in the Mass, the man was filled with inner joy about all that was occurring around him, even amidst this difficult parting moment, and he realized he was part of a journey in now knowing about the dying to rising to reigning stage of a faith walk (The Paschal Mystery.) He had given much back to his home neighborhood, and his parents were personally glad to see his rebounded faith and charity. They could go in peace to God now. The returned son to the neighborhood, by his great charity, was learning that you can’t out-give God, as now this city native was getting back a hundred-fold from God.

In the parish cemetery next to the church, where he laid his parents to rest, he could see an improved, upbeat neighborhood. Charity was now a blessing on the streets. While much urban renewal still needed to come, he saw what one caring heart could do. He looked over from the cemetery and saw some teens at a new basketball court, getting ready to play. Yet, they had been waiting courteously to play ball, until after the funeral dismissed. He knew by that all things were brightening up here at home.

The day was a bit cloudy, but streams of light were breaking through the clouds down to earth. He thought: It’s just like The Ascension Mystery. From His Throne, the Lord sends down Light and Love to and through His people.

Added note: The new community center for the church had been named. It was open and they used it for a repass reception. He saw that it has been named for someone. He asked the pastor about it. The pastor explained: Your parents named it. They named it after our usher here, who they say tutored you when you were young and helped you to become a scholar. That man is quite happy about the place being named for him.

So was our returned son. He went over and found that man and gave him a big hug.

The Paschal Mystery and the Ascension Homily/May 17th

Intro/ We are nearing the end of the Easter Season. It brings us to the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, as now liturgically celebrated on Sunday in most dioceses. Then, next week-end brings us to Pentecost Sunday. In the Gospel today, the gathered disciples of Jesus are seen as all looking upwards, for a long time, up there on Mount Olivet.  There are gazing up long after Jesus’ Ascension has taken place and lifted Him out of sight.   The angels have to show themselves and say:  ‘You can all go now!’  (He’s out of sight!)

I once went to a Space Shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral.   I was acting like that Scriptural account of the Ascension; we first timers to a launch just kept looking up, wide-eyed like fascinated children, about 20 minutes after the lift off!   So, if I could be so fascinated in the space travel of astronauts from a rocket launcher and spacecraft, I would suppose that seeing a person (as in Jesus) ascend to the skies, without the help of anything, but just taking off—that would be the most amazing thing to see!

What of this Ascension of Jesus? Why did he ascend bodily from their sight? I can tie this image in to the Paschal Mystery.   Jesus has given us His Body to live in.  He has chosen to indwell in us so to connect us to Himself and His Ascension.  The “body” is like the spacecraft built.   Jesus has made it so that He can embody us and form us in a vessel that can get to Glory.    So stage one for a launch is to have a vessel.  It is pre-described as in Psalm 40 in the verse of the King awaited:  “You have prepared a body for me…”   In Jewish hope, Jesus will be the New Ark of deliverance.  People will be invited to come into Him and His Perfect Sacrifice, and by their own submission to the divine will, repent and believe and be invited to be Christ’ Body, the Church.

Let’s get to stage two and three in my analogy.  It is about the Launch and then our
Reaching the heavens.  You are really talking here about the Ascension and Pentecost effects of the Paschal Mystery.

In Psalm 47, which is today’s Psalm for Mass, you have the vessel put on the pad for launch, and in Jesus’ Ascension, the words of David’s Psalm (from a millennia before!) really fits.  “God has gone up with a shout… Sing praises!….He is king over all the earth!…The Lord reigns over the peoples from His throne.”   This is fulfilled in the God-man Jesus.   King David’s Psalm 47 was prophesizing the time to come when the Lord (the eternal Son) would be King on earth, and say to the Lord in Heaven (The Father)– I present these people.   David knew that while he was the king anointed of the nation, truly only God was The King of Israel, and He would come and be able to present a people to God.   So this is what the Ascension was about.  
Add in the opening verse of Psalm 110 for a confirmation:  “The Lord says to My Lord, Sit at My Right Hand, ’til I make Your enemies Your footstool.” That verse shows how the Ascension makes The Glory ahead possible, when all darkness is vanished.

In His Ascension, Jesus fulfills the dream.  Just like in Psalm 47 or in Psalm 110, He presents us to God on High.   From His throne now, too, He re-presents us.  He is one of us. He’ll be the Mediator from here on. What position and experience we once all lost to sin–such as having the life on God indwelling in our souls–could now be regained in Jesus–as a people of the Lord who could learn how to become friends and servants and lovers of God again, for a paradise-regained hope.  Jesus assures in the Gospels, too, ‘that where I AM–you can now hope to reach.   I put the Mystery within you (John 13:36; John 14:1-4).’

Remember the three-fold dimension of our Mystery of Faith? (I preached in early Spring about it.)  In Jesus, it is Dying-Rising-and Glory.   It is His Sacrifice and His Body Crucified to forgive sinners. That is the Dying Mystery.  Then, in the Rising Mystery, it is His Resurrection and Ascension, which shows that His Offering was acceptable to the Father, and that Jesus came into Heaven to reign at the Throne, even as humanity’s perfect Representative and Head (and still as the Eternal Son).   In the Glory part to be anticipated, of the Paschal Mystery (#3), God prepared a way for us to have Christ enter us, and to be His Body, under Him as the Head.  Because of this joining, we could have connection to Jesus in Glory.   He said:  ‘Where I AM going, you may also be.   I prepare a place for you in Heaven.’ (John 16)… so ‘remain in Me, as I AM in The Father, so you can be in Me, and I in you.’ (John15)   Jesus was saying: I have re-conciled you to God.  I have given you re-connection with God.   So be connected and remain connected.
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In this day and age of phone, internet and tv satellite communications, staying connected is important to people.   Yet one weakness of my satellite dish company is that the signal goes out during bad storms. I have been inconvenienced and bothered in missing a crucial end of a ballgame a few times, but the worst part is my not being able to get crucial weather reports on tv in those stormy, black-out moments.  Plus, in phone communications, one’s connection can also go out.   I was receiving an important call last Friday, as I rode along as a passenger in a car and then the line just died out in that valley and crossing area at the Patuxent River Bridge on Central Avenue.  There are places without a tower to connect you by phone, and it will drop your reception whether it is a dire call or not.

Let’s relate that to the Ascension.  The Lord Jesus is come to re-connect the world to God, and to get our souls in Person-to-Person communication with Him again, and to bring holiness to our bodies, minds and spirits.   As Jesus reigns on the Throne, a weak signal now to God could only be blamed on our part, due to our sin or neglect or indifference, or the world’s effects, but we can always find that God has made the connection strong and available to us in Him.   I have a new meaning to Psalm 18 now, by the way, which says ‘The Lord is a strong Tower.’  Yes, He is my Mediator Tower to the Throne and Graces from God :)

So let’s compare the church to a vessel that is like a spacecraft designed to transfer us into Heaven. We have communications from Jesus on the Throne.  Christ offers us His own Body, and it is good for the journey into eternal life.  Our Eucharist is the living sign of this hope and reality.   As Jesus ascended, He says that we co-ascended in Him.  We are connected in Him, so we can find power for Him to lift us up into Glory, and as from the Reign of the Lord at the Throne and His Spirit imparted to us at Pentecost.  He is able!    Jesus asked His disciples to pray from the original Ascension until Pentecost, a tenth day away, and He asked them to pray for the Coming of the Holy Spirit.   That’s almost like a countdown.   10-9-8-7-6-5 days left to Pentecost… 4-3-2-1.   The Birth of the Church.  Pentecost then is lift-off.   The Spirit is sent to us to assures the success of the Mission.  He will help us unite in Christ, and glorify Christ, and to live in Sacrament bond and in a Vocation to God.  He will be the power. (ref. Acts 1:8)
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Let’s review those final lines from Mark’s Gospel today, about the Ascension.  It announces: “So then the Lord Jesus, after He spoke to them (on the mountain), was taken up into heaven and took His seat at the right hand of God (from Mark 16).”   This description makes a big deal of the God-man person Jesus now sitting at the Throne.   It will bring access of all humanity in Christ’ life to be re-connected with God.   He is our Mediator between Heaven and earth.   Humanity has a restored place with God.  We shall learn how to be children of God again, and we shall learn step-by-step and in trust like little children.  Jesus said:  “Unless you become as a child, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”   So, there are many lessons we need to grow into maturity in Christ.   But we are started in it….and we have to keep growing and trusting God ahead.

As we heard in Acts 1 today, the disciples of Our Lord did not understand fully why Jesus was going.  They asked Him questions.  I like how John’s gospel (John 16) gets to explaining further Jesus’ purposes: Jesus says that (vs. 6) His going to the Father is “better” for us, as He says, because some things can now kick into action, like that “the Advocate will come…(because) I will send Him to you (since I will reign now in Heaven).” That reference is to His sending the Holy Spirit. And, what is kicking in? It is all Christian life– the Christ-in-us life.  It is nothing short of a whole new era of living on earth to be opened up on earth!

As the Acts of the Apostles tells throughout Luke’s account of things, in this new Christian age the Holy Spirit can lead people to become holy and to be united and to be formed as Christ’ body, the faithful.   By the Spirit, we can become inspired to do things with Christ-in-us.   We are now cooperators with God of our lives.  So everything kicks into fulfillment at the Ascension. Christ Jesus, God the Son, sits in Glory and He promises the Spirit to us, who believe. He shall help you live the new life, just as He anointed Me to live in for you first.

Psalm 47 gives us some advice on how to live this anointed life.  It begins with praise. God’s faithful body of believers are to pray: “Alleluia. All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness, for the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. God (in Jesus the Lord) mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord. Sing praise to God, sing praise!”  What a great Ascension Psalm this is.

====Homily end.===== For a great story that follows through on this Ascension Homily, read the next blog.

Listing of Recent Blogs (since April 2)

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Doggone!   Have we come so far but not given you a Recent Listing of Blogs?

Here are the Blogs Done by me since Holy Week and April 2…

+ = homilies

May And April Blogs

Baby Names       First Holy Communion        Honor a Great Mother+       Funerals in Easter Season and in Mary’s Month        There is Something About Mary       Recapitulation: An Easter Theology to Know     St. Joseph the Worker-Patron of the Underappreciated       Jesus The Shepherd and The Gate+        Taking a Walk in the Risen Faith+        30 Days with Therese A, B, C         Activities of a Roaming Catholic Pastor        The Missing Thomas in our lives+        The Paschal Mystery and a Life Glorious        Alright, Alright, Alright–Easter Vigil+        Paschal Mystery: The Case of Philemon and Onesimus–Good Friday+        A New Passover/Pasch–Holy Thursday+

March and Late February Blogs

Points from the Passion Gospels    The Paschal Mystery Faith versus the None One+     What the Dismissal at Mass really means     The Paschal Mystery and Liturgy+            A  Long Article in Two Parts on the Paschal Mystery (definition in detail)                        A Solid Meditation on Paschal Mystery        Not a Concept or Idea, P.M. is a Person+     40 days to pray vs. 50 shades of grey         An End of the Day Act of Contrition       Topple Ye Not+      Retreats & Recollections and Re-collections and Re-connections    A Catholic Young Adult Field Trip     The Rising+      Living in Pasch with Jesus+        The Walking Ad     A Good Lent     The Paschal Mystery: A Lenten Approach+           The Seven Sorrows of Mary Meditation       We Open Up Lent+      Don’t Give Offense+  The Cardinal’s Appeal     Remembering the Doctors of the Church