Thursday, May 24, 2012

Come, Holy Spirit!

Feast of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11/1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25/Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 15:26-27; 16:1-15

The Feast of Pentecost is the celebration of the sending of the Advocate—the Spirit of Truth promised by Christ at His Ascension to those gathered on the mountain that then assembled in the Upper Room, waiting to receive the Paraclete.

 Who is the Holy Spirit? While we have a sense of understanding of God the Father through relationship with our own fathers, and God the Son through our relationship and understanding of children and the love flowing between parent and child, our comprehension of the Holy Spirit may be a bit more difficult to wrap our minds around. How do we enter into relationship with Spirit? All three are manifestations of God—three in One, the Holy Trinity—yet the Spirit is a mystery.

St. Therese of Lisieux understood the Holy Spirit to be the love flowing between God the Father and Son, which extends from them to us, thus joining all into unity and communion. What a beautiful and powerful image!
To better understand the Power of the Spirit, we can look at the fruits—the outward actions realized when the Spirit is alive in us. St. Paul lists these in Galatians, where he notes they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Another outward sign of the  manifestation of the Holy Spirit is the lens through which the world is seen. Here I want to compare the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and Pentecost, as described in Acts 2.

In the Old Testament story, it is noted that all men had the same language and the same words. Problem is they also thought they could get to heaven on their own—with no need of God. Using their common language, they worked together to build a tower reaching into the sky. While it is good they were all cooperating—the ‘fruits’ of their work were not. The goal of their activity was to make a name for themselves—lest they be scattered and separated. Pride once again reigns. The fruit of their labor was not love, but vanity. The separation between God and man as a result of the Fall was brought about by the pride of Adam and Eve, who desired to be like God. Same holds true in Genesis 11 with respect to reuniting with God. There is but one that can restore unity between God and man—and that is God. In short, we cannot save ourselves—it doesn’t matter how tall the tower is! Man’s building project in Chapter 11 results in the coming down of God from heaven, saying: Let us go down and confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of the other (Gen 11:7).

The ‘us’ in that passage is the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. It takes all the way to the New Testament and the sending of the Savior, Jesus Christ, to see the undoing of this action through the work of God. Unity is restored through the Advocate sent by Christ: the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth given and received at Pentecost. Acts of the Apostles 2:4-6 notes: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

The gift of tongues—one of the charisms of the Holy Spirit— is not babbling as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes ( Faithful adherence to the text of Sacred Scripture makes it obligatory to reject those opinions which turn the charism of tongues into little more than infantile babbling, ( rather, the gift of tongues is the ability to evangelize, to proclaim the Word of God in a way that is heard by all.

The Word of God brings unity and peace. God is love and if this is the case—the unifying ‘language’ we are called to proclaim is love, profoundly lived. The example we are to follow? Jesus, Love Incarnate who so loved the world that He laid down His life for us (jn 3:16).

This profound love for another is the living witness of the Gospel message. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12). When we live love this profoundly, we will be true witnesses of Christ in the world. When we speak love this purely, we will proclaim His Name to all who have the ears to hear. When we manifest His love in our lives, we will become images of the Divine Love the world so desperately needs to see, hear, and experience. When we live love in the image and likenss of God, our lives will bear fruit and the world will know the Savior. The Name of Jesus will be on our lips, in our hearts, before us, and in all we see and hear. How beautiful the feet of those who bear the Good News! (Romans 10:15)

Come Holy Spirt, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth!

Monday, May 21, 2012

And You Shall By My Witnesses

Holy Mary, pray for us!
We celebrated the Feast of the Ascension and look forward to the coming of the Advocate promised by Jesus to those gathered on the mountain prior to His Ascension. While Pentecost is the culmination of the Easter Season--from resurrection until the ascent of the Holy Spirit--it is significant in the life of every disciple as we realize the Power of the Advocate to empower, guide, and send us out to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.

Being a disciple should never consist of a life lived quietly and privately, but rather, with zeal and conviction. We live in perilous times. Our religious freedoms are being attacked. Today, Catholic institutions, agencies, and dioceses across the nation filed 12 lawsuits challenging the Federal Health Care mandate on the grounds of First Amendment violations (right of freedom of religion).

I wonder what our founding fathers would say if they were here today? The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Amendments lay out the blueprint for our nation. Focusing specifically on the First Amdendment, we read:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress grievances.

What this guarantees is the the government cannot impose a 'religion' upon its people or restrict the practice thereof. Somehow, this definition and right has been hijacked. We live in times where "tolerance" has given way to the ursurping of rights. Being "politically correct" is more important that professing truth. The dignity of the human person has given way to justify any action that makes us "happy" which is defined individually, with little thought or regard to those who our "happiness" affects. Rights are trampled. Politicians listen to special interest groups and lobbyists more readily than the citizens who elected them.

I have great faith that the American spirit, however, will not be silenced, any more than the disciples whose hearts were enflamed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That same Spirit lives in the hearts of those baptized with water and the Holy Spirit--in the hearts of those who call Jesus their Savior. Now is the time for all disciples to find their voice, speak out, and profess with the love, zeal, and conviction of the Apostles, early disciples, saints, and martyrs. The message must be loud and clear--witnessed through their love for God and belief that one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, is more than a historical note, but the country that is land of the free and home of the brave!

Check out the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's site for more information on the law suits and initiatives, including the Freedom Rallies on June 8 and Fortnight for Freedom activities. Go to:

for more information. Let us pray that we may be guided by the Holy Spirit. Immaculate Mary, Blessed Mother and Patroness of our country, pray for us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

May the Eyes of Your Hearts Be Enlightened!

The Ascension by Salvador Dali
Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1:1-11/Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13/Mk 16:15-20

The Feast of the Ascension, typically celebrated 40 days after Easter, is transferred to the following Sunday in many dioceses in the United States. Whether celebrated on Thursday or Sunday, this Feast is of great significance as it give us, as disciples of Christ, our "marching orders."

Not to be left as a 'story' from the New Testament written a couple of thousand years ago, this command by Christ is given to us as well today. Also called "the Great Commission", it is our vocation to go and make disciples--to "proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes will be saved" (Mark 16:15-16).

When you think about it--there is an urgency to the message. Christ is our salvation. It was through His death and resurrection life triumphed over death and the great victory was won. It is only through belief in Jesus that we are saved.

One of my young adult children asked me not too long ago why it was so important to me that she went to Church. A million thoughts were running through my mind--Scripture passages, quotes from the Catechism, writings of saints, but in the end, it came to this: " I love you so much that I want you know Jesus intimately, because I want you to know eternal happiness--I want you in Heaven."

I say there is an urgency to this message because so many in our world today choose to live contrary to the Will of God, to the teachings of Christ and His Church. We can make a million excuses why this is the case, but in the long run, I think it is because we aren't open to the Advocate whom Jesus also sent to give us the strength to be witnesses for Him in the world.

People cannot know Christ if they do not see Him present. Pope Paul VI wrote in his Apostolic Letter on Evangelization in the Modern World, Evangelii Nuntiandi, that: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses (#41)." Problem is we have convinced ourselves, as a society, that it is politically incorrect to talk about our faith and beliefs publicly. We have bought into the notion that if we do, it will be off-putting to others. We have stripped our charitable works of the image of Jesus in our midst. If we truly believed every single person's salvation depended on encountering Christ, would we continue to be timid? Would we continue to silence the Good News? I venture not--for our own salvation also hinges on whether or not we proclaim what has been given to us. The question, therefore, becomes, where do I find the confidence and strength to live as Christ commands?

Jesus didn't just send His Apostles and disciples out unarmed to preach, teach, and heal, but at the Ascension He instructed them to go back to the Upper Room and wait, "for you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus knows our weaknesses and thus, promises to send an Advocate. The Person who gives us the strength, courage, ardor, and zeal to be bold witnesses of the faith is the Holy Spirit. Those who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost became fearless witnesses of Christ's love. They courageously proclaimed the Gospel, despite fear of persecution. The communities of faith founded by believers, as written in Acts 2, grew in love and number due to this great witness. What would our families, parishes, and society look like if we realized the power of the Holy Spirit in lives? I daresay, drastically different than they do today!

What we often don't realize is that we receive the same Holy Spirit given to the disciples at Pentecost in our baptism--one of water and the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we have been given the gifts and charisms (given for ministry to others) and our vocation (our marching orders) to live as disciples, proclaiming the Gospel to all we encounter. The question then becomes, how do we stir within us the ardor and zeal to be bold witnesses of Christ in today's world, re-igniting the Spirit? How do we discover those charisms given to us so that we may serve God and others as He intends? How do we open our hearts and minds to the Good News so we can follow in the footsteps of the saints and holy men and women, who throughout the centuries, have been witnesses for the people of their times?

To quote St. Catherine of Siena, "Do not be satisfied with little things, because God wants great things" (Letter T127). We can do great things when we realize the power of the Spirit has been given to us! Let us pray, "Come, Holy Spirit, come! Stir within us and rekindle the flame of love in us so that it consumes us--so that we may go forth and proclaim Your Good News to all!"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mother's Love

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48/1Jn 4:7-10/John 15:9-17

Here in the United States we celebrate Mother's Day on May 13. The readings for this Sunday are fitting, since they talk of God's love and how "everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God" (Jn 15:9).

When I think of motherhood, I admit that I never really understood the depths of love until I had children of my own. For my own Mother, I was the typical child--when I was little, the sun rose and set on my Mother's words. When I was a teenager, nothing she said or did was quite right. As a young adult, she never understood my ways. In her dying, she taught me the greatest lesson of all--eternal love, for despite all of my transgressions and stubbornness my Mother loved me.

On the night before she died, my Mother called me. When the phone rang, I feared the worst--for I knew how sick she was. Wracked in pain and weakened from her cancer, I have no idea how she dialed the phone from her hospital bed. When I answered, I could hear her faint whisper. "Judith" she said, "I love you, I have always loved you, and I always will love you." I told her how much I loved her as well, little knowing those would be the last words I heard from my Mother. I hear those words all these years later and they are still sweet. Each time I celebrate the Eucharist, I know my Mother is celebrating with me in the eternal banquet and that brings me peace. My Mother, while physically not by my side, is with me for all eternity through love.

A mother's love. As I said earlier--I never truly understood love until I had my own child. The love that is truly the imitation of God was discovered through the the bearing forth of new life. The creative, active force of creation (eros), with the self-giving and sacrificing love (agape)--this is the image of God's love we are called to be. A mother carries the child she has not yet met inside of her, sacrificing her body for the one who exists because she offers her very self for their being. This love for the unknown one is so deep, a mother gladly gives everything she has for the life she has not yet held in her arms, kissed with her lips, seen or spoken to. Through great pain and suffering that life comes into the world--yet it is followed with such great joy that the agony is erased. Mothers know the Paschal Mystery in an intimate way--through great agony comes great joy if we but cooperate with God.

The readings from this Sunday speak of love and how we are to love one another. It is not an ideal, but a command from the Lord to "love one another." When we love as God loves, this love will bear great fruit--fruits of a society where all is rooted in love as emulated by Jesus Christ--not the distorted love that man has created and promulgated.

Women know intimately what it means to bring forth life through love as God loves--to be bearers of hope. Our Blessed Mother is our example--not solely for women, but for all believers. Mary's 'yes' is an  act of great trust and love. It is opening oneself up completely to the Will of the Father so that we may be life for the world.

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focalarre Movement, reflects on the vocation of Mary and how we are to emulate her as we live our vocation as disciples of Christ. Chiara writes:

I went into church one day and with my heart full of trust, I asked (the Lord):

“Why did you wish to remain on earth, on every point of the earth, in the most sweet Eucharist, and you, you who are God, have not found also a way to bring here and to leave here Mary, the mother of all of us who journey?”

In the silence He seemed to reply:

“I have not left her because I want to see her again in you. Even if you are not immaculate, my love will virgninize you, and you, all of you, will open your arms and hearts as mothers of humanity, which, as in times past, thirsts for God and for His mother. It is you who now must soothe pains, soothe wounds, dry tears. Sing her litanies and strive to mirror yourself in them.”

How can we, like Mary, be a mirror of God's love? How can we be bearers of hope and love in a world in need of both?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jesus said, "I am the True Vine"

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31/1Jn 3:18-24/Jn 15:1-8

In reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, especially taken within the context of the Easter season, they give us a clear picture of discipleship. Not only what is expected of us in the way of word and action, but in the idea that we must be open to transformation.

The readings begin with the story of Saul—the very one who just a few short chapters ago in Acts, was breathing murderous threats against the believers in Christ. Saul has been transformed through His encounter with the Lord on the way to Damascus and now desires to move among the believers. This is the same one who stood as witness to the stoning of Stephen—the first martyr of the faith. Is it no wonder that people are a little cautious? It isn’t until Barnabas takes Saul to Jerusalem to the Apostles that Saul begins to move freely among the Jews, however, the Greeks were another story! Lovers of truth and philosophy—I am sure the Greeks didn’t know what to make of Saul’s claims. What do we do with someone we don’t know what to do with? We silence him! The Hellenists and their desires to kill Saul were no different than today’s society that threatens to silence the Christians who speak truth in a time of turmoil.

How do we effectively preach the word, then, if there is constant fear of being silenced? The first Letter of John tells us how—through our actions. By living the truth in our daily lives, through our joy-filled expression of how life in Christ transforms, and by loving our neighbors as witness to our love of God, we do more to spread the Good News of the Gospel than a thousand sermons. One other thought also struck me when I reflected on this reading—how little we have to worry if we have faith in the Almighty! If we have confidence in God’s goodness and know that He is watching over us—what freedom is ours! If we remain in Him and are open to the Spirit who is our guide, we will never be led astray. That doesn’t mean that life will be without pain or suffering, which leads to the hope of the Gospel message.

John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus as the vine and we, as His children, the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. Any gardener can relate to this metaphor. For many of us, we can go along with the reading until the writer begins discussing pruning and being thrown out if we do not produce good fruit. How can this be? Doesn’t God love everyone? Doesn’t God forgive everyone? It almost sounds in this reading like heaven isn’t an automatic ‘given.’ What is that about? You mean we actually have to believe in this and radically change our lives if we are to know eternal life?

This is where our society’s values and God’s differ. I remember when my children played soccer at the very young ages—the refs never kept score because “it didn’t matter who won.” As they got a bit older, awards ceremonies were done away with in school or modified so that everyone won some kind of award. Outlandish behavior was celebrated as expressing uniqueness, even if it didn’t mesh with healthy standards of living. Heaven forbid we hold up a standard and have children strive for something!

Problem is the kids figured it out pretty quick. They kept their own score and still could distinguish the kids in class who were ambitious versus those who never put forth any effort on their own, but rather, waited for someone else to do their work. The children also developed a sense of right and wrong—which may or may not have complied with the school’s system. What this did was build up confusion and disharmony—all traits that the book of Acts noted were not part of the early communities of faith. When disharmony exists, mistrust breeds. When mistrust is rampant, there is chaos and disorder. These are not traits of a society that uplifts the dignity of the human person, but rather, creates a culture of “every man or woman for themselves.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Even recent issues of Time and Newsweek featured articles on heaven and Jesus which basically trumpeted society’s ability to rethink heaven and come to know Jesus without guidance of the Church He founded, allowing us to name how to get to heaven and place parameters on Jesus. Who needs a god when you can create your own?

This is where pruning is necessary. Those traits that hold us back from being the person God needs and wants us to be must be destroyed or else, we will not be able to flourish as holy men and women of God. A friend of mine often tells this story when we are discussing this very reading:

Gardeners who grow tomato plants know how important it is to remove the suckers from the plants. Suckers look very similar to the tomato branches, with a very slight difference. Both will flower and bear fruit, but if the suckers are not removed, the plant is drained and the harvest is low. If you want your plants to flourish, you must snip off the suckers so the stronger vines receive the proper nutrients so as to bear the biggest and best fruit. Problem is suckers look very much like the other branches. It is only through close scrutiny that you can tell the difference.

Our lives as Christians are like this. Sin can look very tempting—and hey—if I sin just a little, that’s okay, isn’t it? Problem is one little sin, multiplied many times over, drains life from the community. When family life is chaotic due to an abusive member, the whole family suffers. When crime is rampant in a community, the entire society suffers. Pruning means looking at our own lives and eliminating the actions and habits that do not lead us to a life of virtue and holiness. In addition, pruning doesn’t mean excommunicating family or society members, but asking ourselves, “What is love for that person?” and then acting upon it—fraternal correction done in love. Just as Barnabas and the Apostles took Saul under their wings to form Paul, one of the greatest of the evangelizers, we are called as disciples, to walk with those who are growing in faith, standing by them in their challenges, and with love, helping them to grow into the disciple God wills them to be so that they, too, can bear much fruit.

Let us reflect this week on how we can help others, as well as ourselves, to grow strong in the faith so that we, like the early disciples, can bear great fruit and thus, transform our society into one of love and solidarity for God and neighbor!