Ss. Peter & Paul: Who do you say that I am?

 "Who do you say that I am?"

Many have reflected on the importance of this question both for the disciples, and for ourselves. We might do well to think about it ourselves on occasion. But as I was preparing for today's Liturgy, an aspect of that question stood out in a way that it hasn't before.

Certainly, it's an important question, and it called for a statement of faith from Peter. His faith was well-placed and well-articulated. So well, in fact, that Jesus gave Peter the all-important keys to the kingdom, and the power to bind and loose sins. This power has been appropriated to the Church through apostolic succession. So when you receive absolution in sacramental confession, it is because of Peter's faith that you receive it. That's a beautiful thing, I think, because it connects us to Jesus through the apostles as handed down through the Church.

But here's the thing that stood out for me last night: it wasn't so much what Peter and the apostles said about who Jesus was that constituted their statement of faith, and their answer to Jesus' question. The answer really came from the way they lived their lives.

Peter was, as Scripture shows us, an impulsive man. He often said and did the wrong thing, but just as often said and did the right thing. One minute he was walking on water, the next minute he was overcome by the wind and waves. Today he's professing his faith in Jesus, but a few verses later and Jesus is telling him to get behind him. He's nowhere to be found at the Cross, having denied his Master three times, but later professes his love for Jesus and accepts the responsibility to feed his sheep. But though it all, he was a man of conversion, and finally gave his life for Christ, suffering martyrdom under Nero in about the year 64.

Paul, as we know, was a Jew, and a strict one. He went so far as to persecute Christians for their faith, and even took part in the martyrdom of St. Stephen. But Paul, too, was a man of conversion and completely changed his life on the way to Damascus, becoming a great apostle, theologian, and missionary. He, too, was martyred, ending his life in Rome.

Both of these great apostles answered the question "Who do you say that I am?" by living lives of conversion, following Christ, and laying down their lives for Christ. They are examples to all of us, who also are asked to answer the question "Who do you say that I am?" So how have we been answering that question? What answer do our lives give?

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Caritas Christi Urget Nos

This was my first homily at my new assignment, St. Raphael. So there’s a bit more about me in here than I’d usually go for, but the nice part is that it fit in so well with the readings.

In the Deacon Chapel at Mundelein Seminary, the institution where I spent the last five years, there is an inscription over the sanctuary that reads in Latin, “Caritas Christi Urget Nos.” The translation of this Latin phrase is found in today’s second reading: “The love of Christ impels us.” I have also seen that phrase translated, “The love of Christ compels us,” or maybe even better, “The love of Christ urges us on.” And we know this is true, don’t we? The love of Christ fills us up and the love of Christ sets us on fire and the love of Christ moves us into action. The love of Christ begs to be shared because the love of Christ cannot be contained. The love of Christ, if we let it, takes over our lives and empowers us to do things that we never thought we could do.

I reflected on why Cardinal Mundelein would have put those words over the sanctuary of the Deacon Chapel at the school. I think it’s there as a reminder of what brought us there and what we were there to do. For those of us studying to be priests, it’s good to remember that it wasn’t our own initiative that brought us to the seminary. Sure, we had to cooperate with God’s grace, but it was that love of Christ that moved us to be there in the first place. And, coming to the chapel, we were there to celebrate the great power of Christ’s love in the sacrificial meal that he left us as a remembrance of him. We were there to remember that Christ died for all of us, as St. Paul tells us today, and that because of that we are made new creations.

On the inside of my door at Mundelein Seminary, posted so that I could see it on the way out each and every day, was an 8 ½ by 11 inch sheet of paper that bore that same inscription: Caritas Christi Urget Nos. That sheet of paper wasn’t posted by Cardinal Mundelein or anybody else. I’m the one who put it there. I put it there as a reminder, too, of what it was that brought me to seminary. Because, in all honesty, some days I needed to be reminded of why it was I was doing what I was doing. Why was I studying a particularly difficult piece of theology? Why did I need to immerse myself in formation? Why did I need to do more to enliven my prayer life? Why was I studying for the priesthood at a difficult time in the Church’s history? Well, because the love of Christ impelled me to do it. I’ve found that’s the only reason that is ultimately satisfying, and that it’s only by going where the love of Christ takes me that I’m ever really happy.

Today’s Scriptures paint a picture of a God completely in control. God is the one who sets the boundary for the sea and clothes the sky in the garments of the clouds. God is the one who overcomes death through the death of Christ and God is the one who creates the world anew through his Resurrection. God is the one who pilots the voyages of our lives and God is the one who calms our storms. If even the wind and the sea obey him, then we who are filled with his love are certainly impelled to do his will.

Because the love of Christ impels all of us to do whatever it is we are called to do. The love of Christ impels some of us to raise children and create families where faith and love are priorities. The love of Christ impels some of us to live single lives with purity as a witness to the Gospel. The love of Christ impels some of us to be business men and women of integrity as a witness to God’s justice. The love of Christ impels some of us to priestly and religious vocations as a witness of faith. All of us are impelled by the love of Christ to do something to share that love with others and to show that love to a world which desperately needs to see it.

We all could take a lesson from that inscription over the sanctuary of the Deacon Chapel at Mundelein and somehow put those words where we will see them each day. Because we all need to be reminded from time to time why we give of ourselves or deny ourselves or do more than what we’re expected to do. We need to remember that it is the love of Christ that impels us to live as examples and witnesses of the faith, so that others might see and believe. We need to remember that it is only by giving ourselves to our Lord, and trusting him to calm our storms, that we can ever be truly happy. The ultimate fulfillment in life comes from doing what Christ’s love impels us to do.

As I begin my time here at St. Raphael, my prayer is that we will all use this time to grow in holiness together. We are all a people created by God and baptized into his Church. We are all a people of talents and gifts and faith. We are all a people loved by God and urged by that love to do great things in the name of God. We will do that by supporting one another, by praying for one another and by praying together, by celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments together, and by sharing our faith and our lives together. I look forward to the time that we will spend together and pray that it will be a fulfilling time for all of us. I am grateful for the welcome you’ve already shown me in many ways, and for all of your prayers and support. Please know that you will be in my prayers every day. Let us rejoice in our being together, and let us all, as the psalmist tells us today, give thanks to the Lord, whose love is everlasting.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

There’s a commercial I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks that I like. It shows little vignettes of people having near miss accidents, who are saved from those accidents by other people. So a woman on the way out of a restaurant moves a coffee cup on the table of a man whose elbow might knock it over at any minute. A man stops to yell to alert a truck parking that it’s about to run into a motorcycle. There’s a whole bunch of them showing people doing little things to help other people. The announcer says something like “when it’s people doing these things, we call it responsibility.”

Have you seen that commercial? I like it, but I think they have the premise wrong. Because I think that when it’s people doing things like that, we ought to call it love. Sure, it’s not the same kind of love that you might have for a spouse or family member or even a friend, but it’s the kind of love that helps us go outside ourselves and work for the good of others.

Today, we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus’ love for us knows know bounds. In today’s Gospel, we see that not even death could limit his love for us. As he hung dying upon the cross, his love for us never wavered. And even after his death, the soldier’s lance helped blood and water to pour from his side. The blood that poured forth from Jesus’ side is the same blood we will be able to partake in this morning in the Eucharist. A blood that nourishes and strengthens us. A blood that cleanses us from our sins. The water is the same water you dipped your hand into on the way in today: the waters of baptism. That water washes our sins away and brings us into the body of the Church. The blood that poured forth from Jesus’ side as he hung on the cross continues to make his love present to us in the Church.

One more way that the love of Jesus is made present in the Church is through you and me. We have to, as one of my professors used to tell us, love what Jesus loved as he hung on the cross. And that means that we are called to love each person we come in contact with, whether it’s our own friends or family members, or even a complete stranger. When we love each person in little or small ways, then some measure of the love that Jesus had on the cross for that person, the love which poured forth from his Sacred Heart, is poured forth upon our world yet again. The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus isn’t meant just for us to hoard: we are meant to share it, so that that love may grow and abound and spread through all the world.

May the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus draw you in today and be in your heart and in all that you do.

The Body and Blood of Christ: Sacrifice, Meal and Abiding Presence

Today, I didn’t get to preach this homily. I didn’t preside at either of the Masses I attended; I just concelebrated. Which was fine, but I wanted to write a homily anyway, so that I didn’t lose the discipline of doing it. This isn’t as polished as I’d like it, but rather a first (and only) draft.

Today’s readings.

Today we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ: the great gift of God to our Church and to our world in which we receive our salvation and in which the whole world is redeemed. We experience the Body and Blood of Christ as sacrifice, as a communal meal, and as abiding presence.

As sacrifice, we experience Christ’s body and blood as the ritual that frees us from sin. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are present in a memorial way at Calvary, where Christ laid down his life for us on that cross, to pay the price for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This sacrifice is decidedly not like the sacrifice Moses offered in our first reading, but is a perfection of it. Moses’ sacrifice was that of bulls. It was a gory, bloody sacrifice, in which the people were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice to remind them of the covenant. In our sacrifice today, we participate in an un-bloody way the sacrifice not of bulls or goats, but of our Lord and Savior, who willingly laid down his life to free us from sin. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that if in Moses’ time, the sacrifice of bulls and goats brought people back into covenant with God, how much more does the sacrifice of God’s Son bring us into perfect union with God our Creator? In Christ’s death and resurrection, we are reborn into a living hope of seeing God face to face, something that in Moses’ time, nobody could do and live. Christ’s sacrifice also was not something that had to be repeated time and time again; he did it once for all on the cross, and we in the Eucharist have the opportunity to participate in that one sacrifice in anamnesis: in a memorial way.

As communal meal, we are fed by our Lord and Savior in a most perfect way. When we gather as one body, we bring all that we are and all that we experience to the meal. We bring our daily struggles and imperfections. We bring our pursuit of holiness, with all its successes and failures. We bring our joys and our sufferings, our successes and our losses, our love and our pain. We bring all of this together to the one table of Jesus Christ, united with all of the prayers of the Church on earth and the saints in heaven, along with the bread and the wine, all to become the perfect Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who fills us perfectly and nourishes our body and spirit. When we partake of the one loaf which is the Body of our Lord and the one cup which is His Blood poured out for our salvation, we who are many become one, and all of our sins and failings and brokenness is bound up and sanctified and redeemed. This one meal fills our every hunger and gives life to our spirit. In this one bread and one cup, we are nourished in a way that we will never hunger and never thirst for anything else, ever again.

As abiding presence, we experience our Lord, who has ascended beyond our sight, in every time and place. At his ascension, Christ promised that he would be with us always, until the end of the age. The Body and Blood of Christ is the visible sign of that presence, the sacrament of his love, present in the Church for the redemption of the whole world. As we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord at Mass, and as we kneel in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we experience in a very real way the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to be with us always. That beautiful sacrament empowers us all to go forth and see Christ’s presence in other ways: in the action of our love and service to one another, in our families and our communities as we reach out to one another in need and are present to one another in joy and in sorrow. The presence of Christ in our Church is made visible in each one of us, and that presence overflows to every corner of our world to preach the Gospel in word and in deed. Through the Eucharist, Christ is truly with us always until the end of the age.

This word, “Eucharist,” means “thanksgiving.” It is truly the thanksgiving of our participation in the life of God through the saving action of Christ on the Cross. It is truly the thanksgiving for the nourishment that we receive through the sacraments and the Church. It is truly the thanksgiving for Christ’s abiding presence in our world.

On this Father’s day, we can also experience that thanksgiving in our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, godfathers and spiritual fathers in many ways. All that these men have been for us in our lives is a visible reflection of Christ’s abiding presence in our Church and in our world. We truly give thanks for each one of them and encourage them all to continue to live as witnesses of the Gospel and of Christ’s love for all of his brothers and sisters. Through their example, may we all take us the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.

myCatholic.com

Are you using myCatholic.com as your start page yet? If not, you definitely should. This is a wonderful service of Sacred Heart Media, which is a great replacement for my Yahoo!, in my opinion.

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Also, their service is outstanding.  With Yahoo!, you'll never get a human to answer your question.  I had a problem adding my own feed via RSS to my myCatholic start page, and they went above and beyond the call of duty, finding the problem in a plugin for WordPress.  This obviously was more than they had to do, but they were wonderful about it.  So yeah, you need to be using myCatholic for your start page.

Give it a try. You'll wonder what you did without it.

Good Idea: LibraryThing

Library Thing: An Online Book Club?

I stumbled across LibraryThing today. It’s really kind of fun, and I hope it continues to do well. On LibraryThing, you can add your own book library, import your wish list from Amazon (or a list from just about anywhere), and maintain your library online. You can see some random books from my LibraryThing bookshelf on the right sidebar (go ahead and look … I’ll wait…)

Done? Good. Now go to LibraryThing and sign up. You can sign up for free to keep track of 200 books, or get unlimited tracking for $10 for a year or $25 for life. Why would you do that? Simple, if you love to read, it’s a great source of leads on the books you like. The more books of your own that you add, the more recommendations the site can give you from people who read the books you do.

I just started to play with it tonight, but I am really looking forward to exploring it. Now the next time I really need a new mystery novel, I can check for some recommendations and go from there. Very nice. Give it a look-see if you like to read!