The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today’s readings

sacred-heart-of-jesusI remember when I was growing up, often visiting my dear grandmother.  She and I were best friends in so many ways.  I remember when we visited that she had a beautiful framed picture in the living room, given a spot of honor where everyone could see it, and that picture was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Whenever I think of the Sacred Heart, I remember grandma, whose name was Margaret Mary, named after the saint who promoted veneration of the Sacred Heart in the first place.

And so, today we celebrate, with incredible gratitude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through his most Sacred Heart, the love of God is made manifest among us.  This love is a pervasive love that burns in our hearts and changes our lives and leads us back to the God who made us for himself.  This love is irresistible if we give ourselves over to it.  It is a love that pursues us and a love that can go far beyond whatever distance we have fallen from grace.  It is a love that, as Hosea tells us in the first reading, is rich in mercy, and, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, dwells in our hearts through faith.  The love of God pours forth from the heart of Christ just as the water and blood poured forth from his side as he hung dead on the cross.  Death could not stop the outpouring of grace that he came to bring.

God, of course is love, and because we were made to love him, we have some of that love that is God within our own imperfect, sometimes stony hearts, that love that helps us to reach beyond ourselves and reach out in our need.

Three years ago, when I first came to St. Raphael, the first daily Mass that I celebrated with you was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And so it only seems appropriate, and yes, a little sad, that my last daily Mass with you is this same feast day.  It’s appropriate because all of you have helped me to come to know Christ’s love in so many beautiful ways.  In our worshipping together, and also in our serving together, we have loved one another and loved others in Christ’s name.  Celebrating Mass with you on these weekdays has been a labor of love for me, because you all come every day ready to celebrate and listen and pray and take the grace with you into your service in the day ahead.  What a great gift you have been to me; I will never forget that.

St. Paul prays that we would be filled with the fullness of God.  May we all be filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, so that we can pour that love forth onto a world which longs to be soaked in that love.  May the Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on all of us.

Thursday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think it’s good to have this Gospel reading about the Lord’s prayer in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  So often with familiar prayers like this, we can say them so automatically that we can get to the end of the prayer without the prayer ever registering in our minds.  So when we have the reading about the Lord teaching his disciples to pray, it is good for us disciples to pay attention, would that our prayer would be revitalized and God’s grace increased.

The part of the prayer that leapt out at me today as I was reflecting on the Gospel was “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I have been reading a reflection on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Cyprian, and this part of the prayer was the part I read about yesterday.  As Cyprian points out, this line doesn’t mean that we are praying for God to accomplish his will.  He can do that quite well without our asking for it, thank you.  The point of this part of the prayer is that God’s will would be accomplished in us.  And again, God can certainly do that, but it’s up to us not to throw up the obstacles.

There’s a catechetical skit about the Lord’s prayer that goes back to the 70s.  In a humorous way, it portrays God conversing with someone praying the Lord’s prayer.  Here’s the part that deals with this section of the prayer:

God: Do you really mean that?

Prayer: Sure, why not?

God: What are you doing about it?

Prayer: Doing? Nothing, I guess. I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control of everything down here like you have up there.”

God: Have I got control of you?

Prayer: Well, I go to church.

God: That isn’t what I asked you. What about your temper? You’ve really got a problem there, you know. And then there’s the way you spend your money – all on yourself. And what about the kinds of books you read and what you watch on TV?

Prayer: Stop picking on me! I’m just as good as the rest of those people at church.

God: Excuse me. I thought you were praying for my will to be done. If that is to happen, it will have to start with the ones who are praying for it. Like you, for example.

Prayer: Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups. Now that you mention it, I could probably name some others.

God: So could I.

Prayer: I haven’t thought about it very much until now, but I’d really like to cut out some of those things. I would like to, you know, be really free.

God: Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. We’ll work together, you and I…

Saint Cyprian sums up what it means for God’s will to be done in us: “To be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when it is done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one’s heart; to love God because he is a Father but fear him because he is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ because he preferred nothing to us; to adhere inseparably to his love; to stand faithfully and bravely by his cross; when there is any conflict over his name and honor, to exhibit in discourse that steadfastness in which we proclaim him; in torture, to show that confidence in which we unite; in death, that patience in which we are crowned – this is what it means to want to be co-heirs with Christ, this is what it means to do what God commands, this is what it is to fulfill the will of the Father.”

What is God trying to do in us these days?  As we pray the Lord’s prayer later in this Mass, let’s let it be a true prayer that God’s kingdom would be manifest among us as we truly strive to let God’s will happen in our lives.

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is one that’s certainly very familiar to us.  But if we’re honest, every time we hear it, it must give us a little bit of uneasiness, right?  Because, yes, it is very easy to love those who love us, to do good to those who do good to us, to greet those who greet us.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is right.  There is nothing special about loving those we know well, and we certainly look forward to greeting our friends and close family.

But that’s not what the Christian life is about.  We know that, but when we get a challenge like today’s Gospel, it hits a little close to home.  Because we all know people we’d rather not show kindness to, don’t we.  We all have that mental list of people who are annoying or who have wronged us or caused us pain.  And to have to greet them, do good to them, even love them, well that all seems too much some days.

And yet that is our call.  We’re held to a higher standard than those proverbial tax collectors and pagans that Jesus refers to.  We are people of the new covenant, people redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so we have to live as if we have been freed from our pettiness, because, in fact, we have.  Our parish theme this year is welcoming, and, in the light of today’s Gospel, that means welcoming whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, welcoming all those who are in our path, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.  And we welcome that way because that is how Jesus has welcomed us.

We are told to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That’s a tall order, but a simple kindness to one person we’d rather not be kind to is all it takes to make a step closer.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining. We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed. Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people. Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course. The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our Creator and Redeemer.

What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people. We have just recently finished the Lent and Easter seasons, in which the history of God’s work in salvation history has been beautifully recalled. Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices. God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.

God has repeatedly sought to covenant with us. Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire: “You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.”

And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face. God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us. Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant do not nullify that covenant. God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s jealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant. The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses. The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

And so we, the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant. The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his body which he gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean.” God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave.

We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant. Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes people test our desire to covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us. But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us. And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them. God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path. As the alternate opening prayer for today says, “May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit…”

We do this in so many ways. Here at St. Raphael, one of the important ways we do that is through our support of Hesed House and Loaves and Fishes. The Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry began in a closet here at St. Raphael in 1984. That year, eight families were helped. This year, as the year began, 1,800 families were helped, and that number has grown by about a hundred families a month due to this economy. Most recently, the pantry helped 2,800 families. I was privileged to offer the invocation at their 24 Hours Without Hunger event two weeks ago. The executive director expressed the organization’s deep regard for St. Raphael, noting that although so many Naperville churches currently support them, St. Raphael’s continues to be by far their largest congregational supporter.

We absolutely should feel good about the ways we show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we cannot rest on our laurels, as that number of families served continues to grow, we who are able must be strong in our support of them. One of the particular needs they have in the summer months is to provide extra food for children who, during the school year, receive a free lunch at school. They want to provide additional juice boxes and healthy snacks for kids this summer. Maybe we can all buy another box of snacks or juice boxes the next time we shop. Or even add slightly to our envelope for Loaves and Fishes on the second Sunday of the month. This is a great option because every dollar we give them can buy $10 worth of food through their sources. A small effort can be a great blessing to those in need this summer.

God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us. We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.

The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others. May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to everlasting life!

St. Anhony of Padua

Today’s readings

St. Anthony is probably one of the best-known Catholic saints. As the patron for finding lost objects, I’m sure so many of us have prayed, “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We all lose track of things from time to time, and it’s nice to have someone to help us find them. Now that I’m getting ready to move, I’m sure I’ll be calling on St. Anthony a lot!

But the real story of St. Anthony meshes very well with the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’“ St. Anthony was devoted to the mission of the Gospel and was very clear about how he wanted to get there.

The gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ was the rule of Anthony’s life. Over and over again God called him to something new in his plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrificing to serve his Lord Jesus more completely. His journey as the servant of God began as a very young man when he decided to join the Augustinians, giving up a future of wealth and power to follow God’s plan for his life. Later, when the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed, he was again filled with an intense longing to be one of those closest to Jesus himself: those who die for the Good News.

So Anthony entered the Franciscan Order and set out to preach to the Moors – a pretty dangerous thing to do. But an illness prevented him from achieving that goal. He went to Italy and was stationed in a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading the Scriptures and doing menial tasks.

But that was not the end for Anthony’s dream of following God’s call. Recognized as a great man of prayer and a great Scripture and theology scholar, Anthony became the first friar to teach theology to the other friars. Soon he was called from that post to preach to heretics, to use his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology to convert and reassure those who had been misled.

So yes, St. Anthony is the patron of finding lost objects, but what I really think he wants to help us find, is our way to Christ. As a teacher, a scholar and a man of faith, he was devoted to his relationship with God. And so his intercession for us might go a little deeper than where we left our keys. Maybe we find ourselves today having lost track of our relationship with God in some way. Maybe our prayer isn’t as fervent as it once was. Or maybe we have found ourselves wrapped up in our own problems and unable to see God at work in us. Maybe our life is in disarray and we’re not sure how God is leading us. If we find ourselves in those kinds of situations today, we might do well to call on the intercession of St. Anthony. Finder of lost objects, maybe. But finder of the way to Christ for sure.

St. Barnabas, apostle

Today’s readings

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, comes as close as anyone outside the Twelve to being a full-fledged apostle. He was closely associated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between the former persecutor and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold. He and Paul instructed in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

We see in today’s first reading that Paul and Barnabas had become accepted in the community as charismatic leaders who led many to convert to Christianity. The Holy Spirit set them apart for Apostolic work and blessed their efforts with great success.

Above all, these men hungered and thirsted for righteousness, a righteousness that went beyond the mere rules and regulations of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness based on a right relationship with God. This is a righteousness that could never be disputed and the relationship could never be broken. Just as they led many people then to that kind of relationship with God, so they call us to follow that same kind of right relationship today.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we might follow their call to righteousness by examining our lives. How willing are we to extend ourselves and reach out to others and not be bound by mere human precepts? Blessed are we who live in right relationship with God and others. Blessed are we who follow the example of St. Barnabas and blessed are we who benefit from his intercession.