Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today we’re gathered on what is, for us, the eve of the Ascension.  While the reading that we have in today’s Gospel is from John’s account of the eve of the Passion, the words could well have been spoken to the Apostles on the eve of the Ascension too.  So Jesus is speaking of a day in the future when his disciples could go directly to God the Father and ask for their needs in Jesus’ name.  That would be possible because Jesus has redeemed fallen humanity, and brought us back to the Father, cleansed of our iniquity.  But as they hear it, they had to be confused and maybe even a little brokenhearted at the idea of Jesus leaving them.

But Jesus did have to leave them, because the truth of it is that nothing will happen with the fledgling Church until he does return to heaven.  Only then will the Father send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church until the end of time, giving the early disciples and us later disciples the grace and strength to go forward and proclaim the kingdom and call the world to repentance and grace.  If God’s purpose is to be advanced on this earth, then Jesus has to return to the Father.  If the Spirit does not descend, the Church would not be born.  If the Church were not born, the Gospel would be but an obscure footnote in the history of the world.

The Good News for us is that the Holy Spirit has indeed come into the world, and continues to work among us today, as often as we call on him.  “Ask and you will receive,” Jesus says, and so we ask and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the glory and praise of God.  We disciples, we friends of Jesus, can count on his blessing, the rich gift of the Holy Spirit, the great witness of the Church.  Our lives are enriched by our faith and our discipleship.  On this eve of the Ascension, we are yet again on the edge of our seats, longing for the fullness of salvation.  But even our waiting is glory for God: what we do here on earth, what we suffer in our lives, all that we celebrate — all this will bear fruit for the glory of God.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

“You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for his not being among them in the flesh. He knows that his ascension to the Father was part of the plan, and he wants the disciples to be prepared so that their grief does not overwhelm the mission. He knows that they will indeed grieve, after all, he was fully human in that way too. He grieved over the death of Lazarus and grieved over the needs of the people he ministered to. He knew that sadness was to be expected and please note carefully that he did NOT tell them not to grieve: “You WILL weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you WILL grieve…” So he does not, as our modern society would, tell them to get over it and get back to work. He knows that grief is healthy and necessary.

But he also gives them hope. Because we Christians do not grieve as if we have no hope. He knows that salvation is the plan, and that death is no longer the end of the story. Their grief would indeed become joy. And joy isn’t the same thing as saying they would always be happy. But just because people grieve doesn’t mean they are not experiencing joy. Because joy is a condition that is not regulated by external circumstances. Joy comes from knowing that God is in control and that salvation is ours.

Joy ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus knew for certain he would be sending once he returned to the Father. The Spirit’s presence in our lives gives us a joy that the world and all its grief cannot ever take away. We too look forward to these events as we prepare for our annual celebrations of the Ascension and Pentecost. We may indeed be subject to grief in this life, in many forms. But we have been given the gift of the Spirit, we know that God is in control and that salvation is ours.

We may indeed weep and mourn while the world rejoices; we may grieve, but our grief will certainly become joy.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

There are a lot of miracles going on in today’s first reading.  First, there’s the earthquake that brings down the prison walls, although Paul and Silas did not take advantage of the situation.  Then there’s the conversion of the jailer, who was an employee of the Romans, and would have probably been expected to worship their pagan gods.  You might also note the rather miraculous faith of Paul and Silas, who despite being very badly mistreated on account of Jesus, did not abandon their faith but actually grew stronger in it.  And you might also consider it a miracle that, when they are jailed and singing hymns at midnight, the other prisoners didn’t gang up and beat them into silence!

When you look at it as a vignette, it’s all so amazing, although Paul and Silas probably just viewed it as part and parcel of the life they had been called to live.  They had faith in Jesus and they probably didn’t expect anything less than the miracles they were seeing!

People of great faith experience such great miracles.  This is not to say that all their troubles go away; Paul and Silas were still imprisoned, and continued to be hounded by the people and the government because of their faith.  But the miracles come through the abiding presence of Christ, giving us strength when we need it most, a kind word from a stranger that comes at the right moment, a phone call from a friend that makes our day, an answer to prayer that is not what we expected but exactly what we needed.  The Psalmist today has that same great faith: “Your right hand saves me, O Lord,” he sings.  Let us pray that our hearts and eyes and minds would be open to see the miracles happening around us, that we might sing that same great song!

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus has for us good news and bad news.  The good news is that he is eventually going to send the Holy Spirit upon the world.  The Holy Spirit will be a new Advocate for us, and will testify to everything that Jesus said and did.  The Spirit’s testimony will be further evidence of God’s abiding love for us, a love that did not come to an end at the cross or the tomb, but instead triumphed over everything to make known his salvation to the ends of the earth.  The testimony of the Holy Spirit, combined with the testimony of the Apostles, would be the birth pangs of the emerging Church, given by Christ to make the Gospel known in every land and every age.

But the bad news is, that glory won’t come without a price.  Those Apostles would be expelled from the synagogues and misguided worshippers would think they were doing God’s will by killing them.  Jesus knew this would be the lot of his baby disciples and he cares for them enough to warn them of what is to come.  It is an important aspect of their discernment to know what is to come.  Also, by warning them, he is preparing them for what is to come so that when it does happen, they may not be flustered or frightened, but might instead hold deeply to their faith, knowing that God’s providence had foreseen these calamities and they might know that in God’s providence, these calamities would not be the end of the story.

We are beneficiaries of the good news and bad news of today’s Gospel.  We have heard the testimony of the Spirit and the Apostles, have been nourished by the Church they founded, have been encouraged by all that they suffered to bring the Good News to us.  It is important that we too know that there is good news and bad news in the future of our discipleship.  The Spirit continues to testify and the Apostles continue to teach us – that’s the good news.  The bad news is, sometimes our faith will be tested, and sometimes our faith with cost us something.  But in the end, it’s all Good News: even our suffering will not be the end of the story.  God’s love triumphs over everything.

First Holy Communion

Children, I want you to remember one very important thing.  If you remember this important fact, you will never be lost in your relationship with Jesus.  That one thing is that God loves you very much.  God made you because he loves you.  Because he loves you, he had to make you, because he couldn’t live without you.  God is love – we know that – and the only thing he can do is love.  God loves you more than words can possibly say.  I want you always to remember that.

And that’s really why we’re here today, isn’t it?  You’re all dressed up so nicely, and you’ve come here with excitement in your hearts, and you look forward to doing something new!  God is excited too; I can tell you that!  Today, he is going to give himself to you in a whole new way: he is going to give you the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Jesus gives us his Body and Blood so that he can be present in our lives and show us his love every day.  God does this for us because – you guessed it! – he loves you very much!

We all know the story.  God made us out of love.  Because he loves us, he made a world for us to live in and gave us everything we need to live in happiness.  But somewhere along the way, we messed up, we sinned.  We turned away from God and told him, in a way, that we didn’t want to be his friends any more.  We did not love God as much as he loves us.  But because God loves us, there is no way he would leave that alone.  So he sent Jesus, his only Son, to be one of us.  He was born into our world as a little baby, and he grew up and lived among the people at that time.  He went through the world and taught the Good News that God loves us, and he healed the sick and did mighty deeds.  When the time came, he did what he came here for.  He died on the Cross to pay the price for our sins – not his, because he never sins – for our sins, he died.  And then, because death and sin could not have the final word in the world, he rose to new life that lasts forever.  He went back to heaven and has prepared a place for each of us to go if we just follow him there.  God loves us so much, he wants us all to be with him and be happy with him one day.

But we ourselves still sin sometimes, don’t we?  Sometimes we still say to God, by our actions and sometimes our words, that we don’t love him as much as he loves us.  But again, he doesn’t want to ever leave things that way.  So he gave us a way to become his friends again; he gave us the Sacrament of Penance in the Church so that our sins could be forgiven and we could experience his love once again.  You celebrated that sacrament for the first time just before Christmas.  God wants to forgive our sins because he loves us that much!

With our sins forgiven, he wants to be present to us all the time.  So before he left the world, he gave us the Sacrament of the Eucharist – his Body and Blood poured out in love for us – so that he could be with us forever.  Today, you get to receive that wonderful sacrament for the very first time, and no one is as happy about that as God is!  God is happy because he loves you very much and wants to be with you forever.

So it is very important that this isn’t the only time you receive Holy Communion.  As important as your First Holy Communion is, your second and third and hundredth and millionth Holy Communions are even more important!  This isn’t a one-time-only thing; God want to show us all the time how much he loves us, and he does that in a very special way in the Holy Eucharist.  So you will be coming back for your second communion later this evening or some time tomorrow, and that will be exciting.  When you do, you should wear your special First Eucharist clothes if you can so that everyone can celebrate with you.

And you need to take your parents to Mass with you every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Because it’s important that they also know how much God loves them!  Make sure that you all come to Church every week so that God can continue to keep you close in his love.

The most important thing you need to know is that God loves you very much.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do to be with you.  He looks forward to giving you everything you need to be with him forever.  If anyone ever asks you what the most important thing is that you have learned about God, you know the answer: God loves you very much!

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

When we pray the Creed, we always say that we believe in the Holy Spirit.  When we prepare for Confirmation, we study the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit and we get ready to receive the Holy Spirit in a Sacramental way.  But I often wonder if we are aware of the Holy Spirit on a day-to-day basis, in the everydayness of our lives, when the rubber meets the road.

The early Christian community certainly were aware of the Holy Spirit.  They saw some very powerful things happen as a result of the Holy Spirit.  They had the whole Pentecost experience and spoke in tongues.  But even more important than that, they grew bold in the Holy Spirit.  This was a group of men who were scared to death of what was happening.  They saw the Savior hanged on a cross, and they panicked at the idea of that happening to them too.  They scattered, forgetting for the moment all they had experienced with Jesus, trying to return to their former way of life.

And then Pentecost happened.  The Holy Spirit descended upon them, and they were able to speak to people in their own native languages.  They were able to cure the sick and do mighty deeds in the name of Christ, in much the same way as their Lord had done.  Not only that, they grew bold.  Instead of cowering in fear, today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows them fearlessly proclaiming Christ, founding Churches, writing to fellow Christians about matters of doctrine, and sharing the decisions of the Holy Spirit.

They were so in touch with the Holy Spirit, that they were able to tell others what the Holy Spirit wanted to happen.  They weren’t making these things up; they did it through prayer and a fervent relying on the Holy Spirit to help them build the Church.  Because they prayed to the Holy Spirit and consulted the Holy Spirit so constantly, they received grace from the Spirit and were able to act in prudent ways to found a Church that has come down through the ages to our own day.

This is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises those disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  At that time, they couldn’t have known how important the Spirit, the Advocate, would be to them.  But they know it soon enough.

What is important for us to know is that Christ promises us this same Holy Spirit.  He calls us all to receive the Holy Spirit and to rely on the Holy Spirit in all that we do.  Think about how different our lives would be if we asked for the gifts of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.  Think about how different our world would be if we prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide our business decisions, to help us vote wisely, to give us grace to deal with difficult decisions.

God wants us to have that kind of grace, that kind of guidance, that essential inspiration – which means to be imbued with the Spirit.  So that is why, in these days after the Lord’s resurrection, Jesus promises that, on returning to heaven, he would send the Advocate, the One who would continue to intercede for us and be present to us and guide us into the future.

Next week we celebrate the Ascension.  In two weeks we celebrate Pentecost.  On the eve of these two great events, Christ makes a promise to us.  He will not leave us alone.  He will come back to us.  And in the mean time, he will send us the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and Guide.  We should pray every day for a greater outpouring of the Spirit.  I do it every morning and rely on the Spirit’s presence in my day.  I use the prayer I learned when I was preparing for Confirmation.  Maybe you know it too.  If you do, pray it with me:

Come, Holy Spirit.
Fill the hearts of your faithful,
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Amen!  Come, Holy Spirit!

Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith.  The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The Gospels show us time and time again that Jesus came to proclaim his divinity, his oneness with the Father, so as to be the means of salvation.  Almost all of his hearers rejected this message, except for all but one of his disciples, and the centurion who noticed that he was the Son of God as he hung dead on the Cross.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, did not believe in Jesus’ divinity.  They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not consubstantial with the Father, but rather was created by the Father.  This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith.  If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us, and we are still dead in our sins.  God forbid! – And he does forbid it!

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius.  But it was a hard battle.  He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings.  His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed.  We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought.  But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy.  Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.