The Anniversary of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Cathedral

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Cathedral in Rome. That seems a little obscure to us, I know, but it’s an important feast for the Church because it is a celebration of Church and a reflection on what Church is. The Lateran Cathedral is the cathedral church for the Diocese of Rome. As bishop of the diocese, the Lateran Cathedral is the pope’s church. Because of that, Saint John Lateran is considered to be the mother church of the Catholic faithful. So it’s an important church, and it gives us cause to celebrate the Church as a whole, so this feast is celebrated throughout the world, and when it falls on Sunday, it takes the place of the Ordinary Time Sunday. So that’s why we’re celebrating the Dedication of Saint John Lateran today.

So let’s take a look at what Church (big “C”) is. The Church is a reality that is at the same time concrete and experiential and heavenly and eternal. The concrete structures of it are the nuts and bolts that make it work. The building itself, the parish staff, the rubrics of liturgy and the holy books, as well as teachings and dogma and sacraments – all of these are things we can touch, or learn or work with. But there is another layer, one more experiential. These include the people as a whole, on the way to holiness; the Word at work in believers; the effects of grace mediated through the sacraments; the Gospel lived out day by day and the love of God shown through Charity. And in yet another layer, the Church is not just here on earth. It’s in heaven, celebrated among the Communion of Saints and sung by the choirs of angels. And finally it is eternal, not just limited to our own puny ideas of time and space, but all wrapped up in the Mind of God who is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing. The Church is an incredible reality that has been pondered by people much more saintly and learned than I, and a reality that will be advanced and celebrated for ages yet to come.

The Scriptures today are a beautiful meditation on Church. The gospel is a little jarring, to be honest. Jesus has this famous dust-up with the temple merchants and officials. A lot of people find this disturbing, because it jars their view of Jesus as a peaceful man. For the record, I don’t think Jesus was about peace the way we think of peace. He was definitely more about zeal for the truth, for justice, and for proper worship of God, all of which is in play here. Those merchants were doing a necessary task, honestly. People needed to pay the temple tax, and they needed the proper coinage to do it, so there had to be money changers. People needed to make sacrifice, and they needed unblemished animals for it, so there had to be people selling animals. What didn’t need to happen was for these people to be taking advantage of the poor, and charging more than they should have. That was dishonest and unjust and Jesus was sick of it.

But even more than that, this whole dishonest structure was a view of Church that Jesus was saying was completely unnecessary now. The kingdom of God is at hand, we’ve been hearing that in the readings for months now, and so this unjust and corrupt view of Church needed to come to an end. So in his zeal for the real house of God, Jesus turns the old stuff upside-down. That’s what’s going on here. Saint Paul underscores the similar notion to the people of Corinth in today’s first reading. What is the Church? He says, “YOU are God’s building!” He and the Apostles have laid the foundation, and we are building it up, becoming a Temple of the Holy Spirit. There is an entirely new view of Church going on here, and it’s one that we should celebrate and have zeal for.

So today we celebrate Church; we peel back the Church’s many layers, touching and learning the concrete, living the experiential, asking for the intercession of the heavenly, and yearning to be caught up in the eternal. The Church is our Mother who has given us birth in the Spirit and who nurtures us toward eternal life. The river of God’s life flows forth from the Church to baptize and sanctify the whole world unto the One who created it all. The Church has its foundation in Christ, who also raises it up to eternity. Blessed are all those who find their life in its sanctuary.

The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the apostle.  This is a feast that commemorates Jesus giving the servant authority of the Church to Saint Peter, as we heard in today’s Gospel.  This is a special day of prayer for the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter among us.

It’s important to remember that Saint Peter was not chosen because he was perfect, but instead because he was faithful.  Even after he denied Jesus, he turned back and three times professed his love.  That’s an important lesson for us, because we too may have failed our Lord time and time again, but he always gives us the opportunity to turn back, to profess our love, and to be part of his mission once again.

In today’s Scripture, Saint Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the One who comes in God’s name.  Making that proclamation is the task of the Church in every place, and in every age.  We disciples are called to faithfulness, just as Peter was; we are called to conversion, just as Peter was; and we are called to witness to the authority of Christ in every situation: in our Church, yes, but also in our workplaces and in our homes.  With the Lord as our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want in any situation.

Mass for the Election of a Bishop

Our diocese this weekend is celebrating the Mass for the Election of a Bishop, praying for the prompt appointment of our next bishop.  So I did a brief homily on what a bishop is and does, followed by a talk about (sigh) money.  You get just the first thing here!

As you may know, our diocese has not had a bishop since early December, when Bishop Sartain became the archbishop of Seattle.  Since then, Bishop Siegel, our auxiliary bishop, was named the diocesan administrator.  He can keep the diocese running, but can’t really make any substantive changes.  So at this time, we are waiting for Rome to select a new bishop for us, and today we celebrate a special Mass for the Election of a Bishop, praying that the Holy Spirit would help Pope Benedict find us a man who is holy, and loving to his people and clergy.

 

Bishops were selected in the Church pretty early on, during the time the original Apostles were dying off.  These successors to the Apostles helped to ensure that the faith was handed down to us as the Lord intended it.  They administrate the Sacraments and see to it that the diocese and its parishes live and witness to the Gospel message in the present time.

 

Candidates for the office of Bishop have to be priests.  When there is a vacancy in a diocese such as ours, it can be filled by a man who is already a bishop somewhere else, or by a priest of our diocese or even of another diocese.  Names for these candidates are submitted to Rome through the Papal Nuncio, who in the United States is Archbishop Pietro Sambi.  These candidates are examined very closely, and without their knowing, I might add.  If the person selected is already a bishop, he is installed in the diocese within a short period of time.  If he is a priest, he is ordained or consecrated as a bishop, which automatically installs him as the bishop of the diocese.

 

The diocese of Joliet in Illinois was erected in December of 1948, carved out of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the diocese of Rockford, and the diocese of Peoria.  Since then we have had four bishops.  Bishop Martin McNamara, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, served from the erection of the diocese until his death in 1966.  Bishop Romeo Blanchette, a priest and auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Joliet, served from 1966 until 1979.  Bishop Joseph Imesch, an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Detroit, served from 1979 until his retirement in 2006.  Bishop Peter Sartain, who was bishop of Little Rock, served from 2006 until this past December.

 

And so we continue to wait for word of who our next bishop will be.  We are a rather large diocese, of around 700,000 Catholics spread over seven counties.  Popular opinion suggests that that means we won’t have to wait very long.  Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would inspire all those involved in the decision so that we have a wonderful bishop who can serve us and help us move our diocese forward in spreading the Gospel to the people of our seven counties.

 

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the apostle. This is a feast that commemorates Jesus giving the servant authority of the Church to St. Peter, as we heard in today’s Gospel. This is a special day of prayer for the Pope, the successor of St. Peter among us.

It’s important to remember that Peter was not chosen because he was perfect, but instead because he was faithful. Even after he denied Jesus, he turned back and three times professed his love.  That’s an important lesson for us during this Lenten season.  We too may have failed our Lord time and time again, but he always gives us the opportunity to turn back, to profess our love, and to be part of his mission once again.

In today’s Scripture, Saint Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the One who comes in God’s name. Making that proclamation is the task of the Church in every place, and in every age. We disciples are called to faithfulness, just as Peter was, we are called to conversion, just as Peter was, and we are called to witness to the authority of Christ in every situation: in our Church, yes, but also in our workplaces and in our homes. With the Lord as our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want in any situation.

CREEDS Retreat Conference II: The Eucharist and the Church

Scriptures: Matthew 26:14-30

Godspell: “Beautiful City” and “On the Willows”

The Eucharist is an amazingly complex event.  Ordinary food – bread and wine – become the very body and blood of our Lord and God.  Through the Eucharist we mere creatures are given the opportunity to take part in the very life of God our creator.  That life giving body and blood join to our own flesh and blood and raise us up from the base creatures that we are to become more like our divine Savior.  In some way, we become what we receive.  And each celebration of the Eucharist isn’t merely one of a vast number of disconnected events; instead it is what we call an anamnesis, a re-presentation or remembering taking part in the one event on Calvary that saved us all.

In this meal, we are fed and we participate in a sacrifice.  We are fed spiritually, given the strength to fight against evil, to reach out to the needy, to live our lives in holiness and grace.  The strength that the Eucharistic food gives us enables us to change our lives, becoming more than we were, becoming more that we might settle for, becoming all that God created us to be.  We participate also in sacrifice, not just any sacrifice, but the one saving sacrifice that reconciled us to God.

This holy mystery comes about through a similarly complex event, which is to say our celebration of the Mass.  Words are said – “this is my body,” “this is my blood” – the very words Christ himself used when he gave us this amazing sacrament.  These words aren’t magic “hocus pocus” words, because this event is much more than magic.  It’s not a mere change, it’s a re-creation, a re-creation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and a re-creation of ourselves into the disciples God wants us to be.  And it’s much more than just the words: the bread and wine themselves are important, the priest as the minister acts in the person of Christ, the assembled body of believers brings their joys, sorrows, successes, failures, their riches and their poverty, their gifts and their brokenness, and lays all of it before the altar, in a great offering of faith.

We could get all caught up in the externals.  We want the best music, the nicest vestments and decorations.  But none of that means anything without the faithful act of the assembly, praying and participating, becoming one with each other and one with God.  Eucharist is thanksgiving for our many blessings, but most of all for the blessing of salvation and grace.  Eucharist is communion with Christ and with our brothers and sisters.  In Godspell, this is symbolized by the players having the face paint washed off before the breaking of bread: what had made them beautiful individuals in the sight of God is now an obstacle to communion, and so it is washed away as they come together as one community.

This is why we take such care with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We carefully prepare the bread and wine.  We pray the words as best we can in both word and song.  We bow before we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.  We handle the Body of Christ and the Cup of the Blood of Christ with a care reserved for the most precious of gifts, which of course this is.  And when we are done, we meticulously collect and consume every crumb of Christ’s Body and every drop of his Precious Blood.  When I do that, there is a little prayer that the Liturgy has me say quietly: “May I receive these gifts with purity of heart.  May they bring me healing and strength, now and forever.”  Isn’t that wonderful?  Notice how it carefully refers to the tiniest of leftovers as gifts to be received with purity of heart.  Notice how even those fragments have the ability to bring me healing and strength now and forever!

And what those gifts do for me, they do for all of us.  We become a community strengthened by our participation in the Eucharist and our Communion with God and each other.  The Eucharist is the central act of the Church, because in the Eucharist, we become one and together we accomplish all that Christ wanted for the world: healing the sick, binding up the broken, reaching the lost and the marginalized, meeting the needs of the poor and homeless, helping prisoners find freedom in Christ, defending the infant in the womb, the child on the streets, the elderly on their sick beds, bringing the presence of Christ to the lonely.  As the song says, we can build a beautiful city, but only through our communion with Christ.

As incredibly complex as the Eucharist and our celebration of it is, we are blessed to be able to celebrate it every day of the week.  I remember in the first week of seminary, one of my friends on Saturday said, “Who wants to go to Mass with me tonight and get it over with?”  You’ve never seen men with such horrified looks on their faces!  That is because, whenever we gather, that is the best part of our day.  Our participation in the Eucharist makes all the rest of our lives possible, but not only possible but also better, more filled with grace.  And so, as the prayer says, may we always receive these incredible gifts with purity of heart.  May they bring us healing and strength, now and forever.