Faith Formation Closing Mass

Today’s readings

Can you remember the first time you were called a Christian?

It was at Antioch that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians.  This, of course, is after the death and resurrection of Jesus, after the disciples, including Barnabas, and apparently Paul (known to them as Saul, the name he had before his conversion).  These dedicated men created a community in Antioch and taught them the Gospel and started a church there.  The people around them knew them for teaching about the Christ – Jesus – and it was there that they were first called Christians.

We probably don’t think much about the term “Christian.”  It’s so much a part of our vocabulary, that we know Christians are those of us who believe in Christ and follow his teachings.  Sometimes people wonder whether Catholics are Christians, and the response is, yes, of course.  Our Church was founded by Christ himself, and we dedicate ourselves to living the Gospel he taught us, to living our own lives as disciples, as followers, as people devoted to him.

If I were to ask you, “Who is Jesus?” you might tell me that he is the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the son of Mary and Joseph, God made man, the One who went about doing good and calling people to repentance, the One who shows us the way to the Father.  These, and many other facts about Jesus, are absolutely right, and we believe them completely.  But a fuller, more important answer requires us to go more deeply and to answer who is Jesus for us?  Do we have a relationship with Jesus, or is he just a concept we have learned?

If all Jesus is is a concept, then, honestly, who cares?  If all Jesus is is a concept, why did so many of those early disciples die for him?  If all Jesus is is a concept, then how did this Church survive for over two thousand years?  Concepts are interesting, maybe, but hardly worth living for and dying for.  A vibrant relationship with a God who loves us enough to be personally present to us, that’s worth living and dying for.  At the end of the day, only that vibrant relationship with Jesus will cause people to say, “She’s a Christian” or “He’s a Christian.”

Ever since Sunday, and including tonight, the Gospel reading at Mass has been reflecting on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Our Good Shepherd promises us eternal life, a life so much better than what we now experience, a life of forever grace, where all of our woundedness is bound up and our sins erased and our death redeemed.  All we have to do to get there is to listen to his voice, live his Gospel, and be faithful to our relationship with him.  If we do that, no one can take us out of his hand, no one can separate us from his love.

In these days of pandemic, when we are sheltered in place and socially distant from each other, Jesus offers us a relationship that transcends all that.  He offers us a relationship where virus, disease, sin and death don’t have ultimate power over us.  He offers us a relationship that continues to write our story and draw us closer until we are one with him.  In these days of pandemic, I firmly believe that God is doing something among us: calling us to look at what’s ultimately important and calling us back to oneness in him.  That, really, can be the gift to us in these days.  And who doesn’t need a real gift in these days?!

I honestly hope we never go back to normal – at least not the normal we’ve become used to.  Because that normal had us forgetting about Jesus and distancing ourselves from one another – you know, in different ways than we have now.  That normal had us distancing ourselves from our families in favor of being part of every activity imaginable.  That normal had us eating in the SUV on the way to the next thing rather than sitting down and getting to know each other.  That normal found other things so much more important than our relationships with each other and with our God.  And, friends, that normal isn’t worthy of us.  We deserve so much better, and the great thing is, God wants us to have it.

So when things start getting back to normal – whenever that may be – let’s not forget the really important things we have learned and experienced and loved in these days.  Let’s not forget the really beautiful things that have happened among us.  Let’s not forget our renewed relationships with each other, and the relationship we have with God.  Let’s not forget that we are Christians.

Because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time: Christian Unity

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenging some age-old practices.  He is not saying that fasting is a bad thing, but instead he is saying that something new is going on.  He has come to usher in a new age, and fasting is inappropriate while he is there bringing it in!

Today is the beginning of the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity.  This week we remember that Christ came to found one and only one Church and, sadly, we have messed that up through our own sin and pride.  But this week we also celebrate that some of that is changing.  Slowly, but surely.  Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists are beginning to come to agreement on what “justification by faith” means.  Orthodox and Catholics are beginning to talk about Eucharist and the role of the pope.  Even Catholics and Evangelicals are coming to trust each other more, and have come together in many ways to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

We still have a long way to go, but these steps are signs of progress.  We focus on what we all believe in: a loving, Trinitarian God, salvation in Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our common Baptism and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.  From these we can begin our prayer for unity, that, as Christ desired, we may all be one.  The bridegroom is among us, even in our fractured state, and doing something new, something wonderful, something life-changing.  There is new wine and new wineskins; for that we can all be grateful.

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's readings [display_podcast]

For any movement to succeed, it must take on a life beyond that of its present proponents.  It has to have a past and a future that are directed by a momentum beyond their own devices.  One might say, there must be a movement of the Holy Spirit in order for a movement to succeed.  Which is what Gamaliel was trying to tell the Sanhedrin.  If this Christianity thing was just a flash in the pan, then why get upset about it?  But if it was a bona fide movement of the Holy Spirit, then getting upset about it wasn’t going to do any good anyway.  Which is, of course, what happened.  God’s will is done regardless of what human beings think of it.

We see that movement developing in today’s Gospel reading.  But it was too soon, and it was a movement not based on the Holy Spirit.  The people were beginning to clamor for Jesus the miracle worker, the one who would feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish, the one who would heal their sick and cast out their demons.  And Jesus came to do those things, but not just those things, not even primarily those things.  Jesus did not want to lead a movement that missed the point, that missed the grace.

As is often the case, the Psalmist is the one who helps us to see the point and see the grace.  The one thing the Psalmist seeks today is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of his life.  That’s the point of the movement that Jesus intended, that’s the point of the movement the Apostles were part of and the Israelites couldn’t stop.  The whole point of our faith is to lead us to the house of the Lord both now and in eternity.  That is the one thing we gather together to seek this holy day.


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