The Spirit Breathes Life into the Church’s Mission

The Spirit Breathes Life into the Church’s Mission

The Solemnity of Pentecost (B); 5-27-12

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C. & Folsom Prison


        The meaning of the feast of Pentecost is richly complex:  it’s like a multi-faceted diamond whose brilliance takes different nuances when examined from different angles.  Today’s readings offer us multiple dimensions of meaning for this Solemnity.   The gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is one more facet of the awe-inspiring mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.

Indeed, Pentecost is the capstone of these solemnities because Jesus himself announced that the whole purpose of his mission on earth is brought about at Pentecost.  On the way to Jerusalem he declared to his disciples, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).

These words became graphically alive fifty days later after the Resurrection at Pentecost, which was an ancient Jewish feast; in the Church  it has become the feast of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church.  “There appeared to them tongues as of fire…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).

The real fire, the Holy Spirit, was brought to earth by Christ so that we could stay in communion with Him and be empowered to continue his mission: to proclaim the Good News and help bring about the salvation of the world. So that Jesus’ mission may be extended throughout history, he says to the Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  These words were expressed as “he breathed on them” (Jn 20:22).  It’s not that the Church has a mission but the mission of Christ has a Church, which is the Way that God brings about his salvific plan in the Risen and Ascended Christ.

Sisters and brothers, we are not merely called to imitate Jesus. We are challenged to become the Risen Christ—to be the second Coming of Christ.  Sounds farfetched?  Jesus Christ has constituted his Church as his Mystical Body according to St. Paul and brilliantly reaffirmed by Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church).  And, who is the Church?  We are, the People of God, who were initiated into the Church at baptism.  That means that Christ permeates every member of his Body.  That’s what Communion means: to be in Christ…to participate in Trinitarian love.

Do you see what Jesus is doing?  He was communicating to us his Spirit—the same Spirit that is the loving energy shared between Him and his Father.  God completely gives Himself away to us:  We are so blessed!

Now, People of God, as we live in the Spirit, our church community will be formed in a unique way that differentiates from any other institution.  What way is that?   As John the Evangelist describes the event of Pentecost, he recalls that the disciples “were all gathered in one place.”  That place was the “Upper Room” where Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with his Apostles, where he had appeared to them Risen.  This room had become the “headquarters” of the nascent Church.  The Acts of the Apostles, however, insists that this physical place was special because it reflected an inner attitude of the disciples:  “ All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).  Notice that the harmony of the community is conditioned by prayer.  Unless we enthusiastically embrace public and private prayer, we won’t be “in one accord” with one another.

Brothers and sisters, what was true of the early Church is just as true for us today who are gathered here at Divine Savior (or Folsom Prison).   If we want Pentecost to be a true celebration of our salvation, we must always be preparing ourselves in devout expectation for the gift of God.  God does not come to us by sprinkling pixie dust over us, but he is received by those who humbly and silently listen to his Word; he is received by those who stay at all times with the love that is in their hearts.

At this time in history, we have a particularly difficult challenge, since our increasingly secular culture is pushing God, the source of all life, out of the picture and asserting itself as the center of the universe.

In the hands of such men and women, “fire” becomes very dangerous, which can backfire against life and humanity.  Just witness the 100 million lives lost during the wars of the 20th century, the 500 million worldwide lost to abortion since 1973, and the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic energy was used to kill civilians en masse.  We can use “fire” to sow death at an unheard scale, which is a perennial reminder that the only “fire” that can give life is grounded in the Holy Spirit.  Like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel parable who believes that he can fulfill himself by distancing himself from his father’s house, the modern person has given into the conceit that one can make oneself happy without God.

The Solemnity of Pentecost reveals that the energy that is capable of transforming the world is not a mindless, anonymous, blind Force, but the loving action of the “Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  Jesus Christ “brought to the earth” not the vital force that was already there, but the Holy Spirit that is the loving energy of the Triune God, Who “renews the face of the earth,” purifying from evil and selfishness and setting it free from the dominion of death” (Psalm 104).  Let the Holy Spirit speak to you so you can change the face of the earth and bring God alive to all who touch you.

“He Was Lifted Up”

“He Was Lifted Up”

Ascension of the Lord (B); May 20, 2012

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church


            “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and to all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

With these words, Jesus took leave of his Apostles.  Immediately afterwards, Luke adds that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (1:9).

            Being a visual learner, I’ve got to admit that when I initially reflect upon the Ascension of our Lord, concrete images come to mind as if Jesus was shot into space in a magic cloud to come to some far away galaxy that we call Heaven.  As crude and false as that image may be, it may reflect my clumsy attempt to come to grips with this mystery.  But as I prepared this homily, I just didn’t want to sweep away these terms of Jesus being “lifted up,” “taken up,” “a cloud took him up” as merely metaphorical or as something made up, because they are part of our Scriptures.  Let’s look at when it was written and see what those terms meant then.

To begin with, we can’t just go to one biblical source to get a handle on this mystery.    Indeed, we have to peruse the whole expanse of the Old and New Testament to arrive at some kind of insight.  I learned that “to be lifted up” was first used in the Old Testament and refers to royal enthronement.    So, Christ’s Ascension has something to do with the Crucified and Risen Son of Man becoming a king. And, what does a King do?  A King rules; a King is sovereign, which means that in the Ascended Lord we have a manifestation of God’s kingship over the world.  Though the forces of Darkness and Alienation seem to have the upper hand and seemingly are  in charge of our world, God, the ultimate Power, reigns supreme and is bringing everything to its final  and just end.  Jesus is sovereign not by dominating and controlling, but by the outpouring of his self-gifting love.

In the passage from Acts, Luke also said that Jesus was “taken up”  and “a cloud took him from their sight. “ Again, we have to go back to our Old Testament roots and connect his Ascension into God’s involvement with Israel, in which a cloud came over Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments and a cloud was above the tent of the Covenant in the desert.  We see the same cloud on the mountain of the Transfiguration.

To present the Risen Christ  as being wrapped in a cloud calls to mind for all time the mystery  of Jesus “being seated at the right hand of God.”  One could say truly that as the co-eternal Son of God, He is always seated at God’s right hand.  But, in Christ’s ascendency into Heaven, the human being—the Son of Man—has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; humanity henceforth  is now and forever in God.  God and Humanity are forever united.  We can’t talk about one without the other.

Moreover, we’ve got to jettison a primitive notion that Heaven indicates some place above the stars.  Heaven is not a place that occupies geographic co-ordinates, but is something much more daring and sublime that grabs us to the very core of our being.  Heaven is a state of being; it’s not a place.  Heaven exists when we are completely united or fully aligned with God, each other, and creation. In his priestly prayer given at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to his Father that “…they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us and that the world may believe you sent me.  And I have given them the glory you gave me…” (John 17: 21-22).  Sisters and brothers, through Jesus’ Ascension, we like Theopolis, whose name means “beloved of God” will come to understand and live the reality where all is united in God.

This is such Good News!  Christ himself, whom we know sacramentally, especially in the Eucharist, and ecclesially within the Church, the People of God, is welcoming us fully and forever into the Trinitarian relationship of Love. When we are being IN God, we are in Heaven here and now!  And, we draw close to Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him.  For this reason, the Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the Risen Jesus, invisibly but really present in the life of each and every one of us.

In this perspective we understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke  24:52).  Their joy stems from the fact that what happened was not a separation, that the Lord was not permanently absent.  Just the opposite: they were certain that the Crucified-Risen Christ was alive within them, that they experienced that reality in the Eucharist, and that the gates of eternal life had been open to them.  In other words, the Ascension does not mean that the Lord is ‘missing in action’ in our world of ordinary experience, but that  He is really present to us that in a way that  is absolutely life-giving and unitive.

That’s why joy is the greatest proof that one believes in Jesus.  It’s up to us, the disciples of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, to make our Lord’s presence visible by our enthusiastic witness, proclaiming and living the Good News to all nations.




No Dialogue re. Female Ordination?

Dear Folks,

Treading where angels would fear to go, below is a reflection “No Dialogue on Female Ordination?” which I hope clarifies why the hierarchy’s decision not to engage in dialogue on the topic is credible.

Peace and good will,
Deacon Jim

No Dialogue re. Female Ordination?


            The Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has touched a raw nerve to say the least.   Most Catholics have more contact with nuns and sisters than they do with their bishop, so there’s an understandable sentiment to side with the sisters, especially in lieu of how they have helped to shape American Catholicism for the last two centuries.

The Vatican, as well as elements within the American hierarchy, were concerned that the Women Religious had lost their spiritual focus

(cf. common prayer, Liturgy of the Hours), had adapted views contrary to Church teaching (cf. female ordination,  homosexuality, and  an implicit questioning of the authority of the Magisteriuim), and we’re unduly influenced by radical feminist theology (cf. the recent censure of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson at Fordham).

In the ‘70s, the LCWR came out in support of female ordination to the ministerial priesthood.  When Pope John Paul II stated in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (OS) (May 22, 1994) that the Church did not have the authority to grant ordination to women and that this teaching was definitive, the LCWR did not recant their earlier view.  Indeed, in Systems Thinking Handbook, a resource for religious communities, Communion Services were preferred to the Mass because the presence of a male priest was objectionable.

Since the promulgation of OS, the Vatican has stated that the issue is closed and is not open for dialogue because the teaching is irreformable.   This stance has been an irritant to liberal commentators such as Richard Rohr (OFM) and Michael Crosby (OFM, Cap.) and theologians like Johnson, who view the hierarchy’s unwillingness to even discuss the issue as a  sign of a patriarchical, good old boys club desperately trying to maintain control.

I believe the Magisterium (the pope and College of Bishops) is properly exercising its role as guardians of our Tradition and teachers of the Deposit of Faith and that dialogue of the topic with the intention of changing the teaching would be futile.   How so?

After a succinct explanation why the Church does not have the authority to confer ministerial ordination on women, Pope John Paul stated at the end of his Apostolic Letter that  “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Since the judgment of the Magisterium is a definitive teaching, it is not subject to change and dialogue, with the view of reforming the teaching, would serve no purpose.  We don’t, for example, have diocesan synod’s discussing the truth of the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.  Why don’t we?  Because these teachings are dogmatically true and are revelatory—i.e., not subject to substantive change. Since dogmas belong to divine revelation and make known to us God’s saving plan, the only appropriate response for a believer to dogma is what Vatican II called an “assent of faith.” So, there’s no point to revisiting the Councils of Niceae and Constantinople re. the Trinitarian nature of God.

The second category of Church teaching is definitive doctrine, which is where Pope John Paul II has placed the judgment of the male only ministerial priesthood.  These teachings include teachings that are not themselves divinely revealed but are necessary to safeguard and expound revelation.  For example, the Council of Trent declared what books make up the Bible.  In a similar fashion, the restriction of the ministerial priesthood to men is necessary to safeguard the constitutive element of this sacrament.  It is generally agreed—though not formally defined as such—that due to their vital role in preserving revelation, these teachings (along with Church dogmas) are taught infallibly.  Official Church documents teach that the believer is bound to  “firmly accept and hold as true” those teachings proposed as definitive doctrines.

If someone rejects a Dogmatic teaching, they have placed themselves “out of communion” with the Church.  Such does not appear to be the case when some rejects a definitive teaching.  The emergence of the latter is relatively new in our tradition, so there remains some questions among theologians as to what happens when someone rejects a definitive doctrine of the Church.   It doesn’t seem that such a rejection would involve heresy. .  Provided that one’s disagreement is well informed and one still recognizes the teaching authority of the Magisterium, and that one has a firm desire to be united with the Church, the  withholding of internal dissent from such a teaching, although potentially a serious error against the teaching of the Church, would not place one outside the Roman Catholic communion.

So, when the Hierarchy states that the doctrine of the male ordination to the priesthood is closed to discussion and is not subject to change, I hope the preceding adequately explains why they believe such is the case and that their judgment is not arbitrary, close-minded, or capracious.

(For a thorough and scholarly treatment of Church doctrine,

Richard Gaillaardetz’ Teaching with Authority (A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church) is an excellent source.)

–Deacon Jim McFadden