The Sacrament of Ongoing Christian Life

The Sacrament of Ongoing Christian Life

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Cycle C; May 29, 2016

Gen 14:18-20   Ps 110   1 Cor 11:23-26   Lk 9:11-17

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

During the Easter season, a major concern in the Sunday Scripture readings was how the movement begun by Jesus of Nazareth would continue after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Since he is no longer with us physically, how can our relationship be sustained? These readings show that we can have an ongoing personal relationship with the Risen Christ that is intimate, mutual, unitive, and life-giving. From that relationship flows the possibilities of knowing and loving God and one another in new and more profound ways. Being in relationship with Jesus, we will become Kingdom people. We will listen to and cooperate with the movement of the Holy Spirit. We will radiate the peace of Jesus. We will work for fellowship and solidarity within the Church and the human family.

A major and indispensable element of this process is the Eucharist, which is the outward sign of the ongoing presence of God and the Risen Christ among us. The Eucharist is THE sacrament of ongoing Christian life. That’s why the conciliar fathers of Vatican II taught us that the Eucharist is the “Source and summit of the Church life” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). The liturgy of the Word and Eucharist is where we are renewed in our faith in the triune God, which empowers us to live out our evangelical duty to spread the Good News and to baptize all nations. In the Eucharist, we participate in God’s love in a very intimate way as a community, which spurs us to share this love with others. The Eucharist draws the People of God “into the compelling love of Christ” (SC 10), which sets us on fire with this Trinitarian love. So, it is good and appropriate that Holy Mother the Church brings us back to reflect upon this inexhaustible mystery because the Eucharist is Christ who is Really Present. The Church comes from the Eucharist; so, we’re being wise when we yearly reflect on this sacrament of ongoing Christian life.

The Scripture readings for Corpus Christi reminds us what Jesus did at the Last Supper had a rich history that would shape an ongoing Christian life. The reading from Genesis 14 recalls the earliest history of God’s people. Abraham, the Father of our Faith, is met by an intriguing and mysterious figure, Melchizedek after a military victory. He is described as the King of Salem and priest of God most high.

There’s a lot packed into that brief description. In Hebrew ‘Melchizedek’ means ‘king of righteousness.’ ‘Mel(e)k’ is king and ‘sedek’ is justice. So, he is a just king, a righteous king. But, more than that, he’s the king of Salem, which is the derivative of ‘shalom’ or peace. Salem was also seen as the forerunner of Jerusalem—the city of peace. So, this figure is the righteous king of peace, who’s also the ruler of Jerusalem, the religious epicenter of Judaism.

Furthermore, we learn that he is a priest of God, which means he performs sacrifice, which is what priests do. And, this particular sacrifice he makes involves bread and wine. ….Hmmm, does this sound like anybody we know? A righteous king, the ruler of Jerusalem, the Prince of Peace, a priest performing a sacrifice involving bread and wine. That’s why the Church has found Melchizedek so intriguing because he is prefiguring the Eucharist.

Let’s turn to the other two readings. The reading from first Corinthians provides the earliest description of Jesus’ Last Supper and the Church’s liturgical celebration. We hear “that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup, after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23b-25).

What is Jesus actually doing the night before he died? He just didn’t gather his friends for a final meal. He did that, but Paul is telling us that that Jesus performed a priestly sacrifice and he did it using the same elements that Melchizedek used: bread and wine.

The institution of the Eucharist carries on the Passover, which took place within the context of the Exodus Experience: the movement from oppression to liberation. Similarly, Jesus’ death and resurrection is a movement from the oppression of sin and death to the freedom of eternal life. When Jesus says, “This is my blood” the sacrificial language is very clear. As priest and righteous king, Jesus is presenting himself as the true and definitive sacrifice. The Old Testament rites were never fully complete, so they had to engage regularly in purification rituals for the forgiveness of sins, but when Jesus’ Blood is “poured out for many,” the sacrifice is definitive: through his death the prophesy of the new and eternal covenant is fulfilled and complete.

When we participate in the Eucharist we are not ritually reenacting the Last Supper at Mass for our purification. Jesus did that; we are redeemed! Amen! We participate in the same sacrifice and receive the benefits of his unconditioned love and self-giving so that we can become givers of self and love unconditionally.

            Now, let’s take a quick glance of Luke’s gospel, which is his version of the feeding of 5,000. The way Luke tells the story links Jesus’ actions with the Last Supper and the early Church’s celebration of the Eucharist. Notice the role the Apostles have in this story. They are the ones through whom the crowd experience the life-giving bounty of Jesus. They distributed the food and, most likely collected what was left over into twelve baskets. I think what Luke was showing us is that Jesus provides for his people through the agency of the Church. There is an affirming adage from the Patristic era (2nd—5th centuries): “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.” Luke’s account and this patristic insight further suggests the intimate and reciprocal relationship between the Eucharist body of the Lord and his ecclesial body.

St. Leo the Great recalled that “our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ aspires to nothing other than to become what we receive” (Sermo 12, De Passione 3,7, PL 54). Brothers and sisters, we must become the Eucharist if we are going to

follow Jesus!

Every day, may we draw from the Body and Blood of our Lord—that free, pure love which makes us worthy disciples of Christ and witnesses to the joy of his resurrection. That is why the Eucharist is the Sacrament of ongoing Christian life! Amen.

Life Begins with the Trinity

The Most Holy Trinity (C); May 22, 2016

Prv 8:22-31   Ps8:4-9   Rom 5:1-5   Jn 16:12-15

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

            It’s difficult enough to believe in a single God, but have you ever tried to explain the Trinity to a non-believer? It’s not easy. Believing in three persons who is one God is quite a leap!

Where did this teaching come from? It is unique to us; it’s what makes us Christians and not Jews or Muslims. No other religion in history has anything like it. No philosopher reasoned his way to it. It is original to Christianity, though we do hear hints of it in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis, for example, we hear God saying: “Let us make man in our image…” (Gn 1:26a) or from Proverbs in which God begot his Son before the earth was created” (Prv 8:22).

Put simply, this teaching comes from Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead, Christians immediately began to attribute divinity to him. At the same time, they didn’t identify him with the Father. Jesus was understood to be God but somehow he was distinct from the One who sent him to bring salvation to the world. Moreover, inside their experience of the Risen Christ and the heavenly Father, they sensed still a third divine energy which they couldn’t fully identify with either Jesus or God the Father: namely, the Holy Spirit.

Early Christians struggled with the revelation of the Trinitarian God for 300 years until they came up with a formula at the Council of Nicaea in 325, which said there is one God in three persons. They wrote this formula in Greek and the words came out literally that God is one substance in three subsistent relations.

What does that mean? What is God’s nature? According to John the Evangelist, GOD IS LOVE (1 Jn 4:8). That is not an attribute of God but is God’s very substance: Love is who God is. Love involves the giving and receiving of Life. God the Father, who is Lover, sent Jesus, the Beloved Son, into the world for our salvation. And, when Jesus returned to his Father at the Ascension, he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the shared loving energy between the Father and the Son. It is within that communal relationship that the divine revelation resonates. In other words, God is a family.

What does it mean for you and me in our everyday living. Well, it means that we, who are made in the image of God, are hard-wired to the relational. We find ourselves, we are most human, when we are in genuine relationship with others. We discover what Life is really about when we love others and when we give ourselves to a significant other for life. Life just gets easier when we see it from the perspective of living in communion with God and fellowship with others. When we live out of the Holy Trinity, we will live authentic and genuine lives.

Another aspect of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Trinity is that it allows us to begin to participate in the very Life of God. This is what Holy Mother the Church teaches us in its concept of sanctifying grace, which is a gift from God and makes us holy. Through grace, through our participation in Trinitarian Love, we become more God-like in the way we live with others. As we embrace a Life of self-giving Love, then God’s presence, power, and love are made real for us and those around us. The more we live in a caring communion of love with others, the more we become filled with God’s holiness—not only for our own sake but for the sake of others who know us and love us.

At this juncture we are truly living Life fully. We are becoming a human being fully alive, which St. Irenaeus affirms gives God glory.

Loving others through sacrificial giving is not simply being nice; it’s not just being courteous. Loving others is essential to being human! It is the essence of being one with Christ. It is only being in love with other human beings that we can understand what St. John means that GOD IS LOVE. The one who loves has found God, and God lives in him.

So, rather than being puzzled at the teaching of the Holy Trinity, let’s you and I throw ourselves into life, into love, and experience the life of the Trinity in our own relationships with others.   Let us share with each other a life that can be so much more of our true selves. It is there we know God. It is in loving others deeply, closely, and with constancy that we begin to feel the wonder of Life and the joy of knowing who God is and what His life is like.

Brothers and sisters, St Catherine of Siena once said that “The Road to Heaven is Heaven.” Jesus told us that heaven begins here on earth.   The Kingdom of Heaven is here, among us, He told us. We are not far from it; it’s right here. Heaven is not a carrot dangled in front of us. It’s not a reward at the end of a road of pain, trial, and suffering. Heaven begins when we discover each other as a child of God, when we begin to live a Trinitarian life with others, when we begin to live in the communion with others that is grounded in God’s very being. Isn’t that what Life is really about? Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Everything New

Solemnity of the Feast of Pentecost; May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-11   Ps 104   1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13   Jn 14:15-16,23-26

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Today, we reflect and re-live the liturgy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sent by the Risen Christ upon the Church. I say “re-live” this event because when we listen to the story of Pentecost with open, trusting hearts, the coming of the Holy Spirit can happen again in our day. But, we need to be open to the God of surprises!

The evangelist Luke brings us back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room where the Apostles were gathered. The first thing that grabs our attention is that “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (Acts 2:2). Then, on top of that, “tongues as of fire, which parted came to rest on each one of them” (v. 3). What is going on here? Sounds and tongues of fire not only from without but from within. GOD IS TRYING TO GET OUT ATTENTION! He wants to penetrate deep into our minds and hearts. As a result, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a, who unleashed this irresistible power with amazing consequences: they all began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to proclaim” (v. 4b).

What comes next is so unexpected, so surprising. A great crowd gathers, whose members came far and side from the Middle East, Asia, Greece, and even travelers from Rome. They were flabbergasted because they heard the Apostles from the hill country of Galilee speaking in their own language. They had all experienced something radically new, something that had never happened before. And, what is it that they were speaking about: “…of the mighty acts of God.”

As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said to her dog, “Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.” Brothers, we’re in C-facility at (New) Folsom Prison, but then, again, if we re-live this story in our time and place, we are entering a new condition, a New Age. Let’s reflect upon the workings of the Holy Spirit, which is linked to making everything new.

Newness can make us nervous. We tend to resist change because we feel more secure if we think we have our lives under control, according to our agenda and expectations. To be sure, this inclination is nuanced behind prison walls, but I suspect that there are a few control freaks in the prison population! So, we like to live according to our ideas, our comfort systems, our own preferences because it places our Ego in the center of our life. When it comes to God, we do the same thing. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only to a certain point. As long as his will meets my expectations then I’m all in. But, to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, to allow the Holy Spirit to be the sole guide of our lives in every decision we make, we start to get cold feet. If we surrender ourselves completely to God, we’re afraid that God may force us to strike out on a new path, on “a road less traveled,” in which we leave behind our narrow, closed, and self-absorbed horizons: our prison within a prison.

The newness that the Holy Spirit offers is not novelty or a diversion to relieve our boredom. No, the newness that God brings into our life is something that draws us into the heart of Trinitarian love. As such, it actually brings fulfillment because through the power of the Spirit, we are really in God, sharing his very nature and Life. This newness gives true joy because we are living in God’s presence. As a result, we experience true serenity because we know that we are being unconditionally loved by God who only desires our good.

Brothers, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just a promise from Jesus; it’s an experience you can have. Imagine the divine life of the Trinity—divine life itself—filling your heart. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can share, be transformed into God, who is Love. I think you can truly experience the power of Pentecost when you know, by the grace of God, that you are specially loved by God right here and now! This was God’s aim along. Since God is love it is love that connects the Father and the Son. Imagine the Father as the Lover who pours himself completely into the Son, who is the Beloved. The Son, in turn, reciprocates and that eternal sharing of love gives rise to the Holy Spirit who is the loving between the two. Why did Jesus leave us with the Holy Spirit– so that we could participate in this eternal, Trinitarian love!

Brothers, I hope that you have a strong Pentecost experience. I hope that you can say that “I felt loved by God.” I know that this can be hard. Sometimes we can spend so much of our lives with a bitter feeling of not being loved by anyone or not being able to love others. But, be open to the God of surprises who wants to rush into your soul and fill you with his divine life. That’s what God wants for you. St. Paul confirms this when he said, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This is what the Holy Spirit is all about. Again, Pentecost will become a reality to you the moment when you realize that you are especially loved by God as his precious son. When that happens, your whole life changes, and you enter into a new way of living. AMEN.