Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent 2013: Reflections

Today is the first day of the liturgical season of Advent during which the Church prepares, by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, in the Mass and other forms of expression, for the return of our Savior at His second coming in which the first coming in His incarnation reminds us.

St Charles Borromeo, bishop, once said that “In her concern for our salvation, our loving mother the Church uses this holy season to teach us.  She shows us how grateful we should be for so great a blessing, and how to gain its benefit:  our hearts should be as much prepared for the coming of Christ as if He were still to come into this world.”

Indeed, one of the ways the Church prepares us is through the readings in the Mass.  Each Sunday of Advent has a theme to help us in our journey towards salvation.  Today, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church chose Scriptural passages to accentuate the fact that many of us slumber through life and that we need to wake up.  Jesus said that we must “be watchful!  Be alert!” because no one knows the day or time of His return, His Second-Coming.  And so He councils us to “Wake up!”

This coming Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent the Church chose Scriptures that accentuate our need to be instructed so that we are prepared for this unexpected return.  As was prophesied, Jesus His coming, and as we see in the New Testament Readings He will return.  And so we are instructed by our past through our traditions and Scripture in passages that speak of the voice crying out in the desert proclaiming “Prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his path” (Mark 1:3) as John the Baptist did.    

But in the third Sunday of Advent the Church changes gears so-to-speak.  Instead of looking at our lack of perfection, or our failures the Church points to the fact that the battle is already won so as to re-invigorate our hope of salvation.  Jesus defeated death and therefore we are to “Be strong and fear not!” (Is 35:4) as the first reading says.   The Gospel reading of that day tells us to rejoice because we are clothed with the garments of salvation as procured by Jesus and proclaimed by John who came “to testify to the light, so that all might believe through Him.”

In the last Sunday before Christmas, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church show us that we are to be assured of the imminent coming of our Lord by giving us a sign, that a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel (which means ‘God with us’).  This coming of the Son of God is found in the incarnation narrative, where He was conceived in her womb and bore a son that she was to name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father (Luke 1:31-32).  God is indeed ‘with us’.  The Lord God has come, and the Lord God will come again.

So let us begin our preparation of His second coming as we celebrate His first.  For the first week of Advent the Church reminds us to wake up and be alert.  And so we are to work out our salvation by becoming spotless, by being perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.  This goal is extremely difficult to attain and yet we know that the longest journey begins with a single step.  And so I challenge you to persevere and to do what is good and right.  As a first step of this journey, will you take responsibility for the freedom God gives you?  Will you make a space within each day of Advent to go off with Jesus, listening in the silence for the Word?


God Bless

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inspiration of Scripture

This question poses some serious problems for those who believe in Scripture alone as ones authority in right-Christian living.  Since Scripture nowhere indentifies the Book of James as divinely inspired for example means that one must go to an authority other than Scripture to determine if it is indeed inspired Scripture.  The same applies to any book that one might consider divinely inspired (literally translated as ‘God-breathed’).


If one looks at historical texts of the first century after Jesus’ death and resurrection, even those that are against the Christian church, we find unanimous agreement that the followers of Jesus believed that Jesus actually rose, body and soul, into heaven.  They believed it so deeply that they were willing to die instead of denying it.  Certainly if Christ had not risen his first disciples (the original 12 chosen by Christ Himself) would not have died horrible deaths affirming the reality and truth of the resurrection. The result of this line of reasoning is that we must conclude that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Consequently, his claims concerning himself—including his claim to be God—have credibility. He meant what he said and did what he said he would do.


Further, Christ said he would found a Church. Both the Bible (still taken as merely a historical book, not yet as an inspired one) and other ancient works attest to the fact that Christ established a Church with the rudiments of what we see in the Catholic Church today—papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, sacraments, and teaching authority.


We have thus taken the material and purely historical and concluded that Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Because of his Resurrection we have reason to take seriously his claims concerning the Church, including its authority to teach in his name.


This Catholic Church tells us the Bible is inspired, and we can take the Church’s word for it precisely because the Church is infallible. Only after having been told by a properly constituted authority—that is, one established by God to assure us of the truth concerning matters of faith—that the Bible is inspired can we reasonably begin to use it as an inspired book. 


For a more detailed look at the inspiration of Sacred Scripture please go to:

God Bless

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Passover Lamb

Is there a connection between the original Passover lamb and the Lamb of God (Jesus)?


Yes, there is a very strong connection between the two lambs.  First, let us go back to the begining.  It all started on that fateful night when the Angel of Death came to kill the first-born son of every family whether Egyptian or Hebrew.  The Hebrew people were to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and mark the posts of their door so that the Angel of Death should ‘pass over’ their household. That night marked the birth of the nation of Israel but it also was a picture of a greater birth and a greater sacrifice to come many centuries later; the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death upon the cross as the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  But before going on let’s see what John wrote about the circumstances of Jesus’ death, the death of the Lamb of God (John 1:29).


John is at the foot of the Cross holding Mary, suffering a mothers grief at losing ones son.  John tells us in his account of Jesus’ death that although they broke the legs of the other two being crucified they didn’t break those of Jesus “so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘Not a bone of it will be broken.’” Here John is referencing the requirement that the bones of the Passover lamb were not to be broken as found in Exodus 12:46 “You shall not break any of its bones.”


We can confidently say that John wants us to link the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross to the first Passover because not only does John mentions ‘not breaking any bones’ but even before that statement John still points to this night of the first Passover when he mentions how Jesus was given wine to quench His thirst by using a sprig of hyssop, the same type of plant used to mark the doorframes with the blood of the sacrificial lambs on that fateful night (Exo 12:22).


So what happened at the first Passover that John would bring us back to this point in time while Jesus is being crucified?  Maybe so we see the connection between the sacrificial lamb (John 1:29) who saved us from the bondage of sin with the lamb who saved the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharaoh in Egypt.  Maybe because he believed the same as Paul did when he wrote to Timothy that “All scripture is…useful for teaching… and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).  So we know that the sacrificial system of the Jewish liturgy of the Passover celebration teaches us, trains us in righteousness.  We also see in Malachi that this liturgy will be changed and fulfilled or brought to fruition through his prophecy that: “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)


First, we see that at the time the book of Malachi was written, God’s name was NOT great among the nations, therefore this is a prophecy of things to come.  Second, at the mention of “a pure offering”, what is the only pure offering ever brought to His name?  Jesus.  Third, we see that at that same event incense is also brought.  This rules out most Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups as they cannot and do not fulfill this part of the prophecy because they don’t use incense in their worship/liturgical ceremonies. And finally, “from the rising of the sun to its setting”.  All day long in other words.  Which worship ceremony uses incense and brings a pure offering all day long (from rising to setting of the sun) all around the world?  The Catholic Church is the only church which can claim this. 


But what about the pure offering?  What are we to do with it when we offer it to God?  Well, just look at what John was pointing to when Jesus was dying on the Cross.  Look at what the Israelites had to do at the first Passover sacrifice – they had to kill the lamb and then eat it (Exo 12:7-8 or Exo 12:43-47).  It wasn’t enough to sacrifice the lamb and to put its blood on the door frames.  To save the first-born sons of each household, they also had to eat the lamb as well.  How can we be sure of this?  By listening to Jesus’ own words of John 6 which states I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world(verse 51).  And to confirm this suspicion, the account of the Last Supper as described by Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul all say the same when holding the unleavened bread once it was blessed.  Jesus says “This IS my body…this IS my blood”.


God Bless



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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Christian Love

Today’s readings converge at the point of family—of choosing and claiming our spiritual family as God’s children over and against our merely biological family. In the old covenant, God’s grace was dispensed primarily through natural ethnicity and kinships. God chose Israel and the Jewish people, by the very fact that they were the children of Abraham, and thus blessed in a way that other tribes were not. Yet, the moment God became human, his covenant became literally Catholic—a universal promise to all people that God is now present in their midst. If this is true, our old identities must be transformed: we are no longer simply the child of this family, no longer simply a citizen of this or that community, not just a member of that political party, and so on. Now we realize that we have been made for nothing other than life in heaven.

Accordingly, we can look upon God, and the human family, in the same way no more. God is no longer tied to a particular people but now to the entire human race. That is how we are to interpret those places in Paul where he teaches that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). To interpret these passages correctly is not to say that there are no longer historical (personal, gender, social) differences, but that God no longer distributes his grace determined by these differences. All are now one in Christ!

This is what makes the opening reading from Maccabees (a family name traceable, appropriately enough, to the word “hammer”) all the more remarkable. In the reading in 2 Maccabees, we hear the story of Judas Maccabeus who led a revolt against Antiochus Ephiphanes IV (King of the Greek Seleucid dynasty, covering most of modern-day Turkey and beyond) defeating his army in 161 B.C., so as to free the Jews from foreign domination.

The lesson here for us Christians is obviously what the Apostles themselves knew very early on as well: it is better to follow God than to capitulate to man (cf. Acts 5:29). It is ironic that we are a people who claim to have a unique friendship with one we know created the world, rules all things providentially, who became one with us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and with one who has pledged his own sacred body and blood to us at each moment of our lives, and yet, we still fear to trust him completely. We are still afraid of death.

However, this is what we proclaim as Christians: that love is infinitely stronger than death and we have been lovingly made members of an eternal family. God is now our true and everlasting Father, Mary is our Mother, and all the saints are our newly-acquired siblings. This is why we hear the Apostle Paul refer to those in the Church at Thessalonica as “brothers and sisters.” These Christians are closer to him than any would have been to their own naturally-born siblings. It is the Faith that thus binds, and Paul realizes that not all have such life within them.

This might be an opportunity to comfort those before us by reminding them that this world was never meant to be their true home. Instead of feeling sad and despondent that we are not closer to others (especially our members of our immediate families), or that we find many aspects of our lives lacking, perhaps we could see these tears and aches as the realization that we know we are not made for earth only, and that our true destination and character is still to come. As Tolkien realized, as opposed to the elves who could not die, death is the “great gift” of humans because it finally transposes us from this “veil of tears” into an everlasting community of joy.

That is where today’s Gospel strikes. We are to live in this world as if we were already claimed for heaven. Even the closest possible human relationship, the sacrament of matrimony, is to be lived sub specie aeternitatis—with the realization that your spouse on earth is not your eternal spouse but a living icon through which you are to see your eternal love. Marriage’s ultimate purpose is for you to hand your spouse over to Jesus each day, and to assure that your life together is cemented by Jesus’ love and care. This is why matrimony is a sacrament: even on those days where you feel like being selfish and vindictive, the grace is offered you to become other than you might feel at any unfortunate particular moment.

When Luke says the married are like the angels in heaven, it is important to stress what this means. The elect are like the angels in heaven, not because they leave their bodies behind, but because there will not be marriages celebrated in heaven. Nothing makes me more upset when I hear well-meaning (but poorly catechized) Christians assure someone that their deceased loved one is “now an angel.” No! Angels are spiritual substances who were created without bodies, and who never will have bodies; we humans are incomplete without our bodies, and will one day enjoy glorified and resurrected bodies. Angels cannot become human, humans do not become angels. The point here is that, if lived rightly, marriage fulfills its purpose by one’s getting one’s spouse to heaven. For Christ must be the first and the form of all our loves, the union by which all the cares and affections in our lives are brought together.

Toward the end of his classic, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis depicts a young, grieving mother named “Pam” who is claiming that the love she has for her son, who died at an unfortunately early age, is what should grant her heaven. The angel of God points out that the lavish attention she showed her son, Michael, was never, in fact, true love, but her own possessiveness: “You’re treating God as only a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.” “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a mother.” “You mean if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer.”

Today’s homily, then, can focus on how we Christians are currently landlocked, but are given the grace to live as if we were already in heaven. Heaven is not a place, but that relationship with Jesus Christ which transforms our every thought, word, and action here on earth. Christ does not want to take away our families, and our deepest desires, but to become the “glue” that holds them all together. As long as our hearts remain divided between creator and creatures, we will never be happy. Once we surrender all of our seemingly “human” loves, and plunge them into the Heart of Christ, thus allowing him to become the love that unites us to even the most natural of our affections, our world becomes consecrated. For this reason Jesus asks us today to put him first in order that we may love ourselves and others, not only rightly, but eternally.


God Bless