Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Passing on our faith through baptism

Last Sunday I baptized two infants, Konnor and Ramsey.  Baptizing a child is always a joy for me.  It brings back memories of the baptisms of my children and my grandchildren.  There was only one small glitch in the baptism, when I realized that I hadn't placed any towels by the font.  Fortunately, my wife was able to quickly get two towels from the sacristy.

In baptism, Konnor and Ramsey became become adopted sons of God.  They join all of us who have been baptized and are now God’s chosen disciples.  The first letter of John expresses our relationship to God as his adopted children as follows: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  This is powerful stuff, that by our baptism we become God’s children.  If we choose to follow him into eternal life, we shall be like God and shall see him as he is.  This is the great promise of our faith that we pass onto our children. 

For most of us, this faith has been passed onto us by our parents.  And for many, this gift of faith has been part of the family for many generations.  One of my cousins has traced the Rettig family tree back several hundred years.  I expect that my family has been Catholic for many generations and has seen good times and bad in the Church and in the world during that time.  I give thanks to these ancestors for my gift of life.  If it weren't for them and their willingness to sacrifice, I wouldn't be here today.  Also, I thank them for my gift of faith.  They nurtured their faith and passed this faith on to their children.  If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't be Catholic today.  As Catholic parents, they took the responsibility of raising their children in the faith of Jesus Christ, very seriously.  Konnor and Ramsey's parents also take this responsibility seriously as they bring their children to us today so that they can receive the gift of new life in baptism. 

Jesus told his disciples that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.  He has given us a guarantee that his Church will be glorified with Jesus when he returns.  But, as we look around at all of the evil in the world today, and as we see the difficulties that often face his Church, at times it can seem hopeless.  In short, it can seem like the devil is winning.  It requires faith today to bring children into this world and to give them the gift of our faith.  Fortunately, these parents and many other parents today and through the ages have had faith and hope which they lovingly passed on to the next generation.

Today, let us celebrate that we all, as Christians, as God’s kids, have received the gift of faith and are his disciples.  Let us resolve to tell everyone, and especially our children about our merciful and powerful God and about his holy Church.  And finally, let us commit to doing our part to establish the kingdom of God on earth so that together we can defeat the evil one and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Impact of Council of Jerusalem on Christianity

The first reading from Acts of the Apostles describes the period in time just after the council of Jerusalem in the first century.  At this council, the Church leaders, under the direction of Peter, decided that the Gentiles didn’t have to observe Mosaic law and be circumcised.  Then, they chose representatives to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to tell the people the good news.  They told the people of Antioch: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond the necessity.”   The people of Antioch were delighted with this news.
It is significant that they said that it was the decision of the Holy Spirit and of them.  This is one of many instances of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church during periods of difficulty.  I wonder what our Church would look like today if the Council of Jerusalem hadn’t made this decision and had required that all Christians must be circumcised.  I think it is safe to assume that our Church would be much smaller, and that the missionary effort to the gentiles wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.  In fact, most and maybe even all of us can thank this decision, and many other spirit-led decisions through the ages for our gift of faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so at whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”   This again tells us that we aren’t in charge, but are meant to do the will of the father so that he may give us what we need to do what we are called to do. 
With our intellect and our free will, it is difficult for us to discern and to follow the Father’s will for us.  I found it difficult to discern the Father’s will regarding my vocation as a deacon and now, it is difficult for me to discern what I am meant to do as a deacon.  Sometimes I seem to be called to do things that I’m not well suited for.  But, I try to listen to the Holy Spirit so that I am doing what I am being called to do. 
At times, some are critical of decisions made by Church leaders.  These decisions may involve disciplinary or liturgical matters, such as the changes on the Roman missal which will take effect when Advent begins.  Or they may involve matters of faith and morals, such as the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  Some resist these changes because they dislike any change and they are comfortable with the status quo.  Others resist change because they tend to reject authority, especially the authority of Church leaders. 
It is important for us to realize what our role is and how critical it is for us to perform that role well.  Most of us are not in a position to influence or even debate these changes.  We are like the gentiles in the early Church who waited patiently for their leaders to return from Jerusalem and then accepted and rejoiced in these decisions.  I’m sure that there were some in Jerusalem and even in Antioch who didn’t agree with the decision of the council.   For the sake of their souls and for the sake of their mission in the early Church, I hope that they accepted the decision and obediently followed it.
As Jesus says in the Gospel, he doesn’t call us slaves, instead he calls us friends.  We aren’t forced, as slaves would be, to accept the decisions of our Church.  Instead, like friends, he constantly calls us lovingly to follow him and to follow his Church.  We are called to respond to this invite with love, even if we don’t currently understand or even like what is being done.  Then, we become true disciples who, like the apostles and many others thru the ages, will bear good fruit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jesus' love is everlasting

Tonight’s reading tells us that: “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”  Christ’s priesthood is an expression of his love, from which it cannot be separated. Since his love is everlasting, so too is his priesthood. In the first place, his priesthood is everlasting because it is linked to the Incarnation, which is permanent.  And it is everlasting because Christ’s mission is that of saving all men in all periods of history. And it is everlasting because Christ continues to be present in the prayers of the Church, particularly in the sacrifice of the cross constantly renewed in the Mass and in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, as we are tonight. Finally, it is everlasting because Christ’s sacrifice is perpetuated until the end of time in the ministerial priesthood, the bishops and priests consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate divine worship.

If Jesus love is everlasting, how long is everlasting? When will our world end? When will Jesus return for the final judgment?  Harold Camping—president of the Protestant radio outreach known as Family Radio—has been predicting for some time that the long-awaited Rapture will occur on May 21st of this year. I realize that it’s now May 25th and this date is passed, but I am writing this on May 17th, so I’m waiting to see if I will be able to give this reflection. 

Camping’s argument has a form something like this:
1) Noah’s Flood occurred in 4990 B.C.
2) Noah was warned seven days before the Flood that it would occur, per Genesis 7.
3) A day with the Lord is like a thousand years, per 2 Peter 3.
4) Therefore, 7,000 years after Noah’s Flood some great, Flood-like judgment will occur.
5) 4990 B.C. + 7000 -1 = A.D. 2011.
6) Therefore, the end of the world will occur in 2011.
Of course, Mr. Camping made similar predictions before. He famously got his followers worked up back in 1994 about that being the year the world would end. But this time is different!

You have to admire the courage of people like this gentleman who spent his life savings promoting these speculations, but not their wisdom. God help everyone on Sunday morning who had bought into this. Of course, that’s not to say Christ couldn’t come back on Saturday. I don’t see the signs being right for that, but who am I to say it couldn’t happen?

Most people in the early Church thought that Christ would come again very soon. In fact, this is one reason why the Gospels weren’t written for a generation or more after Jesus died. They thought that there wouldn’t be any need.  Eventually, when more and more of those who lived when Jesus walked the earth began to die, they realized that they must get his words written down and the Gospels were the result. 
Now, two thousand years later, we are still trying to figure out when Jesus will return. Some, like Mr. Camping, try to use the dates and times in the bible literally to come up with these predictions. For Catholics, it is reassuring to know that he does come again, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist, at every mass. As Catholics, we don’t believe in the rapture, that is, Christ coming to take his followers to heaven and leaving others for a period of tribulation. We also don’t interpret dates in the bible literally, as Mr. Camping does. So, in faith, we are very confident that this date and any other prediction about the end of the world need not be seriously considered. 

Although we don’t know the date or the time when the world will end, we do know that our world, our life, will be a short 70, 80, 90, or even 100 years. We must be vigilant and be prepared. If these predictions remind us that our time on this life is short, it might help us be better prepared.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Eucharist and the authority of the Catholic Church

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  This reading is critical to understanding of our Catholic faith, and especially the Eucharist.  So that we can better understand this teaching, I will summarize the discussion of Jesus with his disciples during this discourse.
 The disciples asked Jesus “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?   Jesus tells them: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  The disciples responded, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  Then, how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”  Jesus responded by telling them: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  The disciples quarreled among themselves saying: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  But Jesus responded:  “Amen, amen, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”  The disciples responded:  “This saying is hard, who can accept it.”  And many of them returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
As it was in Jesus time, so it is today.  The mystery of the Eucharist, of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the bread and wine at the altar after consecration is still hard and many cannot accept it.  In fact, this is the major difference between the Catholic Church and the other Christian churches.  The Eucharist, more than anything else, is what separates us from these denominations and it is what makes any reconciliation of our differences unlikely.   
The Eucharist is also the reason for many other doctrines which are unique to the Catholic Church.  It has been said that the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Catholic Church.  Also, the authority of the Church as it has been passed down from the apostles to the current bishops is critical to the ordination of priests and, therefore, to the consecration of the Eucharist 2000 years after Christ.  These bishops, under His authority ordain priests who then become the minister of the Eucharistic mystery, when, they, like Jesus change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. 
We have many within our Church who seem to accept the mystery of the Eucharist, but cannot accept the teaching authority of the Church in other matters.  For me and my logical mind, this doesn’t make sense.  If we accept that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in this bread and wine, we must also accept the authority of His Church passed down through the ages.  And if we accept this authority as demonstrated by the many priests who perform this miracle in thousands of churches throughout the world, we must also accept that this Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals.  We can trust in its Scriptures, as the inspired word of God and we can trust in its doctrines, as passed down through the Church’s Magisterium and Tradition and as articulated very well in the Catechism.    
In short, it seems to me that we have only two choices.  Our first choice is to believe that our Church, with the fullness of truth, has been and continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit through the centuries.  Then, we, unlike some of Jesus disciples, accept the teaching of the Eucharist and its other teachings on faith and morals, which are equally inspired.  Our other choice is to reject the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church, like many other Christians have done, and go our own way.  We may think that we, like some who call themselves cafeteria Catholics, can accept some teachings of the Church and reject others.  But, deep down, I expect that we realize that it is all or nothing.  Which shall it be for you?  Are you a follower of Jesus who embraces all the teachings of His Church?  Or are you one who rejects Him and His Church?  If you are trying reject some teachings and to accept others, I worry that you are being lukewarm and that your spiritual life may be in peril.    

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The safe boat of Peter

In tonight’s reading, St Peter says that we should, like living stones,  let ourselves be built into spiritual houses to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.

When, I think of spiritual houses, I think of the many beautiful Catholic churches that I have visited.  These certainly should inspire us to be built into spiritual houses acceptable to God. 

Tonight, I am going to use a different type of image for the Church.  I am using the image of a boat since recently the pope exchanged his Popemobile for a Pope-mo-boat for his visit to Venice.

A boat has long been associated with the Catholic Church. Peter as Pope is the new Noah or captain of the ship, and the Church is the boat, the Ark of Noah in the flood of the world's sin. Those within this ship are saved from the storm of God's wrath. We enter this ship through the water, the flood of baptism which is the New Testament sacrament of regeneration.

The image of the "safe boat of Peter" comes from the Gospel story in which Christ protects the boat of Peter in the stormy Sea of Galilee. Our first Pope Saint Peter himself uses the same imagery of Noah's Ark in chapter 3 of his first letter:  “God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved though water.  This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.  It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

So then, the Church on earth is the boat captained by Saint Peter or his successor. Granted, Peter was not always the perfect captain of the ship, for he denied Jesus three times.  But he is still the divinely appointed captain. Even if we Catholics should be scandalized by any Pope in the history of the Church, we would be fools to jump overboard into the stormy seas of the world. For Peter is the sign of unity for the Church.   Jesus said: "You are Peter and on this Rock I will build by Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."

 In Catholic churches, the portion of the building in which the laity sit during Mass is called the "nave," which is related to word "navy." It symbolizes the "boat" of the Church in which we safely sit.
So, tonight we safely sit in our boat, our Church, and we watch with concern and some trepidation the stormy seas of the world in which we live.  In hope, we remain confident that our boat will continue to withstand the stormy seas that seem to be on the horizon. 
The TV series and the movie, Mission Impossible always used the line “Your job, should you choose to accept it” before the mission impossible team was sent on their nearly impossible mission.  Today our job, should we choose to accept it, is to fill the boat with as many of our fellow travelers as we possibly can.  For our boat is not full and there are many schools of fish yearning to be caught.