Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Chirsti Sunday

On this celebration of Corpus Christi, I decided to tell you the story of a saint. Not one of the “Big ones” like Francis of Assisi or Therese de Lesieux. The Saint I’m talking about is hardly known. The reason why I’m talking about her today is because of a conversation she had with a deacon, about 800 years ago, a conversation that unknown to both of them, was going to change the history of the Church forever. Her name is St Juliana of Liege.
She was born in the year 1193. When she was 18 years old St Juliana began having mystical experiences in which Jesus visited her, and it was these private revelations that made her dedicate her life to the propagation of devotions to the Blessed Sacrament.
Anyone reading the stories of St Juliana’s visions, would dismiss them as just one more story from just one more virtually unknown medieval Nun, except for the fact that one day, by chance, a Deacon named James Pantaleon, a young theologian of his time, decided to visit Juliana in her convent. During this visit she revealed to Deacon James that in one of her visions Jesus had specifically requested to have one day of the year dedicated to the exaltation of the Eucharist. The young deacon was so impressed with Juliana’s sincerity that he left her convinced she was telling the truth.
What neither of them could have known was that, with time this same deacon became a leading medieval theologian, which allowed him to advance in the ranks of the church leadership until in the year 1261 Deacon James Panteleon, was elected Pope Urban IV. Now Urban never forgot his encounter with St Juliana, and the story of her visions, and in the year 1264 just a few months before his own death declared the feast of Corpus Christy a universal feast of the Church.
And since then, answering to the desires of Jesus expressed in the private revelations of an obscure visionary, every year the Church takes this day to reflect on the mystery of the Eucharist, on the mystery that is, Jesus Christ resurrected and glorified body, blood, soul and divinity making himself present on the altar and becoming food and drink to satisfy our thirst and hunger.
Like I said, all this happened in medieval times, 800 years ago; with time the Church came to realize that the miracle of the Body and Blood of our Lord is the one fundamental truth of our belief. It is the one truth by which The Catholic Church stands or falls, to the point that the Second Vatican council simply calls the Eucharist the “Source and summit of our faith”.
But what is the meaning of this to us? Just think about it for a second, if what we had been doing and proclaiming since the revelations to St Juliana, in fact since the times of the apostles… if this is somehow not true then every time we treat the bread and the wine as if it is our God, every time we kneel, genuflect, pray to it, offer our adoration to it, offer it to the Father as a victim for our sins, we are committing a terrible blasphemy.
On the other hand… if we are right, if the words of Jesus in the gospel are in fact true when he says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven… Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” If Jesus truly meant all this we read in the Gospel of John today, then every time we come to mass we are witnessing the greatest miracle of all times. In every mass the God of the universe enters His creation, to bring us closer to Him, and every time we receive communion, when we eat and drink his body and blood we are making Him part of our bodies, part of our DNA, part of who we are.
Simply put my brothers and sisters Corpus Christi Sunday is a day to reflect on where are stand; Is the one day of the year in which Jesus challenges us directly. What do we truly believe? Do we believe in Jesus own words or is this teaching to hard for us? Do we believe it is truly Him who we receive in communion? This is a day to look within ourselves and think hard if I truly believe that God loves me so much and that he is so powerful that in an incredible act of love he becomes for me, bread and wine, so that He can be as close to me as it is humanly possible in this side of heaven.
This is a day for us to examine what we think is true. Because if we believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist it would make sense for us to spend hours, days prostrated in adoration thanking him for all the gifts he has bestowed in us? If we truly believed he is present in every mass it would make sense for us never allow anything, not sports event, no travel team, no business or vacation trip to keeping us from attending mass on Sundays.
If we believed Jesus is present in the Eucharist, every time we had a problem, or become scared, or tired or confused; this place right here in front of the Tabernacle would be the first place in which we would look for consolation, not on friends, not on food, not on sex, not on therapists, but right here were he can see us in all our sinfulness and brokenness, and we can see him in all his humility.
If we truly believed Jesus words, we would be like St Juliana and the Eucharist would become our number one priority in life not only at church but at home, in school, at camp; every were we go and everything we say and do would be pointing towards making sure we are bringing glory and honor to Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior.
Blessed be Jesus in the most holy sacrifice of the altar.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascencion of our Lord

As I was preparing to preach this Sunday I came across a homily from Father Ron Rolheiser, one of my favorite preaches. I liked it so much that I decided to adapt it for this Sunday. I borrowed quite a bit from Him. Some words are my own, some words are Fr. Ron's, but it was all inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of God The Father. I hope you enjoy it.
Today we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord, one of the most mysterious events in the life of Jesus. To understand its meaning we have to return to the Last Supper account that is recorded by the apostle John in his Gospel. In here we find Jesus giving His apostles final instructions and preparing them for what lay ahead. And, he did this by explaining the reason why he had to leave them; not by dying on the cross but by finally returning to the one how sent him. There is no doubt about this in the culminating point of his instructions we hear Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go away! For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you.”
All 4 gospel accounts record that the Apostles did not understand what he was talking about. And it was not until his ascension and after the coming of the Holy Spirit that they realized how the sadness of this final departure had turned into great joy.
Jesus knew their hearts very well. He knew that after, experiencing the sorrow of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection, His final goodbye was going to leave them confused and scared. And he knew this because part of been human is not been able to handle separation and absence. After all, we are created to be in relationships. It does not matter how strong we might think we are, no matter the circumstance; no one can handle final a goodbye and having to let go of someone we love.
Separation and absence are part of the human condition, they can be painful, they can fill us with emptiness, and they can make us feel as if all the color, energy, and joy that form the tapestry of our lives are snuffed like a candle in the night. Jesus knew this very well, but he also knew the meaning of his resurrection, the fact that with him there are no goodbyes.
Our daily experiences are proof of this. How many times after the restless, dark heartache of a painful goodbye passes something happens that makes us experience the opposite. And we realize that goodbye is just a new way of seeing and sensing our loved one’s presence in a new and different way.
Parents, for example, experience this when their children grow up and leave home to start lives of their own, or get married, or when they leave for college, and specially that very first day of school in kindergarten.
When we separate from someone we love we are left with a restless heartache and feelings of emptiness. But, after a while, especially when we meet that person again, the heartache quickly disappears. Because by their absence they make us realize how rich is our love for them. The pain of losing someone can turns into the joy of finding something deeper in the one whom we thought we had lost.
“It is better for you that I go away”, These are the unspoken words that children say to their parents when they leave home; these are the unspoken words we say to our friends when we have to move on with our lives; these are the unspoken words spouses sometimes say to each other when they have to grow in ways that, at the end of the day, will make a marriage stronger; and these are the unspoken words we say to each other every time we have to say a final goodbye.
The interplay of presence and absence in life is a great mystery. Jesus shows this today in the gospel with his final goodbye to his friends. As people created for relationships, we need to be present to each other physically, but we also need to be gone from each other at times. We bring a blessing both when we are with someone and when leave someone for a time. There is no presence without absence and there is something of our spirit that we can only give to the ones we love by going away.
Why is this so? Because absence is sometimes the only thing that can purify presence. When we are physically present, there are always tensions, irritations, disappointments, and faults in our character that partially block our full love. That’s why we rarely appreciate our loved ones fully, until they are taken away from us.
The pain of absence can help us to stretch our hearts so that the essence, the beauty, the love, and the gift of the one who is absent can flow into us without being distorted by the tensions, disappointments, and flaws of everyday life. Absence can work to stretch our hearts so that we can receive our loved one in a way that more fully accepts and respects them for who they really are. That’s why children have to go away because in this way they force parents to accept that they are growing and that as time passes, they have to develop lives of their own.
The mystery of saying goodbye is really the mystery of the Ascension, the less understood of all the mysteries in the life of Jesus. Is a mystery that speaks about having to go away and having to let go, so that our loved ones can fully receive our spirit. It’s a mystery about having to say goodbye, when goodbye isn’t really goodbye at all, but only love’s way of taking on a different color, a color that is deeper, purer, more permanent, less-clinging, and less-limited by the tensions, disappointments, inadequacies, wounds, and betrayals that that are part of our fallen nature and that distort all our relationships. The mystery of the Ascension It’s a mystery about living with each other even when we are still a work in progress. Is a mystery about understanding than in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, goodbye is just another way of saying, I love you. God bless you my brothers and sisters.