Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

No Turning Back

In today's First Reading and Gospel, we hear about the commitment required for followers of God. When we answer God's call, there is no turning back. We must dedicate our lives completely to God and walk steadfastly down the path He has chosen for us. 

The First Reading, from 1 Kings 9, describes the call of the prophet Elijah's successor, Elisha. God orders Elijah, "You shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, as prophet to succeed you." Elijah obeys. He finds Elisha plowing his fields with twelve yoke of oxen. Elijah walks up and throws his cloak around Elisha. Elisha immediately grasps the significance. He understands that he has been called to something great. He leaves the oxen and runs after Elijah. At first, though, he hesitates just slightly: "Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you." Elijah replies, "Go back! Have I done anything to you?" With this, he subtly lets Elisha know that his new commitment, if he so chooses, must be total, or he should not make it at all. 

Elisha does go back but only briefly. He slaughters the oxen, boils them, and gives them to his people to eat in a gesture of farewell and blessing. Then he leaves his home and joins Elijah as an attendant. He never looks back. He has made his choose.

Jesus intensifies the level of commitment for His followers in today's Gospel, Luke 9:51-62. On the way to Jerusalem, several would-be followers approach Jesus. One says to Him. "I will follow You wherever You go." Jesus replies, "Foxes have dens and birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head." In other words, following Jesus is not easy. It takes a commitment to let go of the things of this world and step out in faith, trusting in Jesus for everything. 

Jesus tells another potential follower, "Follow Me." He has called this man to a life with Him, but the man hesitates. "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." Jesus' answer seems harsh: "Let the dead bury the dead." Sometimes following Jesus even means letting go of loved ones. 

A third person approaches Jesus and says, "I will follow You, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home." Again, Jesus seems a bit harsh: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." The commitment must be complete. There can be no backsliding. Followers of Jesus must put Jesus first...always. This does not mean that they cannot love their families and even enjoy the good things of this world, but Jesus must always take priority. When there is a choice between Jesus and someone or something else, the Christian must always choose Jesus. This is the level of commitment expected of all of us. There is no turning back.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thirsting for God

Today's Responsorial Psalm invites us to pray, “My soul is thirsting for You, O Lord my God.” Spend a few minutes today reflecting on how you live this prayer. The following questions might help.

1. Do you thirst for God in the Eucharist? How and why?

2. Do you thirst for God in the other sacraments? How and why?

3. Do you thirst for God in the Bible? How and why?

4. Do you thirst for God in prayer? How and why?

5. Do you thirst for God in the Church? How and why?

6. Do you thirst for God in the lives of the saints? How and why? 

7. Do you thirst for God in the way you treat your loved ones? How and why? 

8. Do you thirst for God in your actions toward all people? How and why?

9. Do you thirst for God in your work and in your leisure? How and why? 

10. Do you thirst for God in the way you use the things of this earth? How and why? 

11. Do you thirst for God in all your moral choices? How and why? 

12. In what other ways do you thirst for God?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 59

Psalm 59, like Psalm 57, is a psalm of David labeled as a Miktam and given the header “Do Not Destroy.” Again, Miktam is a mystery word that appears in only six psalms. Even though we don’t know what the word actually means, it suggests that the psalm possesses some distinguishing quality and that we should pay careful attention to it. The words “Do Not Destroy” are also mysterious. Some scholars suggest that this is a musical direction, telling the singers to use a particular tune. Others wonder if perhaps these words point to the psalm’s importance by ordering it to be preserved. 

The opening instructions also announce the context of this psalm: “when Saul ordered his [David’s] house to be watched in order to kill him.” The incident is described in 1 Samuel 19. David had just returned home from fighting the Philistines and putting them to flight. He was at Saul’s house playing music for him when, as verse 9 says, “an evil spirit” entered Saul (extreme jealousy perhaps), and Saul attempted to “pin David to the wall with a spear.” David dodged and fled, hurrying home to his wife Michal. Saul was not ready to give up. He sent messengers, spies really, to David’s house to keep watch and make sure that he didn’t leave, for Saul planned to kill him the next morning. Somehow Michal, who was Saul’s daughter, got wind of this plan. She told her husband that if he didn’t escape that night, he wouldn’t be alive the next morning. She quietly and carefully let David down through a window, and he ran off into the night. She then took an idol (some kind of statue of a household god perhaps), placed it in David’s bed, put a “net of goat’s hair” on its head, and covered it up. When Saul’s messengers came knocking at the door, Michal told them that David was sick in bed. Saul had already given the order for them to bring David to him so that he might kill his rival in person. The messengers, however, found only the idol. Saul was furious at Michal’s deception, but she backhanded nicely, claiming that David made her do it to save her own life. 

Psalm 59, then, is written when David is in his home, surrounded by Saul’s spies, in danger of death, and with no means of escape before Michal announces her plan. David focuses on four themes: a description of his enemies; what he wants God to do for him and why; Who God is to him; and what David will do for God. Let’s look closely at each of these.

First, David describes his enemies quite graphically. He is, after all, trapped and probably very frightened. He could lose his life at any moment. These enemies rise up against him (verse 1). The Hebrew verb is qûm, which suggests a sudden hostility, and certainly Saul’s rage is a sudden thing. One moment David is playing music for him. The next David is dodging his spear. These enemies are also bloodthirsty (verse 2). Both Saul and the messengers he sent are out to kill David,. They lie in wait for him, looking for the prime moment to move in and capture him (verse 3). David describes the messengers' boss as mighty and fierce (Hebrew ‛az), and certainly Saul the king is just that in his power and rage (verse 3). Saul’s spies prowl about the city, howling like dogs and bellowing. Their words are sharp like swords and threatening, and they are complacent in their role. “Who will hear us?” they think (verses 6-7). After all, they are messengers of the king. No one can question their actions. No one can stop them. They can prowl and howl all they want without fear of consequences. They can roam about the city like dogs seeking their food and growling if they do not get what they want (verses 14-15). No one will bother them. We can picture David, shut up in his house, listening to the enemies who surround him, perhaps peaking through a window at their sneaking and pacing. Does he hear their arrogant words, the sin of their mouths, their cursing and lies (verse 12)? He feels surrounded, trapped, like a deer by a pack of dogs. 

David’s fear pours out in prayer to God. “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;” he cries, “protect me from those who rise up against me” (verse 1). The Hebrew word for “deliver” (which also appears in verse 2) is nâtsal, which has overtones of rescue, escape, and even being snatched away. The Hebrew word for “protect” is actually śâgab. It means to set a person securely on high, to lift a person up and make him inaccessible. David is asking, then, that God help him escape from this trap and that God take him away and set him safely in a high place that his enemies cannot reach. 

At the moment, however, David feels like God isn’t paying attention to him. “Rouse Yourself,” he cries out in verse 4, “come to my help and see!” Wake up, God! Pay attention! Look at what’s happening here! See how I am surrounded and trapped and threatened with death! Punish these people who are seeking my life! 

David prays for the punishment of his enemies, but he limits himself. “Do not kill them,” he tells God (verse 11). Why? “[M]y people may forget.” A quick end to these enemies wouldn’t teach the Israelites a strong enough lesson, David seems to think. The people need to see what can happen to those who sneak and plot and threaten. “...[M]ake them totter by You power,” he prays, “and bring them down.” The Hebrew word for “totter” is nûa‛. It suggests scattering, shaking in fear, reeling, and trembling. David wants to see his enemies as scared as he is. Then the people will know what happens to those who threaten God’s friends and sin by plotting and speaking evil. “Consume them in wrath,” he concludes. “Consume them until they are no more” (verse 13). May they receive the destruction they have planned for me, God. Then they will know that You are in control. 

God can indeed do this, David knows. How? David understands Who God is, at least as much as a human being can. God is the “Lord God of hosts, and God of Israel” (verse 5). He is the God of angels and men, of Heaven and earth. All things are within His grasp. All things fall under His power. He is the One Who can laugh at evildoers (verse 8), for they can never threaten or defeat Him. They will come to the ruin by their sin; they will meet with God’s wrath. They will not escape His power and majesty. 

God is all-mighty and far above men, but He is also very close to David. God is his strength and his fortress (verse 9). The word for “fortress” is miśgâb, which derives from śâgab (see above). It suggests a high place, which is an unassailable stronghold, a retreat that enemies cannot penetrate. David also calls God a shield to His people (verse 11). God stands between His children and their enemies, protecting them from attack. Further, God is the One Who will meet David in “His steadfast love” and will allow him to look upon his enemies “in triumph” (verse 10). David is sure that God’s love, mercy, and kindness toward him will never fade and that God will bring him to victory in the end. 

At the end of the psalm, David returns to these characteristics of God. He emphasizes God’s might and proclaims again that God is a fortress for him (twice) and “a refuge in the day of my distress” (verses 16-17). God is his strength, he reiterates, Who shows him “steadfast love” (verse 17). Even in the midst of grave danger, David trusts in God. He knows Who God is and what He is capable of doing. He reassures himself that God will not abandon him to his enemies but will show his power and love to rescue David and protect him from all threats and evil.

In return, David promises to respond to God with praise. “But I will sing of Your might;” he prays, “I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning” (verse 16). “I will sing praises to You...” (verse 17). David will give God His due. He will worship Him for Who He is and what He does, and he will not be quiet about it. No, he will shout out ringing cries of joy (Hebrew rânan), letting everyone know about God’s power and love. His distress will not overwhelm him, for he trusts in God to rescue him. Then he will sing at the top of his lungs in gratitude and love for the God Who will never let him go.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today's Gospel, Luke 7:38 – 8:3, we read about the sinful woman who approached Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee. The woman did something very strange, at least in the eyes of the other guests (not that she herself was a guest, for she was clearly uninvited and unwanted by most of the party). While Jesus was reclining at the table, the woman came up behind Him with an alabaster flask of ointment (which would have been quite an expensive commodity). At first she merely stood behind Jesus, weeping, but then she approached Him, fell at His feet, and began to wash them with her tears. She dried Jesus' feet with her hair, kissed them, and then anointed them with the costly ointment. 

The other guests were shocked. This was not behavior that they would have seen at any other dinner party anywhere ever. In fact, it was scandalous. For a woman with a bad reputation to touch a man of Jesus' status, or any man at all for that matter, was a major way! Simon the Pharisee, the host, was appalled. He thought to himself, "If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." 

Jesus didn't have to hear Simon's words spoken out loud to know His host's opinion. Jesus turned to Simon and replied to his unspoken complaint with a story. There were once two debtors. One owed his creditor a huge sum of money, five hundred day's wages. The other owed a smaller but still significant amount of fifty day's wages. They were both unable to pay, but the creditor, being a merciful man, took pity on them and forgave their debts. They were free. Jesus asked Simon which of the two debtors would love the creditor more. Simon reluctantly replied that it would be the one who had owed the greatest amount. 

Jesus agreed. He had made His point. The woman before them was a great sinner. We don't know exactly what she had done. She could have been a prostitute. She may have stolen a large amount of money or cheated someone. Perhaps she lied frequently or even neglected her duties to her loved ones. She may have done any or all of these things, but that didn't matter now because Jesus had forgiven her of all her sins! They were wiped away. Gone. Why? Jesus explained to Simon: "...her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love." She loved Jesus, and she didn't hesitate to express that love even in the midst of a hostile crowd in someone else's house. She had not even confessed her sins to Jesus, at least not publicly, when He turned to her and said, "Your sins have been forgiven....Your faith has saved you; go in peace." The woman had believed strongly that Jesus could help her, could forgive her, could heal her of the spiritual agony she must have been suffering, and He did.

Those who were watching and listening were shocked. "Who is this who even forgives sins?" they asked. 

Who indeed can forgive sins so easily and so willingly? Jesus. Who waits for His sinful children to reach out to Him in love and repentance? Jesus. Who longs to feel our tears on His feet? Jesus. Who desires us to pour out our ointment of good works and loving deeds upon others and thereby upon Him? Jesus. Who is constantly ready to forgive the sins, even the many great sins, of those who love much? Jesus.

Lord Jesus, we love You. We know our guilt, and we fall at Your feet in tears of love and repentance. Forgive us our sins, Lord, and help us not to sin again. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fifteen Facts about Today's Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

1. Today's Gospel story occurred in the little village of Nain in Galilee not too far from Capernaum. This is the only time Nain is mentioned in the Bible, so it was probably an obscure little place where normal people lived their everyday lives. Yet it was also the scene of an amazing miracle. 

2. The death of a widow's only son was a horrible calamity. Not only did the mother lose a beloved child, but without him to care for her, she would be left destitute. Widows in Israel had no way to earn a living. Without a husband, son, father, or brother, they could only beg and/or rely upon meager public support if and when it was available. 

3. Jesus took the initiative here. He approached the widow and her deceased son. He saw the widow's grief and fear, took pity on her, and performed the miracle. No one asked Him to do it. God sees His children's needs and reaches into their lives.

4. The widow, the coffin bearers, and the citizens of Nain probably did not know who Jesus was when He approached them. They must have been extremely surprised when He told the widow, “Do not weep.” 

5. Jesus stopped the coffin bearers with a single touch of the coffin. He must have exuded great authority, for they obeyed immediately.

6. Jesus raised the widow's son from the dead with a firm command: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” In Greek the words are “Neaniske, soi legō egerthēti.” Neaniske typically refers to a man not yet forty years old. The verb legō means “I say” and indicates Jesus' personal involvement. This miracle could happen only because Jesus said so, because He commanded it. The verb egerthēti is imperative. It is a direct order. Further, it is in passive tense, which means that instead of “Arise!” it should be translated “Be raised up!” The young man was not rising up on his own power but by God's power. 

7. The effect was immediate. The young man sat up and began to speak. St. Luke does not record what he said. Perhaps it didn't matter; he was alive and talking. He had returned from the dead.

8. Jesus gave the son to his mother. The verb used here, didōmi, points to a freely bestowed gift. Jesus did not have to raise this man from the dead. He did not have to give a mother back her son. Yet He freely and graciously chose to do so.

9. The crowd was seized with fear when they saw what Jesus had done. They had just witnessed an event that was humanly impossible. The young man was definitely dead, and now he was definitely alive. 

10. In the face of such a miracle, there was only one thing to do, and the crowd did it. They glorified God. They recognized His hand at work. 

11. The crowd, however, misidentified Jesus, thinking Him to be a great prophet, but they also exclaimed, “God has visited His people!” Little did they know how right they were. 

12. Word of what Jesus had done spread quickly and widely throughout all of Israel. Jesus was becoming famous, but that wasn't what He wanted. His performed miracles to show God's great love for His people, to prove that the Kingdom of Heaven was indeed at hand, and to indicate that He was the long-awaited Messiah.

13. Today's First Reading from 1 Kings 17:17-24 foreshadows the Gospel, for in it, the prophet Elijah also raised a widow's son from the dead. The stories have many similarities but also many differences, for Jesus is far, far more powerful than Elijah ever was. 

14. Today's Responsorial Psalm from Psalm 30 allows God's people to respond with joy to the miracles described in the Gospel and the First Reading, for it lifts God up in praise and acknowledges that He has rescued His faithful ones from the netherworld. 

15. Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose again to save His people from death, not physical death, for everyone will die, but spiritual death, that separation from God for all eternity that is often called hell. Through God's grace, those with a living faith in Jesus Christ will not experience that spiritual death but will live forever with Him in Heaven. That is the greatest miracle of all. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 57

The NSRV titles Psalm 57 “Praise and Assurance under Persecution.” A close reading of this psalm sets these three elements, praise, assurance, and persecution, in clear relief. 

Let's begin with the psalm's instruction line, which tells us that this is a “Miktam” of David “when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” Miktam is a mystery word; no one knows what it means. It appears in only six psalms, all of them “of David” and perhaps refers to a specific type of psalm. In any case, the word invites us to pay close attention to the psalm that follows, for if it is a rare designation, then we can deduce that we are reading a very special psalm. There is one more mystery word in the instruction, 'al tashchêth, which translates as “Do not destroy.” Some scholars speculate that this might be a musical cue, letting the leader or chief musician know that he is to sing the psalm to the tune of a song by that name. Others wonder if perhaps this indicates the psalm's importance or even refers to its context.

We can find that context in 1 Samuel 22 and 24. David was on the run, fleeing the murderous jealousy of Saul. He took refuge in the cave of Adulam and gathered about four hundred people to himself, those who were discontented, in distress, or in debt. People seemed to understand that they could turn to David for leadership and support. We'll see why as we look more closely at this psalm. One day, when David and the others were deep in the cave (either the one previously mentioned or another), Saul wandered in “to relieve himself,” as the text delicately notes. David could have killed him on the spot. Saul was alone, defenseless, and vulnerable. His men even encouraged him to do so, telling him that God had delivered his enemy right into his hands. David crept forward, but all he did was cut off a corner of Saul's cloak. Afterward, he felt guilty. “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord's anointed,” David moaned. He proceeded to scold his men and forbid them to harm Saul in any way. After Saul had left the cave, David called to him from a distant, letting the king know how his enemy had spared his life. Apparently, David composed this psalm while he was hiding in one of these caves, avoiding and sparing Saul.

David develops an interesting structural pattern throughout this psalm. We can outline it as follows:

A – Prayer of assurance – what God will do for David – verses 1-3
B – Description of persecution – verse 4
C – Praise for God – verse 5
B – Description of persecution – verse 6
A – Prayer of assurance – what David will do for God – verses 7-10
C – Praise for God – verse 11

Let's look at each of these sections in detail.

The poem begins with a prayer of assurance in which David asks for God's mercy and outlines what God will do for him. “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,” David begins, “for in You my soul takes refuge, in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until the destroying storms pass by.” A storm is swirling around David; he is hunted, and getting caught would cost him his life. He has nowhere else to turn except to God, Who stands as His refuge in this time of trial and exile. Like a baby bird, he will hide beneath God's wing, safe from the wind and rain of life. 

David continues, crying to God, “Who fulfills His purpose for me.” God has a plan for David's life. David may not see it at the moment, as he is hiding out in a cave, but he knows it is true. Even in the darkness, he trusts that God will bring him light. Even when he can't see the path his life will take in the future, he is certain that God knows and that He will bring his life to its proper fulfillment and perfection (Hebrew gâmar). 

God will do more than just secure David's future. He will also help him in the present. David proclaims, “He will send from heaven and save me, He will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth His steadfast love and His faithfulness.” God will stretch out from Heaven (Hebrew shâlach), sending His love and mercy (Hebrew chêsêd), His faithfulness, stability, truth, and reliability (Hebrew 'emeth). David's life is in an uproar at the moment. Only God is steadfast; only God is sure. God sends David what he needs to survive, mostly His great love. Further, David is certain that God will punish his enemies, those who pursue him, seeking to devour and destroy him. Notice that he allows God to take this vengeance; David does not presume to do so. He trusts in God to reproach his enemies.

The psalm now moves into a description of the persecution David has been enduring. He says, “I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.” With poetic imagery, David emphasizes the danger of his situation. He is in the midst of beasts who wish to devour his life as thoroughly as a lion devours its prey. These enemies come after him with spears and arrows and with sharp swords to slay him. 

Then, suddenly, in the midst of portraying his foes, David switches gears. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,” he cries out. “Let Your glory be over all the earth.” Even in the middle of persecution, David can, and does, spontaneously break out into praise. Recognizing God's splendor and honor, David raises Him up for all to see. He worships the God Who is above the heavens, so far beyond his wildest imagining, yet Whose glory is over all the earth. He is a God Who is both transcendent and imminent, and David worships Him in awe.

After his interlude of praise, David returns to describing his persecution. His enemies, he explains, “set a net for my steps...” They “dug a pit in my path...” They have laid a trap for David, hoping to catch him as their prey. But this has backfired. Instead of capturing David, they have fallen into their own snares. Why? As David says before, God will reproach these men. He will punish them for their injustice. They will feel His wrath. The effects of their sins will snag them as surely as they wished to ambush David. 

With this realization, David begins to pray a new prayer of assurance, this time telling God what he will do for Him. “My heart is steadfast, O God,” he affirms, “my heart is steadfast.” David is settled in his ways. He will not turn away from God. He is firmly established, prepared, fixed, and rightly directed (Hebrew kûn). Further, David is ready to sing to God and to “make melody” to the Most High. Even in his suffering, he praises. “Awake, my soul!” he shouts. “Awake lyre and harp!” Even in a dark cave, he will compose a psalm, a prayerful song, a joyful acclamation. He will also give thanks to God “among the peoples” and sing His praises “among the nations.” He can't do so now, hidden away as he is, but he will do it. He will proclaim God to the whole world. Why? “For Your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; Your faithfulness extends to the clouds.” God is all-faithful. God is all-good. God is all-loving. God is everything to David, and he can't wait to tell everyone about it.

David concludes his psalm by repeating his exclamation of praise: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let Your glory be over all the earth.” In the worst possible situation, David praises. Be exalted, God in Heaven; shine Your glory on earth.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Little Something Extra...The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

A Eucharistic Primer

In honor of today's feast, Corpus Christi, let's take some time to review the basics of the Eucharist, which John Paul II, quoting Vatican II, calls “the source and summit of Christian life.” 

1. Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We read versions of the institution narrative in Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. In these passages, Jesus very clearly tells His disciples, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood.” He also instructs them “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Catholics take Jesus at His word; we believe that the Eucharist truly is His Body and Blood.

2. In John 6, Jesus gives His “Bread of Life” discourse about the Eucharist. Only the day before, He had fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. Now He wants the crowds to know about the “true bread from heaven.” He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” The Jews become irritated with Jesus because of His claims. So He continues, not softening His language or telling His audience that He is merely speaking symbolically. No, He intensifies His discourse. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Now the Jews are really wondering what Jesus is talking about. “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” they ask each other. Jesus doesn't back down. He intensifies again. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” This is too much for Jesus' audience. The Jews are offended and many of Jesus' disciples with them. In fact, many of His disciples turn away from Him and leave. Jesus does not go running after them. He does not call them back for more explanation. He does not water down His words or claim for them a merely symbolic meaning. No, He means what He says. His Body is true food, and His Blood is true drink.

3. Indeed, Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. When a bishop or priest says the words of consecration, Jesus' very words of institution, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood”, those words bring about the very reality about which they speak. Jesus is really present.

4. The theological word describing the change from bread and wine into Jesus' Body and Blood is transubstantiation. Philosophy speaks of the substance and the accidents of things. The accidents of a thing are its outward characteristics, what can be seen, smelled, touched, tasted, or heard. The substance is a thing's inner reality apart from its outward characteristics. During consecration, the substance of the bread and wine transforms into Jesus' Body and Blood while the accidents remain the same. The bread and wine is now completely Jesus. The inner reality has been totally changed. The Eucharist may look and taste like bread and wine, but it no longer is. 

5. This miracle happens at every Mass, every day, all over the world. Jesus becomes really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, on the altar. He comes to us as our food. God as our food... What could be more intimate than that? Could Jesus do any more for us than to surrender Himself completely to us like this? He joins Himself to us in our bodies as well as in our hearts and souls.

6. Once consecrated, the Eucharist remains Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He is present in every tabernacle, waiting for us to come and adore Him. This is why we genuflect before the tabernacle and behave with dignity and respect in Church. The living God is present in a very special way.

7. Our behavior at Mass should reflect our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

8. We fast an hour beforehand that we may cultivate a proper hunger for our Lord and Savior in the Eucharist. We deny ourselves lesser goods that we might properly receive the greatest Good of all. 

9. We dress appropriately for Mass because we are meeting our King. This doesn't mean that we must dress fancy, but we shouldn't look like we've just cleaned the garage or like we're going to the beach either. Modesty is key here. 

10. We pay attention at Mass. Yes, everyone's mind wanders, but we should get in the habit of bringing it back. We must be especially attentive during consecration when Jesus becomes present.

11. We prepare our hearts to receive Jesus through prayer before Holy Communion. We get ready to welcome Him. Also, we never receive Jesus in the Eucharist unless we are in a state of grace. A person who has committed a mortal sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Eucharist. 

12. Receiving the Eucharist is the most important thing we will do all week, for we are receiving Jesus Christ, Who is coming to make His home in us, to heal us, to pour His grace into us, and to lift us up to Him. Therefore, we must be sure to receive Him properly. Our walk up toward the altar should be focused and meditative. We are about to meet Jesus in a most intimate way. We bow before Jesus in the Host and in the Cup to show that we recognize the living God. We pray a firm “Amen” when we hear the words “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ” to give our consent to the truth of these words. We receive the Host reverently either in the hand (making a throne for Him) or on the tongue, being extremely careful. We also receive the Cup with great care and reverence.

13. When we return to our pews, we offer our sincere thanksgiving, for Jesus Christ is truly within us! There are numerous prayers to help us express our feelings, or we can simply speak spontaneously from our hearts. This is the perfect time to bring all of our cares and concerns, our joys and our sorrows, our whole lives before Jesus, Who is so very close to us.

14. Over the centuries, Jesus has blessed His people with numerous Eucharistic miracles, designed to confirm and strengthen our faith in the Eucharist. Take some time to read about them at the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association website.

15. To learn more about the Eucharist, check out the following: a) the Catechism; b) American Catholic website; c) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; d) Dr. Scott Hahn on the Eucharist; e) the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 55

Psalm 55 is the pain-filled lament of someone who, facing numerous enemies, has been betrayed by a close friend. Horrified by this turn of events, the psalmist, identified as King David, expresses his hurt and confusion in an extended and somewhat rambling prayer. That’s our first lesson. We can and should bring our troubles and pain to God. God wants to hear what’s going on with us, even when we’re so upset we can hardly speak coherently. 

David begins with a plea for God to hear him. Listen God, he begs. Hear me. Pay attention. Don’t hide Yourself from me. Don’t shut the door. Answer me. Let me know that You are here and that You care. David uses several strong Hebrew words to express this appeal: 'âzan (listen, pay attention, hear favorably), ‛âlam (disregard, conceal, hide, pay no attention, shut the door), qâshab (pay attention, heed, regard, mark well), and ‛ânâh (answer, respond, shout, announce). The psalmist is in earnest; he is urgent; he needs help now.

Why? David explains: “I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.” David is restless (rûd - the Hebrew word translated here as troubled). Enemies are coming at him from all sides, pressuring him, distressing him, bringing evil. They are relentless and angry, stubbornly bearing a grudge against him. The world is closing in upon him, and he feels trapped. His “heart is in anguish,” he explains. “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.” This is torture (the Hebrew word chûl, here translated as anguish can also suggest writhing in pain, extreme fear and anxiety, and great grief). Horror surges around him on all sides. He wants to escape, to fly away like a dove and take rest in some far away wilderness where he can find shelter from “the raging wind and tempest.” He longs for peace, but all he sees and feels is war. 

David prays that this confusion might be turned back upon his enemies, that God might swallow them up, might engulf them, might confound them, might turn them against each other. As he looks at the city, probably Jerusalem, that is under their control, all he sees is trouble and wickedness, oppression and deceit. The city is falling into ruin and misery through the misdeeds of his enemies. 

Here we might pause to discuss the context of this psalm. If the city described here is indeed Jerusalem, then this psalm could very well refer to the horrible time in David’s life when his son Absalom turned against him, drawing supporters through his honied words and lavish promises and eventually driving his father from the city in disgrace. David lived in exile until his son was defeated and killed.

The next few verses seem to support this interpretation. David says that if it were only his enemies who were taunting him, he could bear it. He could hide from them physically and perhaps also emotionally. He could conceal his weakness, steel himself, and lock out the hurt. But that is not the case. The one tormenting him is a close companion, a “familiar friend,” someone with whom David has walked in “pleasant company,” someone with whom he has worshiped side by side in God’s house, someone like his son. David addresses this person directly in verses 13 and 14, almost pleading, reminding him of their former intimacy 

In verse 15, David’s hurt suddenly boils over into anger. “Let death come upon them;” he rails, “let them go down alive into Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.” Of whom is he speaking here? He is now using the third person plural rather than the second person singular. David certainly didn’t want Absalom to perish; in fact, he gave his men specific instructions to spare his son, and he grieved when he heard of Absalom’s death. Could he perhaps be referring to those he suspects of corrupting Absalom or those who followed and encouraged his fallen son? The curse is a strong one: death, desolation, destruction. He even wishes that the earth would open up and swallow them whole. 

David quickly collects himself and turns his attention back to prayer. He calls on God. He takes his complaint to Him, moaning day and night. In doing so, he trusts that God will hear and save him. “He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me...” The picture looks bleak at the moment, but God can overcome David’s enemies, for God is powerful. He sits on the throne as Ruler of heaven and earth. He will hear David and humble those who are stubborn and do not fear Him. 

Even with this assurance, David cannot get his betrayer off his mind. He returns to him in verse 20, almost incredulous that this one who had been his companion has driven him away and violated the covenant that they had made. If he is referring to Absalom, the idea of covenant is crucial. They are family, after all, father and son, and that bond of self-giving love should be strong between them. The betrayer led David to think it was. His speech was “smoother than butter,” David remembers. His words were “softer than oil.” But appearances didn’t match reality. The betrayer’s heart was “set on war,” and his words were “drawn swords” ready to destroy David. David’s pain is evident. How could someone so close to him have stooped so low as to deceive him, to lie to him, to flatter him, and then to stab him in the back? 

In his pain, David reminds himself of what he must do. “Cast your burden on the Lord,” he commands himself and us, “and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Let God take the burden before it squashes you, David seems to say. Let God handle this, for He can do it better than anyone else. He will hold you up, David assures himself. He will provide. He will not let you fall and be shattered. God does that for those who are righteous, for those who place Him first, for those who trust and obey Him. 

For the wicked, another fate awaits. God will cast them down. He will throw them into the “lowest pit,” into hell. Their lives will be cut short by their treachery and guilt. They cannot survive. David is right. His son Absalom died young, killed by David’s defenders. Many of those who followed Absalom died with him. 

David ends with a firm proclamation to God: “But I will trust in You.” No matter what has happened, is happening, or will happen, David will look toward God for support, help, and protection. God will come through for him, for He has a plan that is perfectly designed for his life. The same is true for all of us. No matter what hardships we experience, no matter who betrays us, God is there, and He is in control. We must only trust.