Monday, June 30, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Dangerous Men

Saints Peter and Paul were dangerous men. That seems like an exaggeration, doesn't it? We don't tend to associate the word “dangerous” with these two, but to the Jews and the Romans, they were at the top of the most wanted list. Why? Peter and Paul were turning society upside down by openly preaching and spreading the Christian faith, and the Jews and Romans didn't like it one bit.

We find evidence of this in today's First Reading. Peter's fellow apostle James had just been martyred by King Herod, who saw the Christians as a severe threat to his power. Herod captured Peter, too, but he didn't kill him immediately. Perhaps he wanted to question him or maybe even torture him, and he certainly intended to bring him before the people at Passover, probably hoping for a repeat performance of Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion. 

Herod made sure that Peter was securely held in prison, under the guard of sixteen soldiers, firmly fastened with two sets of chains, and even forced to sleep between two of his guards. What did Herod expect Peter to do? Break out? Start a rampage? He clearly thought that the fisherman-turned-preacher was a dangerous threat and an escape risk.

Peter proved Herod right, at least as far as escaping was concerned. In the middle of the night, Peter awoke to find an angel in his cell. The angel told him to get up, and the chains fell from Peter's wrists. The soldiers remained soundly asleep while Peter put on his belt, sandals, and cloak and the angel guided him out of the prison and through the city. Peter thought that perhaps the whole thing was a vision, but as soon as he was safely outside the city, the angel left him, and Peter realized that he was actually free. This “dangerous” man had escaped, and Herod would be awfully surprised in the morning. 

Paul, too, was no stranger to incarceration. The Jews and the Romans also considered him a dangerous man and a menace to their way of life and their beliefs. That didn't seem to bother Paul at all. Today's Second Reading, which is part of a letter Paul wrote to Timothy, acknowledges that God had rescued him from evil threats many times and given him the strength to cope with anything the world might throw at him. In another letter, he had specifically listed all his hardships, which included flogging, stoning, shipwreck, and danger everywhere. 

Now, however, Paul realized that his situation was especially precarious. He was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting his fate. He was chained in a dungeon, and he realized that his life was nearly at an end. He told Timothy that he was being poured out like a libation, a sacrifice to God, and he was ready to leave this world. His job was nearly finished. He had kept the faith. In the midst of all his trials, he had proclaimed the Gospel and remained a dangerous threat to his opponents. He had done his job.

Peter and Paul were both martyred at Rome in the 60s A.D. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Both men faced their deaths with courage and prayer, knowing that they were dying for Jesus Christ. They also had confidence that the Gospel message they had so faithfully proclaimed would continue to spread. No human being could stop it. Their enemies may have finally disposed of them, but the danger remained. These dangerous men, Peter and Paul, were accompanied and would be followed by many other Christians who would continue to challenge and frighten the whole world.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

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

Learn about the Eucharist

The Fathers of Vatican II call the Eucharist the source and summit of Christian life. Everything that we are as Christians flows from the Eucharist and is directed back toward the Eucharist. Why? Because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is really and truly present in the Eucharist. This is the Catholic faith. The Eucharist is not a symbol. It is not merely a communal meal or a nice ritual. It is not bread and wine. It is Jesus Christ. All Catholics must believe in the Real Presence, or they cease to be Catholic. 

As Catholics, we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can about the Eucharist. We begin with faith in the Real Presence, and then we seek to help this faith grow and deepen by study. This is one of the most important things we can do with our time and energy, for by studying the Eucharist, we get to know Jesus better. We learn about His great love for us, a love that is so strong that He humbles Himself to appear in the form of bread and wine and come to us as our food. 

Over the next few weeks, set aside a bit of time each day to read about the Eucharist. Five or ten minutes will do to begin, but you will probably find yourself so caught up in your study that you forget the time. Below are some suggestions to start you off. 

* Scott Hahn's excellent presentation “The Fourth Cup: The Sacrament of the Eucharist”
* Fr. John A. Hardon's article “The Real Presence”
* Fr. John A. Hardon's article “The Eucharist as the Living Christ”
* “Introduction to the Eucharist” on the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association website
* “Mass and Liturgy” on the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association website
* The article “Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” at Catholic Online
* “The Holy Eucharist” page at EWTN

This will be enough to get you started. For further study try these books:

* The Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn
* Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre
* A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Edward Sri
* Eucharist by Robert Baron
* Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church by Scott Hahn
* 7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn
* God is Near Us by Pope Benedict XIV

Make a commitment to learn something about the Eucharist every day. You will never regret it, and you will only grow in your faith and strengthen your relationship with our Eucharistic Lord.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Who Is God?

On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, our Scripture readings help us answer, at least in part, one of the most fundamental and important questions we can ever ask: “Who is God?” We can never know completely, of course, for God is far beyond our limited human minds and weak human concepts. But God does reveal Himself to us, and if we pay close attention and pray, we can get to know Him and strengthen our relationship with Him.

Let's see, then, what today's readings have to say about Who God is.

1. God has a name. He proclaims it to Moses in the First Reading. This seems self-evident and rather unimportant, but in revealing His name, God is creating intimacy with human beings. He is allowing Himself to be known. In the Bible, a name is not simply an identifying word; it refers to one's character. Although the translators have chosen not to use God's name here, instead following the Israelite custom of substituting “Lord,” the name pronounced in the Hebrew is “Yahweh,” or “I am.” God is being. He exists in Himself without ever having been created by anyone or anything else. The rest of us are creatures. He is the eternal Creator.

2. God also describes several of His characteristics to Moses. He is merciful and gracious. He is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Our God is a compassionate God. He treats His people with great kindness and love, and He keeps the promises, the covenant, He has made with us. His anger does not flare up quickly even when we deserve it. He is always ready to reach out to repentant hearts with forgiveness and grace.

3. God deserves reverent worship. Moses bows down to the ground in awestruck wonder as he stands before God.

4. Moses also understands, however, that he can make requests to God, Who always hears him. Moses asks God to come along with the Israelites on their journey, to pardon their sins, and to make them His own. Our reading does not tell us God's response, but we know that it was and is a firm and continual “Yes!”

5. The Responsorial Psalm, as usual, invites us to respond to the First Reading, and in this case, we do so with an outpouring of praise. We recognize that God is the God of our fathers. We come from a long line of believers, who have passed our faith on to us. This is part of God's plan. He has lovingly given us the community of the Church.

6. We also declare with joy that God is worthy of all our praise and that His name (the one He revealed to Moses) is holy and glorious. God is exalted on high, so far above us that our minds fall short whenever we try to contemplate His glory. His sits on the throne of His kingdom, ruling over the whole universe, over everything that has ever existed, exists now, and will ever exist. Yet, God also looks down upon us even from His great height. He looks down with love beyond all telling. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is closer to us than our very breath.

7. In the Second Reading, from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we learn that God is “the God of love and peace.” God loves us with a love greater than we can ever know or understand, and He gives us His peace if we open our hearts to receive it. In Greek the word for peace is eirēnē, and it refers not just to a state of calmness or tranquility or safety (although that is certainly part of the picture) but also to wholeness. When we accept the peace that God offers, we are whole. All our pieces are joined together in harmony, and we are at rest in God.

8. Paul also gives us a peak into God's nature as Trinity when he blesses his readers with “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” God the Father pours out His love through His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, which is that Love in person, brings us into communion with the Father and the Son.

9. Today's Gospel contains one of the best-known Bible verses of all time: John 3:16 - “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God the Father did not hesitate to give up, to sacrifice, His only-begotten Son so that those who have faith might live with Him eternally. What's more, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, did not hesitate to give up Himself, to sacrifice Himself, so that those who have faith might live with Him eternally. Now that is love!

10. God, the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants to save the world. He doesn't want anyone to perish. He doesn't want anyone to be separated from Him for all eternity or even for an instant. He longs for us to turn to Him, to believe in Him, to love Him, to give ourselves to Him. On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, reach out to God, embrace the mystery of the Three-in-One, and give Him your heart, your mind, your soul, your spirit, your whole being. He will give you Himself in return.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Pentecost

Traditional Prayers to the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. He is probably the most difficult to get to know and the most challenging to pray to. But the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and our Protector, the One Who guides our hearts and fills them with saving grace and with gifts beyond all telling. The Holy Spirit lives inside us when we are in a state of grace, dwelling in the deepest part of our souls. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and His love for us is beyond our understanding, for as saints and theologians have said, the Holy Spirit is the very love of God, so strong and powerful that it is a real Person. 

We Catholics are lucky because when we can't find the words to pray, we can fall back on the words of others. For centuries, holy people have been composing prayers to the Holy Spirit, asking for His presence and His power to invade our lives. Below you will find a collection of traditional prayers to the Holy Spirit taken from the Raccolta prayer book. Use them over the next few weeks. Recite them attentively and devoutly. Make them your own. Before long, you will discover that you know the Holy Spirit better than ever and that your relationship with Him has grown and deepened.

Hymn to the Holy Spirit

Come, O Creator Spirit blest! 
And in our souls take up thy rest; 

Come, with thy grace and heavenly aid, 
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made. 

Great Paraclete! to Thee we cry: 
O highest gift of God most high!

O fount of life! O fire of love!
And sweet Anointing from above! 

Thou in thy sevenfold gifts art known! 
Thee, Finger of God's hand, we own; 

The promise of the Father Thou! 
Who dost the tongue with pow'r endow. 

Kindle our senses from above, 
And make our hearts o'erflow with love; 

With patience firm, and virtue high, 
The weakness of our flesh supply.

Far from us drive the foe we dread, 
And grant us thy true peace instead; 

So shall we not, with Thee for guide, 
Turn from the path of life aside. 

O, may thy grace on us bestow
The Father and the Son to know,

And Thee, through endless times confess'd, 
Of Both th'eternal Spirit blest. 

All glory, while the ages run, 
Be to the Father and the Son,

The same, O Holy Ghost, to Thee, 
Now and through all eternity. Amen. 

Sequence to the Holy Spirit

HOLY Spirit! Lord of light! 
From thy clear celestial height, 
Thy pure beaming radiance give

Come, Thou Father of the poor!
Come, with treasures which endure!
Come, Thou Light of all that live! 

Thou, of all consolers best, 
Visiting the troubled breast, 
Dost refreshing peace bestow; 

Thou in toil art comfort sweet; 
Pleasant coolness in the heat; 
Solace in the midst of woe. 

Light immortal! Light Divine! 
Visit Thou these hearts of thine, 
And our inmost being fill: 

If Thou take thy grace away, 
Nothing pure in man will stay; 
All his good is turn'd to ill. 

Heal our wounds — our strength renew; 
On our dryness pour thy dew; 
Wash the stains of guilt away: 

Bend the stubborn heart and will; 
Melt the frozen, warm the chill; 
Guide the steps that go astray. 

Thou, on those who evermore 
Thee confess and Thee adore, 
In thy sevenfold gifts, descend: 

Give them comfort when they die; 
Give them life with Thee on high; 
Give them joys which never end. Amen. 

Prayer for the Church

O Holy Spirit, Creator, be propitious to the Catholic Church; and by Thy heavenly power make it strong and secure against the attacks of its enemies; and renew in charity and grace the spirit of Thy servants, whom Thou hast anointed, that they may glorify Thee and the Father and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for the Propagation of the Faith

O Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth, come into our hearts; shed the brightness of Thy light on all nations, that they may be one in Faith and pleasing to Thee. Amen.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Amen.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

O Holy Spirit, divine spirit of light and love, I consecrate to Thee my understanding, heart and will, my whole being for time and for eternity. May my understanding be always submissive to Thy heavenly inspirations, and to the teaching of the Catholic Church, of which Thou art the infallible Guide; may my heart be ever inflamed with love of God and of my neighbor; may my will be ever conformed to the divine will, and may my whole life be a faithful imitation of the life and virtues of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and Thee be honor and glory for ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Ascension of the Lord

A Very Important Message

After His Resurrection but before He ascends into Heaven, Jesus gives His apostles a very important message, which is recorded for us in Matthew 28:16-20.

The apostles are meeting with Jesus in Galilee. They see Him there and worship Him, but no matter how much evidence He has given them of His Resurrection, they are still plagued by doubt. The Greek word for “doubted” here is distazō. It can also mean wavering or uncertain. The apostles are still not sure what is going on and what they should do about it.

So Jesus tells them. He begins with a reassurance: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Wow. All the power in heaven and on earth. Jesus is in control, completely, totally, 100% in control and not just on earth but in Heaven, too. Really, this is a statement of Jesus' divinity, an assurance that He is God, for Who else is all-powerful but God Himself? The apostles can trust Him and rely on Him to settle their doubts and give them the strength they need to do whatever He asks.

And Jesus has quite the request! He orders the apostles to go and make disciples of all the nations. They are also to baptize the new disciples in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them everything Jesus has commanded. 

Let's break this down a bit. The apostles must go and make disciples of all the nations. Jesus is sending them out into the whole world, even to the Gentiles. They are to convert people everywhere to Christianity. They are to instruct them in this new way of relating to God and other human beings. They are to convince them to humble themselves, open up to something unique and wonderful, embrace the truth in faith, and follow Jesus. What a task! These simple men of Galilee are about to become world travelers carrying the most important message of all times.

Their mission does not end with convincing people. They must also introduce the sacraments, beginning, of course, with Baptism. Jesus clearly says that the apostles must baptize His new followers in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is the next, logical, necessary step for the one who believes in Christ. Notice, too, that Jesus reveals the trinitarian nature of God in this baptismal formula. 

But the apostles' job is not done yet. After they have led people to faith in Jesus and baptized them in the Name of the Trinity, they have the responsibility of teaching them everything Jesus has commanded. The Greek verb for “commanded” here is entellomai, and it also refers to injunctions and instructions as well as commandments. The apostles, in other words, must pass on the entire teaching of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, a lifelong process for the apostles, for their students, and for every Christian. 

Jesus ends with a word of consolation and encouragement: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” The apostles are not making disciples, baptizing, or teaching on their own. Jesus is with them always. He is the One in control, the One with all the power, the One Who really accomplishes all He asks the apostles to do. 

Jesus is with us, too, just as He always was with His apostles. He gives us the grace and strength we need to do whatever He requests, no matter what our doubts and fears or how impossible our tasks may seem.