Archive for the ‘Homily’ Category

Why Did Jesus Go Incognito?

April 30, 2017

There are three episodes in the Gospels where the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples but initially goes unrecognized: at the tomb, to Mary Magdalene; in the appearance we hear about today, to a pair of travelers on the road to Emmaus; and lastly, to seven of his disciples fishing the Sea of Galilee.

Let us briefly review each encounter:

First, on Easter morning, Mary is weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees Jesus there, but she does not know it’s Jesus. He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thinks he’s the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus says to her, “Mary!” She turns, and says to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s tear-filled eyes and anguished mind simply could not make out Jesus’ face in morning’s early light, but after one more word she recognizes him. (John 20)

Today, Jesus draws near to Cleopas and another unnamed disciple as they walk to Emmaus, but their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, for he appears to them in another form. Later, when all three of them are dining together, Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him. He is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, but then he vanishes from their sight. (Luke 24, Mark 16:12)

Third and finally, after a night of completely unsuccessful fishing, Jesus appears to the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John, and two other unnamed disciples. They’re in a boat and he’s on the shore, but they do not immediately realize it’s Jesus. He says to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answer, “No.” So he says, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” And they proceed to miraculously catch 153 large fish without tearing their nets. (The Biny fish, which is common to the Sea of Galilee today, has a weight at maturity of 13 to 15 pounds. A catch of 153 of these fish would weigh more than a ton.) Jesus then invites them, “Come, have breakfast.” And, St. John’s Gospel notes, none of the disciples dares to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realize it is the Lord. (John 21)

One might argue that Jesus’ looks were not in any way disguised on the shore, that the disciples simply failed to recognize him at first because he was about a hundred yards away from them and the light of dawn was still dim. But if that were the case, there would be no thought of asking him “Who are you” over breakfast around that charcoal fire; this question only arises if his identity remains somewhat concealed. Others have suggested that Jesus appeared elderly to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, for he says, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” On the other hand, Jesus had previously referred to the Apostles as his children at the Last Supper, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus has no difficulty being immediately recognizable when he wants to be. On Divine Mercy Sunday, when Jesus appears before St. Thomas for the first time, we perceive no hesitation in the former doubter’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!” So why then did Jesus allow himself to go unrecognized, at times even becoming physically unrecognizable to his disciples. Perhaps Jesus had thousands of good reasons for this, but I would offer these four:

Reason #1: To add proof that these resurrection accounts are true

Imagine if Jesus’ bodily resurrection were a lie and you were making-up stories to bolster others’ belief in it. Would you invent and insert the odd detail that Jesus’ disciples could not always recognize him when they saw him? What reason would there be to weave such a confounding wrinkle into your resurrection accounts—unless it were the truth?

Reason #2: To demonstrate how people can believe in Jesus without directly seeing him 

The disciples in Emmaus said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They came to faith in the resurrection by recognizing the fulfillment of prophesy, even before Jesus had opened their eyes to see himself. At the Sea of Galilee, when the Beloved Disciple saw the incredible catch of fish, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” The miraculous sign revealed to him the truth about a person he could not see. We today may not see Jesus unveiled presence among us, but he provides sufficient evidence to point to himself in every age.

Reason #3: To show how Jesus would continue to be with us

In the forty days between Easter and his Ascension, Jesus was not visibly present to his Apostles twenty-four hours a day. Yet at the Great Commission, Jesus promised, “[B]ehold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” What Jesus is saying is, ‘Even when you are alone, I will always be at your side.’ By revealing his resurrected self to his disciples “in a different form,” Jesus prepares them for how they will encounter him in the years to come through the Sacraments until he comes again; truly present, but veiled.

Reason #4: To reveal how Jesus is presented to us through others

Who is the manual laborer we bump into, like Mary Magdalene saw on Easter morning and addressed respectfully as “Sir,” even thought she was having a horrible day and thought he might be a body snatcher? Who is the traveler we pass on the road, like the Emmaus duo met, dialogued with, invited to stay with them? Who is the older person that greets us, like the Galilean fishermen encountered and shared their food with? Jesus would have us see himself in all of them, and everyone. At the Last Judgment, Jesus will declare to both the saved sheep and the guilty goats, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

Jesus once asked St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Italian mystic, “My beloved, do you know why I love you?” In response to Catherine’s negative reply, Jesus said, “I will tell you. If I cease to love you, you will be nothing; you will be incapable of anything good. Now you see why I have to love you.” Catherine replied, “It is true,” and suddenly added, “I would like to love you like that.” But as soon as she had spoken, she realized what she had said was misplaced. Jesus smiled. Then, she complained, “But this is not fair. You can love me with great love, and I can only love you with small love.” At that moment, Jesus interrupted, and said, “I have made it possible for you to love me with great love.” Surprised, she immediately asked him how. “I have placed your neighbor at your side. Whatever you do to him, I will consider it as being done to me.” St. Catherine went running to care for the sick in the hospital, rejoicing: “Now I can love Jesus with great love.”

After the resurrection, Jesus was sometimes unrecognized by his disciples, but he allowed this so that we might better recognize him; as the Savior truly risen, as the one evidenced by signs, as he who is truly present in the Sacraments, and who is presented to us in our neighbor.

The Case of the Prophet Caiaphas

April 29, 2017

Once word got around how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead,

[T]he chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. (John 11:47-53)

Caiaphas speaks the wisdom of this world, recommending evil means in hopes of a desired social end. Yet St. John notes that this earthly-minded high priest prophetically reveals the plan of heaven without knowing it — Jesus has come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Like Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Caiaphas prophesies despite himself.

After Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection, the Sanhedrin convenes anew — this time to address the issue of the Apostles’ continued ministry in His name:

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Caiaphas is threatened by the vitality of this Messianic movement that won’t die and stay dead. He fears the social rebellion and personal vengeance that its followers may seek out. Once again, the high priest’s misplaced concerns unknowingly speak spiritual truths.

The Apostles indeed wish to bring the Savior’s blood upon the Jewish leaders and everyone. When the Old Covenant was inaugurated, “[Moses] took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:8) Likewise, in instituting his New Covenant, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28)

And the Apostles’ teaching is not merely filling the ancient Jerusalem found in the earthly Promised Land. In his visions, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and he notes that God’s people “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:2 & 7:14)

Recall what Joseph told to his brothers who had sold him away as a slave: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) Remember what St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that God works all things for good for those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) The case of Caiaphas reminds us that even those who make themselves the enemies of God will be used as instruments to accomplish His ultimate will. At times this truth can be painfully inscrutable to us, but we trust that every evil, even the murdering of God, shall be turned to the good of those who love Him.

But It Was Not Enough For Him

April 16, 2017

At Passover, in Jesus’ day and in our own, the Jewish people remember and celebrate the great Exodus, how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and led them into the freedom of the Promised Land. Through Moses, God commanded his people to keep the Passover feast as an everlasting memorial. Jesus’ Last Supper was something of a transformed Passover meal, and his Passion, Death, and Resurrection are the mystery that the Passover foreshadowed and prefigured.

Jews today observe their annual Passover meal with an assortment of ancient traditions. Among these is singing or reciting an up-beat Hebrew song named “Dayenu” (Da-yea-nu.) Dayenu means “it would have been enough for us!” Here is an English translation of this more than one thousand year old song:

If [the Lord] had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had destroyed their idols, and had not struck their first-born
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had struck their first-born, and had not given us their wealth
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the Manna
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had fed us the Manna, and had not given us the Sabbath
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us the Sabbath, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Law
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us the Law, and had not brought us into the land of Israel
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and not built for us the Holy Temple
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

It would have been enough for us,” for how could we demand more than what God had given? He created the universe out of nothing and every good thing is his gift. Apart from God’s promises (freely-imposed upon himself by His covenants) we could not rightfully insist upon anything more. As Job said at the onset of his trials, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” We could not demand more—but we would still desire more.

We would continue to desire life without end. We would still want deliverance from evils, outside us and within us. We would still desire unending delights, for as King Solomon observed, “The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing.” And would long for divine intimacy with the Holy Source of all good. All these desires are fulfilled for us through Jesus Christ.

We could not demand more, but we would still desire more, for the Lord has placed these desires within us. He did this that He might fulfill our desires and they reflected his own desires for us.

The Lord did all the great things that came before
— But this was not enough for Him!

He did all these great things, and then He became man for us
— But this was not enough for Him!

He became man for us, and then He taught us the New Law of Love
— But this was not enough for Him!

He taught us the New Law, and then He suffered and died to forgive us
— But this was not enough for Him!

He suffered and died to forgive us, and then He rose from the dead to save us from death
— But this was not enough for Him!

He rose from the dead to save us from death, and then He left us the Church
— But this was not enough for Him!

He left us the Church, and then He wedded and united himself to us through the Holy Sacraments

What God has given us, what Jesus has done for us, what we are given, what we are promised — this is enough for us. Let us rejoice in Him this day!

Thy Kingdom Come — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 11, Luke 10

While recently visiting the Sea of Galilee in Israel I saw something in the skies I had never seen before. There were miles-wide concentric cloud rings with the occasional sound of long, rolling, man-made thunder. Though these things were interesting to behold, I hated the reason behind why they needed to be there. Northwestern Israel borders Syria and these high-altitude contrails and jet-engine sounds were from the Israeli Air Force’s U.S.-made F-15’s or F-16’s on defensive air patrols to ensure their neighbor’s civil war did not spill over into their own country.

The coastline of the Sea of Galilee is beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous. We were able to celebrate a Mass in an outside chapel near the site where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and had breakfast with his disciples (as recorded in John 21.) But while we were free to tour and worship without threat or fear, the people of Aleppo, Syria were under siege just 250 miles north. There the Russian bear and the Syrian wolf are allied against the ISIS serpent in a battle for the right to rule over the suffering lambs and little children caught in the middle. The prophet Isaiah’s poetic vision of the radical peace the Messiah (or Christ) would someday establish has not yet fully come:

       “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
       The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
       The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
       The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
       There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:4-9)

The Infant Child of PragueOn one occasion, turning to the disciples in private, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24) Many great Old Testament figures longed for the promised Messiah but died before his coming. We are blessed to live in an age which has seen his arrival and blessed to have heard his message. Yet further blessed are we if we pray and prepare the path for the New Creation Christ promises to bring.

Along the sea of Galilee, it is possible to give no thought to the suffering and death happening not so far away. Likewise, in our beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country it is possible to ignore that there are grave evils in our midst, happening just out of sight. But blessed are we if we choose to long and labor for the life of the New Heavens and New Earth.

        “Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
        …Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
        …Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
        …Blessed are they who are persecuted for
    the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the
    kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5)

What Remains of Capernaum Today — Monday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 4, Matthew 8

galilean-sunrise-at-tiberius-november-2016Capernaum was a home base for Jesus Christ during his ministry in Galilee. Josephus, the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 30,000 people lived in Capernaum. Josephus has a bad reputation for exaggerating his figures but even if the true number were one-third that, Capernaum would still be a major city on the ancient trade route. But today, if you visit Capernaum (or Kfar Nahum “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew), you will find very little standing there. There are the ancient ruins St. Peter the Apostle’s home and of  a fourth-century synagogue, a couple of Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, but not much else. The nearby surroundings are dry orchard fields and rocky barrenness. Capernaum is no longer a great, impressive city. Jesus had once foretold of its desolation:

        “And as for you, Capernaum:
‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
       You will go down to the netherworld.’
       For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”  (Matthew 11:23)

One thing remaining from Capernaum are the Gospel accounts of this encounter between Jesus and a centurion. Once, when Jesus entered the city, the centurion approached and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” Jesus told him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith….” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed. (Matthew 8)

The centurion does not do very much in this episode. According to Luke 7’s telling, he actually communicated with Jesus through intermediaries. So what about him impressed Jesus so much? The centurion’s few words reveal his reverent humility and confident trust before Jesus, and his loving concern for his suffering servant. Jesus is not impressed by world wealth and power, by great cities or empires, but by acts of faith and love, which remain before him always.

Ten Preparations for Dying Well

November 24, 2016

The Crucifixion by Diego Velazquez, 1632.Make the preparations your funeral years before it arrives. Do you have any preferences concerning your headstone and gravesite, Mass  readings and hymns, funeral home and parish? Making these details known to your family members in advance will ensure your wishes are met and spare them later stress in a difficult time.

Talk about your future passing with your loved ones. They otherwise may be too afraid to raise the topic of death. Yet such conversations can be an opportunity for faith-sharing, a cause of greater peace of mind for you, and a consolation to them down the road.

Deathbed conversions do happen, but rarely. Most people die as they have made a habit of living. Do not put off your personal conversion.

Practice daily prayer, at least weekly communion, regular (even monthly) confession, and constant Christian virtue.

Keep in mind the ancient Latin phrase Memento mori: “Remember that you have to die.” And heed, also, the wisdom of Sirach 7:36: “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”

Tell the most important people in your life the most important phrases in life: “I’m sorry,” “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.” Say these things to friends, family, and God often.

Prepare an “advanced directive” and designate a trusted person as your “medical power of attorney” in case you become incapable of making your own health care decisions. (Otherwise you could be deprived of the ordinary care Catholic medical ethics require; for example, by being deprived of nutrition and hydration.) These legal documents can be freely downloaded and completed from Pro-Life Wisconsin.

Receive the Sacrament of Anointing in light of serious illness or surgery (i.e., general anesthetic.) As the Catholic Catechism says, “The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”

Pray for help from the patron saint of a happy death, St. Joseph, who likely died with Jesus and Mary with him at his bedside.

Explore an excellent website created by the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales: ArtOfDyingWell.org.

Msgr. Urban Baer’s Funeral Homily

November 20, 2016

This is the text of part of the homily given by Fr. Francis Mulligan of St. John Church, Wilton, Wisconsin at the funeral Mass for Msgr. Urban Baer, former diocesan rural life director, former veterans’ chaplain, and former pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church in Eastman. Father Mulligan was a classmate of Msgr. Baer and he concelebrated the Mass of the Resurrection with La Crosse Bishop F.W. Freking and other priests in St. Wenceslaus Church in Eastman on November 19, 1973.

       What shall we say about our friend on this occasion? He had the faith and appreciated it. It may have come to him through God-given channels of a good home, good parents, good schooling, good priests and sisters. He has a special vocation: he was called to serve God and he answered that call. He knew what it meant; he was an adult, capable of making a serious decision. There was no turning back.

       I stopped to see him shortly before Fr. Charles Brady celebrated his 40th anniversary in the priesthood, and because he could not attend, I asked him to send greetings. “Just tell him the words of Father Feber,” he said: “To the noble shrine of love divine my lowly feet have trod; I ask no fame, no other name than this, a priest of God.” This was his own life motto.

       In these days when the boat is being rocked by thoughtless children, we hear much about identity and fulfillment, personality and growth. Who would dare say that Monsignor Baer did not have all of these qualities? …

Msgr. Urban Baer       We knew him as a man who knew his vocation and loved it. In it he walked the way of humility and obedience and dedication. The capital sin of pride was not in him, whether he served as assistant or pastor. He worked for the salvation of people and the honor of the Church of God. When he served in the army, he was there to bring men to God. His highest rank was that of a priest of God. When he was sick and suffering, he bore his pains like a Francis of Assisi, knowing it was God’s will, and he knew that “Brother Body” would soon return to dust.

       Father Urban loved the Church, and the Holy Father, and his bishop, and all men. He saw the need for her attributes of authority , infallibility and indefectibility. His theology was that of his Master, “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Among his theology books were the Holy Bible, the Missal, the Breviary, and the Crucifix. Of course he had read and learned the decrees of Vatican II. But he knew that the purpose of the Council was to make men holy.

       His theology was not destructive or rebellious. Confession before or after first Communion, or receiving Communion in the hand or on the tongue — these were not disturbing questions for him. These were pastoral problems that could easily be solved. He also knew that “he who eats the Pope dies of ulcers.”

       He was sad when his friends turned away and walked no more with him. He was pleased with aggiornamento, which cleaned out the dust of ages and made the house ready for renewal. But he was violently opposed to those who pull down the house because they wish to play with novelty.

       Father Baer loved people—particularly the little people, and with them he identified himself. He knew that every man has the stamp of God and is a work of art.

       Father Baer: I am here to express our thanks to you for all you have done for us. On a few occasions you told me that I should preach your homily when you died. It was presumptive to say that I would. We walked the road together, and walking with you was an experience and an inspiration. We met in St. Louis, in September of 1925, when we entered Kenrick seminary. Four years later we marched up the aisle together to be ordained priests. Nervously but unhesitatingly we made our commitment: “We are here.”

       We offered our first Mass together, concelebrating with Archbishop John Glennon (later first cardinal of St. Louis.) After Mass he gathered us around him at the altar, where he spoke words that were not given to the rest of the congregation. He spoke about the priesthood and priestly service, of the honor and dignity connected with it. We were young, but we were old enough to make a decision and know that it meant. Gradually we advanced in the knowledge of our own ignorance and proceeded to grow up. We became fools for Christ.

       I watched you work as a curate and saw you serve as a pastor where you were sent. It did not take an “act of Congress” to change you from one assignment to the next. You served in the little places, but you knew there were no little people.

       When you served in the army, you were there to bring the men to God. The men knew their padre, and your greatest rank was that of Catholic priest. They knew you were like them, a civilian soldier. When the war ended, you returned to be appointed pastor here in the town of Eastman, where you served well for 15 years. This was your home, and now your body will rest with the people you loved.

       Here you showed your ecumenical spirit. You served in the ministerial association and occasionally presided at meetings. You were an active member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But you were always the padre and you wore your uniform.

       You were interested in farmers and farming, and you were appointed head of the rural life program in the diocese. Your activities branched out far beyond the limits of the diocese. I am sure that many here today visited farmers’ meetings at which you put on your act for better communication. We recall the red handkerchief and the corncob pipe with which you distracted us sometimes from a heated discussion. You were suited for this office, and I know that your book of advice on farming adorns a bookshelf in many homes.

       Father Baer taught in season and out that every good gift comes from above. Of old the farmer had been described as a man “with the emptiness of ages on his face and on his back the burden of the world.” But Monsignor helped to change that idea. For him farming was the most dignified profession and the one closest to God.

       For him this was God’s work, and this was loving his neighbor. In all of his service to people, he did not neglect his parish. First things came first. He administered the sacraments faithfully, offered the Holy Sacrifice daily, said the divine office for himself and all the people, for this was his business. He took care of the sick, and buried the dead, and you loved him and he loved you.

       Then came sickness, eight years of sickness, and I suppose, loneliness. For he was human and the world was busy, and friends were slow to visit the sick. He helped where and when he could for a time. He accepted all of this as God’s will. He never seemed to lose his sense of humor, because, I think, humor is a daughter of charity. He knew he was dying. Each of us should know this. The sentence was passed when we began to live.

       Today, Father Urban, the evidence is all in. Your case has been submitted. For you, I think, there will be a short hearing. This is your Father’s house. He has been waiting. Here is your Brother Christ. You were an Alter Christus. You communicated Christ to others. And here is Mary from whom the Word was made Flesh. Hail her again, as you did so often during your life and sickness. You know her, for she wears a rosary. And when you look around in astonishment at the wonder of it all, take a little time out to ask the Mother of God to pray for us sinners here below.

       Father Urban, as a member of the Church Triumphant, help us who are still soldiering, sometimes plodding alone where the mud is heavy, and our eyes blinded with filth and the devil’s pollution, and our shoulders ache beneath the pack, our own and those of the fallen. Help us to keep looking up, beyond the margin of the earth, where we have not a lasting city, but where we seek one that is to come.

(more…)

The Lazarus You Know — 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 25, 2016

Sunday Readings

Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door

The Lord says though the prophet Amos, “Woe to the complacent,” to those warm and well-fed, comfortable on their couches without concern for others. Indeed, Scripture says, “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1st John 4:20) You know of Jesus’ concern for the needy. Though he was rich, dwelling in the comfort of the Trinity, our Lord came to earth and became poor for your sake, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2nd Corinthians 8:9) The rich man in Jesus’ parable could not have been unaware of the man lying at his door. Apparently, the rich man even knew his name: “Father Abraham…  Send Lazarus…” But the rich man came to deeply regret his indifference toward this neighbor.

You know a Lazarus as well. He’s not sleeping on your doorstep, but you probably know his name. He (or she) may be well-known to you or only an acquaintance. Maybe Lazarus goes to your church, or hasn’t come for years. Maybe Lazarus lives just down the street or in a nursing home far away. Your Lazarus is in great need, but probably not for food or shelter.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, who cared for many Lazaruses in India’s slums, said, “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.” The poorest of the poor are in our midst. Knowing this, I ask that you to earnestly pray to the Holy Spirit, that He may reveal your personal Lazarus to you, so that you may lovingly attend to that person as Jesus would have you do.

The Prodigal Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2016

Readings

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world: sinners who think they’re saints, and saints who know they’re sinners. Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. We all have been the Prodigal (or wasteful) Son at various times in our lives. Whether for years, for days or hours, or just for moments, we have each strayed from and returned to our Father-God who delights to have us back. When we are being tempted to sin, we are being tempted to leave our Father’s house and no longer keep his company. In sinning we say, even if in a small way, “You may not be dead, but I want it to be as if you were. Give me an inheritance now. I can have an easier time, or a more enjoyable time, misusing your stuff than I can have by remaining with you.”

The Prodigal Son took his father’s things and went off to a distant country. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World are countries distant from each other, and yet they exist side-by-side. Sinners and saints live side-by-side together here below, but the difference between them is vast. A life of sin may be easier for awhile. The Prodigal Son enjoyed sensual pleasures and was free of his duties, like working in the fields with his older brother. But sin soon leaves us spent and depleted, as in drought and famine. If honest with ourselves, we sense our dire need.

At first, the Prodigal Son attempted his own coping-mechanisms short of repentance. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the pigs. (For Jews, tending ritually-unclean pigs would be one of the most degrading things a person could do.) The Prodigal Son longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. (His boss provided for the swine better than for him.) A sinner’s life is slavery. It’s unsatisfying, it’s unhappy, and they feel unloved. This does not excuse away the bad and harmful things they do, but hurting people hurt people. And knowing this, we can feel compassion for sinners.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, St. Petersburg, 1662.Coming to his senses, realizing how much he has lost, the Prodigal Son decided to go back home. He knew his unworthiness, so he prepared a speech to persuade his father to show mercy. But his Father needs no persuasion. While his son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I imagine the father saw him from a long way off because he often looked to that road hoping his son would return. This day, he did. The father ran to his son—even though in that culture a dignified men would not run. Men might walk or let others come to them, but this father ran to his son. Then the father restores his son, with robe, sandals and ring, and declares a feast.

The son had decided to leave and decided to return home. The decision to dwell in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world is our choice. We are free, to wander or return, because God’s offer of grace (including his invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation) is always there. Though we wander in sin, averting our eyes from God, we can never escape his sight. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the underworld, there you are.” And when we turn back to him, he runs to us, as the same humility we saw in the Incarnation. And then the celebration begins. As Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven [and among the angels of God] over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

As St. Paul declares in our second reading, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. In this Year of Mercy, let us each trust in God’s mercy, respond to his mercy, and practice mercy as Jesus would have us do.

Pray for Our Religious Freedom — 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

August 24, 2016

Sunday Readings

Christians Martyrs and the Lions

St. Paul asked “that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority.” To what purpose? “That we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” The Roman ruler at that time was the Emperor Nero and his later persecutions of the Church proved the timeliness of Paul’s request.

When I was in seminary, some of my peers predicted bloody persecutions against the Church in America, but I have always thought that our trials would be more subtle; not martyrdoms, but diminishments, exclusions, and humiliations. No law will forbid Catholics from being public officials, business owners, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, teachers or any other occupation, but the law could require each of these to act in ways contrary to our Faith. People increasingly-dubious that our churches and religious institutions serve society’s good and could cripple them by stripping their tax-exempt status, and they would do so with the approval of their own consciences. Some people, like those the Lord denounces through Amos the prophet, care most about their pocketbooks, but we are called to always keep our Faith first in our lives, and we will, no matter what.

Jesus says “the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones,” and Psalm 146 says, “Put no trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is not help… [but] blessed is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD, his God.” So no matter who wins election this fall, let us pray to the Lord that religious freedom may be preserved in our time so that we may lead quiet and tranquil lives in all devotion and dignity.

Our Pilgrimage to the Shrine

August 4, 2016

OLGH Shrine Mary StatueRegister for our Tuesday, August 16th pilgrimage to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help outside of Green Bay. Our bus will depart from St. Wenceslaus’ parking lot at 7:30 AM and return there about 7:30 PM the same day. This pilgrimage is free, but you must mail (P.O. Box 109, Eastman WI 54626) or deliver a deposit to St. Wenceslaus to reserve your spots on the bus ($15 per person or $75 per family, whichever is less.) This check will be returned to you if and when you attend the pilgrimage. Required release forms for minors are available in the back of church or may be downloaded here. Remember to pack sack lunches. Please contact Father with any additional questions.

Be Rich In What Matters — 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 30, 2016

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

A large crowd surrounds Jesus as he preaches and teaches. During a brief pause, a man in the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” Presumably, his brother is there amongst them as well (otherwise how could Jesus reprove him?) Yet the Lord replies to the man, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” That seems like an odd response from Jesus. Is Jesus denying his own authority?  On a different occasion, Jesus stated, “If I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.” Imagine if the man in the crowd had answered Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” The man might say, “Well Teacher, we think you’re God’s prophet, so you speak for God.”

To this, Jesus could reply, “Indeed, the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. But if you accept that I am God’s prophet, that I speak for God, then listen and heed all that I teach, not just the things you want to hear. On the last day, when I return in my glory with all the angels with me, I will sit upon my glorious throne with all peoples assembled before me and I shall judge and separate the righteous and the unrighteous, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Yet, my Father God did not send me into this world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through me.

In our Gospel, Jesus goes on to tell the crowd (including those two feuding brothers): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus is warning the crowd, the brothers, and us that ‘personal bitterness and earthly greed will hinder you from entering the Kingdom.’ Rather, we must keep a heavenly perspective. As St. Paul urges in our second reading, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Of course, we all have material needs as human beings here on earth —we’re not angels and we need our daily bread. So Jesus teaches us to practice prudent stewardship, marked by frugality, generosity, and a trust in the Lord that frees us from worthless worrying. However, both Jesus in our Gospel and King Solomon in our first reading note the futility of amassing riches for ourselves.

Jesus tells a parable of “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’” (Notice how “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do?” The man does not look beyond himself for holy wisdom or guidance.)

And [then the rich man] said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” (Why does he need to tear down his old barns? Does not the rich man, who just reaped a bountiful harvest, own plenty of land on which to build more barns? It seems his vanity desires to tear down the old barns so that his new barns may be huge and impressive.)

The rich man continues his conversation with himself, “[In my new barns] I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” (He shows no thought for his family or friends, his neighbors or the needy, only his own personal pleasure.)

The rich man has made grand plans for himself, but God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you!” If this man is only interested in his own will, his own glory, and his own happiness in this life, then how will he love his neighbors, hallow God’s name, or desire God’s will in the next life?

To find ourselves at home in Heaven someday we should seek and follow God’s will for our time, talents, and treasure today. We should practice faithful stewardship, with prudence and trust, frugality and generosity. And this stewardship should include tithing and supporting worthy causes—not to buy Heaven (for God cannot be bribed or bought) but in order to become more virtuous and loving, to become more fit for Heaven. Those who store up treasure for themselves on earth profit nothing in the end. Let us not be foolish. Let us instead become rich in what matters to God by becoming more like Jesus, who has been so generous to us.

“We God’s People” — July 4th Weekend — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 3, 2016

Twelve score, or 240 years ago, our American forefathers began a revolution for freedom. For eight years, they fought to secure their independence from tyranny. They would go on to establish a national government; not meant create rights from nothing, but to help ensure and keep safe the human rights that “We the People” have from God. At the close of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a lady asked Dr. Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.

U.S. FlagThe Framers established a government with three separate branches: a Legislative branch to create laws, an Executive branch to enforce the law, and a Judicial branch to resolve conflicts of law. This separation and balance of powers was designed to protect liberty against our fallen human nature. In the words of James Madison, who is called the architect of U.S. Constitution: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The Framers knew how leaders tend to consolidate power around themselves as dictators and the tendency of majorities to trample the rights of weaker minorities. James Madison adds, “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

Our American republic depends not merely upon its laws but on the virtue of its people. George Washington said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Ben Franklin said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Our representative government is made in our image, and unfortunately it reflects and shares our errors and flaws today. For example, we live beyond our means. The average American household owes $7,400 on credit cards. And our government in our likeness cannot repay its debts, which are approaching $20 trillion, or about $60,000 of debt for each one us. We end the lives of our unborn children, almost one million of them each year, and our three branches of government are either unwilling or unable to safeguard in law every innocent human being’s God-given right to life. We are increasingly non-religious, leading people to think that churches serve no spiritual or social good and that their tax-exemption should be stripped. And we see our religious freedom diminishing, such that you can be financially-ruined for exercising your religious conscience in your occupation. We think it’s OK to do whatever it takes to win, we see parents and coaches encouraging kids to cheat or siding with them when they get caught. Meanwhile our political leaders are so brazenly lawless and tell such transparent lies, yet there are no consequences for any of it. How can our country remain free if virtue and our respect for the rule of law dies?

It appears that trying years are ahead for Catholic Americans, but there are (at least) three things we can do: pray, prepare, and keep perspective.

St. Michael the Archangel in the Battle of HeavenWe pray the St. Michael prayer near the end of our Masses to ask his help as the leader of the heavenly armies. We do this because evil spirits are real and active in our day. They are smarter than us and more powerful than us, but they are not more powerful than God and His angels. We should pray for our country. I cannot see how our country’s bad trends will be reversed, but God is cleverer and mightier than our imaginations so hope for a rebirth of virtue and freedom for our country remains.

In addition to prayer, we should prepare, beginning with ourselves. The final words before the signatures on the Declaration of Independence say, “[F]or the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” How much are we willing to sacrifice in obedience to Christ? This is important to consider, for Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” We should also endeavor to prepare our children, be they youths or adults, for a future living as “lambs among wolves.” For if the things we see now are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Besides prayer and preparation, we should also keep perspective. This American experiment has been, on a whole, a blessing for its people and the world. However, there is no guarantee that the United States will endure until Jesus returns. Only the Catholic Church is assured to remain until the end, even if as a small, beleaguered remnant. One of the benefits of studying Church history is that you realize how the Church has always appeared to be going down the drain, with troubles and persecutions in every age, and yet she endures. Let us remember that this is not our eternal home. In not so many years, each one of us will shake the dust of this earth from our feet to leave for our true homeland. As Isaiah says in our first reading, “In Jerusalem [that is, the heavenly Jerusalem] you shall find your comfort.” We are citizens of Heaven, and as for this country, we are only passing through.

So let us pray, prepare, and keep perspective. Things look bad for our country in the years and decades ahead. Nevertheless, do not despair at the advances of evil around us, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven, and we know who wins in the end.

Aphantasia — A Corpus Christi Homily

June 5, 2016

Aphantasia (Greek for “without fantasy”) has been written about since 1880 but it has recently gained increased attention. To understand what I am talking about, picture a red triangle, a horse running, or the house where you grew up. With a moment’s attention you can see them in your mind. However, people with  Aphantasia are incapable of voluntarily forming images in their mind’s-eye.

Blake, a successful 30-year-old software engineer only recently learned he experienced the world differently from others. He relates a conversation similar to this with a Facebook friend:

—If I ask you to imagine a beach, how would you describe what happens in your mind?
    —Uhh, I imagine a beach. What?
—Like, the idea of a beach. Right?
    —Well, there are waves, sand. Umbrellas. It’s a relaxing picture. Are you okay?
— But it’s not actually a picture? There’s no visual component, right?
    —Yes, there is, in my mind. What are you talking about?
—Is it in color?
    —Yes…
—How often do your thoughts have a visual element?
    —A thousand times a day?
—Oh, my goodness…

An African BeachIf someone were to ask Blake to “imagine a beach,” he could ruminate on the concept of a beach: it has sand, waves, heat, sun. He could recognize a beach when he saw one, but even if he were standing on a beach he could not recreate or remember the image with his eyes closed.

Philip is a 42-year old photographer from Toronto. He is happily married, but he cannot conjure up his wife’s face (or any other image) in his mind’s eye. He was recently listening to a podcast presenter describing aphantasia. He says it came as a complete surprise, “I was like ‘what do you mean? People do that?’” He thought it was a joke so he checked with his four-year old daughter. “I asked her whether she could picture an apple in her mind, she said ‘yeah, it’s green’. I was shocked.

A 2009 survey of 2,500 people suggests that aphantasia is the experience of about 2% of people. So far, I have found it in two of my friends, including  a fellow priest. He tells me that when our spiritual director in seminary would tells us to prayerfully picture ourselves, say, at the table of the Last Supper he thought it was just a metaphor. He was surprised to learn that when people “counted sheep” to fall asleep that was more than just a figure of speech.

Disbelief is a common response when people on either side of this phenomena hear that other people do no experience the world like themselves. (“That’s impossible. You’re lying. You’re pulling my leg.”) However, unless we happen to carry around an MRI machine, we have to take our friend at his or her word in order to know the truth. And here we come to the connection with this Feast of Corpus Christi.

An extraordinary experience at the center of our Faith is founded upon a trust in our friend Jesus Christ’s testimony. At the Last Supper, Jesus does not say, “This is like my body,” or “This symbolizes or represents my body.” He says, “This is my body.” Around the year 150 AD, St. Justin Martyr described what early Christians everywhere believed about these words:

“The apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “Do this in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood” … “This food is called among us the Eucharist… For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

Princess Grace (Kelly) Receives The Holy EucharistThe Church has always proclaimed and worshiped Jesus Christ as truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. This belief has been confirmed for us throughout the centuries. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would lead us to all truth and remind us of all that he told us, has reaffirmed this teaching in Councils of the Church. Jesus has also allowed Eucharistic miracles to unveil this mystery we cannot normally perceive. For instance, at the Miracle of Lanciano in eighth century AD, a priest who was doubting Jesus’ Real Presence witnessed the bread become flesh and the wine become blood (which coagulated and broke into five globules in the chalice) as he said the words of consecration. In 1971, scientific analysis indicated that, as at similar miracles, the Host was human cardiac muscle. Who would go through such trouble when a fraudster’s more convenient use of pig’s flesh would have been undetectable? The truth is that Jesus gives us his heart in the Eucharist, along with his whole self. You can go to Lanciano, Italy and behold this Host today.

For many Christians, the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic commemoration, a ritual that remembers him. But if Jesus is everywhere, then he is nowhere. It then impossible to physically draw near to him any place on earth. Unless you are blessed with a vision of Jesus, you can never see him with your eyes or touch him in your flesh until after your death and resurrection. But with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, “Behold, I am with you always…

If you have always enjoyed mental images, or if you have received the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion since you were a child, then you may not appreciate the gift you have. If you experience aphantasia, or if you have never believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then you may not even know what you are missing. So for our non-Catholic family and friends, tell them about this treasure—Jesus wants them to receive him, too. And for ourselves, let us truly appreciate the incredible gift that we are blessed to receive.

Captain America, St. Thomas More, & the Spirit of Truth

May 14, 2016

In the new blockbuster movie Captain America: Civil War the titular hero is discerning an important decision when he hears this message in a church:

“Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.”

Captain America - No, You MoveAs I watched in the movie theater, that bit about the tree struck me as odd. Trees bend and can be cut down, but pillars of iron or stone mountains don’t budge. I later discovered that these movie lines were adapted from a famous comic book speech Captain America once addressed to Spider-Man:

“When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”

Did you spot the difference? “Plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth.” That’s not only more beautiful, it’s also an allusion to Old Testament imagery. Psalm 1:3 says:

“[The Just Man] is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in due season, whose leaves do not wither, and whatever he does prospers.”

And Jeremiah 17:8 says:

“[Those who trust in the Lord] are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.”

These verses teach that the just man who is rooted in the Law (or the Truth) of God prospers, and that those who trust in the Lord prevail against adversity.

I wish that Hollywood had included the fuller quote in the new Captain America movie—not only because it’s better writing, not only because it echoes Sacred Scripture, but because it better reflects the truth about where Truth comes from. My all-time favorite film disappoints me in a similar way.

A Man for All Seasons - St. Thomas More at TrialA Man for All Season won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Picture, but its depiction of its hero, St. Thomas More, falls short of perfection. In the movie, as in real life, Thomas More suffers unjust imprisonment for refusing to swear an oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Catholic Church in England. The movie’s screenwriter, the agnostic Robert Bolt, drew on More’s own writings to craft some fantastic dialogues, but Bolt somewhat misrepresents the saint’s true motivations.

In one scene, Thomas More’s friend, the Duke of Norfolk, asks why he won’t just “give in.” Thomas answers, “I will not give in because I oppose it — I do — not my pride, not my spleen, nor any of my appetites, but I do — I!” The real St. Thomas More’s motivations are portrayed more accurately in the scene at his trial. He tells the court:

“The indictment [against me] is grounded in an act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God, and his Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which no temporal person may by any law presume to take upon [himself.] This was granted by the mouth of our Savior, Christ himself, to Saint Peter and the Bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is, therefore, insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it.”

The real St. Thomas More refused to sign the King’s oath because he saw in it a denial of Christ. He preferred to die rather than lose Heaven; and he did go on to die, thereby gaining Heaven. But Robert Bolt has his Thomas More conclude his courtroom speech like this:

“Nevertheless, it is not for [refusing the King’s] Supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the [King’s re-marriage]!” (In other words, “No one is going to make me act contrary to my own self-will!”)

The real St. Thomas More was not standing up against the world for individually-chosen truth. (More opposed heretics when he served as King Henry’s High Chancellor.) He knew that Truth and right and wrong are not things we create for ourselves. We receive them, as water from a river. They do not flow from us as their source. The real St. Thomas More was a champion for the Truth which comes from God.

So how can we be faithful to the Truth which comes from God? How can we be planted like trees beside the River of Truth that flows from God? By prayerfully welcoming the Holy Spirit.

At his interrogation before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (In the Holy Trinity, the Father is the Speaker, Jesus is the Word, and the Holy Spirit is the Voice) But Pilate refuses to listen. He retorts to Jesus, “What is truth?” He rejects the Spirit of Truth and walks away.

Later, at his Ascension, Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high with the Spirit of Truth who will teach them everything and remind them of all he has told them. Unlike Pilate, the disciples listen to Jesus and obey him. Some 120 persons (including the apostles, the Virgin Mary, some women, and some male relatives of Jesus) gather together and all devote themselves to prayer. They pray for nine days—the Church’s first novena, and on the tenth day, on the Jewish feast of first fruits called Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, comes and fills them.

St. Peter PreachingOnce the Spirit’s fire touches their heads, the disciples know what to say and they are unafraid to say it. Previously they had been hiding behind locked doors, but now they go out into Jerusalem’s crowded streets praising and preaching Jesus. This new-found wisdom and courage are gifts from the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to begin reaping the Church’s first fruits from the world. Observe well what the disciples do, for we are called to do the same: they listen to Jesus and obey him, they gather together and pray, they receive the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and gifts, and then they go forth to speak and act powerfully in the world.

In the Gospel of John, on the last and greatest day of one of the Jewish feasts, Jesus stands up in the temple area and exclaims, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” Here the Gospel writer adds: “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.”

The Holy Spirit is our River of Living Water. As trees planted beside him we will prosper, and by being rooted in him we will prevail against adversity. In Holy Mass let us pray to receive the Spirit wholeheartedly and to be clothed with his power. And then, filled with the Spirit of Truth, even if the whole world tells us to move, we will have the words and courage to stand our ground. By the Holy Spirit, we can be heroes for this world in desperate need of heroes, in the likeness of Captain America, St. Thomas More, and the apostles after Pentecost.