Sunday, May 31, 2009


To celebrate Pentecost, I would like to post a passage from Pope Benedict XVI's post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity), which concerns the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist (sections 12 and 13). This portion of the document can be found at the Vatican's website here.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

12. With his word and with the elements of bread and wine, the Lord himself has given us the essentials of this new worship. The Church, his Bride, is called to celebrate the eucharistic banquet daily in his memory. She thus makes the redeeming sacrifice of her Bridegroom a part of human history and makes it sacramentally present in every culture. This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. (23) We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries. The Paraclete, Christ's first gift to those who believe, (24) already at work in Creation (cf. Gen 1:2), is fully present throughout the life of the incarnate Word: Jesus Christ is conceived by the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 1:18; Lk 1:35); at the beginning of his public mission, on the banks of the Jordan, he sees the Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (cf. Mt 3:16 and parallels); he acts, speaks and rejoices in the Spirit (cf. Lk 10:21), and he can offer himself in the Spirit (cf. Heb 9:14). In the so-called "farewell discourse" reported by John, Jesus clearly relates the gift of his life in the paschal mystery to the gift of the Spirit to his own (cf. Jn 16:7). Once risen, bearing in his flesh the signs of the passion, he can pour out the Spirit upon them (cf. Jn 20:22), making them sharers in his own mission (cf. Jn 20:21). The Spirit would then teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Christ had said (cf. Jn 14:26), since it falls to him, as the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 15:26), to guide the disciples into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13). In the account in Acts, the Spirit descends on the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary on the day of Pentecost (cf. 2:1-4) and stirs them to undertake the mission of proclaiming the Good News to all peoples. Thus it is through the working of the Spirit that Christ himself continues to be present and active in his Church, starting with her vital centre which is the Eucharist.

The Holy Spirit and the eucharistic celebration

13. Against this backdrop we can understand the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration, particularly with regard to transubstantiation. An awareness of this is clearly evident in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses, states that we "call upon God in his mercy to send his Holy Spirit upon the offerings before us, to transform the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. Whatever the Holy Spirit touches is sanctified and completely transformed" (25). Saint John Chrysostom too notes that the priest invokes the Holy Spirit when he celebrates the sacrifice: (26) like Elijah, the minister calls down the Holy Spirit so that "as grace comes down upon the victim, the souls of all are thereby inflamed" (27). The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the anaphora: along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that "the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ" (28). The Spirit invoked by the celebrant upon the gifts of bread and wine placed on the altar is the same Spirit who gathers the faithful "into one body" and makes of them a spiritual offering pleasing to the Father (29).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Communion in the Hand

I know that people have very strong feelings about whether they should receive our Lord in the Eucharist in the hand or on the tongue. Personally, I feel that both ways can be done very reverently. An image that makes me appreciate reception in the hand more than I previously did is to remind myself that I am a beggar before God (a metaphor used by St. Augustine, although not in the context of receiving the Eucharist; see Sermon 61, section 8). As a beggar holds out his hands pleading for compassion and material sustenance, so too we come to our Lord seeking mercy and spiritual sustenance. Unlike the beggar, who is my equal, I am not God's equal. And yet, He gives me the audacity to hold out my hand to Him, asking for the Bread of Life.

How we receive Christ in the Eucharist, both externally and internally, matters a great deal. Our challenge as individuals is to choose the option that allows us to show the most reverence and love for Christ.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Love More

The task of the Christian life can be summed up in two words: love more.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is Church Almost Over?

Children often ask the most profound questions. My five-year old son does not much like attending mass. After Communion, he nearly always asks, "Is church almost over?" While I wish he enjoyed mass more, his question does give us older folks an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church and the mass.

I would like to think that I would rather die than not go to mass each week (unless I was literally unable to go). However, that does not mean that I always want to go to mass. In fact, Saturday when we went to the vigil mass, I was reluctant to go. I was tired. I wanted to stay home and rest. And yet, I knew that I would not do that; it was not an option. Love is about the will, not about feelings. I don't always feel like doing chores around the house, mowing the lawn, giving the kids a bath, or any other number of things. However, I do them because not to do them would be to add more work to someone I claim to love (namely, my wife) or to not take care of someone I claim to love (namely, my children). Because going to mass is an important way to show that we love the One who loved us so much that He created us, gave up His life for us, and sanctifies us, then I could not skip mass and say with any credibility to God, "I love you." Jesus did not feel like suffering and dying for us. However, he did it out of love for the Father, and for us.

"Is church over yet?" I am reminded of Jesus' words: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The Church will not be over until Jesus returns in glory at the end of time. And we thank God for that consolation that the Church will be with us until then, giving us the sacraments, strengthening us, showing us how to draw closer to God.

Of course, my son is confusing "church" with "mass." He really means, "Is mass over yet?" The Church is the assembly of the faithful, the People of God, the Body of Christ with Christ as the head and the faithful as the members of his body. The church is also the physical building in which we worship. But the mass is the liturgy, the worship itself. Also, the word "mass" and "mission" come from the same Latin root. At the end of mass, we are told in English "The mass is ended; go in peace." But in Latin the text is Ite missa est, which literally means, "Go, having been sent." The mass is meant to go with us, to strengthen us to do what we are called to do, which is to witness Christ to others. In Propositio 42 from the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held October 2-23, 2005, we are told:

This eucharistic encounter takes place in the Holy Spirit, who transforms and sanctifies us. He reawakens in the disciple the firm desire to proclaim boldly to others all that he has heard and experienced, to bring them to the same encounter with Christ. Thus the disciple, sent forth by the Church, becomes open to a mission without frontiers." (Quoted in Pope Benedict XVI's post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, section 13, footnote 29)

As such, the mass is never over. The mass and the mission are inextricably bound together, and neither has any frontiers. The mass and the mission transcend the frontiers of space and time. As Vinny Flynn writes in 7 Secrets of the Eucharist:

So, in reality there is only one Mass, one eternal Liturgy of the Eucharist, and it's taking place in heaven all the time. Christ, the One Great High Priest, is celebrating it, perpetually offering His once-for-all sacrifice to the Father in the heavenly court, surrounded by Mary and the saints, and by the angels, who sing His praise in endless adoration." (p. 44).

Is church almost over? No, son. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bloom Where You're Planted?

I love to garden. Gardens are a wonderful catalyst for thinking about God and his creation. There is a very good book that helps us to do this: God in the Garden: A Week-by-Week Journey through the Christian Year by Maureen Gilmer. Gilmer quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nineteenth-century American essayist and poet: "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered" (p. 83). I like that. We deem plants to be weeds when we play God, determining what will be inside the pale, and what will be outside. We impose our will on nature to make our own creation. That's not necessarily a bad thing (I attempt to do that all the time in my garden), but it is good for us gardeners, and for all people, to remain humble and reflective.

I also think of the saying, "Bloom where you're planted." There is a lot of sense in that saying which applies to many situations. Often we consign our lives to "what if," daydreaming rather than living, complaining rather than serving.

However, over the years I have also planted enough plants in the wrong place to know that this saying is not always the best advice. If you plant a rose in the shade, it will not do well, no matter how much it tries. It may limp along, but it will not thrive. So why should we remain where we do not thrive? Sometimes, our doing badly where we are is a not-so-subtle hint that we do not belong there. If we spend time in quiet prayer with God, we may hear Him telling us to pick up and go to where we can bloom--more particularly, to go where he is sending us. And then once we are there, to bloom. But unlike plants, we have legs, and God may tell us to pick up again a few years later or many years later to go elsewhere. The important thing is to listen to God and to do his will. "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Wherever He sends us, it will be for own good, so that we may become the person He created us to be, to bloom.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

President Obama and Notre Dame

Today, of course was the day that President Obama gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. Here is what I wrote in an email to Father Jenkins, president of Notre Dame:

Dear Fr. Jenkins:

I urge you to rescind the invitation to President Obama to speak at Notre Dame's commencement this year. During his short time in office, President Obama has been relentless in spearheading assaults on human life and dignity as regards the Mexico City policy, embryonic stem cell research funding, and health provider conscientious clauses, as well as the potential for passing the "Prevention First" bill or the "Freedom of Choice Act." Please do not both embolden him in these pursuits and cause scandal and confusion among the Catholic faithful. God has made you the shepherd of an important Catholic institution, and your flock needs you to stand up for the most vulnerable in our society, and to firmly and loudly oppose such devaluing of human life and constriction of religious liberty. Otherwise, some day Notre Dame will simply become just another school reflecting contemporary cultural values, indistinguishable from secular universities, and the university's Catholic trappings will be but tokens of a forgotten purpose, like walking into a room and not remembering why you went there.

While we must voice our objections to President Obama and Fr. Jenkins, we must do so in charity and reason and temperance, and that part I agree with in President Obama's speech today. We must also take comfort in Jesus' words to his disciples in the "farewell discourse" in the Gospel of John:

Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1).

Let us put our trust there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Caravaggio and the Rest on the Flight into Egypt

I was looking at Caravaggio's Rest on the Flight into Egypt (ca. 1597). I love the picture of Mary holding the infant Jesus (even if Mary looks like she's from Ireland or perhaps Northern Italy with her red hair rather than a Middle Eastern Jewish woman). The full picture includes Joseph listening to an angel play a violin. That's part of the angel's wing in the part of the picture shown above.

The image of Mary holding Jesus in her arms as both sleep is so peaceful. At mass on Saturday I contemplated this image as I was receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Anyone who has held a sleeping baby knows the peacefulness of the contact of flesh to flesh, of the little heart beating against your chest. You know the joy of holding someone who loves so purely, so completely. I thought about Jesus as that little baby, as the one in my hands who holds me and loves so purely, so completely.

I have also tried to reverse that image to enhance my prayer life. Jesus taught us to call God not just "our father," but "our dada" (abba). We are to become like a child, totally dependent on the one who gave us life. So I try to think of myself as a baby, being held tightly in God the Father's arms, resting, being soothed, trying to be as close to Him as I can get.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

All Creatures Great and Small

I was talking with my children the other day about "creatures." They know the term, as it is typically used today, in the sense of "monsters" or "aliens." I told my children that they themselves were creatures. They said they were not. However, I told them that we are creatures, because we are created by God, and that only God is not a creature.

Later I was thinking about how important this idea is.

When we feel self-important, we need to remember that we are created beings, and that the Creator is the all-important One.

When we are too busy for prayer (one of my more pernicious sins recently), we need to remember that the One who created us loves us and wants to hear from us.

When we think that creation is ours for the pillaging, we need to remember that we have a bond with the rest of creation as creatures ourselves. We are not separate from creation. While we are most beloved of creation, we are related to the rest of creation through our mutual Creator. St. Francis reminds us of this in the prayer, "The Canticle of the Sun" which was apparently originally called "The Canticle of the Creatures":

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,

especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,

in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,

fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,

so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,

through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,

who sustains us with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,

for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,

from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,

and serve You in all humility.

Being a creature is about relationship. It is about knowing one's place as both lowly and exalted at the same time. It is about knowing that all of creation speaks of the Creator, and that no matter where we turn we can see the effects of God. I am reminded of the hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful":

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Let's bring back the use of the word "creature." It helps us to remember who we are, and who God is.