Intimacy and Change

Many years ago, I was on plane with my friend Jen, heading back from a wedding in Minnesota.  As we boarded, we were joined in our seats by a young man whose name I’ve forgotten—I will call him Steve.  I remember only that Steve was cute, and that he was Christian, but not Catholic.

During the flight, Jen and Steve became involved in a friendly debate about the Eucharist.  Steve held that it was only a symbol, whereas Jen defended the Catholic position: that it is in fact the true Body and Blood of Jesus.

Sitting in the window seat, I could hear the discussion but was not an active participant.  I had in fact been trained in apologetics, in how to defend from Scripture the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.  But as I listened, I was surprised to find rising within me a strange sense of pain.  I admired Steve’s Christianity, but I could feel for just a moment the heart of Jesus.  Could a symbol have shown greater love than the Real Presence?  If the idea of the Real Presence was a mere human invention, did that not suggest that human imagination was in fact greater than God’s actual love for us?  Steve clearly loved Jesus, but could he recognize the depths of Jesus’ love for him?

The Gospel this week recounts what is known as “The Bread of Life Discourse” in the sixth chapter of John.  After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd has come, hungering for more, but thinking only of food.  Jesus offers Himself as the answer to their hunger: “I am the Bread of Life.”   He compares Himself to the manna which the Israelites were given in the desert, but says of His own flesh: “Whoever eats this Bread will live forever.”

The manna given in the desert was not only the daily sustenance of the people; it was tinged with the taste of honey—a foreshadowing of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Similarly, the Eucharist, uniting us with Jesus, is a foretaste of the more perfect union we will experience in paradise at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

I recently attended a talk by Sister Marie Pappas, CR, in which she spoke about experiencing the Mass as the Wedding Banquet.  She noted that a wedding connotes intimacy; that even stronger than the intimacy between husband and wife, is the intimacy which Jesus desires with each one of us.  This intimacy will be perfected in Heaven, but begins now and is real in each Mass.

In the Mass, Jesus comes to be with us, but also invites us to offer ourselves, to be with Him.  This intimacy can be enhanced by our preparation and participation, notes Sister Marie.  While her talk covered each part of the Mass, I will present just a few observations.

“Intimacy requires nakedness” she said. This means that we come before God as we truly are, without posturing and pretense.  “It is not like a job interview”—or a posting on social media, in which we want to present ourselves as perfect, without flaws, having it all together.  Intimacy requires true, honest, self-exposure.  Therefore, rather than hiding our faults, we acknowledge them, publicly and out loud: “I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…’”

At the Offertory, we bring to Jesus not only the bread and wine to be changed, but also our hearts, with our insufficiencies, our brokenness, our prayers, needs, hopes and dreams.   When we place these on the altar with the Bread and Wine—we pray that these too may be transformed.

We then watch prayerfully as the priest standing in persona Christi repeats the sacred words from the Last Supper: “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”  When God speaks it happens.  When He said, “Let there be light..” there was light.  And when through the priest Jesus says again, “This is my Body…:This is my Blood” it becomes indeed His Body, His Blood.

Why?  So that receiving Him in Holy Communion we can be united in an actual unity more profound even then the consummation of marriage.

This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?

The Opposition Voice from the beginning has tried to change the Word of God.  When he does—it is always to suggest less than God’s desire for us.

“He doesn’t really love you—maybe He loves the Person You Ought to be, but not you…”

“Did He really say, ‘This is my Body?’ He can’t have meant that—He must have meant ‘This represents my Body’ or ‘This is a symbol of my Body.’”

“Do you really believe that Jesus wants to be within you?  One flesh with you?—Get real.  He couldn’t possibly want to get that close to you.  You’re just for the friend zone!”

But to each heart Jesus calls: “The Bridegroom is coming!”  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  “I will be with you always….”

 

eucharist elevation resized

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Radiant Faces

I’ve been told by quite a few people that my blue eyes change color depending on my mood: they’re a bright, brilliant blue when I’m joyful and happy, a deep blue when I’m tired or reflective, and a dark blue-grey when I’m sad.

I’ve seen this in other people, too. With the teens that I serve in youth ministry, I’ve seen noticeable changes in their faces and eyes after they have a powerful encounter with Jesus on a retreat or at a Youth Night. They smile more, laugh easily, hold their heads up with confidence, and their eyes sparkle.

The joy of the Lord changes us. When we let Him transform our hearts, it is reflected in our outward appearance. The power of His joy cannot be contained—and so we become visible witnesses of His love.

Jesus wants His resurrection to radiate from us.

In today’s first reading, we hear that St. Stephen had the “face of an angel.” Now, he had every reason to look distressed, anxious, and downtrodden as he faced persecution and the trial before the Sanhedrin leading to his martyrdom. His joy in how he lived fully alive in the Spirit bothered people so much that they wanted him to be killed. But that didn’t stop him from proclaiming the amazing news of God’s saving power to all he encountered. And even in the face of death, the joy of the Lord remained burning within him so brightly that he looked like an angel.

No matter what we are facing, can we let Jesus’ resurrection joy dwell within us so powerfully that it explodes onto our outward appearance? Even in the darkest of days, we can be joyful. We can be joyful because Jesus’ resurrection joy is for everyone, and you are no exception to that rule. He is with you, He is at work, and He is ALIVE. The story He is writing for you is full of transforming glory. Amen, hallelujah!

Our Mission: Holy Boldness

Their message goes out through all the earth – Psalm 19

If we have a familiarity with the Gospels, we are familiar with stories of Jesus healing people.  We know his healing of the blind man, telling the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk, and his raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 9; Mt 9; Jn 11).  But how familiar are we with current stories of Catholics healing in Jesus’ name?  Have we seen someone be healed?  Do we even expect Jesus to heal people now?  Have we ever thought to pray for healing for someone in person, in Jesus’ name?  This is where my own spirit of skepticism likes to make its entrance (and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this)… ‘Those things don’t really happen now…’ ‘Well, Jesus only heals through certain people who have that gift and I don’t think I do…’ ‘I definitely believe Jesus can do those things, but…’ 

Are these thoughts in line with what we are learning from Scripture during this most wonderful season of Easter?  Actually, not at all.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“[w]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to the Father.” 

Wait a minute… Did Jesus say only certain Christians with certain spiritual gifts will do the works that He does?  No!  He says, whoever believes in Him.  So wait…. that includes me?  Yes!  I definitely believe in Christ, and if you believe in our Lord and Savior, this includes you!  Wow.  This is really exciting and can also seem kind of scary.  And I can imagine the first apostles didn’t feel much differently than you or I.

Today’s feast celebrates two apostles, St. Philip and St. James.  The apostles were not exempt from that same spirit of skepticism.  In the Gospel, after Jesus has just told them that if they know Him they also know the Father, James responds that it will be enough if they can just see the Father (Jn 14:7-8).  Many, if not all, of us can identify with James.  Truly, it is only through God’s grace that our skepticism can be healed and we can receive greater faith in its place.  In the book of Acts, God reveals to us His mission for His Church:  That as the Father has sent the Son, so now the Son will return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to believers, that WE may perpetuate and carry to completion Christ’s earthly mission – the restoration of the Kingdom (Jn 20:21, Acts 1:6-8). What characterized His earthly mission? Teaching and preaching the good news, accompanied by signs & wonders — healings.  As Christ promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost — the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  And this is the same spirit each of us have received through the grace of our baptisms.  It is through the Holy Spirit of God that Christ can do His work in and through us, just as he did through the first disciples of the early church.  These are Jesus’ words that we read today:

“And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

In His name, He has promised to work great signs and wonders through us for the glory of God.  The rest of Acts is an exciting account of how the first disciples of the Lord lived out this mission of the Church.  The Church is still called to this mission today.

In the past couple of years, the Lord has worked to transform my skeptical heart.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined by inviting me to partake in healing ministry.  He has drawn me in to witness His healing firsthand and, in His grace, He has built up my faith, inspired me, and ignited me.  I have seen the glory of our God through miracles of a woman’s cancer healed, people’s chronic pain be healed, my own husband’s injured wrists be healed, and felt my own body and uneven shoulders be restored to even-ness through prayers of healing, among other countless miracles, all for the glory of God. As I have witnessed these incredible physical healings, I’ve seen and experienced personally the greatest miracle – how God uses His signs and wonders to bring inner healing, convert our hearts, and set us free.  Our God is alive and at work through his church worldwide.  He only asks us to have faith and not be afraid to step out in faith in His name, and this is how we partake in and perpetuate Christ’s mission. 

Today, may we ask our Lord for the gift of holy boldness in our faith, through the intercession of Sts. Philip and James.  Let’s ask this for ourselves and for every Christian.  That as we approach Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit would reignite our hearts and enflame us with the all-consuming love of God. 

Holy Spirit, come, fill our hearts with the fire of your Love.  Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us into your earthly mission. Father, thank you for drawing us in to your divine plan of salvation for the whole world.  Lord God, ignite our hearts anew with holy boldness.  Heal our hearts of skepticism, we surrender our skepticism to you and ask for greater faith.  Help us to know who you are more fully.  Fill us with your charity, your burning love, your endless mercy and compassion, and inspire us through your most Holy Spirit to live out the mission you have given us.  We pray all of these things through the intercession of St. Philip and St. James, and in the most Holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

For more info, I highly recommend: The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Dr. Mary Healy

God’s Eternal Generosity

+

He does not ration His gift of the Spirit. ~ Jn 3:34

The Apostles who fled from the Crucifixion are now filled with the Holy Spirit as they boldly proclaim before all the Sanhedrin that they are witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection.  Peter, now become the Rock of the Church, is living in the fullness of his identity, knowing that it is God Who “is above all” (Jn 3:31)…. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

And just as God so lavishly poured out His Spirit upon the Apostles for them to testify to what they had seen and heard, so too does He pour out the Holy Spirit upon us!  “He does not ration His gift of the Spirit” (Jn 3:34).  Our God is not to be outdone in generosity.  We sooner tire of asking and receiving than He ever is of giving.  We only have to think of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years and their ceaseless daily feast of manna given to them by God (Ex 16:21), or Jesus multiplying the loaves for thousands with wicker baskets of food still left over (Jn 6:3-14).  When one drop of His Precious Blood would have sufficed to save the whole world, our Lord gave us every drop that was within His Body. 

The depth of the truth of God’s love for each one of you, my brothers and sisters, is unfathomable, unending.  The Father has given us His Son so that we may have eternal life with Him!  We are witnesses of this! It can feel much easier to mortify our way through Lent for 40 days than it is to celebrate our way through Easter for 50, but in this time leading up to Pentecost, let us prepare ourselves with as much fervor and true joy as we can.  Go to Mass as often as you are able during the week.  Through the readings, we journey with the Apostles at the explosive start of our Church and we continue to receive the Supernatural Grace and strength we need for our own journey from the Lord Himself in the Holy Eucharist.  Continue to rejoice! Spread that Easter light to all you meet, and celebrate in small ways with friends and family—every Sunday is Easter Sunday!  And remain steadfast in prayer.  The Lord desires to give us His Spirit anew every day to face our battles.  Keep asking for the outpouring of gifts, fruits and graces needed for yourself and your loved ones. 

The Lord is good and we never stop proclaiming with the Apostles–in the face of struggles, persecutions, dryness and worries–that Christ is risen!  He is truly risen!

Soul Shine

They said it would come. It did.

They said it would leave. I’m waiting.

As the radar predicts at least two more weeks, the permacloud lingers over South Bend. There are stretches when it is conceivable to forget the sun exists as the grey backdrop cloaks the town in this seeming soul sucking reality. However, just because I do not see the sun it does not mean that the sun fails to exist.

Even when He seems silent and far, He is near. What do you believe when all feels lost? What do you see when all appears grey? How do you respond to the clouds and the rain?  Even in the darkness, we can shine a light.

Verso l’alto,

You got to let your soul shine, shine till the break of day

Life is short; make it sweet.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

Again…

“Again!” little Zippy claps with delight. “Again! Again!” she pleads.

I wonder just how many more “agains” I can take. The Five Little Monkeys have fallen off the bed enough times to warrant a CPS intervention. Baby Shark could probably have little grandbaby sharks of his own. And still the Wheels on the Bus go ‘round and round and round… “Again! Again!” cries little Zippy.

In today’s Gospel, Peter is invited to cast his nets into the sea, again.  Again, he and a few others have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Perhaps the “again” is accompanied by skepticism and weariness, even a resigned “going through the motions.”

I wonder if Jesus, standing on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, has something of a childlike delight at the coming surprise, as He invites Peter again. “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something…”

*            *            *

“Again!” This is not the first time that Jesus has intervened while Peter was fishing.

The first time (in Luke 5), Jesus asked Peter to take Him out in his boat. Using it as a platform, Jesus taught as the people listened from the shore. Jesus then invites Peter to cast His nets—and Peter protests, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” No doubt he is skeptical, the fisherman taking advice from a carpenter, but he concedes: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

When they raise the nets, they are full to bursting—so much that two boats are filled to the point of almost sinking. Seeing this, Peter falls on his face, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

It is not a surprising reaction—the shock of seeing a miracle performed before his very eyes. But this is not the first miracle Peter has seen.

We know disciples were with Jesus when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana. (Some have joked that their presence explains why the wine ran out…) Peter and the disciples saw the changing of water to wine.  They saw Jesus cast out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum, and they saw Jesus heal a woman with a fever—Simon Peter’s own mother in-in-law. Peter then is present as “all those who had any that were sick with various disease brought them to [Jesus]; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” (Luke 4:40)

So why is Peter so overcome by a net full of fish? Surely it is not more spectacular than those works already witnessed?

Yet observing a miracle is very different than being a part of one. In the net of fish, Peter’s own work is changed. His own actions produce a result that is clearly more than human. This is beautiful and awe-inspiring…and terrifying.

Jesus did not come primarily that we might see signs, but that might become one. His greatest work is not to transform water into wine but to change stony hearts into hearts of flesh. He makes it that human beings might do the works of God.

“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” Peter doesn’t yet understand that it is precisely sinners that Jesus has come to be with, to save, to change. “Do not be afraid…henceforth you will catch men,” Jesus tells him.

*            *            *

In today’s Gospel, Peter at first doesn’t recognize the voice that calls from the shore.  But once again the nets are filled, and John says: “It is the Lord.”  This time Peter doesn’t run away or beg Jesus to leave him. Instead he “tucks in his garment and jumps into the sea” rushing towards Him.

Peter is now more aware than before of his sinfulness and unworthiness. His denials of Jesus have stripped away any illusions of self-sufficiency. He knows who he is, what he is made of.  On his own, he has only empty nets and empty promises to offer.

But he also knows who Jesus is. Jesus who is able to fill his nets, will also fill his heart with courage. One day, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he will fulfill his wish to follow Jesus and lay down his life for Him.   He will become a sign.

Today, let us, like Peter, resolve to invite Jesus to come into our boat, “again.”

 

fredrik-ohlander-401681-unsplash

Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash