Archive for category Year A

Mt 13:24-43 The Parables of the Weeds among the Wheat

Parables are comparisons in which spiritual truth is pictured in vivid terms (Blomberg 1990). In the story Jesus used the parable to explain the wise ways of the Kingdom of God concerning the mystery and problem of evil not only in the world but even in the Church which is the seed and the beginning of the Kingdom of God here on earth that will be fully and perfectly established in heaven.

The parable Jesus used is popularly known as the Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat.The type of weed referred to here is commonly recognized as the darnel (Greek zizania) which is troublesome poisonous plant in the grainfields, closely resembling the wheat in the first stages of its growth. By the time the grain appears and the difference becomes obvious, the roots of the weeds are entwined with those of the wheat. Thus uprooting the weeds would simultaneously cause uprooting of the wheat.

This parable reflects the wise ways of God’s kingdom (which already starts with the Church) concerning the problem of evil even among the believers. It is unwise to get rid of unworthy members which may have the unhappy consequence of driving out also some of the worthiest. Therefore, weeds and wheat must be allowed to grow together for the time being. The task of separating the evil from the good must be reserved for the last judgment.

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat teaches us several lessons:

  • First, there will always hostile power in the world (Satan, the world, concupiscence or evil inclination) seeking and waiting to destroy the good seeds that represent the children of the Kingdom who received with joy the word of God that will eventually bear fruits of good works, holiness and evangelization in their lives. Hence, this is an admonition to all the Children of God to be forever on their guard. This vigilance should be continuous and unflagging, because the devil is forever after us, prowling around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, and watch with good works” (cf. Augustine, “Sermon”, 93).
  • Second, the world including the Church is composed of both saints and sinners, good and evil. The world is a mixture of the children of God and the children of Satan. And how hard it is to distinguish between the good and evil, the saints and the sinners. Someone may appear to be good and may in fact bad; and someone may appear to bad and may in fact be good. Some call good evil and evil good. Sometimes people change too according to opportunities and graces. Hence, let us not too quick to condemn, to classify people and label them good or bad without knowing all the facts. Remember our human judgment is as good as our information, Limited information make us prone to error and mistakes in making judgment.
  • Third, in the end there comes the judgment of a just and all-knowing God. A God who will never deceive us nor can be deceived by us. He alone has the right to judge. He alone can discern the good and the bad. He alone can rightly administer the ultimate justice for humankind which seems to be impossible in the world governs by the law, judgment and wisdom of man. This is a warning to the evil doers who seem to be rewarded in life in this world and a consolation to the righteous who seem to be punished in life in this world.

In summary, Jesus calls us to patience and faith — patience with those who fail to meet the standard (this is the concern of the parable itself — vv. 24-30) and faith that God will deal with them at the right time (this is the concern of the interpretation — vv. 36-43).  Jesus calls us to withhold action lest we create more problems than we solve — lest we destroy the good with the bad — lest we “uproot the wheat along with (the weeds).”

Think about this! “First, do not fret over evildoers, for neither their present nor their future is your responsibility; and second, God will bring history to a close with justice, and the saints finally will be freed from abuse and oppression.  The parable…is therefore not a threatening but a comforting word” (Craddock, 372).

 

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Mt 11:25-30 The Praise of the Father

These are among the most beloved and quoted verses in the Bible, because all of us feel burdened and in need of rest.

Jesus is addressing the crowds who are following Him, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36): “Come to Me”. The Pharisees weighed them down with an endless series of petty regulations (cf. Acts 15:10), yet they brought no peace to their souls.

In their original context, these verses spoke specifically to those burdened by the Jewish law.  Rabbis often spoke of the yoke of the law (Aboth 3:5) or of the commandments (Berakoth 2:2), but always in praise.  To accept this yoke, they said, is to put off the yoke of earthly monarchies and worldly care” (Johnson, 390).  They have a point.  We cannot choose to serve no master at all, but can choose only which master we will serve.  The yoke of the law is better than the yoke of the world, because the yoke of the law is God-inspired.  In the hands of the scribes and Pharisees, however, the yoke of the law became almost as burdensome as the yoke of the world.

Jesus does not propose that we go yoke-less, but that we accept his yoke, which is chrestos — “manageable, i.e., mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp)” (Thayer, 671).  A well-made yoke distributes the load evenly, making the task easier.  A well-fitted yoke follows the contours of the oxen’s neck so that it does not rub or chaff.   “At certain points (Jesus’) interpretation [of the law] will be more lenient (Sabbath observance), at others more stringent (divorce) than that of the Pharisees, but law observance as a whole will be simplified by his emphasis on ‘the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faithfulness’ (23:23) and on the double commandment of love (22:37-40) (Hare, 128-129).

While the original context referred to the burden of the Jewish law, there is nothing in these words to suggest that they should not also extend to our weariness and burdens today.  We are weary today, even though we do not observe the Jewish law.  We are burdened by many things:

  • busyness
  • traffic
  • concerns about jobs — marriage — money — health — children — security — old age
  • tough choices
  • criticism or opposition
  • loneliness and emptiness
  • and a thousand other things
  • If you feel life is burdensome and tiresome “Jesus says now and always, `Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ His attitude towards us is one of invitation, knowledge and compassion; indeed, it is one of offering, promise, friendship, goodness, remedy of our ailments; He is our comforter; indeed, our nourishment, our bread, giving us energy and life” (Pope Paul VI, “Homily on Corpus Christi”, 13 June 1974).  Therefore, “All you who go about tormented, afflicted and burdened with the burden of your cares and desires, go forth from them, come to Me and I will refresh you and you shall find for your souls the rest which your desires take from you” (St. John of the Cross, “Ascent of Mount Carmel”, Book 1, Chapter 7, 4).

Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for law-burdened Jews of his day.  His promise is also as real. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”  (Mt 11:28) Jesus still does that!  Jesus still gives us rest

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Mt 16:13-19 Peter’s Confession About Jesus (Solemnity of Peter and Paul)

Today is the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the two great apostles and pillars of the Church martyred for their faith in Christ in the same city of Rome at about 64-67 AD. Today the Church is joyfully celebrating the memory of both of them. The “Rock” and the “Chosen Instrument” to preach the gospel to the Gentiles definitively met each other in Rome. There they brought to completion their apostolic ministry, sealing it with the shedding of their blood.

As we celebrate this feast of Sts. Peter and Paul let be us reminded once again that the Church is apostolic, one of the distinguishing marks of the true Church founded by Christ. Every Sunday, Solemnity and Holy Day of Obligation, we profess all that we believe as Catholics by reciting the Creed. If you notice, one of the articles of faith is our belief in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic  Church of Christ. In the context of today’s feast of Sts. Peter and Paul allow me to focus more on the Church as apostolic.

This sole Church of Christ is apostolic. The apostolic origin and basis of the Church is what is termed its “apostolicity”, a special characteristic of the Church which we confess in the Creed. Apostolicity consists in the Pope and the Bishops being successors of Peter and the Apostles, holding the authority of the Apostles and proclaiming the same teaching as they did. “The sacred synod teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the Apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and Him who sent Christ (cf. Luke 10:15)” (Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, 20).

The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:

–     she was and remains built on “the foundation of the Apostles” (Eph 2:20; rev. 21:14), the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself (cf. Mt 28:16:20; Act 1:8; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:7-8; Gal 1:1);

–     with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching (cf. Acts 2:42), the “good deposit of faith,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles (cf. 2 Tim 1:13-14);

–     she continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successors of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor” (AG 5):

“You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always. You made them shepherds of the flock to share in the work of your Son…” (Roman Missal, Preface of the Apostles I) (CCC 857).

The apostles’ mission. Jesus is the Father’s Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he “called to him those whom he desired; …And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:13-14). From then on, they would also be his “emissaries” (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21); cf. 13:20; 17:18). The Twelve apostles’ ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: “he who receives you receives me” (Mt 10:40; cf. Luke 10:16).

Pope – successor of Peter. Bishops – successors of the apostles.  In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death [the apostles] consigned, by the will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry” (LG 20; cf. Acts 20:28; St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 42, 44: PG 1, 291-300).

“Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops” (LG 20 par. 2). Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” (LG 20 par. 2).

The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.  Since the Church is “sent out” into the whole world, all members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. Apostolate is “every activity of the Mystical Body” that aims “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth” (AA 2).

“Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate”; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ”  (AA 4; cf. Jn 15:5)… Charity drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always “as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate” (AA 3).

To sum up, “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops” (CCC 869).

Challenge.  As baptized Catholic Christians, we are also “apostles” (being sent). Like Sts. Peter and Paul in our unworthiness and sinfulness, we are witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself. We can bear much fruits in our apostolate only when we are faithful always to the teachings handed to us by the apostles and their successors and continued to be taught, sanctified and guided  by the apostles until Christ’ returns, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church supreme pastor” (AG 5). Because “whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” LG 20 par. 2).

Therefore, rejoice that the Lord has chosen you to be a member of his body, the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. Love the Church (Eph 5:25).  Freely and humbly submit to the authority of the Church (see Heb 13:17). Share the faith. For “Faith is “preserved” by being given” (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, n. 2). Commit wholeheartedly in the service of the faith, service of unity, service of the mission (cf. Encyclical Letter, Ut unum sint, n. 88). And following the examples of Jesus and his apostles Peter and Paul, may we lay down our life also for the Church (Eph. 5:25).

 

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Jn 6:51-58 Jesus, The Living Bread (Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Corpus Christi. “Corpus Christi” are two Latin words for “Body of Christ.”  This great feast is in honor of the Real Presence of the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine.

St. Bonaventure reminds us of its meritorious effect when we celebrate and explicitly confess our belief on the Eucharist: “There is no difficulty about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as in a sign, but that He is truly present in the Eucharist as He is in heaven, this is most difficult. Therefore to believe this is especially meritorious.”[ 7. In. IV Sent. Dist. X. P. I Art. Un. Qu. I, Oper. Omn. Tom. IV Ad Claras Acquas 1889, p. 217]

As we celebrate this Solemnity of the Corpus Christi we are reminded of the following:

First, the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligations. This is the first of the precepts of the Church in which every Catholic ought to fulfill to the least to be considered practicing Christian. The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation”) requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Christian community gathers on the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord” (Cf. CIC, cann. 1246-1248; CCEO, can. 881 par.1, par. 2, and 4).

In the Philippines the holy days of obligations are: Christmas Day (December 25), Motherhood of Mary (January 1), and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8).

Essentially connected to this obligation is our active, full and conscious participation in the celebration of Eucharist. When we are absent-minded or our focus is disintegrated our participation is questionable. When we do not know what we say and what we do during the mass our participation is not conscious. When we do not participate in all the responses and community singing during Mass our participation is not active and full.  When we go to the Church for reasons other than to take part in the celebration of the Mass then our motivation and participation are questionable.

Second, to receive the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ every time we attend Mass or at least once a year especially during Easter. This is also one of the precepts of the Church. “The Mass is a sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood. And it is because of this that even the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us” (see cf. CCC 1382).

During the consecration where the bread and wine are transformed  into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, he invites and urges us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you ( see Jn 6:53). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (Jn 6:57).

 In the Eucharist “is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through his flesh – that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ …” (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 5). For the bread of life to sustain life, it must be sought, approached, taken, broken, and eaten. Likewise Jesus must be invited into our lives if we are to enjoy the well being he brings.

Third, to receive worthily the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul St. Paul urge us to examine our conscience before coming to communion to avoid the sin of sacrilege: ”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion when conscious of grave sin (cf. CCC 1385) by observing the fast required in the Church (cf. CIC, can. 919) and by bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) that convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

Before so great a sacrament, let us echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion:” Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed” (cf. Mt 8:8). And pray, that through Christ, the Mediator, we may be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other so that finally God may be all in all” (see cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48).

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John 3:16-18 God Sends His Son (Trinity Sunday)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, also called Trinity Sunday. It is celebrated in the Christian churches on the Sunday following Pentecost (the 50th day after Easter). It is known that the feast was celebrated on this day from as early as the 10th century. Celebration of the feast gradually spread in the churches of northern Europe, and in 1334 Pope John XXII approved it for the entire church.

As we celebrate today the Feast of the Holy Trinity we confess, adore and honor God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit the three divine persons, yet co-eternal, co-substantial, one and the same God. This celebration is not only a credal affirmation of our belief in the Trinity of Persons and Unity of Godhead but it is it also a remembrance of our origin and destiny: the God we personally believe from who we came is the same God who calls us back home.

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and the life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” (GCD 43). The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin” (GCD 47; CCC 234).

The trinity (from “trias” of which the Latin “trinitas” is a translation was first coined by Theophilus of Antioch (circa 180)) is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God” (Dei Filius 4: DS 3015). To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout Old Testament. But his inmost being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, a great philosopher and theologian. He was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this matter. Suddenly, he saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a whole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine drew up and said to her, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” “How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.

The doctrine of the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one, cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. It is a mystery. A mystery is a truth which we are not merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which, even when revealed, remains “hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak, by a kind of darkness” (Const., “De fide. cath.”, iv). St. Jerome says, in a well-known phrase: “The true profession of the mystery of the Trinity is to own that we do not comprehend it” (De mysterio Trinitatus recta confessio est ignoratio scientiae — “Proem ad 1. xviii in Isai.”).

Though trinity is a mystery whose whole truth is unfathomable by human reason alone we can somehow comprehend a part of it when Jesus the Son of God made man (Jn 1:14) revealed God the Father (Mt 11:27) and sent his Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us into all the truth (Jn 14:17, 26 16:13). This is our dogma of the Holy Trinity:

  • The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the cosubstantial Trinity” (Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 421). The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire (cf. CCC 253).
  • The divine Unity is Triune. The divine persons are really distinct from one another in their relation of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds” Lateral Council IV (1215): DS 804; cf. CCC 254).
  • The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationship which relate them to one another…While they are called three persons in view of their relationships, we believe in one nature or substance (Council of Toledo XI (675) DS 528). “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son” (Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331).

As we profess our faith today in the mystery of the Holy Trinity may we also pray to them to help us become a true child of God our Father, a living image of Jesus his Son and a consecrated temple of the Holy Spirit. Let us also pray as Christ did that all may be one as God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are one and heed Christ command after he has risen from the dead: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:18).

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John 20:19-23 Jesus Breathes The Spirit (Pentecost Sunday)

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. Pentecost comes from the Greek word “Pentecostes” which means “Fiftieth.” As we celebrate this Feast we commemorate the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior or the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in particular, and the Church in general fiftieth day after Jesus had risen from the dead.

We also celebrate the birthday of the universal Church, because as you know, today the Church was fully born, through the breath of Christ, the Holy Spirit. As Pope Paul VI wrote:

“Today, as you know, the Church was fully born, through the breath of Christ, the Holy Spirit; and in the Church was born the Word, the witness to and promulgation of  salvation in the risen Jesus; and in him who listens to this promulgation is born faith, and with faith a new life, an awareness of the Christian vocation and the ability to hear that calling and to follow it by living a genuinely human life, indeed a life which is not only human but holy. And to make this divine intervention effective, today was born the apostolate, the priesthood, the ministry of the Spirit, the calling to unity, fraternity and peace” (Paul VI, “Address”, 25 May 1969).

There are three most important reasons why Jesus promised then sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples and to his Church which he established on the foundation of the apostles:

First, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to guide her to the whole truth. If you still recall “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the fullness of the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4), that is,  Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). This is the context why Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). What Jesus had said in Jn 8:31-32, “If you remain in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” will ultimately be realized through the intervention and assistance of the Holy Spirit to the disciples after Jesus’ departure.

In what ways the Holy Spirit will guide the Church to the whole truth?

·     It is through the Scripture. Paul is very clear about this in his letter to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching, for reproof,  correction, and training in holiness so that man of God may be fully competent equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15). Hence, read, study, pray with the Scripture and be a walking Bible which even the illiterate person can read and understand. Be reminded of the words of St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Christ is ignorance of the Scripture.”

  • It is through the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church. St. Paul is also very clear about this authority of the Church to teach and proclaim Christ and his Gospel when he wrote: “The Church is steward and teacher of the mysteries of God.” Let us therefore, listen to the teaching of the Church especially in the areas of faith and moral. As Jesus himself warned: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me”  (Luke 10:16).

Second, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to the Church to be the source of forgiveness and holiness. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once curiously interviewed by the reporter whether she felt uneasy to hear some people calling her “living saint?”  In reply she simply said, “What is something extraordinary about that? Are we not all called to be saints? Sanctity or holiness is to be perfect and mature in our love of God and neighbor and to be another Christ in the world. How do we know that we are somehow already in the state of holiness? As St. Paul says, “When it is no longer I who lives in me but Christ.”

Holiness requires conversion of heart on our part. Conversion requires repentance. Repentance requires humble recognition of our sinfulness and wickedness before God. Recognition of our sinfulness and wickedness to be true and fruitful requires confession and forgiveness of sins through the ministry of reconciliation. This is the reason why in the Gospel Jesus said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23). This is also the context why the formula of absolution contained: “Send you Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. And through the ministry of the Church may God give pardon and peace. I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Third, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to the Church to empower her to fulfill the saving mission entrusted by Christ. I think it worth recalling that Jesus before he ascended to heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father, he gathered his disciples and gave them a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:22); “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15); “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Mt 28:19). Jesus Christ last words before his return to the Father constitute a “missionary mandate”.

The goal of missionary activity is to make the Good News of Salvation reach the farthest ends of the earth; the Church began to spread it on the day of Pentecost itself when the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room. By evangelizing the nations, the Church fulfills her own vocation, because she exists in order to evangelize (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

Although the feast of Pentecost is the end of the Easter season, Pentecost is a beginning. It is the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is a grand beginning more than it is a grand finale.

The day of the first Christian Pentecost began with 120 people receiving the Holy Spirit at 9 AM (see Acts 1:15; 2:15), and these 120 brought the Holy Spirit to 3,000 people before the day was over (see Acts 2:41). The next day those 3,000 tried to reach several more thousands (see Acts 4:4). Over the centuries, some Christians continued to share Pentecost with others (e.g. Acts 9:17; 19:2ff), but some have “dropped the ball” and quenched the Spirit (see 1 Thes 5:19). At present, over two billion people have received the Holy Spirit through Baptism.  Now we are to share this Pentecost with over four billion people as soon as possible. When we do, the Spirit, as promised, will have renewed the face of the earth (Ps 104:30). Then Jesus will return; the world will end; and we who have been faithful in constantly proclaiming Pentecost will be with the Lord forever in perfect, infinite love.

As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Angelus’ message in 1980: The Church does not cease – cannot cease – to go with the Gospel to all those who do not yet know it. In the same way as she does not cease to return with the Gospel to all those who have strayed from it. She does so heedless of the difficulties that accumulate on her missionary way. She does so in the spirit of the Apostle, who wrote: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). The whole Church and everyone in the Church who lets himself be guided by the spirit of responsibility for the Gospel, must repeat the same thing. “The mission of the Church – the Second Vatican Council stated – is carried out by means of that activity through which, in obedience to Christ’s command, moved by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, the Church makes itself fully present to all men and peoples in order to lead them to the faith, freedom and peace of Christ by the example of its life and teaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace” (Ad Gentes, 5).

“Missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses and parishes, Church institutions and associations” (Redemptoris Missio, n.2).  “The Lord’s call to proclaim the Good News is still valid today: indeed it is ever more urgent. The call to mission acquires a singular urgency, particularly if we look at that part of humanity which still does not know Christ or recognize Him. Like Paul, we are cursed if we do not preach the Gospel. Preach, therefore, Christ and his Gospel in season and out of season!” (Pope John Paul II, 75th anniversary of the World Mission Sunday).

In a noisy world full of confusions and characterized by divisive conflicts the Holy Spirit can be our Advocate – a teacher, a guide, helper and our intercessor. Turn to Him, therefore, at all times. He is our strength, courage, consolation and inspiration. He stays constantly by our side as he leads us to holiness

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Mt 28:16-20 Jesus Commissioning His Disciples (Ascension Sunday)

Forty days after Jesus has risen from the dead he ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father. This is one of the great events in the history of salvation. The great event of Ascension, whose feast the Church celebrates today. The “forty days” of Luke (Acts 1:3) correspond to the biblical symbolism of the number forty: a period of time sufficient for the attainment of the desired purpose. The event closes the period of the Easter appearances.

The Gospels of Mark and Luke and the Acts of the Apostles report the mystery of the Lord’s Ascension. The witness of St. Luke makes it clear that the primitive tradition of the Church included a visible Ascension of the Lord, well separated in time from the Resurrection and not to be confused with the exaltation to heaven on Easter day. Luke describes the last departure of Christ, who had already ascended to his Father, come back several times to converse with his disciples, and now departs until the parousia. For Luke, the Ascension is important in relation to events still to take place: the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the interval before the day of the final restoration (Acts 3:21). In Acts, the risen Lord explains that the period before the manifestation of the kingdom in the world is the time of the Holy Spirit and of the missionary Church (1:8).

What are the meanings and significance of this event for us?

The first meaning of the Ascension is that Christ in his human nature passes to the state of glory with his Father and the Holy Spirit: The risen One enters the heavenly intimacy of God. Christ’ ascension, therefore, marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11; cf. CCC 665). This is signified by “the cloud” (Acts 1:9), a biblical sign of the divine presence. The Ascension is included in the mystery of the Incarnation as its concluding moment. As in the Incarnation he laid aside his glory as eternal Son, so in the Ascension he now receives back divine glory, which has its impact on his human nature and ours. Jesus spoke several times about his having to be lifted up – on the cross – so that believers might have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:14, 8:28, 12:32); and the lifting up on the cross is the special sign and definitive foretelling of this other “lifting up” by his ascending into heaven.

“After the glory of his Ascension he will be seen as judge on the Last Day, and even now he judges all things, and at the end of the world he will come as judge of humanity,” said St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407). The Ascension appearance to the Apostles is, therefore, the starting point of the parousia. The full right to judge human actions and consciences definitively belongs to Christ as Redeemer of the world: The Father “has given all judgment to the Son” (Jn 5:22). He did not come to judge, however, but to save, to “give eternal life to all those you [the Father] have entrusted to him” (Jn 17:2).

We know for a certainty that Christ will come again at the end of time. We confess this in the Creed as part of our faith. However, we know “neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25: 13) of his coming. We do not need to know it. Christ is always imminent. We must always be on the watch, that is, we should busy ourselves in the service of God and of others, which is where our sanctification lies.

The second meaning of the Ascension is the beginning of the kingdom of the Messiah, which realizes the prophetic vision regarding the Son of Man in the Book of Daniel: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7:13-14). Christ’s elevation to the right hand of the Father signifies his sharing as man in the power and authority of God. This sharing is manifested in the sending of the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, who brings about conversion of hearts (cf. Acts 2:37). In the power of the Spirit, the Apostles can now call Jesus Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). After this event the apostles became witnesses of the kingdom [that] will have no end.

Jesus Christ is Lord because he possesses fullness of power in heaven and on earth. This is a kingly power “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…he has put all things under his feet” (Eph 1:21-22). At the same time, it is priestly power, as the Letter to the Hebrews explains at length, commenting on Psalm 109 (110), 4: “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6). Christ’s eternal priesthood implies the power to sanctify, so that he becomes “the source of salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:9). As Lord, too, Christ is Head of his Body, the Church. “He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22). Christ also is Lord of the entire universe. “He who descended is also he who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10) (cf. 1 Cor 15:26; Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 45).

“Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever” (CCC 666). St. Leo the Great, preaching on the mystery of the Ascension in Rome in 450, declared: “Since the Ascension is our uplifting, and where the glory of our Head shall go, there the hope of the Body is called, let us then rejoice exceedingly with fitting joy…For this day, not only are we made sure heirs of paradise, but in Christ we have already reached the heights of heaven, and obtained more abundant gifts through the ineffable favor of Christ than we lost through the envy of the devil.”

Finally, “Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Spirit” (CCC 667). Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25), opens to humanity access to the Father’s house by means of his cross and Resurrection. The Letter to the Hebrews assures us that Jesus Christ, the unique priest of the new and eternal covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands … but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (9:24); “he entered …[through] his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:12); and “When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3). Jesus Christ goes to the Father’s house to lead us there; without him, we could not enter. Now God himself is our “place” after this life, is the “last thing” of the creature.

“Left to his own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness (Jn 14:2). Only can Christ can open to man such access that we, our Head and our Source, has preceded us” (Missale Romanum, Preface of the Ascension; cf. CCC 661).

Given all these things we can be sure that in the last day when Christ comes in glory “he will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all thing into subjection to himself” (Phil 3:21). Hence at all times strive to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2). “Begin a new life according to the Spirit, once and for all renouncing sin and everything that leads us to sin, loving only God and everything that leads to God” ( St. Pius X Catechism”, 77).

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