Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Genuine Encounter With Christ

“...he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

For forty hours this past week, people filed in and out of our chapel to pray. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration as our parish committed 40 hours to give thanks for our 40th anniversary and to pray for our parish and each other. We never had less than 20 people even in the overnight hours on Thursday night. When I gave Benediction on Friday night to end the 40 Hour Devotion, there were over 100 people in the chapel. I was in awe at how many people were always present in the chapel and the profound silence and intensity that accompanied their prayer. The faithful came to have a genuine encounter with the Lord and to throw themselves at the feet of the Master just like the woman in today’s gospel. She barged into the house of the Pharisee and clung to the Lord. Everyone else merely observed this spectacle. Only the woman had a true encounter with Christ.

So it is with us. So many times we are observers when it comes to our faith. We sit in the pews and observe what’s going on without offering a genuine prayer. I must confess this happened to me this week during the 40 hours. I would go into the chapel and sit or stand in the back, but it wasn’t until I spent a good hour sitting in the second row with all distractions behind me and focused intently on the Eucharist that I truly entered into prayer. It is so very hard to enter into silent prayer because we are used to noise all around us, but once you engage the Master, once he captures your short attention, like this woman, you don’t want to let go. It was getting close to Midnight, and I was kneeling staring at the Monstrance. The clock out of the corner of my right eye told me that I had to get up to go prepare for Benediction, but I didn’t want to get up. I had one of those Simon Peter “it is good that we are here” moments. But time to go always comes when we encounter Christ because he sends us forth to spread his presence to others. He tells the women at the end of the gospel the same words we will hear at the end of Mass today: “go in peace.”

We go in peace to share the presence of the living Christ and to share his love and mercy. There are so many who long to have the experience this woman had with the Lord, the experience so many of our brothers and sisters had over those 40 hours, but who will invite them? Who will bring them to the feet of the Master? It is up to us. For 40 years this parish has been a place of refuge, of comfort, of peace, of mercy. Yet there is always room for improvement when it comes to the spiritual life until we attain perfection in heaven. This morning Pope Francis tweeted: “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope where everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven.” This is the Church that the Holy Father wants. And on this Father’s Day, as your spiritual father, this is the church I want for my people as we celebrate four decades of true love. Let everyone who walks through those church doors feel welcomed, loved, and forgiven so that they may have a true encounter with the Lord like this woman, and then forgiven and freed, that they too may go in peace to help bring others back to this holy place where our Lord waits with his arms wide open.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Young Chains

“As Jesus drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.  When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” (Luke 7:12-14)
June is traditionally the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This past Friday, I concelebrated at a beautiful Mass for the Sacred Heart at the seminary.  When Mass was over, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and adored all through the night until 6am the next morning.  I spent some time in prayer that night, and for some reason I kept thinking about today’s gospel and the widow of Nain.  Another image that came out of nowhere was the image of St. Peter in Chains.  You may be wondering what St. Peter in Chains has to do with this gospel or with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Let me explain.  Three years ago, I celebrated Mass with the Archbishop in St. Peter in Chains Church in Rome which is right across the street from the Coliseum.  The church is the jail that housed St. Peter in Rome and below the altar are the chains that bound St. Peter in Jerusalem and were broken by an angel.  The reason I was thinking of this image on Friday night was because I was praying for all those that I know that are chained to the vices of this world.  To connect this to today’s gospel, we look to St. Ambrose who gave this beautiful explanation of the Scripture: “the widow signifies Mother Church, weeping for those who are dead in sin and carried beyond the safety of her gates.  The multitudes looking on will praise the Lord when sinners rise again from death and are restored to their mother.”
So as I knelt there in prayer, I was thinking of all those young souls who are “dead in sin” and are somehow chained to this world and cannot escape.  I was thinking of all those mothers who have come to me crying because their children have stopped going to church.  I was thinking of all of my former students or youth group kids who, though they keep in touch, have wandered far from home and from the arms of a God who loves them to no end.  I must confess that I spent the better part of last week thinking about “my kids” because I saw a good number of them 10 days ago at a college graduation party.  Many of them I had not seen in 8 years since they were in middle school and now they stood in front of me as college graduates.  On three separate occasions that night, three different young people came up to me saying that they either missed going to Mass or missed youth group or lamented that they weren’t as close to God as they were when they were younger.  I asked what was stopping them from returning, from starting a young adult group at their parish, or even reconnecting with God on a personal level through prayer.  It was if each one of them were like the rich young man in the gospel as he bowed his head and turned away in defeat because he couldn’t sell all his riches.  Each of these kids gave an excuse that college got in the way or that they partied too much almost as if returning to church would just get in the way of the lives they currently lead.  Now those of you that know me well know that I love each and every one of my kids as if they were my own children and would with no hesitation give my life for them, but as much as I love them and as much as I loved being with them that night…I wanted to slap each and every one of them across the head.  Since when does Jesus get in the way of our happiness?  Since when does Jesus prevent us from leading joy-filled lives?  A part of me wished that the hands of time would turn back to when  I had a captive audience in the classroom or in youth group, but another part of me knew that these young people who are living the best years of their lives had to rediscover Jesus Christ in a whole new and exciting way.  This hope is what fueled my prayer throughout last week and on Friday night.
But I prayed for our young generation in general that is deceived into thinking that life is a grand party where you do what you like, what pleases you, what makes you feel good (if only for a second), and you simply move on to the next party after that.  This is a generation that has been deceived into thinking that you go into and out of relationships on a whim, that you enter into and out of marriage at your convenience, and that you just do what makes you feel good no matter what the consequences.  It is a generation that lives, as the Archbishop likes to say, “as if God doesn’t matter.”  But God does matter because he constantly goes out of his way to lift us up and to break the chains that bind us to the sins of this world.  But do we really want to cast off our chains?  Do we want to break free of the vices of the world and enter into the freedom of God’s children?  I see so many young people who are held back, who want to do what is good, but are held back by the lures of the world.  It’s as if they dip their toes into the waters of God’s grace and find that it’s too cold or too warm.  There’s something that is always holding them back from being immersed in God’s mercy.  They shouldn’t just dip their toes.  They should abandon themselves to the grace of God and cannonball themselves into the deep end of the pool.
There is nothing in this world that will bring us life and joy if it is not connected to God.  Today Jesus touches you as he touched the son of the widow and tells you: “arise!”  Christ wants to break the chains that have you shackled to this world and give you true life and freedom.  This morning Pope Francis told us: “The mercy of God gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. The Lord is always watching us with mercy, [always] awaits us with mercy. Let us be not afraid to approach him! He has a merciful heart! If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus!”

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Eucharistic People

"Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” (Luke 9:16)

There is a beautiful movement going on in today’s gospel.  On the surface, we simply see the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, but if we dig deeper, we see elements of the Eucharistic celebration that we are taking part in right now.  The gospel begins with Jesus speaking to the multitudes about the Kingdom of God.  It was the homily if you will.  After the teaching, the disciples want to send the people away from the deserted place to go find food and lodging.  Jesus has other ideas when he tells them: “Give them some food yourselves.”  Like the apostles, we always look for the simple solution.  The apostles no doubt had probably had a long day and wanted to rest themselves.  Jesus however wants them to go outside of themselves and find a different solution.  So they bring before the Lord five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus blesses the food, breaks it and gives it to the disciples for the people to eat.  This is the same movement that happens during the Mass:  we bless the bread, break the bread and give the bread.  And St. Luke tells us that all ate and were satisfied.  I’ve asked this question before:  are we satisfied when we receive the Eucharist?

The Eucharist is Christ’s great gift to us.  In turn, because we receive this gift, we too must be gift for others.  On this feast of Corpus Christi, our Holy Father Pope Francis said on Thursday:  “Jesus speaks in the silence of the mystery of the Eucharist and reminds us each time that following him means going out of ourselves and making our lives not something we 'possess,' but a gift to him and to others…”  Receiving the Eucharist should make us more like Christ.  It should take us out of our comfort zone and lead us to go “out of ourselves” to be a gift to the Lord and to others. Our lives are not our own, they belong to God even though we go out of our way to constantly do what WE want. Receiving the Eucharistic should make us more selfless and make us long to do His will and not our own.  The Holy Father continues, “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the communion that takes us out of our individualism so that together we live our discipleship...” We are indeed called to be a Eucharistic people: a people nourished by this Presence and called to share this Presence with others.  It is a gift that calls us to be a gift for others.  It should not draw us inward but out towards the service of others.  The Eucharist should also lead us to hunger Christ all the more.  It should lead us to a genuine desire to spend more time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  To sit there in quiet contemplation allowing Him to speak to us.  Jesus longs to be with us.  He calls us out of ourselves to enter into a real communion with him.  We should always hunger for this presence.  That is why I invite everyone in this parish to spend one hour with our Lord during the 40 Hour Devotion that we will have in the days leading up to our 40th Anniversary in two weeks.  One hour so that we as a community may give thanks for the gift of our parish, pray for our parish, and pray for one another.  It is there at the feet of the Master that we truly become one in Him.  We must be a Eucharistic people.  I long to see the fruits of those 40 hours of prayer because if each of us can dedicate one hour to Him, then the walls of Jericho will come tumbling down and the glory of the Lord will truly shine forth in all of you.  The more we adore Him, the more we become like Him.  The more we become like Him, the more the world will feel His presence through us! 

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, we thank the Lord for this precious gift of the Eucharist, this “precious and wonderful banquet that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness,” as the angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas tell us.  This gift calls us to be a gift, to go out of ourselves to be a gift for others.  O divine Sacrament, help us to be a Eucharistic people, so that we may bring your loving presence to all those who hunger for you.