Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Easter

I’ve always liked this section of the Acts of the Apostles, because it gives us such a good template for how to engage those in the culture around us. Paul sees that the Athenians have many altars to various deities, including one for an unknown god. He takes this as a starting point for his preaching, and I think it is a truly brilliant. The Athenians recognize that there is something missing, that they do not know. Paul tells them that he knows what this missing thing is: it is God.

This God, Paul preaches, created all things and rules all things, but that is not all. This God lives in us, and he created humanity in his own image. This God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ and has ushered in a time for repentance, so that we may turn to him and know him and love him. This Jesus will “judge the world with justice,” so we must get busy with our work of conforming our lives to God.

The Athenians are listening intently to Paul until the very last line in his preaching, where he tells them that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That is too much for them. Some were straightforward in their disbelief, scoffing. Others said, “let’s talk about this later.” Paul recognized that he would make no progress and left.

It is fascinating to me how well this depicts modern engagement with the culture. The culture is in dire need of something meaningful. People will even listen to religion to try and fill the hole, but there is always some point where they decide, “nope, too much.” It is often the moral standards inherent in religion, but even now—2000 years later—the Resurrection is a point of difficulty for many. Even Christians don’t really know what the Resurrection means, and some—if pressed—don’t truly believe that it happened.

Paul wasn’t discouraged by this. He took those who followed him, and moved on to the next town. In our efforts to be lights to the world, we must do the same. When someone truly wants to know and love God, we should help them. When they brush us off, we must not be discouraged. No, we must take heart and move to the next person, continuing to live the true Christian life.

Today’s Readings: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1; Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Jn 16:12-15

Reflection for the Fourth Friday of Easter

Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, to place our faith in him. St. Paul is a prime example of someone living in this way. Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but his dramatic conversion changed everything. He immediately started preaching Jesus Christ to all around him. While he dedicated several years to living the Christian life before going on his missionary journeys, it was obvious from the beginning that Paul put his faith in God in all of his teaching, preaching, and living.

One instance of this can be found in Acts 13, from which we have been reading in the first reading for a few days. Paul is at a synagogue. After the law and prophets are proclaimed, the synagogue officials ask if anyone would like to say a word. Paul, who was likely the finest student of the best teacher of Jewish scripture, got up and, most likely, surprised everybody. He preached of how Jesus fulfilled everything in scripture, noting especially his fulfillment of God’s covenant with David through one of David’s descendants. Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to preach about exactly what the Jews in Jerusalem did to this man who was the Anointed One, the Chosen One: they crucified him on false charges. Then Paul told them the most incredible thing: he rose from the dead and saved all of us from death. By raising up Jesus, God fulfilled all the promises to the fathers. Through Jesus, God forgives the sins of all humanity. This Jesus is a man worthy of our faith.

Jesus teaches us that there is room for everyone in the house of His Father. When we put our faith in Jesus and live according to the way of life he taught us, he welcomes us into the house of the Father. Jesus Himself will prepare a place for us within the house, and all we must do is follow him, because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” who leads us to the Father.

Let us strive to follow the way of life that Jesus taught us, so that we too might be welcomed into Heaven: the House of the Father

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:26-33; Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab; Jn 14:1-6

Reflection for the Fourth Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Fourth Wednesday of Easter

Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.

I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.

The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?

I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.

Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.

The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)

When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)

Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.

Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50

​Reflection for the Fourth Tuesday of Easter

(I wrote this reflection with the primary audience intended to be younger schoolchildren.)

Sometimes people around us ask us to do things we don’t really want to do. When that happens, what do we do? I know that sometimes I will pretend that I didn’t hear the person, but that doesn’t usually work. Another thing I might do is to tell them that I don’t understand what they’re asking me to do. Maybe it is true I don’t actually understand, but if I had been listening when they were talking I would understand. It’s like if my mom told me that if I took out the trash I could go play with my friends, and all I heard was the part about playing with my friends. My mom would be angry if I didn’t take the trash out, and I wouldn’t get to play with my friends. Just because I heard it the way that I wanted to hear it, that doesn’t change that my mom told me to take out the trash. Saying “I didn’t understand” wouldn’t change What my mom had told me.

This is like what is happening in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has been telling everybody about his mission and who he is, but they ask him to tell them plainly, which means they are probably pretending not to understand Jesus. In reality, they just don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to understand what he is saying. They might have to change if they could understand him. They don’t want to change, so instead of hearing what Jesus is actually saying, they only hear what they want to hear. 

We need to make sure that we are always listening for Jesus’s voice, so that we can hear it when he speaks to us. Jesus is our Shepherd, and we know when he is speaking to us. He doesn’t talk to us like other people do, but in other ways. When we want to do something bad and there is something inside of us telling us that it is wrong, that is Jesus talking to us. When we want to do something good and there is a voice inside of us telling us that it is good, that is also Jesus talking to us. We always need to remember to listen for what Jesus asks us to do.

One of the best ways to listen to what Jesus wants us to do is to be obedient to our parents, because God gave our parents a special role to teach and guide us. We also should listen to our teachers, because our parents trust our teachers to teach us and help us learn all the things we need to know. Jesus can speak to us through our parents and our teachers, so we should do our best to do what they ask us.

So today, let’s all try our best to listen for Jesus. Sometimes he talks to us by helping us know right from wrong, and sometimes he talks to us through other people. He is always trying to speak to us, and all we have to do to hear him is to quiet down a little bit and to listen.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7; Jn 10:22-30

Reflection for the Fourth Monday of Easter

Non-Jews are also called to the kingdom of God! What fantastic news! This is made clear in today’s first reading. Peter is called to declare clean all foods which God has created. (I will try to write an article about all the reasons this is important in the somewhat-near future!)

Right after declaring the dietary laws unnecessary, Peter baptizes an entire household—this would have included the husband, the wife, any children, and any slaves living there—of Gentiles. The reading makes special note that they received the same gifts as the Jews in their baptism. When the Christians hear that these non-Jews received the same gifts, they did not become angry and jealous: they glorified God!

This is one way we can identify true Christian charity (a.k.a. love): it is overjoyed to be shared. True love cannot be turned in on itself, it must be shared. This is especially emphasized in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Today, let us try to be joyful with all around us, because God has called them to salvation. Perhaps through our example of living in Christian joy, they may recognize the gift God has given to us and seek it for themselves.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 42: 2-3, 43: 3, 4; Jn 10:1-10 or Jn 10:11-18

Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today Jesus gives us one of the most beautiful images in all of the Gospels: Jesus the Good Shepherd. His sheep know his voice, and they follow his voice. He protects his sheep from the robbers and thieves who come to destroy them. I know that I like to picture myself as one of Jesus’s sheep, following him to the green pastures of Heaven.

When a baby is born, that baby knows the voices of his or her parents, maybe grandparents, possibly a few other people. The baby knows that these voices are safe, because the baby has heard those voices before. New voices confuse or even frighten the baby. As the baby grows from youthhood to adulthood, the child starts deciding which voices to listen to and which voices to ignore. Instead of listening to his parents, he listens to Hugh Hefner and decides to objectify women. Instead of listening to her grandmother, she listens to advertisements that tell her ‘everyone is doing it.’ Instead of listening to Jesus’s message transmitted through the church, we think that consumerism and materialism will bring us total happiness.

With this in mind, I have to ask myself: am I really one of Jesus’s sheep who recognizes his voice? When Jesus calls us, do we listen to him, or do we listen to someone else? Am I listening to the voices of the world instead, and following them? If I am following Jesus, I can enter into the gates of Heaven, but if I am following a robber, I will only enter the gates of sin, death and hell. We have to realize that if we listen to the world and the devil for too long, it will be very, very difficult to hear Jesus’s voice over all the noise.

In both the first reading and second reading today, Peter is instructing the faithful in how to live a life where we follow Jesus instead of the world. We find the first few steps in the first reading. In the first homily recorded, Peter tells those gathered—and us today—to save ourselves from “this corrupt generation” by repentance and baptism. Through this gift, we receive the Holy Spirit who aids us in living a good, Christian life. After preaching the Good News of Christ’s fulfillment of the Scriptures, Passion and Resurrection, Peter called the people to action, and they acted. Over 3000 people were baptized that very day.

The second reading is from Peter’s first letter. In it, he holds up Christ as an example for how to live a holy life. We must suffer patiently, offering our suffering to God. We must live the beatitudes, not returning insult for insult, judging justly, and living righteously. Then Peter tells writes two of the most profound lines in the New Testament, “By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

Christ saved us, and wants us to live with him forever in complete happiness, but we must listen for his voice in order to do this. Sometimes he will ask us to live in a way that is difficult, that we might not think is very good, but if we listen to Jesus, and follow him, we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When things are difficult, we can always remember that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “walks ahead of [us], and [we] follow him.” No matter where Jesus asks us to go, he has already been there, and that is a great comfort.

Like a baby who trusts the voice of his or her mother and father, let us trust the voice of Jesus, because it is those who are childlike to whom Jesus promised his kingdom.

Un resumen en español

Como los bebes escuchan a sus padres, tenemos que escuchar para la voz de Jesús. San Pedro nos dijo unas instrucciones para vivir en Cristo. Necesitamos seguir los mandamientos y vivir las bienaventuranzas. Cuando vivir la vida cristiana, podemos escuchar la voz de Cristo.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

Reflection for the Third Friday of Easter

Jesus gave us his flesh to eat. The Jews thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. How can we eat his flesh and drink his blood? First, we can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood because that would require murder to do so. Second, we can’t because it is forbidden by the law. The first portion of this becomes a moot point with the Eucharist, where Christ transforms bread and wine into himself. The second point, however, requires a little more attention. Cannibalism is forbidden by Mosaic Law. If the bread and wine are Jesus, it would still be cannibalism—we would still be eating a person.

The question we must answer is whether receiving the Eucharist is cannibalism, and if so, is it a bad thing to do. St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of answering both yes and no to questions, and I think that’s the approach to take here. It is cannibalism in the sense that we are eating Jesus. We cannot deny this and remain Catholic. It is not cannibalism in a much more fundamental way: we are not eating the dead body of a person. Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a special way which we call the Eucharistic Presence. In this Eucharistic Presence, he comes in body, blood, soul, and divinity, but it does not look or taste the same as a dead body, so we know something is different about it. Furthermore, Jesus is not dead! He is still alive!

There is one more argument that makes reception of the Eucharist different, and it revolves around the act of eating. Why do we eat? We eat to nourish ourselves. When we eat, the food is broken down and becomes a part of us. The food is transformed. When we receive the Eucharist, something much different happens. Instead of the food being transformed into us, we are slowly transformed into Jesus. The Eucharist is the only food which transforms us into something new.

When we are changed into Christ through the Eucharist, it is not as obvious as Paul’s conversion in the first reading. Jesus came to him as a blinding light which he could not ignore. We receive something even more previous in the Eucharist. Instead of simply seeing Jesus, we become united with him in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, because it unites us with Jesus, and by extension all those around the world with valid sacraments. (If we are all one with Jesus, and he is one with us, then it logically follows that we are also one with all others who are one with Jesus and with whom he is one.)

Let us never forget the incredible gift we receive in the Eucharist.

Today’s Readings: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 117:1bc, 2; Jn 6:52-59