The Fuel for our Lamps

At our baptisms, our godparents lit a small candle from the light of the Easter candle. This candle was then presented to us, or our parents if we were not old enough. This candle was a visible symbol of the light of Christ that had now been lit within us. Jesus calls us to keep that light burning, not just for us, but for all those around us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 1 We must put the light within us on display so that others can see it, and so that our light can guide others to Christ.

To effectively guide others to Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom, we must ensure that our light shines as brightly as possible, and that it continues to burn. How are we to do this? How do we make the light of Christ within us burn ever more brightly? What must we do to ensure that the light of Christ within us continues to burn?

The light of Christ within us grows with our virtue. As we become better people, people who are more like Christ, the basket around our light is lifted. When we put sin behind us and dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God and his kingdom, we work to remove the basket that covers our light. In addition to the basket around our light being removed, the light itself can grow to hold more fuel and to burn brighter. This happens when we regularly receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Reconciliation trims the wick of our light. It may sting, and it may be painful, and we may really hate having to do it, but it is worth it. Just as when a wick is trimmed, the lamp glows brighter, so when our soul is healed by reconciliation God shines more clearly through us. The Eucharist grows the size of our lamp. By increasing our charity and love for others, the Eucharist gives our lamp the ability to hold more fuel. When the Eucharist increases our hope in God, it gives a purity to the flame, allowing it to shine even more brightly and beautifully. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, which makes the light within us stronger, so that it may withstand even the strongest gusts of wind that work in opposition to it.

Let us now turn our attention to the second question: how do we ensure that the light keeps burning? This is the question asked by today’s Gospel. The virgins are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. They do not know the hour at which he will come and call them into the wedding feast. The wise virgins ensure that they have strong lamps, and that they have plenty of fuel—even if the bridegroom comes at a very late hour. The foolish virgins do not take such precautions. Even when the bridegroom is delayed, these virgins do not go to find more fuel. They squander their time, waiting until the very last possible moment, when the bridegroom’s imminent arrival is announced, to search for more fuel. At this point, it is much too late to search for more fuel.

The wise virgins are unable to give them fuel. They can’t give them the fuel, for two reasons. Firstly, their fuel would be too strong for the foolish virgins’ lamps. The fuel of the wise virgins—the fuel that powers the light of Christ within each of us—is purified and strengthened and cleansed by our virtues. It will destroy a lamp not strengthened by the grace of God’s sacraments. Secondly, the fuel is not theirs to give. The virgins have a duty to light to path for the bridegroom. If they give their fuel away, they will be unable to complete the one task which they were called to do. Similarly, the fuel powering our lamps is given to us by God as a gift. This gift is called grace. While we can give some of these graces away for the betterment of others, we cannot give them all away. This grace, sanctifying grace, is necessary for us to enter into Heaven. Only God can give us these graces. Any other source simply cannot give us the graces we need for the light of Christ to burn within us. These graces are free gifts from God, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them, and we must be willing to receive them. We do this by living a virtuous life and by receiving the sacraments regularly.

Where do we get the fuel for our lights?

Today’s Readings:
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

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

Reflection for Easter Wednesday

The disciples walking to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, even when he was telling them about all of salvation history and how he had fulfilled it. It was only in the Eucharist when they recognized Jesus, through the actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread. What is most interesting to me is that these are the same four actions we see in every account where Jesus feeds a multitude. These are also the same words that the priest uses in the Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer, where we recognize Christ in his Eucharistic Presence.

These four actions can be understood as an analogue to our spiritual life. We offer ourselves to God, sins and all. He takes us, and he blesses us. He gives us special grace so that we may transform ourselves, and purify ourselves. He helps us to make ourselves a better offering for him. He does this by cleaning off the crust that forms over our hearts. God breaks our hearts, little by little, to open them to his love. But we are not the only one being broken. God’s heart was broken by a lance, and from that broken heart flowed forth blood and water. This blood and water is the fountain of everlasting salvation; it is the water flowing from the side of the temple. The love and mercy of God flows from his own heart into ours, filling it up completely until it overflows. God then gives us back our hearts, formed anew. He has broken our hearts of stone and given us hearts overflowing with love.

Peter, John, and the other apostles had their hearts shattered by the Crucifixion, but the Resurrection and Pentecost filled them so much that they could not stop themselves from praising God constantly at the Temple. On one occasion, they healed the crippled man we heard about today. Then, the man went with the to praise God! How appropriate that this happened at the Beautiful Gate, for it is indeed a beautiful sight when a healed and renewed man recognized God’s love, and in return gives his soul completely over to God.

When we hand ourselves over to God, he will break us and form us anew. But what a wonder this can be, if we allow God time to do his work. Many of us wonder what the meaning of suffering is, and I won’t pretend to answer that; however, I will say that in our suffering we learn to truly love God and to allow others to love us. God has been through everything we will ever experience. No matter what we’ve done, God will always take us back. No matter how enormous the hole in our soul has become, God can fill it.

All we must do is offer ourselves to God. He will take what we offer him, and give us back more than we can ever imagine.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:13-35

Reflection for Easter Tuesday

My parents gave me my name. When one of them says my name, it is different than when other people say my name. They can communicate, simply in how they say it, so much more than a simple desire for me to pay attention. I see something similar with my friends and their kids. How a mother says her child’s name communicates a lot to the child. And it goes both ways. My friends can tell me which child is crying, and if that child is hurt, throwing a tantrum, or needing some sort of attention—just by the sound of their crying. Sometimes, I can calm one of these wailing children down, but sometimes only a parent’s touch will do.

Mary Magdalene is crying. She misses Jesus, the God-man who forgave her sins. The one man who was capable of showing true love for her. Two angels come, and they are unable to comfort Mary. She tells them that someone has taken Jesus, her Lord, and she does not know where he has gone. Only her Lord can calm her.

So, Jesus comes to her.

Mary does not recognize Jesus right away. She mistakes him for a gardener. But he heard her cry, and he will not allow her to suffer alone. When he calls her by name, she instantly becomes aware of who this gardener is. He is Jesus. By saying her name, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, communicated comfort and re-assurance beyond all telling to Mary Magdalene. Then he tells her that she cannot hold on to him. He will be going soon, and she must be able to do on without him. Jesus is preparing her for his Ascension.

Jesus went to the Father, but he did not leave us alone. He left Holy Mother Church to care for us, to minister for us. She has been given all authority by Jesus. She will not let us be alone. And when only Jesus will do, we can always receive him into ourselves through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:36-41; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 & 22; Jn 20:11-18

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.

By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.

Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.

Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.

To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.

When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.

The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.

Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.

Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.

On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Reflection for the Fifth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Mass Readings: Gn 3:9-24; Ps 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13; Mk 8:1-10

I noticed two things while reflecting on today’s readings. The first is about the family of humanity, and the second about clothes.

God tells Adam and Eve that there will be enmity between Eve’s offspring and the snake from now on. Later, we find that Eve is to become the mother of all the living. The battle between evil and Eve’s offspring, therefore, includes all of us. In the Gospel, Jesus performs a mass feeding miracle. But this miracle happens outside of Israel. This is significant. Jesus is going out to the nations, and allowing them to share in the same meal as the Jews. By doing this, Jesus—the offspring of Eve—is beginning the process of reuniting all of Eve’s offspring into one Eucharistic family in the Church.

Later in the Genesis reading, we read that “for the man and his wife the Lord God made leather garments, with which he clothed them.” God himself made clothes for Adam and Eve. I’m reminded of a line in the Gospels where we are told not to overly concern ourselves with the future, for not even kings are clothed as beautifully as the flowers of the field. The passage is reminding us that God will provide for our needs. In Genesis, however, God is directly providing for the physical needs of Adam and Eve. God Himself is performing one of the corporal works of mercy—to clothe the naked! This is fascinating, and it also reminds me how important it is to do these things. It is almost built in to us to do the corporal works of mercy. We simply know that we should try and help the poor, the hungry, the naked, the dying. It is built in to us. Perhaps the reason that these things are built into us is because they are built in to God. We are built in the image of God. If God does these things, it should not surprise us that we desire to do them also.