Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Kingdom for all Ages.

“Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, and your dominion endures through all generations.”  Jesus founded a visible community of believers and appointed shepherds to share in His own ministry, so that all people might be united in a community of love.

The Church is a city built on a hill.  She is the New Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven and already piercing into the world.  She is a lamp put on a lamp stand, not under a basket.  The Church is a visible kingdom and every kingdom has structure to it.  Leaders need to watch over it, to nurture it, and to keep it unified, so the Church also has a visible structure founded by Jesus Christ, not by mankind.  The building of this structure begins with the call of the disciples.  Jesus gathers a family around Himself to be a father to them.  He teaches them the hidden things of God, a new way of life, and how to carry out His mission.  The structures of the Church (laity, ordained ministry, and religious life) find their roots in the call of Jesus, not in the prudence of human beings.  Here, we only have time to look at the establishment of ordained ministry.

After Simon’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus renames him Peter which means rock, saying, “and so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).  About this two things need to be observed.  First, Peter becomes the very foundation of the Church, but how can this be if elsewhere Scripture says that Jesus is the Church’s one foundation (1 Cor 3:11)?  The problem dissolves if we understand Peter as participating in the foundation of Christ.  Peter’s authority is not his own, but is derived from the authority of Jesus, which is given as a gift so that the Church will always be governed in Jesus’ name.  This is why the Pope, the successor of Peter is called the Vicar of Christ.  A vicar does not act in his own power, but through the power given to him by someone else.  Jesus shares his own power with Peter.

The second observation which needs to be made is that Jesus promises that the gates of the netherworld will never prevail over the Church founded on Peter.  The new city of God will never pass away.  Her faith has not been conquered or corrupted, but she remains Jesus’ faithful bride adorned for her husband.  In this world, she is tarnished by the sin of her members, but she always presses forward proclaiming that the LORD is gracious and merciful.

What was given to Peter was also given to all the apostles together.  The letter to the Ephesian says, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Eph 2:19-20).  The Apostles are the foundation of God’s household, his family, the Church.  Jesus is given the unique role of the capstone because he is the first stone laid and his placement guides the placement of all other stones.  The whole order of Apostles also share in Christ’s power.

This authority has been handed down through the sacrament of ordination.  In the reading from acts today, Paul, an apostle of Jesus, appointed elders … in each church.  This is the beginning of what Catholics call apostolic succession.  All of the bishops of the Church are appointed by other bishops all the way back through time until the Apostles.  In the creed, we acknowledge the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, which is a profession of faith in the succession of apostolic authority in the Church.

Any visible kingdom needs a law, and before Jesus entered into glory, Jesus gave us a law by which all the earth will recognize us as His disciples.  He says, I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is the supreme law of the Church which governs her every member, from the Pope down to the newly baptized.  This is the law which every bishop and every pastor is called to enforce.  The hierarchy of the Church exists to build up the people of God in love.  Therefore, we must open ourselves to being built up in love, humbly following instruction.  If we need to correct our leaders, it must be done out of humility and love.  Only by following the shepherds given to us by Christ will the New Jerusalem emerge prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sheep of His Flock

Know that the LORD is God; he made us, his we are; his people the flock he tends.  Three things are true of Jesus’ sheep: they hear His voice, they cannot be taken from His hands, and they have life in them.

“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”  But sheep know the voice of their shepherd.  They know it, and follow it, but not everyone chooses to listen to the Lord.  Of these Jesus said, they are not my sheep.  Instead they are wolves who try to devour the sheep.  These are the people who break unity with the Church because the people of God faithfully proclaim his word.  We are called to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, for we have one hope, one Lord, and one faith (cf Eph 4:3-5).  Those who wish to change the faith of the Church break her unity throughout the world and throughout history.  Those who dissent from the teachings of the Church dissent from the voice of the Lord and are outside the sheepfold.  It’s popular today to ignore the teachings of the Church whether they are on the death penalty, abortion, contraception, or the preferential option for the poor.  We cannot pick and choose from the teachings of the Church based on what we think is true because then our beliefs no longer rest on faith in what Jesus Christ has revealed, but in our own opinions.

If you doubt the teachings of the Church, do some investigation.  The people of God are always ready to give a reason for their belief.  Do you doubt that faith and reason are compatible?  Read Fides et Ratio.  Do you doubt that only men can be ordained to the priesthood?  Read Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.  If you doubt the faith, ask me your questions or search the web.  The early Christian communities were “of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).  We need to find peace again, today, if we are to be compelling missionaries.  A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mk 3:25).

If we are God’s people, who listen to the voice of the Jesus, we have no reason to fear.  “All things work for the good of those who love God” (Rom 8:28) or as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “no one can take them out of my hand.”  All things are subject to Father’s providence and no one can snatch us from His hands.  This is why the apostles Paul and Barnabas left Antioch in the first reading full of joy and the Holy Spirit.  Because they were God’s sheep, neither suffering nor death could thwart them, nor can insults or threats harm us today.  The one who sits on the throne will shelter those who stand before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches of victory.  Our victory is secured in Christ Jesus who has washed us white as wool.  When people mock Jesus and His sheep, stand up to them!  Have a little courage and don’t be a coward.

Our hope is in the Lord; there is no need to be afraid.  God, being from all eternity, foreknew us and called us by name.  He personally invites us, His sheep, to the Supper of the Lamb.  Here all the sheep gather as one flock every Sunday in order to lie in green pastures and by still water (cf Ps 23:2).  Here, our Good Shepherd puts a table before us (Ps 23:5).  At the altar of the Lamb, we eat the Passover Lamb who burned in love on the Cross for us.  The Lamb says about Himself, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:57).  Through the Eucharist, we receive the power to become children of God, living the life of the Son, whose life, above all is a life of love.

If, by faith, we hear the voice of the Lord today and harden not our hearts, we will be counted as one of Jesus’ sheep.   The LORD is good: his kindness endures forever, and no one is able to take His sheep from His hands because He gives us the power to become children of God.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

To the Father and to the Lamb

The Apostles left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.  According to our understanding, someone found worthy to suffer dishonor is someone who has done something reproachable.  They've failed, messed up.  It’s not something to rejoice about, but that’s what the apostles do.  They rejoice that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor.  The lectionary today skips part of the passage.  After proclaiming the Gospel before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders had the apostles flogged.  This was what they had been found worthy to suffer.

Worthiness is necessary for suffering because Jesus has turned the curse of the cross into blessing.  It is written “anyone who is hanged [on a tree] is a curse of God” (Dt 21:23), but  “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).  Jesus takes the curse upon Himself and destroys that curse.  Thus when we pick up our Cross and follow after Jesus, we also become blessed.  We share in the very life of our savior according to the beatitude, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”  With Jesus, who stands victorious at the right hand of the Father, whom the Father brought up from the netherworld, and who sings the praises of the Father, we who suffer with him for but a little while, can experience Christ’s victory over death and His exultation by the Father.

We cannot be found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus on our own initiative.  It must come from the invitation of Jesus to follow him.  Peter first tried to lay down his life for Jesus without the Lord’s invitation, but rather than glorify God, Peter abandons his friend.  Before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter proudly said, “Master, why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37).  To which Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times” (Jn 13:38).  But in the Gospel today we see Jesus reverse this.  Peter, who once public denied knowing the Lord three times, now publicly affirms His love three times.  Jesus then invites Peter to follow him to the Cross.  “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go… follow me.”

Through St. Paul, God invites us all to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).  This is at the heart of the meaning of the Mass.  On Sunday, we gather to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.  At the Divine Liturgy, recall how we have persevered in suffering for the name of Jesus.  Let us acknowledge this as a gift from God when we have been found worthy to suffer for Jesus.  Let suffering become an occasion for worship!  When the priest elevates the host to the Father, elevate your own life through Him, with Him and in Him to God the almighty Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Join all the angels and saints in Heaven.  Join every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe.  Offer your whole life saying, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might forever and ever.”

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Christ Bearer of Peace

In order to understand today’s readings, we need to understand Christ’s mission in light His own preaching.  In Luke 4, Jesus announces, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  The year acceptable to the Lord in Jewish history is the great Jubilee, which was supposed to happen every 7 x 7 years, but never did.  In the Jubilee, slaves would be set free.  Those who had lost their ancestral homes would regain them.  The land would lie fallow and all God’s people would celebrate and give thanks for His goodness.

This is the context in which Luke writes his account of apostolic ministry.  Just as Jesus said he would proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, the Apostles bring liberty to those bound up by disease and demonic possession.  The Apostles are bringing about the peace and mercy promised in the Jubilee.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it, for this mission is still ours today.  Everyone one of us is called by God to bring about this Jubilee in the world.

In the Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples gathered in the upper room “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus has given us a mission of evangelization.  By proclaiming the word of God, a message of reconciliation, we bring peace to the world.  By our Baptism and Confirmation, we share in the anointing of Jesus the Messiah.  Just as Jesus said “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18), so Jesus breathes the Spirit onto us so that we might announce God’s mercy to the world.  There used to be disharmony and conflict between God and men, but through Jesus, God has reconciled all things to Himself, making peace by the blood of His cross (Col 1:20).  We are sent by Jesus Himself to carry out this mission, applying the blood of the Cross to people in all nations.

And what is peace?  It is tempting to think of peace as the absence of war or conflict. But’s that’s lame.  A good can’t be the absence of an evil.  Evil is the absence of a good.  War is the absence of peace not the other way around.  Peace is right order and harmony.  We are at peace when everything in our life is being rightly ordered towards God.  When all that we say and do is directed towards knowing and loving God, then we is at peace.  It’s very much like being a well-oiled machine.  All the parts work together and none of them grind against the other.  Everything flows smoothly.  We are at peace with our neighbors when we are of one heart and mind.  We are at peace with our neighbors when we love them setting them free from the captivity of sickness and sin, blindness and error so that they might live in the fullness of life.  Peace comes when we live in the freedom of the children of God.

Peace comes when the Divine mercy is amongst us.  Three times in the Gospel today Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  He bears peace into the world from His Father.  By receiving Christ’s peace by living under the influence of the Spirit, we not only find harmony within ourselves, but we bring peace to the world.  This peace finds its fulfillment in the Jubilee when all God’s people give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.