Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit

maryhsOne time as I was asking our school children about how the Virgin Mary helps us, one student said, “she sends us the Holy Spirit.”  This struck me as profound (out of the mouths of babes).  I have reflected over those words and found them to ring true in the following ways.

First, Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  The first chapter of Matthew says that “the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  When we pray the Angelus we say, “and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”  We also repeat these words every Sunday during the profession of faith.  The conception of the Christ-child within the womb of the Virgin Mary took place through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In this way, she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Second, Mary gave birth to the one through whom the Spirit is sent.  The Son of Mary said to his disciples: “Behold, I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate [...]” (Jn 14).

Finally, at Pentecost, upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary the Holy Spirit descended to prepare them for their mission.

Someone as close to the Holy Spirit as Mary cannot help but bring also the Holy Spirit with her.  If we want to have a closer relationship to the Holy Spirit, we can ask help from His espoused: Mary.

Mammon, Money, and Man

When Jesus says you cannot love both God and mammon, he means that you cannot love God and money at the same time.  He means love in the truest sense.  He also says that you either love one and hate the other.So, if you love money, you can only despise God.

Yet, this seems strange.  Why can’t I love both?

This reminds me of a few lines from Fiddler on the Roof.

Perchik says, “money is the world’s curse.”

Tevye responds, “may the Lord smite me with it!  And may I never recover!”

We can be quite humorous when it comes to the constant draw of money.  Even the best of us can feel its seductive power at times.  I use the word ‘seductive’ on purpose.  Money, even though it is inanimate, seems to seduce us as a mistress.

Of course, money in itself is neutral.  It is no more evil or seductive than gold, grain, and grass.  In our own hearts lie the seduction where we put money in place of God.  We can treat money as if it is our security for the future.  It makes us forget our dependence and vulnerability.  God reminds us of our dependence and vulnerability.

For this reason, a lover of money can only hate the one who reminds him that his money won’t save him.

Jesus gives us the remedy for this by saying three words, “do not worry.”

He tells us to not worry about tomorrow, what we will eat, where we will sleep, and how we will find clothes.  He does not tell us to abandon these things or to behave foolishly by not taking care of ourselves.

This teaching does not concern so much the use of money as our attitude towards it.  Attitude towards money makes all the difference.

Our current economic system is broken in much deeper ways than joblessness, high gas prices, and a just wage.  It is broken in its attitude, specifically, its lack of ethics.  Without going into the intricacies of economics and moral philosophy, it is enough to summarize the broken system with one word: avarice.

Avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, means the insatiable desire for wealth.  It is the desire for wealth for its own sake.  Money becomes the end and ceases to be the means.  This attitude is reflected in our society when businesses consider the “bottom line” as the final determining factor for its decisions.

The social justice teachings of the Church have emphasized that such an attitude of avarice opposes the dignity of the human person.

The economy exists for man, not man for the economy.

In a system that treats human beings like a financial liability, the labor offered by workers becomes in itself a commodity for sale.  In this sense, a human being can be bought, sold, or exchanged for cash.  We see this happen when businesses lay off large amounts of people in order to gain the necessary cash for the bottom line.

To be clear, this article is not an exercise of blame.  Indeed, all of us are at fault in some way because we are all part of this system.

When we shop, do we not buy the least expensive product with the highest quality?  In our system, low prices are often maintained by lower labor costs.

What are you and I to do then?  First things first, as Jesus said, “do not worry.”  The second step, “seek first the kingdom of God.”  The third step, inaugurate the Kingdom of God here on earth to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God to come.

We inaugurate the Kingdom of God here by striving to establish social justice wherever and whenever possible.  We will never finish this work until Christ comes again.  But he will provide all things necessary to continue it.

We do this by our votes, our common influence, and by establishing this same justice in our own workplaces, especially if we are employers.

Christ the True Priest

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, according to the law as handed down by Moses (Exodus 13).

“Consecrate” means to “set aside.”  The first born was set aside to the Lord as an act of thanksgiving and also a remembrance of how the Lord spared the first born of the Hebrews when he delivered them from Egypt.

So, in this act of consecration we see two things.  The first born is a sign of blessing from the Lord.  The first born is a memorial of salvation from the Lord.

Do we not see these two things in the presentation of the Christ-child in the temple?

It should not surprise us, then, that two prophets appear to proclaim this significance.  Especially when Simeon exclaims:

I have seen your salvation,which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations,and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2).

A special note we can make that Mary and Joseph were obedient to the precepts of the Jewish Law.  God rewarded this obedience with the prophecy of Simeon.

We can reflect on our own commitment to obedience to the Father, especially in following the precepts of the Church, namely: Attending Mass every Sunday; marrying in the Catholic Church.

Throwing Away the Unwanted and Unplanned

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Many have criticized Pope Francis for not speaking enough in defense of the unborn.  Particularly, he has not spoken much about abortion specifically.  Yet, there is another way to look at it.

He intuitively grasps a sense of evangelization that must begin with the larger context of love, forgiveness, and the dignity of human life.

Recently, he has used that context as a backdrop to speak in a powerful and vivid way about abortion.  A Catholic News Service article shares the following:

“[...] Pope Francis spoke out strongly on abortion for the first time since his election, denouncing it as a product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many,” and stating that “every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord.”  To read the article in its entirety, click here.

He locates the problem of abortion in the wider context of the mentality of profit.  This mentality perceives the value of things in terms of material gain or loss.  The material at stake could be money, food, cost of living, future plans, emotional needs, and security.

These are legitimate, and sometimes extremely important concerns.

Yet, addressing a crisis pregnancy often begins with evaluating the material resources available for the child, the goals and dreams of those involved in the pregnancy, and the suffering that the child might undergo if she were to be born.

Little emphasis, if any, focuses on the dignity of the unborn child and her right to live.

The life of the unborn child is weighed against material factors.  A kind of cost-benefit analyses serves to determine whether or not to kill the unborn child.

Can one imagine performing this same line of thought for a newborn child?

Sadly, even though newborn children have equal protection under the law, unlike the unborn who suffer the gravest discrimination, they often still suffer neglect from malnutrition or lack of health care.

As we approach the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we would do well to reflect on the truth that the life of a human being must never be factored into a cost-benefit analysis.

Once a child is conceived, her life carries the value of Christ himself.  And her life is priceless.

January – Poverty Awareness

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This month the Catholic Church in the United States, led by our bishops, intensifies its focus on the poor.  We do this in connection with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

We also do this following the prompting of Pope Francis to live in solidarity with the poor.

Go to povertyusa.org to learn more about social justice, advocacy, and charity for those who are the least among us.

This is a good time to learn, to pray, and to take action for the poor.

Some further reflection: it seems that the term “social justice” carries a negative connotation in the minds of some.  Our intensely charged political environment includes hijacking certain terms and using them to convey a meaning not aligned with or completely alien to it.

To go back to the term “social justice,” many equate it to communism, socialism, or the order of a totalitarian federal government.

However, the Church’s teaching on social justice must not be confused with these other ideologies.

Catholic teaching on social justice can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1928):

Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation.  Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

We are responsible to each other and we must always work for the common good in charity and justice.

Jesus proclaimed that the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in his reading it.

This prophesy proclaimed good news to the poor:

“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.”  Luke 4:18-19 (NABRE)

This prophecy was fulfilled in the people hearing Jesus read it.  It continues in our day as we are doing it!

FC

Taxpayers Paying for Abortions – A Proposed Ban!

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Finally, legislation has been proposed to end all federal funding of abortion and promotion of abortion.  This is long overdue.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has voiced official support.

Read the full text here:  http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-005.cfm

This is a good time to reflect.  It is impossible to separate morality from politics.  Indeed, politics is a moral enterprise.

There is a very easy way to understand how anything is moral in nature: look for the words, “should” and “ought.”

Politics is the enterprise of a civilization dealing with the question, “how should we live together?”

For example, if someone says that we should not legislate morality, they are making a political, and therefore moral, claim.

How the federal government spends money reflects its moral compass.  The imposition of a federal income tax rests on the moral claim that the people living and working in the United States should fund the operation and programs of the federal government.

The premise behind this claim is that the federal government exists for the very same people who pay for it.

Federal funding of abortions, then, is a curious issue…an anomaly in our democratic republic.

Indeed, we can ask the question, should the people pay the government to fund the killing of its own children?

How interesting.  How appalling.  How sad.

The Catholic Church, and other religious institutions that recognize this morally grotesque situation, serve this nation as one of the intermediary structures between the people and the State.

They do so by standing up for the unborn in this very public and moral matter.

Spiritual Amnesia

St. John the Baptist

Homily for the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord

What would life be like if you suffered from amnesia?  If you forgot your name, your history, your family, your life story?

The baptism of our Lord answers this question for us.  His baptism represents another revelation of who Jesus really is.  The nativity revealed him as truly human.  The epiphany revealed him as the king of all the nations.  His baptism reveals another aspect of who he is.

Remember that we come to know ourselves by knowing Jesus.  Blessed John Paul II said in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, that Jesus shows man to man’s self.

Sin blinds us to our own identity.  After all, when Adam and Eve ate the apple, God asked the question, “where are you?”  Which is to imply that they had lost a sense of who they were.  Their disobedience traumatized their minds and hearts so much, that they forgot who they were.

They suffered from amnesia.

Their true selves had become hidden under the dark veil of shame.

This dark veil persisted throughout human history.  God continued to reveal himself to us and therefore to reveal ourselves to ourselves.

He always did this through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit descended upon Moses and the elders in Numbers Ch. 11.  The prophets were guided by the Spirit.

But God’s people continued to fall back into sin, to sink into spiritual amnesia.  For centuries God sent no more prophets.  And the people, perhaps without knowing it, searched for the light of the Spirit, so that they could see once again and remember.

But this amnesia can only be cured in a final way by the sinless one who never forgets who he is and who we are.

This one, the Son of God, allowed John the Baptist to baptize him as an occasion to show who he really is.  Finally, after centuries, the heavens opened up and the Spirit descended on Jesus.  He is revealed for who he is: truly man, truly King, and truly the beloved Son of the Father!

The Father reveals this to us so that we can know who Jesus is, and therefore, who we are.  Baptism is the sacrament where we are joined to Christ and together we receive the Spirit…Jesus receives the Spirit as our savior, we receive the Spirit as the saved.

When we are joined to Christ and receive the Spirit, the amnesia of sin is cured.

And we finally remember who we are: beloved sons and daughters of the Father!

The human race suffers from a sad case of spiritual amnesia.  We remember many little things: to check our email, take out the garbage, send a text to our friends, grab something to eat.

We also remember big things: our 15th birthday, our first job, our first kiss.

And, unfortunately, we remember lies: that we are no good, unimportant, ignored, unloved, unloveable, that we are completely alone, that we have no future, that this life is one damned thing after another, that there is no hope for the poor, that there is no chance for forgiveness and healing in our families…

The evil one helps us to stay in our spiritual amnesia by helping us forget the most important thing and remember everything else.
Today, we resolve to say no more.  I know who Jesus is and I know who I am and we know who we are: beloved daughters and sons of the Father!

FC

The Holy Trinity, Your Family Portrait

Homily for May 26th 2013, Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Whenever I visit a family in the area of my parish, one of the first things I do is look up at the photos on the wall.  Typically, I see dusty family portraits.  Other times I see smiling graduation photos.  Often, I see the dazzling display of a quinceanera.

Then I begin to ask, “who is this?”  The family reveals to me the person in the photo.

Did you know that the Church has a family portrait of God?  We can actually peer through this portrait and discover who God is.

That family portrait is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  Let’s take a look at it and ask the family, the Church, to reveal Him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) quotes directly from Matthew chapter 28 that Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (232).  Here we see three persons, a trinity of persons.

Each of these persons are “one only God” (CCC, 242).  Yet, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

If you are getting confused at this point don’t get discouraged.  Let’s take a closer look at the beauty in this portrait.

We believe in one God.  The Catechism continues to explain that “The Trinity is One.  We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons.”  Also, they do not share the one divinity with each other.  Each of them is God “whole and entire” (253).

In case you feel like lumping them together, paragraph 254 explains, “the divine persons are really distinct from one another.”  This means that God himself, although one, is not solitary (254).  The Father is not the Son and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

Yet, they are not isolated from each other: “the divine persons are relative to one another” (255).  They are what they are only by their connection to each other.  The Son would not be the Son without the Father.

The Father begets the Son.  He pours His eternal love and majesty into Him.  The Son, enjoying the love of the Father, loves the Father and returns everything back to the Father.  The Son reflects the eternal beauty of the Father.

In the powerful love between the Father and the Son we find the Holy Spirit.  He unites them and is also loved by the Father and the Son.

All this means, to paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, is that God in Himself is relationship.  As a human family exists as relationship, so exists our God.

But we have not looked at the entire portrait.  So far we have only paid attention to the adults in this portrait: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Now let’s look at the children!

Jesus makes very clear that he, the Father, and the Holy Spirit open their arms to us.  He says in John 16 that the Holy Spirit will declare to us everything that belongs to Jesus.  And everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to the Father.

So God is giving everything that is His to us!  What is His?  Everything!

The most important of what belongs to the Father are the relationships He has with the Son and the Holy Spirit.  These relationship are not contained in God but God shares them with us.  That makes us God’s family.

Because we are part of God’s family we receive life eternal and everything needed to get there: the gift of the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, love, the Church, the sacraments, and our service to others.

Behold, the Holy Trinity: your family portrait.

FC
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What Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Left Behind

When you think of Moses, you may imagine the Red Sea dividing in two, just like in the movie, The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. When you think of Elijah, you might remember how he did something similar, dividing the river Jordan by slapping his cloak into it.

But perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the life of Moses and Elijah are what they left behind. And paying attention to this aspect shows us how God works in our lives.

In the last chapter of Deuteronomy, 34, Moses dies. That is not how the book ends. After he died, Joshua, whom Moses blessed by laying hands on him, received the spirit of wisdom that Moses had.

In 2nd Kings Chapter 2, Elijah leaves the earth in a more dramatic way. A fiery chariot reaches down and snatches away Elijah, body and soul. Elisha, his pupil, then receives the spirit of Elijah. This becomes clear when he takes his cloak and slaps it into the river Jordan. The river split in two .

What did Moses and Elijah leave behind? By God’s grace, they left behind a portion of the spirit that God gave them.

The disappearance of Moses and Elijah and what they left behind foreshadow what we celebrate today.

As the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells us, Jesus disappeared into heaven as he ascended. That is what we celebrate today. Just like Moses and Elijah, Jesus looked down on his successors, and he promised to leave a very important gift. Not just the spirit of wisdom and prophecy but the Holy Spirit himself!  God Himself!

Yet this time one thing is very different from the stories of Moses and Elijah.

Even though, like Moses and Elijah, Jesus gives the Spirit to his successors, the Apostles, it doesn’t stop there. You see, Joshua and Elisha received the spirit of their predecessors but they did not directly bestow this gift on anyone else.

The Apostles, on the other hand, following the command of Jesus to baptize the nations, prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the whole Church and each member in it.

Foreshadowed by Moses and Elijah, Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit. And through his Apostles and their successors (bishops and their helpers, the priests and deacons) he bestows the Holy Spirit on all of us who have been baptized!

We have the same Holy Spirit who energized, guided, and empowered Christ himself to do the works of his Father. We have the power of Christ!

If you want to know what that makes possible for us, read the stories of Moses, Elijah, and the apostles. Those same things are possible for us, mostly in ordinary ways but no less powerful.

Let’s pray this week to be open to the Holy Spirit and to recognize how he works in us. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enter us in a new way as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost next Sunday.

Church Controversy and Pillars of the Faith

Homily for May 5, 2013

What happens when we have questions about what Christ taught about the truth and about how to live?  Currently, we Americans struggle with questions regarding homosexuality, politics, mandatory celibacy for priests, women priests, contraception, and even abortion.  The Acts of the Apostles instructs us on how to approach such questions and others.

In chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, there were teachers in the region of Antioch who were teaching something false.  They taught that everyone who was baptized also had to be circumcised.

That it was false was not clear to many if not all.  Isn’t that interesting?  God allows the Church to experience ignorance and confusion, even division!  Jesus did not make everything clear to His Church before He ascended into Heaven, returning to His Father.  He certainly did not even approach the question about whether Christians needed to be circumcised.

Yet, His Church was not abandoned.  Jesus said to the Apostles, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14).

The Holy Spirit resolves the controversy with the apostles, the elders, and the community.

In the confusion and the conversation that takes place among the Apostles, the elders, and the communities of faith, with the Holy Spirit, the Church could discern God’s will.

For that reason, when the the apostles decided that circumcision would not be required, they said, “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

This is how the Church worked together in unity and faith.  When there was disturbance about certain teachings, the communities of faith would refer to the apostles (and elders).  Then the apostles, in prayerful conversation with the community, with each other, and the Holy Spirit, made a decision.

The apostles also appointed successors.  These successors form a lineage reaching all the way to us.  We know who they are: our bishops!

Our bishops are signs that the Holy Spirit continues to work with us to discern the will of the Father and to do the work of Christ here on earth in the same way as He did in the days of Paul, Barnabas and Peter.

So, when we feel that our “peace of mind” is disturbed by certain teachings, which may be true or false, we can trust in the Holy Spirit and refer to our bishops.  The best way to do that is to pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read it.  Another great way is to talk to your priests, who work in unity with their bishop.

As we prepare for Pentecost let us pray for our renewal through the Holy Spirit, that He may resolve all disturbances, remove all cynicism, and work with our beloved bishops.  So that when we hear the decisions of the Holy Spirit and of our bishops, we may rejoice at the consolation that we are not abandoned to ignorance and disunity (Acts 15:31).

FC
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