Wednesday, December 31, 2014


December 28, 2014

1. Our Liturgy today brings center-stage two basic issues – marriage and the family: much discussed in contemporary culture; most essential for the well-being of society; most essential for the well-being of the Church.

2. What is a family? Who invented the family? Who has the authority to define the family? Pope Benedict XVI has noted – The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love. The family is an intermediate institution between individuals and society, and nothing can completely take its place. The family is an indispensable foundation for society, a life-long treasure for married couples, a great good for children, and a school which enables all involved to grow to the full measure of their humanity.

3. What is marriage? Who invented marriage? Who has the authority to define the nature of marriage? With strangling brevity, I would like to share with you a few thoughts on Catholic sacramental marriage.

4. Every Christian, it strikes me, every follower of Christ receives a calling, a vocation, in and through the mystery of the Church. At the most basic level, followers of Christ pursue such a calling by participation in and by being authentic witnesses to the universal call of holiness of life. Do we not read in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians – “Praise be to God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens. God chose us in Christ, before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”? Did we not learn from our earliest days with the Catechism that the reason God made us was to know him, love him and serve him by following the Lord Jesus and by finding our ultimate and perfect happiness with God and his saints. More specifically, according to God’s eternal designs, some persons within the Church have been chosen for a particular state in life, married life, religious life, priestly life, and in and through these states of life they contribute to the building up of God’s kingdom in love. This divine choice for married couples becomes definitive and is made manifest to the world in the Church’s sacramental event of matrimony. The Lord Jesus said to his chosen twelve – “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” And so the Lord speaks to couples today. It is precisely through this married love that husband and wife bring each other to holiness. “The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families. A sacramental marriage is indeed a noble, high, and sacred calling.” (John Paul II)

5. Some writers think of the event of Holy Matrimony as a theo-drama, as God’s drama, in which human participants are moved by hidden forces and unseen energies which Catholic theology reflects on under the rubrics of divine grace and divine Providence. As one writer, Ladislas Orsy, reminds us – There are visible participants and invisible participants involved. St. Augustine calls a sacrament “an outward, visible sign of inward invisible reality, of invisible grace.” We can see what is visible and so we can know. We cannot see what is invisible, and so we can believe. The invisible actors which initiate and carry out this drama are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The visible actors – best supporting actor and actress, as Hollywood might suggest – are the man and woman in whom God’s plan is about to unfold. Many questions come to mind: We know what folks are saying these days about marriage, but what are God’s thoughts? What is God, who is “Three in One”, saying to couples at this sacramental moment when God is calling them to become “two in one” until death?

6. What does God have to say about marriage? God has much to say about marriage? God has much to say from the Book of Genesis to the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. But fear not – I will only make a brief reference to Genesis and a brief reference to one statement of St. Paul. The reading from Genesis underscores two truths. First, that men and women are created equal as persons. “Together, in their maleness and femaleness, they convey the full image of God.” A second significant truth stresses that God’s divine plan involves maleness and femaleness so that they can live for each other in the totality of their lives and truly be gifts to each other. St. Paul speaks to us in his Letter to the Colossians as he tells married couples to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God. Obvious to the reader of St. Paul, as he mentions various aspects of married love – kindness, humility, gentleness, patience – the priority goes to the virtue of love. In recent times no one has spoken so compellingly of love as has Pope Benedict XVI. He writes – “God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives and it raises important questions about who God is, and who we are, and what marriage is all about. Whenever we talk about love we are hampered by a problem of language – a vast semantic range makes love the most frequently used and most frequently misused of words.” Amidst this multiplicity of meanings, one meaning in particular stands out – the love of a man and a woman joined in marriage, where body and soul are inseparately joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. To love, then, means to give; to love means to will the good of the beloved; the highest form of human love is friendship and the highest form of human friendship is the married love of husband and wife.

7. In our present cultural context, it is good to remind ourselves that God himself has established marriage as an intimate partnership of life and love. This partnership is rooted in a covenant entered into freely by a man and woman, a covenant of irrevocable personal consent. The God-given benefits and purposes of this covenant have a decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the spouses and on the dignity, peace and prosperity of the family itself and, therefore, on human society as a whole. Accordingly, couples join their minds and hearts and affection as they say “I do” to three significant marital realities – unity, fruitfulness, faithfulness. Their “I do” to unity tells the world that their union seeks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between a man and a woman and that is nourished by their personal willingness to share their entire life project – what they have and who they are. Their “I do” to fruitfulness means that the service of life is entrusted to them. A married couple share in God’s creative love and become God’s co-workers in the world. Their “I do” to faithfulness echo the words of Jesus – “Let no one separate what God has joined”. This means that in a selfish, individualistic, secular, warring, terrorist world, their “I do” to fruitfulness is a sign of hope that calls out to all the world that self-giving love really works, that sexuality and love and marriage and the family really belong together, and that their marriage is the beginning of a new community, a partnership under the Holy Spirit which can tell all who witness their love and fidelity that the deep divisions that currently prevail in our world and sadly will always prevail because of sin, can in principle and by God’s grace be healed.

8. The Lord Jesus gives to all who intend to follow him in marriage this command – “Love one another as I have loved you”. Spouses, married in Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit must take this command to its heights. It is not just a question of living with or for each other; it truly involves a willingness to die for each other. Does not the Master tell us – “There is no greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friend”. The prevailing philosophy down through history tells us that every living being, every human being, strives for its own fulfillment, its own preservation. But this is not what the Gospel teaches us. The Gospel overturns this common teaching and teaches us that the way to happiness, the way to wholeness, is by way of self-abandonment and not by way of self-preservation. The Lord Jesus says to us in John’s Gospel – “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it’ll produce much fruit.” Jesus himself is the first instance of this truth. Spouses must follow his lead. Two roads lie open to you to couples married in Christ. One leads to self-preservation; the other to self-abandonment. Another name for self-abandonment is sacrifice. Does not the Gospel tell us that the wise folks build on solid rock? That rock for married couples is sacrificial love. Sacrifice is always irksome and difficult; only love can make it possible; perfect love can make it a joy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A) November 16, 2014

1. Three basic questions figure prominently in the lives of thinking persons. First, there is the knowledge question. In this vast and complex world of ours, with competing philosophies and world views, what can I come to know as truth? Then there is the ethics question. In this vast and complex world of ours, which offers me all sorts of exciting goals and seemingly attractive ways to follow, what is the good that I have been made for? What is the good I ought to seek? Finally, there is what we might call the hope question. In this vast and complex world of ours, where hard things happen in the mischances of life, wherein many wonder if human existence has any ultimate meaning, what can I hope for – in whom can I place my trust? In a certain sense the hope question takes priority. If there is no hope, if life merely runs aimlessly from womb to tomb, why should I seek the truth in knowledge, why should I choose what is truly good and thus live an ethical existence?

2. I would like to focus our attention on our second reading this evening – St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul is most solicitous in prayer for his friends in Thessalonica, and he prays that “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may enlighten the eyes of their hearts that they may know what is the hope that belongs to their call, their vocation in Christ”.

3. The Thessalonians had some questions to ask Paul concerning death and life after death. Paul had taught them that Christ had died, that Christ is risen and that Christ will come again. Perhaps the Thessalonians were of the mind that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent. They were worried therefore about some of their loved ones who had died, and the Lord had not yet returned. “What’s going to happen to our loved ones,” they asked? Paul in his Letter patiently repeats the message of the Gospel which he first proclaimed to them when he lived among them. That’s why he can say to the Thessalonians and to us here in light of the Gospel – “You, my brothers and sisters, are not in darkness for that day of the Lord to overtake you like a thief in the night. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness.” As one commentator has said – Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians could very well be summarized in a few brief words: “holiness and hope in the pagan world of the ancient Roman Empire”.

4. Obviously, the problems that the Thessalonians had are not our problems today. Our problems today center around the teachings of the faith which many seem to ignore in our secular, commercial, warring and terrorist world. If Paul were writing to us today in the world of our time, his message to us would be the same: “holiness and hope in the world of this time”.

5. November is an excellent time to reflect on the question of death. It’s that time of the year when our thoughts focus very much on our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. As we all know, for men and women everywhere, the fact of death is a profound puzzle in the face of which the riddle of human existence grows most acute. We all, of course, experience pain and the advancing deterioration of the mind and body and all the endeavors of technology cannot calm the anxieties to which death gives rise within the human spirit. Some in our society reject the thought of life after death. Some in our society are seeking the medicine of immortality and are convinced that medical science will discover such a remedy. Where will we find the truth of things? The exciting good news of our Catholic faith tells us – there is a cure for death, that the medicine of immortality has been found. The Eucharist we celebrate this very afternoon, the very presence of the risen Christ in our midst, is God’s pledge of eternal life. For us who follow the risen Christ, death’s enigma is resolved in Christ. Death means dying with Christ to whom we often say – “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life; Lord Jesus, come in glory”. And this Lord who is with us this very evening in word and in sacrament, and who indeed will come again is the very Lord who said to his first disciples – “I am the resurrection and the light, whoever believes in my, even if he dies, shall live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. When the Lord first spoke these words at the death of his friend, Lazarus, he said to Martha – Do you believe this? He asks us this very same question. Do we believe what the Lord has said to us? Do we have firm hope in what he has promised us?

6. We who follow Christ are men and women of hope by definition, that is, by the Gospel fact that God has graced us in Baptism with the virtue of hope. This does not mean that hoping is unique to Christians. What is unique is the way we hope and why we hope. Hoping is not wishing; hoping is not the equivalent of an optimistic outlook. The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration of happiness which God our Creator has placed in every human heart. Hope keeps us from discouragement when we think of our ultimate goal in the light of our present weakness. Hope sustains us when we seem to be abandoned. Hope is the gift and power that comes from God when we set our hearts on the Kingdom of Heaven and on the goal of everlasting life. Do you recall the Act of Hope, which perhaps some of us memorized when we first encountered the Catechism – “O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, the help of your grace and the gift of everlasting life through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.” This is why the great Italian poet Dante placed over the gates of hell – “Abandon hope all you who enter here”. Hope rests on the promises God made to us in Christ and in our hoping we rely not on personal strength but on the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why we too must pray – “May the Father of our Lord Jesus enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call to holiness of life.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Homily on Dedication of St. John Lateran

November 9, 2014

1. It is my guess that today’s feast day, supplanting the 32nd Sunday this year, needs some sort of explanation. November 9 marks the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral church of Rome by Pope Sylvester in the year 324. This ancient, seemingly ageless, structure is honored as the cathedral church of our Holy Father under his title as “Bishop of Rome”. “It is the mother and head of all the churches” throughout the Catholic world. Today’s feast is understood as a sign of devotion to and of unity with the Chair of Peter – which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch writes, “presides over the whole assembly of charity”.

2. Surely, a first visit to Rome would involve the four major basilicas, all of which date from the 4th Century. The most familiar is the Basilica of St. Peter, built into the side of the Vatican Hill, over the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. Then there is the Basilica of St. Paul, built outside the City of Rome on the Ostian Way near Tre Fontane, where St. Paul suffered martyrdom. On the Esquiline Hill is the Church of St. Mary, called St. Mary Major because it is the first in honor of all the St. Mary churches throughout the world. Then, of course, there is the most significant of the four, the Church of the Most Holy Savior, which we recall today. When it was rededicated after it had been severely damaged, it was placed under the heavenly protection of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Its original site was on some property of the Laterani family, hence its popular title – St. John Lateran.

3. Three actual church buildings should be of great significance for all of us who worship here Sunday after Sunday. As we gather at our St. John the Evangelist Church here in Wellesley Hills, we say to God our Father in prayer – “We thank you now for this house of prayer in which you bless your family as we come to you on pilgrimage. Here you reveal your presence by sacramental signs and make us one with you through the unseen bond of grace.” But St. John the Evangelist Church is not some isolated reality. We are united with our bishop and with all who make up our diocese. Hence we venerate and esteem our bishop’s cathedral – the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. But the church in Boston is in communion with the Bishop of Rome who presides over the Church Catholic throughout the world. Hence our reverence for the Pope’s Cathedral – St. John Lateran.

4. Today’s feast reminds us that God’s Church, though we think of buildings, is much more than buildings. You and I as Christ’s members make up the true and living Church of God. We, too, constitute a House of God. Just think of what was done when St. John the Evangelist Parish was built over 140 years ago. It is not unlike what was done when you and I, as followers of the Lord Jesus, first encountered Christ the Lord. When we first came to believe, as St. Augustine reminds us, we were like timber and stone taken from woods and mountains. Through Baptism, catechetical instruction and the sacraments, we were shaped, leveled and smoothed as by the hands of carpenters and craftsmen. But, as Augustine reminds us, Christians do not make a house of God until they are one in charity. The timber and stone must fit together in an orderly plan; they must be joined in perfect harmony; they must give each other the support of love – or no one would enter the building. When one sees the stones and beams of a building holding together in a secure way, one enters the building with an easy mind; one is not afraid of it falling down in ruin.
5. In our first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel envisions the waters flowing from the temple, God’s dwelling place, and bringing forth life and growth and salvation. In our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the temple of his own body, although his hearers thought he was speaking about the Jewish temple. Jesus is the living sanctuary of which the temple in Jerusalem was the sign and the figure. In our second reading, St. Paul speaks to the Corinthian disciples and to us too – “We are God’s temple, the Spirit of God dwelling within us. The temple of God is holy and we are that temple.”

6. I was reading the other day about a new cathedral in the diocese of Oakland, California. It is entitled – the Cathedral of Christ the Light. This cathedral, and every parish church no matter how humble, is meant to be a place of encounter between God and his people. This happens in Jesus Christ and particularly in the great sacraments in which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ – Baptism and Eucharist. There are four ways that we encounter Christ when we enter into any church building: Christ is present in the gathered assembly of his people; Christ is present in the Holy Scriptures; Christ is present in the person of the minister; and, most especially, Christ is present in the Eucharistic species that are consecrated during the Eucharistic celebration. The altar, of course, is at the heart of our worship. It is a table of joy where friends of Christ may hasten to cast upon our living Lord their burdens and cares, so as to take up their journey restored. It is a place of communion and peace, so that those who share the Body and Blood of Christ may be filled with his Spirit and grow together in love. It is a source of unity and friendship where God’s people may gather as one to share God’s great gift of mutual love. Joined together with Christ in Baptism and Eucharist we are now called by God to bring the light of Christ into all the communities in which we dwell – the family, the workplace, the neighborhood, the town or the city. Our townsfolk and we ourselves are always going in and out of various building – the drugstore, the hardware store, the supermarket, the public library. Not many of our townsfolk join us going in and out of St. John’s Church, yet this is where we find the source of our great happiness – the very presence of the Lord Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life. How can we share this happiness with others?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Homily for All Souls Day

November 2, 2014

1. Yesterday, we kept festival in honor of All Saints. We joined with the angels in joyful praise to the Son of God. Our Preface Prayer gave us an excellent summation of our celebration. It told us in words addressed to God the Father – "Around your throne, the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise forever. Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength, as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them." The Feast of All Saints underscores two fundamental truths:
(a) Our basic vocation, our very reason for existence, is holiness of life; and
(b) We are a pilgrim people. We have here in Wellesley Hills no lasting home. Our
destiny in history is God and his gift of eternal life.

2. Today, we will celebrate the Feast of All Souls. We remember our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We say in prayer to God – "You are the glory of believers and the life of the just. Your Son redeemed us by his dying and rising. Since our sisters and brothers believed in Christ’s resurrection, let them now share in the joys and blessings of the life to come." The Feast of All Souls underscores two fundamental truths:
(a) Each one of us must say – "At some particular moment I shall die; at any
particular moment I could die"; and
(b) Though we cannot choose the circumstances of our death, we can and
will choose the sort of death we will die.

3. Theologians ask the question – “How do we think of a human life in relationship to the eternal God? Although our life is but a moment or a sigh in God’s perspective, our life of 50 or 100 years becomes complete and whole only in our death. It is at the time of death that we can face God knowing at last who we are. But this is a topic about which many of us do not even wish to think. We may even try to deny it when we encounter death in others or when it is approaching for ourselves.” (Commonweal, September 12, 2008).

4. For men and women everywhere, the fact of death is a profound puzzle; in the face of the riddle of human history, it grows most acute. Sometimes death comes after a prolonged illness and we ask – Why death is so slow in coming? At other times, death comes so suddenly and we ask – Why death for this person at this time under these circumstances? We all, of course, experience pain and the advancing deterioration of the body, and all the endeavors of technology cannot calm the anxiety to which death gives rise to the human spirit. Even the prolongation of biological life would be unable to satisfy the desire for higher life, for that life that lasts which we instinctively recognize as part and parcel of the human condition. For the Christian, death’s enigma is resolved in Christ. Death means dying with Christ to whom we often say at the Eucharist – “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life; Lord Jesus come in glory!” And this Lord of ours, who is with us now in word and in sacrament and who indeed will come again, is the very Lord who assured his first followers – “I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me, even if he or she dies, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”.

5. I have already said that we cannot choose the circumstances of our death, but we will choose the sort of death we will die. What does this mean? From one point-of-view, common to men and women everywhere, death lies outside our freedom. An elderly person dies after years of a debilitating illness; a young person at the dawn of adulthood is cut down by a tragic accident; a thirty-three year old man is nailed to a cross and dies by crucifixion between two thieves. In all of these instances we speak of death as necessity, death as natural phenomenon. However, this is only a fraction of the story. Death is also and most importantly a mystery of Christ and therefore an act of our freedom and so we begin to understand death as freedom, death as liberty. When we focus on the death of the Lord Jesus, we notice first what the Lord Jesus said about his own death. Even though evil men were going to nail him to the cross, he told his disciples – “The Father loves me for this that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down freely. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again.” The Lord Jesus, conqueror of death, is telling us who follow him that death does lie within our human freedom. Did Jesus die the death he chose to die in terms of his being nailed to a cross? The answer is “No”. In terms of his lifelong obedience to the Father, even unto death, the answer is “Yes”. And so it is with ourselves. We will not choose the events of our last days on earth, but in the course of our lives as Christians, we make significant choices to live in and for the Lord. At Baptism we were plunged into the mystery of the Lord’s death. Every Eucharist we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again. In our struggle to live for God and to die to sin, in our grace-inspired efforts to do the truth in love, we choose both life and death in the Lord. Because we see our calling as the grace to live and die in the Lord, the event we call our biological death is raised to the level of a divine mystery. The Christian’s task is to understand this mystery and to perform it well in the light of everyday life. To die well means to live well. To live well means to love well, to follow the Lord’s command of love, to follow the Lord’s command of forgiveness, to put the Gospel to work in our personal lives, in our family lives, in our social lives, in our economic lives, in our political lives. In the end, our choices, our behaviors, and the actions of others towards us can make all the difference – whoever we are or whatever we do. It might help us to note that every human being all over the globe at this particular time in human history is in one of two spiritual situations. As St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans: A person is either “in the Spirit” or in the flesh. These two expressions have definitive meanings. “In the Spirit” means we are friends with God under the grace of the Holy Spirit; or we are alienated from God under the regime of sin. Think of the two realities called grace and glory: grace this side of the grave, and glory beyond the grave. What then is grace: Grace is glory in exile. What is glory? Glory is grace gone home.

6. What then on this feast day of All Souls are we to say about death? Perhaps we could recite to ourselves the opening lines of one of the poems of John Donne, the English writer from several centuries ago. John Donne composed his poem in medieval English. He entitled it “Death Be Not Proud”. And so we read:

• Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
• Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
• For those whom thou think’st thou doest overthrow,
• Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)


1. We can call the 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel the chapter of the three questions. The Pharisees were plotting how they might trap Jesus in his speech. So they asked him – Teacher, give us your opinion. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? Last Sunday we reflected on this question and on the Lord’s response. The second question came from the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They offered Jesus a hypothetical case about a wife and her seven husbands – and they asked – though not believing in the resurrection – Whose wife will she be at the resurrection? The Pharisees tried again in the question asked in our Gospel reading today – Which commandment in the law is the greatest? Although the Lord was asked about one commandment, he replied by giving two. These two commandments were not original with Jesus. Rather, Jesus quotes from Chapter 6 of the Book of Deuteronomy – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength; and from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What was original with Jesus was his putting these two commandments together as the two sides of one coin. It is interesting to note how St. Paul expresses the commandment of love in his Letter to the Romans. He writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments – You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be – are summed up in this saying: You shall love your neighbor as yourself; love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law.”

2. No one in recent times has spoken so compellingly of love as our present Holy Father Emeritus in his first encyclical letter, entitled “God is Love”. This title is taken from the I Letter of John: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him”. These words express with remarkable clarity the heart of Christian faith: The Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. As I John expresses it – “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.

3. What is the meaning of this little word "love"? We Americans tend to assume that love is found only in our feelings – a love relationship, for example, is good when it feels right, so we say. What happens to a feel-right love when the needs of two individuals come into conflict? Given the way the Lord God has created us, we have both the passion of love and the virtue of love. Our passions are our friends although they can lead us astray. If we did not have passions, we would all be as attractive as telephone poles. The passion of love is good when it promotes the virtue of love. It is the virtue of love that enables us to love God and our neighbor even when our feelings and emotions are moving in the opposite direction. God has made us body and soul so it is not the spirit alone nor the body alone, but it is the person, the human being, the unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united does the exercise of love attain its full stature.

4. When we first begin to love, we go out to get. Our Holy Father calls this “possessive” love, ascending love. C. S. Lewis calls it “need” love. More importantly there is gift love which centers not on the lover but on the beloved. The challenge for one who loves is make progress by the grace of the Spirit from need love to gift love. St. Ignatius of Loyola incorporates this notion into his Spiritual Exercises. In the course of the second week of the Exercises, the retreatant comes to understand how good God is for him or for her. This is a form of self-seeking love, but it is a good self-seeking love. Other kinds of self-seeking love can lead us astray. It is only in the third and fourth weeks of the Exercises that the retreatant comes to realize that God is good – period, that God is all good in himself and deserving of all my love.

5. St. Bernard has a wonderful description of love. He writes – “Love is sufficient of itself; love gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. Love is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Love’s profit lies in its practice. I love because I love. I love that I may love.”

6. The Gospel question, of course, in all of this love talk is this – And who is my neighbor? Pope Benedict suggests quite simply in response – “Anyone who needs me and whom I can help is my neighbor”. And this question and answer should lead us to the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and to the great parable of the Last Judgment in which love becomes the criteria for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof. Jesus identifies himself with those in need, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are strangers and those in prison. As you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. In this way, love of God and love of neighbor become one. In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself and in Jesus we find God.

7. The command to love God and neighbor find concrete expression in the Sacrament of Marriage – described by Pope John Paul II as “a noble, high and sacred calling”. God has intended that the Sacrament of Marriage be a living sign of Christ’s love for his Church, for all his members, and for the entire world. It is precisely in their married love that husband and wife bring each other to holiness of life. A sacramental marriage isn’t an accident; it is not something “by chance”. God chose this particular man and this particular woman to be a sacrament sign – showing forth to all who can see the living presence of God for the wider world.

8. Sometimes, I conclude my wedding homilies by suggesting a meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the symbol of God’s great love for the world, a symbol of Christ’s love for his heavenly Father and for each one of his members as he gave himself in sacrifice for the world’s salvation. Prevailing philosophies down through history often tell us that every living being strives for its own preservation and fulfillment, but this is not what the Gospel teaches. The Gospel teaches, through the imagery of the Sacred Heart, that the way to happiness and holiness is not so much by self-preservation but by self-abandonment. Christ’s heart saves us indeed, but it saves us by giving itself away in love. This is what makes love truly sacrificial. This is what the saints have discovered to their great joy. This is what marriage is supposed to proclaim. Sacrifice, as we know, is always difficult and irksome; only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


October 19, 2014

1. In the Gospels we often find Jesus in conflict with both religious and secular authorities. However, never does he challenge legitimate authority but only the ways individuals may exercise that authority. In fact, the Lord Jesus instructs his followers to fulfill lawful civic duties. Caesar is not always the enemy. Our first and third readings today provide the springboard for our reflections. They concern difficult political realities in scriptural times and they speak a similar message to us as well.

2. Notice what the Prophet Isaiah has written: "Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus… I have called you by your name, giving you a title though you know me not." Who is this Cyrus and why does he receive the title – the anointed one – an expression the Old Testament used with reference to Israel’s kings. But Cyrus was not a king of Israel. Like Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus in later times, Cyrus in the fifth century before Christ was the most powerful ruler in the then known world. He was king of the Persians, who had conquered the Babylonians, who were the ones who had conquered Israel, destroyed Jerusalem and led the Jews into the dark days of the Babylonian captivity. Cyrus was an enlightened despot. He liberated the Jews, permitted them to return to their land and helped them to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. This was a new political experience for the Israelites. They found themselves under a pagan ruler who was chosen and in fact praised by God, whom God made – though Cyrus did not know the Lord – God’s own agent for the advancement of God’s own purposes and the rebuilding of God’s people, Israel. (Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that Persia is really Iran in our warring, terrorist world today.)

3. Our Gospel presents another sort of political issue. Out of malice, the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus in his speech, hoping he might say something hostile about the hated Romans who ruled Palestine at that time. The story of the coins with the inscription of Caesar is familiar to us all. The Lord instructs his hearers that both God and Caesar are to be respected. The same sort of question is asked of us today. As Catholics in the United States take on an evermore-prominent role in the economic, educational and political mainstreams of our country, we who are Catholic find ourselves discussing the relationship of our Church to the American society in which we live. The Lord gives us a sacred principle. With his help we must work out the specifics.

4. We should note that over two millennia the Church has lived under every conceivable political structure – the Roman Empire of the Caesars, the Barbarian rulers of the unchristianized West, the Holy Roman Empire, benevolent and hostile kings and queens, the developing democracies of the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Fascism, Nazism and Communism of the last century. What about our own country and its democratic government which is becoming evermore secular and consumerist? If the Lord Jesus were to look at our coins or paper money today, He would see not Caesar but the images of various presidents and He would read the Latin inscription "E pluribus unum" – one country from many different states – at first thirteen, and now fifty. Our culture is a pluralistic culture made up of many nationalities, languages, philosophies and religions of all kinds and – probably for the majority – no religion whatsoever. In such pluralism, we find a civic posture which leaves matters of religious beliefs and philosophical convictions outside the pale of official public concerns. Originally – unlike the wooden-headed axiom about the so-called wall of separation between church and state – this does not mean that religious beliefs and philosophical convictions were of no importance and should have no influence on corporate or individual behavior. Rather, it meant that government is limited and religion and philosophy and political theory and editorial opinion all lie outside government jurisdiction. This traditional understanding is threatened in our day by the reduction of natural law values, by political correctness and by the popular embracing of many aspects of what has been termed "a culture of death".

5. The question remains – What is the relationship between faith and culture, better perhaps we should say – church and state, that is, how are we to do justice to God and to Caesar? The Catholic Church is not a sect. Catholics by very definition cannot refrain from societal participation. This mission belongs primarily to laymen and women. By their very calling they are to seek God’s kingdom by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering temporal affairs in accord with God’s teaching. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life from which the very web of their existence is woven. Forty years ago this very month, the Second Vatican Council said to lay persons in the Church – "This Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age."

6. What does this challenge involve? We cannot be true believers if we are unwilling to translate our beliefs into social practice. We cannot be good citizens of our two cities if we are unwilling to have our voices heard in the public square. We must be ready to answer with courage both the challenge of the Church and the demands of Caesar. In a word, we must do justice to God and to Caesar.

Friday, April 11, 2014


1. The Gospels, which nourish our faith at every Eucharist, were written by believers for believers, that is, for those already baptized or for those who by God’s providence might be seeking baptism. This is why John the Evangelist can say to his readers – Jesus performed many other signs as well, signs not recorded in my Gospel, but these signs, I have recorded, have as their purpose to help you, the readers, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One, so that through this faith you may have life in his name. The four Gospels whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts faithfully hands on to us all that the Lord Jesus, while living among us, did and taught until the day he was taken up into heaven. Does this mean that today’s account of the raising of Lazarus is like the work of a newspaper reporter, submitting copy for the Jerusalem Times? The answer, of course, is “No”. John is writing many decades after the Lord’s resurrection, many decades after the raising of Lazarus. John wants to tell his readers about Jesus and about the impact Jesus had on people like Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. Nevertheless, transparent in John’s narrative is the historical situation of the particular Church community to which John belonged and for whose benefit he wrote his Gospel. In a word, he wants to describe the impact the risen Christ continues to have on many other persons, many Marys, Marthas and Lazaruses in the course of Church history. In this way, he wants to confront the ever-present issue of belief and unbelief – the issue St. Paul discusses in our second reading – an issue never very far from our lives here at Saint John the Evangelist Parish.

2. The story of Lazarus is the story of one man’s encounter with Christ, the story of God’s power at work in Christ to restore life to someone who had died. Wherever the work of evangelization takes place, the story of Lazarus is an important element in the conversion journey of those who anticipate the reception of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates for these sacraments are instructed to see themselves in the person of Lazarus and to find Christ the Lord summoning them to life through the mediation of Christ’s body, which is the Church. Just as Christ gave physical life to the dead Lazarus, so through the sacraments God gives the divine life of grace to those who turn away from sin and profess faithfulness to the Gospel. Lazarus was really, truly, physically restored to natural life. You and I are really, truly, sacramentally restored to the faith, hope and charity which unite us to God.

3. Our Gospel reading is familiar in part to many of us who have heard it so often proclaimed at funeral liturgies. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha is most instructive. Martha had said to Jesus – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. “Your brother will rise again”, Jesus replied. Then he said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Then the Lord asked Martha, who was the first to hear these words, and the Lords asks us who now hear them at this very Liturgy – “Do you believe this?” St. John records Martha’s response. Only God knows the response of each one here.

4. Whoever believes in me, even if she dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. What does this mean? There is physical life and physical death; there is spiritual or eternal life and eternal death. In our narrative, Jesus makes two claims. First he says, “I am the resurrection”. This means that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus, even though she may go down to the grave in physical death, would enjoy eternal life in heaven. This is the life the Holy Spirit first gives us at holy Baptism. Then Jesus says – “I am the life” – meaning whoever receives Christ’s life in Baptism and perseveres in God’s love will never experience eternal death. This is why we say at every funeral Liturgy – “When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.”

5. The Gospel of John is a call to faith, faith in God, faith in Jeus his divine Son made flesh, faith in the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. Two weeks ago, we met the woman at the well in Samaria, and we joined with her town-folks who said to the woman – “We no longer believe because of your word, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that Jesus is truly Savior of the world”. Last week, we met the man born blind whom Jesus cured and to whom Jesus revealed himself. We joined the blind man in his response – “I do believe, Lord” – and he worshiped him. Today we hear what the Lord Jesus said to Martha. He then asked her – “Do you believe me and what I have said? Do you believe me?” Hopefully, we say with Martha – “Yes, Lord, I do believe”.


1. In the seventh chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his fractious Israelites – “You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God; God has chosen you from all the nations to be a people peculiarly his own. It is not because you are the largest of all nations that God has set his heart on you. It was because the Lord loved you that he ransomed you from Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” God said something like this to each one of us on the occasion of holy Baptism: Through Baptism and all that follows therefrom, God has chosen us to be faithful to his Gospel, to be his evangelists, certainly not for personal privilege, certainly not for merits of our own, but because in his love he invites us – he empowers us – to be light for the nations.

2. This passage from Deuteronomy bears witness to what we call “the biblical doctrine of divine election”. If not carefully understood, this doctrine can create difficulties in the minds of some of our contemporaries. Does God have a particular love for some people or a universal love for all peoples? In choosing ancient Israel, was God rejecting the ancient Egyptians? By no means! The Church teaches us that God has a true, sincere, saving will for all peoples. Divine election is not a choosing for the personal advantage of the one chosen but a choosing for particular responsibility. In our first reading today, the prophet Samuel tells us – “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart”. At times, in a seemingly scandalizing manner, God chooses the least likely for the most important missions. God chose David for the salvation of ancient Israel. God chose ancient Israel for the salvation of the ancient Egyptians. How odd of God to choose David; how odd of God to choose the Jews; how odd of God to choose you and me – certainly for no reason but for discipleship-responsibility. Divine election really works because God himself is the main “persona” in the drama – at work through David, at work through ancient Israel, at work in us in the Spirit-directed ministry of the Church. All the while, of course, we humans can very easily fail and thus derail the Holy Spirit.

3. Last week – in preparation for Easter – we reflected on the woman at the well in Samaria as our Savior moved her from sin to grace. Today, we have listened to the wonderful story of the man born blind as the grace of Christ moved him from darkness to the light of faith – according to the Lord’s great promise – “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine will ever walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.

4. The story of the man born blind, just like the season of Lent, focuses on the question of conversion. The grace of the Holy Spirit draws the blind man to think of Jesus, first as a prophet, then as one sent by God, but finally as his Lord and Savior. Christ’s mission was not to open the eyes of all the blind in his days. He opens in our Gospel reading the blind man’s eyes to show his power and his love, and to show his will to open in us all that inner eye which is the grace of faith. Our second reading speaks to that inner eye of faith as St. Paul tells us – “We were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord”. Light produces every kind of goodness, righteousness and truth. We are to live as children of the light. Paul then quotes from an early Christian hymn – an Easter message for each one of us, as it was an Easter message for the man born blind – “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will give you light.”

P.S.: On the 4th Sunday of Lent, the Church prays especially for all those who will receive the Sacraments of Initiation at this year’s great Easter Vigil. Wherever the RCIA is operative, the 4th Sunday of Lent is the scheduled time for the second of three scrutinies to take place. What is meant by the scrutinies? We must not think of them as examinations to discern the doctrinal or moral readiness of the candidates to be baptized. The scrutinies have a two-fold purpose – they represent the Church’s prayer of intercession for those who are asking for Baptism. They also represent parish communities’ support to encourage the candidates who are soon to become fully initiated members of the parish. What do the scrutinies seek to encourage? They have several objectives: to aid the candidate to engage in a lifelong struggle to put aside the deeds of darkness and to put on the armor of light; to instruct the candidate about sin and darkness from which we have all been delivered by Christ who is our light; to fill the minds and hearts of the catechumens with knowledge and understanding about Christ the Redeemer. And so we pray:
Lord God, source of unfailing light, by the death and resurrection of Christ you have cast out the darkness of hatred and lies and poured forth the light of truth and love upon the human family. Hear our prayers for these elect, whom you have called to be your adopted children. Enable them, as you enabled the man born blind, to pass from darkness to light and, delivered from the prince of darkness, to live always as children of the light. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


1. Our Gospel reading this morning – you have already come to this conclusion – is longer than our average Sunday Gospel. This will be true next Sunday and the following Sunday as well. The Sunday Gospels for the third, fourth and fifth weeks of Lent – in the “A” cycle of readings – focus on the grace of Christian initiation. These Gospels, therefore, have special value to candidates who are moving through the last phases of that process which we call the RCIA – The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. These Gospels also speak volumes to all of us who are moving through another Lenten observance with the hope of celebrating the Easter mysteries with minds and hearts renewed. These Gospels make us intimate participants in three New Testament incidents. In today’s Gospel we are caught up in Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria, focusing on her passage and our own passage from sin to grace. Next Sunday we will meet that wonderful character in John’s Gospel described as the man who was born blind, and we will contemplate his own passage and our own passage from darkness to light. Finally, on the week before Holy Week, we will find ourselves with Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, as we contemplate his passage and our own passage from death to life. This morning we should note carefully what our Preface Prayer says about the Samaritan woman. When Jesus asked the woman from Samaria for water to drink, Christ had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In his thirst to receive her faith, he awakened in her heart the fire of God’s love.

2. Jesus lived in a part of the world where water was and still is a scarce commodity. Not only was clean water scarce; much of the water available was too dangerous to drink. It is hard for us to imagine in our culture a scarcity of water. Even though our water bills have quadrupled, our habits have not changed. We keep the tap running while we brush our teeth, we take marathon showers, we run washing machines when only half full. However, we are the exceptions. The majority of the world’s present population share in Jesus’ experience and that of the Samaritan woman who had to come daily to the public pump. Several years ago, our Holy Father entitled his Lenten message – “Water is Sacred: Protect It”. He wrote: “We are deeply worried to see that entire peoples have been reduced to destitution and are suffering hunger and disease because they lack drinking water. Hunger and many diseases are closely linked to drought and water pollution. Immense areas of Africa are experiencing the scourge as well as many other areas across the globe.”

3. Water, of course, figures as a prominent symbol in the Scriptures. The psalmist, describing the just person as one who follows not the counsel of the wicked but delights in the law of the Lord, has this to say: “The just person is like a tree planted near running water”. And in the familiar 23rd Psalm, the poet writes: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In green pastures he gives me repose. Beside restful waters he leads me. He refreshes my soul.” In our intriguing Gospel narrative this morning, Jesus distinguishes between the water of everyday life, which the woman could understand, and the living water that can become a fountain providing eternal life for the person who drinks it. Jesus leads the Samaritan woman from her understanding of the water of everyday life to the discovery of the living water that is God’s grace – the grace of the Holy Spirit – that provides eternal life. Thus John the Evangelist’s dramatic account of the incident of the Samaritan woman powerfully described for us the work of the Holy Spirit drawing the woman to Jesus, leading her to faith, turning her from sin, opening her ears to the Gospel, turning her into an evangelist, an apostle, someone who could tell others about the Jesus who had conversed with her at the well. It is the Holy Spirit who brings her town folks to faith, first because of her word, but basically and ultimately because of God’s word.

4. As we watch the Samaritan woman wrestling with the grace of faith, we can be strengthened in our faith-struggles as well. I’m referring here not so much to the Creed that we articulate each Sunday at the Eucharist; I’m referring to something deeper and more foundational, the faith that gives rise to the Creed, that is, our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our faith-obedience to the demands of the Gospel, that faith which we call “the faith of the Church”. Take a good look at the first reading today. It locates God’s Old Testament people in the desert. They were grumbling against Moses and against God; their temptation was to opt for water and slavery back in Egypt rather than for thirst and freedom in the desert. The place of their grumbling was called Massah, that is, the place of the quarrel, and Meribah, the place where the people tested God by asking – Is the Lord our God in our midst or is he not? This is the faith-question, the God-question from the Old Testament. The New Testament asks the same question, but with its focus on Jesus. Is the Lord Jesus the very Son of God in the flesh, is God at work in Christ in our midst or is he not? This became the faith question of the Samaritan woman. What about ourselves? No one of us has ever seen God. No one of us has seen the Lord Jesus in his historical presence. Our question becomes the Holy Spirit question, or as we can also express it, the Church-question: Is the Holy Spirit at work in the Church – making the risen Christ present and active in our midst or is he not? This is the way and only way the God-question can be expressed for the Catholic Christian in the world of today. The Liturgy today is a wonderful opportunity to profess with the Church and with those Samaritans newly converted to the Church – the Body of Christ – “This is truly the Savior of the world”, and God the Father tells us – “Listen to him”.


The Easter season is a time for mystagogy. The new Christians, born again at Easter, have been made Christian by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. After a week’s celebration of Easter, the new Christian comes back for the period of mystagogy – in other words, the entering more deeply into the mysteries of Christ so as to live these mysteries in everyday life. On the third, fourth and fifth weeks of Lent, these new Christians encountered five wonderful New Testament characters: the woman of Samaria, the man born blind, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. John’s Gospel draws on these stories because he wants to introduce the new Christian in the Johannine community of the early Church to people who have moved through the same spiritual experiences described in the Gospel of John. What are these spiritual experiences? As they learned at Eastertime to live the paschal mystery, they too lived their paschal mystery. The Lord’s paschal mystery was his dying and rising for the salvation of the world. The new Christian in John’s community, like the woman from Samaria, have moved from sin to grace, and with the man born blind they have moved from darkness to light, and with Lazarus they have moved from death to life, eternal life with God the Father and all his saints. The three following homilies reflect on those transitions.


1. Legend has it that St. John the Evangelist lived his final days in Ephesus. His parishioners would often say to him – When you preach, you’re always talking about love. John would answer them – What else is there to talk about? God is love, his mercy is love in the face of our misery; his forgiveness is really the final form of love. God so loved the world that he sent us his Son to be our Savior. Did he not tell us – “Love one another as I have loved you”? Does not St. Paul remind us that love of neighbor is fulfillment of the law, and is it not true, as John of the Cross reminds us, that in the end we will be judged on how well we have loved?

2. Although he’s only been the Holy Father for one year, many of us – I suspect – would like to say to him – Pope Francis, you’re always talking about evangelization and many of us here are still striving to figure out what it is all about. The Pope would probably respond – Where have you been all my life? What else is there to do? God loves each of us personally, and God loves all of us together as his New Testament people. God wills only what is for our well-being. Do we not love God because God has first loved us? This is the good news Jesus brings us, and what do we do with good news? Do we hide it under the bed? No, we can hardly wait until we tell the good news to all who would listen to us.

3. Father Hehir and I have been reflecting with you on Pope Francis’ Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”, discussing together the Church’s missionary transformation, the crisis within the Church of a communal commitment to such a transformation, the proclamation of the Gospel and the social dimensions of evangelization. This evening we focus on Chapter 5. The Pope entitled this last and very brief chapter – Spirit-filled Evangelizers. Chapters 1 to 4 have told us what evangelization is all about; now we focus on what evangelizers are and ought to look like. As we do so, we can profitably keep in mind an old adage that tells us – “Doing follows being” – what we do flows from who we are. My task is to look at this chapter from a doctrinal point-of-view, our being Christian, our sharing in Trinitarian life. Father Hehir will address it from an ethical perspective – if we are truly Christian, what should we be doing?

4. At this point, I should say a brief word about the title given to our efforts this evening – “The Christian of Tomorrow”. It is one of those titles that seemed most attractive weeks before Fr. Hehir and I had put our pens to paper. Many of us perhaps have heard the remark of theologian Karl Rahner – “The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic or he or she will fall away from the Gospel”. We could have called these thoughts – The Christian in the Early Centuries of the Church, centuries of martyrdom – those marvelous men and women mentioned down the years in the First Eucharistic Canon – Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, all martyrs for the faith, all witnesses to their faith. I think also of the bishop, acknowledging the difficulties of living the faith in a secular age, who said – “I expect to die in my bed, but my successor will probably die in prison, and his successor may be martyred”. But let us return to Rahner’s comment. We must not let some of our terminology get in the way of our understanding. We’ve been talking in this series of talks about entering into the mystery of Christ, encountering Christ in his mysteries. The Greek word for mystery is “mysterion”. The Latin translation of mysterion is sacramental. A mystic is one who by the grace of the Holy Spirit has made great progress in entering into the mystery of Christ through the sacraments of the Church. A mystic is a living mystery, a living witness to the truth of faith. What then does it mean to bear witness? To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up. Being a witness means being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would make absolutely no sense whatsoever – if God did not exist. (Suhard)

5. Paragraph 259 says it all – “This expression ‘spirit-filled evangelizers’ means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence.” The Holy Father immediately adds – “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization, full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and beautiful attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelizer is one who is guided by the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is the very soul of the Church, that Divine One who quickens, who brings the Church to life, so that the Church can be true to its call to evangelize.” Before offering us a few constructive suggestions, the Pope adds – “I once more invoke the Holy Spirit and implore the Holy Spirit to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel the Church to go forth boldly in the evangelization of all peoples.” I would offer a parenthetical remark. Pope Francis is not acting as a college basketball coach, walking up and down the side of the court in this month of madness, urging and cajoling his players onto victory. Not at all. Forget the emotions for a while. We’re talking about faith; we’re talking about God’s love; we’re talking about the risen Christ and we are asking with Ignatius of Loyola – What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to be doing for Christ? We’re talking about the Holy Spirit. St. John Chrysostom reminds us – If the Holy Spirit did not exist, we would not be able to say “Jesus is Lord”. If the Holy Spirit did not exist, we would not be able to pray and say “Our Father who art in heaven”. If the Holy Spirit did not exist, there would not be pastors and teachers in the Church. Obviously, if there were no Holy Spirit we wouldn’t be talking this evening about evangelization.

6. Francis observes “spirit-filled evangelizers” are evangelizers who pray and who work. He tells us – “Mystical notions without solid missionary outreach is of no help, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts.” What is needed is a spirituality which can cultivate an interior life, the mystical or sacramental life, which in turn can give a Christian meaning to commitment and action. The primary reason for evangelization is the love of Jesus, an experience of salvation which urges us to ever-greater love of the Lord Jesus. What kind of love, the Pope adds, would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? What are the ingredients that make up such a spirituality? First of all, personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus will help us grow in union with the risen Christ. This is why the Holy Father says to us in an earlier paragraph – “I never tire of repeating the words of Benedict XVI which takes us to the very heart of the Gospel – ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.” As we enter more and more into the mystery of Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation, we become more aware of the mysterious actions of Christ and his Holy Spirit in our daily efforts to live the Gospel. All of this can become possible as we seek the Lord in prayer. Sometimes we tend to think of our lives in the Lord like the marquee at the movie theater – “My life with God, starring me; also playing – God.” It is God the Father through his Son and in the Holy Spirit who is center stage in spirituality. We come in somewhere in the third act.

7. These paragraphs in Chapter 5 of the Pope’s document may seem overwhelming. What the Holy Father is asking us to do is to develop in prayer and in charity a personal spirituality that will make us true followers of Christ and therefore true evangelizers. We have to realize that this takes time; we have to realize the limits within which we can be evangelizers for others – in the home, at the university, in the office, in the marketplace, in whatever is our calling in life. If it might be of help, I can say that I have on my bathroom mirror a maxim that reminds me each day – “Keep things simple, stupid; don’t complicate the meditation”. With strangling brevity, I’ll make a few suggestions which may prove helpful so that we might begin to practice what Francis is preaching. Let me begin with a few words from an article by Fr. Philip J. Murnion:

“Catholic Americans, like the majority of their fellow citizens, are a believing people in spite of the impact of secularism. We continue to profess faith in a personal God, in Jesus Christ, and in the work of the Holy Spirit. The American Catholic continues to believe in life after death, in heaven and hell, and in prayer as a way of being in communion with God. On the other hand, some fellow Catholics in the rest of Europe have considerably less faith in those realities that are explicitly supernatural. Study after study, comparing the United States with Western Europe, finds that people in the United States, and Catholics in particular, remain people for whom God is important and religion is significant. We would, nonetheless, be foolish to deny the significant problems we face in living according to that faith. Profession of faith is not the same as living the faith; it takes spirituality to turn the profession of faith into a life of faith. And spirituality is our challenge.” My point is – Profession of faith is one thing; living the faith is something else. It takes spirituality to turn the profession of faith into a life of faith. Our challenge, then, is spirituality.

What do we mean by spirituality? Chapter 8 in Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks of those who live by the Spirit or live according to the flesh. Everyone at this moment in history, living on planet earth, is in one of these two categories. Living by the Spirit means a spirit-guided life, a God-informed life. Living according to the flesh has nothing to do with our bodies. Living according to the flesh means living under the power of sin. If you were to join the Carmelite order, the Jesuits, the Trappistines, your spirituality in most ways would come from living the Rule of your religious order. What about the diocesan priests, and most of all what about our Catholic laymen and women who love the Lord and want to follow him wherever he leads them. Priest and people need a spirituality but must construct one under the grace of the Spirit. It would be our way of living a life of faith, hope and charity under the grace of the Holy Spirit so as to put into practice the Lord’s law of love, the Lord’s law of love of neighbor, even the neighbor who does not love us in return. How can we formulate such a rule of life? It could very well begin somewhere at the beginning of the day with the grace-inspired intention of making one’s Morning Offering, that is, offering one’s prayers, works and sufferings of this day so as to join them with the prayers, works and suffering of the Lord Jesus made truly present for us at every Eucharist, at every Eucharistic Communion. The challenges are to find some time for reading and praying with the Scriptures. This really takes time. It takes patience to grow in praying the Scriptures. Furthermore, from my brief stay so far at St. John’s Parish, I see all sorts of resources available – the priests who serve you, your long-time Pastoral Associate, the various groups that meet for prayer and reflection. It could include some time, but very slowly, to move through the pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It means preparing well for the Sunday Liturgy as we encounter Christ in his mysteries. The Sunday Liturgy tells us how we celebrate our faith; the Catechism will help explain the meaning of our celebration. Working with a Spiritual Director could be most helpful.

8. As we all work hard over the next thirty years to respond to what Pope Francis asks of us, we could well keep in mind the words of St. Cyprian 1500 years ago from North Africa – “It is with Christ that we journey and we walk with our steps in his footprints. He it is who is our guide and the burning flame which illumines our paths; Pioneer of salvation, he it is who draws us to heaven, toward the Father and promises success to those who seek in faith. We shall one day be that which he is in glory, if by faithful imitation of his example we become true Christians, others Christs.”

9. What about the question with regard to the Christian of tomorrow? Karl Rahner has suggested that the Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, or he or she will fall away from the faith of the Church. Pope Francis calls the Christian of tomorrow a “spirit-filled evangelizer”, a God-directed evangelizer fearlessly open to the interior working of the Holy Spirit. I would phrase things this way – The Christian of tomorrow will be a follower of Christ who is transformed by the Holy Spirit through a personally developed, disciplined, practical spirituality, and who thus becomes, always under God’s grace in both being and doing, a true Christian quite literally by the grace of our divine adoption or another Christ.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


1. My task this evening is to reflect with you on the contents of Chapter 3 of Pope Francis’ 84-page exhortation under the title “The Joy of the Gospel”. Thus far in our series we have discussed in Chapter 1 – The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. In Chapter 2, under the title of “The Crisis of Communal Commitment”, the Pope talked about challenges to evangelization coming from today’s social environment and also about some of the temptations that pastoral workers face today in the work of evangelization. This is the gist of what was contained in Fr. Hehir’s magnificent presentation last week. Chapter 3, our present concern, bears the title “The Proclamation of the Gospel”. We will look at this question in three distinct steps. The first step deals with the topic obviously dear to the heart of Pope Francis, that is, when we come to the work of evangelization in the Church at this time, and when we ask the important question: Who are to be the evangelizers? , the answer is the entire people of God are the ones who must proclaim the Gospel. The second sub-section deals with the question of the homily and how the homily in the liturgical life of every parish must play a significant role in the work of evangelization. Finally we will turn to the third issue – the crucial question of the role catechetics must play in the proclamation of the Gospel. This third section will be of major concern in what I have to suggest this evening. Evangelization demands an ever-deeper understanding of what Francis calls the “kerygma”. It’s good for us to remember that for the first three centuries of the Church’s existence the official language of the Church was Greek. Kerygma is just an ordinary Greek word meaning “the message”, “the teaching” that must be proclaimed in evangelizing. As I mentioned in our opening talk, proclamation is the language of evangelization. Although the evangelizer does not have to say something every time he or she is evangelizing, after all witness of a gospel life is far more important than talking about the gospel life, but when the evangelizer must use language, the language is the kerygma.

2. My reading of Chapter 3 suggests another possible title, especially for our first topic this evening – “Faith and Culture and the Primacy of Grace”. We see the primacy of grace very clearly in paragraph 112. It reads as follows: “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament, the outward, visible, tangible sign of the salvation offered by God to everyone. Through her evangelizing activity, she cooperates as an instrument of that divine grace which works unceasingly and inscrutably.” The Pope quotes his predecessor Benedict XVI who wrote – “It is important always to know that the first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers”. This principle of the primacy of grace must become a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization. This primacy of grace means also, of course, the primacy of the Lord Jesus himself. Pope Francis reminds us that “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord”, and without “the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work”. As Pope John Paul II, when addressing the concerns of some Asian bishops, reminded them that “if the Church is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressing preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority”. All primacy, all that pertains to the Gospel must acknowledge the primacy of Christ.

3. Who then must do the work of evangelization whether by preaching, by personal witness in the home, in the cloister, in the pulpit, in the classroom, in the workplace? Francis answers – All of the above, that is, the entire people of God must be in some way proclaimers of the Gospel. Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church in this context is much more than an organic and hierarchical institution. The Church is first and foremost a people advancing on pilgrimage to God. The Church thus, as we will see later on, is a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet existing concretely in human history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending every institutional expression, however necessary. Thus we must always bear in mind “that the salvation God offers us and which the Church joyfully proclaims is for everyone”. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals. No one is saved by himself or herself individually or by his or her own efforts. God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community. This people, which God has chosen and called, is the Church. Jesus did not tell the Apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. St. Paul reminds us that in the people of God, in the Church, there is neither Jew nor Gentile; all are one in Christ Jesus and to those who feel far from the Church, as many in the world do today, and to all those who are fearful or indifferent, Francis would like to say – the Lord Jesus, “with great respect and love, is calling you to be a part of his people”.

4. The people of God has many faces. Think for a moment of the United Nations. The people of the world live in many different countries of the world; they represent many different nationalities; they speak many different languages; they represent many different cultures. The faith that is ours in its objective phase and which we are to preach to the end of the world and which transcends all cultures but belongs to all cultures was first a spoken faith which became literarily objectified in the language of the New Testament. The first task the Church confronted was the preaching of the “good news” of the Old Testament fulfillment in the mystery of Christ to the Jews. This mission to the Jews was the easier task but was not very successful. The second task was the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles who knew nothing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Father of the Lord Jesus. This was the more difficult task but by the providence of God gigantically successful. The Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians and Thessalonians responded eagerly to Paul and his companions and were incorporated into the body of Christ. The issue at stake was this – How does the Church preach one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all to the many people with their many languages and cultures, and how does the Church do so in such a way that the faith becomes inculturated within the many cultures of the world, yet remains the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, first preached by the Apostles?

5. Human beings are social beings who live in various kinds of societies all over the globe. When social beings reflect on their socialness, when they reflect on their life together, that is, when they think about their social setting and how they relate to one another and what are their common values, common interests, common concerns, their art, their technology, their religion, this is what gives rise to a culture. I’ve often thought if the Apostles had journeyed eastward and not westward from Palestine, Christianity’s land of birth, we would be talking about the Peking-Nanking Creed rather than the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. How do faith and culture relate? Sometimes the Church confronts the culture and must be counter-cultural; sometimes the Church can accommodate itself to the demands of the culture, and we see this practice in many missionary situations in past Church history. Most importantly of all, the Church must always be the evangelizer of the culture so as to transform the culture in the light of the Gospel. No easy task in our world today.

1. The second section of Chapter 3 is entitled “The Homily”. Some who have not yet read the Exhortation may be surprised at the topic; after all, we have to listen to the homily on Sunday, why do we have to talk about homilies on Monday? Francis writes – “Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors”. As I read this section of the document, I sense that the Holy Father senses a sort of response on the part of the reader and hearer, as he says to the reader or hearer: “I will dwell, in particular and even somewhat meticulously on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness to his people and his ability to communicate with them. We know,” says the Pope, and I wonder if you all agree with him, “that God’s faith-filled people attach great importance to the homily and both they and the ordained members in the priesthood suffer greatly because of homilies – our lay folks for having to listen to them and our bishop, priests and deacons for having to preach them! It’s sad this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience in the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth in the Lord.” Thus Francis says to us – “Pastors and people, let us renew our confidence in preaching.” We can do so based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher and that he displays his power through human words. St. Paul speaks forcibly about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of the word (Rom 10:14-17). By his words, Our Lord won over the hearts of the people; “They came to hear him from all parts; they were amazed at his teachings and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority.” By their words, the Apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach”, brought all nations to the bosom of the Church.

2. As we begin to reflect on the homily, it is essential we locate it in its proper, sacramental, liturgical context. The Liturgy of the Word is not a time for meditation or catechesis in the proper meaning of these words. It is a time for a dialogue between God and his people. The homily has special importance because of its Eucharistic context. The risen Christ makes himself present, both in word and sacrament. The homily is not the time for detailed instruction on the faith nor is the homily the time for a theological treatise. The homily is a distinct literary form since it is preaching which is situated within the framework of a liturgical celebration; hence it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. It is meant to be an offering made at the Eucharist and to be a meditation on the grace which Christ pours out during the Eucharistic celebration. This special context demands that the preacher should guide the assembly and the preacher as well to a life-changing communion with the risen Christ. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured so that the Lord Jesus, risen in glory and present in sacramental mystery, will be the center of attention. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians – “We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for the sake of Jesus.” The preacher’s motto must always be that of John the Baptist – “I must decrease so that Christ may increase”.

3. As we reflect on the homily in its liturgical-sacramental context, I suppose we could raise some questions which Pope Francis has not asked in this document, but others have raised them: Who should preach at the liturgy? Who should be the presider at the liturgy? The holiest among us? – No. Should the choice be the most learned among us? – Once again, the answer is “No”. The Lord Jesus chose some fishermen to be his first preachers and the Holy Spirit filled them with wisdom and courage to respond. Preachers today can certainly count on the grace of the Holy Spirit but only if they labor diligently in prayer and in scriptural understanding. Who then should be preaching in the Church? Special occasions, of course, have their own customs and regulations, but ordinarily those who preach are those whom the bishop has ordained for the liturgical-sacramental work of the Church through which the risen Christ encounters his people and his peoples encounter him. Preachers are never the owners of God’s word but rather the guardians, the heralders, the servants of God’s word. Above all preachers ought to listen to the oft-quoted words of Pope Gregory the Great who asks the questions – Why did the Lord Jesus send out his disciples two-by-two? He did so to symbolize the two-fold love of God and neighbor which obviously must be at the heart of all preaching. Then Gregory adds – “One who does not know love ought not to preach”. As Francis writes – “Jesus was angered by those supposed teachers who demanded much of others, teaching God’s word without their first being enlightened by it themselves. In this context the Apostle James tells his community of faith – Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life.

4. I would like to add a postscript of my own. When it comes to preaching, it takes three to be successful – the preacher, the congregants and the Holy Spirit. If these three do not conspire, that is, prepare well for the liturgical celebration, the words spoken in any homily will not be effective. If a preacher is to prepare well for his homily, it follows that parishioner-worshipers coming to the Eucharist must make preparations of their own. In any theology on preaching, the dominant power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit acts first in the person of the preacher but, if the preaching is to be successful, we must add that the Holy Spirit is at work in the parishioners listening to the homily. The parishioners should know ahead of time something about the prayers and scriptural readings of the day. Some parishes put a notice in the parish bulletin the week prior to the Sunday Mass. Some few families read the assigned scripture readings the night before the Sunday Liturgy. This brings up a sort of sticky point – to hear the Sunday readings, getting to church on time is of great importance. This is not a chastisement. I appreciate many of the difficulties many families have here in the parish, as in every parish, families of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all and perhaps two bathrooms. I am very much aware of the difficulties mommy and daddy and three to five children face every Sunday morning in getting the family to church on time.

P.S.: I have had the interesting situation with regard to homilies. One lady thanked me profusely for one of my homilies. She said that it struck her most forcefully. I thanked the woman and didn’t have the courage to say – “Madam, I didn’t preach the homily; that was Father Imbelli”, and I certainly didn’t have the courage to suggest that she call her ophthalmologist. On another occasion, a lady thanked me profusely for my words of wisdom. She said – “Your homily ought to be published, Father”. I thanked her and said perhaps it could be published posthumously. “Oh good”, she replied. “Will that be soon?”


1. We come now to the third sub-section of Chapter 3: The Lord’s missionary mandate – Go and preach and bear witness to the Gospel which also contains the mandate to all of us that we hear very clearly the call to grow and mature in the faith. All of us in the Church starting with the Pope need ongoing formation. Ongoing formation should not be seen exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation – even though doctrinal formation is so very important. Ongoing formation involves observing all that the Lord has shown us – growth in the virtues, growth in the first and greatest commandment, growth in the one commandment that best identifies a disciple of the Lord – that we learn to love others as the Lord has loved us. The one who loves his or her neighbor has fulfilled the law – and who is our neighbor? Anyone for whom the Lord offered his life on the cross.

2. The third sub-section bears the title – “Evangelization and the Deeper Understanding of the Kerygma”. What is needed, says the Holy Father, is the catechizing that is both kerygmatic and mystagogical. These two words, kerygmatic and mystagogical, are quite sufficient perhaps to tempt a good number of you to bolt for the doors! To catechize means to instruct and ongoing instruction is necessary for our young people, our adults, our priests, our bishops. Who is it among us who is unaware that he or she stands in need to be evangelized? Catechesis must be kerygmatic and mystagogical. These are ancient and venerable terms which arose in the Church at the time when the Church spoke Greek. Kerygmatic means that it comes from the heart of the Gospel. Kerygmatic means the first announcement of the “good news”. The kerygma, the message from the heart of the Gospel, stands at the heart of the Gospel. Francis writes – “It is the fire of the Spirit given at Pentecost in the form of tongues and leads to belief in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy.” On the lips of every catechist, the first proclamation must ring out over and over again – Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; he is now living at your side every day to guide you; you see him at work with the eyes of faith as he enlightens you, strengthens you and sets you free from our two great enemies – sin and death. Francis calls this message “the first message”, not because it exists at the beginning and then can be forgotten or replaced by more important things. It is first because it is the principal proclamation, one we must hear about again and again at every level and every moment of the life in the Church.

3. What about the word “mystagogical” or “mystagogy”? Mystagogy sounds as though there should be a “mrstagogy, but that’s not the way it works. Mystagogy means “leading into the mystery”. “To lead into the mystery” stands for a type of catechesis which is called liturgical catechesis which aims to initiate candidates for full membership in the Church into the full mystery of Christ. More specifically, it designates the catechetical period which follows the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, the sacraments that make us Christian, and are received usually at the Easter Vigil at the completion of Holy Week. Thus mystagogical catechesis takes place during the weeks following Easter Sunday and leading to the great feast of Pentecost. Thus we are talking about a type of catechetical instruction which is very much interlinked with evangelization. The newly-made Christian, born again through the sacraments of initiation, has a golden opportunity to reflect on what has happened to him or to her at the Easter Vigil. In this way the new Christian enters more deeply into the mystery of Christ.

4. It might be helpful if we focus on a few basics. The Greeks called the sacraments “mysteries”. The Latin word for the Greek word “mysteriom” is sacramentum. And what do we say about a sacrament? A sacrament is an effective sign, that is, an outward, visible, tangible sign that through the power of the Holy Spirit effects, that is, makes present what it signifies. Water is the sign of Baptism which truly, under the Holy Spirit, effects within us our inner cleansing from original sin. Bread and wine which nourishes us is the sacrament of Christ himself, our bread of life who by the words of consecration and the power of the Holy Spirit become really, truly, sacramentally the body and blood of our Savior. Sacraments are all part and parcel of the mystery of the Incarnation. We say of the Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, that he became truly and really one of us without ceasing to be his divine self, like unto God in his divinity, like unto us in our humanity.

5. Mystagogy is at the heart of the RCIA Program, that is, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA is a process with various succeeding stages in the journey one takes from unbelief to belief, darkness into enlightenment, sin to grace. This journey leads to full membership in the mystical, just another name for sacramental, body of Christ. The risen Christ has, as you know, three bodies – his physical body in heaven at the right hand of the Father, his ecclesial body on earth which is the Church, and his sacramental body which we are privileged to receive as food and drink in the Eucharist. How do we describe the process which is the RCIA? A person is attracted to Christ and his Church for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps he or she has heard the kerygma that God loves them and wants them to be with him in the mystery of his Church. Perhaps they’ve heard of the Eucharist as that Blessed Sacrament whereby Christ has promised to be with us until the end of time. Then comes suitable instruction as the candidate knows more about Jesus and wants to accept what he offers them in the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. After a brief Easter holiday, the new fully members of the Church enter into the Easter season which is the time for mystagogy. This is a time when, under the grace of the Spirit, the new Christian is led deeply into the mysteries celebrated at the Easter Vigil. Prior to Baptism, the candidate had to undergo pre-baptismal catechesis. During the Easter period, the already baptized person needs post-baptismal catechesis, that is, the person is led more deeply into the sacraments and into the life they bring, and this is called mystagogy.

6. But what do we mean by mystery? It’s not like an Agatha Christie mystery, and we are not talking about something we do not understand right now; for example, where is the Malaysian airplane at this moment? It’s not really a mystery and someday probably will be resolved. Mystery in the Christian sense of the word suggests something hidden which has been spoken about in divine revelation. Mystery is something unapproachable which invites entry; mystery is something which is unknowable but offers true understanding. See “mystagogy” in NDT (New Dictionary of Theology). The Second Vatican Council has told us how human reason, if it is enlightened by faith, does indeed, when it seeks persistently and prayerfully, achieves by God’s gift some understanding and something most profitable about the mystery. This is at the heart of the mystery of God. This shares in the mystery of the Trinity. This helps us to grasp something of the mystery of the Incarnation. This tells us something about our sharing in the mystery of God’s own life which he already pledges to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us – “Christ’s whole earthly life – his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, his manner of being and speaking – is revelation of God the Father. Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of the cross but this mystery is at work throughout his entire life.” And because mysteries of Christ are now our mysteries in the liturgies, this mystery is more at work within us throughout our entire life. Do we not often say – “Lord Jesus, you came in history to gather us into the Father’s kingdom. You come now in sacrament to share in Christ’s mystery. You will come again, Lord Jesus, at time’s end with salvation for your faithful people.”

7. Two weeks ago at our first session, a parishioner, out of great love and concern for his children, wanted to know how his children could get hold of the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enter into Christ’s mysteries and settle into their new life of grace which we all have in Christ as we journey to heaven. The questioner had been intrigued by my twice quoting Pope Benedict when he said “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, with a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. How will our children come to catch the fire of the Holy Spirit and become knowers and lovers of the Lord Jesus? Perhaps I could offer an ideal picture of how our young people can enter into the mystery of life, how Christ encounters them and they encounter Christ – not until the Sacrament of Confirmation but until death they do part. Please bear with me as I present this idyllic scenario. Harry and Harriet, baptized, confirmed and regular worshipers at the Sunday liturgy, become dear friends who fall in love and become husband and wife in marriage. They become father and mother as their family begins to grow. Because they are followers of Christ, they are really and truly evangelizers, one for the other and now become evangelizers for their children. Their home becomes a little church. It is called “ecclesiola” where the children learn to pray and love and give and forgive and be forgiven and share and serve the needs of all in the household, as everybody in the family must contribute to its peace and well-being. Then the children are ready to enter the bigger church on Glen Road where they see so many others praying and paying and some eating little Cheerios and some of the big people going forward to receive food and drink at the altar and the priest does not give the little children anything, but that’s okay because soon they will be eating donuts and stuff after Mass. When the children begin to come to the big church and prepare for the sacraments, they need two hands and two wings – liturgy and catechesis; liturgy without catechesis and catechesis without liturgy will not work. The liturgy will teach them how to celebrate their faith and the catechesis will help them to understand what they are celebrating. In the Liturgy of the Word they will talk to God and God will talk to them. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, they will give to God and God will give to them. All of this ideally will work most successfully – not by what we do but by what the Holy Spirit will do. In this way our young people will catch the fire of the Holy Spirit and will fall in love with their saving Lord and they will begin to live lives that bring God’s Gospel into the public square. They will need constantly the nourishment provided by both the Liturgy and the Catechism, both of which is kerygmatic and mystagogical and that is what the Pope is suggesting.