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Baptised into Death

A reflection for the 13th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings are 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a, Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 and Matthew 10:37-42.

I can imagine doing an interview with St. Paul and asking him why we get baptised. What happens at baptism? Paul looks at me and say, “We are baptised into the death of Christ.” He pauses for effect, looks at me straight in the eyes and then asks me, “Does that scandalize you?” I would be like, “Uh… no…“ (‘cause it would scandalize me a bit) He would smile and say, “You thought I would say that we are baptised into new life with Christ, right?”

Yes.

Then he would explain: “We are buried with Christ in Baptism, so that we can be united with him in a death, so that then we can be united with him in resurrection.” And he would be right. That’s what baptism is. We can’t be united into new life with Christ if we are not first buried with him in death.

That’s why John the Baptist began baptising people in the Jordan. It was a symbol of how people were dying to their old selves – by being buried in the water – just like the Egyptians were buried in the Red Sea, so that the people of Israel could be free. Symbolically, people would die to their old life and vow to begin a new life. They would no longer be slaves to sin; they would be free. But our Baptism is not symbolic; it is real. The real thing happens: We truly die to sin – to original sin – so that “the body that was ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7).

But what we forget is that this Baptism, which was a real death to sin – to original sin – has to be lived. We have to continue living our baptism by constantly dying to sin – personal sin – and being reborn in Christ. Our Christian lives have to be a constant turning away from those things that pull us away from Christ and turning towards those things that bring us close to Christ.

That’s why Jesus says today in the Gospel that we can’t have anything that’s more important to us than Christ. Nothing, not even your mother or your father or your daughter or son, not even your spouse – nothing. Nothing can be between you and Christ. What’s beautiful about that is that you are going to better love your parents, your children and your spouse if put Christ first.

And that’s why Jesus also says that he who loses his life for his sake will find it. And that’s why He also says that we have to carry our Cross. Because sometimes those things that bring us close to Him are Crosses: they are painful, they are suffering – but they bring us closer to Christ. And that’s what you always have to remember: People say that they have crosses to bear because they have an ongoing struggle or difficulty, maybe a disease or addiction or other type of suffering. But if it doesn’t bring you closer to Christ, it’s not a Cross! It’s just meaningless suffering. For suffering to be a Cross, it has to lead you to Christ!

So the question today is this: How do I live my life – my baptism – in a way that it brings me closer to Christ? How do I make sure that everything I say and do, is bringing me closer to Christ? (That a great way to end the day, by examining what our actions were: did they bring me closer to or further away from Christ.)

First, I think, we have to consider that what we are doing is good. Is it honourable, true, pure, noble, beautiful, life-giving worthy of praise, like St. Paul tells the Philippians (Philippians 4:8)? Are your actions motivated by fear, despair or pride? Or are you actions motivated by Faith, Hope and Love? And remember, it’s not just things that make us feel good or bring us joy. That’s not a good way to measure whether you are getting closer to Christ because it is oftentimes things that are painful and difficult that lead us to Christ. That’s why they are Crosses.

And we can’t forget that the best way to know if your life is leading you closer to Christ is to want to get closer to Christ: Get to know Christ. How do we get to know Christ? We get to know Him in the Word, in the Scriptures. Are you reading, studying and praying Scripture every day? (I feel like I say this every other homily.) And we also get to know Christ by getting to know His body, the Church. Do you read and study the Teachings of the Church? Do you read Church documents, Papal documents, Encyclicals, Exhortations and Apostolic Letters? Do you read our Early Church Fathers? Do you read writings from the Saints? I think everyone, on top of reading and praying with some Scripture every day, should be always doing some spiritual reading – something from the Saints or a Church document. That’s how we get to know the Church and when we get closer to the Church, we get closer to Christ.

And finally, we can’t underestimate the power of the Sacraments to bring us closer to Christ. You want to live your baptism, then you have to live the Sacramental life. We believe that Christ instituted the Sacraments because the Sacraments make Christ present to us in a way very physical, tangible way. Some of you may not be able to go to Mass right now, but when you can, will you? What about the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What a great and obvious way to continually die to sin, turn away from the things that pull us away from Christ and be reborn into Christ!

Maybe you are sick or are preparing for surgery? Don’t underestimate the power of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. And so many of you who have been preparing for your First Communion or Confirmation – we are going to do everything we can to make sure you receive those Sacraments as soon as it is possible, because they are important. This weekend there were priestly ordinations in dioceses all over. Those men could have waited until it was safer to gather and celebrate the Sacrament, but they chose to get it done. And I can say the same for some many couples who decided to go ahead with their Marriages despite the restrictions. There is power to the Sacrament: It makes Christ present. And of course, it all begins with the Sacrament of Baptism. Don’t wait to have your child baptised. Get them baptised as soon as you can, because that’s where this whole journey begins.

It may be a bit scandalous that we have to die and be buried – but we do so with Christ, dead to sin, so that we can be reborn with Christ and into eternal life.

We Become What We Consume

A reflection for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A. The readings are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm: 147; 2 Corinthians 10:16-17 and John 6:51-58.

A few years ago I read a reflection by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI – and I shared it with you – that talked about how we don’t have to understand the Eucharist. We just have to do it. He then quotes British theologian, Fr. Ronald Knox, who says that Christians in general have not been very good at following the teachings of Jesus: We don’t turn the other cheek; we don’t love our enemies; we haven’t stopped committing adultery; we don’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison; we haven’t gone to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News and to make disciples of all nations; we haven’t recognised God in the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the refugees. These are all things that are easy to understand, but we don’t do them.

But the one thing we have done as Catholics is the thing that is impossible to fully understand: We have kept the Eucharist. The last thing Jesus asked us to do before he died was to keep the Eucharist, and this we have done even when it makes absolutely no sense and we don’t fully understand.

And we’re even self-righteous about it. “I go to Mass every Sunday and get my little wafer!” We have no idea what it means or why we are doing it, but we do it. God forbid that we go to Mass and we miss Communion! (Coincidentally, has that ever happened to you? Happens all the time at Catholic rallies and large conferences like World Youth Day – where they never get to you, you never get to them, or they run out!)

And then we get hit by this crisis (or should I say gift?) and we are deprived of the Eucharist – a time when it seems that God is reminding us that “man does not live from bread alone, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3). And some people were all up in arms, “It’s my right to receive the Eucharist; they can’t deny me the Eucharist!” Maybe some of you felt that way. Others maybe feel that they need the Eucharist. This is our weekly sustenance. Like in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, God provides for us, He sustains us; He feeds us. We need the Eucharist and we are suffering without it. Those people know, as Pope Francis has reminded us many times, that the Eucharist is not a ‘prize for the just, but medicine for the sick.” (EG #47) Maybe some of you feel this way. Others maybe, even though they felt sad and miss the Eucharist, are OK because they see how “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” They understand – and Pope Benedict wrote about this – that periods of “Eucharistic Fasting” may be good for us; we don’t have to receive the Eucharist at every Mass. Some maybe are OK with not receiving the Eucharist because they see it as an act of solidarity with the millions of people around the world who do not have access to the Eucharist – ever! They don’t have priests; they don’t have Mass – like the recent Synod on the Amazon reminded us. There are also many people right here who go to Mass regularly but are not able to receive the Eucharist because they are not in full Communion – they are not Catholic – but they come because they are married to a Catholic – or because of unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in irregular marriages and cannot receive Communion. But they are at Mass every week even though they are only in partial Communion with the Church. I bet there are a few of these in your own parish. So, maybe some of you are deeply aware that some of our brothers and sisters are never able to receive the Eucharist and so you are OK with not receiving as an act of solidarity with them – as a reminder that they exist; as a reminder that we are blessed and privileged to be able to receive the Eucharist.

I suppose there is a fourth group of people who are neither here nor there with missing the Eucharist – they don’t go to Mass every week anyway. They are probably not watching Mass online or on TV either. But, I bet, when it was Good Friday or Easter Sunday, they missed coming to get their little wafer. They also miss it at weddings and funerals.

Just before the Gospel, we heard the words of a beautiful ancient hymn, referred to as the “Sequence”. It is one of the few sequences that remain – there are only four left. But it used to be that many feasts had a sequence –a hymn– that went with it. Now we only have four: The Easter Sequence, the Pentecost Sequence, the Corpus Christi sequence for today, and there is also a funeral sequence. The one for Corpus Christi – the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is called Lauda Sion– “Praise, O Zion” and was written by St. Thomas Aquinas. In it Aquinas included the key elements about our belief in the Eucharist: We believe that the Eucharist is Jesus – He is living bread and it is life-giving bread, just as we heard in the Gospel today. The Eucharist is not a sign or a symbol; it is God himself. Even if you receive a small fragment of the Eucharist, you receive the FULLNESS of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s why we must always approach the Eucharist with full respect and reverence. That’s why we must not be in a state of mortal sin when we receive the Eucharist. That’s why the Eucharist should not be received by those who do not believe that Christ is really, truly, actually, present in the Eucharist. That’s why we can adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

But there is something else. Aquinas put it in the Sequence (but I think it gets lost in the translation) and St. Paul mentions it to the Corinthians in today’s second reading: When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we become participants in the body and blood of Christ: We become the Body of Christ. When we receive the Eucharist, we become ONE.

And that is why I think this “COVID Eucharistic Abstinence” has been good for us. If this time makes us hunger for the Eucharist, then it should also make us hungry for justice and for peace and for equality and for life. It should make us hungry for everything Jesus taught and lived for. It should make us hungry for all those things that Jesus taught –about morality, about the poor, about justice, about forgiveness, about respecting the dignity of others– that we understand, yet we don’t follow. When we receive the Eucharist we are not just receiving Jesus so that He can be inside of us to bless us, feed us and heal us.

We are receiving Him inside of us so that we can be at his disposal, to do His work, to do His will.

In a week or so, we may be able to come back to Mass. Some of you already are able to come and receive Communion, depending where you are. Some of you will be moved to tears when you come back –we really missed being at Mass. Just please, don’t go back to the way you used to be. Don’t approach Communion, as if you were getting your little weekly wafer. Don’t come to the Eucharist hoping to keep Jesus all to yourself. Come with deep respect and reverence, ready to become what you consume, to become the Body of Christ and then, because you do it, it will make sense and you will understand.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

A reflection for the 5th Sunday, Easter, Year A. The readings are Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; and John 14:1-12.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me…”

Isn’t that exactly what we need to hear today? “Do not let your hearts be troubled”? But we do let our hearts be troubled, don’t we? Is it because we don’t have faith? Maybe. It’s hard to have faith when you have not had many experiences of God’s Grace. The disciples themselves had hearts that were troubled. So I guess we’re in good company.

And this is a time of darkness. It’s hard to see the light. It’s hard to not let our hearts be troubled.

There are those who would say that God doesn’t exist. If there was a God there wouldn’t be pandemics. But I say that that’s why I know God exists. If there wasn’t a God, this pandemic would be 1000 times worse!

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Be Not Afraid by Catholic Artists from Home

During this time of crisis, English-speaking Catholic artists have come together with this message of hope. We hope you enjoy this Salt + Light Media presentation.

BE NOT AFRAID
By Bob Dufford, SJ

Published by Oregon Catholic Press
Text and music © 1975, 1978, 2007, Robert J. Dufford, SJ and OCP.
All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Video produced by Salt + Light Media.

Instrumental Track:
Mixed and mastered by Tom Booth
Rick Modlin – piano
Tom Booth – acoustic guitars, bass and synth strings
Todd Chuba – percussion

Performed by:
Dan Schutte, John Michael Talbot, Steve Angrisano, Tom Booth, Fr. Rob Galea, Sarah Hart, Sarah Kroger, Tony Melendez, Jesse Manibusan, Susan HooKong-Taylor, Jennifer Martin, Renee Bondi, Curtis Stephan, Mark Mallett, Kitty Cleveland, Chris Bray, Nancy Bodsworth, David Wang, Bob Halligan Jr., Marie Miller, Luke Spehar, Amanda Vernon, Danielle Rose, Ken Canedo, Gretchen Harris, Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, Colleen MacAlister, Mikey Needleman, Danielle Noonan, Cooper Ray, PJ Anderson, Michael James Mette and MJM7, Lee Roessler, Lorraine Hess, Kathleen and Jesse Leblanc, Greg and Mary Walton, Tori Harris, Aly Aleigha, Rita West, Matt Lewis, Corrie-Marie, Ryan and Elizabeth Tremblay, Taylor Tripodi, Miley Azbill, Hannah Schaefer, Francesca LaRosa, John Angotti, Damaris Thillet, Ivan Diaz, Pedro Rubalcava, Anna Betancourt and Santiago Fernandez.

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