Saturday, July 25, 2015

An Infinite Giver

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This week we embark upon the sixth chapter of John's gospel, which culminates in the "Bread of Life" discourse.  It is the most Eucharistic themed of Jesus' recorded sermons, wherein Jesus emphatically repeats that His flesh is true bread and His blood is true drink, and we must eat and drink of it in order to have eternal life (Jn 6:53-57).

But before Jesus makes this powerful statement, which would cause many of His followers to leave Him, John gives us the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  A great crowd has begun following Jesus, about five thousand in number, and they are hungry.  The only food available is five barley loaves and two fish.

Five loaves and two fish might be enough to feed five people but to feed five thousand with such a small amount is preposterous.  Yet this is precisely what Jesus does.  Moreover, Jesus does not only provide enough food for the crowd but He provides an abundance.  After the crowd had eaten their fill, we are told that twelve wicker baskets were filled with left overs -- that's more food than there had been to begin with!

Some who desire to whitewash the miracles out of the New Testament attempt to pass this episode off as a "miracle of sharing."  They suggest that the crowd was inspired by Jesus' teaching about generosity to bring out secret food they had been selfishly hiding away to share with their neighbors.  But the text does not support this.  To feed so many with so little is clearly impossible, yet Jesus not only does it but He does it to excess.  The crowd is so astonished that they proclaim Him a prophet, perhaps recalling the similar miracle Elisha performed in our first reading today (2 Kings 4:42-44).

But let's imagine this was simply a "miracle of sharing."  Let's suppose that people in the crowd had hidden food they were not willing to share, but suddenly had a change of heart and decided to be generous.  Imagine yourself there.  You give your food to your neighbor, who eats it and is satisfied (for the moment).  Then what?  What happens when that person gets hungry again and asks for more to eat?  You've already given all your food away.  You cannot give what you don't have.

Think for a moment if you gathered all the food stored in your home and decided to give it to those in need.  How many might that feed?  Twenty people?  Thirty?  What if you owned a grocery store and decided to donate your entire stock to a food pantry.  How many hundreds could eat off of your generous gift?  Now imagine the next day, when all those people are hungry again, and the food has all run out.  You gave all you had the day before.  You have nothing left to give.

Our problem is that we are finite beings, and that puts limits on how much we can offer to others.  It is not only our food supply that is limited.  Our time is limited.  Our energy is limited.  The best and most selfless thing we can offer to another is our very life, and even our lives are limited.  There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend, but you can only do it once.

I'm sure we all know people -- or perhaps have been that person ourselves -- who selflessly give of their love and energy to a friend in need, only to later get burned out, feeling dragged down, weary and spent.  We can give all we can and sometimes it is not enough.  We can empty ourselves out completely and yet there will always be more need.

But Jesus is different.  Jesus, the Divine Son of God, is infinite.  Jesus can give and keep giving and never deplete Himself, for He is God.  And God is Love.  And that's what Love does.  Love gives itself fully to the beloved.  Jesus does this perfectly, and does it with abundance.  Jesus gives from a supply that is never exhausted.  This is why later in this same chapter Jesus can say, "whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst" (Jn 6:35).

We can give and give until we have nothing left.  But Jesus is a well that cannot run dry.  Jesus is different.  That's why we need Jesus.

First of all, this capacity for infinite giving is why Jesus is able to die for our sins.  The sacrifice of one man is noble but hardly worthy to atone for the collective sins of all humanity throughout time.  But Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is of infinite merit.  It is an infinite gift poured out for us, made present to us anew at each celebration of the Eucharist.  When Jesus says he who eats of this bread (His flesh) will never hunger, He means it.  The leftover loaves are a sign of the abundance with which Christ wants to feed you.  He doesn't want to simply satisfy your hunger for the moment.  He wants to satisfy you eternally, with abundance, in heaven.

Secondly, when we drink from this well that cannot run dry, we replenish ourselves for the service of others.  Jesus calls us to serve one another, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to cloth the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, to preach the kingdom and teach the world about His love.  That's exhausting work!  If we try to do it all apart from Jesus Christ, we will soon find ourselves spent, used up, and burned out.  We will find that we have only given the world our self, and there is only so much of our self to go around.

It may damage your ego to hear it, but the truth is that the world doesn't need you, least of all an exhausted and empty you.  Who the world needs is Jesus Christ.  You can bring Christ to them.

Renew yourself in Christ.  Fill yourself with His Spirit.  Eat His flesh and drink His blood.  He will come alive in you.  Then go love the world.  Because then it will not be only your own limited self that you offer, but the infinite Christ who lives within you, Christ who gives without limit.  Drink from the well that never runs dry.  Let Him overflow in your life to renew those around you, as well.  Like the loaves and fishes, Jesus will multiply all you have to give, and do so in abundance.

Matthew Newsome, MTh
Catholic Campus Minister, WCU

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gospel For Today: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time


This past Friday the US Supreme Court declared that states have no right to limit marriage to two people of opposite sex.  Polls show a majority of Americans agree with that decision.  Our society's understanding of marriage has changed; but that change occurred long before last Friday.

The Church recognizes marriage as a basic aspect of human nature.  I say "recognizes" and not "declares" because marriage is something which preexists the Church.  It was not invented by a Church council but is part of our very human nature.  This is why we recognize non-sacramental marriages between non-Christians as valid natural marriages, be they Hindu, Muslim, pagan, atheist etc..  But this does not mean that we recognize anything and everything as marriage.  Whether natural or sacramental, a valid marriage must be intended for life and open to children (Can. 1055). This presumes a complementarity of gender.  Societies across the world of all cultures and faiths have recognized these truths to some degree.  But sometimes societies get it wrong.

This is why the Church has procedures in place for annulments.  An annulment is the recognition by the Church that a valid marriage never existed; because sometimes we get it wrong.  If one party enters into the marriage not intending it to be life-long, or not intending children, then they are not truly married.  If one party is already married to someone else at the time, they are not truly married to their second "spouse."  A wise priest commented to me once that the Church seems to be granting more annulments these days because there are fewer true marriages.  This is because our society's understanding of marriage has eroded during the last century.  

In 1930 the Anglican Communion decided in their Lambeth Conference that contraception could be morally licit.  Soon nearly all Protestant denominations reversed their teaching on contraception.  Contraception was once illegal to sell in the United States, but by the 1960's and the advent of the Pill, it was seen as the new norm.  The contraceptive mentality has led to an acceptance of abortion, the ultimate solution if your contraception fails.  Children are now treated as commodities to be purchased or discarded.  Have a baby but don't want one?  Get an abortion.  Want a baby but don't have one?  Get one made-to-order in a lab.  Whether you are married or not really doesn't enter into the equation.  

Marriage is about creating a stable family for the upbringing of children, but if children are removed from the equation then there is no reason why marriage should be a life-long bond.  So in 1969 California enacted the nation's first no-fault divorce law.  The rest of the country soon followed, meaning anyone could now divorce their spouse simply because one didn't want to be married any more.  There is no longer an expectation that couples entering marriage will be together for life.  At the dawn of the 20th century, the divorce rate in America was 7%.  By the 1980s it had grown to over 50%. 

I relate all of this only to illustrate that there are certain requirements as to what constitutes a valid marriage, and for decades we have lived in a society where an increasing number of "marriages" do not meet those requirements. 

In our second reading today (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), St. Paul speaks of equality.  He reminds us that Jesus became poor so that we might become rich, and with the abundance He gives us we should supply the needs of the poor so that "there may be equality."  St. Paul was talking about Christians sharing their material needs, but the same holds true for spiritual goods.  One spiritual good which many lack while others have in abundance is knowledge of the truth.

The collect from today's Mass contains the beautiful prayer "that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth."  It is precisely by living in the bright light of truth that we can be lights to those who are spiritually poor, "that there may be equality."  

The Supreme Court has not given us "marriage equality."  Instead we have a great inequality between reality and practice when it comes to marriage in our society.  A proper understanding of the natural order is a good  Those who live in the light of truth have an abundance of this good.  Today, that abundance will have to supply the needs of our society.  How do we share this abundance?  Not by snarky comments on Facebook.  Not by spewing messages of hate.  Not by accusing anyone of being unworthy of love.  It is shared by living in the light of truth and generously sharing the love of Christ.

In many ways our scripture readings this Sunday are about restoring the natural order.  Our first reading assures us that "God did not make death" (Wis 1:13).  Death is not natural.  And so in the gospel we see Jesus overcoming death by raising the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:21-43).  There are other times Jesus restores the natural order.  Moses allowed a Jewish husband to divorce his wife.  But in Mark 10:1-12 Jesus says, "from the beginning this was not so."  Divorce is not natural, so Jesus commands that what God has joined together, no man can separate.  Christ restores the natural order of marriage when society gets it wrong.

The world today gets a lot wrong when it comes to marriage -- not just the one thing that was in the news so much last week, but many things.  It calls contraception a good, and children an inconvenience.  It considers life-long marriage to be an unrealistic ideal.  It says marriage has nothing to do with gender.  It says marriage is whatever you want it to be.  Tomorrow, who knows what the world will say about marriage?  But Catholic couples and others of good will can continue to stand in the bright light of truth by faithfully living their marital vocations.  Pray for all married couples that by the witness of their vocation they may share in Christ's loving restoration of the world.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gospel For Today: 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In today's gospel reading from Mk 4:35-41, we find Jesus calming the stormy sea.  As with most scripture passages, it is not hard to find multiple layers of meaning.  It would be easy, especially in light of Pope Francis' new encyclical, Laudato Si', to read this passage as an affirmation of God's dominion over creation.  Indeed, as our first reading from Job reminds us, God made the sea and it answers to His commands.  He is Author of all creation.  He made it; it belongs to Him.  We are but stewards of God's gifts.  

Our psalm today (Ps 107), is also set on a stormy sea.  The travelers in the storm are in distress and cry out to God.  He calms the sea.  "They rejoiced that they were calmed, and He brought them to their desired rest" (Ps 107:30).  There is a deeper meaning to our gospel that has less to do with Jesus' calming of the storm and more to do with His calming of our hearts.  

Jesus Himself is calm during this whole episode.  While the disciples on the boat are panicking, thinking they will perish in the storm, "Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion" (Mk 4:38).  Many artists depict this gospel story by painting Jesus boldly standing on the bow of the ship, defiant against the raging sea and storm.  According to the gospel, however, our Lord was in the back of the ship taking a nap.  He was at rest.

It is that rest that He wishes for His disciples, including you and I.  The disciples are worried about the storm but also a bit incredulous that their Master could be sleeping at such a time.  "Do you not care that we are perishing," they ask as they wake Him.  Jesus simply asks them, "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"

We all have stormy seas in our lives.  Sometimes the storms come from without, but all too often we find them within.  Our hearts, minds and souls can be raging against us at times, riddled with fear and anxiety.  Am I going to fail this exam?  Will I ever fall in love?  Will I find a job after I graduate?  Does grandma have to go to the nursing home?  Will mom's cancer return?  Why can't I make good friends?  Why doesn't anyone understand me?

Our storms can terrify us.  But Jesus says, "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"  Jesus desires to help us; not so much by making the storms disappear, but by giving us His peace which allows us to find rest even during the storm.

Having faith in Christ will not guarantee you an A on all your exams, or that you'll land your dream job or never have anyone you love get sick or die.  But faith will allow you to pass through these storms with peace, knowing that Christ is with you.  To have Christ is to have enough.  To have Christ is to have everything.  

Today we celebrate Father's Day.  Jesus teaches us, His followers, to call God Abba (Father), for He wants us to have faith in God's loving and fatherly care for us.  "Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father Who takes care of His children's smallest needs" (CCC 305).

When we are frightened as children, we run to our father for comfort.  Dad can somehow make our fear go away simply by his comforting presence.  We have different fears as adults, but throughout our lives we have a Father who can calm our stormy hearts if we have faith enough to run to Him.  "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"

Help us, O Lord, for we are troubled; give the command, O God, and bring us peace.
--gospel antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gospel For Today: 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In our readings from Mass today, the Lord extols smallness.  In our first reading from Ezekiel, God speaks of taking a small shoot from a cedar and planting it on the mountain heights of Israel, where it becomes a majestic cedar with birds of every kind dwelling under it (Ez 17:22-24).  In our gospel reading today Jesus uses similar language when He describes the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed; the smallest of all seeds that when fully grown becomes the largest of plants with birds of the sky dwelling in its shade (Mk 4:26-34).

God seems to delight in doing big things with the small.  He raises up the bowed down and exalts the lowly.  This is certainly not the only time in scripture we hear of how good it is to be small.  Elsewhere Jesus speaks of being small as a prerequisite for heaven.  We are told that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3).  Jesus speaks of the way to heaven as being like a narrow gate (Mt 7:13), and even compares entering heaven to passing through the eye of a needle (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25).  It would seem that to pass through that narrow gate into heaven, we -- like Alice in Wonderland -- must ourselves become small.

Why does God love smallness so?  I suggest that it is because He Himself is small.  I speak of the great humility of God.  Come again?  How can God, the Creator of the Universe, omnipotent and eternal, Who sits on the throne of heaven with the earth as His footstool, adored by angels and archangels -- how can this God be small and humble?  Jesus Himself says, "I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29), so we know it must be so.

Consider this.  God is the highest of all beings.  Everything else that exists was created by Him, comes from Him, and is therefore lower than Him.  We may think that such a condition would make humility impossible, but paradoxically from His heights, God shows us the perfect virtue of humility.  Remember that God is Love, and love always desires to move outside the self to the other.  For God, the highest of all beings, any movement outside of Himself is always a lowering and humbling movement.  In a manner of speaking, God has nowhere to go but down.

This is why we speak of Jesus "humbling Himself."  In that great poetic passage of St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, the Apostle writes that we should have the same attitude of Jesus Christ, "Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave ... He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name" (Phil 2:6-9).

It is good for us to be small, like the mustard seed, for several reasons.  First, it is a recognition of the truth, for we are all small before the majesty of God.  Humility begins by recognizing and living in that truth.  But also, when we are small we are like Christ, who made Himself small for us.  And as today's readings tell us, God delights in doing great things with that which is small.  In Christ's humility, God exalted Him.  And so if we share in Christ's humility, in His smallness, we will also share in His exaltation and be brought with Him into the delights of the kingdom of heaven.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gospel For Today: Corpus Christi

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Today we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, that great solemnity of the Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council calls "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium 11).  The popular hymn At That First Eucharist sings of it as the "great sacrament of unity," and the Catechism says, "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion of the divine life and that unity of the People of God" (CCC 1325).

Yet for many people the Eucharist can seem like a source of division.  Consider this not uncommon scenario.  You have been talking with a friend about your faith.  He is not Catholic, but has been asking questions about Catholicism.  You have been sharing what you know, and what the faith means to you (especially your love of the Eucharist).  You are excited by his interest and want to encourage him, so you invite him to come to Mass with you next Sunday.  To your great joy, he accepts.  You go to Mass together, but before you enter the church you remember something you need to tell him.  "Oh, before I forget," you say, "During Communion, when everyone goes up to receive, you can't.  That's just for Catholics.  Non-Catholics can't receive Communion in our Church."

His face looks crestfallen.  He was excited about attending his first Mass, and now, despite all your efforts to be welcoming, he is met at the door by a message of rejection.  He gets offended, feeling he is not welcome at your table.  What can be done here?  How can we be welcoming and invitational to others (which is a necessary component of evangelization), while respecting the laws of the Church regarding reception of Holy Communion?

First of all, when bringing someone new to Mass with you, right before you sit down in the pew is probably not the best time to bring up the matter.  Talk with them well beforehand about what the Church teaches regarding who may and may not receive the Eucharist.  And make sure you know what that teaching actually is.  

The "Order of the Mass" booklets we have in the pews in our campus chapel contain this statement on the inside cover.  Most worship aids and pew missals used in other parishes will contain something very similar.

Reception of Holy Communion is open to Catholics in a state of grace (not conscious of any mortal sin), who have fasted for at least one hour prior to reception.  (Water and medicine do not break the fast.  The elderly and those who are sick as well as those who care for them, are not obliged to fast.)  Non-Christians, and those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are welcome to worship with us, but should not present themselves for Communion.  We invite you to pray for Christian unity.

It is very important to understand that this is not a simple matter of "Catholics get to receive the Eucharist, non-Catholics don't."  If that were all it was, it would be exclusionary and divisive.  But this is not the case, and it is important that the newcomer you bring to Mass, and you yourself, understand this point clearly.

The invitation to the Eucharist is open to all.  But, as the Catechism reminds us, "To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment" (CCC 1385).  The Catechism then goes on to quote from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Christ promises life to those who eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn 6:53), but Paul warns that those who do so unworthily risk receiving spiritual death.  The Church therefore, out of care for the souls receiving the Eucharist, wants to ensure that those who do so are adequately prepared.

This means, first and foremost, being in a state of grace.  In other words, the one receiving is not conscious of any mortal sin.  If one has committed a mortal sin (which includes neglecting the Sunday Mass obligation), one needs to have recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), to repent and receive the Lord's forgiveness before receiving the Eucharist.  In this way you make your soul a welcoming home for the presence of the Lord.

Secondarily, you must also prepare your body.  This means observing the Church's fasting requirements.  Currently, one is only required to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion (past generations had stricter requirements).  

So, if a Protestant Christian believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, is not conscious of having committed any mortal sin, and fasts for one hour, can he or she receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church?  The answer is still no.  

The reason is that the Eucharist is not just one aspect of the Catholic faith which non-Catholics can take or leave.  The Eucharist is the faith.  Again, we turn to the Catechism, which reminds us that the Eucharist completes Christian initiation (CCC 1322).  "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch" (CCC 1324).  

We call the Eucharist "Communion" because it is both the sign and means of our communion not only with Christ, but with the Church (which, not insignificantly, is also called the Body of Christ).  In other words, it is by reception of the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) that our union with the Body of Christ (the Church) is made complete.  

Those Christians who remain outside of the Catholic Church are, by definition, not in full union (communion) with the Catholic Church.  We wish them to be.  We strongly desire them to be.  And we hope, though our witness and our welcome, and the Holy Spirit working through us, that they may seek to be united with the Catholic Church.  If they do so, then receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist will be the completion of that unity.  But until that time, reception of the Eucharist by a non-Catholic is a dishonest act.  

I find marriage to be a helpful metaphor here.  As Catholics we believe that the sexual act between a husband and wife is a beautiful, holy, life-giving act.  It is a supremely good act, but one that belongs properly only within marriage.  By that act the husband and wife are saying, "I give myself completely to you."  This is why premarital sex is wrong, because you are saying with your bodies "I am united completely with you," while in fact you are not united in marriage.  It becomes a dishonest and sinful act.

Likewise non-Catholics who receive the Eucharist, as well as those Catholics not in a state of grace, are saying with their body, "I am in full union with the Church," when in fact they are not.  Reception of the greatest gift Christ intends to give to us therefore becomes an act of dishonesty and occasion of sin.  One begins to understand why St. Paul warned against this so strongly.

We don't just want non-Catholics to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.  We want them to be in communion with the Catholic Church, and receive all the graces that entails.  So the next time you bring a non-Catholic to Mass and have "the conversation" with them about the Eucharist, make this point.  We care for their spiritual good, and it is for that reason the Church cannot admit them to Communion.  But we desire to; moreover we want them to desire to.  And if they do so desire to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, that path is open to them.  It is a path to unity with His Church, to the fullness of the faith, to the source and summit of the Christian life.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gospel For Today: Trinity Sunday

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Most Christians don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Trinity, and that's a shame.  Jesus in today's gospel reading gives us the baptismal formula we are all familiar with.  
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." (Mt 28:19).  The Trinity is the faith we are baptized into.  The Trinity is the life of God that we aspire to be united with in eternity.  

You'd think contemplating the mystery of the Trinity would be a priority for the Christian. It certainly was a major concern of the early Church.  Most of the early heresies the Church dealt with Trinitarian questions.  Was Jesus Christ God or man?  Is the Holy Spirit also God?  Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only or also from the Son?  The result of these early controversies is found in the creed we recite each Sunday at Mass, which is nothing less than an expression of faith in the Trinity.

Perhaps because the Trinity is called a "mystery" people feel that we can never fully understand it, so why bother?  Isn't the Trinity just one of those esoteric parts of our faith, of interest to theologians but not much use to the average Christian?  What does it matter if we care about the Trinity or not?

It does matter, and a great deal.  The Church's teaching on the Trinity is nothing short of a privileged glimpse into the inner life of God.  Every time we begin or end our prayer with the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we express our faith in the Trinity, one God existing in three Persons.  The definition of the Trinity is simple to state, but profoundly difficult to comprehend.  Part of the trouble is that it is so outside of our experience as human beings.  As far as we are concerned, each person we know (including ourselves) exists as a separate being.  I have an existence that is distinct from yours, even though we are both human persons. 

It is not so with God.  With God you have three distinct Persons all of whom share the same divine existence.  The key to understanding this is the fact that God's very nature is existence.  In this God is unique.  I possess human nature meaning I exist as a human being.  But I could not exist.  I'm glad that I do, but the fact remains that my existence is optional.  My donkey, Waffles, possess donkey nature.  She exists as a donkey. She could just as easily not exist.  But God does not exist as anything.  He exists, period.  His nature, the Divine nature, is being itself.  This is why God revealed His name to Moses as "I am who am" (Ex 3:13).  He is the source of all existence, the only one whose existence is not dependent upon anything else.  God cannot not exist.

Since the divine nature is being itself, it follows that anyone who shares in that nature also shares in that being.  You and I can share in the same human nature as different beings.  Not so with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They share the same divine nature and so share in the same being.  

God the Father knows Himself, and He knows Himself perfectly.  God's image of Himself is not like some dim reflection in a mirror, but perfect and real.  It is such a perfect Image of His being that it also has being.  This perfect Image of God is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son.  The Father and the Son know and love one another.  Their love is likewise so perfect that it shares in God's existence and has being. This perfect Love of God is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  All three Divine Persons know and love one another completely.

The unity of the three Persons of the Holy Spirit is a dynamic unity of love.  The Church at the Council of Florence stated, "Because of this unity the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son."  In other words, each Person of the Trinity dwells within the other two in a relationship of perfect love.

If you have followed along so far, you may be thinking, "That's interesting, but why does that matter?"  It matters because the same God who exists as Three Persons dwelling eternally within one another in love also desires to dwell in you.  In John 14:23, Jesus says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him."  God is love (1 Jn 4:8).  The fact that God exists as a community of Persons means that God, in His very nature, is both lover and beloved.  Love is part of the very nature of divinity, and this Love wants to make His home in you and I.  

No, we do not understand this fully, and we never will.  But we do not need to fully understand it in order to receive the gift of God's love and His life, nor to appreciate its beauty.  If we accept the gift of God's grace, we will be spending heaven contemplating and communing with the Trinity.  We begin that life here on earth.  We can begin that life today.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gospel For Today - Pentecost


When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-4).

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, considered the "birthday" of the Church.  It is the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, fulfilling the promise made by Jesus we heard last Sunday.  "[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  Immediately after the descent of the Spirit, the Apostles get about fulfilling their mandate.  They preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and draw in converts to the Church right there in Jerusalem.  In the rest of the book of Acts we see them doing the same in Judea and Samaria, and even as far away as Rome.  That fulfilling of Christ's mandate continues today as the Church ever vigilantly proclaims the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost Sunday is one of the high points of the Church year, but it is not like some of the other major celebrations on our calendar.  At Christmas, for example, Christmas Day is only the beginning of the celebration.  We celebrate Christmas Day for eight full days, called the Octave of Christmas.  This is followed by the whole Christmas season running through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Easter is also celebrated with an octave, and we just concluded the long Easter season which lasts for seven weeks.  But there is no Octave of Pentecost.  There is no Pentecost Season.  Instead, tomorrow will be celebrated on the Church calendar as "Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time."  

Ordinary time seems so anticlimactic.  We call it "Ordinary Time" because the Sundays in this season are named after ordinal numbers (first, second, third and so forth).  But the word "ordinary," to most of us, also means plain, mundane, or hum-drum.  Certainly nothing exciting.  But I say it is rather fitting that Pentecost should be followed immediately by Ordinary Time, for it is immediately after Pentecost that we find the Apostles getting on with the ordinary business of the Church -- making disciples and bringing souls to Christ.  And there is nothing hum-drum about that.  The coming of the Holy Spirit redefines "ordinary" for the Church.  And it should redefine ordinary for you and I, as well.

Ever since that first Pentecost we have been living in the Season of the Holy Spirit.  Each of us who has received the Sacrament of Confirmation has had the Holy Spirit descent upon us.  Confirmation is like our own personal Pentecost.  We personally receive the Holy Spirit, but its effects are intended to be anything but personal.  Christ promised the Apostles that they would receive power, but it was not to be a self-promoting power.  It was the power needed to serve God and to serve others by being witnesses to Him.  The Apostles receive the power to speak in tongues, not for their own good but to enable them to preach the gospel to others.

One of the options for today's gospel reading is Jn 20-19-23, wherein Christ breathes on the Apostles and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them."  Again we see the Apostles being given a power of the Spirit not for their own good, but for the good of the Church so that they may reconcile others to God.

Just as the Spirit gave power to the Apostles, so does each Christian receive special power upon their Confirmation.  We receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.  While these are all good qualities in their own right, the primary purpose of each of these is to better enable us to serve God and serve others.  And consider these words from the Catechism.  Confirmation "gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303).  As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, "the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly" (Summa Theolgica III, 72, 5, ad 2).    

Receiving special strength and unusual power sounds like something from a comic book superhero story, but that is precisely what the Holy Spirit offers us at our Confirmation.  Yet how many of us (and maybe this is true of yourself), view our Confirmation as a graduation allowing us to move on with our "ordinary" life?  But as we see with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit has a way of redefining ordinary.  The ordinary life of the Confirmed Christian is to be a life serving God and one another, using the particular gifts the Spirit gives us to advance God's Kingdom.

The fact that many look upon Confirmation as the end of their Christian formation, rather than the beginning of their Christian mission, is why some bishops in the Western Church are working to restore the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation -- Baptism, Confirmation, and then first Eucharist -- an order always maintained in the Eastern Church.  (Dioceses in the US in which Confirmation is celebrated at a much younger age include PhoenixHonolulu, and now Denver).

It is never too late to start putting the gifts you received from the Holy Spirit at Confirmation into action.  May this Pentecost be the day you begin seeing your "ordinary" life in the light of the Holy Spirit.  Christ has given you your mission.  The Spirit has given you the power to fulfill it.  Let's get to work.

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence.  Guard what you have received.  God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.  --St. Ambrose

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723