Thursday, June 18, 2015

What we do with our bodies we do with our spirits

One thing that always upsets me is when I see the disrespect of our Lord by those who claim to love him the most. This is especially apparent twice a year – between May and June as the weather turns warmer and again in the fall as football season ramps up. Yes, I am going to rant about clothing.

If I had any ability to draw I would have made a cartoon picture of Jesus on the cross. Standing in front of him would be a guy in shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops looking up at him. The caption would read, “I did this for you and that is the best you can do when you come to see me?”

I can hear the sighs and see the eye rolls already. I have it heard it before, “God doesn’t care what I wear to Church. He is just happy that I came.” The arrogance in that statement never fails to astound me. The Creator of everything that is, was, and ever will be is happy just because I could carve out forty-five minutes of my time to come see Him in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Of course, I sat there bored out of my gourd and annoyed because the homily went over five minutes. Why can’t the priest have some respect for my time? Doesn’t he know I have more important things to do today? I know I was ten minutes late and left right after communion but I put forth the effort. That’s all that matters, right?

C.S. Lewis said it best in the Screwtape Letters when he said what we do with our bodies we do with our souls. We do Catholic aerobics (sit, stand, kneel, bow, genuflect, cross ourselves) precisely for this reason. We show respect with our bodies so we can show respect with our spirits. Why do we come to Mass? Simply because God is deserves our worship. He is king of all creation and our salvation and redemption. Nothing or no one is more worthy or more deserving of our worship, love, and respect. If nothing or no one is more worthy then nothing or no one is more worthy of our best. God surely deserves better than a T-shirt, swim trunks, and flip-flops. We are going to be in the presence of the greatest King ever to rule the earth, not to a barbeque on the beach.

Likewise, when fall rolls around we will start to see our favorite football jerseys be worn in pride to Mass. Whom do we venerate when we wear our jerseys to church, Jesus or good ol’ #4 (Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, who is a god to many north of the cheddar curtain). Having pride in the home team has its place. That place is not the Mass. The Mass is time to love, adore, and worship the Lord alone.

And that is where I think the problem firmly falls. I think there is a general misunderstanding of what the Mass actually is. Many of our Catholic brethren have gone the Martin Luther route and see Mass as nothing more than a prayer service, an instruction of the faithful. Mass is no longer a sacrifice.

In reality, Mass is a time machine where heaven and earth come together as one and we are mystically transported back to the foot of the cross at Calvary to be with all the angels and every soul who has or will ever live to participate in the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. The priest acts as the conduit merging all of these plains of existence and times into a single act. The Mass is not the same sacrifice repeated. It is the one sacrifice that we are joined to each and every time we participate in it.

If you could stand before Jesus on the cross on the day he was sacrificed would you show up in a T-Shirts and shorts or a football jersey or would you choose to dress a bit better? Well, each and every time you participate in the Mass you are doing just that – you are standing before Jesus on the cross on the day he was crucified. Just because you cannot see the angels and saints surrounding you does not mean they are not there. Just like with faith you have to believe what eyes cannot see.

“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  - Exodus 3, 1-6.

When Moses came before the Lord the Lord made Moses remove his sandals because he was on Holy Ground. Likewise, when you come before the Lord in the Mass you are also on Holy Ground. It has been consecrated and set aside for the Lord. To come before the Lord without regard to the way you dress is disrespectful at the very least, most likely sinful at best, and probably idolatrous in the extreme. You shall have no other gods before me, even Brett Favre.

Ask yourself this question; if the clothing worn to Mass doesn’t matter how would you feel if the priest ditched his itchy Roman robes for shorts and sandals? How would you feel if he walked out to do a wedding in a Green Bay Packers football jersey? What if he showed up to baptize your baby in flannel and cowboy boots? Most would be downright furious if this happened to them. Sadly, some would only be upset because their pictures would be ruined but most would view this as a gross disrespect to their special day. Every day is a special day to the Lord.

Clothing is an extension of the soul. It is the visible representation of how important an event is to you. If the Bishop was going to be at Mass you wouldn’t wear your shorts and T-shirt. If the Pope was coming by you wouldn’t wear your Michael Jordan jersey. If you were going to meet the President of the United States you wouldn’t do so looking like a hobo. You would have respect for the office these men hold even if you had no respect for these men as men.

Yet all of these men fail to compare to He whom we come to worship during Mass. I get to hold the creator of everything in my hands during Mass. I get to enthrone my King, my Salvation and Redemption and my life with my body. I get the greatest honor a lowly creature like me could ever have.

The devil wants us to be disrespectful. He wants us to be callous and unaware of the Lord. Once he is successful in separating us in the small the important is easier to get us to turn from. Once the devil gets us to think that the Lord doesn’t care for things like how we dress for Mass it becomes easier for him to convince us that God doesn’t care about the important things like abortion or same sex marriage.
It is time we revive “Sunday Best” and start showing our respect for our Lord when we gather to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass.

The Source and Summit

           The third sacrament of initiation is the Eucharist. Volumes have been written on the Eucharist and volumes more will be written before Jesus returns for the final judgment. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Catholic faith and the greatest of all sacraments. That is because the Eucharist IS Jesus – body, blood, soul, and divinity. Catholics believe in the real presence. It is no longer bread or wine but the actual, physical body and blood of our Lord.

As a side note – is has been estimated that only about 80% of Catholics actually still believe in the real presence. This estimate is always in error. 100% of Catholics believe in the real presence. If you claim to be Catholic but do not believe in the real presence you are not really Catholic no matter what you call yourself. If you honestly do not believe in the real presence find yourself an agreeable Protestant church and start practicing what you truly believe. This is a non-negotiable topic for Catholics.

Why do Catholics believe in the real presence in our Eucharist? Quite simply – Jesus told us it is so.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. “I am the bread of life. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

                Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6, 47-58.

                The disciples did not understand at that time because Jesus had not revealed to them yet how this was going to come to be. That happened at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist.

                While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26, 26-29.

                So why did Jesus have to institute the Eucharist? Let us look at a little understood passage from the resurrection of Jesus on the third day.

                “Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Don’t touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” – John 20, 15-19

This is another example where meaning has been lost when translated from Greek into English. Why would Jesus tell Mary not to touch him? He didn’t when read in the original Greek. In Greek verb commands have two flavors. One means simply to do something one time. The other means to do it and to continue doing it until told to stop. When we see the word repent in the bible it is almost always in the later form – repent and keep repenting all your days.

In this passage the command to touch is also in the later form. What Jesus is actually saying to Mary is don’t keep touching me. If you are like me and were there that resurrection morning you would want to hug Jesus and never let him go. That is exactly what Mary was doing. Jesus, not yet risen to the Father, was still in a glorified, earthly body. He could be only in one place at one time. Until Mary let him go he could not appear to his disciples.

Once Jesus ascended to the Father, and rejoined Him in the oneness of time, he was then available to be all places at all times. Jesus was able to descend back into the Eucharist at all places it was consecrated for the rest of Human time. He had fulfilled his promise to be with us, in a very real sense, until the end of the age.

Non-Catholics and even many Catholics do not understand why the Church does not invite everyone to celebrate in our communion. Catholics will share the Word of God with anyone who will listen but only share the Body of God to those in the club. To receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church you have to be a Catholic in a state of grace (no mortal sin on their soul). Why?

Because the Eucharist is a Sacrament and like all Sacraments it deals with something given, not received. When you freely accept the Body and Blood of our Savior you are reaffirming the oath to the death that was taken by you or for you in baptism and then reaffirmed in your confirmation. You are swearing that you will live your life for Jesus and die for him if necessary. To accept the Eucharist and then go out and live an unchristian life you risk serious harm both physically and spiritually.

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” – 1 Corinthians 11, 27-32

This is Saint Paul’s way of saying that if you enter into this oath unworthily you can bring sickness, even to the point of eternal damnation, upon yourself if you do not live up to the oath. For this reason we cannot give the Eucharist to just anyone who wants it. We cannot just give it to everyone and let Jesus work within them. The Eucharist is a very powerful medicine for the healthy but a very powerful poison to the sick. One has to be in a healthy state of grace, healed of their sins through the sacrament of reconciliation, and in the proper state of mind to take part in the Supper of the Lamb.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic Faith. If it is not what we know it to be our entire faith is in vain.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Small, Still Voice

           Illinois was the last state of the Union to pass a concealed carry law. Almost immediately “no guns allowed” signs started popping up all over the land. Although we now had the right to carry, many places - public and private, didn’t want anyone exercising that right, at least on their chunk of dirt. I wish we could do the same thing with cell phones and cameras.

I was recently at a friend’s ordination to the priesthood. It was a beautiful and elegant ceremony, rich with symbolism and the Holy Spirit. I doubt many around me ever noticed any of that. They were too busy trying to catch a photo memory of the event for later that they couldn’t be present to experience what a picture cannot capture in the now. I am not referring to those who took occasional snapshots of cherished moments. I am referring to those who stood in the pews (in, not on) constantly recording or clicking away at their cell phones. They obviously had no regard for those sitting behind them who were also trying to see. This then caused others to stand and lean sideways so they could catch the pictures they wanted. Getting the pictures came before the people and the moment.

As an ex-videographer for a local priest and as a proud father equip with a video camera I can tell you firsthand how much of an event you miss when seen through a little viewfinder or LCD screen. I always have to watch the tape over several times just to catch the details I missed when filming. At events like this ordination, a baptism, confirmation, or wedding we are called to be present, witnessing the Glory of God and the Holy Spirit at work. You are not going to catch the Holy Spirit on your Galaxy Note 6 or iPhone.

                But that is exactly what the devil is hoping for. God speaks to us in a still, small voice that we can only hear when we are listening and open to His presence. When we are distracted by the noise of life and things we think are more important than the moment at hand, like catching every little detail on camera, we easily miss the Holy Spirit speaking to us.

                Holy Spirit – that’s a bit of a poor translation of the actual Greek used in scripture. The actual Greek word used for the Holy Spirit is “pneuma”.  A better translation of this would be “breath” or “wind”. It is where we get words like pneumonia and pneumatic, both words dealing with the movement of air. We see many places in scripture where the Holy Spirit is referred to as a mighty wind. In Genesis at the beginning of creation we see the wind come over the waters and calm the chaos. After Pentecost we see a mighty wind rush into the upper room and tongues of fire come to rest over the heads of the Twelve. Anywhere you see the Holy Spirit mentioned in scripture think of it as the Holy Breath of God.

                God speaks to us in a still, small voice – a whisper. How is a voice made? Breath is passed over the vocal cords to make vibrations the ear sends to the brain where it is translated as sound. The Father speaks to us through His Holy Breath. What is spoken but words?

                “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”  - John 1, 1-5.

In the beginning the Father used his Holy Breath to utter one Word. That Word was Jesus. And Jesus was with the Father and of the same stuff as the Father (consubstantial). Father – Holy Breath – Word (Jesus). This is the Holy Trinity – the three Persons, one God Catholics know to exist.

                Jesus was tested by the Pharisees; “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22, 34-40.

                Jesus was referencing the Torah, which we Christians know as the Old Testament. This is Law handed down by God through Moses.

                “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6, 4-9.

                When you ask a Christian or a Jew what the great law is they should answer, “Love your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This, in reality, is the second part of the great commandment. Hardly anyone will ever reference the first part of the great Commandment.

“Hear, O Israel!”

                We are instructed to hear God first, and then love Him with everything we have and are. When we are not present to hear the Holy Breath we cannot follow the Law as it was handed down to us. When we are too distracted by the noise of life we cannot hear that small, still voice when the Father tries to talk to us. When we do not hear we cannot love with everything and all that we are.

                When was the last time you told a priest that one during confession? It should be the first sin out of your mouth.

                So put the cell phones and cameras down during our religious ceremonies and be fully present to the Father, His Holy Breath, and His Word of Life – Jesus. You will come away with so much more than just pictures.


                For anyone who has never seen an ordination please watch the ordination of my friend, Father Ervin Pio M. Caliente. Pray for Father Ervin as he begins this new chapter in his service to our Lord.