2016/06/29 Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Like a number of other solemnities, that of Sts. Peter and Paul enjoys two Mass formularies: one for the vigil, in the evening of June 28, and one for the day itself. In both, the first reading is from Acts and tells of a miracle involving Peter; the second is an autobiographical section from the Pauline epistles; and the gospel tells of Jesus conferring authority on Peter.
Vigil Mass: The first reading tells of Peter’s healing, in the name of Jesus, of a crippled beggar at the gate of the temple. This is one example of Peter’s prominence in the early church. If we consider ourselves as entering the world spiritually crippled by our innate sinfulness, the reading suggests that our spiritual healing comes through the Church, of which Peter was appointed head (see the gospels of both Masses) to care for God’s people.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 19: 2-5 with responsory from verse 5 — calls to mind the spread of the gospel through the work of the apostles.
The second reading — Galatians 1:11-20 — was also, except for the last verse, proclaimed on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time this year. It tells us that Paul received his faith in Jesus by direct revelation from God so that he might proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (just as Peter’s faith in Jesus as Messiah came by revelation, as told in the day Mass gospel).
In the gospel — John 21:15-19 — We hear Peter’s threefold profession of love for Jesus, to which Jesus responds with a threefold command to feed is sheep. We see this as meaning that he is to be responsible for providing the nourishment of the Word of God and of the sacraments to the church. We see this shepherding role as continuing in the papacy. Jesus also predicts his death by martyrdom.
Mass during the Day: In the first reading — Acts 12:1-11 — the miracle is not performed by Peter but for Peter. His is in prison. Just as Jesus was killed at Passover, Herod’s intent is to kill Peter immediately after the celebration. But he has not completed the work God has for him. It is not yet time for the martyrdom predicted in the gospel of the vigil, so God miraculously rescues Peter from the prison.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 34:2-9 with responsory based on verse 8 — reflects on Peter’s rescue from prison.
The second reading — 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 — brings us to the final stage of Paul’s life. He has completed the work whose beginning was recounted in the second reading of the vigil Mass. He has proclaimed the gospel from Antioch to Rome (and according to some traditions to Spain). Now his rescue will not be from death but through death into the life of heaven.
The gospel — Matthew 13:16-19 — is the familiar account of Peter’s profession of faith and Jesus’ response. Jesus realizes that it is by revelation that Peter recognizes him as Messiah. This means that he is the one who is to hold the metaphorical keys to the kingdom of heaven: his decisions will be ratified by God. As with the shepherding role assigned in the gospel of the vigil, we understand this power of the keys and foundational position to continue for the Church in Peter’s successors. The two functions are actually in a way the same thing, expressed in different images.
Sts. Peter and Paul are the leading figures in the establishment of the Church through the proclamation of the gospel, and their work is a task continues to the day.

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Pulse (Orlando*)

* Although the attack occurred in Orlando, the most important fact about it is that it was perpetrated in a gay club. Just as the assault at the offices of Charlie Hebdo became known by the target, rather than the city where it occurred, this terrorist attack would better be known as Pulse than Orlando. The city is an appropriate designation for attacks where the victims are random and the location is not associated with a specific target group. In this post, I’ll be considering this attack in its character as an attack against gay, or LGBTQ, people.

The choice of Pulse for the attack, when any number of other clubs were available, is itself enough to show that the attack was motivated by hatred of gay people. The widely reported account by the killer’s father of his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing in public confirms the fact. Many comments and a candidate for President blame the hatred on Islam and target all Muslims in response. Other comments have blamed Christians who have opposed homosexuality for creating a climate of hatred.

I think it is inaccurate to blame Islam for this attack, even though the attacker was Muslim. The “Joint Muslim Statement on the Carnage in Orlando” shows clearly that many Muslims believe that such violence against gay people is wrong — this despite the fact the Islam considers homosexual conduct immoral and deserving of death. So it is unjustifiable to blame Islam as such for the actions of that Muslim, in the same way as it is unjustifiable to blame Christianity for violence against gays — despite the fact that some Christian churches continue to maintain the traditional doctrine that homosexual conduct is wrong. In fact, I think some Catholic bishops did very well in expressing that homophobia should not have any place among us.

Nevertheless, it is clear that some Christians do believe that violence against gays is justified, even that gays deserve to be put to death. The rest of us should explicitly reject such ideas. This is clear enough. But we need to go beyond that. This incident should be recognized as a wake-up call. We need to acknowledge that the insistence with which many of us have made an issue of homosexuality, the forcefulness with which we have upheld our positions — even if justified at the level of moral theology — have indeed been factors in promoting the climate of hostility within which some people feel justified in resorting to violence.

Somehow, we needed to be clearer that, while we were appealing to the consciences of individuals, we were not seeking to compel those who disagreed with our theology. In the first place, though, we needed to be clearer in our own minds about that. For many, homosexual conduct seemed to be some sort of “super sin.” That view doubtless shaped the thinking of those who turned to violence.

I think we “conservative ” Christians still need to be clearer in our own minds, as well as in our ways of expressing our beliefs, about our love and acceptance of gays as deserving of respect, and welcome in our churches. Some people say “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” At a theoretical level, that may be cliché; but in reality it is hypocritical when the only time we say it is when we are talking about people who engage in homosexual conduct. We don’t say it about fornicators or adulterers, the proud, the avaricious, the calumniators, the rash judgers, the lustful. Some people have the attitude that homosexuals have to refrain from homosexual conduct as a condition of being welcome, but we never withdraw the welcome from gossips, from money-grubbers, from cohabiting couples.

The problem for many if us is that there are ingrained habits of mind which it will take sustained effort to change, but we have to do it. We have to catch ourselves whenever we find ourselves making judgments on gay, when we think of them as cases in moral theology, when we start regarding being on good terms with them as something we need to justify to ourselves. We need to see them as individuals, not as members of a category. Which means we have to be willing and able to become acquaintances, friendly acquaintances, and friends, with whom we deal as ordinary people. When enough of us do that, perhaps fewer gay people will perceive us as enemies.

It may be that the anti-gay prejudice which exists is similar to racism or prejudice against Jews. It can exist in us unnoticed or nearly so, and it can be overcome only with conscious effort. One thing which helps, of course, is getting to know people as individuals, so that we can no longer think of them merely as categories.

Beyond looking at our own attitudes and manners of expression, we should also do what we can to promote a climate in society where expressions of anti-gay prejudice are unacceptable.

Some responses to the killings have suggested that the expression of doctrines which hold homosexual conduct to be wrong is, in and of itself, so damaging to gay people’s sense of acceptance and so productive of a climate of fear among them that those doctrines must no longer be proclaimed. To me, that seems to go too far. It must be acceptable for simple traditional doctrine to be taught by churches to their members. That, however, doesn’t mean that churches need to or should make public statements condemning the private conduct of others.

At this point my thinking on how we should go forward is provisional, but it seems to me that our church leaders should refrain from public statements, press releases, or the like, proclaiming opposition to homosexual conduct. Such positions are already well known and do not need to be repeated. What is needed is a living out of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” If someone asks a question about what we think, we should answer truthfully, simply, and as non-confrontationally as possible. But otherwise, for those of us who aren’t someone’s pastor or spiritual director, their perceived or proclaimed orientation isn’t really our concern and shouldn’t be an issue, and the sooner we can realize that and live accordingly, the better it will be.

For gay people to feel accepted in our churches, it is necessary that they actually be accepted. For them to feel safe in our society, it is necessary that they be safe. We need to do what we can to promote that acceptance, based on love and respect, and to bring about that safety

Sunday Scriptures — OT C 11, Jun. 12, 2016

Last Sunday’s readings all deal with the topic of sin and forgiveness, which is appropriate in the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The first reading — 2 Samuel 12:7-10,13 — comes in the aftermath of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and coverup by arranging for the death of her husband, Uriah. Although David’s conduct merits death, his admission of guilt is sufficient for him to obtain God’s forgiveness.We should note that David does not try to make excuses or minimize the wrong (“I wasn’t on the prowl: if she hadn’t bathed on her rooftop, I’d never done anything,” or “Uriah might have been killed in battle even if I hadn’t written the letter to his commander.”). He knows and acknowledges his responsibility for his own actions. This is a good example for us to bear in mind. Certainly, there can be situations where our responsibility is diminished because of limits on our freedom to choose what we do or because of ignorance. But when our sin is freely and knowingly committed, like David’s, our repentance should not be combined with excuses.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Ps 32, with refrain based on verse 5 — is a meditation on how good it is to receive God’s forgiveness and help, punctuated by a plea for forgiveness.

In the second reading — Galatians 2:16, 19-21 — Paul insists that we are justified through faith, rather than through the “works of the law.” It is clear from the rest of his writings, that Paul does not consider right conduct unnecessary or sin to be inconsequential. The Pharisees (in the gospel we’ll see Jesus at a meal in a Pharisee’s house) had identified 613 commands in the Law, and they believed that being a faithful Jew depended on understanding what each one required and following it exactly. Paul write to the Galatians because some Pharisaical Christians told the Christians of Galatia that their salvation depended on their observing all these commandments — which would include circumcision and keeping kosher, among other things. Paul, himself a Pharisee, insists that if keeping those commandments could save someone, then Jesus isn’t the Savior. It is faith in Jesus as Savior that unites us with God. Clearly, Paul doesn’t dispute the importance of right conduct in the life of a believer. Jesus was very clear on its necessity, but God forgives our sins because of the saving work of Jesus. We do not save ourselves.

In the gospel — Luke 7:36 – 8:3 — we hear of Jesus’ encounter with a Pharisee and a notoriously sinful woman. The Pharisees would not wish to have contact with such a sinner. Jesus insists on the primacy of love. The Pharisee hasn’t acted with the sort of open-hearted love as the woman who, as a prototypical Christian, recognizes in Jesus the means of her forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Like David, she offers no excuse for her behavior. Unlike David, she expresses her sorrow for her sins in actions, not in sincere words. Her love brings forgiveness; her being forgiven will increase her love. Jesus concludes the encounter with words echoed by Paul: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The reading concludes with a synopsis of Jesus evangelizing travels, with a note about a group of women who supported him in it. Several of those women had also been recipients of God’s mercy through Jesus, like the woman in the Pharisee’s house.

We must realize that we are all sinners. Thus we are all beneficiaries of the mercy of God which comes through Jesus Christ from the “Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong,” as Pope Francis put it in the document declaring the Jubilee Year.

Trump, NATO, Putin, & the Baltic States

It seems to me that If Donald Trump becomes President, the Baltic States will be at high risk of being wholly or partially overrun by Russian armed forces and incorporated into Russia. I was led to think about this as I reflected on seeing Congressman Seth Moulton at our Memorial Day services at Abbot Hall, since I had recently corresponded with his office about a recent study by the RAND Corporation — http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html — which found that NATO, as its forces are currently deployed, cannot successfully defend the territory of those states from a Russian invasion. The study further found “that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades — adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities — could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.” Would Donald Trump support such a deployment? Given his attitudes toward NATO and toward Vladimir Putin, I don’t think so.

First, here are some reports of recent statements by Trump regarding NATO.
From Reuters, March 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the United States should decrease the amount it spends on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea,” Trump said in an interview on CNN.

“We have to reconsider. Keep NATO, but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward NATO itself,” he said.

From Fortune, March 22: Donald Trump added another twist to his already unconventional campaign for the presidency on Monday: he became the first mainstream candidate to ever suggest that the United States withdraw from NATO. His rationale? It costs the U.S. too much money.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the Republican frontrunner chided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO for its expense. He said the U.S. might need to reduce its involvement in NATO in coming years, a move that would flout Washington’s long-standing support for the 28-member military alliance. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” Trump said. “NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

… He said the United States should not be focused on nation-building overseas; money should be spent domestically instead. “I just think we have to rebuild our country,” he said.

Later on CNN, Trump clarified that he didn’t necessarily want to shrink the U.S.’s role in NATO; he just wanted the nation to pay less.

From CNN, March 22: Donald Trump said the U.S. should rethink its involvement in NATO because the defense alliance costs too much money.
In remarks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump said the U.S. pays a disproportionate amount to NATO to ensure the security of allies.

“Frankly, they have to put up more money,” he said. “We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much, and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea.”
For instance, Trump said Washington was “taking care” of Ukraine and that other European nations were not doing enough to support the Kiev government that has been locked in a long showdown with Moscow. …

Later in the interview, Trump qualified his remarks saying that the U.S. should not “decrease its role” in NATO but should decrease its spending.

Here’s analysis on March 24 in Business Insder: Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer said Thursday that Donald Trump’s skepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would give the Kremlin more breathing room on the world stage.

“That’s certainly a reason Putin decided to endorse Trump — he understands that US allies will be supported less in a potential Trump administration, giving the Kremlin more room to maneuver,” Bremmer, who is president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email.

Earlier in the day, Trump criticized NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, as “obsolete.”

“It is time to renegotiate, and the time is now!” the Republican presidential frontrunner tweeted.

Trump argued that NATO, which was formed in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union and nationalist militarism in Europe, should focus more on terrorism. The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, where NATO is based, that killed more than 30 people.  …

Considering NATO’s tensions with Russia, Trump’s suggestion that the US might back away from this alliance could be seen as a coup for the Kremlin.

Putin has spoken highly of Trump. And Trump has defended Putin when the US media asks about the Russian government’s alleged assassinations of its political enemies.

This is a change in tone from American politicians who have criticized Russia or emphasized the need to keep the Kremlin in check. …

Trump’s comments are also consistent with his campaign message of negotiating better “deals” for Americans.

“The strongest consistent piece of Trump’s policy platform isn’t to Make America Great Again,” Bremmer said.

He continued:

It’s America First. Blaming outsiders for America’s woes. Mexicans are coming to rape our women. Chinese and Japanese are robbing us blind. Muslim refugees want to come here and blow us up. And the Europeans are free riding on American defense.

Finally, from ft.com, April 3: Donald Trump has stepped up his attack on Nato, saying he would force member nations to leave the transatlantic security organisation unless they contributed more money to what he said was an “obsolete” defence alliance.
The Republican presidential contender has been lambasting Nato since he told the Washington Post recently that he would downgrade the US role in the 28-member alliance, which has formed the cornerstone of the US-European defence relationship for decades.
Speaking in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday, he went further by saying that Nato’s demise would not be a serious problem.
“Its possible that we’re going to have to let Nato go,” Mr Trump told supporters in Eau Claire. “When we’re paying and nobody else is really paying, a couple of other countries are but nobody else is really paying, you feel like the jerk.”
Mr Trump said that, if elected US president, he would contact many of the other 27 Nato members and put pressure on them to make a larger financial contribution or leave.
“I call up all of those countries . . . and say ‘fellas you haven’t paid for years, give us the money or get the hell out’,” Mr Trump said to loud cheers. “I’d say you’ve gotta pay us or get out. You’re out, out, out . . . Maybe Nato will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”
Addressing a crowd in Wisconsin on Saturday, Mr Trump asserted that the US was paying 73 per cent towards Nato, but figures from the organisation show that Washington contributes 22 per cent of the direct budget, followed by Germany which pays 15 per cent, and France which puts up 11 per cent. …

With such an attitude toward the alliance, he seems unlikely to want to use American armed forces and money to defend our allies.

 

As for Vladimir Putin, here’s what Trump says.

From The Guardian, July 30, 2015: … He admitted that he had no idea what characteristics he shared with Putin, but the Russians loved him. “I think I would probably get along very well with Russia. I think I would probably get along very well with Putin. I think I would probably get along very well with the people of China.” …

From the Atlantic, December 18, 2015: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.

I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

From Washington Post.com, December 29, 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin against accusations that he has assassinated political adversaries and journalists, responding to criticism from his rivals over his embrace of praise from the Russian leader.

“Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
On Thursday, Putin praised Trump during a wide-ranging news conference, calling him “talented without doubt” and “brilliant.” Trump has embraced the remarks, drawing fire from critics such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who facetiously called the alliance “a match made in heaven.” Trump welcomed Putin’s praise, citing it as proof that a Trump administration would be able to work well with the Russians.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at a campaign event in Iowa, continued to tout praise from Russia’s Vladimir Putin saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if … Russia and us could knock out an enemy together?” (Reuters)
“If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s, you know, taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it,” Trump added.

 

Given all of this, it is hardly surprising to read in the Wall Street Journal of May 13, “One proposal that has garnered positive Russian attention is Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization focus on combating terrorism instead of deterring Russian aggression. That alarms officials in Ukraine and the Baltics, former Soviet states that fear they could become Mr. Putin’s next targets following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian region of Crimea in early 2014.”

It does not seem to occur to Mr. Trump that there can be benefits to the United States other than monetary ones from our alliances, nor does it seem to occur to him that other countries aren’t as well fixed to provide for their defense, nor does it seem to occur to him that small countries certainly cannot maintain or pay for military forces strong enough to defeat aggression from large countries, nor does it seem to occur to him that keeping our word in the form of our treaty obligations to our allies is both legally and morally required.

While NATO was established to defend against a threat that does not now exist, namely expansionist international Communism, Russian expansionism is a new threat, taken seriously enough by RAND for them to undertake their study. Even if Putin would be content to stop at hegemony over the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, there is no justification for is expansion into any of those now independent nations of Europe (or Asia, for that matter). It seems probable that Donald Trump would see no financial benefit, and hence no value, in protecting the Baltics from a Russian takeover. If he could get an agreement from Putin to destroy ISIS, he’d probably think it was a good deal for the U.S. to sacrifice the Baltic States to get that agreement. The risk is too great. We must not elect Donald Trump.

 

 

Sunday Scriptures — OT C 10, Jun. 05, 2016

Ordinary Time has returned. The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time came just before Lent, and Eastertide followed Lent. Eastertide ended on Pentecost, May 15; and on May 16 we were in the 7th week of Ordinary Time. We determine which week it is by counting back from Advent: the 34th week is always the week preceding the 1st Sunday of Advent (which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas). Rarely, if at all, is there room for all 34 possible weeks of Ordinary Time before Lent and after Pentecost. This year, it was the sixth week that got crowded out.

But even though we’ve been in Ordinary Time since May 16, we didn’t have the Masses of Ordinary Time on the 8th and 9th Sundays because we celebrated Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi on those days. Now we’re back to the wearing of the green vestments on Sundays.
Today’s readings provide two accounts of the raising of widows’ only sons and Paul’s account of how he acquired knowledge of the gospel.

The first reading — 1 Kings 17:17-24 — tells of the prophet Elijah. There is a famine in Israel, and he has gone to the pagan territory of Sidon, where he is living in the home of a widow and her son. The preceding verses tell how her supply of four and oil are being miraculously kept from running out by the prophet, a miracle which prefigures the multiplication of loaves and fishes by the Lord. Now there is a second miracle in favor of the pagan woman. Elijah’s prayer brings about the raising of her dead son. This miracle elicits a profession of faith from the woman.

This reading continues a theme from the readings assigned to the ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, namely the inclusion of Gentiles within God’s embrace. In 1 Kings 8:41-43 Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple that the Lord hear the prayers who come to pray there, so that all peoples will know God’s name. And in the gospel for that day, the Roman centurion professes his faith in Jesus. So bath last Sunday and this there is a message that God’s love and saving action are not limited to Israel. Similarly, we should realize that God’s love and saving action are not limited to the members of his Church.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Ps 30 with a refrain based on v. 2 — has us praise God for rescuing us, for changing our sorrow to joy (as he did for the widow of Zarephath and for the widow of Nain in today’s gospel).
The second reading — Galatians 1:11-19 — contains what seems like an astounding claim: that Paul received the gospel, not from humans, such as the apostles, but by direct revelation. Clearly, he knew something of the beliefs of Christians when he was persecuting them, but the Jewish Christians did not clearly understand at that time that Gentiles could be saved by faith in Jesus without being circumcised or following all the prescriptions of the law. This point, which is the central theme of this epistle, is what must have been directly revealed to him during his sojourn in Arabia. Subsequent verses make it clear that the apostles ratified his teaching as correct. God used Paul to reveal the implication for the Gentiles of Jesus’ being the savior, yet, by going to Jerusalem and meeting with Peter (Cephas) Paul acknowledged the authority of the Church in matters of doctrine. Today the same holds true: theologians may have insights into the meaning of revelation, but the teaching authority of the Church judges the validity of those insights; similarly the Holy Spirit speaks to all of us, but if what we hear is contrary to what the Church teaches, it did not truly come from the Holy Spirit.
In the gospel — Luke 7:11-17 — we meet another widow whose son has died. Jesus restores him to life. Unlike Elijah, Jesus does not engage in fervent vocal prayer or perform an elaborate ritual. He just speaks a word of command. Unlike Elijah, he has the power of God within himself. As the widow of Zarepath recognized Elijah as a prophet, the people of Nain recognize Jess as a prophet, but they go beyond that to say the God has visited his people. Jesus is God-with-us.

These two raisings show God’s power over life and death, but they are not the same thing as Jesus’ resurrection and the one we are promised. The two sons in today’s readings had their ordinary, mortal life restored. Jesus rose with a glorified body to an immortal life, and that is what he promises us at the end of time. Now, it is his Body and Blood which sustain the immortal life already invisibly in us.

2016/06/03 Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Feast (technically a solemnity) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its roots in medieval devotion to the Five Wounds of Jesus Christ — the last of which is the piercing of his heart by the soldier’s lance. The greatest impetus for its becoming a liturgical celebration came from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who in the 1670’s reported visions of Jesus in which he spoke to her of his Sacred Heart as the fount of his love. Especially since 1856, the devotion has been strongly supported by various Popes.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is based on the heart as the symbol of love. Thus it is a reminder of God’s love for us, manifest in the Son of God’s taking on of human flesh for the sake of our redemption.
This year’s first reading is Ezekiel 34:11-17. The Lord promises the people that he will bring them back from exile to the promised land. He uses the image of himself as a shepherd gathering his sheep who have been scattered.
The responsorial psalm — Psalm 23, with verse 1 as the refrain — expresses our confidence in God as our shepherd who provides for us.
The second reading — Romans 5:5b-11 — tells us of God’s love for us in action: the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us sinners. God loves us despite our sinfulness and wills to redeem us. As Jesus says, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.
The gospel this year is Luke 15:3-7. Here we return to the shepherd imagery. The shepherd seeks out and brings home the lost sheep. As in the passage from Ezekiel, the action is that of the shepherd. The scattered sheep of Ezekiel and the lost sheep of Jesus do not find their way home on their own: the shepherd finds them and brings them back. These passages assure us of what St. Paul tells us directly: God’s love is directed to each of us; none of us is outside his love.

Corpus Christi Sunday — 2016

Another belated post, this one about the assigned readings for last Sunday’s Mass.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, to give its official title has traditionally been celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but it is considered important enough that in the United States (and in some other places perhaps) it has been transferred to the following Sunday. In some countries it is also a civil holiday, so there is good reason to keep it on the traditional date.

Up to now, the former Latin title of the feast, Corpus Christi has remained in general use. It’s certainly more succinct than the current full name.

Although Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, at which the Eucharist was established, it is in the context of Jesus passion, death, and resurrection. This feast focuses only on the sacrament. Juliana of Liege, a nun who had visions telling her that this feast should be established, persuaded the bishop of Liege to institute the feast for his diocese in 1246. It spread from there, and in 1264 it was declared a feast for the whole Latin Church. St. Thomas Aquinas composed texts for the feast, including the hymns Pange Lingua (whose last two verses are sung separately as Tantum Ergo) and Verbum Supernum Prodiens (from which O Salutaris Hostia is extracted), as well as the impressive sequence for the Mass, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, which has been a favorite of mine for over 50 years.

People sometimes say, “I don’t get anything out of Mass,” and that may well be true, if they’re just going through the motions. When someone receives a sacrament, they have to be open to the grace God always offers for the sacrament to be really effective. So on this feast, the Church invites us to reflect on these readings so we can better appreciate what the Blessed Sacrament is and can do.

The first reading — Genesis 14:18-20 — presents a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. The priest-king Melchisedek performs a sacrifice of bread and wine for Abram, who has just been victorious over five kings who had captured his nephew Lot. Since there is nothing said about Melchizedek’s origin, parents, descendants, or death, Psalm 110, which gives us our responsorial psalm, speaks of him as a priest forever, and the New Testament applies that scripture to Jesus. So the first reading has us reflecting on a sacrifice of bread and wine offered by an everlasting priest.

The gospel — Luke 9:11b-17 — gives us another foreshadowing of the Eucharist. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Normally that would be impossible, but Jesus performs a miracle, one which foreshadows the miracle of feeding us all with his body and blood. It would have been possible for him to increase the amount of food without any words or gestures, but he chose to use a ritual similar to the one he would use at the Last Supper of blessing and breaking the bread. He gave the crowds all the food they could eat. He gives us all the spiritual nourishment, all the grace we can use. But the crowds wouldn’t have “gotten anything out of” the miraculous food if they hadn’t eaten it; and we don’t get anything out of the Eucharistic meal if we aren’t open to it.

St. Paul’s account of Jesus’ words and actions with the bread and wine at the Last Supper — 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 — is the first account that was written down. Here we learn that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus said that’s what he was doing and told his apostles to do the same. That evening, as a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek, he gave the sacrifice of his body and blood sacramentally to the apostles. The next day, on the cross, he offered the same sacrifice physically. So when we participate in the sacramental sacrifice, we are receiving the sacrifice Jesus offered on Calvary. That is why the words we most often use to proclaim the Mystery of Faith paraphrase this reading: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again,”

In other words, Calvary and the Last Supper become present at Mass. Jesus becomes present sacramentally with enough grace to fill all people’s souls. This isn’t a new thought of mine. This is what we’ve been taught all along. As St. Thomas put it in a stanza of the “Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem” — one which a college professor of Government loved to quote — “Quod non capis, quod non vides,/ Animosa firmat fides/ Praeter rerum ordinem,” that is, “Lively faith, going beyond the order of nature, confirms what you neither touch nor see.” So why aren’t people of faith more excited? Why don’t they get more out of being at Mass? For one thing, it becomes habitual. We don’t physically see Jesus in the upper room and on Calvary. Maybe our everyday concerns distract us. Whatever the cause, we should try to be more mindful of the sacramental reality.

Jesus says, in John 6:54, that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood has eternal life — not merely “will have,” but “has.” To be sure, that life culminates at the resurrection Jesus promises on the last day, but it has already begun. The Body and Blood of Christ sustain that life in us.