Weekly Homily 主日道理

Rev. Glen Mullan

Infectious Spirits

June 10, 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) (Mk 3:20-35)

In the Gospel Jesus makes reference to the impure spirits that are cast out as part of his healing work. Healing is twofold, because man is both a body and a soul. The body is the physical, “visible” part. The soul is the spiritual, “invisible” part. Because man’s soul is rational, it is not only the life principle of the physical body, but also a person, a spiritual being who has his own intellect and free will. Man has a spirit, man is a human spirit, through his immortal soul.

Just as man’s body can become ill or injured, man’s spirit can be hurt. The Original Sin of Adam has wounded man in his entire nature, body and soul. Thus, when the New Adam seeks to restore fallen human nature, he brings healing to the wounds of body and soul, both of which are harmed by sin.

When the body is injured or becomes ill, it requires special healing care. Left untreated, an illness will spread, and a wound will become infected. The infection is a double suffering, worse than the original injury, and often more deadly. In order to prevent infection, the wound must be cleaned and medicated, so that healing can take place.

Likewise in the soul, there can be injury and sickness, which left untreated can become worse, “infected.” The sicknesses of the soul result, like physical illnesses, from the condition of the fall, from Original Sin. The sicknesses of the soul include the capital sins: pride, envy, sloth, etc. But the soul can be further injured through sin: one’s own personal sins and those of others.

For instance, by the sin of “scandal” (a violation of the fifth commandment) one person harms another’s soul by compromising his brother’s holiness, failing to guide him in the right path and paving the way for him to fall into evil. By sin, real damage is done to the soul, both of the sinner and the sin’s victim.

As with the body, this injury too requires care and healing, so that it may not become “infected” and cause even worse harm. An example of how a soul becomes “infected” is when someone who has been hurt seeks to retaliate, becomes bitter or hateful, and loses faith. This latter situation is far worse than the original injury.

In the body, it is the “germs” which infect a wound. In the soul, it is the demons, unclean spirits. Demons are to the soul what germs are to the body. They are always present, and seeking opportunity to enter and accomplish their deadly work of corruption. In the case of demons it is a spiritual being they seek to enter and not simply a body. Spirits are made for communion and union with other spirits. Spirits can interpenetrate each other, dwell in each other, the way different rays of light can be united. God created the human spirit so that man could love others, and above all so that God Himself could dwell with man by His Holy Spirit.

With sin, however, man’s spirit becomes host to the dark fallen spirits that infect and harm him, bringing him to darkness and misery. The gateway for evil spirits to enter the human spirit is the injury caused by sin, particularly when this weakens the human will.

When the body is healthy and strong, and the living environment is clean, infection and illness are kept at bay. Likewise, when we are strong spiritually, we are inoculated against the corrosive activity of evil spirits. Even when they may succeed in bringing harm or misfortune to the body or our worldly situation, they cannot touch the soul and will, which remain firmly in God’s grace.

It is by means of a sacramental life, together with prayer and Scripture, that we remain spiritually healthy. Baptism creates in us a spring of living water that perpetually washes and renews the soul, keeping it clean and free of the devil’s dominion. Confirmation anoints our soul with the Holy Spirit of God, imprinting in us the image and full stature of Christ, in whose name and by whose authority we can cast out demons. The Holy Eucharist fortifies us with the divine life itself, from which the harmful spirits take flight. Prayer and Scripture provide the daily discipline and spiritual exercise that keep us strong in the life of grace. The only danger is sin.

When sin has occurred, which is spiritual injury, healing and treatment is immediately necessary, and this is the profound purpose of that other sacrament of Penance. Regular confession, like regular doctor visits, are necessary in the spiritual life. And instead of x-ray and blood tests looking for illness in the body, a full “examination of conscience” is made to identify problem areas of the soul – particular sins and sinful tendencies. Confessing the sin is very important, because this act exposes and reveals the sin directly to the Divine Healer. It allows the actual healing to take place. Christ “touches” our wounds with merciful love and absolves them, removing them, like a cancer being taken out. And it has always been the Church’s tradition to understand that penance together with the “amendment of life” which follow the sacrament, is something medicinal: it is the “prescription” to help us with ongoing healing and prevention of the sin’s return.

Exorcism is a necessary part of Christ’s, and the Church’s, healing work. It is related to the forgiveness of sin but distinct from it. In order for God to heal sin and help people live in spiritual and physical health, the demons must be kept at bay, man’s spiritual life must be kept clean, and healthy. Exorcism creates the healthy environment where healing and true living can take place. The chief demon Jesus refers to in the Gospel, “Beelzebul,” has a name which aptly means,

“Lord of the flies.” Demons are dirty and impure. They live on decay and corruption, like a garbage dump. They want to take away man’s dignity as a child of God and make him live in a spiritual garbage dump with flies and maggots. That is why Jesus always referred to hell, the abode of demons, as “Gehenna,” which is the name of the garbage dump in the valley outside Jerusalem.

This is what demons do to human life. Instead of the fruitful environment of peace and joy, they infect man with hatred and violence; they inflame his selfishness and lust; they provide an environment of death and despair.

God taught His people via the Law of Moses to be “clean.” They were to wash daily, prepare foods carefully, and only eat certain kinds of healthy food. They were to practice proper personal hygiene and public sanitation, and deal decisively with infectious diseases such as leprosy. Garbage and waste was to be carefully buried or disposed “outside the camp” (cf Lv 11-15,17-18). And they were to live apart from evil and immoral people, never to intermarry. By means of this way of life on the level of the body, God taught His people the corresponding spiritual truth of holiness; the two go together: “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Exorcism by itself does not guarantee holiness, just as the Law of Moses cannot be identified with true righteousness. But it creates the conditions in which a life of holiness can be lived. It places man in a better situation, corresponding to his true dignity, where he can live out the sacramental life of grace and holiness. He must carefully seek to avoid the occasions of sin, and the temptations which would lead to another fall. He must studiously protect himself from the “world,” which is filled with so much impurity and ugliness. In order to infect Christians, demons work overtime to tempt them, and at any cost to pull them away from the Sacraments and prayer, away from Christ.

It was unforgiveable wickedness, therefore, when Christ was accused of expelling demons by means of the chief demon, or that he himself was possessed of an evil spirit. How do you confuse the Holy Spirit of God with its very opposite? The accusation is itself demonic activity, a desperate lie designed to try weaken people’s faith and trust in Christ and his Power. The Church continues the battle and suffers the full assault of the gates of hell. But within the Church is Christ and the Holy Spirit, and thus absolute power over evil. Within the Church is the one place on earth where man can live free of the putrid demons, inoculated to their infectious corruption.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Covenant Words

June 3, 2018

Corpus Christi B (Ex 24:3-8; Hb 9:11-15; Mk 14)

The words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are among the most important and special words he ever spoke. They are repeated at every Mass at the consecration, during its most solemn moment. The entire Mass, and even Holy Orders, is set up to lead to this moment when Jesus may speak again the words he spoke at the Last Supper over the bread and wine: “This is my body… This is my blood…”

Without any other context, they are unusual and strange words, since Jesus seems to be saying that the bread is actually his body, and the wine is actually his blood. Yet with more context and background, given in the life and teachings of Jesus, as well as the Old Testament, it is clear that this is exactly what Jesus is saying, and what he means.

When Christ speaks again these words through a validly ordained priest at the consecration of the Mass, a “transubstantiation” takes place: what was up until that moment the substance of bread and wine ceases to be bread and wine and becomes through the power of the Holy Spirit the entirely different substance of Jesus’ flesh and blood. And while the substance changes, the “accidents” (observable qualities and characteristics) of bread and wine remain.

This is truly a strange and unusual teaching, and yet it has been firmly held and explicitly taught in the Church since the days of the apostles. (1) It is a fundamental Christian belief, and those Christians who deny it are rejecting the clear and obvious words of the Savior.

Two important “contexts” reinforce that the Catholic belief is exactly what Jesus intended by these words. The first is Passover. Jesus speaks these words in the context of the Passover, during which a lamb is sacrificed and its flesh consumed (and in the original Passover, its blood was put on the lintels of the doors, so that the angel of death would “pass over” the house). The original Passover was the signal of the Israelites’ delivery from slavery in Egypt, and its annual commemoration served as a renewal of the covenant God subsequently established with the people at Mt. Sinai through Moses. It is clear from this Passover context, that at the Last Supper Jesus is identifying himself with the lamb whose flesh is consumed, and by whose blood deliverance (salvation) is achieved, deliverance from the eternal death resulting from sin. By the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, sin is forgiven.

The second important context for these solemn words is the discourse which took place the previous year following the miracle of loaves and fish (cf. John 6). Jesus explained to his followers that he himself, in his person, is the true and living “bread” come down from heaven which those who desire salvation must “eat” by believing in him (Jn 6:34-51a). But then he takes it a step further and insists, by means of a solemn seven-fold repetition, that they will actually eat his flesh and blood, as real food and drink (Jn 6:51b-58).

The pivotal verse is John 6:51. Jesus insists that he be taken literally, realizing that this will scandalize (6:52), confuse (6:60), and drive away (6:66) most of his followers. Without explaining how he intends to accomplish these strange words, he insists that his inner circle of apostles accept their truth with total submission and trust (Jn 6:67-71). Thus, by the time Jesus speaks the solemn words of the Last Supper a year later, the apostles have been prepared for them.

There is another third context that helps to reveal the power and beauty of what it is Jesus is accomplishing by these words. This is the recognition that they are “covenant words.” Jesus makes clear they are covenant words because he says as much: “This is my blood of the covenant” (Mk 14:24).

A covenant is a special bond, agreement, or treaty established between two parties by solemn oath. Much more than a mere human promise to do something, or a legal/business contract, a covenant brings into being a new reality – some kind of bond – between the two parties, such that they even become “family” to each other, able to sit down at the same table and eat together. A covenant is always expressed or celebrated by some kind of great banquet, for which a sacrifice has taken place. A covenant is always expressed through some oath. And a covenant always specifies terms defining the bond and mutual commitments that pertain to it. In today’s first reading (Ex 24) Moses reads out the terms God establishes for the great Covenant He establishes with His chosen people Israel at Mt. Sinai. These terms are known as the “Law of Moses.”

One way or another, a covenant oath will consist of words or actions that signify one’s life. Another way to say it, is that a covenant is “sealed in blood.” To violate or break a covenant oath incurs death, the forfeiture of life, a severe curse and punishment, the destruction of war. In the covenant oath, one is saying, “by my life I swear…”

The clearest human example of a covenant is marriage. The sacred oath by which the terms of this covenant are accepted are expressed in the marriage vows. They outline the obligations to love and serve, in good times or bad, “until death do us part.” The marriage covenant establishes a new reality and a new bond in the lives of the parties. And moreover, it is celebrated in the “banquet” of conjugal love, by which the couple says to each other, “this is my body which is given for you.”

Understood in the context of a covenant being entered into, on the level of one’s blood, by means of sacred oath, the words of the Lord at the Last Supper begin to be revealed in their depth and beauty. Jesus establishes a new Covenant between God and His people that succeeds and fulfills the old. Whereas the old included the promise of salvation and forgiveness of sin, the new accomplishes salvation in actuality, and the forgiveness of sin. As the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear (Hb 9:13), the blood of bulls and goats cannot actually cleanse from sin, but the blood of Christ, the true Lamb of God, is efficacious for cleansing the conscience. In this new covenant established by Christ, we are blessed with eternal life itself, since God is actually giving Himself to be our bread (“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life in him” – Jn 6:54).

Eternal life, salvation, forgiveness of sin – all the blessings of the new covenant, are not symbolic, not given symbolically or externally but truly, actually, really, and literally. Therefore, the words Christ speaks at the Last Supper are in no way symbolic or metaphorical. Christ speaks the words “This is my body” as really and literally as a husband gives himself to his wife literally, in marriage.

Corresponding to God’s self-gift is our human response. A covenant is a bond established between two parties. In the old covenant, after hearing the terms outlined by Moses in the law, the people consent: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Ex 24:7). At which point Moses seals in the covenant in blood. Likewise, after hearing the terms of the covenant in the new law of Christ, Christians also assent with a profound “Amen.” This “Amen” is expressed in the baptismal profession of faith, and it is sealed in the Blood of the Eucharist. But instead of sprinkling the congregation with the blood of a bull to seal the deal, (2) we take the blood of the Lamb upon our lips in Holy Communion.

Throughout our lives, we seek to live according to the terms of this covenant. As a husband and wife renew and express the covenant of marriage in their celebration of conjugal love, the Church constantly renews and celebrates the covenant bond of Christ in the Mass, striving as much as possible to give an “Amen” that corresponds in depth and truth to the words of Christ, “This is my Body.”

The problem of speaking symbolically is not on the part of Christ. He spoke literally and truly when he said “This is my Body… This is my Blood…” The problem of speaking symbolically is rather on our part when we say “Amen,” but do not mean it, literally. That is to say, when we do not give ourselves back to Christ in total reciprocity. We hold back, we remain unfaithful and uncommitted in various aspects of our lives; we commit adultery in various ways with the world. The moral state of our lives is not in conformity with the “Amen” of our Holy Communion. Jesus gives himself to the Church wholly and entirely, body and blood, soul and substance. Do we give ourselves that way in return?

(1) Cf. Didache; Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch; Apologies of St. Justin Martyr.

(2) We sprinkle the congregation with the water of baptism.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Mystery of Personhood

May 27, 2018

Holy Trinity (B)

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity proclaims that God, who is one in His being, is a Trinity of divine Persons. There are not three gods, nor are the Persons “parts” or “aspects” of the one divine nature. Instead, “personhood” is a mystery deeper than “nature.” To ask “who” someone is, is very different from asking “what” something is.

What is it? The nature of something – what kind of thing it is – is learned by observing a thing’s qualities and characteristics, and understanding its purpose and powers: what it does and how it functions. A chair is easily distinguished from a candle. But it would be ludicrous on the level of inanimate objects to ask the question, “Who is it?” A higher nature is required before one can speak of personhood.

Some people like to claim that animals are “people,” but even though we give names to pets, and even though animals are living, sentient, and intelligent beings, they are not persons. We can ask “what is it?” but it is still a ludicrous thing to ask, “who is it?” To be personal, a nature higher even then the intelligent animals is required. To be personal, the nature must be rational.

In the visible universe, man alone has such a nature. The human nature is rational. That is to say, it has a spiritual component. Man has an immortal soul; he is a personal subject of his actions, who acts with knowledge and freedom. Man is able communicate himself to others. Thus, when asking the question “what is it?” of man, we follow the same pathway as any other “thing,” learning the qualities and characteristics that make human nature the unique kind of thing it is. But with man one can also ask the additional question “who?”

Personhood is a profound mystery, and one of its important characteristics is “incommunicability.” There is an absoluteness connected with personhood that transcends nature. There can be many persons who all have the same (human) nature, yet each one is utterly distinct from all the others. (1) We can ask “what is it?” of the human nature, but we cannot ask “who is it?” of the human nature in general. Instead, we have go and ask a specific man, “who are you?” A person is not just “something,” but “someone,” and someone unique. The answer to the question “who?” is not qualities and characteristics, a nature, but one’s name.

A second important characteristic of personhood is “communicability.” While one’s person cannot be shared or partaken by another in the sense that two individuals can ever be the same person, (2) nevertheless one’s personhood can be shared with or communicated to another and in fact this is the purpose and glory of personhood: to communicate or share the self. People, that is to say persons, “communicate” on a spiritual level. They share their very “self” with others, and form bonds of union and love.

Personhood – “Who” one is – requires revelation. While we can learn the nature of a thing, including the nature of someone, by observation and study of them, we will never know him directly unless he reveals himself to us. We can learn much “about” someone, but we do not know that someone until he himself shares or reveals – gives – himself. To know “who” someone is, is a privilege of the highest order, and it is a knowledge very different from merely knowing a thing’s nature.

Man possesses a rational nature and therefore men are persons. Every human being is “someone.” (3) But the human nature is not the only rational nature. Above it are innumerable angelic natures. And while our knowledge of these natures is limited, we do know that they are quite different from the human nature, being “pure spirits,” whereas man is both spiritual and material, comprised of body and soul. The angels are also persons, and thus we can ask them, “who are you?” It is possible they may choose to reveal themselves, as happened for instance when the angel came to Zechariah: “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God” (Lk 1:19). Unlike human persons, angels are neither male nor female, since this personal characteristic of men derives from the body.

Finally, we come to God. The divine nature is higher than all others, being their ultimate source. In fact, whereas all other things “have being,” God’s nature is “to be.” God is “self-subsisting being,” the source of existence of all other things, while He himself is uncaused, uncreated, self-necessary. There is only one God: the divine nature is simple, undivided, and there is only one instance of it. God is “that than which there is nothing greater.” He tells Moses, “I am who am.”

From the things He has made, there are many things we can learn about God, “what” He is. The divine nature is omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-good. God is omniscient, wise, and rational. Even the Greek philosophers knew that in God was a divine “Logos.” However, until Jesus came, no one “knew God” in any kind of personal sense, except the Israelites beginning with Abraham, to whom God began to reveal Himself in a direct, immediate, “personal” way.

It remained for Jesus to reveal or disclose God’s personal identity fully. And if God’s nature is a mystery beyond our human ability to grasp, His Personhood – “Who” He is, exceeds even that. In God, personhood is perfect. To be a person fully, one must love, and that requires a communion of persons. Persons reveal, communicate, and share themselves in a gift of self. They know and are known. They love and are loved. This personal reality is perfect in the Godhead. God, who is perfect being, and whose nature is ultimately “love” (1 Jn 4:8), is a Trinitarian communion of persons. The divine persons are incommunicable (the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit) but they fully communicate themselves in a bond of union so complete that the Holy Spirit is the very love of Father and Son. In God alone, the personal bond is so perfect that the Persons while not “one Person” together, are one being and nature together. They are each and all God.

All men seek to know and understand God. That is to say, his divine nature. But it is the privilege of the Christians (4) to know Him personally, and introduce Him to others in His tri-personal identity, through Christ.

“What” God is, is an ineffable mystery higher than the universe. “Who” God is, is a joyful mystery even deeper yet!

(1) Even, for instance, in the case of identical twins who share the exact same genetic makeup.

(2) Including the divine nature itself.

(3) Including, we should stress, unborn humans, and even “defective” humans. Any “thing” that possesses the human nature is a “person,” someone. And it is persons who have rights, and toward persons we have moral obligations.

(4) And to a lesser extent the Chosen People before them

Rev. Glen Mullan

Mary, Mother of the Church

May 20, 2018

Pentecost (B) (Acts 2:1-11)

Pentecost is the birthday of the Catholic Church. The Church existed since the Resurrection, but hidden behind closed doors and shuttered windows. During this time Christ formed and strengthened the disciples, putting into place the pieces necessary for the apostles to take up their role in the world. During this time the Church devoted herself to prayer and Scripture. The womb of the Church was the same upper room where the last supper took place, and at the time of her birth, she numbered about 120 disciples. Prominent among these was Mary, the mother of Jesus (Acts 1:13-15).

On a child’s birthday the baby comes into the world and is seen publicly for the first time. This is what happened on Pentecost: the Church was seen publicly for the first time. There was something unique and supernatural about the Church, manifested in a miraculous way on “day 1” and continually present ever since: the Church of Christ is Catholic. That is to say, she is universal, speaking all tongues.

Jews converged on Jerusalem from all parts of the world during the great festivals, especially Passover and Pentecost/Weeks in the Spring, and Tabernacles/Day of Atonement in the Fall. The crowd which gathered was amazed and bewildered to hear the Galileans speaking their native languages, which surprised the Galileans more than anyone since they were only speaking their native language (Acts 2:5-8). Three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:41).

For 2000 years, the significance of this miracle has never diminished. When the Catholic Church began it brought into the world something not seen since the Tower of Babel in human pre-history (Gn 11:1-9), nor duplicated anywhere though many have tried. The Catholic Church was, and remains, the only example of the universal brotherhood of man, the only place where language and cultural identity do not divide and separate. In the Catholic Church alone, that which divides and fragments the human family is overcome. The Catholic Church is the restoration of the human family under one headship, the unity of brethren with each other by means of something higher than any human principle or power.

The human family, fragmented and scattered due to sin, is gathered together (1) in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be God’s family. But it is not just a superficial “gathering” on a human level, an “organizational” reality, the Church is formed through actual rebirth: the members are literally born again into their new divine family. Whereas their first natural birth gave them their human, earthly, cultural, and linguistic identity, their supernatural rebirth by water and the Holy Spirit give them their divine, heavenly, Catholic identity. The Church is one nation, comprised of one people, professing one faith, breathing one Spirit, speaking one divine Word.

The Church is the one family of God, where all the members are “brethren” of Christ, true brothers and sisters to each other. We have one Father, “our Father who art in heaven.” And we have a mother.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is our mother, which stands to reason if we are the brethren of Christ. Christ made this explicit on the Cross when he gave Mary as mother to the beloved disciple (Jn 19:26-27). St. John again reiterates this special role of Mary in the Church when he describes the great battle that rages between the Church and her demonic enemies (Rv 12:1-17). Mary has other offspring besides Jesus, namely “those who bear testimony to Jesus” (Rv 12:17).

Thus it is significant that as the Church prepares to be born at Pentecost, Mary is there with the disciples. What has already taken place in and through her with the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) and Nativity, will now take place on another level in and through the Church. That is to say, the Holy Spirit will “overshadow her” (Mary at the Annunciation, the Church at Pentecost), Christ will dwell within her, becoming “flesh” in her (in Mary’s womb as a human baby, in the heart of the Church as Sacrament), and from her he will be born and given to the world (Jesus is born in Bethlehem at Christmas and present to the Magi in the Epiphany by Mary; the Church is born in Jerusalem at Pentecost and Christ is presented to all nations by the preaching of the Apostles).

What happened first with Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (the Son of God came into the world), now happens with the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit (the Son of God comes into the world). Mary is the perfect image and model of the Church. And Mary continues to fulfill in the Church, the same role she fulfilled with Christ in the Incarnation: she is the virgin Mother.

Thus it is that Mary always gathers with the Church in every age. As she did with the nascent church in the Upper Room, the first Catholic parish of 120 disciples,(2) she gathers with every Catholic parish every time it assembles for worship. Every Mass is Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon believers, and the Church goes forth into the world, sent by the Holy Spirit. One will always be reminded of Mary’s presence among the disciples when entering a Catholic Church. Look up, there is her statue or holy image, ever present reminder that the Church is always and every time the assembly of “apostles, holy women, with Mary the mother of Jesus, and all his brethren” (Acts 1:13-14).

Mary prays with the Church and fulfills her maternal role in every generation. She helps the Church to evangelize, bringing Christ into the world by bringing him to birth in people’s lives. The miraculous conversion of 3000 on Pentecost Sunday did not happen, we can be sure, without her intercession. Likewise, the evangelization of nations has not happened without her prayer and presence. The fact that she is the heavenly patroness of so many countries including our own, and patroness of so many parishes, is testimony to this.

Among all the Pentecostal events of the Church’s history, one stands out in a special way, the evangelization of the New World by Our Lady of Guadalupe. Within 10 years of her apparition to Juan Diego in 1531, in which she declared, “Am I not here who am your mother,” not 3,000 but over 10,000,000 were baptized! Mary’s maternal role in the Church is that of Pentecostal evangelization. Working with her beloved clergy, the successors of the apostles, and by means of her own privileged relationship with God the Holy Spirit, she brings Christ to her other children, and brings her other children to Christ.

As we celebrate today the birthday of the Church, and the special role of Mary Mother of the Church, may she continue to help us today fulfill our Pentecostal mission of evangelization.

(1)  “Church” means “assembly,” “gathering”

(2)  The upper room did indeed become the first Christian parish Church in Jerusalem, and remained so for centuries. James the brother of the Lord was its first pastor, he was the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Go Into the Whole World

May 13, 2018

Ascension (B) (Acts 1:1-11; Mk 16:14-20)

Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Mark, and the first reading is the beginning of Acts of the Apostles, which St. Luke indicates is “volume two” of his effort to document the beginnings of Christianity. The first part is the life of Jesus, everything he did and taught, “until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:2). The second part is everything accomplished by the apostles in fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mk 16:15).

It is the Ascension that determines the ending of the one phase, and the beginning of the next, not the Resurrection, and certainly not the death of Jesus on the Cross. The Ascension is what brings to conclusion the Incarnation, by which God the Son became man and dwelt among men on earth. The Ascension marks the last time Jesus was seen on earth in his physical body. The Resurrection, even though it inaugurated the beginning of the new creation, such that Jesus’ body was no longer of the old order of sin and death; nevertheless did not change the fact that it was truly and really Jesus’ physical body that was seen and touched. Though his body was glorified, it was still the Incarnate Jesus who was among his apostles for forty days after Easter.

After the Ascension however, Jesus is no longer on earth in his physical body, in the Incarnation. In his physical body, he is now glorified in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Once he has risen, the work of the Son on earth which is the Redemption, is now complete and he can leave. But in his last spoken words on earth, as recorded by St. Matthew (Mt 28:20), Jesus promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Jesus does continue to remain on earth after the Ascension, but in a different way. He is no longer here physically, but spiritually. And that means “by the Holy Spirit.” From the Ascension comes Pentecost. His spiritual presence is no less real than the physical, but it is invisible, just as the Holy Spirit is no less real than the Son, though He is invisible.

This new “spiritual” presence of Jesus on earth is found through the Sacraments. In every sacrament, beginning with Baptism, Jesus the risen Lord is really and truly present, spiritually and concretely, invisible yet tangible via the ritual actions of the sacrament. Every sacrament involves a Pentecost event, an “epiclesis” by which the Holy Spirit comes down upon the material (water, chrism, bread & wine, penitent, bride & groom, etc.), and through a fiery transformation “makes present” the heavenly Lord, our head and shepherd and bridegroom.

Though the work of Redemption is completed by the Cross and Resurrection, another work remains. Jesus did not leave the world in order to abandon his followers leaving them orphans (Jn 14:18). He ascended back to heaven in his physical body so that he could remain in the world by means of a spiritual body, the Church. The “physicality” of Christ is now found in the world through the Church, enlivened by Sacraments, under the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Church which is now the hands of Christ, his feet, his voice, his power and authority. The Church is Christ, in a profound sense—mystical and spiritual, but real. The Church is the Body, of which Christ is the Head. They are one.

Christ leaves the world in one way (physical presence resulting from the Incarnation, limited by time and place), so that he might dwell in the world in another more universal way (spiritual presence resulting from Pentecost, unlimited by time or place). Wherever the Church goes, Christ can be, in all of his power and authority, to heal, teach, and save. Thus he tells the Apostles at the Ascension that they will now possess his full power and authority. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus indicates that mighty signs and miracles will accompany them just as they accompanied him: demons expelled, new tongues spoken, evils rendered impotent, sickness healed (Mk 16:17-18). The apostles, and the whole Church, will act in Christ’s name, with his power, and will accomplish the same mighty deeds which he did on earth, even greater ones (Jn 14:12).

Christ accomplished the Redemption by means of his death and Resurrection, and this was why God became man. Now the Church must accomplish the salvation of the world by bringing that Redemption to all men through the proclamation of the Gospel, and baptism. The mandate, or mission of the Church is to baptize all the world (Mk 16:15-16, Mt 28:19).

After 2000 years, this work continues. It is not yet complete. Amazingly, the Gospel has reached this far, to modern man in America! But there yet remain parts of the world that have not received the Gospel, and other parts that need the Gospel announced to it again.

This is our task in our community, even in the households of our parish. The work of evangelization, like the Redemption itself, is not accomplished without trial and suffering, but like the Redemption, it is accomplished through obedience to the Father, and trust in the power of His Holy Spirit. God Himself accomplishes the success of the labor, the conversion of hearts and minds. Our duty is to proclaim the fullness of truth, in a readiness to serve.

As we commemorate the Ascension, let us take up again the mandate Christ gives to the Church, to proclaim the Gospel and baptize all the world.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Agape

May 6, 2018

6th Sunday of Easter (B) (1Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17)

In the brief selection from St. John’s first letter (1 Jn 4:7-10), the word “love” is used ten times, including the very important and profound verse, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Again in the Gospel, at the Last Supper Jesus repeatedly speaks to the disciples about love. But when the Lord speaks of love, or any of the New Testament writers for that matter, they use a specific word that is unique to Christianity, because Christ’s teaching on love is distinctive.

English is not well-served by the word “love,” since it can mean so many things on so many levels: “I love ice cream and pizza; I love to travel; I love my family and friends; I love my country, my job…” Fortunately the apostles wrote and preached in a more subtle language, Greek, that has several words for different kinds of love.

One Greek word for love is “Eros,” and this refers to physical love, particularly sexual love. The pagan Greeks worshipped Eros as a god (as did the Romans, who called him “Cupid”). But when St. John says “God is love,” in no way is he referring to Eros. Eros is love on the level of the body, the desire for things that bring pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction, rooted in instinct. (1) We share this love in common with all the animals. While it serves its purpose in human nature, directing us to the proper goods of the body, it is sinful to worship Eros (i.e., to live for the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure).

The Greeks have another word for love, “Philos,” and this is a higher more noble love. It is the properly human love that distinguishes man from the animals. Rooted in the heart and mind, it is the love that brings happiness instead of mere pleasure, and it is accompanied by feeling: emotion, passion. It is in this sense that we “love” our fellow man (“Philadelphia” = “brotherly love”), or that we love and pursue wisdom (“philosophy”).

Philos elevates and perfects Eros, moderating and disciplining the insatiable desire for gratification of the flesh. To love another in a merely physical way (“erotic” love) is the sin of lust; the other must be loved in a truly personal and human way, heart-to-heart. Likewise, to eat food merely for the sake of eating (i.e., “stuffing your face”) is the sin of gluttony; food must be loved in a truly human way, as facilitating human relationships (i.e., “share a meal”). Likewise, to love money for its own sake as the source of satisfaction and pleasure is the sin of avarice; money must be loved only insofar as it advances human relationships and dignity.

Thus even in pagan Greece, there is a sophisticated philosophical understanding of love (“Philos”) that points to what is truly noble and “human” in man, and not simply “animal.” But this is still not Christianity. Philos, like Eros, also has its limitations and dangers. Whereas Eros can override reason through compulsive and insatiable desire for pleasure (to the point of addiction); Philos too can override the true good of man through passion and emotion or psychological issues that blind and distort. Many people, once deeply and passionately “in love,” find themselves at a later stage disillusioned, disappointed, conflicted, and profoundly unhappy. Philos is fickle: what begins as love, can become indifference, or even flip to hate.

Jesus teaches a different kind of love, for which the apostles used the Greek word “Agape.” Agape is not animal love (instinct); it is not even human love (passion); it is divine love. It is the very love of God Himself, the love which God is, and which God shares within the divine nature. It is why God is a Trinity of Persons, because “God is Love,” and this particular kind of love. The Father eternally begets the Son through love as an outpouring of Himself; and the love by which Father and Son are bound is Himself the divine person of the Holy Spirit.

It is this divine love which Jesus experiences as the second person of the Holy Trinity, and which he speaks about and communicates with his disciples. Jesus tells them, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). He wants his disciples to love with God’s own love, with the love by which he himself loves, and he really means this. He says they are no longer on the level of slaves in comparison with God, but are now His equals, “friends” (Jn 15:14-15). Just as Philos facilitates an equal heart-to-heart love between people, Agape facilitates an equal Spirit-to-spirit love between God and man. Agape perfects Eros and Philos.

Elsewhere, Jesus reiterates, “By this men will know you for my disciples, if you have agape for one another” (Jn 13:35). Agape is distinctive to Christians, Christians love with the very love of God!

How is this possible? How can man, who is only human, love with divine love, the love by which God Himself loves? This exceeds the power of human nature. Jesus tells us it is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the divine anointing of Baptism, brought to full stature in Confirmation, and continually nourished in the Eucharist, God Himself comes to dwell in the human heart and spirit (and body). The Holy Spirit lives and works through the human spirit. There is a mutual indwelling between God and man analogous to the mutual indwelling of Father and Son within the Trinity (cf. Jn 14:20). A Christian does indeed love with the love of God, and Christ intends for us to love in this way always.

What does Agape look like? How is it different from Philos and Eros? Whereas Eros is located in the physical dimension of human life, and Philos is located in the mind-heart dimension, Agape is found in the spirit itself, the deepest part of the person’s soul where he acts in the spiritual freedom of his will. Agape is found in the place where man holds himself, and gives himself, willingly and freely, and independently, of instinct or emotion.

Jesus shows what Agape looks like, and two qualities in particular stand out: obedience, and self-sacrifice. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, as I keep my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (Jn 15:10). Obedience is a fundamental characteristic of Agape. There is no selfishness or self-interest with Agape, as there is with Eros (which seeks pleasure) or Philos (which seeks happiness). Agape seeks only to please and glorify the Father, through humble acceptance of His will and goodness. There is an absoluteness with Agape, that does not exist with Eros or Philos. It does not matter the cost or consequences, the hardship or ease, Agape considers only the right and good thing that must be done, and embraces it freely and wholeheartedly. Agape is the love that is sinless. All sin is imperfect love—loving the wrong things, or loving in the wrong way.

The second characteristic of Agape is self-sacrifice, or self-gift: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Agape is the gift or outpouring of oneself for another, to the ultimate degree. Once again, with no thought or deliberation regarding the personal cost or hardship. In fact, the more that can be renounced in terms of the world or the flesh for the sake of the beloved, the more joyful the love. Which is why Jesus paradoxically teaches they that are “Blessed” who suffer hardship and persecution (Mt 5:1-12); and why it is a distinctive expression of Christianity to take up a life vowed to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Cross shows the Agape of Jesus, and it is this love we are called not simply to imitate, but to live from within, by the Holy Spirit. To have Agape is to be one with the Father and Son, and perfectly conformed to the will of God, as Christ was. Therefore, “if you keep my commandments and live in my love,” “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn 15:16). It is impossible to ask for the wrong thing, or to ask incorrectly, with Agape.

The great commandment of Christ, then, (2) is not simply that we “love” one another (in the sense of Eros perfected in Philos), but very specifically that we “have Agape” for one another.

(1) For Freud and modern determinists, all love is ultimately Eros.

(2) “This is my commandment, that you love one another” (Jn 15:17).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Union with God

April 29, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter (B) (Jn 15:1-8)

We human beings simply have no earthly idea of how profound a union is achieved with God through Jesus Christ. There is nothing in our human experience to compare.

The deepest union in our human experience is the blood ties of our family bonds. When a man and woman unite in marriage, their union becomes a new person. In their child, mother and father are perfectly united: each of them is able to see the reflection of their own face in that of the baby: it has his mother’s eyes, his father’s nose, etc.

Human bonds of love are very deep, whether between spouses, friends, brother/sister, parent/child. When we love each other, we possess one another; our hearts belong to each other. It is a real union. Somehow, through love we have mysteriously become “part” of each other, because should the beloved leave, or be away, or die, we experience grief. Something within our own heart is torn.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, these human bonds are only a faint reflection of the union we have with Him. As human beings we in some sense “possess” each other, or “dwell within” each other, but it is never perfect. After all, we never become “one-in-being” with each other. No matter how long a couple may be married and become completely “one” with each other, they will always remain to distinct beings.

But when God loves—when the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father—their union is so complete, their mutual “in-dwelling” so complete, that they are, quite accurately and literally, “Consubstantial,” as we say in the Creed. They have one singular existence, one mind, one “heart,” one will. The only thing different between Father and Son is that the Father is not the Son, and vice-versa. The persons of the Holy Trinity can only be distinguished by their relationship. They cannot be distinguished by will, intellect, desire, intention, not even by being itself. As I said, we have no earthly concept of the union known and experienced by Father and Son. (1)

Now here is the mystery for us: by baptism we are brought into this communion of Father and Son and Holy Spirit by becoming one with the Son. By means of the sacred humanity of Christ, we enter that circle of Divinity as sons with the Son, who with Him know the Father as our “Father,” and dare to call upon Him as such.

By means of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is able to accomplish what we cannot even begin to imagine and which transcends everything human and mortal. Yet, it is for this that we were originally created, and it is for this we long: total and complete union with God in love: He in us, and us in Him, completely.

“Live on in me, as I do in you.” When Jesus tells us “I am the vine, you are the branches,” he is describing this relationship in literal terms. Baptism grafts us into the life of Jesus, so that from that moment we live not just a human life with human breath and blood, but the divine and eternal life of God. Through baptism we begin to breathe with divine breath, that is to say, the Spirit. And as Archbishop Fulton Sheen would say, Christians live with divine blood flowing through their human veins—the very Blood of Christ. (2)

In the image of the vine and branches, Jesus graphically illustrates the sacramental life of the Church. By the Resurrection, Jesus accomplishes for us the new life of grace: his own life. Through the Sacraments, this eternal life is communicated. Let us recognize the new union that has been established between God and man in Christ, deeper than the blood ties of our own family, and let us live it; us in him, he in us, we together in the Father.

(1)  Their union is so total and profound and perfect, that their union itself is a divine Person: the Holy Spirit, “breathed forth” or “spirated” by their love. The “one” which the “two” become in their union of love is the “third” whose presence widens the union of love into a sharing of love. And man is made in this image.

(2)  “Breath” and “spirit” are an identical concept biblically; likewise, “blood” and “life” are identical conceptually.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Good Shepherds

April 22, 2018

4th Sunday of Easter (B) (Jn 10:11-18)

When he was in this world, Jesus gathered a flock of disciples about him and shepherded them. But he also said, “I have other sheep… they too will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). These are his disciples in the Church that will be established after the Resurrection. Jesus continues to shepherd his flock until the end of the world, but now it is not limited to a few hundred disciples gathered from the tribes of Israel.

In his humanity prior to the Resurrection, Jesus was limited in place and time, subject to the conditions of mortality. After the Resurrection, Jesus is no longer thus limited. The Resurrection unleashes a new presence and action of the Lord in the Church, by means of Sacraments. This “presence” is multifold, and it includes his shepherding presence.

By means of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Jesus the “Good Shepherd” is present in his Church. One of the primary symbols of the bishop (who has the fullness of Sacred Orders), is the shepherd’s staff. (1) The staff of the bishop is the shepherding activity of Christ the Good Shepherd. Priests too, particularly those appointed Pastor of a parish, share with the bishop in the Shepherding office of Christ himself. “Pastor” means “Shepherd.”

We must pray, then, for the shepherds of the Church, that they conform their ministry to Christ the Good Shepherd, and not allow their human faults and weaknesses to impede or compromise the graces of the Sacrament they have received for the good of the Church. In their ministry it is the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd that is important: he must increase, they must decrease.

Throughout the Bible (for instance, Psalm 23), and in the Gospel (John 10), the duties of the shepherd are explained. He must nourish the flock of sheep in fertile (verdant) pastures; refresh them with streams of living waters; guide them through arid and dangerous paths of this world toward a heavenly banquet; protect them from harm and attack along the way. Shepherds must “know” the sheep, calling them by name (Jn 10:14).

We must pray for good shepherds in the Church after the model of Christ; we must also pray that the Church might consist of good sheep. In the Bible it is sheep that most adequately symbolize the followers of God (and not some other animal like cats or dogs). Sheep have a herd instinct, and sheep are meek. The flock of God is a family united in harmonious communion; docile and obedient to the voice of the shepherd. (It would be impossible to lead a bunch of cats). If each person “did his own thing,” there would be no church. Christ therefore gathers us and leads us in a common direction, through the ministry of his shepherds in the Church.

And when along this journey a sheep may become distracted by some attractiveness of the world, beginning to follow his own desires instead of remaining with the flock, the shepherd must intervene with his staff, calling and pulling the sheep back. When we fall away from the flock, and get distracted away from the Shepherd’s Eucharistic banquet to that of the world, we become easy prey for the wolf who will destroy us spiritually.

The flock is in constant danger of wolves, whose one mission is to devour the sheep. These enemies are external, but they are also wily enough to worm their way into the congregation (cf. 2Tm 3:6), “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Mt 7:15) who undermine and destroy the Church from within. Shepherds are charged with being vigilant against such enemies.

There is one quality in particular that Christ highlights in today’s Gospel: the Good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” Unlike a hired hand who works only for pay, the good shepherd knows that the job of shepherding cannot be reduced to pay. It is a true responsibility for the well-being of other people in God’s name, and therefore requires personal commitment and readiness to sacrifice. In the Church, pastors are provided for, but that can never be the reason for a vocation to ordination.

When the wolf attacks, the hired hand will preserve his own life and leave the flock exposed. Many a bishop and priest have “thrown under the bus” the Church, a sheep, a lamb, for the sake of their self-preservation.(2) Jesus contrasts the despicable self-serving mercenary with the Good Shepherd, who places himself between the flock and the wolf. On the Cross, Jesus has placed himself between the devil and the Church his Bride, his beloved flock. He intervenes to protect the sheep, even to the point of laying down his life that we might live.

Jesus says he lays down his life freely, by his own choice and not under constraint. Likewise, the vocation to Holy Orders must be a free sacrifice. During the ordination rite, the candidate for orders prostrates himself before the altar, literally “laying down his life” for God’s service. Every day is to be lived in the spirit of that prostration.

It is not just Holy Orders that creates shepherds in the Church, so does Matrimony. Parents are the first “shepherds” of God’s little flock entrusted to their care and guidance, grandparents are the second. The reality of the Church exists first in the family, before being gathered into the larger community of parish and diocese.

Parents therefore, must model their lives on that of the Good Shepherd. It is his love they manifest, his authority they exercise, his guidance they give. This is one of the important reasons it is not sufficient to be married civilly. For Catholics, something more is needed: like priests, the two disciples who marry must come before the altar and begin their mission together by “laying down their lives.” This prostration is expressed not by lying on floor, but through kneeling.

As the priests have responsibility bring the parish flock to heaven, parents and grandparents have the responsibility to guide their family to heaven. Let us therefore pray for one another, that we might be worthy of the Sacraments entrusted to us, that Christ the Good Shepherd may be present to the sheep of his flock.

(1) The others being the Miter (Christ’s Headship), and Ring (Christ the Bridegroom of the Church).

(2) For instance, to avoid lawsuits, or be politically correct.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Why do You Question?

April 15, 2018

3rd Sunday of Easter (B) (Acts 3:13-19; Lk 24:35-48)

Two thousand years later, the Resurrection of Jesus continues to be proclaimed to all nations, and millions of people, including we ourselves, have believed. On what basis? The Resurrection is a shocking claim! If today someone discovered in the local cemetery a grave opened and the body missing, and a few days later the family and close friends saying he was alive, without giving us the opportunity to see him for ourselves, would we believe? Highly unlikely.

With regard to Jesus, however, there are several things that come into play with regard to the Resurrection, “stepping stones” to that faith we hold dear as Christians: 1) the empty tomb; 2) the testimony disciples; 3) his miracles; 4) the Scriptures.

The empty tomb. The mystery of the Resurrection begins here: a grave opened, a body missing. If such a thing happened in our city today, it would certainly be news, particularly if the person missing were someone well known. Immediately there would be an investigation. Police, reporters, and citizens alike would be wondering and asking, what happened? Who took the body? Where did they take it, and why? The crime scene unit would be looking for any clues or evidence, and all concerned would be interviewed.

We should not doubt that the same happened in the case of Jesus. And the investigation began with the apostles and disciples themselves, who were the first to discover the tomb. We know the details: early Sunday morning, huge stone rolled away, body missing, no one saw anything. And oddly, the burial cloths left behind.

Naturally, the assumption of everyone, beginning with the women and apostles, is that “someone took the body.” That is easy to assume. But things become very difficult when moving to the next questions: Who would have taken the body, and why? And given the horrid condition of the unwashed bloody corpse following crucifixion, why was the burial shroud left behind?1

In the case of Jesus, even though the “crime scene” is no longer preserved in its original condition (though it is still there, within a great church in Jerusalem), there remains to this day physical evidence collected from the tomb, that continues to be the subject of actual forensic study: his burial cloths! The burial shroud is kept in the cathedral of Turin, Italy, and the head-cloth is kept in the cathedral of Oviedo, Spain. The shroud in particular – with its miraculous image as well as blood stains – is such a fascinating and mysterious historical artifact that an entire multidisciplinary science of “sindonology” has developed to study it.

The testimony of the disciples. In one of his early public sermons to the people of Jerusalem after the Resurrection (today’s first reading), St. Peter says, “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). Likewise in the last verse of the Gospel Jesus tells his apostles “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48). “Witness” here is understood in a formal sense, the way a witness is called to give testimony under oath. The Gospels, then, (as well as Acts and the various epistles of the New Testament), intentionally set out to record and document testimonial evidence from eyewitnesses, as accurately as possible. Christian faith hinges on this testimony.

In the case of the Resurrection, the eyewitnesses are testifying to something they do not understand, or rather something which is beyond understanding and ordinary human experience. It is a mystery. Unlike the raising of Lazarus, for instance, which was a restoration or return to life in this world, the Resurrection of Jesus was a coming alive again to an entirely new order of existence, including but transcending this current one we experience. According to their testimony and experience, when they saw Jesus he was fully human and alive in the flesh: they could see, hear, and physically touch him, examine his wounds, and eat with him. Yet he would come and go mysteriously, “all of a sudden,” appearing in a room without entering the doors. Oftentimes he would appear but not be recognized until he spoke a certain word (such as addressing Mary Magdalene by her name) or performed a certain action (such as breaking the bread at Emmaus).

But the content of the testimony is for believers to ponder and explore… What about those who are not yet believers, the world that is hearing of the “resurrection” for the first time? What are they to make of the witnesses? Should we not be somewhat skeptical of people who are claiming to see a dead person?

As with the empty tomb and shroud, there is no scientific “proof” here of resurrection. Jesus ensures that in the end there will need to be faith resulting from a gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Christian faith is initiated through this testimony, by these witnesses. Jesus appeared to those who knew him; who had previously been with him and witnessed his miracles and teachings.

What needs to be stressed as we hear their testimony, is the process they each underwent before they saw the risen Lord, and themselves believed the Resurrection. For any who may be skeptical, we can take comfort that the greatest “unbelievers” were initially the disciples themselves.

Mary Magdalene was the first to see him, at the tomb itself. Initially she thought he was a cemetery caretaker, but after recognizing him, embraced him. Naturally, none of the apostles believed her. That evening when he appeared to the group of them, they were incredulous, not believing their eyes and ears. Jesus insisted they touch him, and examine their wounds. He ate a piece of fish, to convince them “you are not seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). And as we heard last Sunday, it took yet another appearance to convince Thomas.

Whereas the “easy” explanation for the empty tomb is that “someone [obviously] took the body,” the “easy” explanation for the resurrection appearances is that “they were [obviously] hallucinating,” or “seeing a ghost,” or otherwise experiencing a psychological phenomenon. The multiplicity and diversity of the testimony, however, makes this explanation difficult, impossible.

Furthermore, unlike many religious phenomena which are entirely absurd and fictional like Mohammed’s ascension or Joseph Smith’s “golden tablets,” the Resurrection of Jesus is attested by multiple skeptical eye-witnesses, in multiple times and places, who make no pretension to understand what they saw, attesting only to what happened. Again, unlike Islam or Mormonism, the message is not dependent on one individual’s experience or visions. Christian witness accounts are documented historically by multiple authors, also at different times and places; those accounts are consistent and coherent with each other, with only minor variations as would be expected; and the testimony has been continuous and unchanged since the beginning. There are no other ancient events so broadly witnessed, retold, and recorded by so many authors, in a way that could be corroborated or contradicted as necessary by contemporaries.

Last but not least, the apostles who proclaimed the Resurrection were impelled to carry that testimony to the ends of the earth. According to it they lived. For it they sacrificed everything, endured hardship, punishments, suffering, and persecution. In the end, all suffered brutal cruelty and death in its defense. None recanted, none changed, none ever attempted to “explain it away.”

St. John Chrysostom (349-407), the eloquent Patriarch of Constantinople, preached famously with regard to the testimony of the apostles:

How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them? It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.

The Miracles. The third stepping stone to faith is the miracles of Jesus, particularly, in this regard, the miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the grave, who had been buried four days.2 This was the last public miracle of Jesus, and the one which most immediately foreshadowed his own resurrection. Like many of his miracles, it was publicly witnessed, its details accurately recounted in a way that could be corroborated at the time.

The Scriptures. Finally, there are the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament). Both in the Emmaus appearance and in the appearance to the Apostles in the upper room (Lk 24:13-35, 24:36-48), Jesus stresses the prophetic nature of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms. He completes the education of his followers in the way he has fulfilled all the prophecies of Scripture, often down to the explicit details. We thus profess in the Creed: “…he was crucified, died, and buried. On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures.

As the peoples of the world were introduced to the Christian proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus, they were also introduced to the Scriptures of the Jews, because it was through these prophecies that the life and works of Jesus were explained. By seeing for themselves the correspondence of Jesus of Nazareth to the prophecies of the Messiah, Gentiles (non-Jews) were able to see, better than the Jews themselves, how the Scriptures were fulfilled in him. And once again, the unified witness of the Scriptures comes from a diverse collection of books, written by many different holy men and prophets, writing in very different times and places over many centuries.

Together, these four things (as well as other graces coming directly through God’s grace), have helped all mankind to become Christian in response to the preaching of the Gospel. At least, for those who wish to listen and examine the matter for themselves, they provide the stepping stones to an event beyond what could ever be expected or invented by human imagination or trickery; a mystery of God’s own making.

We believe in the Resurrection, not as some fantasy, or wishful thinking. We believe in the Resurrection not by some kind of blind faith or brainwashing. We believe in the Resurrection despite ourselves, and our innate skepticism. We believe in the Resurrection because like Thomas and the other apostles, the Lord goes to the extreme to remove doubt. We believe, even despite ourselves.

It may come through one word as it did for Mary Magdalene; it may come after a long discourse on the Scriptures as it did for Cleophas on the way to Emmaus; it may come in a group context as it did for the apostles; or after a long personal journey of doubt as it did for Thomas. But the Resurrection is there, and continues to be the mysterious and powerful animating reality of the Church.

Those who seek, will find. Thomas believed because he saw him in the flesh. But Jesus blesses those who “though they do not see him, yet believe.”

(1) Who took the body? How and where did they take it? Why would they take it? 1) The stone required 2-3 men to move, guards were posted at the cemetery. How was the body taken, unnoticed? 2) Why were the burial cloths left behind, when the body was so bloody? 3) Would soldiers/guards take a body, which would get them in trouble? 4) Would disciples remove his body and fabricate an elaborate lie which would contradict everything Jesus taught? 5) Would disciples sacrifice everything, travel to the ends of the earth, suffer and die for a deception? 6) Would Jesus’ enemies take the body, allowing his followers to promote him in a supposed resurrection? 7) If some anonymous person took the body, would that cause his followers to “invent” the resurrection? 8) Why was the Sanhedrin, which had every reason to find the body, unable to do so?

(2) In writing his Gospel, St. John organizes it around seven miracles of Jesus, carefully chosen and recounted in detail, to highlight incontrovertibly the divinity of Jesus, and prepare the reader for the miracle of the Resurrection. He thus refers to them as “signs.” The seventh and culminating miracle is the raising of Lazarus. At the end of his Gospel, he says, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31).

Rev. Glen Mullan

That You May Believe

April 8, 2018

2nd Sunday of Easter (B) (Jn 20:19-31)

In today’s Gospel are two resurrection appearances of Jesus. They are important because he appears to the apostles as a group, and it is through the apostles that the Lord will inaugurate the Church. Both take place in the same “upper room” where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, where in a few weeks Pentecost will be celebrated, and where in fact the Church became headquartered in Jerusalem for several centuries.

The Pattern of Sunday. The first of these appearances takes place on Easter Sunday, (1) and the second takes place a week later, that is, today. By means of his resurrection appearances Jesus is establishing the pattern of sacramental life which the Church will follow to this day. We have continued to gather every Sunday for 2000 years, to commemorate the Resurrection. And what occurred visibly within the Church during the first 40 days after the Resurrection, continues to occur invisibly in every Eucharist: Jesus our Risen Lord comes into the room where we are gathered, and appears before us while we are “at table” (cf. Mk 16:14), and we recognize him “in the Breaking of Bread” (cf. Lk 24:35).

The urgency of Mercy. In his first appearance to the apostles as a group, after greeting the Church (“Peace be with you” – a greeting the bishop continues to use whenever he begins the celebration of Mass), Jesus immediately speaks of the forgiveness of sins. It is the first thing he “sends” his Church to do in his name, by his authority, by his own personal power, which is the power of the Holy Spirit (by “breathing on them,” Jesus shows that the Holy Spirit is his very own spirit). (2)

There is almost an urgency to this command, as if Jesus has been waiting for his Passion to be accomplished so that finally the forgiveness of sins might begin. Jesus has been longing for this moment. It was the reason God became Man, the reason for the terrible crucifixion and death: by his blood he has obtained the forgiveness of sins, through his wounds the Mercy of God is showered upon the world. It remains only for the Church to extend this Mercy to the whole world, for all mankind and every nation to place itself safely within the wounds of Christ, within the Divine Mercy. The Church has Christ’s power to forgive sins.

The Need of Faith. In order for this to happen – in order for Mercy now won to be applied, there must be faith, specifically faith in the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection of Christ, there would be no Mercy; there would only be a tortured and crucified – and dead – innocent man. The Resurrection, and the life of grace which flows from the Resurrection, is the fruits of the Passion, the goal of what the Son of God sought to accomplish. Therefore it is faith in the Risen Christ which the Church must profess, which believers must have.

St. Thomas the Apostle. In this regard it was providential that for whatever reason, Thomas who is one of the twelve apostles, was not (cf. Jn 20:24) with the group on that Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to them (despite what St. Mark says – Mk 16:14). Jesus specifically wanted a “doubting Thomas” to be among the apostles, as many of his people will have this similar quality.

Disbelief. All of the apostles together with the holy women who went to the tomb, initially concluded as rational human beings, that someone “took the body.” All of the apostles naturally disbelieved Mary Magdalene when she told them she had seen the Lord and that he was risen (Mk 16:11). But Thomas emphatically continued to disbelieve even when the Ten told him they too had seen the Risen Lord for themselves, that he wasn’t a ghost, that they had examined his wounds, that he had even sat down and eaten a piece of fish with them (Lk 24:36-43).

Since the Risen Jesus would remain within his Church Sacramentally until the end of the age – really and truly but invisibly, hidden in sign and symbol, Jesus knew the testimony of the first apostles would be foundational. And thus St. Thomas’ double disbelief is important, because when he too finally encounters the Risen Lord for himself, the faith he professes is doubly beautiful – and powerful for future skeptics.

Divinity of Christ. It is St. Thomas who, after examining for himself the actual wounds of the Crucified, proclaims him, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). This is the highest and most significant acknowledgement of the divinity of Jesus in all of John’s Gospel, the summit and goal of what he set out to accomplish through his Gospel. We now adopt the devotional custom of silently repeating his words when we come to part of the Mass called the consecration, the moment in which the Risen Lord mysteriously “steps into the room.”

What follows this profession of Thomas is the original conclusion of the Gospel of John: “all these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31). By Thomas coming to this supreme faith, the goal of the Gospel is realized.

St. Thomas finds healing from his doubt through the wounds of Christ. He is able to place his full trust in God, and as an apostle, give testimony to that Mercy to the ends of the earth.

The Modern Era. 2000 years later, the Church continues to find the empty tomb, and pass from incredulity and skepticism to faith. In the “modern” era, the era of science and technology, skepticism and doubt are very common. The example of St. Thomas is more important today than ever before.

St. Faustina. It was to modern man, the supreme “doubting Thomas,” that the Lord once again appears through the “Divine Mercy” devotion. In the 1930s, the Risen Lord appeared in a special way to St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun. He asked her to have an image made of the way she saw him, and to encourage the praying of a special Litany of Divine Mercy. (3) She complied, and made several attempts to have a portrait made that reflected what she saw. Obviously, no devotional image can ever capture the true glory of the Lord, but the Divine Mercy image is nevertheless a helpful aid to prayer and faith.

Invitation to Faith. Through St. Faustina Jesus recalls today’s Gospel, and the way he appeared to her is likely the way he appeared among the apostles. Most noteworthy in the devotional image is the way in which the blood and water which flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross, have become in the Resurrection the source of grace for Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, and all the sacraments of the Church. Together with the revelation of his glorious wounds, the image portrays the Savior’s invitation to faith and trust in him: “no longer disbelieve, but believe!”

On this celebration of the Divine Mercy, let us once again place our faith in Christ. Let us follow St. Thomas in professing the resurrection. And whenever you come to Mass, call to mind this vision of the Lord as you prepare to recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread.

(1) In the evening (Jn 20:19), after he had already appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:18), Peter (cf. Lk 24:34), and the two disciples heading into the country (Lk 24:13-35, Mk 16:12). .

(2) Greek “Pneuma” Hebrew “Ruah” means breath, wind, spirit.

(3) The prayers of the Divine Mercy Chaplet echo in different words, the “Litany of Mercy” which is an ancient part of the Mass, both at the beginning (“Kyrie, Eleison”), and before Communion (“Lamb of God… Have mercy on us”).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Liturgical Rehearsal

March 31, 2018

Easter Vigil (Gn 1; Gn 22; Ex 3)

The Easter Vigil is the longest and greatest of all the liturgies of the Catholic Church. This celebration reveals the intimate connection between Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, and the connection is the Light of Christ, his Resurrection from the dead. In the course of the Easter Vigil, we solemnly rededicate the church which was stripped and left empty following Good Friday. The candle and holy water are blessed, the Eucharist is restored to the tabernacle, and the church is filled again with the faithful, newly reborn in baptism, or renewing baptismal covenants previously made.

The Easter Vigil echoes and memorializes year by year (as proclaimed in the prayer of dedication of the Paschal Candle) the Redemption accomplished once for all by Christ 2000 years ago. The Easter Vigil brings forward year by year, the work of the New Creation begun by Christ on that first Day of the new and final Biblical week. The Church is moving inexorably toward the final Sabbath day of God’s glory, toward a new heaven and earth, when sin and death will be no more, where man can live and rejoice in his true heavenly city free of evil and darkness.

Thus the Resurrection occurs on the first day of a new week (Gn 1:5), when the earth is again a formless void of death, and darkness is upon the deep (Gn 1:2), with the Father again uttering forth His eternal Word with the words, “Let there be Light!” (Gn 1:3)

The Easter Vigil is a very intricate liturgical ceremony, and to be celebrated effectively it requires a good deal of long-range planning with the sacristans, choir practices, and an hour-long rehearsal with a team of most experienced altar servers. The more careful the preparations, the more smoothly and naturally the liturgy will flow, and thus the human element will not unnecessarily distract from the divine grace which needs to accomplish its work in the world. What is true (on a small scale) for our humble three-hour celebration, is also true on the grand scale of God’s supreme “liturgy” which was accomplished in the original Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. So much had to happen in the brief 32-year earthly life of the Son of God, in his brief 3-year public ministry, in the brief 7 days of his Holy Passover Week. All the threads of mankind’s journey since Adam and Eve’s sin had to be tied together. This “liturgy” of Christ was as big as Creation, as big as heaven and hell, because it had to undo sin and remake Creation new.

God the Father therefore undertook careful preparations for thousands of year, including rehearsal, with His chosen earthly ministers, so that when the High Priest finally arrived on the scene, the liturgy could proceed without incident. How often do the Gospels note that everything had to be “just so” in order to fulfill Scripture? I.E., because a script of liturgical rubrics is being followed.

In the course of the seven Old Testament readings from the Easter Vigil, some of this long-range preparation and rehearsal is recounted. For instance, the second reading (Gn 22) tells the story of Abraham and Isaac. God commanded Abraham to take his beloved and only-begotten son to the land of Moriah and there sacrifice him upon a certain hill. Proceeding to the mountain with two servants and donkey, Abraham places the wood for the altar upon his son’s shoulders. At the place of sacrifice, he fastens his son to the wood, then proceeds to sacrifice him. However, at the last instant an angel intervenes to stay his hand. This is only a rehearsal. Isaac’s death (his blood) cannot accomplish the atonement which is necessary. Instead, a ram is substituted, and this becomes the pattern which the Old Testament ministers will practice until the coming of the true “Lamb of God.” Animals, especially the lamb, will be used as a substitute victim.

Having just completed Holy Week in which we recounted the details of Christ’s Passion, we recognize all the details “rehearsed” 2000 years before in the time of Abraham:

it is God the Father who sacrifices His beloved and only Son (Jn 3:16); who on Palm Sunday is led by two disciples on a donkey (Mk 11:1-2); up to the great hill of Mt Moriah in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chronicles 3:1-2); (1) where he carries the wood of the Cross on his shoulders (Jn 19:17); until fastened to the wood with nails (cf. Jn 20:25);

and this time drained of his blood with the knife (Jn 19:34).

Even the detail of Jesus’ crowning with thorns (Mk 15:17) is echoed in the rehearsal, by the ram whose horns were caught in a thorn bush (Gn 22:13)!

For 2000 years, beginning with Abraham, God knew exactly what He would do to undo the sin of Adam and restore the world. But it took Him 2000 years to select and train his ministers, setting in motion the patterns of priestly sacrifice necessary for great Atonement to take place.

Among the sacrifices one will stand out, and this is the Passover. It is not actually a Temple sacrifice, since it predates the inauguration of the Law at Mt. Sinai. This is the sacrifice which commemorates the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the “Passing over” of the angel of death so that the Chosen People did not die condemned as did the Egyptians, and the “Passing over” of the people themselves from the bondage of slavery, through the Red Sea, to freedom as God’s children in the Promised Land. The third reading of the Easter Vigil recounts this event. (2)

Here too, in the time of Moses, God was “rehearsing” the salvation which would be accomplished by His Son. The Exodus of the Israelites perfectly illustrates and explains Baptism:

By the Passover sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God; whose Blood protects us from eternal death; we are brought out of the slavery of sin and the cruel dominion of the evil one

(whom we renounce in the baptismal ceremony); into the temporary trial of the desert (i.e., this life); during which time we are nourished by God’s teaching; and the Manna from heaven (Eucharist); until we pass from this world to the Promised Land of heaven.

This deliverance is accomplished by our passage through the saving waters of baptism which both:

saves and renews us; while washing away and drowning the demonic army and all evil.

Each year, the priest therefore takes time with all the various ministers and members of the parish, to prepare well for the celebration of the Easter Vigil, since it encompasses in itself all the other liturgies of the Church year. The more fully and worthily we celebrate this and any holy liturgy, the more we achieve the graces of Christ’s death and resurrection manifested in them. Truly complete and conscious participation in the Liturgy becomes our life goal.

After so many thousands of years training and practice, the world’s salvation was fully and perfectly accomplished in the liturgy of one week by Jesus Christ; so by our careful preparation and training in sacramental life, our salvation will be fully and perfectly accomplished as well.

(1 ) In the day of Abraham, at the time of the “rehearsal,” Jerusalem did not yet exist. That would wait another thousand years until King David established it as his capital, and King Solomon dedicated its Temple.

(2 ) We also heard about the Passover a few days earlier, in the first reading of Holy Thursday.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Blood and Water

March 30, 2018

Good Friday (Jn 18-19)

“An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth” (Jn 19:35).

Again today, as we did on Palm Sunday, we heard the detailed account of the Lord’s Passion and death, but this time from St. John, another one of the great “eyewitnesses” to these events, who knows of what he speaks, and solemnly testifies to the veracity of his account.

As with Mark’s account, and that of the other Gospels, John gives many details, most of which are corroborated in another account, some of which are unique to his Gospel. The details are important, because they were all foreseen and prepared by God since the beginning, and revealed in the course of history through ancient prophecy. Thus, all mankind is able to verify for himself that what happened to Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the fulfillment of Scripture, and therefore he is the true Messiah and Son of God: “…he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe, for this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled” (Jn 19:35).

Among these details, for instance: “when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs…” “…this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘Not a bone of it will be broken’” (Jn 19:32,36). It is an important detail, because John recognized Jesus to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29), and every Jew knows that in order to sacrifice a Passover lamb, none of its bones may be broken (Ex 12:46).

Another significant detail which St. John mentions: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden” (Jn 19:41). From history and archaeology of the city of Jerusalem, we learn that the place of crucifixion was located just outside a city wall on the western side of the city (the Temple being on the east). It was next to the road that entered the western gate. Thus the many pilgrims coming into the city were easily able to read the charge against him, published above his head in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Jn 19:20). Jesus was crucified in an abandoned limestone quarry, which at this time was a cemetery-park. (1) In that old quarry was an outcrop of rock that was never used because it had a large crack in it. It was about 12-15 feet high, and from a certain angle resembled a skull. Hence it was nicknamed the “skull place” or “Calvary” (Hebrew: Golgotha; Latin: Calvarium).

It was a perfect location for the Romans, and just large enough to accommodate three crosses. (2)

St. John, and every Jew, as well as ourselves, are very familiar with the Bible and remember another incident that took place “in a garden.” At a tree. With the devil inflicting terrible and universal suffering upon a man. Jesus is the New Adam, and the crucifixion is an event as big as the Fall of Man. Bigger! But in the other direction. (3)

And this brings us to the most striking and important detail of all, the one which St. John observed with his own eyes and which opens up the full meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and death:

“One soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out…” (Jn 19:34). Medical examiners will explain that the “water” was pericardial fluid that collected around a traumatized heart, released together with the blood when the heart was pierced by the spear. Besides John’s Gospel, this detail is also documented by the blood stain on his burial shroud, which can be viewed in the cathedral of Turin.

For St. John, the medical explanation is less important than the theological significance of this marvelous and unexpected phenomenon: “This happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘They will look upon him whom they have pierced’” (Jn 19:37). (4)

This detail of water coming from his side together with the blood recalls another prophecy, from Ezekiel, not directly referenced by St. John here but obvious from the context of many things Jesus had said about his Body being the Temple (Jn 2:19-21, Mk 14:58), and how from his heart would flow “rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-39). The great prophecy fulfilled by the piercing is of course that of the water flowing from the side of the Temple, which became in time a mighty flood throughout the whole world (Ez 47:1-12).

But there is another even more ancient and primordial prophecy which is fulfilled by this important incident, once again going back to the Garden of Eden. In order to form the woman, God put Adam into a “deep sleep” (Gn 2:21), i.e. a sleep deep as death, and then took from his “side” the flesh which he formed into the woman. Many translations say “rib,” but the crucifixion of Jesus reveals it was more than the rib, it was actually the heart. The woman is formed from the heart of the man, since the heart is the seat of love and self-giving in the human person.

The death of Jesus thus not only “fulfills” the Old Testament prophecies, it “explains” them fully. We now understand exactly what was happening in those ancient events and why God accomplished them in the mysterious ways He did.

On the Cross, God forms the New Eve from the New Adam, bringing forth the Church from his side by means of Baptism (water) and Eucharist (blood). It is these two saving streams that constitute the Church; it is from these two sacraments that the Church is formed and enfleshed.

And there is a connection between the Church and Mary: “Standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother” (Jn 19:25). She is the image and representative of the Church, the New Eve. Mary is “Mother of the Church” in the same way that Eve was “Mother of the Living” (Gn 3:20). Jesus says to her, “Behold your son” and to the Beloved Disciple John (who represents all the Lord’s beloved disciples): “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:26-27; cf. Rv 12:17).

From the Cross, the Church is born. On the Cross, Jesus sacrifices himself for his Church, literally giving her his own Sacred Heart. By means of his death, Christ intervenes with the Serpent who, even though he was able to approach and infect Eve (Gn 3:1), is not able to touch or harm Mary and those who remain close to her in the Church (Rv 12).

“Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).

In conclusion, as we today remember the Lord’s Passion and venerate his Cross, the greatest and most important way we can honor him and show our gratitude, is to be “beloved disciples” ourselves and do what John did: “He took Mary to his home” (Jn 19:27). We do this by taking the Church into our homes, being faithful and true to our faith, praying the Rosary, living what we believe.

(1) The soft limestone of the quarry was ideal for carving tombs.

(2) Vertical beams were inserted into three permanent holes. Prisoners affixed to horizontal beams would then be lifted and fastened onto the vertical beam, forming a “cross.” Behind and down from the mound was a storage cave where the wood beams and implements of crucifixion were kept, to be reused again and again. After the sack of Jerusalem (70 A.D. and again in 135 A.D.), all this area got buried under rubble, sealed away until the excavations undertaken by St. Helena in 325 A.D. In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher all these features may still be observed today: the crack in the rock, the hole on top of Calvary for the crosses, the storage cave where the three crosses were discovered. Unfortunately, “Calvary” is now walled up and its original shape is no longer be observable.

(3) To remember this juxtaposition of Jesus’ death with the fall of Adam, and the undoing of Adam’s sin by the New Adam, many crucifixes show a skull and crossbones at the bottom. It is an ancient and early tradition of the Church that the crucifixion took place over the grave of Adam, over his bones; that Jerusalem is, in fact, the location of the original Garden of Eden, where the sacred trees originally stood. This ancient tradition is also observable in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where there is a small “Chapel of Adam” immediately behind and against Calvary, on ground level.

(4) The full verse from the prophet Zechariah which St. John quotes: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Ha′dad-rim′mon in the plain of Megid′do [i.e. as great as Armageddon]” (Zech 12:10-11)

Rev. Glen Mullan

Passover of the Lord

March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday (Ex 12; 1Cor 11; Jn 13)

Tonight begins the Passover of the Lord, and the deliverance of mankind from slavery which God had been preparing since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Tonight the scriptures are fulfilled, which tell of that plan, and one Scriptural event in particular comes to the foreground: the Passover festival.

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem during Passover, which is the greatest of the three great festivals of the Chosen People. During these festivals, which continue a full week, the population of Jerusalem would swell to over a million, as faithful Jews, together with remnants from other tribes, would undertake pilgrimage to the Holy City from all parts of the diaspora, in the vast Greco-Roman world.

For a long time already, the Jewish leaders were looking for a way to arrest and get rid of Jesus, whom they considered a blasphemer, law-breaker, and false teacher. Again and again, circumstances prevented them, especially the crowds who followed and believed in his teaching, and the miracles he performed which amazed even soldiers and Roman pagans. But it was God’s plan that His Son fulfill the world’s salvation in a very specific way, at an exact time, and this was the Passover.

Passover was instituted as an annual celebration for Israel by Moses, to commemorate the Exodus. It is a sacred meal with many different courses, each of which is significant in the telling of the story. Bitter herbs and salt water recall the suffering and hardship of the Israelites in Egypt, when they were subjected to forced slavery by the Pharaoh. Unleavened bread recalls the haste with which they packed up and left in the middle of the night, before the dough had a chance to rise. And a lamb’s blood recalls God’s judgment upon the first-born of Egypt, and deliverance of His people, for when the angel of death saw the blood of the lamp upon the doors, he would “pass over” that house. During the course of the sacred meal, presided over by the head of the household, the story of the miraculous deliverance is remembered and retold.

But the Exodus is not the final Passover. It is an earthly prefiguration of the true salvation God wishes to accomplish, not just for the Israelites, but for all mankind. The Jewish Passover commemorates deliverance from slavery, and oppression by a cruel dictator. The Jewish Passover commemorates the deliverance through water from a kingdom of cruelty to a promised land of freedom. Year by year, as Jews celebrate and recount the past Exodus, they look forward to the coming of the Messiah, who will accomplish the definitive liberation. In the new Passover, the anointed Son of God will deliver His people from the bondage of sin, liberate them from the cruel dominion of the evil one, and bring them through the cleansing waters to the eternal life of God’s Kingdom. In this Kingdom they will no longer be slaves but sons.

When Jesus came to celebrate this particular Passover designated by the Father with his disciples – twelve men representing the 12 patriarchs of the new Israel – he knew everything prepared in Scripture was about to be accomplished. During the Last Supper Jesus recounts with his new family, the Church, the intimate details of that salvation: the love of the Holy Trinity, manifested by the Son coming into the world, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As the various courses of the sacred meal are celebrated, Jesus explains their full meaning as they are fulfilled now in himself. For instance, the bitter herbs dipped in salt water represent the profound sorrow and tears of Jesus as he hands the morsel to Judas who is about to betray him. But it is the other, more central elements of the meal that take on their full significance in the Last Supper. With each course, there is bread (unleavened) and of course a cup of wine, accompanying the rest of the dishes. A prayer of blessing and thanksgiving is prayed over the bread and wine as each new chapter of the story begins.

During the third and final course, when Jesus takes up the bread and wine to bless and distribute, he completes the old Passover and makes it a new one. There is no need for an actual lamb at the Last Supper of Jesus, because it is not the flesh of an animal his disciples will eat, nor is it the blood of an animal that will be put on the lintels. Jesus himself will be the Lamb. As he blessed the bread and distributes it to the apostles, he tells them “This is my flesh, take and eat.” Likewise with the wine, he tells them “This is the cup of my blood.” Jesus inaugurates a new covenant, to supplant that of Moses. Jesus offers a new sacrifice – himself – to replace the animals and lamb. And he tells the patriarchs of the new Israel to celebrate this new Passover in commemoration of the deliverance he will accomplish: “Do this in memory of me.”

What is presented and commemorated by means of the bread and wine on Holy Thursday, happens through the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the mystery of Easter Sunday. His death and resurrection bring about the new Passover of mankind, from sin to forgiveness, from slavery to sonship, from the dominion of Satan to the Kingdom of God, from death to life.

Let us then celebrate with joy, and remember with thanksgiving the Passover of Jesus, in which he becomes the Lamb whose Body gives us eternal life, whose Blood delivers us from death, and whose charity makes us brothers.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Ran Away Naked

March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday (B) (Mk 14-15)

In each of the four Gospels, the largest section is devoted to Holy Week. All the details of the Passion have been remembered and recounted, since the beginning of the Church’s proclamation, and recorded in the Gospels. 2000 years later we continue to remember and recount them, because in them is accomplished the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation.

These details include: the palms, donkey, alabaster jar, pieces of silver, bread and wine, kiss, blindfold, rooster, scourging, crowning, cross, nails, lots, sponge, spear, tomb, shroud… and many others.

But it is not just the instruments of the passion that stand out, it is the people. What is amazing as we listen to the Passion account is in the number of individuals who played important and essential roles, whose lives were intersected by the Passion of Christ and permanently changed. It was these very people who first recounted and proclaimed the details in the early church to all who would listen, and whose accounts eventually made it into the Gospels.

Simon the Leper and his household in Bethany – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the people who provided the donkey; the man carrying the water jar; the apostles; Simon of Cyrene and his sons Rufus and Alexander; the centurion; Joseph of Arimathea; his mother Mary and the numerous holy women; Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joses, Salome… We also recall some people remembered in the early church who were not recorded in any of the four Gospels, such as the woman who offered her veil to wipe Jesus’ face in the Way of the Cross. All of these and many other individuals were privileged to fulfill a role ordained by the Father, and share in the Passion of Christ. All of these individuals’ lives were defined and forever changed by the role they fulfilled.

And then there are the “bad guys.” Judas, of whom Jesus said it would have been better for him never to have been born; the high priest Caiaphas and members of his Sanhedrin; the false witnesses and guards who spat in his face; Pontius Pilate who three times declared Jesus innocent yet still had him brutally scourged and executed; Barabbas who should have been crucified instead of Jesus; thieves crucified with him, one saved and one not; the fickle crowd which called for his crucifixion; the brutal soldiers who took delight in his torture; the passersby who mocked or ignored his plight…

St. Mark (alone) tells of another individual: the young man in a loin cloth, who after the arrest followed Jesus to house of Caiaphas, but ran away naked when the guards tried to grab him (Mk 14:51-52). This unusual incident is likely referring to Mark himself, whose family provided the upper room, and whose home became the first parish church in Jerusalem following the Resurrection. He must have been awoken suddenly by the commotion of the arrest, without time to put his robe on.

It is a striking incident, that illustrates how the Passion catches us off guard and exposes us for who we are. Before the Cross of Christ we are naked, we cannot hide. And we are revealed as being either with him or against him; on the side of good, or evil.

Many who were criticized and looked down upon (Mary of Bethany with her alabaster jar of costly nard), some who were weak and even denied him (Peter of the cockcrow), were revealed by the Passion to be among the good. Others who were held in high veneration and respect (the high priest and elders), or even from among his trusted intimate friends (Judas), were revealed by the Passion to be devils. Many who on Palm Sunday hailed Jesus as Messiah with shouts of “Hosanna,” one week later were among those shouting, “Crucify him.”

The young man in the garden ran away naked into the night. Like Adam and Eve at the tree realizing they were naked (Gn 3:7-8), the Passion of Christ exposes our shame. Before the Cross we are confronted with our sin, our weakness, our fallen human condition. The Cross is indeed the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The Gospel of the Passion doesn’t just recount in detail what happened 2000 years ago. It helps us understand that our lives too, intersect the Passion of Christ today, and we too play a role, for better or worse, in the story of salvation. During this Holy Week, let us therefore recognize our lives – not as we want to be or think we are – but as the Passion reveals the vulnerable reality and truth. We wear nothing but a loin cloth, and even that is useless.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Twice Glorified

March 18, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent (B) (Jn 12:20-33)

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In the Gospel, Jesus is approaching the hour of his death: these words are spoken during Holy Week, following Palm Sunday when he has entered Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover.

“My heart is deeply troubled.” Jesus’ heart is troubled as he contemplates the Cross which awaits him, and this disturbance deepens with each passing day, culminating in the agony of the garden of Gethsemane the night before his passion. Jesus is facing that curse which the devil brought to bear upon mankind, and which we remembered on Ash Wednesday as we began this Lent: “Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

“Yet what shall I say?” We must all approach that hour, but how? The Lord proposes two ways of praying when confronting death.

“Father, save me from this hour.” The first approach is the normal human reaction, expressing the instinctive aversion we have for death. While death (bodily dissolution) is natural to the creatures of this world, death is not natural for man, who has a spiritual and immortal soul, and whose (spiritual) personhood exists in a (material) body. Death ruptures not only man’s personal being, it also ruptures his interpersonal relationships. It is a profound crisis of sorrow and grief, and therefore we resist it with all our power, and pray that it may be averted whenever possible. Jesus himself prayed like this in Gethsemane: “Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass me by…”

“Father glorify your name.” The second way of praying is the distinctly Christian approach. In Christ, and through his passion and death, death is no longer the curse of Adam, but rather the penance of redemption. It is reappropriated as an opportunity for sacrifice, for self-offering. Through death, one is able to offer oneself to the Father; one’s death becomes the culmination of a lifetime of loving service and sacrifice. Jesus teaches in the Lord’s Prayer to live our life always from this perspective of praise through self-giving: “Hallowed be thy name” and trusting obedience: “Thy will be done.” This is how Jesus ultimately prays both on this occasion, and a few days later in Gethsemane.

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Jesus reminds his followers that the purpose of this life is not this world or its glory, which comes to nothing at the time of death. Rather, we must think always beyond death, and seek the eternal life to come. Through his own death, he enables us to live for something beyond death.

“Where I am, there also will my servant be.” Life in this world is therefore a discipleship of Christ, for the honor of the Father. As Christ showed by his own personal example, our lives must be dedicated to charity, service, and self- sacrifice. This love is especially revealed in the moment of death, when our sacrifice becomes complete. St. Paul will later echo this teaching: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rm 14:8).

“Then a voice came from heaven.” In response to Jesus’ prayer – and his life – the Father speaks from heaven words of confirmation and approval, echoing the words He spoke at the Baptism and Transfiguration when He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

“I have glorified [my Name].” The Father affirms that He is glorified through Christ’s mortal life and his self-offering on the Cross. But it does not stop there, the Father will be twice glorified.

“I will glorify [my Name] again.” The Father proclaims a second glorification yet to come. This is a reference to the Resurrection. The full glory of Christ is found not only in the sacrifice of his “lifting up” on the Cross, but above all in the “lifting up” to the right hand of the Father in the Resurrection and Ascension.

Likewise for the followers of Christ, we give glory to God not only by how we live in this world, but especially by the way we will rise in the resurrection on the last day. On that day, the full glory of our life, hidden now in deeds known only to the Father, will be revealed as it shines forth in the flesh.

Little is said in the Scriptures regarding the resurrection of the dead, and exactly what we will be like in the new creation. All we know is what was revealed by Christ’s own Resurrection: it is truly our selfsame flesh that rises; it is no longer subject to suffering or death, or even to the current laws of nature; and it bears the wounds of this life as trophies, when those were accepted for the glory of God.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” Jesus provides an example from nature to hint at the glory of the resurrection. In order for a seed to come to its full glory, it must fall to the ground, die, and be buried. It must dissolve and return to the dust, and thus remain for a time. But then, through a miracle that is a marvel every time it happens, it will come forth again to a new and full realization. When we behold the wheat plant, or the bush with its flowers, or the great tree, we are in wonder and awe: how does this (plant, tree) come from that (tiny seed)? Only the death and decay of the seed reveals its full glory.

While in this life, we therefore need to pack that seed with as much spiritual good as possible, and pay little or no attention to material good. Death will end any material gain we achieved in this world, but death will unleash the spiritual good we accomplished. Death is by no means the end of our life, if we lived for God.

The Father is thus glorified when we live good and holy lives in this world, but He will be doubly glorified when we rise. It is above all on the day of resurrection that the Father will reap the full glory of our lives. On the day of resurrection we too will behold the full meaning of our lives, and those of others, as we behold their glory visibly manifested in the flesh. On that day will wonder and marvel, how did this come from that?

“Now is the time of judgment.” It is not just the glory of the just that is sealed by death, but also the corruption of the condemned. Those who die cut off from grace will also rise on the last day, but not to glory. Instead, the monstrosity of their evil will be manifested in the flesh: deformed, ugly, corrupt.

“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.” Where Christ goes, his servants will follow. Christ shows the path to glory by undertaking it first himself, on our behalf. Everything he does is for us. Christ gives us today the distinctive Christian attitude we must have toward death. On a natural level yes we still experience the same repugnance and grief as all mankind; but through the grace of Christ we nevertheless accept and embrace this curse as a penance, trampling it underfoot (1 Cor 15:25-26), that through it we may attain the glory of God, and our own glory.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Serpent on the Pole

March 11, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent (Jn 3:14-21; Eph 2:4-10)

John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him might not die, but have eternal life.” It is a beautiful verse that speaks of salvation, and explains the reason why God became man in the Incarnation: “God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is echoed in the Creed: “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven…”

God does not desire man’s condemnation. Instead, the coming of God’s Son is to pay the price of sin, to “show the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).

But even though God did not send His Son to condemn the world, many are condemned through the Son, not because God is not “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), but because they refuse to acknowledge their sins and repent, remaining instead in darkness (Jn 3:19-20). God has won salvation for man in Christ, but salvation is not automatic applied. One thing more is necessary, and this is repentance. God does not “force” salvation on man, it must be accepted, and this is the role of faith.

St. John explains that the one who “believes in him” will not perish but have eternal life. This faith in Christ involves “work” (cf. Jn 6:29), and the work is repentance from sin, living in grace, living in the light in such a way that one’s “deeds may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn 3:21).

Salvation is therefore not easy or to be taken for granted. On God’s part it involves the incredible work of Christ’s Passion and death. On man’s part it involves the ongoing spiritual work of faith which is repentance.

Jesus illustrates the meaning of salvation by calling to mind an incident in the time of Moses: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14-15). The serpent in the desert prefigures Christ on the Cross. It is through the Cross that God accomplishes the world’s salvation, it is throught the Cross that man attains the grace of repentance and eternal life.

When God delivered Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea, He brought them into the desert for forty years, during which time he trained and formed the people to be a holy nation governed by His law. God provided food and water as needed (manna, quail, water from the rock), and established the covenant of the Ten Commandments through Moses at Mt. Sinai.

But life in the desert – and God’s demands – were not easy, so the people rebelled. They grumbled and complained, cursing the “wretched food” of the manna. They rejected God and Moses, and intended to return to Egypt. This rebellion was like the disobedience of Adam all over again. God therefore sent “fiery serpents” to bite them, resulting in many deaths (Nm 21:6).

The people, realizing their sin, asked Moses to intercede with God. For their healing, God did something strange and unique. He ordered Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole before the people, so that “seeing it, they shall live” (Nm 21:8). By looking upon the serpent on the pole, the people were able to recognize and accept their sinfulness. They were being confronted with their sin, and moved to true repentance. Only by acknowledging their sin in this way, could they be healed.

Jesus explains his own Passion – and the world’s salvation – by means of this incident: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent [on a pole] in the desert, [so that everyone who looked upon it may live,] so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on the Cross], so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. This “looking upon” Jesus on the Cross is faith. In John’s Gospel, faith is sight, “seeing is believing,” and “believing is seeing” (cf. Jn 9:35-41; 20:29). To look upon the Son lifted on the Cross, is to understand the reality and price of sin. St. Thomas the Apostle has this profound experience of faith in Christ when he is able to touch the wounds of the Passion (Jn 20:24-29). Grace and Mercy, Salvation, flow from the Cross, because the Cross kindles repentance. Without the Passion, the “serpent on the pole,” we are not yet fully confronted with the gravity of sin.

Several years ago Mel Gibson directed the movie The Passion of the Christ. Many were critical of the movie because of its violence and the gruesome ugliness that was depicted. The Passion of Christ is ugly. Sin is ugly. This movie sought to confront the world with its sin, so as to provide it the opportunity of faith and repentance. It sought to accomplish in its medium, what the Church elsewhere seeks to accomplish through the devotional medium of the crucifix. Whether through film, devotional crucifix, forensic analysis of the Shroud of Turin, Stations of the Cross, Palm Sunday recitation of the Passion, Good Friday veneration of the Cross, or Old Testament bronze serpent on a pole, man must be confronted by his sin. This is the fundamental purpose of each of the four Gospels, which is why they devote such a large proportion of their chapters to the Passion. Man must recognize the price of sin, and through recognition of the Son of God who dies on the Cross, accept the gift of salvation via sincere and humble repentance.

It is the practice of Lent to go to confession. Confession may be called the “Sacrament of the Cross,” because we directly confront our sins in the light of the Cross, and bring our sins into the open to be washed by the Blood of Christ who died on the Cross. The Sacrament of Penance is the only one which is typically celebrated by the Church on Good Friday. This is fundamentally appropriate. At some time during Lent, we should make a good confession of our sins, and deepen the original repentance of Baptism. In this way we increase our faith, and ensure that our deeds are continually exposed to the Light, and that we are living “according to the truth, walking in the light” (cf. 1Jn 1:6-10).

Rev. Glen Mullan

What is Zeal?

March 4, 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent (B) (Jn 2:13-25)

Jesus had a special zeal for the Temple, as evidenced by the incident when he was twelve (Lk 2:41-50), and by his efforts to expel the marketplace from the Temple precincts in today’s Gospel. The Bible often speaks of the love and zeal Jews had for the Temple in Jerusalem, for example Psalm 69:9 which is quoted in the Gospel, and Psalm 84. Zeal is the eagerness and enthusiasm of love. Zeal must avoid the extremes of fanaticism (which violates the rights of others) and sloth (joyless inaction). We need to have zeal only for that which is truly important.

Like Jesus, this means having “zeal for God’s house,” manifested in the way we take care of the parish church. Even more than the Temple, because of the Eucharist, this church is the dwelling of God, and our love for God draws us to this place. Zeal for God is manifested by parishioners in the way they: 1) keep it clean, 2) perform repairs when there are problems, 3) adequately fund the needs of the parish through stewardship.

Our zeal for God’s House is also shown in the way we comport ourselves within the church. A Catholic Church is completely unlike any other building, auditorium, or concert hall. And even though we respect the churches of other non-Catholics, they too are completely different from a Catholic church, due to the Eucharist within the Tabernacle.

The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, and later this year (August) when we hear the readings from John 6 we will reflect more on what this “Living Bread” is “which comes down from heaven” every time we celebrate Mass. The Eucharist is the reason Catholics have a special reverence and zeal for their churches. The marks of this Zeal include:

-Genuflecting. When we enter, before we leave, and any time we pass before the tabernacle, we acknowledge the presence of the Lord and bow our right knee to the ground. We do not do this for anyone else, it shows our zeal for the Lord. Even when we happen to pass a Catholic Church on the road, we should acknowledge the presence of the Lord by a sign of reverence, such as making the sign of the cross.

-Dress. We dress respectfully for the house of God, in our good festive attire that is dignified and appropriate to the formal occasion of the liturgy.

-Quiet. Jesus says the Temple is a “House of Prayer” (Mt 21:13). We are zealous in observing the silence in church necessary for prayer, by avoiding any casual conversations in church, putting away phones (unless we are using them for prayer), and avoiding any loud or distracting behaviour. We don’t run or “horse around” in church. Children need to be taught how to sit still in the pew, and not play with or damage the hymnals.

-Training little ones. This is a special challenge for parents who have small children. But it is important that even they learn from a very young age what it means to be in God’s house, and how to be still. I recommend that parents not utilize the “cry room” with small toddlers, since it is the worst place for them to learn about silence. Instead, they should be with their parents and everyone else in the nave, until they start to cry or become distracting. At that point they need to be taken to the cry room, the narthex, or outside until they calm down. Parents may have to get up and take their child out several times if necessary, so that they are not distracting others from the liturgy. It may be difficult for a couple months, but the effort will have good results when the child comes to understand how the special silence of church fosters true prayer.

-Food, Drink, Gum. The Eucharist is “Bread from Heaven.” Jesus gives us spiritual food and drink in his Body and Blood. Our Zeal for God’s House and this special food requires that no ordinary food be consumed or even brought in to the church (exception: baby formula). This applies in a special way to chewing gum, which is candy, and which is actually being physically “eaten” in a most distracting and obvious way. No gum in church! Zeal for the Eucharist requires that we forego earthly food and drink even an hour before coming to Mass.

-Participation. We must participate in the liturgical action (prayers, hymns) with eagerness and enthusiasm, and listen to the readings attentively.

-Timeliness. Don’t arrive late, or leave early. Zeal for the house of God requires that we participate fully in the Mass, from beginning to end.

In all these ways, we show zeal and love for the House of God, for the Lord. They may seem like small or unimportant things, but when we understand that zeal is “love in action,” we see that they are indeed very important. Many at the time of Jesus didn’t think twice about having the animal exchange conveniently located within the Temple precincts, until Jesus showed them it was wrong.

The example of Jesus shows one more important characteristic of zeal. Not only must we personally have love and respect for God’s house and the Eucharist, we must also collectively ensure that God’s house and the Eucharist are respected. When something is out of order or inappropriate, or when someone accidentally or intentionally violates the dignity of the church, it must be addressed.

In a prudent, charitable, respectful way, zeal requires that we act. With regard to building maintenance issues, this means notifying the office, and being prepared personally to volunteer some time or provide financial assistance as necessary. (Sometimes people simply complain about things and expect others to fix the problems, yet do nothing on their part to assist).

With regard to inappropriate or disrespectful behavior on the part of others, it is more delicate. It is first of all the responsibility of parents to teach and discipline their children. (Parents shouldn’t have to be told by others their children are out of line.) Unfortunately, sometimes it is the adults themselves whose behavior is disrespectful, and this makes it embarrassing to have to confront them. But it must be done, either by you when you are sitting next to them, or if you feel uncomfortable, inform an usher, or the priest, depending on how serious the issue is.

The reason we sometimes avoid saying anything, is because we fear the person is going to react negatively: “who are you to tell me what to do?” But zeal needs to be greater than fear. This is exactly how the Pharisees responded when Jesus confronted the marketplace in the Temple: “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” It didn’t prevent Jesus from acting, but it showed the pride and hardness of heart in his enemies. If someone – especially the priest – calls to your attention a problem that needs to be addressed, don’t get huffy or upset, be humble and grateful for the correction.

When it comes to confronting others, here is where the balance of true zeal is very important. Zeal acknowledges both the dignity and reverence for the House of God, and the dignity and reverence for the neighbor who may not understand, or may be a visitor. We don’t want to be so fanatical about reverence that we unnecessarily insult someone; nor do we want to be so slothful that we allow the serious issues outlined above to slide, encouraging irreverent informality and disrespect.

Among all the various things that may need to be addressed, one stands out as paramount. If the Eucharist is in danger of being desecrated, zeal must move us to act immediately. For instance, if you ever observe someone bringing the Sacred Host back to the pew, or taking it out of the mouth, immediately request the Host from the person and bring it back to the priest at the sanctuary; or immediately go up to the priest and inform him of the situation, even if he is still distributing Communion.

The Gospel says, “Zeal for the house of God consumed” Jesus. We too must have zeal for God’s House, for the Lord, for the parish, for the Holy Eucharist.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Majestic Glory

February 25, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent (B) (Mk 9:2-10)

The Transfiguration is an important turning point in the public ministry of Jesus. It marks the beginning of his final 40-day (1) journey to Jerusalem. In all the time Jesus dwelt on earth, his divinity remained concealed in his humanity. Only by means of his miracles and authority over spiritual forces did people question, “Who is this?” “How can this man act with the very power of God?” The one exception occurred in the Transfiguration, when he showed himself to the three “pillar” apostles on the top of the holy mountain.

There, what was invisible became visible, what was hidden showed forth: they beheld his divine glory, shining through his humanity. The Gospel tells us his face, skin, and clothes became brilliant with the “majestic glory” (2P 1:17), like lighting, brighter than any conceivable whiteness on earth. (2)

This experience was not to last long, even though Peter wished to remain there forever. The reason Jesus revealed himself in this way was to strengthen and prepare them for what was to come. Forty days later, the same three apostles would again see Jesus “transfigured” in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary; not by the majestic glory of God, but by the extremity of human suffering.

The Transfiguration was given to these apostles because their testimony would be the foundation of the early Church. In the Transfiguration is a vision and assurance of the Resurrection to come. It is through his passion that Jesus will attain to his resurrection; it is through the cross that the Church too, will attain its glory, and every disciple. While we are on the journey, the vision of the Transfiguration strengthens and prepares us. Jesus gives every disciples something of the Transfiguration, according to their particular role in the Church and the crosses they will have to carry.

The grace of the Transfiguration is made available to us in the sacraments, and especially the Mass. We should understand the Mass as a mini Transfiguration, where the divinity of Christ is manifested through the ordinary, and where transforming grace is given in our lives. We attend Mass not simply out of a sense of duty, but in response to the invitation of the Lord, who invites us to be with him for a time, and share in the intimacy of the Trinitarian Communion. The Mass is a privileged time, “it is good to be here.” As the apostles discovered, it requires effort to “climb the mountain,” leave the world behind, and truly come away from our regular lives for this hour each week. But if we respond generously to this invitation of the Lord, he will bless us with the incredible privilege of knowing him more fully as the beloved eternal Son of the Father, enveloped in the blinding and overshadowing glory of the Holy Spirit.

There are two important elements from the Transfiguration, that are also echoed in every Mass. The first is the conversation which takes place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Moses and Elijah are the central figures of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. The Scripture readings at Mass from the Old Testament and Gospels/New Testament are not simply recitations. They are interconnected; a living conversation between Jesus the Messiah and the ancient prophets who first spoke of him. At Mass we are “privy” to some part of the intimate conversation of Jesus in which God’s eternal divine plan for man is discussed and revealed.

The second aspect of the Transfiguration echoed at the Mass is the lifting of the veil (i.e. revelation) on the divine reality. Like Christ himself, of whom they are the Sign in the Church, the Sacraments conceal divine reality in sensible form. In the Incarnation, God became Man, but the divinity remained concealed by the humanity, so that people only perceived Christ as a completely ordinary man. In the Sacrament, such as the transubstantiation which takes place in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, but the Real Presence of Jesus remains concealed by the material elements, so that people only perceive the Eucharist as ordinary bread and wine. Just as the truth of his divinity was fully and plainly revealed to the Apostles on the mountain, the reality of Christ’s divinity and resurrection is revealed to his devout followers in the Mass according to his will and their need.

Presumably, no one will have a Transfiguration experience of the degree and intensity as the one recounted in the Gospels, but we should have no doubt that every Christian who sincerely takes up his discipleship of the Lord, will experience from Christ the mystery of the Transfiguration in the Mass, to some degree, to the degree that is needed for his strengthening in faith. Each of us will have our Cross to carry, our Gethsemane to endure. Each of us will therefore also be given the Transfiguration as preparation.

During these 40 days of Lent, let us too go with the Lord to Jerusalem in the way of the Cross. But let go strengthened by the vision of Christ revealed in the Mass, a vision of resurrection to come, ancient promises fulfilled.

(1) According to tradition.

(2) When Moses went up the mountain in the time of Exodus, he had a similar encounter with the overshadowing glory of God, to the degree that when he returned to the people this glory of God was still shining on his face, which had to be veiled (Ex 34:35). The Transfiguration now “completes” for Moses (and Elijah) what had begun on Mt. Sinai, since Jesus is now revealed as the fullness of God’s truth, the one about whom they wrote in the Scriptures.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Wild Beasts

February 18, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent (B) (Mk 1:12-15)

When St. Matthew and St. Luke describe the Temptation of the Lord in the Desert they list the three temptations of the devil. However, St. Mark is very brief and only speaks of Jesus being among “wild beasts” for 40 days. Psalm 91, which was prayed by Jesus in the temptation, refers to them: “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (Ps 91:13).

The Bible documents many instances of travelers being attacked and mauled by lions and bears (1K 13:24-26, 2K 2:23-25), and brave shepherds having to protect themselves from the wild beasts which were prevalent in the area at the time of the Bible (Jdg 14:6, 1 Sm 17:34-36).

In the wilderness, Jesus subdues the wild beasts, they do not harm him. Though not explicitly stated, it is likely that Jesus restores the wild beasts to the “dominion” of man which they originally had in the Garden of Eden, before sin introduced disharmony and hostility into nature (Gn 1:28-30, 2:18-20).

In the wilderness, Jesus is confronting nature as it has been distorted by the devil, and restoring it to its original order. There is no disorder within him, but rather he finds disorder around him. Our 40 day Lent, on the other hand, does not require us to go out to a wilderness area where there are rattlesnakes, coyotes, and bobcats. Our desert is our own soul, and it is there that we already dwell among wild beasts. There are many hostile, out-of-control, destructive forces within us that are continually stirred up by the devil and used to harm us.

These “wild beasts” are easily recognized in the Capital Sins. They are monsters in our human nature, powerful and disturbing, leading to destructive behaviors, causing discord instead of harmony, disorder instead of order, slavery instead of dominion.

Anger/Wrath – hot temper, impatience, cursing, road rage

Lust – inability to control sexual appetite, disordered sexual needs, addiction to pornography, same-sex attraction

Greed/Avarice – compulsive stealing, cheating, desire for money, gambling addiction, uncontrolled spending, inability to manage finances

Gluttony – uncontrolled eating, alcoholism, drug addiction Envy – hatred and resentment of others, inability to forgive

The wild beasts are not sin yet. They are temptation, which attacks us and leads to sin. Our spiritual battle is not to let these beasts conquer us (sin), but to conquer and “tame” them as Jesus did, in the process banishing the evil one who works through them.

Lent is a sacred time of grace for confronting our disordered nature, with spiritual weapons deriving from Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness. A Christian must not avoid, ignore, or deny these problems lurking in his soul, shirking the duty to do something about them. Like David slaying Goliath through the skills of a shepherd (1Sm 17:34-36), or like Samson killing the Lion through the strength of his Nazirite consecration to God (Jdg 14:6), Christians must learn how to wield the spiritual weapons given by the Lord, and take up the “spiritual campaign” proclaimed in the opening prayer of Ash Wednesday.

1) Prayer. We cannot fight the beasts by our strength. We depend on God’s grace. Once we have identified the wild beast(s) we will be tackling during Lent, daily prayer has to be brought to bear on the situation. We have to be constantly alert to the activity of that beast: how it arises, what aggravates it, what calms it, where our weaknesses are. Each morning we must talk to God and ask for the insights and specific graces to resist and fight that temptation. Throughout the day we must call upon the Lord, and in the evening we must give a report on the successes or failures.

There may be a particular spiritual regimen of prayer and devotion that is needed: certain psalms, for instance, daily Rosary, and more frequent confession. Highly recommended is praying with others so that we do not fight alone. God sent Jesus angels in the wilderness which “ministered to him.” God likewise sends us angels, some invisible, but others the good people in our lives. Families should pray together, with parents helping to guide and direct their children’s spiritual battles. There is strength in numbers, and in being open with each other about the areas we need help in, or are out of control.

2) Fasting. The wild beasts are forces of our human nature: desires and appetites. They can be very powerful, demanding to the point of compelling us, and if they are out of control they become very destructive. They have to be disciplined and brought under control, and the way to do that is by means of well- placed fasting. The beast must be denied or curbed at the point where it bites. A wild horse needs a bridle and bit, and a strong rope so that it can be tied down and forced to walk only where the master leads it, no matter how much it bucks and fights. Whatever is feeding, causing, or triggering our addictions and compulsions must be cut off. Lent is a time for this self-denial, sacrifice, “giving up” the things that are leading to the harmful and disordered behaviors.

Fasting is not the same as repressing. Repression is the vain effort to subdue the beast by containing its power. This will only end in a resurgence of the beast’s force. The goal is not to suppress, but to tame the beast, bringing it under the dominion of will and reason, so that it’s power is in service of God and fellow man. Thus, for instance, when fasting from the disordered compulsion to overeat, the goal is not to prevent the eating appetite, but rather to expose and “be with” the particular uncomfortable feeling within the soul that we try to placate through the eating. Every compulsion is a sinful “indulging of the flesh,” the attempt to satisfy a spiritual hunger in a physical way. We have to understand what that spiritual “hunger” is which is underlying the disordered behavior, and bring that to the Lord who can truly heal, instead of finding a cheap but false solution that only relieves surface symptoms without doing anything to help the real problem. When Jesus fasts and becomes hungry, the devil urges him to satisfy that hunger with rocks, false bread, “cheating.” Jesus tells him man’s true bread is God’s word. Jesus shows us how fasting brings us to the crossroads where we can choose integrity, truly nourishing our soul, instead of trying to placate the beast by feeding it.

3) Almsgiving. This is the final important weapon, and without it all other efforts will fail. All of the disorder and “wildness” which have turned our human dignity into “beastliness” has resulted from selfishness. Every one of our problems goes back to the first capital sin, Pride, whereby we made ourselves our own end. Through narcissistic pride we are turned in on self. That is why we indulge the flesh, grab, take, and run roughshod over the rights of others, bringing pain and suffering to everyone around us. We are selfish.

We will restore order and harmony to nature and society (and our soul) when we put others first. Appetite for food and drink is directed to the good of the body and well-being of those celebrating a meal. Sexual appetite serves the marriage covenant and is directed to the growth of the family. Money is a servant which provides for the needs of one’s household as well as the parish and larger community. In all cases, the focus and goal must be charity, the goal is others, and the discover of our own well-being in the common good of others.

During 40 days Jesus dwelt with wild beasts in the wilderness, tempted by the devil, while angels ministered to him. We know the end result: devil defeated, wild beasts tamed, human nature manifested in its full glory, all faculties in the harmony of grace, ordered to service.

“Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” (Collect, Ash Wednesday).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Reconciliation

February 11, 2018

6th Sunday In Ordinary Time (B) (Lv 13; Mk 1:40-45)

In his early public ministry, Jesus became famous throughout the region of Galilee for his teaching and miracles, to the point (as we heard in today’s Gospel) that he couldn’t enter the towns due to the crowding that would result from people flocking to him. Instead, he remained in deserted places outside the villages, and people came to him there. And among the healing miracles for which he became famous, one in particular stood out: the healing of leprosy.

Leprosy, as described in the first reading (Lv 13), is a corrupting infectious disease on the body (“sore, scab, pustule, blotch). It includes Hanson’s Disease which is commonly called leprosy, but is actually a broader category of illnesses. Other diseases from history that would qualify biblically include Bubonic Plague, Smallpox, Ebola, and possibly AIDS. In all cases, “Leprosy” is contagious and requires quarantine in order to protect the community.

The Law of Moses (Lv 13) sets forth the exact procedures to be followed when someone needs to be quarantined due to an untreatable infectious disease. They must live apart from the community, and they must warn any passersby (“Unclean! Unclean!”) not to come too close. Should their condition improve, in order to be readmitted to the community they must be placed under observation for a time and inspected by the priests. Formal readmission includes ceremonial offering of sacrifice.

Thus leprosy involves a two-fold suffering for the one afflicted: a physical suffering in the body, and the pain of being isolated from family and friends, exiled from the community, unable to work or worship with the congregation.

There is poignancy in the statement of the leper to Jesus: “If you will, you can make me clean.” He knows Jesus can heal the sick (as happened in last Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law who had a fever), but can he heal a leper? The answer, “Yes, I do will it.”

It is a momentous event, because Jesus comes up to the boundary of the law which is established through Moses for the protection, holiness, and wellness of the people, and goes right through. Jesus “stretches out his hand and touches him.” He violates the quarantine. But is he violating the law? The law is there to protect someone from being infected. Jesus is not infected. Jesus cannot be infected by illness, which is a consequence of the Fall, since he is Life, he is Grace. As demons must flee before the Light, so illness must evaporate before Strength, and uncleanness must vanish before the Holy One.

Jesus doesn’t undermine the Law, he removes that which required the protective law to begin with. In proof of which, he requires the leper to observe the other requirements, to “go to the priest and present yourself for examination.”

All illness is a consequence of sin – Original Sin – and exists because man’s nature lacks the original Grace which would have prevented illness from gaining the upper hand over the body. Illness therefore serves a purpose in the ministry of Jesus, since it can illustrate (physically and graphically) the nature of sin (which is spiritual and invisible). Illness is a symbol for sin, and the healing miracles of Jesus serve the greater purpose of his coming, which is to heal man of sin and its devastating consequences in the soul.

If one could “see” the soul and the effects of sin in the soul, it would look like leprosy: ugly infected sores and pustules that corrupt and stink. And kill. A mortal sin “kills” the divine life of grace in the soul, and brings “eternal death” to the soul.

Of all the various kinds of illness and disease, the best one for illustrating the nature of sin – and the purpose of Jesus’ coming – is leprosy. This is because of the two-fold suffering caused by leprosy: the physical suffering and corruption in the body, and the social suffering of isolation and exile. Sin also has this two-fold effect on the individual: the corruption of the soul, and alienation from others.

Sin corrupts not only individuals, but relationships. Sin harms not only the sinner, but the whole body of the community. St. Paul will later teach that we are members of the one Body, and if one part of the suffers the whole Body suffers (1 Cor 12). In other words, sin is infectious, and in more serious cases requires “quarantine.” A thief or murderer must be put in prison or permanently removed as necessary (executed, “amputated” from the body) for the spiritual and social well-being of the community. A heretic or one who otherwise corrupts or seriously undermines the common good of the Church must be excommunicated.

But even before the community may have to formally act and “quarantine” the sinner, the sinner by his sin already removes and isolates himself from others, from “communion.” If we have done something unjust against another, we have created a barrier in that relationship that has placed a “distance” between us. When we are guilty of mortal sin, we cannot approach to receive Holy Communion at Mass. Not because we shouldn’t, but because our sin is already an alienation that has cut us off, so that even if we violate the precept and receive the Eucharist anyway while in a state of sin, we only thereby commit sacrilege, adding further sin and condemnation.

Leprosy, then, is a graphic illustration of the problem of sin. And it is precisely this situation of man that Jesus wills to overcome.

It is in the sacrament of Penance (Confession) that Jesus heals the sinner by touching the infection, and cures spiritual leprosy. And it is important to realize that by means of this sacrament Jesus accomplishes the two-fold healing necessary in the case of leprosy: the cleansing of the individual from his corruption (sin, uncleanness), and the restoration of the individual to the congregation. It is no coincidence that this healing by our Lord requires the ministry of priests, and a formal act. It mirrors the process by which the leper is fully healed.

The first part of the healing, by which the individual is made clean, is called “absolution” or more commonly the “forgiveness of sin.” Jesus wipes away the offense and restores the penitent to his baptismal purity. Confession makes us “clean” again. The second part of the healing, by which the individual is restored to others, beginning with God Himself, and through God with his neighbor, is called “reconciliation.” It is important to realize then, that the Sacrament of Penance, which is one of the two “healing sacraments,” (1) is ultimately a sacrament for the healing of the whole Mystical Body, in addition to the particular member of that Body. By reconciling the penitent to God and his fellow man, the Church itself is being healed, the relationships are being restored, the alienation is being overcome. By means of the sacramental absolution, the sinner is restored to “Holy Communion.”

As with the Law of Moses, the priests of the Church continue to be the ones who preside over this readmission to the community, and it is in this spirit that we are to understand the penance assigned by the priest. The penance given should have reference to the reconciliation that needs to be achieved (on a human level) in the penitent’s life. Did he steal? He must make return. Did he lie? He must go tell the truth. Is it his family members he offended? It is them he must now serve, pray for, and do good toward.

Jesus said elsewhere, “If you come to the altar to offer your gift and there remember that your brother has anything against you, go first to your brother and be reconciled, and then come offer your sacrifice” (Mt 5:23-24). To be fully a member of the congregation, of the People of God who offer sacrifice, one must be forgiven and reconciled, healed of leprosy.

This, then, is the famous healing miracle of Jesus, given in the Gospel for our benefit as the Church continues the healing work of Jesus today, a healing which is accomplished above all through the great Sacrament of Penance.

(1) The other being Anointing of the Sick.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Christ Our Light

February 4, 2018

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) (Mk 1:29-39)

Two days ago was the Feast of the Presentation, the day on which we blessed all the candles for the parish during the upcoming year. These include the altar candles, sanctuary lamps, congregation candles, as well as the votive candles used on feast days and in personal devotion. (1) Like the cross, candles are an important Christian symbol, representing Christ who is the “light of the world” as well as the grace he brings. (2)

This feastday, occurring 40 days from Christmas, corresponds with the first Sundays of Ordinary Time in which the early ministry of Jesus is outlined in the Gospels. Jesus comes as a “light” to the world, and he deliberately establishes his public ministry in the region which has “fallen into darkness.” Jesus, the Messiah, who hails from King David’s tribe of Judah (in the south), does not reveal the Kingdom of God in the Holy City Jerusalem until the very end. Instead, he spends almost all of his public ministry in the north, in Galilee, establishing the Kingdom of God in the territory of the lost tribes of Israel. St. Matthew, quoting a prophecy of Isaiah, explains why this is the case:

“[After his baptism at the river Jordan, near Jericho,] when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee [in the north]; and leaving Nazareth [where he had grown up] he went and dwelt in [the fishing village of] Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of [the lost tribes of] Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah [Is 9:1-2] might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, toward the sea across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned’” (Mt 4:12-16).

Jesus established his headquarters in Capernaum, the village of Simon Peter and Andrew, and stayed in the house of Simon. (3) However, he was not there much, as St. Mark explains. Jesus was constantly on the move, travelling to all the towns and villages throughout the region, and often seeking out desolate places to pray.

Jesus had a mission, and this was to gather the lost tribes of Israel into the Kingdom of God (Mt 15:24, 10:5-6), bringing light to a region that had fallen into darkness. There are several important ways Jesus is the Light.

Wherever Jesus went, he would teach, or preach (Mk 1:39). Ignorance is a darkness, a blindness. The proclamation of the Gospel reveals God, explains man’s situation, and the manner of his salvation. Christ is the Light because he shows the way to eternal life: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6).

Wherever Jesus went, he would expel demons. We saw this last Sunday (Mk 1:23-27), and again in the Gospel today (Mk 1:34,39). Jesus confronts the “prince of darkness” in the land which he has overshadowed with death, overthrowing his dominion and establishing the Kingdom of God.

And wherever Jesus went, he would heal, bringing graces to restore the damage inflicted by evil on human nature. In today’s Gospel he heals Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1:30-31).

The Church now continues the work of Christ. Her mission is to the lost tribes of all mankind, seeking them out and gathering all nations to the Kingdom of God. It is not just the northern tribes of Israel that have fallen into darkness. Since the time of Noah and Babel, all the nations of the world have fallen under the dominion of evil. Like Christ, the Church brings light to all mankind through the Gospel, the authority of the Sacraments, and the healing ministry of service to the afflicted.

To complete the Feast of the Presentation (February 2nd) in which Christ our Light is acknowledged, the Church therefore unleashes his healing graces through the “Blessing of Throats” (February 3rd). St. Blase has the honor of hosting this blessing, (4) but its true significance is found in its use of candles blessed the previous day. As Christ the Light was revealed in Galilee through miracles of healing, so the Church’s preaching of the Gospel continues to be accompanied by graces which overcome illness. (5)

(1) The Paschal Candle (Easter Candle), which is the most important of all the liturgical candles, is solemnly blessed by itself during the Easter Vigil.

(2) As with all things sacred and liturgical, we avoid artificial or cheap materials, and use only the best nature has to offer. We therefore do not use synthetic petroleum-based candles in church, such as are sold in the local grocery store. We use candles made from beeswax.

(3) Capernaum, abandoned some centuries after Christ following a devastating earthquake, has been rediscovered in the past century and today is an archaeological park in the care of the Franciscans. Amazingly, the entire village with its original footprint of buildings is preserved. One can sit in the very synagogue mentioned in today’s Gospel, and visit Simon Peter’s house, which was converted into a church by the first Christians.

(4) ” Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may Almighty God deliver you from every disease of the throat and every other illness, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

(5) And as a reminder in this age where the roles of laity and clergy often become confused or blurred…. While laity can, under extraordinary circumstances of necessity, assist the clergy in the distribution of Holy Communion; and while laity can always offer intercessory prayer (“May God bless us…”); in no way can laity impart ecclesial blessings. The non-ordained can never give the blessing of throats, for instance.

 Rev. Glen Mullan

Casting Out Demons

January 28, 2018

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) (Mk 1:21-28)

As he begins his new teaching with new authority, Jesus also performs the first exorcism of his public ministry, in the Synagogue at Capernaum. Exorcism, or the casting out of demons, continues to be a fundamental work of the Church, which possesses the voice and authority of Christ.

There is a tendency to explain away demonic activity by reducing it to psychological or mental issues, but this is a mistake. Even when there may be psychological issues involved in a person’s struggle, there is always a spiritual aspect to the struggle mixed in. Demons seek out and take advantage of man’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, including those that affect his mental and emotional life. For instance, an addiction is always on some level a spiritual problem, a bondage to sinful or destructive behavior that is healed only through faith, forgiveness, and redemption, i.e., exorcism of the demonic exploitation of one’s weakness.

Among the Church’s liturgical rites is the formal ritual of exorcism, necessary in certain serious cases where the Church must intervene more formally through the bishop in expelling demons who have taken possession of a child of God. But apart from the these situations which are more exceptional, exorcism is a regular and ordinary part of the Church’s daily work.

Demons exist, and Christian life is a constant spiritual warfare. A battle for dominion is underway, as the Church in Christ’s name, claims mankind back from darkness for God. Every Christian becomes a foot soldier in this battle against “principalities and powers and world rulers of the present darkness” (Eph 6:12).

We should be aware of the means to fight this battle which are given to us by God, which St. Paul calls the “armor of God” (Eph 6:10-20). Above all, when experiencing demonic attacks or the power of evil, we resort to prayer. It is impossible to overcome demons by human skill or effort. It is only through God’s power and authority, invoked in prayer and supplication, that we achieve victory.

First among the prayers is the one given us by Christ – the Lord’s Prayer – which invokes God’s holy name, the establishment of His dominion on earth “as it is in heaven,” and the formal petition for deliverance from evil, i.e., from the evil one. Another important prayer to use specifically with regard to demons, which we may not think about, is the Creed. St. Paul says faith is our shield (Eph 6:16), it resists and pushes back against demons. If faith is our shield, then Scripture is our sword (Eph 6:17), especially the Psalms. Among the Psalms, number 91 stands out because it was the one used by Jesus himself when attacked by the devil in the desert (Mt 4:6). The Church gives us a the special Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel to invoke the power of God’ heavenly hosts against demons (cf. Rv 12). Another beautiful prayer from our tradition is the Breastplate (“Lorica”) of St. Patrick, who evangelized Ireland by casting out the snakes.

Besides prayer, we need devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. God has put enmity between her and the evil one (Gn 3:15), which cannot touch her in any way. This protection extends to her children (Rv 12:17), who suffer attack. It is she who will help crush the head of the serpent through her Son. In the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, we must stay close to her, and invoke her intercession, through the Hail Mary, the Rosary, and devotional consecration.

From the moment the Cross of Christ was rediscovered in 325 A.D., it has also become a powerful tool in the fight against evil, since it is the instrument of the devil’s destruction. Wherever the crucifix is displayed, the dominion and authority of Christ is asserted.

To all these methods, we can add blessing with holy water. Holy water, consecrated in a special way by the Cross of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, has an efficacious cleansing power with regard to evil. And this is because it derives from one of the Sacraments, which are the most important means of expelling evil.

Holy Water derives its power from the sacrament of baptism. Blessings with Holy Water invoke and renew the grace of Baptism, which washed away sin, and restored new life. Holy Water echoes both the waters of the Red Sea which drowned the (demonic) army of Pharoah, and the River of Life which flows from Christ’s side into the desert of all the world, bringing spiritual fruits and medicines (Ez 47:7-12). Baptism, which begins with an exorcism, a spiritual breastplate anointing, and a renunciation of the kingdom of darkness, washes away sin completely and is the first way the Church casts out demons and destroys their power.

Confirmation continues this work in a powerful way, by imprinting into the soul indelibly, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the “Seal of God” which is the image of Christ. Confirmation gives the Christian God’s name and God’s authority, which is the authority of His Son. Unless a Christian compromises or corrupts that character and stature of Christ in him, his soul has become a formidable fortress against demonic attack (cf. Rv 9:1-4).

In the Sacrament of Confession (Penance), it is not only sins which are absolved, but the demons which are banished. All their work and effort, and all darkness, is instantaneously overcome, in the way that flipping a light switch instantaneously fills a dark room with light.

Finally, the sacrament of the Eucharist banishes demons, who cannot endure the Real Presence of the Lord. Medieval churches often have grotesque gargoyles adorning the outside of the building, as if they are flying outward from its walls. It is symbolic of the repulsion experienced by the demons to what lies within that church. By the very fact a church exists and the Mass is offered in a community, the power of Christ exists there to establish God’s Kingdom and dominion. The power of the Eucharist is also illustrated in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, where Christ himself through his Eucharistic presence blesses not only those present, but the entire community in all directions.

Exorcism, then, is a basic part of the Church’s work, and is accomplished effectively through the ordinary sacramental, devotional, and prayer life of Christians. Though we may not even realize it, by humbly and sincerely fulfilling our ordinary duties, we accomplish a mighty work of God, exercising power and authority over the forces of evil.

As long as we remain faithful to these duties, we are safe. It is difficult if not impossible for demons to achieve their ends, even as the battle intensifies and they multiply their efforts in assaulting “the rest of the Woman’s offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rv 12:17).

In order to stay safe, and give the demons little chance of invading our inner sanctuary, there are several precautions we need to observe. The first is staying active in the practice of our faith, especially the sacramental life. As long as we are with the Church, we are with Mary and Christ, and safe from spiritual harm. When we begin to fall away, we begin to expose ourselves to harm. “There is safety in numbers,” safety “where two or three are gathered together in my name” (Mt 18:20).

Another danger is superstition. Superstition is a lack of faith in the true God, a spiritual fear that leads us to trust other things such as luck or fortune, or believe simplistically that certain prayers and rituals will bring us what we desire. Superstition is a false or counterfeit faith, and because it can “look like” true devotion it is very dangerous, and utilized by demons. Superstition includes such things as good luck charms, horoscopes, but even saying legitimate prayers or devotions in a way disrespectful of God’s Providence and absolute sovereignty.

More dangerous than superstition is actual participation in the occult, which are rituals intentionally undertaken that seek or appeal to spiritual powers. Witchcraft/wicca, curanderos, séances, even “games” such as Ouija boards are open invitations to the unclean spirits to enter our lives.

If there is ever doubt regarding the legitimacy of some practice, prayer, or ritual, we simply need to ask ourselves if it is something recommended and approved by the Church and her priests, or not.

Along these lines, and in conclusion, the importance of authority needs to be stressed. Christ taught and commanded spirits with authority. It is by the Spirit and authority of God that demons are cast out (Mt 12:28). This authority of God is given to our lives for the purpose of keeping us safe. God’s authority is revealed in the commandments, and exercised through fatherhood. Parents exercise God’s authority in the lives of their children, who are vulnerable to all kinds of danger without it. Likewise, the fathers of the Church exercise God’s authority in the lives of her children, who are vulnerable to demons without it. It is a fundamental strategy of the evil one to drive a wedge between youth and parents, between the sheep and their Shepherd. It was the strategy employed in the garden of Eden, and it continues to be successful. Disobedience is the greatest of dangers, because of the way it removes one from God’s help, and exposes one to the control and manipulation of the devils, who are shrewd and intelligent. The law is given to us for our protection. God’s authority over us keeps us safe.

As we learn to be Christ’s disciples, let us understand the nature of the battle we face, make good use of the spiritual weapons he has given us, and fight successfully for the Kingdom of God.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Vocation

January 21, 2018

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) (1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20)

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls his first four disciples to follow him: Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Discipleship is a “Vocation,” which means “calling.” This means that God has the initiative in our lives. We allow God to guide and direct the course of our lives, instead of acting merely according to our own desires and interests. God upends our goals, and determines our purpose.

Baptism begins our vocation in Christ. From the day of our baptism we belong to him, not to ourselves. We listen for his voice, and live in cooperation with his will. Christian life presupposes a relationship with God, through Christ. We can’t conceive of living only according to our will. Instead, we see our will submitted to Christ, in a covenant of love, like marriage.

When God first made man, we heard His voice clearly. The serpent ruptured that relationship, so that man began to live his life on his own terms according to his own will. Beginning with the prophets, and now in Christ, man is able to hear again the call of God and return to Him, living again by His voice.

When we say our life is a “vocation,” it means our life is a response. Following God does not mean we have no will, no decisions on our part. But it means that God’s initiative is first, and our choices come in response to Him. The first important thing a Christian needs to do is listen for God. We need a knowledge of Him, so that we are able to hear and recognize His voice. Until we know God and hear Him call, we are not able to begin our vocation.

Many people stumble around in life running after this or that, following their own desires or inclinations, and their lives have no goals beyond what can be achieved in this world. Only when we hear and respond to God does the full meaning and purpose of our life become clear, beyond this world (which is passing away – 1 Cor 7:31). Our vocation is one of eternal beatitude with God beyond this life. God calls us out of the world, to Himself.

Thus for a Christian, our life is a response to God who calls us, through Jesus Christ. The Gospel beautifully shows how this unfolds in the first four disciples. Up until that day, their lives were small and limited: trying to earn a living on the shores of Galilee. Once Jesus calls them, their true lives begin, and they now become part of something eternal, bigger than time, bigger than the whole world.

Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh, calls them. They respond, and follow.

The response to God’s call is “obedience.” In addition to being a “Vocation,” Christian discipleship is an “Obedience.” Obedience (Latin: ob- audire) is based on the word “to hear.” The English word “hearken” expresses this understanding of obedience. It means to “hear” God, not merely with one’s ears, but with one’s heart and will. It implies an attitude of attentive listening. Obedience listens for the voice, so that the words spoken might become reality.

The disciples are able to follow Jesus because they have already come to know him (cf. last Sunday’s Gospel, Jn 1:35-42). The Gospel shows how readily they obeyed his call, literally dropping their nets, and walking away from their boats.

The third characteristic of discipleship is Sacrifice. In order to follow Christ, certain things must be “given up.” The disciples leave their boats, their career, even their families, to follow Christ and do God’s will. St. Paul refers to this same sacrificial spirit in the second reading, when he says “let those having wives act as not having them, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully” (1 Cor 7:29-31). Obedience requires detachment from all other goods in order to embrace the one true good.

But “sacrifice” doesn’t mean simply “give things up.” It means “to make holy” (Latin: sacrum facere). Something is “made holy,” i.e. “consecrated,” by removing it from the world (profane use) and dedicating it to God (sacred use).

There are certain special callings such as priesthood and consecrated life by which the Church “sacrifices” certain of her members. Instead of living in the world and maintaining professional careers, or having families of their own, they are set apart for work in the Church and dedicated to God’s service, and the service of His family. These sacred vocations manifest in a clear way the supernatural aspect of a calling from God.

In truth, all Christians are called to live a sacrificial discipleship, including the laity. In baptism one dies to this world (which is passing away) in order to live for the glory of the Father (Rm 6:4). Baptism already consecrates the disciple, removing him from the world and the dominion of the evil one in order to live as child of God following the Son. The sacrament of matrimony, celebrated at the altar, together with its careful preparation and discernment, manifest the sacrificial characteristic of Christian life. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

By marriage, the faithful sacrifice themselves for God’s purpose. By baptizing infants, parents sacrifice their children to God. Even in their careers – and by means of the tithe – the laity strive to serve God’s Kingdom, making the world a holy place. “Sacrificing” therefore doesn’t mean “losing” or “giving up” so much as it means “consecrating” to God. The first four disciples “left” their boats and families on one level (the worldly level). History shows, however, they maintained both throughout their lives, but on a supernatural level. Peter, for instance, continued to be accompanied throughout his ministry by his family (1 Cor 9:5); and never ceased to be the “fisherman,” albeit a fisher a men.

Whatever is sacrificed to God is “lost” only according to the world. It is actually “gained” back in a greater way through the multiplying effect of God’s grace. This is above all the case with one’s life itself. The obedience of a vocation is never a loss or regret, but the deepest discovery of one’s true self.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Received, Appropriated, Shared

January 14, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) (Jn 1:35-42)

Some Christian denominations, such as the Baptists, insist that infants and children cannot be baptized, because one must be old enough to confess faith in Christ, and consciously “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” This is wrong, because the historical evidence shows infant baptism was practiced by the Church since the time of the apostles and first centuries.(1) However, as is usually the case with heresies and errors, there is partial truth. Even when baptizing infants, there must still be commitment, the commitment of the parents and household to Christ. Small children should be baptized only when the household is Christian.(2)

With regard to personal commitment to Christ, Catholics are often weak, and Baptists often give a better witness. Today’s Gospel helps us to understand the vital need for personal knowledge and commitment to Christ, as it outlines the various stages of discipleship.

The first disciples of Jesus (later to be named among the twelve apostles) are Andrew and John. They were originally disciples and assistants of St. John the Baptist, and it was St. John the Baptist who indicated for them to follow Jesus when he pointed out the newly anointed Messiah to them: “Behold the Lamb of God.” It is a provocative description of the Messiah, heavy-laden with meaning. In his passion and death, taking place in conjunction with the Passover, the full significance of this description (“Lamb of God”) will be revealed.

Andrew and John first become followers of Jesus because of St. John the Baptist. They follow Jesus because he told them to. This is how most of us became followers of Jesus: someone, usually our parents, made us his followers, from the time of our infancy. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate with this approach, and in fact it is the normal way for mankind, created by God in the institution of the family. It is by God’s design that parents make the decisions for their small children, order and direct their lives, show them the way. It is by God’s sacred authority they do this, sanctioned in the fourth commandment.

Thus it is that the first, early stage of discipleship is one of obedience and reliance upon the wisdom of elders and prophets: people with prior faith and knowledge, whose guidance is dependable and trustworthy. It would be wrong to say one is not yet a true disciple of the Lord at this early stage. The faith is first of all received.

This stage usually corresponds with childhood. As with young Samuel in the first reading (1Sm 3:3-10), the young disciple initially depends on the instruction of the spiritual father.

But as the Gospel story continues, Jesus turns to those following him and confronts them directly with the question: “what are you looking for?” This is the second level of discipleship, which corresponds to “personal commitment” or “personal decision.” The faith which is initially received through another, must be personally appropriated.

There is always a danger in the Church which baptizes infants, that this second stage is simply assumed. However, it is not assured. Many Catholics grow into adulthood, yet remain infants in discipleship. This situation is often revealed when they are confronted by Jehovah Witnesses or others: why are you Catholic? It is unfortunate that many Catholics finally face this important question through non-Catholics, and then end up leaving the Church because someone else helped them meet Christ in a personal way. Other Catholics simply drift away as soon as they are old enough, because their discipleship never attained this second step.

If the first stage of discipleship corresponds with early childhood, the second stage typically corresponds with early adulthood, when a youth begins to make decisions for himself and understands who he is. Andrew and John illustrate the manner in which this process should occur. Not knowing how to answer Jesus’ question, they ask him where is staying, and they address him as “Rabbi” (“teacher”). They respectfully ask to spend time with him, for the purpose of learning who he is. Through retreats, classes, and other spiritual activities, the Church should provide her members many such opportunities to spend time with the master, in order that one’s received discipleship can become one’s personal discipleship.

Andrew and John manifest the correct attitude needed for this important step: openness and humility. “Disciple” is another word for “student.” All too often, young adults choose to abandon the Church without ever truly studying, or investing the time meeting the Teacher as he is, in the Gospels. All too often, even though as children they were taught many things about the Lord and the Catholic religion, they became imbued with a worldly haughtiness that leads them to resist Christ, and reject what they never really knew to begin with.

When therefore a teenager asserts his independent will by refusing to go to Sunday Mass, parents have to reassert their authority and insist. It’s not just a question of whether Christ is the Truth (something the youth will have to see for himself), but rather the lesson of humble learning and respect. No teenager has yet attained to independence. No youth is exempt from acquiring the attitude of a humble, honest, and respectful seeker, a student who still has much to learn!

After spending time with Jesus, Andrew and John immediately return to their relatives and proclaim that they have found the Messiah spoken of by the prophets. Andrew immediately brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus. The third stage of discipleship is evangelization, the sharing of the faith. This means bringing others to Christ through personal testimony, and providing the invitation for others to know him for themselves.

And thus discipleship comes full circle: the student become the teacher, the disciple becomes the prophet, Andrew and John become John the Baptist to others. Parents who bring their children for baptism realize that they are now in the situation of leading others to Christ. It is imperative then that the parents, both father and mother and especially the father, attain this third stage of discipleship. There are no guarantees that one’s children will grow up to keep the faith, even when one does “everything right” (i.e., Sunday Mass, Catholic schooling, marital fidelity). Free will is a mystery and responsibility of each individual before God. But of all the factors that help to ensure that one’s children will continue the faith, none is as important as the parents’ own conviction and ability to share the faith as Andrew did, to be able to explain why it is they are Catholic, why they follow Jesus.

This is the call of the Gospel today: to deepen our discipleship. And also to realize that the cycle of receiving-appropriating-sharing is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process throughout our lives. Baptism, in the end, is bigger than any decision we can make at any given moment of our lives. We must continually follow the Lord, continually spend time rediscovering who he is, continually deepen the conscious personal decision to follow him, and continually manifest him to others. The grace of Baptism must be continually renewed and deepened, including now in this new year of the Lord 2018.

(1) Among many ancient and early references, the practice of infant baptism is documented by St. Irenaeus of Lyons (Against Heresies 2:22:4), who was baptized by St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John.

(2) Canon law states that “for an infant to be baptized licitly there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion” (CIC 868,2). History gives the famous of example of St. Augustine, who could not be baptized as an infant because of the opposition of his father Patricius. Even though his mother St. Monica was fully Christian, the household was not.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Star

January 7, 2018

Epiphany (Mt 2:1-12)

Epiphany – “Manifestation” – is the culmination of the Christmas season, the flowering of the Nativity. Christ was born not to remain hidden, but so that he could be revealed as the world’s savior. The Epiphany of the Christ began in earnest at the time of his baptism, when Jesus emerged from obscurity onto the stage of history, and has continued ever since through the preaching of the apostles which carry his salvation to the ends of the earth. But already at the time of his birth, God gave a special sign in the pilgrimage of the Magi, foreigners who come as ambassadors of all those future nations who will receive him. Already at his birth Christ is manifested to the world.

The journey of the Magi becomes the template for evangelization, the pattern by which all mankind finds in Jesus Christ its savior. At the center of the story is the star. Today astronomy presents stars as other suns throughout the galaxy, none of which was known in biblical times. In the biblical perspective, a star is a “heavenly light,” a light in the heavens, a light from heaven.

God created man with the unique ability to seek Him. The mind is made for truth, and God is truth. This search for Truth is our most important task on earth, as the Magi bear witness: we are created for God, and can rest in God alone. In the search for God, we are not left alone to stumble in darkness, nor are we left only to our own wits. In man’s search for Truth, God Himself seeks man, and sends him help. God comes down from heaven to earth, so that He can be found. And God sends heavenly light to guide mankind to the place He can be found.

This star represents above all the holy scriptures: “Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105). The various books of the Bible are the light which shines brightly from heaven, and guides the seeker infallibly to the fullness of Truth. Man is able to meet God, Truth-in-the-flesh, in one particular place, and this is in Bethlehem in the land of the Jews, in the time of King Herod the Great.

Just as the there are many stars in the sky, there are many books, beliefs, and sources of wisdom in the world. And while each sheds some light upon the truth, and may serve as a stepping stone or partial guide to man’s final destination, none is sufficient to lead man into the fullness of Truth. No other light will lead man to God in the flesh. The Magi from the east surely had their own books of wisdom, but these were not sufficient. It was the wisdom of the Jews, many of whom had been exiled to their nations, that set them on the correct path. Man’s journey might lead him in various ways to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism; Aristotle or Confucius; but the Incarnation is not in China, along the Ganges, Mecca, Athens, or Utah. Not until he discovers the writings of the Jews and the prophecies of the Old Testament will he find the path that finally leads him to the one place where encounter with the living God can take place: in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, in the reign of Herod. The Old Testament is the light which shines brighter than the rest, and whose appearance speaks of the King of Kings. The Bible is unique among all sources of wisdom. It is the heavenly star.

When the Apostles went forth to all the nations of the world to proclaim salvation in Christ, they brought with them the Jewish Scriptures. Only later were the books of the New Testament added. The Gospels and Epistles are completion of the old, commentary upon the prophecies, showing how Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the “destination” of ancient covenants. The Gospels in particular show how Jesus in his teachings and actions and events, fulfills the scripture. 2000 years later the Scriptures continue to provide mankind the ability to search for God and arrive with the Magi at Bethlehem, finding in the Christ child the fullness of truth.

Man was created for God, and can rest only in God. This “rest” in man’s encounter with God is worship. When the Magi find the object of their search, they prostrate themselves and open their coffers, pouring forth their treasures. This is the image of worship: submission, prostration, homage, gift of self. Only God is worthy of worship, the total oblation of self in an act of thanksgiving. Man’s dignity is such that he possesses great treasure in his being, treasure worthy of God alone, which must not be squandered on any lesser good, or false god.

Man is complete only when he is able to give himself in love, when he is able to worship in spirit and truth. The worship of false religions is always incomplete and inadequate (at best), offensive and degrading (always to some degree). For many, the treasure of man’s dignity is squandered on idolatry of one form or another.

Only in Christ is man’s worship fully fulfilled, his self-giving complete and perfect. Because in Christ God reciprocates, the self-giving is mutual. The gifts given by the Magi, which represent man’s spiritual riches, correspond also with the very riches God gives to man in Christ. True worship is found only in Christ, through his Church.

The Magi found the child Jesus “with Mary his mother,” in the house of Bethlehem. Mary represents the Church, as its perfect image, likewise the house. Just as Mary presents Truth to the Magi in the form of the infant Jesus which she holds close to her heart, so the Church presents Jesus to the world in the form of the Eucharist which she holds within her. Just as the Magi enter the house at Bethlehem (“Beth-lehem” = “House of Bread”), so Christians find salvation in the Church, which is the house of the True Bread, the “Living Bread come down from heaven” which gives life to the world (Jn 6).

Thus it is, that even though we might live in a very different time in a very different place from the Biblical era, we can nevertheless imitate the Magi in every respect. God still sends the special light which shines brighter than the rest, which if followed sincerely and humbly, will infallibly lead us to our salvation, through the land and history of the Jews, to the divine mystery of God-among-us, in Beth- lehem the House of Bread; to the mystery of the Eucharist in the Church.

During the upcoming year, let us continue to seek that we may find, and finding adore.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Generations

December 31, 2017

Holy Family (B) (Gn 15; Ps 105; Lk 2:22-40)

The readings today repeatedly present the image of the very elderly holding a newborn: there is Simeon and Anna with the infant Jesus, and Abraham and Sarah with Isaac. The Feast of the Holy Family not only emphasizes the “nuclear” family of father-mother-children, but also calls attention to the role of the generations, necessary for the handing on of faith and the accomplishment of God’s plan of salvation. The Responsorial Psalm proclaims, “The Lord remembers forever his covenant which he made binding for a thousand generations, which he entered into with Abraham, and by his oath to Isaac” (Ps 105:8-9).

The Holy Bible is full of genealogies – lists of people who lived a long time ago. Why is it necessary for the most important book of God’s revelation to be filled with page after page of obscure and unpronounceable names of unknown people? It is important because this is precisely how God accomplished His plan of salvation in the time of the Bible, and how He continues to bring to fulfillment the salvation of the world in our time. It is accomplished through the generations of the family.

While we may each know a limited set of names pertaining to our particular (recent) genealogy, God sees at once the entire connected list, and the role of each individual within the whole.

Every new child is significant in the eternal plan, and every birth is to be celebrated, but it is the special cases, the extraordinary births, which call attention to the true miracle of every new life. Prior to Christ’s virginal birth, the greatest miracle child in the Bible was Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah. His name, “Laughter,” signifies the joy of elderly parents who now have hope and a future. But it especially signifies the hand of God who confounds human planning, since the very elderly Sarah laughed when she was informed by the angel that she would bear a son (Gn 18:12).

There are several lessons to draw from the Scriptures on the family. The first is that God’s providence exceeds human sin and weakness. The Fall ruined many aspects of man’s relationship with God, but it has not prevented God from continuing to work good for the human race through the family. Children are a blessing which was not lost due to the Fall. And though man is sinful and weak, and flawed, God does not fail in bringing forth children, even in human failure.

“God writes straight with crooked lines.” Prior to conceiving Isaac according to God’s power and providence, Abraham and Sarah had another child, Ishmael, through illicit means. God was not pleased with Abraham’s effort to “circumvent” the limitations of his marriage to Sarah, and their condition of infertility. Even the great Abraham had to grow in faith and obedience, and repent of sin. Likewise, St. Joseph also had to be counseled by the angel regarding Mary’s unique pregnancy, and his unique vocation to fatherhood by way of legal adoption. Again and again, man has to surrender his will and preference to the requirements of his circumstances, and those of the children sent by God.

Man is fallen, and God has to work His salvation through man’s fallen condition marked by sin. To accomplish this, God establishes His Law in man’s life. This is a second important lesson. The law is given to protect and safeguard man from the danger he is to himself. The law establishes boundaries – walls – within which the family is safe, and which allow God to fulfill His plan more easily from one generation to the next. The law both teaches and protects. Thus the Gospel shows Mary and Joseph presenting their firstborn son in the Temple “according to the dictates of the Law.” By living in obedience to God’s law, the Holy Family of Nazareth increase in strength, wisdom, and grace (Lk 22:40), and bring God’s great plan to fulfillment.

The laws pertaining to marriage are among the most important, since the family is established on marriage. Marriage is an institution set up by God in human nature. It is a structure of society. It is governed by laws, both divine and human (civil), the human resting upon the divine. The laws pertaining to marriage prohibit adultery and infidelity. They require a permanent and unconditional commitment of the couple to each other and their family. The institution of marriage is established through a formal act, an irrevocable covenant between the couple and God, executed through solemn vows, and witnessed officially by the Church which imparts God’s blessing.

The law of marriage is necessary for the good of the family, and it is all the more important given man’s propensity to sin, and his weakness in times of difficulty and sacrifice. Young couples need to understand that what the world proclaims today regarding marriage – essentially rejecting all divine law – is not only wrong (a lie), it is harmful (detrimental) to the family. The laws of marriage are designed not only to protect the well-being of the nuclear family by providing the right context for raising children, but they also provide for the larger continuity of the family through the generations, something necessary for salvation. Marriage gives strength, structure, stability – for generations! The “breakdown of the family” does not only affect the nuclear family, but endangers the sacred heritage handed on “for a thousand generations” since the time of Abraham. The violation of the institution of marriage has negative consequences lasting generations. God will therefore look to those families who respect and obey the demands of the Law.

Another lesson from the Scripture highlighted in the example of Isaac, is that the child is always God’s choice, more than the parents. The family serves God’s plan, parents are servants of God with regard to their children, not masters. The same truth is taught in the Gospel by the Law which required Joseph and Mary to consecrate their firstborn son to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. Here the example of Jesus, and the mysterious prophecies spoken by Simeon and Anna, also illustrate what is true for every child: this child belongs to God, is a sign from God, and whose life will lay bare the thoughts of many hearts.

We live in a society famous for its “family planning” “clinics.” There could not be a greater demonic misnomer. They are family prevention agencies. The “contraception mentality” of the modern world that embraces abortion, voluntary sterilization, and artificial contraception as tools of family life, is utterly foreign to the biblical teaching on the family, and directly opposed. Man is called to serve God in a responsible way as stewards, cooperating with God in the sacred act of procreation; they are not morally permitted to oppose or “prevent” the sovereign will of God with regard to the child. We work “with” God and nature, never “against.”

Another great horror of our society is genetic engineering, the use of farming techniques on human beings. Researchers and lab technicians create human embryos in glass dishes, and then proceed to experiment on them, discarding them in the drain afterwards. Infertile couples look to these technologies to create the child they want. Some couples go so far as to choose the sex and genetic characteristics of their child, discarding those “samples” they do not like. Man has no right to transgress the sacredness of human life, which is God’s domain. Even in difficult cases, man must submit and “defer” to God this choice and decision of a child. There is only one place where a child may be conceived, and that is the womb.

The Feast of the Holy Family has much to teach us in our particular family situations, including the difficult cases. This is the blessing that has remained despite the Fall, and even though there is always the risk of pain and imperfection, it is God’s chosen instrument for the world’s salvation, and His miracles are not lacking, even today.

“The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family. The family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Emmanuel

December 25, 2017

Christmas (Mt 1:23, Is 7:14)

Isaiah is the prophet whose writings are heard throughout the season of Advent as we prepare for Christmas. More than any other, he prophecies the coming of the Messiah, and the great Messianic age when God will gather all people to himself.

Isaiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah at a momentous time of calamity and political upheaval, when the Assyrian empire was rising to power and overwhelming the ancient world. It was during the time of Isaiah that the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled, and Jerusalem was almost destroyed as well.

Immediately before these events happened, Isaiah approached Ahaz, the king of Judah, in the name of the Lord, and told him to ask a sign from the Lord. “Let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven,” he said (Is 7:10). Isaiah challenged the king to ask God for the greatest sign possible, a sign greater than the cosmos itself, higher than heaven and deeper than hell.

King Ahaz, who was not a faithful king or a strong believer (2K 16:2), did not wish to engage Isaiah’s challenge, and refused to ask for a sign (Is 7:12). Isaiah promised that God would give the great sign anyway. It is probably Isaiah’s most famous prophecy, if not the most famous prophecy of the entire Old Testament: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14).

When St. Matthew speaks about Jesus’ birth at the beginning of his Gospel, this is the prophecy he quotes, and he explains that the name, “Emmanuel,” means “God with us” (Mt 1:23).

I’m sure when king Ahaz heard the prophecy, he must have been thinking, “that’s it?” Isaiah prophesied the birth of some child from a young woman, whose arrival would signify peace from all the foreign oppressors that threaten Judah. While that is a positive and hopeful thing, it is hardly earth-shaking, hardly “high as the heavens and deep as Sheol.”

The Scriptures are holy not because they were written by great prophets, but because they were written by God. And as the various human events unfolded which are recorded in the Bible, God used them to speak of other deeper events to come, spiritual things He was preparing from the beginning of history. Long after Ahaz and Isaiah were dead, and the tumultuous events of 700 B.C. had passed, the people of God recognized that there was something more to Isaiah’s prophecy than simply the events of king Ahaz’ time. He was speaking of the Messiah.

Even so, there was no way the people of the Old Testament could fully realize or imagine what the sign would be. When they heard that a “virgin would conceive and bear a son,” they presumed it simply referred to a young maiden, the way many young maidens married and gave birth to a firstborn son.

No one imagined that the prophecy meant that a young virgin would conceive a son while remaining a virgin. There were many times in the Old Testament God performed a great sign by bringing forth children who were miracles. The prophet Samuel was born to a childless couple in response to prayer, as a divine sign, as was the hero Samson. But no miracle compares to Isaac, who was born from Abraham and Sarah when they were already in their 90s, well beyond child-bearing years.

At the time of Jesus, God would perform another such miracle when John the Baptist was conceived by Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age. This final miracle was given as a proof by the Angel Gabriel to Mary, that God “for whom nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37), would accomplish something even greater with her. Because Mary, as she explained to the angel (Lk 1:34), was a virgin and consecrated to God such that she would “not know man.” The angel explained to her that the “power of the Most High would overshadow her” – she would conceive directly by the power of the Holy Spirit – and therefore the child to be born of her would be called holy (Lk 1:35).

This is the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy of Isaiah: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. When Isaiah prophesied a virgin, no one at the time realized that God intended this prophecy to be fulfilled in a completely literal way. Isaiah may not have realized the full meaning of his words. Mary’s virginity is an essential and necessary requirement for God’s plan, because the child to be born from her would be the beginning of something new, a new human race. He would be born a man, a “son of Adam,” but he would not be born into the sin of Adam. Thus the angel told Mary, “therefore, the child to be born will be holy.”

In the birth of Christ, God accomplished something higher than nature, above anything that could happen in this world on its own. Maybe there are cases where childless couples are finally able to conceive and have a child; maybe there are even rare cases where children are born to elderly couples who seemed to be past the age of child-bearing. But in no way would it ever be possible for a child to be conceived through virginity. This is something impossible in Nature.

But even though a virginal conception is above nature, does that mean it is the greatest thing possible, “higher than the heavens and deeper than Sheol?” That is the sign which Isaiah prophesied, not merely a miracle of nature, but something greater than heaven itself!

Isaiah spoke of a future king, a Messiah, who would restore the Kingdom of God to its true glory, and whose coming would transcend not only nature, but history and all of time itself. The sign is bound up in the mysterious name of the future child: Emmanuel, “God with us.” Gabriel gives the meaning of the prophecy when he explains to Mary that the child to be born of her, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, will be called not only “holy,” but “Son of God” (Lk 1:35).

The birth of Jesus is the greatest thing imaginable. It is something higher than the heavens and deeper than Sheol, something bigger than all of Creation, as big as God Himself, because it is God Himself. God, who is higher than the heavens, comes down to earth, and in his death on the Cross he descends to the depths of hell.

Just as no one imagined that Isaiah could be speaking literally when he said “a virgin would conceive,” no one could even begin to imagine that he was also speaking completely literally when he said the child to be born would be “God with us,” God among us. Not even the greatest angels could imagine that God would do such a thing as become man; that God would humble Himself to be born a child of a virgin.

When we see the humble manger scene, with the little baby lying in the hay, and the people and animals all gathered around, it’s hard to realize that this little scene is higher than heaven and deeper than Sheol. Even after 2017 years, we still can’t begin to appreciate how great this thing is that God promised to king Ahaz through Isaiah.

As we profess the Creed today, let us slow down and listen to the words of our faith. This prayer is given us to profess mysteries that are higher than the heavens and deeper than Sheol. And as we come to the heart of the Creed, which is the Christmas profession of the Incarnation, let us kneel during the words that recount what Isaiah first prophesied, that a virgin shall conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Rev. Glen Mullan

What Sort of Greeting

December 24, 2017

4th Sunday of Advent (B) (Lk 1:26-38)

According to scripture, the second coming of Christ at the end of time will be spectacular in glory, immediately apparent, visible everywhere. Jesus says, “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Lk 17:24). But the first coming of Christ 2000 years ago was not like that, it was silent and hidden. As we look to the coming of the Lord in our day, we should look more to the first coming than the second. Christ is in our midst, but he comes secretly, hiddenly.

Jesus comes as a baby. A baby is revealed to the world on the day of his birth, but the baby is already present for the world “in utero” several months before the nativity. It is this joy and expectation we celebrate in the Church now until the second coming of Christ. We know there will be a final revelation to the world, publicly, on the last day, but Christ is already here, deep within the heart of the Church, silently and hiddenly, in the Eucharist.

When a baby is first conceived, no one knows, except God and the angels who help carry out His will. The first human to know is the mother, and then the father. Gradually, all the family and acquaintances are informed through cards and emails. Finally, on the day of birth the whole world knows. Christ is present within the Church, and his coming is gradually being made known to the whole world, until his second coming. At first, only one person knew he came, and she knew because the angel of the Lord told her. Later St. Joseph, Elizabeth, and other family found out.

God didn’t rely on word of mouth to spread news of Christ’s coming. By means of angels and heavenly signs, the shepherds knew, and even emissaries from foreign lands, who saw his star. Since his day, apostles have gone to the four corners of the world to announce the Christ. Every year, especially at Christmas, we try to share that news with the world, by cards, emails, or any means.

God thus uses the familiar mystery of a new human life coming into the world to fulfill His plan of the Incarnation. But in God’s case it was a uniquely special and miraculous birth. Throughout the Bible, there are accounts of special births – miracle births – to prepare for the greatest nativity of all, the birth of the Son of God as man. Every birth is a miracle of God, Who brings forth a new person and a new human soul in the conception of each child. But certain births were highlighted in the Bible because on the human level they were impossible. For instance, the birth of Isaac, whose parents Abraham and Sarah were very elderly. Or the birth of Samson, whose parents Hannah and Elkanah had also been infertile. In Jesus’ day God gave one final sign in the birth of John the Baptist, whose parents Elizabeth and Zechariah were also elderly and unable to have children. Gabriel told Mary that her kinswoman, who was thought to be barren, was now in her sixth month with child, “for nothing is impossible with God.”

All these miracles prepared for the day when the angel Gabriel came to Mary for the most momentous miracle of all: a child conceived entirely by the power of God, bypassing the normal way in which the children of Adam originate. This child will then be a new Adam, the beginning of a new human race, conceived on a different basis, without sin. And so his coming, while completely hidden and secret, is momentous and earth changing, something new.

Mary is troubled by the greeting of the angel, because of the high deference he shows to her, a lowly handmaid. Even the highest angels of God bow down before the mystery of what takes place in the one who is Full-of-grace.

Every family is changed when news of a pregnancy arrives: a re-orientation has to take place. The mother has to endure the hardship and demands of the pregnancy, but everyone has to make preparations, and adjust for the child. With the pregnancy of Mary, however, the world itself is changed, and all men have to adjust their lives in relation to Christ.

Some would rather not. When news of Christ’s birth reached Herod, he was perturbed, and sought to kill the child rather than submit to a new dominion. Not only earth, but the order of heaven is changed by the Incarnation of Christ. The angels are in wonder that the Most High God would condescend to be born as a man. Theologians speculate this is behind the reason for Lucifer’s upheaval and rebellion. Unlike Gabriel, he will not bow and submit. Revelation depicts him as the dragon standing before the mystery of the Incarnation with hatred and contempt, standing before the “Woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child when she brought him forth” (Rv 12:4).

Christmas remains controversial. On the one hand, the “family” of God continues to announce the coming of the Christ Child; on the other hand the powers of the world would rather have nothing to do with Christianity.

As we come to the ending of Advent in 2017, let us join with Mary and Joseph in the joyful expectation of Christ’s birth, pondering what the announcement will mean for us.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Joy

December 17, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent (B)

(Is 6:1-11; Lk 1:46-48; 1Th 5:16-24)

Gaudium – joy – is an important theme of Advent, as the popular Advent hymn “O Come Emanuel” sings in its refrain: “Rejoice, rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.” On this third Sunday it is proclaimed throughout the readings and liturgy.

The Mass begins with an opening antiphon from Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phi 4:4). Then in the first reading Isaiah the prophet proclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul” (Is 11:10). Mary echoes these words in her Magnificat, which serves as today’s Responsorial Psalm: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:47). St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks” (1Th 5:16).

St. Thomas Aquinas defines joy as the delight which is experienced when the object of love is present. If God has become man and been born of the Virgin Mary, we have a reason for profound joy. Christian joy is a profession of faith in the Incarnation. Christians live from the perspective of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, but before that we live from the perspective of Christmas: Jesus is “Emanuel,” God-with-us.

Joy is one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, second in importance after charity (Gal 5:22 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…”). The fruits of the Spirit are found wherever the Spirit of God dwells in a soul. You can never see the Holy Spirit, you can only see His fruits. If someone has the Holy Spirit in him—the Spirit of God dwelling in his human spirit—there will be charity and joy and the other fruits. Likewise, if we are not at peace, if we are impatient, if there is no joy and charity, it means our relationship with God is suffering and in need of reconciliation, grace is missing.

Isaiah says in the first reading, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Is 11:1). Through baptism and confirmation we are anointed with the Spirit of the Lord God, who brings glad tidings of joy to the world. Christ is made known through the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.

The joy of Christmas is unlike any other joy we experience due to a person or thing. All other joy is fragile, and subject to change or loss. Spiritual joy, on the other hand, can only be lost through sin, if through our free will we reject it. No spiritual power or human circumstance can forcefully remove it

To reveal and deepen this Joy, God will allow it to be tested, purified, and distinguished from lesser joys. The example of Job in the Old Testament shows how God allows the devil to assault His just servant. The evil one works through many different tragic life circumstances to bring Job to despair, to the point of cursing God and his existence, and to convince him he is sinful and evil. Job never succumbs. “In all circumstances” he gives thanks, as St. Paul urges. Through his trials, Job more perfectly recognizes, embraces, and submits to God. Job never loses God, whose love transcends every evil.

God was already present to His people in the Old Testament, but the Nativity of the Lord at Bethlehem vastly exceeds even the greatest theophanies of the past. The Nativity establishes a permanent and invincible source of joy in the world that is immune to every assault of darkness, and every effort to deny God.

Therefore, in addition to the prayer of longing and expectation (first Sunday of Advent); in addition to the prayer of repentance and contrition (second Sunday of Advent); let us “rejoice always” and in all circumstances pray with thanksgiving. May our participation in the holy season deepen and purify our Joy.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Act of Contrition

December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent (B) (Mk 1:1-8)

Last week the liturgy emphasized the vigilant prayer of expectation: “Thy Kingdom come.” This Sunday the emphasis is on prayer of repentance: “Forgive us our trespasses.” In the first Advent, John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah by calling them to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan as they confessed their sins.

The Act of Contrition is a special prayer memorized as children prepare for their first confession. It is the prayer by which the Church teaches us how to tell God we are “sorry” for our sins. Together with integral confession of sins, absolution by the priest, and penance, it is one of the four essential parts of the Sacrament of Penance. There is no repentance or reconciliation without contrition.

The Act of Contrition should be prayed not only during the Sacrament of Confession but each day, especially at the end of the day. We must never go to bed without recalling any ways we sinned or failed to serve God, and asking forgiveness. Reconciliation begins by saying “I’m sorry” – having sorrow for sin with the firm intention of changing one’s life.

This prayer beautifully expresses what contrition means. It begins, “O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended you.” A sin is an offense against God, something which injures our most fundamental relationship. We are not just sorry, but heartily sorry, which means “from the bottom of the heart.” Sorrow for sin must be true and sincere. Like all prayer, the Act of Contrition must never be simply words, but a heartfelt expression of the inner self.

I detest all my sins… “Detest” means to hate. So often our sins are committed easily, even with relish and enjoyment because they seemed desirable to us (Gn 3:6). To repent and be reconciled with God, our actions need to be seen not from this perspective of self-will, but from the perspective of the covenant between God and man, which we must jealously guard as our highest priority. We must acquire the mind of Christ, and hate anything which violates that relationship, seeing sin for its true ugliness and offensiveness in the sight of God.

The prayer then expresses the reasons for being sorry. “…because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.” Sin entails punishment. The coming of the Messiah is a reminder of the judgment we have to face, the accounting we will have to give for our stewardship before Him who is the full standard of Truth and Love. It is often the case that a child, when punished, starts to cry out “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” It is often the case with us that what keeps us from sin in the first place, or what causes us to repent after we have sinned, is the fear of “Thy just punishment” to come. The Church calls this “imperfect contrition,” – being sorry out of fear of punishment. It is a sufficient motive for reconciliation through the Sacrament of Penance, but it is not the highest motive.

Instead, “perfect contrition” looks to standard of goodness to which we are called: “most of all, I offend Thee my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. This deeper sorrow for sin is based on love, which seeks the good. God is all good and worthy of all love. Sin does not acknowledge or honor this goodness of God, and betrays our own dignity as His children. It is not worthy of Him, or us. Contrition then, laments the loss of our status as sons of God which we have brought about, and seeks reconciliation with the Father on His terms.

In the final sentence of the prayer, we make our resolutions. “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace…” We do not have the power to overcome our sinfulness by ourselves. The fallen condition of man is one of concupiscence, where the will is weak, the intellect is dark, and the desires of the flesh are tyrannical. We depend on God’s grace to overcome sin, but grace works through our free cooperation. Repentance requires firm purpose on our part, in three areas.

“To confess my sins…” The people going out to John confessed their sins as they were baptized in the Jordan. The prodigal son confessed his sins before the father (Lk 15:21). Confession means acknowledging our sins by speaking them on our lips. It is an essential part of repentance and reconciliation. These evil deeds are ours, we must own them, taking full responsibility. In sorrow we face our sins honestly and humbly. We do not ignore, minimize, rationalize, pretend, or make excuses.

“To do penance…” When the priest assigns a penance in the confessional, it is typically a token action to begin the pathway of healing and new life. Typically we are required to say a few prayers, reflect on a selection of Scripture, or perform some small good work. However, penance goes a lot further than this. This obligation means we take responsibility for the harm our sin has caused, accept the full negative consequences of our past behavior, and seek by whatever means to make reparation to those we have injured. If we lied, penance requires to tell the truth. If we stole we must repay. If we offended someone we must place ourselves in service to their good and well-being. If we committed a crime we must likely turn ourselves in.

“And to amend my life.” If we immediately return to the very same sins we just confessed, our contrition was not sincere. True contrition requires a firm purpose of change. Though we cannot guarantee the future, our contrition must translate into practical decisions regarding habits and lifestyle, and the avoidance of near occasions of sin. It is for this reason that those living in adulterous unions cannot receive absolution until their situation is rectified according to God’s law. Jesus said, if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! (Mt 5:30). John likewise counseled the people regarding the concrete changes they needed to make in their lives in order for their repentance to bear fruit (Lk 3:8-14).

The Act of Contrition brings together in a complete way the wisdom of the Scriptures and Tradition with regard to repentance. It is easy to say “I’m sorry,” but to truly be sorry requires a lot more.

During this Advent season of preparation for the coming of the Lord, let us deepen our prayer, both of expectation and repentance, and like the people in the time of the Messiah, seek out the baptism of forgiveness in Confession.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Keeping Vigil

December 3, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent (B) (Mk 13:33-37)

There are many dimensions to prayer, which are all included in the Lord’s Prayer. We praise God: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name!” We petition God for our needs: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We express sorrow for our sins: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We ask for protection: “Deliver us from evil.”

Advent focuses on another dimension of prayer, the longing or desire for God: “Thy Kingdom come.” For prayer to be complete, it must be injected with this expectation. Another way to say it, is that prayer seeks or “looks for” God. Yet another way to describe this aspect of prayer is found in the Gospel today, where Jesus says to “stay awake” and “watch.”

In biblical times there were no bright street lamps to illumine property and deter burglars. Cities needed watchmen to stay awake and look for miscreants, “thieves in the night.” As established by the Romans, there were four roughly three-hour watches, as noted by Jesus: “evening” (i.e. 9pm), “midnight,” “cockcrow” (i.e. 3am), and “dawn.”

Prayer at night is known as “vigil” prayer. To be vigilant means to be awake and alert. There are still two important times when Catholics observe late night vigils: Christmas and Easter. We also anticipate holy days by means of a vigil the night before, as we do in our parishes with Saturday evening Masses. We also observe the devotional practice of lighting “vigil candles” – candles which burn through the night as a sign of our watchful prayer (even if it is actually our Guardian Angel or the saint who does the staying awake with the prayer intention before God’s throne while we go to bed. Is this cheating?).

Recently I came across an article that was describing unusual practices of our ancestors which we no longer do (such as only bathing a few times a year). One of the interesting practices in olden times (i.e. middle ages) was “second sleep.” People would wake up for a couple hours at midnight, and then go back to sleep a second time. The article, however, never explained the purpose of this strange practice.

In those “olden times” when society was Catholic and every town or village had at least one monastery, the schedule of the monks governed the rhythm of life even for laity. (1) Strict monasteries observe a midnight office or vigil of readings as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, in fulfillment of the Lord’s command to “stay awake and pray.” Many laity also observed the practice in their homes. Even today, there is an interest in and commitment to nighttime prayer through the practice of perpetual adoration. Even though the Lord is likely exhorting his disciples in a spiritual sense to “stay awake and pray,” nevertheless the Church has always desired to observe this exhortation in practice, literally staying awake at night time for the purpose of prayer, as an expression of love and devotion.

The modern world has found a way through electricity and technology to “stay awake” all night, and there are now many 24-hour establishments, from restaurants to grocery stores to gas stations. But the modern world lacks the element of prayer, the recognition that our life needs to consist of a balance between work and rest, and constant seeking for the Lord regardless of other activities. We thus work to the point of distraction, and sleep without fully resting, and are mystified how people used to be able to get up at night for long readings.

Advent is the invitation to rediscover the aspect of prayer expressed in the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” Like a watchman with his small lamp scrutinizing the darkness for the location of the thief, we search the darkness, silence, and “cloud of unkowning” for the hidden ways God comes to us. God does indeed come to us, continually, but like He did 2000 years ago when born in time, He sneaks in “under the radar,” missed by the worldly and arrogant, found only by the humble and wise, by those who truly seek Him in love.

Maybe we will not commit ourselves to getting up for an hour each night, but perhaps we should commit at least once during these four weeks of Advent, to getting up and keeping watch in the silence of the night, armed with nothing more than a candle and the words of Sacred Scripture, seeking the God who comes like a thief in the night.

(1)  The origin of the Angelus is found in the prayers said by laity in their homes and workplaces when the bells summoned monks to chapel for the chanted Liturgy of the Hours.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Corporal Works of Mercy

November 26, 2017

34th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 25:31-46)

In the Sacrament of Penance we prepare for Judgment Day by examining our conscience and confessing our sins while there is opportunity for forgiveness. The examination of conscience begins with the Ten Commandments, which articulates the moral law (Mt 19:16-17). In addition, we need to look within, to the Seven Capital Sins, which are the root cause or “sin behind the sins.” But finally, our examination of conscience is not complete without the Corporal Works of Mercy, as Jesus indicates in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

The Corporal Works of Mercy articulate the Great Commandment, what it means to love God above all things, and our neighbor as our self. Jesus explicitly identifies the love of God with care of one’s fellow man: “whatever you do or fail to do for the least of my brothers, you do or fail to do for me.”

And whereas the Ten Commandments and Capital Sins tend to be thoughts, words, or deeds, sins involving the Corporal Works of Mercy are sins of omission. Jesus makes clear we can go to hell as much for “what I have done,” as for “what I have failed to do” (Penitential Rite, Confiteor). Charity is not merely having good intentions, or the desire to help others. Charity is actual good deeds.

Jesus lists the “Corporal Works of Mercy”:

1)Feed the hunger

2)Give drink to the thirsty

3a)Welcome the stranger

4)Clothe the naked

5a)Care for the sick

5b)Visit the imprisoned.

The Church’s catechetical tradition combines visiting the sick and imprisoned; welcoming the stranger and sheltering the homeless; and adds two more: 

3b)Shelter the homeless

6)Ransom the captive

7)Bury the dead.

They are called “Corporal Works of Mercy” because they provide for man’s basic bodily needs. And yet, each of them has a spiritual focus, in that they uplift man’s dignity, since they recognize the image of Christ in human nature. The goal of the Corporal Works of Mercy is never simply to provide man’s material well- being, but to uplift the spirit through the love of Christ. (1)

Feed the Hungry. There are places in the world where famine and starvation are daily realities, but in our nation we are blessed with a superabundance of food. And yet, we suffer terrible “eating disorders,” obesity, diabetes, and unhealthiness. The main American dietary staple is literally called “junk food.” When speaking of God’s goodness, Jesus once said, “What father, when his child asks him for an egg, would give him a scorpion?” (Lk 11:12). And yet, we regularly do this: we give our children that which is not nutritious, we feast on that which is bad for us.

Food must be connected with love. Feeding the hungry begins at home, and the task of preparing the family meals is a work of mercy. That is to say, it is an act of true charity requiring time and attention, which builds up the individual in his dignity, and nourishes the family in its spiritual bonds. It is a service to Christ, like that of Martha providing hospitality to Jesus from her kitchen (Lk 10:38).

Give drink to the Thirsty. Alcoholism is not merely a “chemical- dependency” problem rooted in the bio-chemical needs of the body, but a spiritual problem rooted in the injury of the soul. It is a profound thirst that seeks to be satisfied with drink that only exacerbates the problem. In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus said she should ask him for a drink, and he will provide her living water (Jn 4:10). “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

To give drink to the thirsty means leading one’s brother to the grace of Christ, which alone satisfies the thirst in the soul. The “Twelve-Step” program is one such program that accomplishes this. It is a spiritual method, calling for faith and repentance, which are the doorway of the Gospel. It is a successful program for this very reason.

Welcome the Stranger. This work, too, begins at home, with the very people around us whom God has put in our lives. People can live under the same roof and yet remain strangers to each other, being isolated by so many distractions, and even raising their own barriers to communion. The “smartphone,” while helping to connect people in many ways, also becomes a distraction that takes us away from the people before us. Likewise, television demands that its audience focus on it, drawing people away from interaction with each other. Young children clamoring for attention are often placed before the television instead, which becomes their new friend and companion. Work and chores can also become preoccupations to the point of harming relationships. To welcome the stranger means giving the time and attention to the person before us, to the people around us. It means allowing ourselves to be interrupted and inconvenienced by the priority of the person. And in this way we lift the dignity of our fellow man, serving Christ.

Clothe the Naked. Pornography is a scourge of our times, and a sign that God has been abandoned by the society. To engage in pornography requires becoming “shameless,” which means suppressing one’s personal dignity as expressed through the body. The reverence expressed in the veil is taken away, in order that the sacred might be profaned. In baptism we are literally “clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27), receiving the dignity of the children of God. It is a work of mercy to avoid pornography, and when it is encountered, to make the conscious act of “clothing the naked,” beginning within our own thoughts and intentions, and the modesty of our dress. The other person’s dignity is best affirmed and maintained, when our own dignity is not compromised by participation or indulgence in indecency.

Visit the Sick/Imprisoned. It is particularly the homebound elderly and the sick in nursing homes who experience the cruel prison of isolation and abandonment. Unable to fully take care of the usual tasks, an increasingly isolated by the deaths and similar handicaps of their peers, the spiritual well-being of these “least of the brethren” depends upon regular visitation by their fellow man. God so designed our human nature that in its beginning and ending we are fully dependent upon others. Charity is a requirement of human nature. The church’s practice since the beginning, of bringing Eucharist to the homebound who cannot attend Mass, is the model of this work of mercy. It is Christ who visits, and Christ who is visited.

With this last parable in Mathew 25, we complete the teachings of Jesus prior to his Passion, and we bring to conclusion our church year. It is the final word on the Christian life. When all is said and done, and we stand before the judgment seat of the glorious King, it all comes down to charity: what we did, or failed to do, for the brother of ours in reduced circumstances.

(1) This is why government welfare programs (and many “Catholic” charities) cannot be considered works of mercy, and why they are often a degrading cruelty, instead of mercy. Social welfare without evangelization is an abnegation of the Gospel, not a fulfillment of the divine mandate.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Talent

November 19, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Prv 31; Mt 25:14-30)

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus explains judgment day not in terms of keeping the commandments, but in terms of making a return on God’s “investment.” Our life is God’s gift, described in the parable in terms of “talents” entrusted to our stewardship. What we make of our life is our gift to God. Mother Teresa often encouraged people to “make your life something beautiful for God.”

In biblical times, money consisted in the weight of precious silver or gold, known as a talent. A “talent” is the equivalent of about seventy pounds. Jesus uses the example of investing money to illustrate the spiritual lesson of using our life for the glory of his Father and the increase of his Kingdom. As a wise businessman invests his money in the art of trade and produces a great yield or profit, so must we utilize our spiritual gifts and “talents,” investing them and putting them to work for the benefit of others and service of the Kingdom.

Firstly, we need to recognize what those talents are. Jesus says the master apportions talents to each steward “according to his ability.” God blesses our nature at the time of birth with certain innate capabilities. Above all, God gives us the capacity to love and serve, reflecting His own Trinitarian Image, imitating His own inner Being. Throughout our lives, He customizes gifts and graces to each circumstance, making every moment an opportunity to invest ourselves and bring about increase. But it is through the encounter with His Son, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation, that our true calling and capability is revealed. The Talents are above all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

For instance, the life of St. Peter. He was born “Simon,” a hardworking fisherman of Galilee, devoted to his family and his work. Upon meeting Jesus, the true potential of his life for the Kingdom of God is revealed—not simply to be a fisherman in the pond of Galilee, but to be a “fisher of men” in the ocean of the world itself, to be “Peter” the Rock on which Christ builds his Church. This capability was not something Peter could recognize without Christ. The “talents” are given us by Christ, and while they build upon our natural capabilities, they enable supernatural accomplishment.

The first step therefore, is to discern these supernatural gifts in our lives, to discern our vocation in Christ and recognize our true spiritual “name,” the particular “talent” we are given for service in the Kingdom.

Secondly, there must be a commitment. In financial investment, the money has to be “put into” something: stocks must be bought, a business must be purchased. This involves risk. Shrewd businessmen do not invest lightly, but do their homework. They carefully study and understand the nature of the investment, and even though “nothing is guaranteed,” they eventually make a confident purchase. Likewise in the call to follow Christ, one’s homework is to study and recognize Who he is, so that one may confidently proceed to invest oneself fully in him. Taking this risk is the obedience of faith.

In the case of Simon-Peter, he recognized the Lord through the miracle of the great catch (Lk 5:1-11), and immediately left his boats and nets, investing himself wholeheartedly in Christ. The diminutive Albanian nun Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu likewise learned of Christ throughout her life, and then recognized him fully in the face of a beggar at a train station in India. Her true talents were made known to her at this time, and she responded wholeheartedly, becoming Mother Teresa who also impacted not just a local ghetto, but the whole world.

The second step is the risk of faith, taking the step of investing oneself fully in Christ, giving and spending the “talent” to make profit – something beautiful – for God. Without self-surrendering total commitment, there is no prospect of heaven. The “useless servant” is thrown out because he was afraid of commitment; he buried his talent and refused to follow the divine call.

Thirdly, there is labor. The useless servant is thrown out because he was lazy. Many are turned away from their true capability because of the hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance involved. Once again, the saints illustrate the kind of dedication required to achieve great things for God.

It is the saints who illustrate this Parable of the Talents. They are the “good and faithful servants” who enter into the joy of their master. Each of them illustrates what a life is truly capable of, through the gift of spiritual riches entrusted by God. Any of them can serve as an example.

Two days ago, November 17, we celebrated the memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was given in marriage to the King of Thuringia in southern Germany, and accomplished great things for her people during a time of calamities: floods, famine, plague. Working with the new Franciscan order, she strengthened the Church throughout the realm, and particularly sought to alleviate suffering in the midst of disasters. It was she who came up with the concept of a permanent, dedicated facility for the care of the sick. She set aside one of her castles for this purpose, installed 28 beds, and staffed it with medical and spiritual staff, personally tending to the sick as well. St. Elizabeth invented the modern “hospital.” She was mother of three children, and after her husband the King died of plague while on crusade, she managed the affairs of state. Now a widow, she took vows and joined the Franciscans, embracing personal poverty even as queen. St. Elizabeth died in 1231 at the age of 24! Whereas most Christians are called to one particular vocation, this holy woman in her short life embraced them all: wife and mother, widow, head of state, nurse, administrator, and consecrated religious.

For many Christians, the vocation to holiness will be lived out in the special apostolic vocation of priesthood or religious life; but for most, the vocation will be matrimony, the sacred calling to build the Kingdom of God by raising a family. It is the first and most fundamental way man makes return to God for His original investment. God blessed the man and said, “be fruitful and multiply.”

For a Christian, marriage is more than the natural human question. It is a specific vocational path to holiness and service of the Kingdom. It requires the three steps of 1) careful discernment of the right spouse, 2) unconditional investment in the sacred bond of matrimony sealed by God at the altar, 3) lifelong service to God particularly by having and raising children.

The first reading from Proverbs describes the qualities for a young man to discern in a good wife (and himself be worthy of), and they are all the qualities of a saint: skilled, hard-working, considerate of others, strong in the Lord. Today’s parable needs to be applied in a particular way to Catholic marriages. So often, the world sees things in a “zero-sum” way, i.e., with a “subtract/divide” philosophy as embraced by the useless, fearful, lazy servant. According to the world, commitment reduces options (and potential). According to the world, more children means less to go around. In this context it can be clearly understood why the Church condemns as immoral the situation of divorce and remarriage, as well as the use of artificial means of contraception. These practices in effect “bury” the talent and prevent its supernatural purpose, cutting off the possibility of the yield which the Lord seeks.

A couple with seven children – very unusual in these times – is often questioned by friends: “How do you do it? How do you manage, having to divide yourself among so many needs and provide for so many?” To which the couple answers, “we never divide, we multiply.” Every addition multiplies the resources, the love, the capability. More is not less, it is exactly as Jesus says: “to the one who has more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Through the bond of marriage, the couple is and is capable of more than ever possible by the two separate individuals alone. Love never divides, and is never divisible. Love only increases and multiplies.

God has invested Himself in His creature, blessing man with tremendous spiritual treasure. Now we must show what we were able to accomplish.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Lamp & Oil

November 12, 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 25:1-13)

During this season of November when the days become dark and the Church year comes to its end, the liturgy directs our minds to the “Last Things,” to death and what awaits us afterward, and to the coming of Christ.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is an exhortation for Christians to live in such a way they are prepared at the time of death to enter heaven, which Christ describes as a wedding banquet. The Church as a whole is the Bride of Christ, but the individual members of the Church are depicted as bridesmaids, torch- bearers who accompany the Church into glory and participate in the great feast through her.

The bridesmaids are young virgins. This virginity signifies baptismal purity and sinlessness. In Baptism we receive the white garment of our consecration to God. Christian life is lived from the perspective of the baptismal “betrothal” to Christ, who leaves for a time to prepare a place with him in his Father’s house, soon to return and bring his Bride with him into the heavenly dwelling (Jn 14:2-3). Within the Church, the baptismal vocation of all Christians is lived through a special charism by those in religious life, the “consecrated virgins.” Love for Christ, and longing for heaven, should characterize every aspect of our earthly life; we are to live in readiness and expectation of the Bridegroom, looking toward the second coming of Christ.

The virgins bear lamps, which are also a symbol of baptism. Through baptism we receive the “Light of Christ” into our soul, and become Temples for the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world; let your light shine before men…” (Mt 5:14-6). Mary echoes this same idea in the Magnificat when she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46).

There are ten virgins in the parable. This possibly alludes to the ten commandments, signifying the life of holiness to which a Christian is called. Likewise, the fact that five of the virgins are wise may refer to the five scrolls of the Torah, God’s holy Law which is the source of perfect wisdom (cf. Sir 24:23).

The virgins fall asleep, indicating death. The first generation of Christians expected Christ to return within their lifetimes, but St. Paul explains this is not the case (1 Th 4:13-18). Except for that privileged final generation who will be caught up with the Lord directly into the heavenly glory (1 Th 4:17), Christians may expect to meet the Lord after death, when Christ calls forth the soul from the body.

As they go to meet Christ, the virgins trim the lamps. A poorly trimmed wick makes a dim and smoky flame, whereas a properly trimmed wick burns clean and bright. By keeping the commandments, and living a holy life according to God’s Word which purifies and prunes, Christians are prepared to shine brightly. After death, the light within the soul will shine even more perfectly than it did while in the flesh: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43).

It is the wise virgins whose lamps will shine in heavenly glory: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dn 12:3). It is above all due to the oil that the virgins are made wise.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the most important detail is the oil, without which the lamp cannot burn. If the lamp signifies Baptism, the oil would signify the anointing of Holy Spirit received through Confirmation, what the Bible calls the “Oil of gladness” (Ps 44:6). Through this anointing a Christian receives the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit, whose first characteristic is Wisdom. In addition, He is the Spirit of Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Piety, Strength, and Fear of the Lord.

A Christian is blessed with this “Heavenly Gift of God Most High” (cf. Hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus) in order to live and act as a Christian, possessing the “mind of Christ” (Phi 2:5; 1 Cor 2:16), possessing the very “Spirit of Christ” (Rm 8:9, Gal 4:6). The light of Christ is manifested in works of charity: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16). The oil is “good works,” carried out through the Spirit of Christ; it is faith put into practice.

When we die and go before God, we cannot take much with us from this life. Even our body must be left behind. But our good deeds go with us, and in fact are necessary for entrance into the heavenly banquet. What good is a Baptism that has never been put into practice? Or, as Jesus will explain in the next parable (Mt 25:14-30), what use is a talent that was never invested? Christ knows not the baptized Christian without good works. Baptism is not magic. Baptism is necessary for salvation, but is useless for salvation without a holy life.

The virgins gain the necessary oil by trading in the marketplace. This is the world. It is here that the Christian is able to put the spiritual gifts to work, in order to increase supply. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given in order to produce Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The oil of charity is increased by means of spending, investing, giving. The more that is given in love, through good works, the more brightly the light of Christ will shine, both on earth and in heaven.

The time for increasing the oil is in this life. After death, there is nothing more that can be done, because the ability to merit is ended. The wise virgins are not able to share their oil with the foolish bridesmaids. On the day of judgment, each will be judged on the merits of his own life.

One more detail from this parable seems curious. The door is shut to the foolish virgins, who are not ready for heaven, yet they are told even after their “falling asleep” to go to the market and buy for yourselves the oil you need. How can they buy more oil if they are already dead? While this parable is not explicit, it is a truth that following death there is a grace of final purification for the imperfect, a final mercy for those who die in the covenant of their baptism, yet die with insufficient oil due to venial sins and too great an attachment to the world. The language of the Lord against the foolish virgins in the parable is severe, yet not as severe as other parables where the damned are clearly being described as “bound hand and foot,” “cast into the darkness outside,” and subjected to “wailing and grinding of teeth” (cf. Mt 22:13, 8:12, 13:42, etc.).

Perhaps the door will remain shut only for a time in the case of these foolish bridesmaids who failed to use their time on earth wisely? The doctrine of Purgatory teaches that following death, some souls require additional purification and preparation for heaven. Yet there is nothing more they can do for themselves, but depend on the Church on earth. The foolish virgins are “sent back to the marketplace,” signifying the special role the Church on earth has, to trade and merit increase on behalf of the faithful departed, and beg the Lord his mercy to open that door for them. While in this life, we can certainly offer our personal sacrifices, in union with the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, on behalf of others, interceding for them and actually obtaining for them special graces they would not otherwise receive. This includes those already asleep.

As we come to the end of this Church year and reflect on the Last Things, let us purchase as much oil as possible, devoting ourselves to the Christian life, keeping the 10 commandments, instructed and purified in the wisdom of God’s Word, and above all putting into practice the Gifts of the Holy Spirit through a life of good works and charity. In this way death will not catch us unprepared, and the midnight cry announcing the Feast will waken us to joy, and not dread or regret.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Father, Teacher, Master

November 5, 2017

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 23:1-12)

“Call no man on earth ‘father;’ you have one Father in heaven.” This well- known saying of Jesus is often cited by non-Catholics against our Catholic practice of doing this very thing: calling priests “father.” Yet how do we respond?

The simple response would be to retort, “what do you then call your own human fathers?” If this saying of Jesus is a prohibition against calling Catholic priests “father,” then is it also a prohibition against calling anyone whatsoever “father,” and all are guilty of violating it.

This saying is not a prohibition, but an example of the Lord’s teaching style. He deliberately makes provocative – often humorous – statements in order to get the listener’s attention, raise questions, and call attention to something important. “If your eye is the problem, gouge it out…” “If someone steals your tunic, give him your coat also…” “I did not come to bring peace but the sword…”

Even so, the statement qualifies and changes the way we are to understand the title “father,” and it can never again be used except in the sense that Jesus teaches: with reference to God the Father in heaven.

There are actually three roles that Jesus highlights and qualifies for Christians: the role of the “father” (which by extension also includes motherhood),1 the role of the “teacher”2 (especially in the sense of moral and religious guidance), and the role of the “master” (“boss”).3 In each of these roles, man is established in a position of responsibility for others. He has authority and even power ‘over’ their lives; they are ‘under’ him in a dependent way. These are legitimate, necessary, and natural roles established by God for man and human society.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus highlights the spiritual significance of these roles entrusted to certain individuals, and therefore their sacred obligations. They are special roles, in that they share directly in the authority of God, and His solicitude for His people. Thus, even though men may be established in these roles, they always pertain to God, and belong to Him alone.

What Jesus prohibits in this teaching is the abuse of these offices, which occurs any time the father or teacher or master directs the one in his charge to himself instead of to God; any time he misuses his authority over others for selfish ends.

The most important of these roles is fatherhood (including motherhood). This role is a sacred responsibility, because by means of it the child comes to experience the authority of love of God. The fourth commandment (to honor and obey your father and mother) makes this clear. Parental authority and love is not simply the authority and love of the two parents for their children, it is the very authority and love of God Himself. In other words, parents minister the love of God, they are conduits or channels for God to manifest Himself.

There are profound and practical implications for parents to consider. First, their children do not “belong” to them; they “belong” to God, but are “entrusted” to them. The task of raising and disciplining children is a task undertaken in God’s name, and for God; not simply in the parents’ own name, or for their own ends. The discipline which parents administer must be worthy of God’s holiness: that is, it must be strict with regard to those behaviors that are sinful, even “absolute” and uncompromising with regard to the moral law. But discipline can never be arbitrary, disproportionate to the offense, or related to the frustration and inconvenience of the parents. Parents may never “take out their problems”, their impatience, on their children. Because God would never do such a thing, and parents must act in His name. This is what Jesus means when he says we have one true Father, and He is in heaven.

Additionally, even in situations where a father may be absent, fatherhood is still necessary in the life of the child. Jesus’ own situation illustrates this role of fatherhood by the vocation of St. Joseph. Even though he was not the biological father of Jesus, and perhaps because of this circumstance, St. Joseph best illustrates the true role of fatherhood according to Jesus’ teaching: an earthly sacrament of God’s heavenly Fatherhood.

Likewise, when the role of “master” is understood according to the teaching of Jesus (all exercise of human leadership has reference to God’s Lordship over us all), it has a transforming effect on society. Jesus reminds his followers, “you are all brethren” (Mt 23:8). It is the same expression used by St. Paul in his letter to Philemon, when intervening on behalf of an escaped slave whom he is returning to his human “master.” He tells Philemon he is returning Onesimus to him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16). He reiterates the new Christian relationship between masters and servants in several of his letters (Eph 6:5-9, Col 4:1). Under Christianity institutionalized slavery, as well as all forms of abuse toward workers, falls away. No Christian may use another man for his own aggrandizement: Christian economics always emphasizes the good of all parties as the goal.

Likewise, Christianity understands the role of Teacher as a sacred vocation, a responsibility to guide disciples into the way of truth. Modern educational systems fall far short of the Biblical vision, which envisions the teacher as the one who instructs disciples in the Wisdom of God. The role of the Christian teacher is not merely to impart knowledge, but to form character. It is a sacred task, which requires careful avoidance of personal opinions, and skirting or justifying areas where the teacher himself may be weak or sinful.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is beginning his great confrontation and excoriation of the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and failure. The roles he describes – father, teacher, master – are shared by laity, but they pertain above all to the clergy, since as Jesus emphasizes, these roles have a particular relationship with God’s own authoritative role. They are sacred responsibilities, religious obligations. It is bad enough when the laity fail in these roles, but it is intolerable for the religious fathers/teachers/masters to fail in these roles, failing to recognize the holy and sacred character of their office, failing to “practice what they preach.” It will not go well on judgment day for clergy who are bad fathers by their example, who corrupt God’s truth in their teaching, and whose administrations impose burdens and obstacles for the faithful who must actually do the work of the Church.

Nevertheless, even here Jesus’ teaching makes a crucial distinction that enables the laity to contextualize those situations where clergy do indeed fail: “they occupy the Seat of Moses, therefore do and observe whatsoever they command; but do not follow their example” (Mt 23:2-3). The human fathers-teachers-masters do indeed bear God’s authority and must be obeyed when they exercise their roles – however perfect or imperfect they might be… Thus, for instance, children must obey and honor their parents, even when they are aware that parents make mistakes or are sometimes wrong. But because God alone is the true Father-Teacher- Master, our lives and faith are never dependent on the particular ministry of any individual father-teacher-master.

Christ does not permit us to use the failures of clergy as an excuse for our own failures or abnegation of responsibility. Clergy who have abused victims will burn in hell for their scandals and failures to honor God. Victims who use that as an excuse to turn against God’s Church, attacking and undermining her, will join them. God’s Fatherhood transcends any human fatherhood, lay or clerical. This important truth is both a condemnation of the fathers who fail to carry out their roles in God’s name, and a consolation to those who experience the failures.

Therefore, Jesus is not saying no man on earth is our “father,” but that no earthly fatherhood is true unless it reveals the Fatherhood of God.

(1) Our neutered society prefers the term “parent.” 2 i.e. “Rabbi” 3 In the economic system at the time of Jesus, the relationship of a servant to a master was much more dependent and personal than the fluid worker relationship that exists today.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The First Commandment

October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 22:34-40)

Jesus says the “first and greatest” commandment is to love God, and to love Him above all else, with all our heart, mind, soul, (and strength). The first three commandments of the Decalogue outline the obligations of this Great Commandment, beginning with the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have not other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-5; Dt 5:6-9). It is also proclaimed by Jesus when responding to the Devil in the third Temptation: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Mt 4:10).

At the time of baptism we began a relationship with God—not just the relationship of a creature to the Creator, but of a son to a Father, and through Christ, of a bride to her husband. We entered a “covenant,” which means a relationship that is personal, mutual, and free. It is a relationship of love, with duties and obligations, the responsibilities of love.

In Baptism God gave us the capacity for this personal covenant relationship with Himself, since by human nature alone we do not possess the capacity to be anything other than a creature in relation to God. God did so by infusing into our soul at the time of Baptism the three “Theological Virtues” of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Catechism 2086-94). This is not the ordinary faith, hope and love we already possess through human nature, which are constantly at play in the regular course of human life and activity. (1) These are “supernatural” gifts of grace, enabling our human nature to act on a higher level, that of God Himself. They give us a relationship with the Holy Trinity, establishing us within the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By means of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, we are taken into the intimacy of God’s inner “personal” existence. The Theological Virtues, also known as “Sanctifying Grace,” make us holy, a temple of God, a place in which He dwells (Catechism 1999-2000).

Therefore, the first duties with regard to the great commandment to love God with all our being, is to guard this sacred relationship, increase it, and protect it from sins which could undermine or even destroy our Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Faith means knowledge of God: God Himself directly, and things about God. There can be no true relationship between persons without knowledge of each other. God reveals Himself to His people, that He might have a deep personal relationship with them. This revelation comes through Scripture and Tradition, the great history of God’s interaction with His Chosen People and His interventions in human life. God shows Himself above all in the Incarnation, in Jesus Christ. Faith is the recognition and acceptance of the Truth which is God, and everything He has revealed about Himself and His plan of salvation.

Though God blesses us with the gift of Faith in baptism, it is possible to lose it through pride, or dishonest skepticism. Among the sins against faith is incredulity, especially our modern tendency to “disbelieve” everything and anything that smacks of miracles or that which science can’t explain. By embracing an atheistic outlook, we make it difficult or even impossible for God to reveal Himself, we commit a grave sin against faith.

If Faith is knowledge of God, then Hope is trust in God, that He will do what He says, and fulfill what He promises. There can be no true relationship between persons without trust in each other. This Hope consists especially in the promise of heaven, which is the consummation of our relationship with God in the Beatific Vision. Hope is necessary especially because of evils which challenge our human existence, most especially our own sinfulness, suffering, and death. The devil utilizes evil to undermine our trust in God, and doubt His goodness. He utilizes our sinfulness to bring about despair, a sin against Hope. We must neither presume our salvation by relying on our own efforts and merits, nor must we despair of God’s mercy. Our relationship with God must be anchored in the sacred trust of Hope.

The third Theological Virtue of Charity is the greatest. It is the actual bond of union in the relationship, the virtue by which our mutual beings become a shared being. Each party seeks their own well-being in the good of the other. In the covenant with God, the initiative of love comes from God, and through the Holy Spirit the human response is elevated to a divine level: by Charity we are able to love in return, with the very love of God. This divine Charity in the human heart will cause the first commandment to become the second commandment: love of neighbor. We are commanded to show our love of God by loving our neighbor, with that very same love of God.

The Charity of our Baptism is undermined by the sin of Indifference, which means not caring. When the relationship with God becomes unimportant, or less important than other interests, Charity fails. As in human relationships, love means we give to the other our time and attention, the priority of our self. Just as the bond of human relationships can diminish or be lost through the way people drift apart, so we can endanger or lose our Baptismal bond with God through indifference.

Another demand of Charity is Gratitude. There can be no true relationship between persons without the recognition and acknowledgement of the good of the other through expressions of gratitude. With regard to our relationship with God, Scripture calls this gratitude “Thanksgiving” or “Eucharist.”

The love of God is therefore expressed in the obligations of Religion. This is the purpose of religion, to express the gratitude which our relationship with God demands. Each part of religion – Adoration, Prayer, Sacrifice, Promises and Vows – is a Thanksgiving which recognize and acknowledge the goodness of God, and our love for Him.

Religion and its devotional aspect therefore must be true and sincere, based on true Faith, Hope, and Love. Superstition would be a false “religion,” based on fear and manipulation instead, the way bad human relationships are based on mistrust and manipulation.

Baptism establishes us in a covenant with God, “sons” of the Father in the Sonship of Christ, and also “bride” of Christ. Like human marriage, the relationship with God is based on vows, involves total and mutual self-gift, and has the characteristics of permanence and exclusivity. The human marital relationship must be nourished by a jealous protectivity, so that there might be no danger of infidelity or adultery which would destroy the relationship. Likewise in the divine relationship, idolatry must be avoided: “you shall not have other gods before me.”

Charity requires loyalty, commitment. We may not give ourselves to another. Chief among the false gods whom we are tempted to worship and serve (and love) instead of God, is mammon. Through money, and in many other ways, the world seeks to allure the children of God, and ensnare them with false promises of pleasure and contentment, undermining their true love and commitment. In order to love God “with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” we must jealously guard our affections, entrusting our lives and well-being to God alone.

The relationship with God is the first and most important relationship. It is above all others, to the degree that all other (human) relationships will be subsumed and lived from the perspective of the divine relationship. Jesus immediately connects the first commandment with the second, which is the love of one’s fellow man. By connecting the second to the first, it elevates and transforms human relationships so that one’s fellow man is loved with the love of God, with the love of Christ.

This is what the Theological Virtues accomplish. Let us reexamine the first and most important “commandment” in our life, which is our relationship with God. Let us love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

(1) When I go to the auto mechanic, I believe what he tells me about the car; I place my hope in his promise to fix it by tomorrow; and I love him for the good work he does. I acknowledge him with gratitude by paying in full, and develop a loyalty to his business, thus forming a strong and lasting relationship.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Religion & Politics

October 22, 2017

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 22:15-21)

The Gospel shows how Jesus’ enemies tried to trap him, using a political question. Even today, the relationship between religion and politics is used as a means to try trap Catholics. This happened as recently as a few weeks ago, when very liberal senators attempted to undermine the appointment of a dedicated Catholic as a federal judge, manifesting the very same malice used against Jesus. (1)

Religion is not an obstacle to political involvement, but a help. The more religious one is, the better citizen one will be, the better judge. Unfortunately, rather than push back against the hypocrisy as Jesus did, many Catholic politicians (2) deny or hide their faith, colluding with the enemy in order to gain office.

In the case of Jesus, they try to trap him with the hot-button political issue of paying taxes to Romans. If he answered yes, they would accuse him of being a bad Jew, since Romans are a foreign Gentile nation that shouldn’t be supported. If he answered no, they would get him in trouble with the Romans. Jesus deftly avoided the trap by highlighting the distinction between religion and politics. Since the coin bears Caesar’s image, it can be given to him without compromising religion: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

This is a fundamentally important precept of Catholic social and political teaching. It will later be echoed by St. Paul, who urges the Christians to be good subjects of their political authorities, praying for and respecting them, dutifully paying their taxes (Rm 13:1-7, 1Tm 2:1-2, Tit 3:1). Catholics have moral obligations toward their civil society and its leaders. They must follow the laws of the land, participate in the political process, fulfill civic duties, serve their country in the military, love their country and promote its welfare, and seek the common good. Being Catholic is an asset to any citizen of any land: Catholics are not the trouble-makers, but the ones who can be looked to for loyalty and commitment.

Catholics are commanded by Christ to “Give to Caesar his due.” But Catholics are also commanded to “Give to God what belongs to God,” and this is what provokes the rage of the modern establishment. Jesus teaches there are two distinct spheres of religion and politics, and each is to be properly acknowledged and respected. For the secular atheists, there is only politics and political will (usually imposed by the judges who circumvent the legislative process). Religious authority is viewed as a threat by these enemies of Christ.

The founding fathers of the United States understood very well the unique Christian teaching on religion and politics, and implemented it. It underlies the Constitution and its explicit desire to establish a “limited government.” They were keen to keep government and politics out of religion, by not establishing an official religion. The reason for this was not to undermine religion, but precisely to respect, acknowledge, and promote the religious sphere. The founding fathers understood they were founding a “Nation under God.”

The founders recognized there are two realms, and that religion is the bedrock of society, and the religious authority of God is higher than the political authority of the government, which is limited to the will of the people “under” God. This is why the founders speak of certain “self-evident” truths: man is endowed by his Creator (not the civil authority) with certain inalienable rights, that civil authority or founding fathers did not give and cannot take away; that among these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the Gospel, Jesus not only proclaims the distinction between religion and politics, he also gives the specific criteria for determining what belongs to each realm: “Whose image does it bear?” Money, finances, commerce, economics, industry, infrastructure, national defense, law and order, taxation – all these things pertain to Caesar, they are the political issues. But man himself in his human nature bears the image and inscription of God (Gn 1:26). Man in his rational nature (reason and will) has a spiritual soul and is fundamentally a spiritual being, higher than the material world. The founding fathers established a society whose principles acknowledged and served this dignity, safeguarding and protecting man’s spiritual and religious liberty.(3)

Today this foundational principal of a religious society with government explicitly limited to its proper realm, is distorted by a false concept of “Separation of Church and State” which is hostile to religion. Today Caesar usurps to his domain the determination of human rights, and human nature itself. Caesar denies what belongs to God, by legalizing abortion, euthanasia, and genetic engineering; by forbidding prayer, religious festivals, and religious symbols in public institutions; by denying the religious character of the Lord’s Day; and by redefining the institution of marriage and the meaning of sexuality.

Caesar may intervene against religion if the religion oversteps its bounds and starts to get involved in politics, ascribing to itself the authority to dictate various policies and practices which are the competence of the laity working through the political process. A good example of this problem is Islam, a religion which recognizes no distinction between “Church and State,” between God and Caesar. In Islam there is only the religious realm. (4)(5)

On the other hand, the Church must intervene against Caesar when the government oversteps its bounds and starts to deny religion, ascribing to itself the authority which belongs to God alone. A good example of this problem is modern Secularism, (6) the political philosophy of the leftists/liberals, which recognizes no distinction between “Church and State” in the public sphere. It is atheistic. Religion is “tolerated” only in the private realm, only insofar as it is visibly absent from the public political realm. With Secularism there is only the political realm, religion is suppressed.(7)

Thus Catholics are continually caught up in situations like the one faced by Jesus: malicious enemies on either side who would entrap and condemn us by confusing the important distinction between religion and politics, either reducing all politics to religion, or reducing all religion to politics. Like Jesus, we have the urgent duty to expose and confront this hypocrisy, and reclaim the truth.

This nuanced and important teaching of Jesus alone preserves liberty in a society. Apart from this teaching, there is only tyranny.

(1) During a confirmation hearing on Sep 6, 2017, for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Mazie Hirono attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith. Said Feinstein, “It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their [sic] personal convictions whether it derives from faith or personal conviction.” Said Durbin, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Said Hirono, “I think your article is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges.”                    

(2) Such as Dick Durbin .                                                                                                                  

(3 ) The Civil War and the ending of legalized slavery was not a violation of the founding principles, but their vindication. The United States become more fully “true to itself” and its Christian roots by abolishing the institution of slavery and giving back to God what never should have been taken from Him in the first place.

(4) This is why the West is so grateful when Islamic nations have “officially secular” governments (such as Egypt and Turkey currently, but barely). But as is evident from current and past history, “secular” Islamic nations are anomalies, and tend to be transient. They are always opposed, and sooner or later overthrown by the “true” Islamic believers. Iran run by the Ayatollahs, Saudi Arabia which legislates religious laws as secular laws, and the Caliphate of ISIS more accurately reflect the actual Islamic understanding of society built through religious Sharia law.

(5) The United States, and western governments, would be fully within their rights, to restrict and oppose Islam within their borders, since it is an ideology which fundamentally opposes and denies the foundational Christian principle upon which the western nations are built. Islam gives to God what belongs to Caesar.

(6) Another example would be Communism.

(7) American and other religious citizens of the West are fully within their rights to resist and oppose the legalization of abortion, “gay marriage,” transgender requirements, and the prohibitions against prayer and public display of religion, since these reflect an ideology which fundamentally opposes and denies the foundational Christian principle upon which the western nations are built. Secularists give to Caesar what belongs to God.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Wedding Garment

October 15, 2017

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Is 25:6-10; Mt 22:1-14)

The parable of the Wedding Banquet, like last Sunday’s, shows the transition from the Old Testament to the New, from Israel to Christianity. The Jews were unworthy of the Kingdom. Although originally invited, they found excuses and even rejected and killed the messengers of God, who will in turn destroy their city and look to others to fill the banquet hall.

The result is the “Catholic” Church, assembled from all nations of the world. It is providential that God fulfills the preparations for His Son’s great banquet of salvation during the time of the Romans, whose magnificent highway system reaches so many nations. Messengers (apostles) of the King go forth on these highways and byways. By the end of the first century, the invitation of the Gospel has reached the four corners of the known world.

The Kingdom of God is described as a banquet. Banquets are important, not just for good food, but for good company. Banquets establish and renew family bonds. They celebrate abundance, harmony, and joy – everything good in life.

Christ’s favorite image for heaven is therefore the banquet, described in the prophecy of Isaiah 25. Particular to God’s heavenly banquet is the removal of all sadness and death. The heavenly banquet cannot be realized on earth, though many societies and individuals strive to achieve it: peace on earth and abundance of good things. Unfortunately, many things prevent the perfect banquet on earth: famines and food shortages; natural disasters and wars; sin and contention among brothers; illness; death.

Though heaven is not possible on earth, in the Eucharist Christ gives a foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet. Here Christ pours out all his riches and graces, including the life beyond death: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

It’s not just any banquet which Jesus uses to describe the heavenly Kingdom of God, but specifically the wedding banquet. The wedding feast celebrates the love of a man and woman, and the blessing of new life. It is the greatest of all human banquets, lasting a full seven days in biblical culture. There is abundant food, fine wine in plenty (at the wedding of Cana Jesus consecrates over 100 gallons!), and Sabbath rest from work. Heaven is the eternal wedding banquet provided by the Father for the marriage of His Son and the Church. Heaven is the consummation of the love between Christ and his bride, where human nature is fully satisfied.

The Book of Revelation also presents heaven in terms of the wedding banquet between Christ and the Church: “Let us rejoice and exult, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rv 19:7). These words are echoed in the Mass before Holy Communion, when the priest presents to the congregation its Bridegroom: “Behold the Lamb of God… Blessed are those invited to the [Wedding] Supper of the Lamb.”

It is a privilege to be a Catholic, to be invited to the feast. But it is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Jesus points out in the parable, “Many are invited, but not all are chosen.” God wants everyone to participate in the heavenly banquet, and all are given an invitation by His messengers. But that does not mean everybody participates. Not only the Jews who refused him, but even among the Gentiles who did accept the invitation, not all are able to participate. Jesus tells of the man who is thrown out because he did not wear a proper wedding garment. What is the wedding garment that allows us enter the wedding banquet of the Lamb, without which we will be ejected?

Festive attire for Mass. It is disgraceful the way some people show up for Mass, dressed as if they are stopping by a fast food place on the way to the beach. Dress for Mass should not be sloppy and informal, immodest or vain. Mass is a formal and extremely important occasion, it is the wedding banquet of the King. Our dress should reflect that reality: clean clothes, good quality, formal, conservative, dignified, respectful, and festive; without going overboard with jewelry, makeup, and ostentatious display of fashion or style. But this is not exactly what the parable is referring to…

Baptism. The outward adornment of clothing needs to reflect the inner holiness of the soul, which is the true wedding garment spoken of in the parable. The garment we need for the feast is the baptismal robe, i.e. the grace of Christ which washes away original sin and makes us a holy temple of God: “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…” (Baptism Ritual). Without Baptism, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Without Baptism, we cannot celebrate the Eucharist.

Good deeds. Baptism by itself is not enough. The grace of Christ received in Baptism must be lived through good deeds and holiness: “…bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven” (Baptism Ritual). Sin stains and corrupts the baptismal robe, resulting in expulsion from the wedding banquet. In addition to Baptism there is need of Penance/Confession, by which sin is forgiven and our life is continually purified. Penance restores the soul to its baptismal purity, “without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

Vocation. Finally, the garment that allows us entry into the wedding banquet of the King is the vocation which flows from Confirmation: especially Holy Matrimony or Consecrated religious life, in conformity with the laws of God and the Church. In the case of consecrated life, this vocation is literally lived in a wedding garment, the religious habit, a practice which is imitated by the laity through the scapular devotion.

For most Christians, the vocation will be Holy Matrimony. Today many Catholics have no understanding of the meaning of this sacrament, and there are many cohabitations, civil marriages, and attempts at remarriage. All of which violates the requirement that guests to the banquet wear the proper wedding garment. Marriage must conform to Baptism. The Baptismal robe must become the garment of Holy Matrimony, and not some false substitute or counterfeit.

We must understand that Baptism is already one’s first and original “marriage.” St. Paul, who evangelized and baptized the Corinthian community, says to them, “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor 11:2). Baptism “marries” the soul to God. We are “consecrated” to Him. We “belong” to Him. Failure to be faithful to our Baptismal vows is an adultery, a sin of “infidelity.”

For this reason, the consecrated or celibate state is a higher vocation than the married state, because it “formalizes” in a permanent vowed way the original Baptismal marriage to the Lord. A nun is living a vowed, married life, clinging to the Divine Spouse and living the earthly life in full anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Death ends a human marriage, but not the religious consecration.

It is because of the original Baptismal marriage to the Lord, that the Christian state of marriage also has to be a Sacrament. A Christian is only permitted to marry another human being if this “other” marriage can express or manifest in some deeper way what has taken place in Baptism. Thus, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is an image and participation of the love between Christ and his Church. In the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the husband represents Christ the Head and Bridegroom, while the wife represents the Church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church… Wives, be submissive to your husbands as [the Church is submissive] to the Lord” (Eph 5:25,22).

Christian marriage must be one with the baptismal consecration. It must not violate the original marriage covenant, but express it. Therefore, a Catholic cannot get married without the Church’s blessing. Therefore, Holy Matrimony is subject to strict sacramental rules and regulations. Therefore, any irregular non- sacramental “marriage” precludes participation in the Eucharist. Simply speaking, one is wearing the wrong garment.

The severity of the King’s reaction to the guest not properly dressed (“bind him hand and foot and cast him into the darkness outside”) ought to be a warning to those today who seek to rewrite the rules, or otherwise undermine the integrity and intimate relationship of the Sacraments to each other: Baptism – Penance – Eucharist – Confirmation – Matrimony. Though God is generous with the invitation to salvation, and the Gentiles have responded by accepting Baptism in great numbers, the soul must be properly clothed for the feast, which is neither easy nor automatic. There must be a life of holiness and fidelity. This is a requirement which certainly cannot be dispensed. Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Family

October 8, 2017

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Is 5:1-7; Ps 80; Mt 21:33-43)

The vineyard is an important biblical symbol for Israel, God’s chosen people. By His covenant, they inherit the Holy Land, in which they are to cultivate a life of holiness and fruitfulness. The first reading is Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard” (Is 5:1-7) which proclaims, “The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” Likewise, Psalm 80 speaks of the vine which the Lord transplanted from Egypt into the vineyard of the Promised Land.

In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the theme of the Vineyard of Israel, but his parable condemns the tenants who have failed to produce a vintage for the Lord. Time and again God sent them prophets whom they did not heed, and even when He sent them His Son, they rejected him and put him to death. The parable describes how God will take His vineyard away from the tenants who failed in their stewardship, and hand it over to others who will produce fruit. This parable describes the transfer of the covenant from Israel and Jerusalem (the Old Testament), to the Church formed from Gentiles (New Testament). Whereas the Jews rejected and crucified the Messiah, the Gentiles welcomed the Gospel of Christ.

The Vineyard, then, is a Biblical image not only for the Promised Land of the Old Covenant, but also for the Church entrusted to the Gentiles. There is also a third way we can also understand the Vineyard, which is the family. The family is a microcosm of the universal Church. It is the local “vineyard” out of which the larger Vineyard of the Lord is created.

Just as a vineyard consists of carefully cultivated vines, which when they mature can be transplanted to begin new vineyards, children after they have been raised by their parents, are transplanted to begin new families.

The family is an enterprise. God establishes the family in order to bring forth a harvest, a “vintage” of fine wine. When God created man in the beginning He established the man with his wife in the garden, to cultivate it and produce a family: “be fruitful and multiply.” Children are the fruit God seeks.

But not just any children. God wants good fruit, not bad. In the “Song of the Vineyard” from Isaiah, God made sure that good healthy vines were planted in the Holy Land. Yet, when He came looking for good grapes he found wild ones, that did not yield a good wine. The tenants had failed to cultivate them properly.

Raising a vineyard is hard and exacting work. The soil must be “spaded,” cleared of stones (Is 5:2). The field must constantly be weeded. The growth of the vines must be carefully supervised and daily tended. It takes years to cultivate good vines. They must be constantly trimmed and pruned. In fact, they require a certain weight of stress or pressure to grow well. But the result will be a good wine, highly prized and sought out.

Parents, likewise, are charged with raising good children. This means carefully cultivating their lives as they grow up, constantly correcting and imposing discipline so they do not grow wild and spoiled, and end up producing bad fruit.

In his apostolic exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world (Familiaris consortio 21), Pope John Paul II quotes an expression from Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes 52) which he then develops. The family is “a school of deeper humanity.” It is the place where there is “care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.” The family is the first and irreplaceable “school of the social virtues” (36-37, 42-43). It is the very “school of following Christ”: all the members evangelize, and are evangelized (39,86).

This is the meaning of the “winepress” in the vineyard. The family is a “school.” Just as the grapes are collected into the winepress and turned into wine, the experience of the family members living together forms and transforms them into Christians through a process of education. Family life provides the daily opportunities for holiness, the fruit which God desires. This sacred school of virtue, love, and holiness is guided by the parents who are filled with God’s grace and teaching to accomplish the task.

In addition to a winepress, the Bible speaks of the “wall” or hedge which surrounds the vineyard, and the “tower.” Without them, the vineyard would not last. The wall protects the vulnerable vines from thieves and predators who would steal away the grapes before they can reach maturity. Families require strong moral defenses. Children must be protected from those influences which undermine the work of Christian parents.

The moral law – its rules and prohibitions – and the “domestic law” established by parents for their particular home, serve as the wall or barrier. They define the boundaries and identity of the family, who “we” are, and who we are not. Good laws protect and serve, assisting the work of that school within. Far from curtailing freedom, the law delineates the area in which it is safe to work, play, and grow as happy human beings. Stay “within the law” and you can do as you please. Break the law by going outside the wall, and you subject yourself to danger, as well as undermine your family bonds, your family identity.

Those families do well which have clear rules, articulated and evenly applied, domestic house rules which are built upon God’s own Ten Commandments. Those children grow best who know exactly what the expectations and “limits” are, and stay within them.

If moral values serve as the wall of the vineyard, the faith revealed in Scripture and taught by the Church serves as its tower. Faith gives a “higher perspective” as well as an authority on life. It is through the tower one must pass to enter and leave the vineyard. The faith is a family’s anchor, the source and summit of its activity.

Another way to understand the wall and the tower of the vineyard is through the sacrament of Matrimony. In the Song of Songs, Solomon’s wedding is depicted in terms of a Vineyard, in which the love of the couple is celebrated (cf. Sng 2:9,4:12). Viewed in this perspective, the tower is the headship of the man, while the wall is the love of the woman. Together, they form the protective enclosure that creates and serves the family. The permanence and exclusivity of the marriage bond, together with the authoritative role given to parents by God, create the secure and structured environment in which children can be raised and flourish.

The family is the domestic Church. It is the microcosm and basic cell of the larger Church. In Christ God establishes a new Vine for all mankind (Jn 15), so that each individual family might have access to his “new wine.” He is the owner of the vineyard of our lives, we are its tenants. Let us be faithful workers in the vineyard given us by the Lord, cultivating healthy fruit in the lives of our children, producing in our families that harvest worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Capital Sins

October 1, 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Phi 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32)

The seven Capital Sins (or Deadly Sins) are: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, Avarice, and Lust. We need to understand these sins in order to deepen our spiritual conversion.

When we prepare for first confession as children, we learn the Ten Commandments of the moral law, which are the first stage of conversion. They describe the path of righteousness that leads to eternal life, by proscribing actions which kill grace (i.e., mortal sins). Our examination of conscience must always begin with the Ten Commandments, because sins are violations of a divine law.

But as we grow older and our discipleship matures, our examination needs to focus more on the Capital Sins, which are the “sins behind the sins.” They are the deep, stubborn underlying tendencies in our fallen human nature to love the wrong things. They are the reason we commit other sins. Very often we are not even aware of them, yet they are the real problem.

For example, let’s say we commit the sin of missing Sunday Mass through our own fault, which is a violation of the third Commandment, and confess this sin in the sacrament of Penance. But what about the capital sin? What was the deeper sin behind that sin? Did I miss Mass due to Sloth, which indicates that my love for God is weak or superficial (i.e., spiritual “laziness”)? Or was it due to Pride, in that I retained control over my schedule and priorities, determining for myself what I wanted to do with my Sunday? Or was it due to Anger, something being held against God or neighbor that prevented me from praying?

Thus when we make our examination of conscience in preparation for the sacrament of confession, we need to pay attention not only to the sins we have committed in violation of the Ten Commandments. More importantly, we need to look to the “sins behind the sins.” God can absolve and forgive the sins we commit, but how is that going to change us, and guarantee we won’t go out and do the same thing again? Only when we dig into the deeper root-causes of sin in our soul and bring these to the healing grace of confession, and accept in our lives the purifying penances that are needed to heal us, will we begin to change.

Even though someone may die reconciled to God and man through Baptism and Penance/Confession – with all their mortal sins forgiven – it does not mean they can go directly to heaven. They still have to address those underlying tendencies to sin in the soul, those “wounds” in human nature which go back to the Fall. These require purification and healing one way or another. “Purgatory” is especially focused upon these sins; its holy fire burns them away so that the soul is completely free and unburdened, holy and pure. (1)

The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and St. Paul in his letters, focus more upon purifying the Capital Sins, than merely obeying the Law. For instance, two Sundays ago when Jesus told Peter he needed to forgive absolutely, it was in order to overcome the deadly sin of Anger which holds grudges and seeks revenge. Last Sunday in the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the last were paid as much as the first in order to highlight the deadly sin of Envy, which causes unnecessary resentment and hatred, and withdraws us from God’s generous spirit.

Today’s Parable of the Disobedient Son points to the deadly sin of Pride, which is manifested above all in disobedience. Pride is the embrace of one’s own will, and the refusal to submit to another’s. Pride is the disobedience in us that wants to do what we want to do, instead of what someone tells us. We say “no” to God, “I will not.” Pride is the first capital sin, and the deadliest. It is the first sin ever committed – by Lucifer, who was the greatest of all the angels, the highest and first-born of all creatures; (2) and by Adam and Eve, who wanted to be their own gods deciding for themselves right and wrong. It is also the first sin of every small child, among whose earliest learned words is “No!”

The sin of pride is the one by which we exalt ourselves, and thus it is also called “vainglory,” or simply “vanity.” There is in pride a narcissistic deception. Instead of seeing oneself truly, by looking to God and others, the prideful person sees himself by looking only to himself, blind to God and others. It is why pride leads some people to become so preoccupied with their appearance, how they look, and why they become so upset when something about themselves is not “perfect.”

By pride we makes ourselves our own god, and “define” who others are in relation to ourselves, beginning with God. Pride causes idolatry. That is, it prevents us from worshipping the true God. Instead, we worship “God” as we want Him to be, as we think He should be. What the prideful person thinks is God, is actually only his self-idealization, his idealized self-projection. Thus, because of pride, we worship a false image of God, an idol we ourselves have made.

Likewise with regard to our neighbor, instead of loving our fellow man “as he is,” we love what we imagine him to be according to our own self image, or want him to be. We place other people into categories of our own making. And always, without realizing, we have made ourselves more important. Pride is selfishness, self-centeredness.

In the Gospel Jesus highlights the prideful deception of the Pharisees and elders, who imagine themselves to be holy and not in need of the repentance John preached. Like the son who said “yes,” they think they are pleasing God, yet in fact they are not doing God’s will. Pride blinds them to their fault.

Pride is the worst of all sins, because it is the most serious, and the most deceptive and hidden. Pride’s favorite mask is “humility!” The greatest pride masquerades as the greatest holiness. When you think you are holy and righteous, obedient and pleasing to God, you are actually woefully lost. When you think you are humble, or when you are trying to be humble, you are actually committing the sin of lucifer! Because if you were truly humble, you wouldn’t be thinking about pride or humility or yourself at all! Humility is literally, self-forgetfulness.

Today’s second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is the most beautiful passage in all the Bible regarding Humility, which is the antidote of Pride. He urges Christians to cultivate humility by habitually considering others as more important than themselves, and their needs as more pressing than theirs: “Do nothing out of pride or vainglory. Rather, humbly regard others as superior to yourselves, each of you looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”

And then he sets before them the example of Christ, in the beautiful hymn of Christ’s exaltation: “Have among yourselves the attitude of Christ…” Though he was the very form and identity of God (as the second Person of the Trinity), Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Instead, he did what Lucifer would never do: he emptied himself of all glory in order to become man. Jesus “lowered” himself to the level of man, and went even further: he took on the form of a slave, who would sacrifice himself for man. All of this was in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, expressed in his sacrificial death on the Cross.

Whereas Lucifer sought to exalt himself, deeming equality with God something to be grasped, for which he was “cast down” to be trampled by man into the dirt and cursed; Jesus by his humility was “raised up” and exalted to the right hand of the Father, to be blessed above every Name. God raises the humble.

When thinking of Christ, and what took place in the Incarnation, it is shocking to realize how humble God is! Though He is the supreme Creator with all power and glory, He deems His creature more important than Himself, He puts Himself in service to the creature, God will give His life for the creature. It was this humility of God that Lucifer found so repugnant, and why he thought he was more truly “God” than God was.

Humility is “self-forgetfulness.” It’s not about me! The fulfillment of the “self” is found outwardly, in charity, not inwardly in narcissism/selfishness. The humble, says St. Paul, should be united in seeking the common good, not personal good; and the harmony of will which results from submission/obedience.

Pride is a very scary sin to think about, because it is so difficult to detect. Jesus confronts the self-righteous Pharisees with their lack of humility, by showing how the tax collectors and prostitutes are much more spiritually advanced than they. They didn’t think they had sins, or couldn’t see any big sins. Yet they were the biggest devils of all: the vilest, most corrupt, most hypocritical and ungodly people Jesus ever encountered. He called them white-washed tombs that look good on the outside but inside were filled with decay and corruption.

More important than the sins we need to confess then, are the “sins behind the sins.” As we seek to the follow the Lord, it is not sufficient merely to keep the law, content to avoid breaking any of the commandments. Even that can be – very likely is – a terrible sin.

(1) In the Divine Comedy, Dante depicts the first stage of conversion, focusing on the Ten Commandments, in the Inferno. The second stage of conversion, focusing on the Capital Sins, is depicted in the Purgatorio.                                                                                                

(2) The devil’s motto is “non serviam,” “I will not serve!”

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Eleventh Hour Laborer

September 24, 2017

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 20:1-16)

According to the Fathers of the Church,(1) there are two basic ways to interpret the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. In the first way, it describes the ages of salvation history, beginning with Adam and Eve, who were placed in the garden at the dawn of history to cultivate it with God’s blessing (Gn 1:28-30).

Due to sin, man abandoned his holy work in favor of an evil life, and God thus visited him again in the time of Noah and Abraham, and again in the time of Moses and the Exodus, sending him back to the vineyard. God renewed the world for Noah, promised Abraham he would in inherit the land, and brought the Israelites into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Each time God made covenants, agreements with man to reward him for his labor and faithfulness. Each time, man would fall back into laziness and sin, abandoning his holy work.

“Time and again God offered man covenants and through the prophets taught him to look forward to salvation” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).

Finally, in the fullness of time as the “day” comes to its completion, God makes one last great effort to bring mankind into his Vineyard, the Church. This is the “eleventh hour,” and these are the Gentiles, people who have been living idle lives in the marketplace during all this time of the Old Testament when God has been supervising and disciplining His chosen people under the Law of Moses. The apostles go out to all the world pressing mankind into God’s service before it is too late and the sun sets on the world.

In the second interpretation, the hours of the day refer to the stages of one’s life, from childhood to old age. Throughout our life, because of Sloth we fall away from the original fervor of our Baptism and require renewal. Throughout our life, God calls us to deeper and deeper conversion. Moreover, as we grow older we need to continually re-learn the faith, always deepening our knowledge and assimilation. This can be seen in any parish, where the pastoral efforts of the Church focus upon Baptism at infancy, First Holy Communion at childhood, Confirmation in youth, Marriage in adulthood, and Anointing of the Sick in old age. Each of these sacramental milestones renews and deepens the promise of salvation, preparing us for the judgment and reward that is to follow our life, according to the labor of our faith.(2)

There are several lessons we can apply from this parable. First, it says a great deal about ourselves, and serves as a warning against the danger of spiritual laziness. Unless someone (God, the Church, some prophet) “stays on our case” about the importance of our moral and spiritual life, we tend to fall away, and abandon our fidelity to the covenant of baptism. There are many Christians for whom the “eleventh hour” is the last attempt on God’s part, after many previous attempts, to bring about conversion before it is too late. We have important work to do in the Vineyard of the Lord, yet again and again the “marketplace” of the world with its allure of false riches draws us away.

Second, the parable says a great deal about God, who never gives up on His people despite their unfaithfulness. God pursues man to the very last hour. As long as there is “day,” it is not too late, there is still hope. Salvation cannot take place without man’s cooperation – man must be working in the Vineyard and not squandering his life the Marketplace to be saved – but the opportunity for salvation will not be lost due to any failure of God’s mercy. Even though we might be idle all day, and it is a “deathbed conversion,” God’s invitation presses us to the end.

Third, the parable presents the wages as a mystery equal for everyone. The “denarius” received by each of the workman for his labor represents salvation, the reward of heaven given by God to His servants. By giving each laborer the same thing, regardless of the hours worked, the parable emphasizes that salvation is not something which is “earned,” corresponding to human effort. It is rather a free gift of grace corresponding to God’s generosity.

Furthermore, we understand salvation to be the gift of God Himself. Heaven is the beatific vision of God, and God is the same for all. God’s love is equal for everyone.

The fourth important lesson, is therefore not to judge one’s neighbor. Envy is the sin by which we compare ourselves to others according to a false or selfish conception of justice. From our human perspective, and human justice, each person should be rewarded for the exact hours worked – this is indeed the principle we follow in the world with regard to earthly wages. But God’s grace cannot be measured by this standard, His mercy always supersedes earthly justice. Even should we work our entire lives in God’s vineyard with utmost dedication and fidelity, that still would not correspond to the eternal value of God’s denarius. Therefore, we may not judge our fellow workmen or be resentful when some Catholics struggle to attend Mass fully, or participate only partially in their faith. With patience and love we continue to invite and exhort, calling to repentance, but in the end the question of salvation remains between God and that soul.

In the early Church, the Jewish Christians may have been resentful of the Gentile converts, these “eleventh hour” laborers who were so easily admitted to the Vineyard of the Lord completely bypassing the “heat of the day” – the hard work and discipline of the Law of Moses – but there is no justification for this envy. It is a privilege to have been able to work for the Lord since birth, not a burden. It is an honor to be able to make sacrifices for the Lord all one’s life, and not just on one’s deathbed. In the end, what is most important is being able to receive the denarius with gratitude and humility, something that might in fact occur more readily with the eleventh hour conversion, than with the grudging lifetime of duty.

(1) For example, Pope St Gregory the Great’s Homily on Matt 20:1-16                                  

(2) “This is the work of God, to believe in the One He has sent” (Jn 6:29)                        

Rev. Glen Mullan

Anger and Forgiveness

September 17, 2017

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Sir 27:30-28:7; Mt 18:21-35)

Peter asks the wrong question of Jesus when he says, “Should I forgive my brother as often as seven times?” The implication is that the eighth time, he will finally be able to hold the crime against his brother. Jesus would have us understand that forgiveness is not primarily for the benefit of the offender. Forgiveness is a necessity for the one offended, so that the evil does not cause further harm.

The Bible often describes sin in terms of debt, as Jesus does in this parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-35). When someone sins against his brother, he incurs a debt against his brother. Justice is violated by the offender, therefore the offender has the obligation to “pay back” for what he did, at the very least by apologizing and restoring, to the degree possible, what was harmed. This satisfies the principle of justice, which means “rendering each his due.” Forgiveness on the other hand, means the debt is canceled and the offender is released from his obligation to repay. The offender no longer “holds it against him.” With forgiveness, justice is satisfied not by the offender, but by the one offended, since he “pays the price” of the offense by accepting the damage inflicted as a personal sacrifice.

It is clear why forgiveness is not easy, nor even desirable on a human level. Why should the offender be “let off easy” for what he did? What kind of justice is that? What incentive is there for him not to offend again? This is why Peter feels that forgiving seven times is quite generous, but at some point enough is enough.

The problem arises, however, because of anger.

Anger is one of the passions God created in the human soul as an integral part of human nature.1 It arises in response to evil. When we see an injustice, we get angry. As a passion, anger moves the soul to the course of action that will try right the wrong, correct the injustice, fight the evil. If we are not moved to anger by injustice, then something is wrong with us!

Anger, then, is normal. And when we have been sinned against, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that it will make us angry. The problem, however, is that anger (as with all the passions), has been damaged by Original Sin. Anger is now disordered by concupiscence, placed in the service of man’s pride and selfishness, instead of ordered to his true good.

Anger or “Wrath” is therefore named as one of the seven “capital sins,” a root cause of many of the other sins in our life. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sir 27:30). Because of this sin within us, we tend to get angry and lash out now anytime our pride is challenged, anytime our patience is stretched, anytime we are inconvenienced in any way.

Moreover, when we have been actually offended, our anger seeks to redress the wrong by means of vengeance, the desire or intention to see the offender suffer the harm inflicted upon us. This vengeance will always be selfish.

Because of concupiscence resulting from the Fall, this outcome is virtually certain. The desire for justice – which is the pure purpose of anger – becomes corrupted into the desire for vengeance (literally, “satisfaction”). For this reason, Jesus tells Peter he must forgive seventy times seven times. The desire for vengeance does greater spiritual harm to a person than being sinned against.

The command to forgive is absolute for a follower of Christ.

With regard to the righting of the wrong, i.e. the question of justice, God assures us He will handle that Himself: “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Dt 32:35-36, Lv 19:18). Though He is dispassionate, God wishes us to understand that He has anger! In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus indicates that “with anger the master will hand the wicked servant over to the torturers” (Mt 18:34). It is in this context that we should fear and never doubt the “Wrath of God.” God assures us that justice will be served, but it will be handled His way, in His time.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rm 12:19-21).

Forgiveness means no longer holding the debt against the offender. It does not mean he is being “let off the hook,” or that the problem is being ignored, or that injustice is being tolerated. Forgiveness is a submission to the justice of God, which is higher than our justice. Just because we no longer hold someone’s debt against them, does not mean they do not have to answer to God.

But forgiveness accomplishes several things in the meantime. First, it is as St. Paul says, a form of heaping burning coals upon the offender. It increases the degree of his punishment if he does not repent, or conversely, provides him a greater incentive to repent, apologize, and be reconciled. Forgiveness is charity toward the enemy.

More than that, forgiveness frees the person sinned against from the capital sin of wrath, triggered by the offense, but which causes far worse damage to the soul. Anger festers when the wrong is not righted. It “broods over injuries.” It corrals the other negative passions (hatred, sorrow, despair) and serves up a bitter banquet, robbing the person of life, taking away peace, leading to many other sins. Nothing in our soul is lost when someone sins against us. Everything in our soul will be lost through Wrath, however, when we cling to the desire for vengeance.

Forgiveness breaks the cycle. It is a conscious and brave act which acknowledges the crime, and the extent of the harm it caused (i.e., the “debt”), and thus acknowledges the legitimacy of the natural anger. But, as an act which assumes the burden of the debt (I will not hold the debt against my brother, I will “pay it” myself as a sacrifice), forgiveness satisfies the principle of justice (the sin of the offender is “paid,” it’s just that I pay it), and this mitigates the reason for the anger. Forgiveness releases the anger, the burden of vengeance is no longer present, and the person can move forward.

A key phrase with regard to forgiveness is “letting it go.” In the parable, the master “let him go and forgave him the loan” (Mt 18:27). When forgiving, we “let the offender go,” but more importantly, we are letting go of anger and the desire for vengeance. We are free.

This is the meaning of “Meekness,” and why meekness is one of the Beatitudes. The way of Christ is not that of weakness, but freedom and strength. The monster to be slayed is not my evil neighbor, but the Original Sin within my heart. Forgiveness is not a surrender, it is pure spiritual victory. Meekness and not vengeance goes further toward accomplishing true peace and achieving the reconciliation of enemies. Meekness and not wrath is the precondition for solving problems in relationships, and addressing (dispassionately) the sins of the other. Meekness – forgiveness – is the precondition for our salvation: for “unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart” you will not enter the Kingdom of God.

(1) Passions are natural movements of the soul in response to situations, which incline us to particular courses of action. Anger is among the “negative” passions, which also include sorrow, hate, fear, and despair. “Positive” passions include love, desire, delight, and hope.

 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Preserving Peace

September 10, 2017

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) (Ez 33:7-9; Mt 18:15-20)

Jesus says that wherever two or three are able to gather in his name, whatever they ask will be granted. When we are in harmony with one another, we are in harmony with God. Jesus tells us the exact procedures to follow in order to overcome conflicts and problems, and achieve this harmony. It applies firstly to the Church, but the same steps can be followed in any situation: marriage, the family, school, or workplace.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Mt 18:15).

If your brother sins. Whenever someone does something to upset another, before retaliating or escalating the problem, ask whether it was a sin. Was it in fact something harmful, hurtful, or unjust? In many cases, it was not. A good deal of the time, we are being disturbed not injured, inconvenienced not attacked, we are experiencing something we dislike but not an injustice. An ordinary example of this is the problem newly married couples experience when living together for the first time, and their organizing habits clash with each other. If there is not a sin involved – i.e., if my brother is not deliberately intending to offend me, the real issue to be confronted is likely me, not him. Harmony will be achieved when I learn how to accommodate, sacrifice, adjust, and “offer it up.” Jesus warned elsewhere not to try remove a splinter from my brother’s eye, when there is a log in my own (Mt 7:5).

If your brother sins against you. On the other hand, if your brother is doing something wrong, Jesus then says to examine whether it pertains to you. Is this particular offence your responsibility to address, or someone else’s? Each individual has a direct responsibility for his own life, and to some degree he is entrusted with the care and well-being of others (family members for instance). In addition, all have a basic responsibility toward protecting the “common good” (cf. Gn 4:9, Lk 10:25-37). Nevertheless, within each sphere are particular individuals entrusted with specific authority (parents, pastors, administrators, civil authorities). It destroys harmony when the self-righteous set themselves up as everyone’s moral police, inserting themselves into everybody’s business, whom the bible condemns as “busy-bodies” (cf. 1Tm 5:13, 2Th 3:11, 1Pt 4:15). But it also destroys harmony when those who are the “watchmen” duly appointed by the Lord fail to address sins that are their responsibility to address (Ez 33:7). Bishops and priests have oftentimes done great damage to the Church by sweeping problems under the rug, allowing abuses to continue, and failing to confront and exhort sinners.

Go and tell him his fault. When a real injustice or injury has been committed, and when it has occurred within one’s purview and domain, then it must certainly be addressed, and not avoided. No harmony is found in the “false peace” which avoids difficulties and “keeps everyone happy,” by not “rocking the boat.” Laziness, denial, and fear can all be reasons we avoid confrontation. Again and again, whether in families or Church or workplace, the biggest problems are actually caused not by the ones doing wrong things, but by the watchmen (bishops, parents, managers) lacking the courage to do their job. Once again, Jesus challenges us to look within ourselves to find the larger obstacle to peace.

Between you and him alone. This is the divine precept against the sin of gossip. Gossip means speaking uncharitably and negatively about someone. It means “telling my brother’s fault” to everyone but my brother. Gossip is diametrically opposed to the procedures being laid out by Jesus, and it has the diametrically opposite effect of the peace and harmony which Jesus requires of his disciples. Instead of solving problems, it makes matters much worse. Gossip destroys communities, and creates hell on earth instead of heaven. Gossip always includes the element of malice and is a sin in its own right, regardless of the purported offence committed by one’s brother. Again, Jesus challenges us to look within: far from solving human problems, gossip is a sign of personal weakness, a lack of humility, and a complete failure in charity. On the other hand, talking to your brother when he has done something to hurt you or the community for whom you are responsible, is a sign of strength, respect, and charity.

More often than not, this simple procedure set forth by Jesus will achieve its desired outcome. Most people want to be good, and are grateful for the opportunity to correct their mistakes, and explain misunderstandings. Most human situations require nothing more than this one verse (Mt 18:15). However, some situations are more difficult, and require a different method. Either my brother refuses to stop causing harm, or the circumstances are beyond one’s competence as an individual to address.

If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you. It is not gossip to talk about another’s fault with a personal confidant or trusted advisor, when seeking help to address a difficult situation. But more than just seeking advice, bringing a third party into the situation helps to “equalize” any power differential, as for instance when dealing with a bully or a superior. If a young child is being bullied by an older child, the child should get his own older brother – the bully’s peer – to step in. Evil does not like to be exposed or have an even playing field (cf. Jn 3:20). This step accomplishes just that. In addition, by introducing a witness to the offense, it provides the corroboration necessary for the third stage. This serves as a deterrent to the evildoer, and an incentive to reform.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. The final step is the formal, administrative level of addressing human problems, sometimes necessary in a community to preserve peace. It is at the administrative level that laws are promulgated for the community, and punishments meted out to lawbreakers. Punishment (or as they like to say today, “consequences”) is a necessary part of the third step. In the community of the family, the authority to do this resides with the parents. In the Church, which Jesus specifically deals with, it is the pastors and bishops who administrate. In a civil society it is the duly elected or appointed civil authorities. It should be noted, that at this stage the authority being exercised is that of God (cf. Mt 18:18). This is the basis for the fourth commandment. Failing to respect this authority requires excommunication in the case of the Church (Mt 18:17), and even capital punishment when necessary in civil society (Rm 13:1-4). In any “formal” proceeding of this third stage, there must be a careful investigation to ascertain facts, so that impartial judgment can be rendered. Accusations must be backed up by corroborated testimony: “He said, she said” won’t work.

It should be emphasized that for Christians this stage should be rare. St. Paul, for instance, says it is a sad day when believers sue each other in civil courts (1 Cor 6:1-7). All too often, this level is resorted to as a way of bypassing the hard work of relationships at the informal peer-levels. “Passing the buck” or “bureaucratizing” the community (as has happened both in civil and ecclesial society) is a sure way to eliminate any possibility of the true communion Jesus seeks for his people. How easy it is, through gossip and other ways, to manipulate the authorities via the bureaucratic system into rendering incorrect judgments, throwing good people “under the bus,” enabling the evil-doers, and making a bad situation much worse. Administrators best serve the harmony of the community not when they constantly intervene or insert themselves or get drawn into local conflicts, but when they reinforce and strengthen the peer-level, even allowing for the leeway of the local individuals to “fight it out” and figure it out for themselves.

When I was a child and my brother would take one of my toys without my permission, I would run to my mom and demand she tell him to give it back. Her response was typically, “Let him have it, now leave me alone.”

Now I know why.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Offer Your Bodies

September 3, 2017

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Rm 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27)

In the second reading, St. Paul reiterates and deepens what Jesus says in the Gospel. Jesus rebuked Peter for “thinking as man thinks, not as God” (Mt 16:22); St. Paul says not to “conform to [the thinking of] this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm 12:2). Jesus said his disciple must “lose his life for my sake” since it is worth more than the whole world (Mt 16:25-26); St. Paul says to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rm 12:1).

This brief exhortatory passage from St. Paul is very important, because it helps us understand the purpose of the Christian moral life, which is to worship God. “The moral life is spiritual worship” (Catechism 2031). We don’t keep laws and observe morality simply to avoid punishment or look good on the outside. We do so as an act of love, in order to be able to offer ourselves to God worthily.

In order to properly participate in the Mass, which is fundamentally the offering of Christ’s Body to the Father – his spiritual worship – we must be “in a state of grace,” i.e., living a moral life in Christ. In order to join the offering of our body to his, we must be free of sin. By means of the sacramental life, especially Baptism and Penance, Christ makes us worthy to enter into the Eucharist. Thus the goal of the moral life is worship, and worship is found in the Eucharist, where Christ takes our offering into his, in praise of the Father.

Romans 12:1 is the main reason we go to Mass, to “offer our bodies (lives) as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God” in union with the offering of Christ on Calvary.

Romans 12:2 is the second reason we go to Mass, because in order to be a Christian and live the difficult demands of the Christian life, we need the weekly lessons of the Gospel to transform and renew our thinking. Instead of conforming ourselves to the world, we must be formed into the mature manhood of Christ (Eph 4:13), putting on the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) and living by his Spirit (Gal 5:25). Just as Peter had to learn God’s wisdom, which requires the Cross, every Christian has to learn that Christian discipleship requires a life of renunciation and purity which the world neither understands nor accepts.

Jesus explains that our life is a treasure from God worth more than the entire world, and therefore not to be squandered on the world: “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he forfeits his life” (Mt 16:26). And even though this treasure is found primarily in the soul, it is lived in and through the body. Christianity, while emphasizing the soul, nevertheless fosters a great respect for the body as the particular instrument by which worship of God is expressed

Morality is not just for the soul, it extends to the body, which is made holy in Baptism, and which becomes the particular locus of worship: it is particularly the body that we ultimately offer to God as the expression of our sacrifice. This follows the pattern of Christ, who offered his Body on the Cross for the salvation of the world.

Thus, while St. Paul in Romans 12:1 does mean in a general sense that we need to offer our whole lives to God, there is a reason he says specifically to “offer your bodies” to God.

Christian morality preaches a great respect for the dignity of the body. It is why, for instance, we have a great aversion to acts of violence against the body. We do not deliberately mutilate the body, ever. We try to maintain our bodies in good form and health, encourage athletics, dress appropriately, (1) and avoid excessive “decoration.” (2)

It is also why we take great care of the corpse when someone has died, and venerate the physical relics of saints. After death we clean and preserve the body, dressing it in the person’s best clothes, in order that the body may be brought triumphantly to the altar, to become the living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Our funeral Mass fulfills St. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1 like no other Mass during our lifetime. In our funeral Mass, we are literally and finally and fully able to say to God, in perfect imitation of Christ at the Last Supper: this is my body, given for you.

The body is the instrument of our soul, it is the great way the soul has to be able to worship God. By uniting our death with the death of Christ, we transform death from a curse into a redemptive act. Moreover, our death becomes the “cap” of our entire life, lived as a sacrifice for God. Even if we choose to have our body cremated after death, which the Church now permits, this should still take place only after the funeral Mass. So don’t look at the “cremation option” as a way to save money or avoid hassle! Do not conform to the world. There is a profound reason Christians bring the body to Mass after death. It completes and fully expresses the sacrifice of that person’s life to the Father in union with Christ!

The third way Christian morality proclaims a great reverence for the body, radically different from the pagans who practice worldly immorality, is with regard to sexual purity. In a different letter, St. Paul defines sexual sins as those which are committed specifically against the body: “Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the [sexually] immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18).

And he immediately adds the reason why sexual sins are so problematic to Christians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor 6:19). What is the purpose of a temple, if not to worship and glorify God? To commit a sexual sin is to “give” the body in a way that is inappropriate, to someone to whom it does not belong; or to violate God by “taking” another’s body in a way we do not have a right to. This is the meaning of lust. Thus, whether it is adultery which violates a marriage vow, fornication prior to marriage, the viewing of pornography, or even impure thoughts – all of this is repugnant to Christian morality, because it violates the baptismal covenant by which “we belong to God, having been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:19b-20), and it compromises our ability to participate in the Eucharist with a pure conscience.

There are three ways in which we therefore offer our bodies in sexual purity to God, living out our baptismal covenant: the single life, the married life, and the consecrated life.

When single, Christians practice a great strictness with regard to sexual morality, and the boundaries observed with people. This is not because Christians view sexuality negatively, like the Puritans who are false Christians, but because we view the body positively, as the fundamental gift which is offered to God in worship.

When married, Christians likewise use the body to glorify God, through the raising of a family. Marriage requires the blessing of God, through the Church, to be valid. I.E., marriage itself is one of the Sacraments by which God is worshipped. Sexual intimacy is integral to marriage, whose purpose is to worship God through the body, fulfilling His blessing to bring forth new life. Thus marriage too, requires of Christians a purity of intention, and sacrificial spirit. Sexual activity can never be selfish for the Christian – a mere gratification or “taking.” It must always be, on some level, a “giving of self” that ties in to worship.

Finally, in the Church the Holy Spirit gives a special charism to those called to a consecrated life, whereby the body in its sexual aspect is offered to God through a liturgical act. The consecrated life is a special expression of St. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1, and one which absolutely requires the spiritual way of thinking he exhorts in Romans 12:2.

Our human life is worth more than the whole world, and therefore not to be squandered on the world through a life of moral dissipation. It is God’s precious gift to us, which we are able to freely offer back to Him in sacrifice, by means of our vocational calling, and finally, at the end, by means of a holy death.

(1) i.e., modestly, in accord with the dignity of the body as expression of the person             (2) i.e., excessive tattooing, body piercing, etc.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Sign from God

August 27, 2017

Hurricane “Harvey” (Mt 14:22-33)

“O God, to whose commands all the elements give obedience, we humbly entreat you, that the stilling of fearsome storms may turn a powerful menace into an occasion for us to praise you” (Roman Missal, Prayer to Avert Storms).

It is humbling, and an occasion to praise God, when we experience the powerful forces of nature, and realize what God has put into place in His creation in order to bring about this world, unique in the entire universe, where man might live. Hurricanes and storms are necessary.

Thankfully, our community was spared from the worst effects of this hurricane, even though the eye passed within 30 miles of our town, and damage was limited to fences, trees, and some outbuildings. And signs.

God often sends a sign to His people in the midst of a natural disaster or calamity, something which stands out loud and clear even though surrounded by devastation and destruction, to remind them of His presence. Our church sign is such a sign from God.

Our church sign, like many signs in the area, was badly damaged by the winds of Hurricane Harvey, which were recorded here at 90 mph as the eye passed about 30 miles away. And yet, even though the fence next to the sign was blown down, even though the sign itself is half gone, and even though the sign experienced continuous hurricane-force winds for over an hour, the bottom half remained with the message intact, and the letters did not even move or get blown off. I have often driven past our sign during times of very mild wind, and seen the letters shifted or blown down.

The message – God’s message to us today – was from the Gospel two weeks ago, when the apostles experience the storm at sea, being battered by the winds and waves, and Jesus was in the mountains praying. But in the darkest part of the night, he came to them across the water, and immediately there was quiet. Jesus revealed himself not only as the Lord of human life, but the Lord over Nature and Creation.

Who knew when we put these words up (and due to my laziness in getting them changed) that very soon they would apply to us not merely spiritually, but physically, as we too, in the middle of the night, experienced the howling winds, the fear and vulnerability of our lives before the forces of nature?

God gives this special grace, to remind us that His words are firm, and that it is He the Lord who speaks them to us Sunday after Sunday. As the apostles were delivered safely through the storm, so our community has been delivered safely through this trial. As Jesus was in the mountains praying for his Church in Peter’s boat, so he continues to look out over his people and protect them from harm.

God gives us a sign, on a sign, to remind us that His word “forever stands firm in the heavens” (Ps 119:89) and in our lives; that “He who hears my word and builds his house upon them will withstand the winds that blow” (cf. Mt 7:24-27); that the tempest of hell itself will assail the Church, but never prevail (Mt 16:18).

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Rev. Glen Mullan

Of Dogs and Demons

August 20, 2017

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Is 56:6-7; Rm 11; Mt 15:21-28)

Only believing and practicing Catholics may receive Holy Communion. This strict requirement is something the Church has enforced since the beginning. For instance, St. Paul says, “Whoever eats the bread and 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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor 11:27-30).

The Didache (“Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) is another document from apostolic times, one of the most important writings from the early Church after the New Testament itself. It also states, “Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs’” (Didache 9:5).

The Didache quoted Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs” (Mt 7:6). In the Gospel today he used this same expression when the Syro-Phoenician woman asked him to cast out her daughter’s demon: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mt 15:26).

“Dog” was a pejorative term used to describe the pagans, especially the Canaanites, who were unclean before God. The Jews belong to the covenant of Abraham and are children of God. The woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon on the other hand, is a Canaanite who practices false religion.

There was a huge difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were governed by the Law of Moses and its code that expressed their dignity as sons of God. Beginning with morality of the Ten Commandments, the Law articulated requirements of good hygiene, healthy food, and purity in sexual relationships and the behavior of men and women. Family life and marriages were carefully arranged and supervised by the community. Jews tithed their income to the Temple, emphasized education and literacy, and practiced courtesy when speaking and entering into agreements and contracts. They had a sophisticated, fair, and honest legal system, but they were severe in punishing murderers, adulterers, thieves, and sorcerers. Above all, they put God first, were highly religious, keeping the Sabbath and incorporating prayer into their daily lives.

On the other hand, pagans such as the Canaanites (also Romans and Greeks) ate whatever food they could find, had tyrannical and arbitrary justice systems, extorted money, were highly superstitious, lied, cheated, gambled, and gave themselves over to extreme vices, indulgence, and orgies. Their entertainment was violent and pornographic, and their religions were filled with disgusting rituals, superstitious nonsense, and prostitution. Polygamy, homosexuality, and immorality were rampant, and pagans cast off unwanted children.

In other words, pagans lived like pigs which wallow in the mud; like the dogs outside the village which scavenge in the garbage dumps! It is no surprise that this woman’s daughter suffered from a demon, the pagan lifestyle literally invites and worships them.

Today’s Gospel shows the beginning of the Church’s outreach to the pagans, and it shows what will be required if they are to be saved by Jesus. The Canaanite woman is the Gospel symbol of the Gentiles: i.e., you and me, who have by the grace of God been saved, yet not because we were Jews.

The “Jews” (more accurately, the Israelite nation), were God’s Chosen People, personally formed by Him among the nations of the world to be His instrument. Their lifestyle reflects the superior wisdom and love of God, a culture worthy of God and man’s true dignity as His children, a lifestyle which enables man to have covenant communion with God, sitting at His table as His children.

From the beginning of history, when evil corrupted the entire human race, God desired to save all mankind, and thus established this Chosen Nation to serve His purpose for the world’s salvation. It is from the Jews that the Messiah comes, and it is through the Law of Moses that a pre-Christian culture is established.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that one day the foreigners would indeed join themselves to the Lord and become His servants, coming to His house of prayer where they would be able to offer pure sacrifice just like the Israelites. And in the second reading St. Paul explained how this was being fulfilled in his day, because most of the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, while many of the pagan Gentiles were opening their hearts to the Gospel.

St. Paul called himself the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and said he was glad to make his own (Jewish) race jealous through the conversion of so many Gentiles. Many pagans, like the woman in today’s Gospel, were converting and demonstrating a pure and sincere faith. St. Paul says that whereas in the past the Jews were the ones obedient to God through the Law of Moses while all the Gentiles were living in the disobedience of pagan religions, now through the disobedience of the Jews who refused to accept Jesus, there was mercy for the Gentiles, a window of opportunity for them to enter the Church while God waited for the Jews to finally accept Jesus as the Messiah. In the end, God wants to show His mercy to both Jews and Gentiles, saving the whole world.

Jesus is very severe with the Canaanite woman, not because he is uncaring, but because he is testing her faith: do you really have faith, or do you just want me to say some magical prayer over your daughter? Do you really have humility and fear of the Lord, or are you trying to treat me like one of the witchdoctors from your own superstitious Canaanite religion?

The woman showed Jesus she had faith, and acknowledged him as Lord. She acknowledged that Jews were superior to the pagans, the Israelites had the truth whereas her people did not. She accepted that she was a beggar, a pagan “dog” who had no right to His gifts, because her people’s lifestyle was not according to the Law of Moses.

For us who came into the Church from the Gentiles, we need this humility. We are “latecomers” who never had to go through the long centuries of living under the strict discipline of the Law of Moses. Even though Christianity does not require us to observe the precepts of the Law of Moses, we are nevertheless required to observe the self-respect which they engendered. If we are to belong to the covenant, we must live according to our dignity as children of God.

As the woman acknowledged, Christ (and Christianity) doesn’t conquer evil just by sprinkling holy water on someone who is possessed, like magic. Christ, and Christianity, requires true faith.

People today sometimes get offended when the Church says you can’t do something, such as practice contraception (like the pagans). Or you can’t receive the sacraments such as the Eucharist if you are living with someone outside of lawful sacramental marriage (committing fornication, adultery, divorce, serial polygamy, like the pagans). We get offended because we feel like we have some innate right to make demands, or that we can tell the church what it needs to do. The Syro-Phoenician woman did not get offended. She responded with humility and homage: “Yes Lord, but even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.”

In all cases, with the Lord it will take true humility and purified faith to come to the table. Jesus could deal with the worst sinners if they were humble and truthful. But he rebuked any who were self-righteous or thought they had a right to the Gifts of God, whether Jew or Gentile. It is a good lesson for us today. We may be children of God now through baptism, but before that we were pagan dogs. We may be anointed with the Holy Spirit now through confirmation, but before that our ancestors used to be subject to demons. And if we are not careful, the way we are going, within a generation or two our descendants will be right back to where our ancestors were: pagan dogs, living in darkness. May God keep us always in His light, humbly living the truth of the Gospel, always grateful for Him.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Prayer

August 13, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (1K 19:9-13; Mt 14:22-33)

Both the Gospel and first reading show how the mountain is the place where man goes to meet God, the place of prayer. Prayer means seeking God, speaking to God, and listening to God.

Often when praying, we start “saying” our prayers, before actually “seeking” God. We need to first seek His presence, seek His face, seek His voice. And this is not as easy as it sounds. But the more effort we invest in this first step, the more fruitful will be the other parts of prayer.

Jesus “went up into the mountain” to pray. He deliberately got away from the crowd whom he was teaching all day. He dismissed his apostles. He wanted to be alone. He took advantage of the night time when he wouldn’t be disturbed. And he went to find that place on the mountain top, where heaven and earth meet, where he could be removed from the distractions of the world.

Likewise, Elijah journeyed 40 days through the desert to the mountain of God. He was hungry and thirsty. But in order to seek God’s will and find what God needed him to do in his desperate situation, he had to get away.

If we want a strong prayer life, we need the mountain, the desert, the night – we need to find the right place and the right time where we can be alone with God. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray using the Lord’s prayer, the first thing he said was to “go in to your room, shut the door, and there speak to your Father in secret” (Mt 6:6). Go to your private room, close off the world, be with God in solitude. This is what it means to “seek God.”

Some good places to pray are: one’s private bedroom; one’s favorite chair; the porch outside; the room with a shrine and holy images. Often, one must leave the house and go for a walk, or find a park. Besides finding the right “place,” one must find the best time: late at night after the house is quiet, or early morning. At some point, the “mountain” will be the parish church or local chapel. Many people attend daily Mass as an integral part of their prayer life, or an hour of adoration each week.

The place of prayer of course, is not just a physical setting, it is the heart. This is what Jesus means by “going into your room and being alone.” Find God in your heart; seek him in the depth of your spirit. To pray, it helps to close your eyes, relax your body and mind so they do not distract. It is better to pray while fasting, before eating, in order to avoid sluggishness.

Elijah heard God in the gentlest whisper of a breeze, not in the raging storm and earthquake. The disciples in the boat, likewise, were not able to recognize or focus on Jesus until they could set aside the fears and panic caused by the wind and waves. It takes a lot of effort and persistence to find that quiet stillness where God’s voice can be heard, who literally speaks in Silence.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), even though she was already a nun, struggled for 18 years to overcome mental distractions before she could really advance in prayer. Eventually, she established a new religious community, the Discalced Carmelites, so that her sisters could more easily ascend the mountain of the Lord to pray, free from the world, free from distractions.

The storm is the enemy of prayer. And yet the storm is a regular condition of our lives, with its threatening waves, howling winds, and oppressive darkness. In the storm and on the waters, one feels afraid and insecure. The earthquake, wind, and fire experienced by Elijah are an external mirror of the interior turmoil he was experiencing, hunted by Jezebel, overwhelmed by the apostasy of his people. Likewise, the waves and darkness overwhelming the boat are an external reflection of the challenges faced by the Church and her apostles in the world. In both cases, prayer is the answer; but in both cases, prayer is a challenge.

Thus even before saying a word to God in prayer, and before being able to hear Him speaking, a big part of prayer is just arriving at the place where you can actually speak and listen to God: not only the physical place, but above all the spiritual place inside which the storm cannot touch.

We must realize that this first step of prayer, “seeking God,” is already prayer. The struggle to find the right place, the effort to get silent – even if we don’t seem to have much success – is already important and valuable prayer that brings grace. So don’t give up. Whether it takes 40 days like Elijah, or 18 years like St. Teresa, keep trying to find and ascend that spiritual mountain where you can speak with God and hear His voice and be “beyond reach of the storm.” Or, as in the case of Peter, desperately trying to focus on the Lord yet finding himself succumbing to those waves, calling out “Lord save me!”

When we do finally hear God’s voice, and find that “place” where heaven and earth meet, we hear God saying what Jesus said to the apostles: “Do not be afraid,” “I AM” (“It is I”). God’s voice and His presence bring peace. It is a peace which conquers all fear, and provides strength to overcome human weakness. Moreover, God is seen to be “over the waters,” possessing full power and authority to quiet by a single command the forces of nature, as well as the spiritual forces of darkness. God is Lord of all, sovereign and completely distinct from the storm: “The Lord was not in the wind – fire, – earthquake” (1K 19:12).

This fact is so important that the storm is deliberately allowed by God to overwhelm us, so that we might come to faith and recognition of Him alone who is worthy of fear and homage. When Jesus sent the apostles in the boat, he knew what was to transpire. When Jesus went up the mountain to pray, it was for them he prayed. God permits the destabilizing storms in our lives, not to harm us, but to show the true foundation which transcends all the vicissitudes of mortality: Jesus the Son of God, walking upon the waters.

Both Elijah and the Apostles are taught to ignore the distracting aspect of wind-fire-wave-earthquake in their lives, and focus only on God who exists in a place of quiet and peace and strength, and there to worship and pray. God trains us in prayer by means of the storms in our lives.

No matter what happens in life, prayer is the solution. And prayer is first and above all the seeking for God, the listening for His solid and secure voice beyond, and through, and despite wind and wave. In our lives today and this week, let us see past the distractions and personal upheavals in our circumstance, to Jesus the Son of God walking over those waters, who commands us without fear or hesitation to “come” to him.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Source and Summit

August 6, 2017

Feast of Transfiguration (A) (Mt 17:1-9)

The mountain is a place to meet God. It is the highest point on earth, the place where heaven and earth meet. Moses and Elijah are two examples from the Old Testament who went up the mountain to speak with the Lord.

At Mt. Sinai, the people saw the cloud which enveloped the summit, and heard the voice of God like thunder. God spoke to Moses the Ten Commandments, and told the people to obey the Law.

In the course of his ministry, Jesus went up the mountain to pray, with three apostles. The cloud of heavenly glory overshadows them, just as at Mt Sinai; they experience the glory of God and hear His voice, just like the OT. God reiterates the message of obedience, but tells the people to obey Christ: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Moses and Elijah are there.(1) Whereas before they only heard the voice of God, without seeing the glory of the God directly, now the five not only hear God, but see His glory “face to face,” in the face of Christ shining like the sun (Mt 17:2). For the one and only time on earth, the glory of Christ’s divinity is seen in his humanity. Moreover, they experience through Christ the full revelation of the Holy Trinity: he is the beloved Son of the Father who speaks, bound together in the overshadowing glory of the Holy Spirit.(2)

The Transfiguration was the “high point” of the public ministry of Jesus. It reiterates the day of his baptism,(3) and completes the phase of his ministry during which the Kingdom has been announced, and Jesus’ identity has been revealed through signs and miracles, and powerful teaching. Just before the Transfiguration, at Caesarea Philippi, the apostles formally confessed him to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

This “summit” of revelation in the very center of the Gospel is also a turning point in the Gospel. Now that he is fully revealed in his divine glory, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. Whereas his focus had been in the region of Galilee touring the towns and villages, Jesus now resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). Exactly 40 days later, Jesus will be on the Mount of Olives, and the same three apostles will see him “transfigured” in the agony of blood and sweat.

The Transfiguration is the “Summit” of revelation for the disciples as they recognize and commit themselves to the Lord (first half of the Gospel). It is also the “Source” of hope and courage as they face the trials which will come in his Passion and Death (second half of the Gospel).

The Mass accomplishes the same thing for us which the Transfiguration accomplished for the disciples. The Catechism 1324, quoting Lumen Gentium 11, says: The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” 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.

In the Bible, a classical interpretation of the Mountain is the Church.(4)The Church is the Lord’s mountain that He raises up in the world. It is the place we leave the world behind to go and be with God. It is a the place where heaven and earth meet. Every Church is filled like the Temple with the cloud of God’s heavenly glory; by every sacramental celebration the church is the place of the Transfiguration. We are still on earth, but the glory of heaven fills the place.

In order to more fully experience the mystery of the Transfiguration when we go to Mass, we should bear some things in mind.

  1. The mountain must be ascended. That is, we must leave the world. The “world” must not be allowed to intrude into the church, into the sacramental celebration. Not only should phones (and cameras) by turned off, but already we should be fasting prior to arriving, and prior to that been cleansed through the sacrament of confession.

  2. It is a privilege to be at Mass, a response to the Lord’s personal invitation. Our attitude should always be that of Peter who wanted to set up tents: “it is good to be here.” Perhaps we should stow our watches at the door as well! We should never be impatient to leave, or complain about the length.

  3. At Mass we participate in the holy dialogue of Scripture, between Christ (Gospel) and Moses and Elijah (Law and Prophets of the OT). Our sacramental experience of Christ will be fruitful to the degree we enter into this conversation.

  4. In the Mass, God the Father shows us Christ, and tells us to obey him. There is always a revelation, and a message. Our participation in the Mass is not complete unless we see Christ more clearly, and follow his teaching more perfectly.

  5. In the Transfiguration, Christ’s Divinity shines through his humanity. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, by means of Transubstantiation, the reality of Christ is manifested under the appearance of bread and wine. The same Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Mary in the Annunciation, and Who overshadowed the apostles in the Transfiguration, overshadows the elements of bread and wine during the “epiclesis” of the Eucharistic prayer, to transform them into his Body and Blood.

  6. The profundity of the Mass, and sacramental communion with the Holy Trinity, leads to awe and reverence. As the disciples prostrated themselves in holy fear, so too Mass culminates in a moment of silent kneeling and prayer after Holy Communion, until the priest, like Christ, invites us to get up with the invitation “let us pray.”

  7. Finally, we have our Mission. As the disciples descend the mountain to continue the journey to Jerusalem, the Mass “sends” us back to the world where salvation must be accomplished. The final words of the Mass are, “Go forth, you are sent.”        

    In roughly an hour, the Mass presents us with the mystery of the Transfiguration. It serves as a summit of our spiritual life, the high point of our knowledge and faith in Christ; as well as the source grace and mission for the upcoming week.

    (1) Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (2K 2:11), to return before the Messiah (Mal 4:5-6). Moses’ too, had a mysterious death, with an unknown grave, buried by God himself (Dt 34:5-6). He too may have been assumed like Elijah (cf. Jude 1:9).

    (2) The cloud, like the dove and wind and fire, is a prominent biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit (Catechism 697).

    (3) …when the Father’s voice was also heard, and the Holy Spirit was also manifested as a dove.

    (4) For instance, Heb 12:18-24.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Hidden Treasure

July 30, 2017

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 13:44-52)

Jesus was a great teacher, and all who heard him remembered the things he said. He had a unique style, which was to speak in parables. A parable is a little story or comparison that hides its lesson inside.

Jesus would tell parables based on various occupations: shepherding, farming, fishing, building. For instance, the parable of the sower is based on farming.

Jesus would often incorporate a sense of humor when telling parables, by using exaggeration, or presenting something in a comical fashion. For instance, comparing a rich man to a camel being forced through a “needle’s eye” (Mt 19:24), or removing a splinter from your brother’s eye when you have a pole stuck in your own (Mt 7:3-5).

His disciples asked him why he always spoke to the crowd in parables. And Jesus answered by quoting Isaiah: “because they look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand” (Mt 13:13). Jesus explained that his strategy was to deliberately conceal or hide the message, because not everyone understood the secrets of the Kingdom of God: “To you knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted, but not to them” (Mt 13:11).

Jesus did not directly talk about the things of God, which are deep mysteries, which he calls “secrets” (Mt 13:11). Instead, he concealed the truths inside the parables, making each parable a type of riddle. You have to figure out what he is saying, in order to understand.

It is a great privilege to learn the deepest things of God’s inner heart, and never take them for granted. Jesus wants us to have respect and appreciation, and so he makes us work for our spiritual nourishment. He makes us search in order to understand; he wants to see if we have enough love and interest to seek him out.

The teachings of God are only for those who want to learn: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Mt 13:16-17).

In today’s Gospel, we have three more parables of Jesus. Once again, they are riddles, which we have to figure out. Jesus says the kingdom of God is “like a net thrown into the sea, which catches fish of every kind.” What is he talking about? It the Church. The boat is a symbol of the Church, headed up by the Pope, who follows St. Peter the first fisher-of-men. The fishermen in the boat are the apostles and their successors. The sea is the world. The Church goes out into the world, and through the preaching of the Gospel (net) brings into the Kingdom of God men of all nations (i.e., all the different kinds of fish), to the point that the boat becomes full. It then arrives at the shore, which is the end of time and history, when the great haul is brought before God for judgement. The good and the bad will be sorted out by the angels. It is a simple but wonderful image for the Church, which we often use in art, and even in the design of our churches. For instance, the part of the Church that holds all the “fish” is still called the “nave,” which means “boat.”

In another parable, Jesus says the Kingdom of God is “like a treasure buried in a field, which a man discovers, and then sells everything he has to buy that field.” The treasure is buried, hidden. Walking past the field, you will not see and realize there is anything special about it. Even if you go onto the field and walk across it, it will just seem to be ordinary. Again, Jesus gives a riddle.

This is a parable about our Catholic faith, and the great treasure which it possesses inside, which is Christ himself. Christ is present in the Church in several ways, but two in particular stand out: the Scriptures, and the Sacraments. Hidden beneath the “surface” or externals of the sacramental rituals, are the treasures and grace of heaven. Above all, this is true of the Eucharist.

How many people drive by our church every day, and look onto the property? They see a nice church building, but that is all. They keep driving. That is not enough to find salvation. Jesus is here, but he is hidden. You can’t see him from the road.

Or what if they walk onto the field, and spend some time inside? There are many people who come to church, like strangers and visitors, seekers. To be honest, they don’t have a clue where they are, or what is going on. They’re chewing gum, they’re dressed for the beach, they sit down without genuflecting, when Mass finally begins and the priest says all these prayers they are lost, they don’t know how to respond or what you are supposed to do. After they leave, they comment about the music, or question why we perform all these rituals, and especially why there are all these rules about receiving the piece of “bread.” Unless they have someone to explain things to them, they will not appreciate or understand much. It is possible to walk on the field, come to Mass, but still only see the surface, and never discover the treasure.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure “buried in a field.” It must be discovered. Once it has been discovered, people will even sell their possessions – joyfully – in order to possess that field and devote their lives to mining the spiritual gold. During the California “gold rush,” people packed up their belongings into wagons and risked everything to find earthly wealth. The mystery of the Kingdom of God is the mystery of religious vocations: men and women abandoning the world, forsaking a career of their own, even a family of their own, in order to possess the hidden treasure of God, risking all to engage in a lifetime of “digging.”

It begins with Holy Scripture, which is the Church’s “treasure map.” God’s riches are indeed hidden and invisible to the surface, but God does not leave us to stumble around randomly. He shows us exactly where to look, where to dig. The Scriptures lead us infallibly to the treasure which is Christ. He is the living Word hidden in the written words. By “digging into Scripture,” especially the Gospels, we discover Christ, and are led to him. The Scriptures are extensive, and provide a lifetime of opportunity for study and exploration.

In order to help us with this journey through the Bible, the Church provides the Catechism, a compilation of the doctrines of the faith which God has revealed in Christ, and which are received through the Scripture and Sacred Tradition. One of the most important parts of the Catechism is the abundant footnotes, which provide references to the Bible for each doctrine being articulated. In addition, the footnotes provide constant reference to the vast body of the Church’s Sacred Tradition: decrees of Church councils, pronouncements of popes, writings of the great Church Fathers and Doctors, admonitions of saints. The field is indeed vast and deep, in which we have the luxury and opportunity to discover the infinite treasures of Christ, and the riches of the Christian way of life.

The monk “joyfully” devotes himself to this lifelong task, this spiritual work of digging called “lectio divino,” meditation, sacred study. But each wagons and risked everything to find earthly wealth. The mystery of the Kingdom of God is the mystery of religious vocations: men and women abandoning the world, forsaking a career of their own, even a family of their own, in order to possess the hidden treasure of God, risking all to engage in a lifetime of “digging.”, to the degree possible, undertakes a personal program of catechetical instruction and Bible study, that faith in Christ might be nourished.

Together with study there must be prayer and devotion, and an active engagement in the celebration of the liturgy. From Christ in Scripture, we come to Christ in the Sacraments, above all the Eucharist. Everything in the Church will lead us to this discovery of Christ hidden in the heart of the Church under the sacramental appearance of bread and wine.

For most Catholics, the lifelong task of exploring Scripture and Doctrine in a monastic setting is beyond their reach, and it is not the initial way Christ is discovered. People typically start digging in the field of the Church, because they see others who have already found the treasure! We benefit from the faith of others, who first bring us to the field, then show us what treasure it contains, and how to dig for ourselves. A visitor to the Mass may not have a clue as to what it contains, but in witnessing the reverence of those around him, has no doubt there is something very special and valuable here. Even the simple act of a reverent genuflection toward the tabernacle is an acknowledgement of the presence of a great King that moves a stranger to start scratching the surface.

The mysteries of heaven are profound truths that are hidden in ordinary things; hidden in the simple parables of Jesus, hidden in the Sacred Scriptures, hidden in the sacramental rites and symbols of the liturgy. Catholicism is not for the lazy, or faint of heart. We are made to work for our nourishment. The Kingdom of God will be missed by those who focus only on appearance: the “outside,” the externals. Christ is discovered by going deeper.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Kingdom Parables

July 23, 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 13:24-43)

The three parables of Jesus in today’s Gospel, known as the “Kingdom Parables,” teach the way God works to accomplish good in the midst of evil.

The first parable is the “Wheat and Weeds.” Though the Son of Man sows good seed, the enemy comes at night and sows weeds among the wheat. Jesus appeals to the common experience of farmers and gardeners to explain how it is with people in the Kingdom of God: we will find evil in the midst of the church. There are several things to note about evil.

First, evil is always there, regardless of our best efforts, or most careful preparations. We work hard to do good, providing as well as we can, serving the needs of others, and in this way following our master’s example. Even though we do everything correctly, yet it often still turns out badly, or runs into problems, and we ask God, “what did I do wrong?” Parents often wonder about this when despite their best efforts, children sometimes still go down the wrong path. Likewise in marriages, friendships, and human enterprises: despite sowing good seed, evil somehow finds a way to creep in and wreak havoc. There is an enemy, says Jesus, and he sows discord; he undermines, harms, and attacks. He is relentless, and he works “at night,” in hidden cunning ways that are easy to miss. The devil did great harm to Jesus, and continues to do great harm to the Church, constantly undermining and destroying the good which God’s people are accomplishing.

Second, evil is parasitic. It cannot exist of itself, but only off the good of others, whether God’s creation, or the good found in other people. Weeds live off the rich soil carefully prepared by the farmer, and flourish in the environment created for beauty and productivity. Evil leeches off the richness it did not create, only to corrupt and destroy it. Evil is thus a corruption of good, a cancer. When there is evil in a church or community, it is other people’s money and resources they use, other people’s prior good work they devour.

Third, evil apes the good. Evil tries to look good, wants to be accepted as the real thing, and thus find acceptability and survival. Tares look like wheat at first glance, and weeds try to look like good grass or pretty flowers, but their beauty is superficial and deceptive. They are really ugly, and don’t belong. To the trained gardener they stick out like a sore thumb, but the casual observer is often deceived.

Because evil is deceptive and apes the good, and because evil inserts itself intricately into the same soil with the good, Jesus gives an important teaching regarding the way to deal with it. Our natural instinct is to uproot it, yet doing so causes greater harm. Surgeons are often not able to remove a malignant tumor because it is so entwined with the good flesh that doing so will cause greater injury to the body. Likewise, evil is often so ingrained in the system, that to try extricate it will cause even worse harm. Whereas Islam and some other religious sects seek to purify religion even through murderous destruction of the “impure,” Christianity, while in no way condoning or tolerating that which is evil or unjust, nevertheless proclaims a tolerance for evil people, since it is impossible to fully remove them without causing greater harm or damage. Furthermore, it is not as simple as separating “good” people from “evil” people, since everyone has within himself an admixture of both good and evil. Thus Jesus tells his followers to leave the situation until the final judgment on the last day, when the angels will be able to make the clear distinction between the saved and the damned, and justice will be fittingly served. In the meantime, our strategy in the work of the Kingdom will be a different one.

The next two Kingdom parables give guidance with regard to the strategy we should employ in the meantime, when seeking to build up Good, and overcome Evil. Farmers, gardeners, and surgeons know that the best strategy for a fruitful crop or healthy body is not always the heavy pesticides or the blade, but a more subtle approach of managing the types of pests that afflict the wheat, or strengthening the plant via good stock and nutrition. Let the weeds grow with the wheat, but give the wheat advantage by cultivating strength in the plant and providing it adequate nutriment. Likewise, conquer evil, by nourishing the good with the distinct ingredients of the Christian message.

Those programs and approaches that seek to “water down” the Gospel message or placate the enemy only end up increasing the weeds! Christianity has to be bold and direct. Just because we cannot excise a cancerous tumor does not mean we leave it unchallenged. In the face of evil, Christians must promote good solid spiritual teaching, which nourishes the true faith, and advances the Kingdom.

In the parable of the “Leaven,” Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a woman who mixes in three measures of yeast with the dough, in order to leaven it. The woman is the Church, and she mixes in to human lives the three measures of doctrine, discipline, and devotion (creed/belief, code/morality, cult/worship).

By learning true Christian doctrine (the creed, catechism, and Scriptures); by receiving good discipline and moral training (via the commandments and laws, virtues, and fruits of the Holy Spirit such as self-control); and by learning devotion (prayer, sacramental life, reverence, liturgy) – we acquire wisdom, the ability in the long term to overcome evil, and effect good, to outlast evil and not succumb to its poison.

Our approach then, is not so much one of focusing on the evil and seeking for ways to destroy it, but focusing on the good and seeking for ways to nourish and strengthen it. It is always medicinal. Even when a sinner needs to be admonished and a criminal needs to be punished, it is for the purpose of strengthening and defending the body (the community) to the degree possible, and of calling the soul to repentance via penance. It is not simply to annihilate evil.

Good is its own power and strength, evil is ultimately its own self- destruction. The force of good is like leaven in the dough: silent but unstoppable, and effective beyond expectation, mysteriously and paradoxically bearing its fruit despite overwhelming opposition and seeming failure. Whether it is our own personal battle against some bad habit, improving relationships, or helping others, this should be the approach—kneading good leaven into the dough with every ounce of energy and effort this requires; practicing good doctrine, discipline, and devotion with faith and trust in God’s ability to use it for our benefit.

Finally, in the parable of the “Mustard Seed,” Jesus reiterates the mystery of the true good, which allows it to conquer evil. Evil always wants to be seen and worshipped. It is proud. It wants the important positions, the wealth, the power, and prestige. It wants to be big. True Good, on the other hand, like God, is always humble. Good is most often found in the “little” things, in fact the smallest things.

Mother Teresa, echoing this teaching of the Gospel and the wisdom learned by all the saints, famously said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” True good is inevitably found in the little hidden tasks, done well and with great love. By paying attention to details, by not looking for shortcuts, by focusing on the individual even if he be tiny or insignificant – these are the mustard seeds of the Kingdom. It is this approach that causes the Church to become the mighty tree that transforms the world, in which birds of all kinds can find hospitality and shelter. Where the Church has become that mighty tree, it is due to the millions of small sacrifices of her members, made with love, who truly served and put others first. The Church accomplishes her greatest work in the world, through the humble tasks, among those whom the world overlooks as insignificant or useless. Not power, but meekness; not wealth, but poverty; not vengeance, but forgiveness; not programs, but persons.

In these parables, Jesus “announces what has lain hidden since the foundations of the world” (Mt 13:35). These are the secrets of the Kingdom of God, revealed not to the “learned and the clever,” but only to his true followers, the “little ones” (Mt 11:25). Let us take these teachings to heart, and continue our powerful work in the Kingdom, sowing good, and not being disturbed or discouraged by the evil.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Empty Pews

July 16, 2017 15th

Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Is 55:10-11; Ps 65:10-14; Mt 13:1-23)

“So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55:10).

There are three Biblical ways that God’s Word “goes forth” to accomplish His work, in order to “return to him” in fullness and glory. The first is creation: God spoke, and it was efficaciously made. His word was not without effect; God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…

In a second way, God’s Word, the “Logos” who is the second Divine Person, came to Mary by the angel Gabriel. She received Him in full readiness, joy, and obedience: “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). “And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) in the Incarnation. Then, through the Redemption, through his Resurrection and Ascension, having accomplish His purpose and plan, the Incarnate Word returned to the Father.

The third way in which God’s Word goes forth is the one described by Jesus in the parable of the Sower: it is the preaching of the Gospel by the Church, part of which is occurring in this very Mass today. Yet there is a great difference in this third way. Not in terms of the way God’s Word proceeds forth – that is the same. But in terms of the way His Word accomplishes its effect. As Jesus teaches in the parable, it is often the case with preaching the Word, that it does not achieve the end for which it was sent!

In the first case, God’s word was immediately efficacious. God spoke, and it was so; nothing hindered His Word having its effect, and returning a glorious achievement. Likewise in the second case, God’s Word was fully effective, because in Mary, nothing prevented Him achieving His purpose. So pure and eager was Mary for God’s Word, that He literally became flesh in her. Mary is the utterly fruitful soil that corresponds perfectly to the heavenly Word.

Unfortunately, not so with us. Here, God’s word finds resistance, indifference, even opposition. In the preaching of the Gospel, God’s word often does not achieve its effect, or return Him any glory. Often, as Jesus says in the Parable of the Sower, the seed is scattered in vain, the word falls on deaf ears.

Or, as I can see today, the word falls on many empty pews. Today, as every Sunday, the farmer sows the seed looking for a harvest. Jesus is bringing his word to his people, in order to bring forth in their lives a harvest of justice, goodness, and salvation for the Father. But what good is it for that word to fall on an empty chair? What effect can the word have, when it does not even reach the soil?

Thankfully many are here, today and regularly, to hear God’s word. Yet even then it doesn’t always have its full effect. Jesus speaks about different situations, different kinds of people who even though they hear him, do not produce the fruits of the Kingdom. The Word never truly becomes flesh in their lives, the way Christ became flesh in the womb of Mary.

First he speaks of the seed that falls on the hard sidewalk. It does not enter, it is lost, stolen away by the birds. God’s word goes “in one ear and out the other,” so to speak. Jesus says it is the devil who is doing this. The Bible often speaks of people who are “hard of heart,” or “stiff-necked.” Such people are full of pride and sin, and refuse to bow to the will of God. They resist and oppose Him. These are people who will not allow God or the Church to “tell them what to do.” They put up a wall, they are hard as a concrete sidewalk. You can preach all day long, but it’s useless, they don’t want to hear. And so there is no fruit, no salvation. This indifferent and rebellious attitude can easily creep into our hearts

Another type of person is described by Jesus as the “shallow soil.” Here the seed quickly begins to sprout, but it does not last. Some people become eager and enthusiastic about their religion, and very involved in activities, but it does not last. Something comes up, things get difficult, and all of a sudden you don’t see them anymore. What happened? Jesus said their faith is superficial. The word affected them only on the surface, not deep within their lives so that it became part of their bone and marrow. Many Christians run after different fads, and they hop around from place to place, chasing after the emotional experience. This is superficial, and it does not produce fruit. The farmer is very concerned when he sees the seed sprouting too soon. He knows that plant is not going to make it through the dry season. Faith must have deep and strong roots to get through the difficult times of the desert, to be able to endure the Cross.

In the third example, the seed falls among the thornbushes, which choke the plant so that it dies out. In this example, Jesus is talking about situations where there are too many other things going on in a person’s life, too much competition for the faith, which loses its priority. These people are potentially good soil for God’s word, but other things prevent the harvest which the Lord desires.

I think this is the main reason we have so many empty pews in the Church. It’s not because all these people are “hard of heart” as in the first example. These missing parishioners have a lot to give, and even a desire to grow in the faith. But there are too many other priorities in their life, worldly activities and projects, and by the time Sunday rolls around they are just not able to make it. The faith is choked out, their spiritual lives are being suffocated. The plant is trying to grow, but it dies out.

And so it is, that in this third way alone God’s Word goes forth from His mouth, but does not always achieve the purpose for which it was sent. The Church is proclaiming God’s word – God’s Word is going forth from His mouth – but often in vain, often to empty pews. The seed thus falls to the ground achieving nothing.

Nothing is lacking on the part of God’s Word, which is efficacious enough to create a world out of nothing, which is powerful enough to bring about the Incarnation and Redemption. But much can be lacking in the soil destined to receive that Word, to the point of obstructing its vitality entirely. The work and effort then, is in preparing the soil to be fertile ground.

It is for another homily to explore what that spiritual work entails: the breaking up of the hardened earth with severe blows, the plowing and tilling of the field with a blade that cuts deep, the removal of rocks and stones, the meticulous weeding out of foreign plants, the mixing in of cartloads of manure, above all the creation of an irrigation system bringing abundant water…

For this homily, I will simply draw attention to the little prayer we say silently each time the Gospel is about to be proclaimed, when the priest traces the sign of the cross on the Gospel, and on his forehead, lips, and heart: “May the words of the Gospel be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”

It is not enough simply to hear the words with our ears. When explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the disciples, “Let him who has ears truly hear!” (Mt 13:9). In order to truly hear, we must understand; the words of the Gospel must be “in our mind.” Jesus severely criticizes those who “hear, but do not listen or understand” (Mt 13:14-15). When the angel Gabriel brought God’s Word to her, she “considered in her mind” (Lk 1:29) and questioned the archangel in order to understand it: “How can this be?” (Lk 1:34).

Once she understood what was being asked (Lk 1:35), Mary immediately embraced the Word with the joyful obedience of her heart and will: “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Immediately she went to her cousin Elizabeth to proclaim with her lips the “great things the Almighty has done for me” (Lk 1:49).

The words of the Gospel must be [understood] in the mind, [embraced] in the heart, and [proclaimed] by the lips. This little prayer shows the pattern we must follow in order to become the fruitful soil for God’s Word, able to bring forth a harvest of goodness and salvation that is multiplied 30, 60, or even 100-fold. Or, to use the preferred term of our Lady, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” (Lk 1:46).

Rev. Glen Mullan

My Yoke

July 9, 2017

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 11:25-30)

Jesus evokes the image of oxen working in a field when he tells his followers to “take my yoke upon your shoulders” (Mt 11:29). The yoke is a wooden device carefully designed to fit over the shoulders of an ox in order to harness its power for labor. For the most effective and efficient work, two oxen are harnessed together. In order not to hurt the animal and compromise its work, yokes have to be customized and adjusted to the particular animal. Yokes also have the effect of forcing two oxen to work as equal partners, without fighting each other. This was the “tractor” of its day, enabling farmers to plough fields and perform other labor-intensive tasks leading to a fruitful harvest.

Jesus often used the image of a field to describe the Kingdom of God (as we will see again next Sunday in the Parable of the Sower). A disciple is a laborer in the field of the Lord, devoting his effort and energy under the master’s direction, to bringing forth a harvest of souls for God.

Jesus tells his followers to take “my yoke” upon your shoulders. Through baptism we become disciples of Christ, throwing off the dominion of Satan and his cruel taskmasters, and taking up the labor which brings life, not death. The Israelites in Egypt were under the “yoke” of slavery. They labored hard, without any benefit to themselves or their families. They were being “worked to death,” and enjoyed no rest.

God promised Moses He would deliver them from slavery and bring them to the Promised Land: “Say therefore to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm’” (Ex 6:6). The Promised Land is described in Psalm 95 as a place of rest, which those who remain faithful to God will enter, but those who are unfaithful will not experience: “For forty years [in the desert] I was wearied of that generation and said, ‘They are a people who err in heart, and they do not regard my ways.’ Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest” (Ps 95:10-11).

If the Israelites, liberated from the yoke of Pharaoh, remain faithful to God, He will bring them to the Promised Land, the place of His rest. Likewise, Jesus promises that if we become his faithful followers, taking his yoke upon our shoulders and working hard in the Kingdom of God, we will find rest in heaven. Those who serve faithfully will die in peace, and their souls “will find rest” (Mt 11:30). On the other hand, those who are unfaithful will not rest in peace, and their difficult work of salvation will continue in Purgatory (Mt 5:26).

So the first way we will find the “rest” promised by Christ is in heaven, the Promised Land, after the journey and time of trial of this life. But if we take Christ’s yoke upon our shoulders and follow the Christian way of life, we will also experience rest in this life. Unlike Pharaoh, or the devil, who is a cruel taskmaster that works his slaves to death, Jesus is “meek and humble of heart.” He is demanding, and the work he requires is long and difficult – the wooden yoke on our shoulders is actually the “cross” which we are to take up in our discipleship of him (Mt 10:38) – but he is not cruel. He shows us the difficult and narrow path which leads to life. He brings us to the verdant pastures and cool running streams.

This “rest” of eternal life is already experienced in this life through the Sabbath rest of the seventh day (or better yet, the first Day of the Resurrection). After six days of “work” in bringing forth creation, God “rested,” taking delight in the work of His hands. Likewise, we are commanded to work for our living six days of the week, and on the seventh enjoy the fruits of our labor in a celebration of praise to the Lord.

In every society under the dominion of evil, people are subject to cruel taskmasters, and are “worked to the bone,” worked to death. In those societies formed by the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Bible, however, the economy is subject to the spiritual needs of man, and the work-week leads to the “weekend.” In a Christian society, the shops and factories are shut down on Sundays, so that the primacy of God may be acknowledged, and so that man may enter into this rest by keeping holy the Sabbath.

In true Christian societies, people are able to rest on Sundays and Holy Days (i.e., “holidays”). The Christian way of life is humane. Though we work hard in the field for our master, he is not cruel. And in fact he shows his humility by taking our yoke of the Cross upon his shoulders in order to bring us rest. Unlike every pagan society, the laborer in the Christian world does not exist for the system, the Pharoah, or the “collective” (as the Communists say). Instead, Christ commands that the economy be subject to the needs of the individual and family.

There is another special meaning to Christ’s parable of the yoke. While the “yoke” applies to every disciple who must take up his cross and follow the Lord, it has a particular significance for those who are married, to such a degree that it is the biblical symbol of the marital vocation. The word “conjugal” derives from the Latin root jugum, which means “yoke.” As a yoke joins together two oxen for the purpose of working in the field, marriage joins together two disciples in a lifelong partnership for the Kingdom of God. The disciples of the Lord always work in pairs (Mk 6:7, Lk 10:1).

The goal of the Kingdom is a harvest of new souls. Therefore the most important work in the Kingdom is that of raising a family, a labor of love which produces, literally, new souls for God. This labor requires the combined effort of two oxen. Matrimony is the institution that properly creates the single new entity from two individuals which can effectively achieve the work of raising a family.

Here too it is so important to hear Christ’s words: “Take my yoke upon your shoulders.” All too often, individuals and societies replace Christ’s yoke with one of their own making. In order to try avoid or minimize what is clearly a demanding sacrifice and difficult commitment, we try to find our own substitutes for marriage more tailored to our ease and comfort (and selfishness). Yet inevitably we discover that man-made yokes are no substitute for the bond created by God and customized exactly for man’s nature. They always create more problems than they solve: “marriages” which allow for divorce and polygamous situations; “living together” before formal marriage; “domestic partnerships;” etc.

If the yoke does not fit well on the ox’s shoulders it will cause pain and suffering, and the ox will not be able to work effectively. Likewise, we undermine the ability to properly raise families when try out counterfeit yokes, and make things harder. Societies suffer. The Kingdom of God suffers.

Preparing for marriage means taking upon ourselves the yoke given by God through Christ: marriage as defined by the Bible and understood by the Church as a discipleship. Thus a couple who wish to marry each other always need to discern their motives and intentions. Do they understand that it is God who imposes the yoke and joins them together, their vows merely give Him consent to do so? And that what God joins cannot be separated, except by the death of a spouse? Do they realize that marriage is work, a labor of love for the Kingdom of God? Do they realize that children, new souls for the heavenly Kingdom, are the fundamental goal of the enterprise, and not simply a side “option” if they choose?

Marital preparation requires the discernment of a fitting partner for this work, one whose strength is an equal match, and whose goal is the same. For this reason, St. Paul gives the most fundamental advice to Christians seeking to be married: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14). The goal of matrimony is service of the Lord through the raising of a family. It makes no sense to marry a non-believer, unless the non-believing spouse will be supportive of the Christian mission to baptize and educate these children in a Catholic household.

Christ promises that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” An example of his wry humor. Yet considering the alternative – the tyranny of the devil’s false promises and enslavement of selfishness – Christ is true. It may be the long and difficult path, but it alone leads to life, celebration, joy, and the ability to rest.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Prophet’s Reward

July 2, 2017

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (2K 4; Mt 10:37-42)

Today’s Gospel, the end of Mt 10, concludes a section where Jesus has been instructing and training his twelve apostles for their mission work. Jesus told them they would have authority and power to act in his own name, casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming the Gospel (10:1,7). He began by giving them instructions: travel light, don’t worry about money, find a family to host you in each village (10:5-15). He also prepared them for persecutions, telling them they would be sent like “lambs among wolves” (10:16). As we heard last Sunday, they were to have no fear, even when they were being martyred, but to give testimony without fail (10:26-33).

And today he concludes with the requirement to put the work of the Gospel above their families: “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). Being an apostle of the Church is fully demanding. It requires a complete dedication, a readiness to serve and suffer, and to leave all other concerns behind, including family and career. In return, the apostolic worker can expect to be supported materially by those he serves.

It is for this reason that the Church requires those ordained to the ministry to remain celibate, that is unmarried. Though this has a spiritual or theological significance as an imitation of Christ’s celibacy, it is also a practical consideration, because of the nature of the work, and the demands it places on the individual, and the demands it would place on his family if he had one. St. Peter and some of the first apostles were married and had jobs as fishermen, but as they undertook the work of the Church they were constantly moving and travelling. St. Peter went first to Antioch, and eventually Rome. Either their family had to go with them, or they left their families and made other provisions for them (cf. Mt 19:27-29). St. Paul noted how some of the apostles had their families with them, but strongly urged those who would dedicate their lives to the Church to remain as he was, celibate (1 Cor 7:7). “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor 7:32-33).

In return for the sacrifices that have to be made on behalf of Christ and the Church, in order to be apostolic missionaries, Jesus assures them they will be provided. The people they serve will provide room and board, and practical necessities. They will do so joyfully and generously, because in receiving the apostles, they are receiving Christ (Mt 10:40).

In conclusion, Jesus promises blessings to those who receive and provide for the apostles: “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And [even if he] gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:41-42).

This is a very solemn promise of Jesus, which is shown by the way he repeats it three times. This is the blessing of the laity, the “prophet’s reward.” Those who are fortunate to be able to host or provide for the Gospel workers, will be richly blessed and rewarded by God. Jesus doesn’t specify exactly what that reward will be, it will be different for each household.

The first reading tells of a household in Shunem which welcomed the prophet Elisha into their home, even setting up a room for him when he travelled to that area. They were very generous. They were a childless couple, and God rewarded them by giving them a son (2K 4). Another example is when the prophet Elijah was hosted by the widow of Zarephath during the drought. As long as he stayed with her, the jar of meal did not go empty, nor the pitcher of oil fail (1K 17:14). And when her son died, God raised him through Elijah (1K 17:22).

The laity know it is not a burden but a privilege to provide for the Church’s work, and for those who labor in the Gospel. We no longer host the Church’s work in our homes like they did in the first century; instead we build the parish church, and provide a rectory for the priest to live. But it is still a custom to invite the priest to our homes, in order to bless them and share a meal.

When Jesus made the three-fold solemn promise to reward the laity who receive and provide for the apostles of Christ, he also made clear the obligations and expectations of the clergy toward the laity. He did this by referring to them in three ways, as prophets, righteous men, and little ones.

The prophet speaks God’s word with authority. The man of God must be trained in Scripture and theology, that he may preach with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, giving counsel and guidance to the flock in the contemporary situation. Ministers of the Church undertake a rigorous 8-10 year academic and spiritual preparation in the seminary.

The righteous man practices what he preaches, giving good example through a life of holiness. We know the damage that is caused when one of Christ’s ministers gives scandal. Christ expects his apostles to live upright lives as they serve the faithful.

Finally, the minister is to be humble, a little one. When the apostles argued about who was the greatest, Jesus put a child in their midst and said whoever wishes to be great must be the least, and the servant of all (Mt 20:26). The clergy are not to take advantage of the laity’s hospitality and generosity, they are not there to be served. Instead, they must put the spiritual needs of the flock above their own interests, in the name of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve (Mt 20:28).

In this way, the Church is built and grows, and the relationship between clergy and laity is mutually beneficial and harmonious. Christ articulates the pattern of the Church’s work, and interdependent roles of the ministers and faithful.

One final reflection on this Gospel, is the need to promote vocations. To “receive a prophet” into one’s home, it is not simply enough to think of the priests and clergy who are sent to the parish by the bishop. We must also think of the vocations that are sent directly from God. Families must be ready to welcome and provide for the apostle from those whom the Lord may call among their children. It is an honor, and a rich blessing from God, to welcome a religious vocation in the family, and in the community.

I have heard stories where God was calling a young man to the priesthood, but his parents and family discouraged and opposed the vocation. Perhaps because they wanted grandchildren, or because they wanted their son to have a successful career. Jesus said he who loves these things more than him is not worthy of him. And by discouraging a vocation in the family, these parents failed to receive God’s prophet. They shut themselves off from great blessings and the prophet’s reward which God had in mind for them. The faith in those communities that fail to promote new vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, will wither and die out. “If they do not welcome you, shake their dust from your feet” (Mt 10:14).

And so one of the most important ways the laity can provide for the Church – beyond making sure the rectory is comfortable and the priest has what he needs for celebrating Mass – is to provide for future priests from among their children. Even though priests serve the laity by providing their spiritual nourishment, the fact is the laity serve the priesthood by providing their numbers. The Lord arranges the Church in such a way that all the members have a role to play, all have a stake and a responsibility for the success of her holy apostolic work.

May God bless our parish, our priests, and call forth new laborers for the harvest of the Kingdom.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Japanese Martyrs

June 25, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 10:26-33)

There was a recent movie which caught my interest because of the subject. It is called “Silence,” and it is a movie about the terrible persecutions suffered by the Japanese Catholics in the 16th & 17th centuries when the Jesuit missionaries arrived to bring the Gospel of Christ. Over 100,000 Japanese were baptized, but thousands of these villagers were subsequently tortured and brutally put to death for converting to Christianity, together with the priests and missionaries who tried to serve them. Eventually the faith was suppressed, and no priests could visit Japan for hundreds of years. There was no Mass, no Eucharist, no Sacraments.

Miraculously, the faith survived. Laity continued to administer Baptism to their children, and recite the prayers they learned from the missionaries. They kept the faith alive until priests were once again able to return in the 1800s.

The movie focuses on the way the villagers died, and tells the story of two priests who “apostatized,” renouncing the faith and turning against the Christians they were supposed to serve, because they realized the cost of being Christian was too great. The director of the movie is a Catholic, interested in the question of faith. But he is a modern secular Catholic, a skeptic, who can’t grasp the martyrs. What happened to those humble Japanese villagers was so cruel and terrible, he can’t believe Christ would demand that, or that missionaries should proclaim the faith if this was going to be the result.

I wanted to see this movie because it was dealing with a tremendous chapter of our Catholic history, but in the end I was very disappointed, and would not recommend it to anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic. While it shows some of the incredible circumstances of Church’s evangelization in Japan, and the shocking cruelty of the persecution that put so many Christians to death, it doesn’t understand Christianity, and the lesson which Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel. In a climactic scene of the movie, Christ commands the priests and villagers to deny him, the opposite of what Christ actually said to his disciples in the Gospel: “He who denies me before men, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:33).

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches about evangelization, what is required to preach the Gospel and bring the Good News of God’s Kingdom to the world. Jesus said they would put Christians to death, because God’s Kingdom will overthrow the Devil who rules over the world through his human kingdoms and their violence.

Jesus says, “Fear no one.” He says not to fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. There is only one thing to fear, which is God who judges us on the last day. We must fear only sin, by which we will lose our soul.

In the movie, the priests succumbed to that fear of losing the body, and as a result they were ready to apostatize, deny the faith, and lose the soul. In the movie, the false priests were trying to encourage the Christians to live in peace in this world, instead of helping them preserve their lives for the next world.

The movie is not true. It is a lie. Maybe there were some priests at the time who ended up denying the faith under pressure and because of the torture. But what the movie should have focused on is the tremendous number of Jesuit priests and missionaries who never abandoned the faith, who gave their lives for Christ and served the communities to the end, sharing in the martyrdom and helping to lay the foundations of a Church that continues to exist in Japan to this day.

And not only in Japan. Those same Jesuit priests, as well as Franciscans and other missionaries, have preached and died for the faith in other countries of the Far East, in North America, South America, Africa, and throughout the world. I like to remind people in our own area of the Franciscan Friars who were killed at the mission of San Saba, TX, in 1758 for trying to establish the faith among the Comanche and Apache Indians.

Today we hear in the news almost daily of the terrible suffering and martyrdom of the Christians at the hands of Islam. The twenty Coptic Christians who were beheaded on the beach in Libya while being filmed on video. The four sisters from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, who were brutally murdered in the city of Aden, Yemen, last year. The parishioners gunned down a few weeks ago in their bus in Egypt while taking a pilgrimage. The countless Christians massacred in Iraq and other areas by Isis, after being raped and tortured. They refuse to deny Christ and convert to Islam. They drop to the ground like swallows.

We wonder, “Where is God?” Or like that movie was trying to question, “Why is He so silent, when all these things are happening to His people?”

Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Do not be afraid,” and “Do not think God is silent.” Christians may be sacrificed like sparrows, lives may be snuffed out as if they had no meaning or value. But Jesus assures us that not even a sparrow dies and falls to the ground without God’s knowledge, and His care. God goes so far as to count every hair on a person’s head. God is aware of everything that happens. God knows more about the things that happen to people, and what they go through, than we ever will. And nothing happens without His knowledge and concern, without His horror and anger, without his love and indignation.

God who knows all, says do not fear what these evil people can do to the body, and the way they kill and murder. But definitely be afraid of what God can do on judgement day, when these murderers will have to answer for their crimes as they pay the penalty in their body and soul, for all eternity, in the torment of Gehenna. On that day it will be just as Jesus says: what happened in darkness and what the world did not know about and what the media ignored – these crimes, horrors, terrible things taking place in the darkness of the world, will be brought to light and proclaimed from the heights of heaven. The martyrs will shine like the sun. They will be vindicated, glorified, triumphant. The Kingdom of God may suffer brutally now, in the world, at the hands of the forces of darkness, but it will conquer. And already it conquers when we realize that no matter what the enemy can do to our body, he cannot touch our soul unless we hand it over to him.

God permits the sparrows to fall to the ground and die. God permits the sheep of his flock to be martyred. But not the soul. As long as the soul is safe (baptized, confirmed, strengthened by grace), God will be able to restore the body in glory on the last day. So Jesus says to fear no one, and to give testimony courageously. We must acknowledge him before others. This is what “martyrdom” means: “to give witness,” to give testimony. If we acknowledge him before the world and the executioners, he will acknowledge us before the Father, before the entire heavenly host of angels, before all mankind assembled for judgment on the last day. We will be publicly acknowledged, rewarded, and glorified.

But those who deny Christ and his Church, those who kill Christians, will be denied by Christ the King before the heavenly throne of the Father, before all the angels and saints. They will be publicly exposed before all their fellow man and condemned to the fiery pits of Gehenna for all eternity, where they will suffer their personal torments and guilt of their crimes, and be ignored, forgotten, and relegated to utter insignificance for all eternity.

This is why the movie fails completely to understand what happened with the early Japanese Christians. Let us then not make the same mistake. Our job as Christians is not get along with the world and save our lives at any cost. Our job is give witness and testimony to the Kingdom of God, and to do so without fear. To fear no persecutor, human or angelic; but to fear God alone, and the possibility of betraying him by sin.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Unless You Eat My Flesh

June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi A (Jn 6:51-58)

The Church has added additional liturgical feasts following the Easter season to further celebrate the mysteries which the Lord opened to his disciples at the Last Supper: Holy Trinity, and Corpus Christi. These are mysteries which are among the deepest secrets and most important treasures in the Church.

The Eucharist is central to the life of the Church, but when Jesus first spoke of it, no one understood what he was saying. In fact, they were confused and scandalized. It took place one year before the Last Supper, the day after Jesus changed a single meal of five loaves and two small fish into an abundance of bread to feed a crowd of 5000 families. It was such a spectacular miracle that Jesus was acclaimed as the great prophet (Jn 6:14).

The following day, when Jesus encountered some of that crowd clamoring for him in Capernaum, he confronted them with the reason he performed the miracle. It was to prepare them for the Eucharist: “Do not seek me for food that perishes. Seek instead the food which the Son of Man will give you, that endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27). When they ask him to provide this bread, Jesus tells them, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35). Jesus is looking for their faith in him: “he who believes in the Son will have eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:40).

And then Jesus explains why it is that he refers to himself as “bread.” It is because he will literally become the bread which nourishes people into their eternal life: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

The Jews are understandably confused by this overly literal way of speaking: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). But instead of tempering, or moderating, or explaining away what he just said, Jesus proceeds to give us one of the most remarkable passages in all of the Bible: a sevenfold repetition to reinforce in no uncertain terms what he meant (vv. 52-58). In the fourth repetition Jesus stresses that “my flesh is real (i.e. “true,” “actual”) food, and my blood is real drink” (Jn 6:55). And whereas St. John had been initially using the Greek word “phago” to describe “eating” (Jn 6:23-53), he switches to the much more literal word “trogon” (Jn 6:54-58), to emphasize the physical act of chewing food.

Jesus came down from heaven for the world’s salvation, by calling men to faith in him as the Son of God. But this faith will be expressed in a communion of flesh and blood, a real and true “marriage.”

Even after his Resurrection and Ascension, this teaching of Jesus remains a great mystery, but before the Resurrection it was so shocking – and abhorrent – to the people that they stopped following him, who only a day before acclaimed him as king and prophet (Jn 6:66). And rather than take back or alter a single word of what he said, Jesus allowed the crowds to withdraw, and even pushed the twelve apostles for a profession of unconditional loyalty and belief. Peter responded on behalf of the others in a beautiful confession of faith: “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life, and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). They do not understand how it is that Jesus will give them his flesh and blood to eat, but they know who he is, and that what he says must be true.

Peter’s faith is still that of Catholics. We don’t necessarily understand how the Eucharist happens, and to all appearance the consecrated bread and wine on the altar which we receive in Holy Communion seem to be nothing more than bread and wine. But we know who Jesus is, and accept the truth of his word, since he would never deceive us. We place our trust in his word even more than in our senses. As we sing in the famous Eucharistic hymn, Tantum Ergo: “Præstet fides supplementum sensuum defectui” (“Let faith provide a supplement for the failure of the senses”).

At the time he first spoke of the Eucharist, which was in the synagogue of Capernaum a year before his death (Jn 6:59), it was impossible to understand the doctrine. Jesus himself indicated at the time, that only with his glorification (i.e., his resurrection and ascension) would it begin to make more sense (Jn 6:61-62).

A year later, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, when he took bread and wine and gave it to his disciples saying “take and eat/drink… this is my body/blood.” Now the apostles received the answer to that original question posed by the Jews in Capernaum: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). Jesus would indeed give his flesh and blood to the world as real food and drink, but he would do so in the form of bread and wine.

Some have tried to argue, then, that the Eucharist is merely symbolic. The bread that we eat symbolizes Christ’s body, and the wine symbolizes or represents his blood. But this is not at all what Jesus intended, said, or accomplished. This interpretation (which is the doctrine of the Protestants), completely denies what Jesus explained in John 6:51-58, where he said his flesh would be real food, and that unless you eat his flesh you have no life in you. If the Eucharist is only a symbol, then we are not in fact eating his flesh nor in fact drinking his blood. Which means the scandalous words spoken by Jesus at Capernaum are not true.

The final important event necessary for accepting the Eucharist is the Resurrection (together with the Ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit). Once the apostles saw the Lord in his glory, and how the Resurrection brought about a new reality beyond suffering and death, and beyond the constraints and limitations of this world, and beyond the laws of nature and matter, they appreciated better what the Eucharist was, and how Jesus could give his flesh and blood to his followers, even though they were in different times and places, and even though his flesh and blood were in a different form of bread and wine.

There are therefore several characteristics about the sacrament of the Eucharist, flowing from the reality of the Resurrection, which St. Thomas Aquinas describes in the Corpus Christi Sequence we heard before the Gospel.

For one thing, Christ is not divided or diminished, even though the Eucharist is divided among many recipients. Furthermore, each disciple receives the “whole Christ” (Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity), regardless of how large or small a portion of the Eucharist he receives. Or whether he receives Communion under one kind or both kinds. There is no such as thing as larger or smaller, more or less, when it comes to the Eucharist.

Another characteristic of the Eucharist is that, like the manna of old in the desert, the Eucharist is heavenly and not earthly bread. It does not nourish in the same manner as regular bread. As Jesus said, if you are just hankering for regular bread (such as the bread he multiplied for the large crowd), you will be hungry again in a few hours. With the bread from heaven, however, you do not hunger anymore, nor are you subject to death. It is a nourishment for the soul, which transcends the world.

Therefore, to emphasize this truth of the Eucharist, we fast from earthly food in order to receive the heavenly food. The Eucharist nourishes by leaving us hungry (for God), and it fills us by making us empty (of the world). The host is made from simple pure wheat and water. No salt, sugar, or earthly delightfulness. The very way we prepare for Holy Communion, is a lesson of faith and discipleship by which we set aside earthly things, purify our lives, and prioritize the spiritual over the physical. First, seek the Kingdom of God and the Bread from Heaven by fasting, and only then proceed to needs of the body. “Man does not live on bread alone, but by the word of God.” First, Mass; then break-fast.

Special theme for glad thanksgiving is the quick’ning and the living bread today before you set… Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives, but a dauntless faith believes, resting on a pow’r divine. Here beneath these signs are hidden priceless things to sense forbidden… Lo! the angel’s food is given to the pilgrim who has striven; see, the children’s bread from heaven!

Rev. Glen Mullan

Pentecost

June 4, 2017

(Acts 2:1-11; Gal 5:16-23)

Pentecost was one of the three great festivals in the Jewish religious (liturgical) calendar. It took place 50 days after Passover (a “week” of “weeks”, i.e., 7×7 days) and for this reason it is sometimes called the Feast of Weeks. It is a festival that celebrates the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, as well as the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.

For 40 days after his Resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but by the time of the Ascension they returned again to Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to stay in the city and wait for the “promise of the Father,” the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). Jesus’ followers gravitated around the home in the suburb of Mt. Zion where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper.

For 10 days the tiny congregation of about 120 (Acts 1:15) prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit, both in the Temple (Lk 24:52) and in the upper room (Acts 1:13), and with them was the Blessed Mother (Acts 1:14). It is the first “Novena” in the Church.

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down upon them and filled them with power to go forth in the name of Jesus. He came as wind and fire. At the dawn of time, God’s Spirit (Heb. “Ruah” “Breath”) went out as a mighty wind over the waters to bring forth creation out of the dark chaos (Gn 1:2). At the time of the Exodus, God’s Spirit went forth as a mighty wind over the Red Sea, to bring his new nation to birth in the desert (Ex 14:21). The Holy Spirit now comes down upon the disciples as a mighty wind to form a New Creation, which is the Church. The Church began its existence (its “conception”) in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, from his opened side and the fountain of his Sacred Heart; but Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when it came forth from secrecy into the public square, and went forth confidently to all the nations of the world.

Pentecost is also the reason we call the Church “Catholic.” “Katholikos” (Gk) means universal. On the first day of her public life, the Holy Spirit gave a dramatic sign to the people of Jerusalem: the unification of all tongues in one language. There were Jewish pilgrims from all over the world in Jerusalem that day for the great festival. And yet when the apostles preached to them in the plaza, even though they spoke with their native Galilean accent, the foreigners all heard them speak in their own languages (Acts 2:5-13). So impressed were the people by this sign, as well as the power of Peter’s message, that 3000 were baptized (Acts 2:41).

What began at the tower of Babel when mankind was divided and scattered through the fragmentation of different languages, due to sin, comes to an end on Pentecost, when God reunites all the nations of the world into one common human family.

This miraculous sign of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost continues to be the sign today of the true Church: it is “catholic,” embracing all the languages of man. When you are able to attend Mass that is celebrated in a different language from your own, you realize what it means to be Catholic: our common faith, and the bonds of charity we share in the Holy Spirit, transcend the cultural or historical divisions that exist among people.

Besides the mighty wind that shook the house in which they were gathered, the Holy Spirit appeared to the Church as tongues of fire falling down from heaven. Just as the Holy Spirit fell upon Jesus in the form of a dove at the time of his baptism when he came up out of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit came as a divine anointing upon each member of the Church on Pentecost.

And since that day the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out upon each new member of the Church in the Sacrament of Confirmation, following Baptism. Just as the wind of the Holy Spirit is not exactly like the wind that blows through the trees, the fire of the Holy Spirit is not the same as earthly fire. It is heavenly fire, like the flames which Moses saw in the burning bush: burning without destroying. Instead of combustion, these flames bring purification: the only thing that is consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit is sin.

With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the apostles of the Church began their public mission, as Jesus did following his anointing in the Jordan. The Holy Spirit today sends the Church on her public mission to the whole world.

Of all the many lessons we could draw from the feast of Pentecost, I would like to focus on one, and that is prayer. In order for the Holy Spirit to come down, Jesus commanded the apostles to pray, and this they did for 10 days in the Upper Room, gathered in the company of Mary. This house with its spacious hall became the first church of the new dispensation, and those 120 disciples became the first parish. Today there are thousands of parish churches around the world, but Pentecost remains the model to imitate. If we want the Holy Spirit to come upon us today, it means we need to pray intensely.

Not just as a parish, through our liturgical schedule of Mass and devotions, but personally and in our homes, we must pray always, in company with Mary and the saints, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

All of us received the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, but unless we pray, His gifts stay chained up and remain useless in our lives, and for the Kingdom. Only with prayer does the Holy Spirit start to move powerfully like the mighty wind, and become a strong fire. We must pray, and we must all do this to the greatest degree possible.

There are many trials we have to face. Whether it is illness, or family problems, or work. All these things bring fear and uncertainty. Prayer and the Holy Spirit bring faith, hope, and love, and with these we can conquer anything, because we no longer have fear, and we no longer see things in a “fleshly” way. The Holy Spirit makes us one with Christ, and allows us to see things from a supernatural “spiritual” perspective. The apostles were completely changed by Pentecost; we can be too.

St. Paul tells the Galatians, “live by the Spirit, and not by the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Without the Holy Spirit, we sink down into the sinful desires of the flesh: “immorality, impurity, and lust; idolatry and [superstitious false worship]; hatreds [and malicious gossip]; rivalries and jealousies; furious outbursts of anger and selfish acts; dissensions and factions [which cause disunity]; envy [and resentment]; drinking bouts and orgies” (Gal 5:19-21). If these things are in our life, we do not have the Holy Spirit, and we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul also describes the Fruits of the Holy Spirit – what our lives look like when the Holy Spirit is poured out on us. The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, [modesty], self-control, [chastity]” (Gal 5:22-23). These were the qualities people could see in the first disciples, and this must become our reality as well: as individuals, and as a parish community. But it will only happen when we imbue our lives with prayer.

“Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in them the fire of your Divine Love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.”

Rev. Glen Mullan

Graduation

May 28, 2017

Ascension (A) (Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20)

Acts of the Apostles recounts how following the Resurrection Jesus appeared to the chosen apostles during 40 days, speaking to them of the Kingdom. After this he ascended to heaven, to be seen no more until he returns again in glory in the Second Coming.

Now begins a new phase in the plan of salvation: it is the time for the Church to continue in the world in place of Christ. Or rather, for Christ to continue in the world, no longer through his physical Incarnate presence, but through his spiritual Sacramental presence in the Church. Christ ascends to heaven, so that the Holy Spirit might be sent in his place.

In this final phase of the world’s salvation, which takes place through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church, Christ will work through his disciples, starting with the 12 apostles. What began in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost with a community of 120 (Acts 1:15), soon spread through “Judea and Samaria,” and then via Rome, to the “ends of the earth.” By the time the last apostle John died toward the end of the first century, Christianity had been firmly established and headquartered in Rome, with its highway system that gave access to all the corners of the known world at that time. Historical documents tell us that by the end of the first century, disciples of the Lord had reached Spain (1) in the West, as far as England in the North,(2) all the way to Persia and India in the East, (3) and down into Egypt and Ethiopia (4) in the South. In the two thousand years since, the Gospel has continued to spread to other newly discovered regions: the New World, Far East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania.

Today, every disciple, working together with the successors of the apostles, has the task of continuing this work in our local area, being personally converted to Christianity, and then spreading Christianity within our sphere of influence by imbuing it with the presence of Christ, and the teaching of the Gospel.

Baptism is the sacrament by which we are converted and incorporated into Christ; Confirmation is the sacrament by which we are empowered and commissioned to go into the world in his Name.

Baptism is thus identified with “spiritual infancy,” since by it we are “born again” into the life of Christ. Just like a baby, we are given birth through Holy Mother Church, by water and the Holy Spirit. We become children of God, members of the Household of God, entitled to the privileges and inheritance of God’s children, which includes the heavenly banquet.

But if Baptism is spiritual infancy, then Confirmation is identified with “spiritual adulthood.” Here we take up our responsibilities, exercising the qualifications given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Just as the apostles, after a long period of instruction and training, personally supervised by the Lord, began their mission after the Ascension with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; so we, after learning our faith in catechism, being nourished in the Eucharist, and being trained morally through regular Penance, we undertake our responsibilities to the Lord through Confirmation.

Confirmation corresponds in the spiritual order, to “graduation” in the secular order. Graduation means you have completed your studies and training, and you are now ready to go out into the world and assume your responsibilities and duties as an adult, serving and contributing to the common good while taking care of your own household and family. No one graduates to become a “deadbeat,” a drag on society, a leacher off of everyone else. No one graduates to become a thief or criminal, having to cheat and steal in order to get by. We study, learn, and train so that we can be contributors, providers, dependable leaders and helpers, people who can not only take care of themselves but also do for others.

In the same way, Confirmation shows that we are “fully initiated” into the Catholic Church, as active and committed disciples. Everyone in the Church has a contribution to make, a responsibility to the mission of the Kingdom of God.

Some are called to the vocation of priesthood to follow in the footsteps of the apostles, so that through a special training and period of study with the Lord, they may be prepared to teach and lead the various communities, celebrating the Holy Sacraments for them.

Others are called to the vocation of consecrated religious life. Leaving behind the world, particularly having one’s own family or a career, they join together with others through holy vows to dedicate themselves fully to one of the Church’s apostolates: the contemplative life, evangelization, teaching, healing, or service to the poor.

Others take up the sacrament of holy Matrimony, through which they dedicate themselves to building the Kingdom of God in their household, through their children and grandchildren, as well as bringing Gospel values to others through their profession.

All the laity have the responsibility to establish their parish as the House of God in their community: the place where there is regular prayer, learning, and worship. If every Catholic household is like a cell in the Body of Christ, the parish is the heart which keeps all those cells alive through sacramental grace.

Another very important vocation that serves Christ in the Kingdom of God, which we often do not think about, is the vocation of the sick and suffering. Some people feel that because they are sick, or homebound, or elderly, they are not able to do much. In the eyes of the world they are even viewed as useless. But within the Church, they live out a deep union with Christ on the Cross. Their great spiritual “work,” their important responsibility, is to offer the sacrifice of the Cross through their sufferings. In many ways it is these hidden vocations that provide the spiritual success of other apostolic efforts.

In all cases, one’s particular mission flows from the Gifts received in Confirmation, whereby the disciple was fully initiated and, like the apostles at the time of the Ascension, sent.

When graduating, one receives an official diploma, which are the authoritative credentials of one’s qualifications. Confirmation too, gives the disciple his “credentials.” Imprinted indelibly into his soul, by the heavenly tongue of fire, is the official “seal” of the Father, which is Christ. A Christian carries in his being the imprint of Christ’s full stature. This is what the Gift of the Holy Spirit accomplishes. It gives the disciple “all authority in heaven and earth” (Mt 28:18) to go forth and make disciples, bearing witness to Christ through the testimony of the Gospel.

We may not necessarily have to travel to the “ends of the earth” as the apostles did in the fist century. But can we at least go out to our local community, starting with the circle of our family, friends, and co-workers?

We are not Initiated in order to be “deadbeat” Catholics, but rather active contributing members of the mission of the Church, according to our particular vocation. May the grace of Pentecost, the grace of our Confirmation, be renewed in each of us as we come to the culmination of this holy season.

Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in our hearts the fire of your divine love.

Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

(1) Cf. “Apocryphal Acts of St. Paul,” Catholic Encyclopedia.   (www.newadvent.org/cathen/11567b.htm)                                                                                     (2) Cf. St. Bede, Ecclesial History of the English People (731).
(3) Cf. “St. Thomas the Apostle,” Catholic Encyclopedia. (www.newadvent.org/cathen/14658b.htm)
(4) Cf. “Christianity in Ethiopia,” Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Ethiopia)

Rev. Glen Mullan

Paraclete

May 21, 2017

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Acts 8:14-17; 1P 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21)

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, whom he called the “Advocate” (Greek: Parakletos). A Paraclete is like your defense attorney in court. He is the one you gives you comfort, strength, encouragement. He defends and protects you, advises you, and speaks on your behalf. When it is your time to give testimony, he helps you with the words to say. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Piety, Strength, and Fear of the Lord.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples the hour had come for him to depart; he was about to leave, and the world would see him no more. They didn’t like to hear him say that, especially when it was clear he was about to die. But Jesus assured them, even though he was “going to the Father,” he would “not leave them orphans,” but send them this great Paraclete to be with them in his place.

In fact, during this Last Supper discourse, Jesus told them it was better for him to leave, and for them to have the Paraclete instead of him (Jn 16:7). Because actually, through the Paraclete, they would be able to perform even greater works than he did (Jn 14:12). And more importantly, through the Paraclete Jesus would be able to stay with them in a form that was even greater than the Incarnation.

Through the Incarnation, when “God became man and dwelt among us” in physical human nature, Jesus was among his disciples in a limited way. Limited by time and place, limited to external conversation and activity together. But through the Paraclete, whom he would send from the Father after his departure and glorification, he would dwell with his disciples in a completely unlimited way. He would dwell within the soul of each disciple, by means of Sacramental union. Through the Eucharist especially, he would “be with you always, until the end of the ages” (Mt 28:20, Jn 14:20).

So even though Jesus “leaves” his disciples and this world by means of his crucifixion and death, he does so in order to “remain” with his Church and disciples even more profoundly, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the indwelling graces of the Sacraments which the Holy Spirit effects.

And so we still have Jesus with us, but not in his physical human nature. We have him with us through his spiritual human nature (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-50), the glory of the Resurrection and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us through the Paracelete. And by means of the Paraclete, he continues to accomplish salvation.

That is why we need to focus on the sacrament of Confirmation. During Easter we focus a lot on the Sacraments of Baptism (by which we are incorporated into the death and Resurrection of Jesus), and Eucharist (by which his divine live is nourished in us). But we also need to focus on the Sacrament of Confirmation, by which we are given the Paraclete to be with us and help us accomplish our mission. There are three “Sacraments of Initiation” that make us Catholic, and which are celebrated during Easter. All three are important, all three are necessary.

On Easter Sunday, at the beginning of this holy season, we renewed our Baptism. On Pentecost Sunday, at the end of this holy season, we must renew our Confirmation.

There are some people who say Confirmation is not a sacrament. Martin Luther taught there are only two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist. Because of this error, most Christian denominations are without Confirmation, having “only been baptized in the name of the Lord” (cf Acts 8:16).

In the second reading today, from Acts of the Apostles, we can see how from the earliest days of the Church, there was most definitely a second sacrament that took place after baptism, and it was distinct from baptism.

Baptism makes you a Christian, by causing you to be born again from above, in Christ’s divine life. But Confirmation completes baptism through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who brings the image of Christ to full stature in the soul. Baptism can be celebrated by any of the Church’s ordinary ministers, including deacons. But Confirmation is celebrated only by the bishop, or by a priest who has been delegated by the bishop, using Holy Chrism blessed by the bishop.

Acts of the Apostles (chapter 8) tells of Philip, one of the seven deacons ordained to assist the apostles, who went down from Jerusalem to Samaria, where he made many converts, and baptized them (Acts 8:4-8)). But since he was only a deacon, he could not confirm them. Our reading tells us what happened next:

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).

They had “only been baptized.” This is proof that baptism is not enough for full initiation. Another sacrament is needed to complete baptism, and it must be celebrated by an apostle. Confirmation is an Apostolic Sacrament. It is celebrated by an apostle or one of the successors of the apostles who have the apostolic sacramental authority. Those who are qualified are bishops, who have the fullness of apostolic authority to teach, shepherd, and sanctify, and also priests, who have a substantial sharing in the apostolic authority.

The graces of Confirmation equip the disciple for mission. They impart the “character” of Christ indelibly on the soul, by filling the disciple with the Holy Spirit who is the same Spirit that animated Christ. This is the Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Piety, Strength, and Fear of the Lord.

In the second reading, St. Peter tells Christians, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1Pt 3:15). A Christian is called to testify and give witness, to explain and defend the truth which comes from God. Sometimes this is done with words, argument, and apologetics that manifest Understanding and Knowledge. In times of difficulty and trial, it is done with the Strength that comes from the Lord. At all times, it is done through the evidence of a pious and reverent life, the irresistible witness of Fear of the Lord. The Holy Spirit, who is within you, acts as the divine Paraclete, speaking words of Wisdom (cf. Jn 15:26-27; 16:8-15): “he will testify and you also will testify’.

During these final days of the Easter season, let us pray daily, like the first disciples (Acts 1:14), for the coming of the Holy Spirit, that he may “stir into flame” again the gifts we received through our Confirmation (cf. 2Tm 1:6). In this way, we will be prepared by our Paraclete to testify to Christ before the world, which puts us on trial and seeks to discredit our faith.

May we be found guilty.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Way Truth Life

May 14, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter (A) (Jn 14:1-12)

Every people has its Creed, Code, and Cult. Creed refers to the tenets of faith, the set of beliefs. The Code (of conduct) is a set of moral standards or values. And Cult is the system of rituals which celebrate, express, and live out that faith in worship.

The Christian Creed is summarized in the Apostle’s Creed which is used in the baptismal ceremony, and the Nicene Creed which is recited every Sunday at Mass. Our beliefs are handed on from the Sacred Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, and articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other decrees from popes and Church councils. It centers on: 1) the Holy Trinity, whereby we proclaim God to be One in being or essence, but Three in person or communal relationship; 2) the Incarnation of the Second Divine Person as Man in Jesus; 3) the Redemption by which the Son of God offered his life on the Cross in Atonement for man’s sin in order to obtain his salvation; and 4) the continuation of this mystery in the life of the Church by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian Code begins with the 10 Commandments of the moral law as given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but it is fulfilled and expanded by the teachings of Jesus, especially those in the Sermon on the Mount. It includes the Beatitudes, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Its special emphasis is charity and-self sacrifice, and the sacredness of life.

The Christian Cult is found in the celebration of the 7 Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist through the Holy Mass. The rituals of our worship derive from the Old Testament Synagogue service, Passover, and Temple liturgy in Jerusalem. They have been fulfilled in the priestly activity of Jesus, who offered himself as the unblemished Lamb, a sacrifice for sin on the altar of the Cross. In the early Church, some variations in ritual were established by individual Apostles when they founded churches in different parts of the world, and these are known as the different Rites of the Catholic Church. We belong to the Latin Rite, founded in Rome by the apostles Peter and Paul.

In all three areas of Christian religion, Jesus is the standard and measure. He tells Thomas, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). This distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Jesus is not merely a teacher of the truth, proposing doctrines for belief, the way prophets normally act as mouthpieces of God; he is the Truth. Jesus does not merely provide good example of conduct for men to follow, the way gurus and guides show people how to live; he is the Way. And Jesus does not merely lead the people in worship and blessing, he is the blessing which comes down from heaven and gives Eternal Life.

Christianity is more than learning a set of beliefs, observing a certain code of conduct, and going through the motions of certain religious actions and devotional practices. It is above all a living relationship and union with Christ, in which all these things take place. Christians are “other Christs,” members of Christ’s Body in whom he the Head is present and active. It is not merely that we believe his teachings, follow his example, and worship the Father in his name; it is more that he lives and acts in his disciples, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is his own spirit.

Following Thomas’ question to Jesus at the Last Supper about the Way (Jn 14:5), Philip asks the next question about the Father: “Lord, show us the Father” (Jn 14:8). Jesus proceeds to explain the beginning of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that fundamental part of the Creed of Christianity. God is One, but the One God is three distinct Persons bound in the mystery of love. The Trinity begins with the relationship of the Father and the Son, and Jesus explains to Philip that “the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father” (Jn 14:10). Therefore, if you have seen the Son, you have by definition seen the Father, since it is the Father who lives and acts in the Son. It is not possible to separate them, pure love makes them absolutely one. The Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity “mutually indwell” each other, beginning with the Father and the Son.

This mystery of God’s inner life, is then translated by the Incarnate Son into the life of the Church. As the Last Supper discourse continues, Jesus will go on to explain to his disciples that, “as I am in my Father, so you are in me, and I in you” (cf. Jn 14:20, 17:20-23). It is by means of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, that this will be accomplished. Which is why Jesus tells the apostles they will do even greater things than he, once he goes to the Father (Jn 14:12). Following his departure, i.e. his death, resurrection, and ascension, he will send from the Father the “Paraclete,” to be with the Church, and reveal fully the mystery of its divine life (Jn 14:15-20).

This is what is accomplished by the sacramental life of the Church: the mutual indwelling of Christ and his disciples, after the model of the Holy Trinity itself. Baptism is not merely an external symbolic gesture, it is a baptism “into” the very death and Resurrection of Jesus (Rm 6:3). Likewise, the Eucharist is no mere remembrance of the Last Supper, it is the very reality of the “two becoming one flesh”; the disciple becoming one with the master in a union far beyond anything accomplished or imagined by any other religion anywhere (cf. Jn 6:57).(1) 

In the early Church, before they called themselves Catholic, even before they called themselves Christian, the followers of Jesus called their religion “The Way” (cf Acts 9:2, 18:26, 22:4, 24:14, 24:22). It is a beautiful description, deriving from the words spoken by the Lord at the Last Supper. Others, on hearing this description and meeting Christians for the first time, naturally assume it refers to the way “of” Christ, a set of precepts, beliefs, and rituals taught to them by Jesus of Nazareth. But as the convert begins to inquire and learn more about the Christian life, and become Christian through Baptism, he begins to understand that Christianity is not the simply the way “of” Christ, but rather the Way which “is” Christ.

The saints, then, are not simply great examples of good moral conduct and personal holiness. Nor are they necessarily the ones who are able to learn, understand, and explain well the doctrines of Christianity. It is much deeper than that. The saints are those who allow Christ to live in them, and shine through their life and death (cf Jn 15:7-8). The great martyrs, then, such as the recent Coptic Christians who were beheaded on the beach in Libya by ISIS in 2015, give eloquent witness to the Truth. They do not die because they are necessarily morally perfect, or doctrinally educated. They die simply because in them is Christ the Light, who is hated by the world and the devil (Jn 15:18ff.). They are Christians, and that is enough. One of them, Matthew Ayairga, died as a Christian that day, though he had not even yet been baptized, or had the opportunity to study the creed. “Their God is my God,” he proclaimed, acknowledging the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

(1) Jn 6:57 is the culminating verse of the Eucharistic discourse, which explains the final goal for why Jesus will give his flesh and blood as real food and drink: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” The Eucharist accomplishes the mutual indwelling of Christ and his disciples, which he already experiences with the Father.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Good Shepherd

May 7, 2017

4th Sunday of Easter (A) (Jn 10:1-10)

In John chapter 10, Jesus takes up the well-known Biblical image of the shepherd (cf. Ps 23) to speak of himself: “I am the Good Shepherd. The sheep hear my voice, and I call my own sheep by name and lead them out. I go before them, and the sheep follow me, for they know my voice. I am the sheepgate: if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

In biblical times there were no great ranches or big agricultural corporations like today. Nor were there barbed wire or chain link fences. Herds were small, and supervised by individual shepherds. Groups of shepherds would roam the countryside with their flocks moving from pasture to pasture.

At night, sheep from various flocks would be corralled together into a single pen, surrounded by a low rock wall. One shepherd would be appointed to keep watch at the gate, guarding the sheep from thieves or predators who might try jump over the wall. Often times the shepherd would be the gate, if there wasn’t a door.

Sheep were separated into their flocks through the voice of the shepherd. From the time they’re born, the sheep learn the voice of their shepherd, and get named just like we name our pets. When the shepherd comes for his flock in the morning, he gives his call and the sheep recognize his voice. The sheep will only respond to the voice of their own shepherd. One by one they pass through the gate and are counted, the shepherd literally calling each one by name.

The sheep would not follow a stranger whose voice they do not recognize. In fact, it would make them nervous. And anything that tries to get at the sheep by coming over the fence instead of through the gate is automatically a predator.

The Scriptures teach us that a shepherd is someone who knows his sheep, and who is recognized by his sheep. Between the shepherd and sheep there exists a deep and natural bond of trust, which keeps them together. There is no need of fences, because where there is trust there is no fear of the flock scattering.

This trust between shepherd and sheep is built on mutual knowledge, and love. Every once in a while a young sheep might stray from the flock looking for greener pastures. The good shepherd does not abandon a lost sheep. With the others gathered together he will go off and search for the stray, in order to bring it back (Lk 15:3-9). This sense that they will be sought out and guided together builds trust.

Likewise, the good shepherd will protect his sheep from danger. The shepherd’s staff is not just to corral and discipline the sheep. The staff is also to ward off attackers: wolves and thieves. The true shepherd will intervene when there is danger. Jesus says the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.

Finally, the trust between sheep and shepherd is built by the fact that the shepherd nourishes the sheep, leading them to verdant pastures where there is good grass and refreshing streams.

The Lord is our true Shepherd, but within the flock God raises up other shepherds to lead in His name, giving His example to follow. Jesus chose the twelve apostles to be the first shepherds in the Church, and among them he singled out Peter to be the chief shepherd, telling him after the resurrection: “Feed my lambs, Tend my sheep, feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17). Jesus teaches Peter to have the same love for the flock that he had, the same readiness to lay down his life for their protection. Later, in his first letter, St. Peter will speak to the other leaders of the Church, urging them to be responsible shepherds: “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ… Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but eagerly, not as domineering over them but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:1-4).

Today the bishops continue the shepherding role of the apostles, going ahead of the flock at each Mass with the shepherd’s staff. Associated with them are those priests appointed pastors of parishes, “pastor” being a synonym for “shepherd.”

There is a great responsibility for the Church’s shepherds to imitate Christ the Good Shepherd, and some of the harshest rebukes in the Bible are reserved for those shepherds who fail to do so: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. You have not cared for them, and I will take care to punish your evil deeds” (Jer 23:1, Ez 34:2).

Perhaps in some ways our Church has become like the big corporations. The bishops are no longer shepherds who know the sheep and call them by name, fiercely protecting them from wolves—the spiritual and moral dangers posed to the flock of Christ in the modern world. They are corporate managers concerned about budget, lawsuits, and the status quo; more than the orthodoxy of preaching, or the dignity and integrity of the sacraments by which the flock is nourished.

But it’s not just bishops. Priests in the parishes also become so caught up in administrative duties that there is little time to actually teach, visit the sick, and seek out the missing.

And of course what applies to bishops and priests in the larger Church applies equally to parents, appointed by Christ as shepherds of the small flock in the domestic Church. Parents are the first shepherds, who know each of their children by name. By their example and self-sacrifice they build those bonds of trust in the family, and provide children with security. By their wisdom and vigilance they protect their family from harm, from bad influences, and guide their children in the correct paths. Through their hard work they ensure the children are properly nourished and taken care of.

Priests and bishops can learn much from good parents, and parents can learn a lot from good priests. All who have shepherding roles, whether in the parish or in the home, are servants of the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. His human servants try to do the best they can with his help, and therefore stay very close to him through prayer, sacraments, and study of Scripture. Knowing that like Peter and the Apostles we are imperfect, we depend not on ourselves but on the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd to work through us.

Let us pray for our shepherds, that bishops and priests will be true icons of Jesus the Good Shepherd. That their leadership will be clear and courageous; that when they speak it is the voice of Jesus that comes through loud and clear. Let us pray that they may not become so bogged down in peripheral tasks that they lose contact with the sheep, and don’t even know who the sheep are. Let us pray that they may use their shepherd’s staff to protect the sheep from wolves and false shepherds who would teach error, mislead, confuse, and scatter the flock of Christ.

But let us also pray for those other shepherds, the parents. Let us pray that they also do not become so caught up in the things of the world – that they do not have time for their children’s needs. Let us pray that parents will reclaim their role as the first teachers of their children, especially in religion and morality. Parents who simply hand over the education of their children to a public school system based entirely on secular values, or parents who are not directly involved in the religious education of their children, have abandoned their responsibility as shepherds. What Jeremiah says applies to them: “Woe to these shepherds!”

Jesus is the gate (Jn 10:9), the filter. All must pass through him, and his Gospel. All that is good and pure will pass through that gate, while all that is harmful or false, or useless will be rejected. Though he works through human instruments, Jesus remains the one true Shepherd of his flock. By means of the Gospels, the tradition and teaching of the Church, and the holy Sacraments, we receive true shepherding care that brings strength, healing, and life.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Lord Be With You

April 30, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter (A) (Lk 24:13-35)

The Church teaches (Vatican II, Sancrosanctum concilium, 7) there are four important ways the Risen Lord is present to his Church in the Liturgy, and they are illustrated in the Resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus. In this appearance, which occurred on Easter Sunday, Jesus celebrated the first Mass for the Church since the Last Supper, giving the Mass its form and structure.(1)  The Mass is structured by the Lord according to the four ways he is present.

In the first way, Jesus “draws near” as the disciples gather in the context of the Paschal Mystery, i.e., in the context of “all these things” that happened to Jesus the Nazarene on that particular Passover weekend in Jerusalem (Lk 24:15). Jesus had said elsewhere, that “whenever two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20). When the Church gathers for the Liturgy, “in the Name of Jesus,” in the “Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus is immediately present. The Church gathers to pray, and it gathers in the context of the Cross and Paschal Mystery. Jesus is immediately present.

The Church signals this first presence of the Lord by that special liturgical greeting which immediately follows the sign of the Cross: “The Lord be with you! And with your spirit!” In the first way, while present to his Church, the Risen Lord nevertheless remains completely invisible, as the Gospel story also indicates: “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Lk 24:16).

While the disciples walk to Emmaus, the Risen Lord then proceeds to speak to them about the Scriptures, showing how the Paschal Mystery of our salvation is articulated in prophecy and fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. He does this in a systematic way, beginning with Moses (i.e., the Law), and then all the prophets (Lk 24:27). The second way Jesus is present to his Church in the Liturgy is through the sacred Word of God, the Bible.

Beginning with the first pages of the Old Testament, the Church systematically shows in the lectionary cycle, how the law and prophets are fulfilled in the Gospel, that is, in the teachings, words, life, and death of Jesus. The first half of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, is the great ongoing dialogue and commentary between the Lord and his disciples, which began on Easter Sunday. And it is a journey that lasts not just a few hours, but a lifetime of years.

The Church signals this second presence of the Lord again by that special liturgical greeting which immediately precedes the Gospel: “The Lord be with you! And with your spirit!’ In the second presence, while still invisible, the Risen Lord can be directly heard, as he speaks the living words of the Gospel. The disciples will later realize this: “Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the way” (Lk 24:32).

In the third way, the Risen Lord Jesus is present to his Church in the person of the priest. This is signaled in a subtle but meaningful way in the Gospel story when he is invited as a guest into the house of the disciples, yet immediately becomes the host of the meal to which they are the guests. Likewise, the Church prepares the banquet of the Liturgy, providing the “house” (the church building), as well as the table (altar) with its accessories (all the sacred vessels and linens). And above all, the gifts of bread and wine which will be consumed by the faithful.

However, it is the Lord who “takes over,” “presides,” and celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist for his people. This is the second half of the Mass. The Liturgy of the Eucharist has four essential parts, which are enumerated in the Emmaus Resurrection account, as well as in the accounts of the Last Supper, and in the earlier miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, which prefigured the Mass (cf. Mt 14:19, Mk 6:41): Jesus “took the bread,” “said the blessing,” “broke the bread,” and “gave it his disciples (Lk 24:30). This corresponds to the 1) Offertory, the 2) Eucharistic Prayer, the 3) Preparation for Communion during which the host is broken, and 4) the distribution at Holy Communion.

The Church teaches that during this solemn moment of the sacrament of the Eucharist (as also in other sacraments), it is not the priest but Christ himself who acts. A priest, by his ordination, serves a very sacred function, which is to act not only “in the name” of Christ, but “in the person” of Christ, “in persona Christi.” Thus in the consecration of the Eucharist it is Christ who says, through the priest, “This is my body… This is my blood.”(2)

The Liturgy signals this third presence of the Lord in the person of the priest, by the liturgical greeting which begins the solemn Eucharistic prayer: “The Lord be with you! Lift up your hearts! Let us give thanks.” In the third presence, the Risen Lord can be heard, and is visible in human form, albeit that of the symbolically vested priest.(3)

Above all, it is the goal of the Lord in the Emmaus appearance, that his disciples recognize him “in the breaking of bread,” in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. For this reason, at the very moment the bread is broken, their eyes are fully opened to recognize Jesus, at which point he vanishes. What is left is the Eucharistic Bread of Holy Communion. Jesus is teaching his Church the doctrine of the “Real Presence,” i.e., that in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, he himself is present, really and truly, “body, blood, soul, divinity.” By means of the blessing during which he speaks the words of consecration, the bread and wine are changed into his Flesh and Blood: “Take and eat, this is my body.” At the Last Supper he instituted the Eucharist, but the Last Supper was not the completion of the Mass. It still required the sacrifice of Good Friday and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday for its completion.

At Emmaus Jesus personally celebrates the first Mass for the Church. But in fact, it is Christ who celebrates every Mass, and by means of the Scriptural journey, prepares his Church each and every time to encounter him in the Eucharist. From time to time the Lord may again give his disciples that brief flash of recognition, helping them to recognize, as the two disciples did, that he is indeed risen and alive in the midst of the Church. This fourth and most important way the risen Lord is present in the Liturgy, is signaled by the greeting which introduces the Lamb of God and Holy Communion: “The [peace of the] Lord be with you always… And with your spirit!”

We should approach our participation in the Mass from the perspective of this Resurrection account, realizing that each Mass is part of a Scriptural journey, and each Mass leads to the personal encounter with the Risen Lord. We should therefore devote some time and effort to study and understand the Bible, so that our liturgical celebration will be more spiritually fruitful. And we should always come to Mass with the attitude of longing and desire that caused the disciples to invite and “press Jesus to stay” (Lk 24:29).

The last words of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are also significant: “go, you are sent” (Ite, missa est). The disciples immediately return to their companions following the Resurrection appearance at Emmaus (Lk 24:33). Likewise, it is from the Mass (“missa”) that we are “sent” back to the world, bearing the testimony of the Resurrection. It is here too, for the fifth and final time, that the liturgy confirms the reality in our midst, of Christ the Risen Savior: “The Lord be with you… May almighty God bless you… Go, you are sent.”

(1) It is because of this resurrection appearance, that in the early Church the Mass was called the “Breaking of Bread” (Lk 24:35).

(2) And in the sacrament of Penance it is Christ who says, through the priest, “I absolve you from your sins.”

(3) The purpose of the sacred vestments is to “anonymize” the priest, so that it is his sacred role and not his individual personality which are highlighted.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Healing in His Rays

April 23, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter (A) (Acts 2:42-47; Jn 20:19-31)

It is deeply moving to meditate on the story of Thomas meeting the Risen Lord. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds—to put his hand into his side. The Resurrection did not take away the injuries Jesus received. For all eternity, in heaven, the Son of God will be marked by the five wounds inflicted upon his body by sinful man.

By those wounds we are healed, in his wounds we find refuge, and touching his hands and side we meet God who knows our sufferings because he has taken them upon Himself. And it is through these wounds which God permitted Himself to suffer that He most clearly manifests to us His love and Mercy.

The message of Jesus Christ is the message of God’s Mercy. It is a message proclaimed in many different ways. For instance, the ancient litany of God’s mercy which we recite at the beginning of every Mass; or the Sacred Heart devotion; and in our own day through the Divine Mercy devotion.

The Second Sunday of Easter has been designated Divine Mercy Sunday. Through St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who died in 1938, Our Lord asked that this devotion be promoted throughout the Church. The message is not new, but the emphasis highlights the urgency of our problems today, which can be solved only by the grace that come from Jesus, risen from the dead.

The Divine Mercy devotion involves a chaplet which can be prayed on Rosary beads, a Novena which begins on Good Friday, and a special remembrance of Christ’s passion each day at 3 O’clock. Through it we ask God’s Mercy; we try to be merciful; and we try to trust completely in Jesus.

As he did for the apostles at the beginning of the Church’s mission to bring forgiveness of sins to all nations, Jesus appeared personally to St. Faustina in the glory of his resurrection, showing her his hands, his feet, his side.

We hear in the Gospel that those are blessed “who have not seen, and yet believe” (Jn 20:29). Nevertheless, our faith is helped and strengthened when we are given a vision. Such is the vision of the Divine Mercy, which St. Faustina had painted. It shows the risen Jesus appearing in the house suddenly and mysteriously, not entereing by doors (Jn 20:19). In the glory of the resurrection, light comes from within Jesus – compared to him everything else is darkness and shadows. He is touching his heart, from which come two rays of red and white. These rays represent the Mercy by which we are healed, the blood and water that flowed from his wounded side, now transfigured and glorified. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Malachi: “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in his rays” (Mal 4:2). At the bottom of the image is the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in you,” echoing the invitation Jesus makes when he greets the faithful: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,26).

St. Faustina tried many times to have the image painted correctly, but no human artist could satisfactorily capture the beauty and glory of that divine vision. As a devotional aid to faith – limited and imperfect – the Divine Mercy image can help us contemplate the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Thomas and the other apostles, but it will remain for each of us to grow beyond this painted vision for our human eyes, to see the risen Lord in the clear vision of faith. As the other St. Thomas (Aquinas) would write a thousand years later in his famous Eucharistic hymn, Tantum Ergo Sacaramentum: “praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui” (Faith for all defects supplying, Where the feeble senses fail).

The Divine Mercy devotion helps us appreciate the experience of St. Thomas the Apostle, who doubted until he was able to touch Christ and see the love which was manifested through his wounds. For us it in the Eucharist that we experience this vision. In both resurrection accounts recounted by St. John, Jesus appeared on a Sunday, the first two Sundays of the new era (Jn 20:19,26). In fact, the risen Jesus has continued to appear to his disciples every Sunday since, in the context of the Mass. At the moment of consecration, devout Catholics, recognizing him suddenly in their midst, silently repeat the words of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).

We are now in the great Easter season, during which countless Sacraments are being celebrated, as the Risen Lord once again brings new life to his Church: Baptisms, first holy Communions, Confirmations. And with all these celebrations of first sacraments come the cameras. St. Faustina eventually gave up the attempt to accurately depict our risen Lord as she saw him in the special grace of her vision. But at least she was being obedient to Jesus, who asked for this devotional vision as an aid to faith. This is a far cry from our modern practice of taking cameras to church, seeking to “capture the moment” of a sacramental encounter between the risen Lord and a soul, and of course missing it entirely.

As we renew our faith in the Lord, and seek the vision of him this Easter season Risen and alive in our midst, let us banish cameras from our midst, prohibiting this profane intrustion into the Mysteries (sacraments), and open our hearts instead to see the vision which no camera can capture, and no human eye can see without heavenly light: wounds transfigured, healing rays.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Athanasius

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday (A) (Jn 20:1-9)

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb before sunrise of the first day, and found the stone rolled back and the body of Jesus missing, they were perplexed and immediately brought this news to Peter, who ran to the tomb with John. They entered and found the burial wrappings left behind, and the sudarium that covered his head rolled up by itself in a separate place.

They were mystified: these are not the signs of a grave robbery. If someone were to take the body, why would they leave the burial shrouds? Not to mention who would want take the body?

Prior to anyone actually encountering the risen Lord, it was John who first started to “put two and two together” and believe (Jn 20:8). John’s entire Gospel is now given to us as the fruit of his reflection, after many decades, as to why we too should arrive at this moment of the empty tomb, and believe. It is an important – essential – aspect of Christian faith that we are able to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, without having a public proof of it. In other words, that we too come to believe from the inspection of the empty tomb, with its burial wrappings.

Later, in his good time and in his own way, and for his particular purposes, the risen Lord will appear to his followers in order to confirm their faith, or fill out their mission. This he did for Mary Magdalene, who would be the “apostle to the apostles;” for Peter and the Apostles, who would be the foundation of the Church and its priesthood; and for St. Paul who would be the apostle to the Gentiles. Through the centuries, the risen Lord has continued to appear to select saints within the Church for various reasons, even if not in the foundational way he appeared during the original 40 days following Passover.

But for the most part, the disciples of the Lord will “believe without seeing,” as we hear in the Gospel next week (Jn 20:29). And this is as it should be. Everything Jesus did throughout his public ministry, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, provide his followers all the stepping stones they need to arrive at Easter faith.

During the past several weeks, the Gospel of John has been setting before us some of these great signs – the restoration of eyes to the man “born blind,” and above all, the raising of Lazarus from the grave. For those whose faith needs the assistance of “proof,” for skeptics of the world, this is it. The raising of Lazarus is the “public proof” which the Lord provides for his own resurrection. This fully documented publicly witnessed historical miracle illustrates beyond any doubt the divine power of Jesus, if not his actual claim to divinity.

The parallels between Lazarus being in an identical tomb to that of Jesus, the rolling away of the great stone (Jn 11:41), and the unwrapping of a corpse from its burial shrouds (Jn 11:44), only a few weeks prior to his own death (Jn 11:54-55), help John at the empty tomb of Christ on Easter Sunday to realize that what happened with Lazarus, has happened with Jesus. It should help us too.

However, there is something very different between Christ’s Resurrection, and that of Lazarus. Lazarus “came back” from death, Jesus did not. And this is the reason Jesus could not – would not – provide a public proof of his Resurrection to the world, but appeared only to those who needed the Resurrection for their mission in the Church. Jesus didn’t come back to this life and this world from death. Jesus rose to a Life that is new, and not of this world.

Lazarus indeed “came back” to this life and this world, marked by sin and its consequences: darkness, hostility, evil, the dominion of death and the evil one. Lazarus eventually died and was buried, and now awaits from the ground his final resurrection on the last day just like everyone. His “resurrection” was a sign – something in the world, and which the world can see and understand. Lazarus was able to give testimony and lead many people to Christ in the early Church (Jn 12:9- 11). As noted, his miracle was the great public proof leading people to faith in Christ’s resurrection. But Lazarus’ resurrection was only a sign, of what will be something completely above and beyond this world and this life.

Christ’s Resurrection from the dead is not a “coming back” to life but a “going forward,” the beginning of a new Life and a new human existence that is beyond the power and gifts of our present nature. The Resurrection begins the New Creation. It is the first “word” of the first “day” of the final Biblical “week” of creation: Let there be light! The Resurrection begins the “end times,” when the old world passes away and the new heavens and earth are fashioned, coming down from above.

In his Resurrection, Christ’s body though fully alive and tangible (cf. Resurrection appearances such as Jn 20:27, Lk 24:39-43), is no longer under the dominion of sin and its consequences: darkness, the evil one, death. It is “Athanasius,” “Deathless.” It is also unconstrained by the laws of nature which govern the old (our present) order: laws of space and time, shape and sensory recognition. Jesus now in glory can appear fully recognizable to the human senses (Jn 21:7), unrecognizably (Jn 20:14, Lk 24:15-16), even in the form of bread and wine (Lk 24:35). In the Resurrection, human nature is fully glorified, and “spiritualized” (1 Cor 15:42-50).

Thus, Jesus only gives the world an empty tomb. The world will not, cannot see him in the Resurrection. Only those will who by the gift of God the Father and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit, following the stepping stones of the Gospels and Scriptural prophecy, come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the divine Son of God. Only those will see and know him Risen.

And they will know the Resurrection of Christ not simply in a human sensory way, but experientially and existentially, incorporated into the very mystery of the Resurrection by Baptism. Through Baptism, the follower of Jesus likewise passes out of the old order of this world, under the dominion of sin and death, and rises to the new life brought about by Christ’s death and Resurrection. Christians take the name “Athanasius” (or some other fitting Christian name) to indicate this new reality.

Baptism is truly and in fact the day of our “death.” And the day of our rebirth. In Baptism our soul is fully “regenerated,” made like the Risen Christ’s human soul. Through Baptism we are given access to the Spirit of God (i.e., His “breath” or life), as well as the Eucharist, which is the risen and glorified human flesh of Jesus Christ, fully divinized. A Christian lives already in the New Creation, in the Garden of Paradise being prepared even now by the Lord for the Sabbath of the final day (Jesus wastes no time beginning to prepare the New Eden after his resurrection (Jn 19:41, 20:15).

In conclusion, it is as St. Paul says in that beautiful passage from his letter to the Romans, which serves as the epistle of the Easter Vigil (Rm 6:3-11):

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our former man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Great Temptation

April 9, 2017

Passion Sunday (A) (Mt 26-27; Phi 2:6-11)

When he disobeyed and rejected God who is infinite, Adam committed an infinite offense, incurring a debt of sin for mankind that is impossible to pay. Moreover, he did so freely, exercising the will by which he was “like God.” If God were simply to forgive this debt and restore Adam to his former condition, it would negate man’s freedom. Were God to somehow “forgive” or “pay off” Adam’s freely incurred debt out of pity or love for this creature, God would violate His own justice and truth, the very terms under which the Serpent brought about the offense.

Thus, man is trapped by an infinite debt of sin, but God cannot dig him out of the predicament: it is man’s responsibility, and his alone. In light of this impossible dilemma, the great fathers and doctors of the Church explain the reason for the Incarnation. (1) God would redeem man (i.e., “buy him back” by paying his debt), and satisfy the infinite debt of justice which God alone is capable of paying. But God would not violate His principle of justice, since Man will be the one paying it, as is right and just. God would pay the debt as man.

This is the divine plan, outlined and foretold in the Scriptures: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” He will pay the price of sin with His own life, that is, with his Blood. On the night of his death, taking up the chalice, Jesus says, “This is the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant. It will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27-28).

By means of the Incarnation, God enters a New and Everlasting “marriage covenant ” with His creation, and with man in particular. By means of the Redemption, this marriage is consummated. (2) What begins with the Incarnation, is sealed with the blood of Jesus on Calvary. Unlike the previous covenants which were sealed with the blood of bulls and goats, this time God is able to seal it in His own Blood, since God has come “in person.” Everything He was preparing for since the first sin, is now brought to fulfillment.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that atones for the sin of the world. By this sacrifice, Jesus “pays the price” for Original sin and overcomes the Devil.

At the very spot where the Garden of Eden once existed, where there once stood an important “tree,” where the Devil once accosted the first humans and tempted them into disobedience, Jesus Christ as the New Adam faces the great temptation but remains obedient. Though he is never mentioned among all the various people whose roles are highlighted in the Passion account, the Devil is the hidden protagonist of the plot. In the crucifixion, Jesus is actually confronting the Serpent at the Tree of Sin, in order to destroy sin at its origin. It is the evil one, using the same terminology as the Temptation in the Desert (Mt 4:3,6), who tempts and mocks Jesus on Calvary: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross” (Mt 27:40).

Adam sinned not simply from pride and the desire to be god, but because he was under threat from the Devil, who was tempting him to keep his life at the cost of obedience to God…

Being aware of how supremely intimidating or threatening the Devil is — “a great dragon, with seven heads and ten horns” (Rv 12:3) — we begin to hear the sarcasm of his promise to Eve, that “you will not die” if you eat the fruit of the tree. It is a threat! In those dark circumstances, Eve has a powerful motivation for seeing how “the fruit looks good to eat.” The Devil puts pressure on Adam by holding a gun to Eve’s head. He is offering them their lives, but on his terms, which requires disobedience to God and the exaltation of self. The serpent brings this pressure to bear upon Adam by threatening him with violent and brutal death, the idea of which is fearsome to man in the state of paradise.

It is Christ’s death which sheds more light on the original temptation of Adam and Eve, long veiled in the symbolic and mysterious language of biblical prophecy. In the logic of the Redemption, the circumstances of the Fall will be mirrored in the parallel actions taken by Christ to undo the Fall.

Jesus always called himself the “Son of Man.” This is because he was the New Adam (Rm 5:12-21, 1 Cor 15:21-22,45-50), ready to return to man’s tragic moment and face the Devil on his behalf, as man. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). On a tree, in the very place sin was committed, the “Son of Man” (i.e., “Son of Adam”) sacrifices his life in obedience to the Father for the sake of his Bride, rather than become master of his human life on the Devil’s terms.

The temptation to escape death at any cost began powerfully during the agony in the Garden: “My soul is sorrowful to death; Father if it is possible let this cup pass me by…” (Mt 26:38-39). Jesus sweat blood as he experienced the power of the Evil One over humanity (Lk 22:44). But Jesus remained obedient: “Father, not my will, but your will be done” (Mt 26:42).

In the second reading, St. Paul sings eloquently of this obedience and humility of the New Adam in the face of temptation and brutal death (Phi 2:6-11):

“Though he was in the form of God , Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death even death on a Cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”

This beautiful hymn of Christ’s humble obedience, is the direct inversion of the tragic “hymn” one might sing regarding Adam’s prideful disobedience:

“Though he was in the human form, Man deemed equality with God something to be grasped at, and preserved himself, taking the form of a god, reborn in the likeness of Lucifer. Thus exalting himself in pride, he became disobedient, avoiding death at the tree.

Therefore God has cast him down and banished him, giving him the name “mud,”(Adam) so that man should be subjected to every power, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth. and under the curse of death return in ignominy to the dust from which he came.

During this Holy Week, let us go with the Lord to suffer and die, so that through his great victory we might pass from death to life, and obtain salvation.

(1) In treatises such as De Incarnatione (“On the Incarnation”) by St. Athanasius (295-373) and Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”) by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), the great fathers and doctors of the Church explain man’s predicament of Original Sin, and God’s answer in the Incarnation.

(2) A covenant is a promise that binds two parties to each other, sealed in blood, that is, one’s life. Blood is the very life-essence of a creature. Substitute the word “life” for “blood,” and one can appreciate the Biblical significance of blood (cf. Lv 17:14).

Rev. Glen Mullan

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent (A) (Jn 11)

St. John’s Gospel only focuses on seven miracles performed by Jesus, but these are carefully chosen and given in great detail, in order to foster faith in him as the divine Son of the Father (Jn 11:15,42). Each miracle of Jesus serves a divine purpose, manifesting the glory of God in Jesus (11:4). The raising of Lazarus is the seventh and final of the great “signs” chosen by St. John for his Gospel and it reveals Jesus in his divine glory as the “Resurrection and the Life.”

As with the healing of the man blind from birth, the circumstances of this miracle uniquely prove the divinity of Jesus. When hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus deliberately delays his departure by two days (Jn 11:6).1 He is waiting until Lazarus dies (Jn 11:14), a fact he declares by divine knowledge to his followers when it occurs.

Just as he needed a blindness (lack of light) to illustrate that he was the Light of the World, so Jesus needs a death (lack of life) to illustrate that he, independently and in himself, is “Life,” as only God can be the source of life. But the miracles recounted in John’s Gospel are so powerful for fostering faith in him, because they go into much greater detail regarding the circumstances, so that they are impossible to deny unless the witnesses are willfully blind (cf. Jn 9:41). In the case of this final sign, the Gospel makes clear, as it did previously with the man born blind, that this is a unique miracle in all human history. Lazarus is not merely being “resuscitated” after dying recently, as happened in many other historical miracles (such as Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus, or St. Peter raising Tabitha, or the prophet Elisha restoring the widow’s son). Lazarus’ body is being reinfused with his soul, which has already departed for the underworld (cf. Lk 16:19-31).

Thus, just as Jesus looked for a case of total blindness in the previous miracle, i.e., a man congenitally “blind from birth,” to illustrate that he was the very God who first created human eyes from the clay of the ground and gave them light to see, so he looked for a case of total death – i.e., not merely recent death – to illustrate that he was the very God who alone gives the breath of life to the clay of the ground, and enables it to live as a man. Upon arriving in Bethany, the disciples learn that not only has Lazarus died, but he is already entombed for four days (11:17). Though the Gospel is gentle in its description, St. John makes clear that Lazarus was a corpse in the process of decomposition (11:39).

There were two important reasons Jesus performed this final divine sign in the waning daylight hours of his public ministry (11:9-10), as the threat of his own arrest and death were drawing near.

First, Jesus wished to prepare his followers for his own resurrection, which would even supercede the glory of Lazarus. Thus, as St. John observes, Lazarus was buried in a tomb very similar to his, with a similar stone that needed to be rolled back, and left behind similar burial cloths (11:38-44). When the disciples encounter his own empty tomb a few weeks later, this event will immediately come to mind (cf Jn 20:8), and cause them to believe.

Unlike the miracle of Lazarus, Jesus’ Resurrection will not be publicly witnessed, and for good reason. Jesus Resurrection is not simply a restoration to mortal life as in the case of Lazarus, but the beginning of new human life beyond this world and no longer subject to the curse of death. The Easter Resurrection is the beginning of a new order, a New Creation, and as such it is witnessed only by those who have attained to baptismal faith. Therefore, the miracle of Lazarus – which still pertains entirely to this current order – is given as a stepping stone to faith in the Resurrection, which is the true Christian faith. It is given publicly to anyone who is humble enough to seek the truth about Christ, and recognize him as the one who comes from the Father to be the “Resurrection and the Life.” Even today, after 2000 years, the miracle of Lazarus, so carefully described in John’s Gospel, remains a convincing public “proof” or stepping stone to faith in Christ, and his own Resurrection.

The second purpose of this miracle is to prepare his followers for their own baptism and death. Jesus uses the miracle not simply to emphasize that he has divine power to give life back to a human corpse. Instead, he uses the miracle to emphasize that he is the (eternal) life which is given to (spiritual) corpses in the sacrament of baptism:

“I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he life, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:25-26).

Just as he emphasized through the healing of the man born blind that faith in him gives us the Light to see what we could not see before, so through the miracle of Lazarus he wishes to show that faith in him gives us Life to attain what we could not attain before. That is, eternal life.

Faith in Christ brings us to Baptism, where it is expressed and made a reality. Through baptism we become Christians, enlightened by his Light, and enlivened by his Life. St. Paul will later describe how in baptism we already die and are buried with Christ in his death, so as to rise with him to newness of life (Rm 6:3-5, Col 2:12). Baptism, then, is the true day of Christian death; that is the day we actually leave this world, the old order of creation, and are born again, beginning to live anew in the New Creation begun by Christ’s Resurrection.

By our faith in Christ, we come to the Eucharist, which is the communion of his risen Body and Blood. By means of this great sacrament, Christians quite literally have the divine blood – or life – of Christ flowing in their veins, and their formerly mortal flesh has been substantially united with the glorified and divine flesh of the Risen Son of God. It is right to venerate as holy the bodily remains of a Christian, particularly the relics of a great saint. Our bodies are first made Temples of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and by the Eucharist are made one flesh with Christ in his Resurrection.

Faith in Christ is resurrected life, life beyond this world’s death. For a Baptised Christian, human death is no longer the curse of sin. It is rather transformed by the Cross into a discipleship (“Where I am, my servant must follow”). It is the final transition or passover from this world to glory. Thus Jesus does not even wish to use the word “death” when preparing for this miracle, but prefers to describe it instead as “sleep” – “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (Jn 11:11). And while this “passover” may seem to take a long time, even millennia, it will be no more than an instant, a “twinkling of the eye” (1 Cor 15:52), from the moment we “fall asleep” until we are “awakened” by the voice of Christ on the New Day, as we are summoned from the grave.

Jesus had already told his followers, speaking of the last day: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come forth…” (Jn 5:28). But now the miracle of Lazarus is given as a foretaste and proof of that Day.

Therefore, let us be strengthened in our faith by this great miracle, the calling of Lazarus from his grave. It is greatest of the seven signs given in John’s Gospel, that we may recognize and accept Jesus as the divine Son of the Father, the Resurrection and the Life, the one in whom and through whom we live never die.

(1) Jesus and his apostles are a good distance away from Judea when the messenger arrives, near the place where John the Baptist first baptized (Jn 10:40).

 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Believing is Seeing

March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent (A) (Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41)

“Lord, who is the Messiah, that I may believe in him?” Jesus says, “You have seen him” (9:36-37). Throughout John’s Gospel, sight represents faith. For instance, when Thomas saw Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus said he believed because he saw him, but “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (20:29). (1)

The man born blind represents mankind born with Original Sin. We are beggars, born into darkness because we are without sanctifying grace that unites us with God and completes us. Like the blind man, there is something missing, something lost: an empty darkness where there should be grace and light.

The washing which gives the man his sight represents baptism, by which we are restored to God. Through baptism we are no longer alienated from God, living in darkness. We are now “light in the Lord,” living as children of light (Eph 5:8). This is recalled in the baptismal rite when we receive the candle.

When God created Adam, He took some clay and breathed His Spirit into it, and the man became a living being. In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes some clay and puts saliva from his mouth into it, so that the man might become new and restored.

This was truly a great miracle, because the man had congenital blindness. It was not just a healing miracle that restored him, it was a miracle of creating something new that didn’t exist – a work only God can perform.

It is therefore ironic that the Pharisees, who claim to have great faith and devotion, couldn’t see God, couldn’t see that Jesus could only accomplish such a feat if the creative power of God were with him.

The Pharisees were blinded by self-righteousness. They didn’t believe they needed a savior, and so they were unable to recognize or accept Jesus the Messiah. We are often like the Pharisees, or like the doubting Thomas, who live by the phrase, “seeing is believing.” As long as I see something and understand it, I’ll accept it. But it should really be the other way round. In order to see, we must believe; not “seeing is believing,” but rather “believing is seeing.”

Faith is the gift that allows us to see. Faith is what sheds light on our experience. It guides and explains. Faith allows you know what lies beyond, and see the bigger picture of your life. We like to see everything first with our human eyes before we commit ourselves. But this is a problem, because as we heard in the first reading, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart” (1Sm 16:7). To see the bigger things, to go beyond appearance and superficiality, to see what God sees, we need faith.

But it is not any kind of faith. People can believe in all sorts of things, but that doesn’t necessarily help or save them. Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The faith of a Christian, received in baptism, is very specifically faith in Jesus Christ. Only Christian faith saves. Besides faith, which is seeing, we need light, which is Christ. (Even if your eyes are completely healthy, they won’t do any good if there is no light.) Jesus Christ is the “Light of the World.”

Most of us have been blessed with this faith since our infancy. This beautiful faith has been entrusted to the Church and handed on to each generation since the time of the Apostles. It is something lived out in the Church, and we recognize that it is greater than any particular individual. It contains inexhaustible riches, and a wisdom that transforms life and society. Unfortunately though, we often keep it on a shelf or in the closet, like some kind of precious family heirloom that just collects dust and remains unexamined and unused.

How does faith in Jesus Christ make a difference? How does it allow us to see things we could not see otherwise? The Gospel gives a few examples:

For one thing, faith gives a new meaning to Suffering. The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus said neither; “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Faith allows us to see suffering in a different light, the light of Christ and his Cross. Reason cannot understand how, but we know by faith that our suffering – originally a curse of original sin – is now a sharing in the Cross of Christ, and through it God’s power is manifested. When bad things happen we don’t punish or blame ourselves: Original Sin is conquered by Christ. Faith then allows us to take up our cross, and offer it with Jesus to the Father for the salvation of the world. St. Paul says of suffering: “I make up in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his Body which is the Church” (Col 1:24).

Faith also gives new meaning to Sin. Sin is not what the Pharisees think, when they look down self-righteously upon the blind man as unclean because of his affliction, and when they look at how they keep all the commandments and think they are holy. What faith tells us, which reason can never grasp, is that even the greatest sins are not a problem for God when we approach Him in humility and contrition. On the other hand, if we are self-righteous, even the smallest sins will remain unforgiven. We can easily “look good” on the outside, but be rotten on the inside, as Jesus said of the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all rottenness” (Mt 23:27).

Christian faith means living a type of Morality where we are clean on the inside. Not only our outward deeds, but also our inward thoughts, are pure, and done in the light, so that there is nothing we are ashamed of, or need to hide in the darkness. As St. Paul says in that beautiful second reading, we live as children of the light, which produces every kind of goodness, and in the light of Christ we expose all the shameful works of darkness. This is exactly why we have the practice of going to confession: the purpose of confessing our sins is to no longer keep them hidden in darkness, but expose them to the merciful light of Christ, to the truth, so that they are unmasked and forgiven—so that we no longer have anything to be ashamed of; so that we can live fully, as “children of the light.”

Finally, Faith allows us to see the meaning and purpose of our life, what our Mission is. Christians do not speak of random coincidences taking place, or a blind fate governing our destiny, or good or bad luck. Faith allows us to see the Hand of God in all circumstances. Without faith, we question and lament, why was this man born blind? Looking at this painful and tragic circumstance through faith, however, we can see the presence of God in the most unexpected and unanticipated way. Jesus says, “this blindness is for the glory of God!”

Jesus made the man wash in the pool of “Siloam,” which the Gospel tells us means “sent.” Through baptism and our life of faith we discover God’s call. We are not meant to sit around all our days like beggars, trapped by our human handicaps. We are to get on our feet and go do the things God needs, by the power of faith. Faith allows you to see things about yourself beyond human limitations. Through faith you find your mission, the way you are “sent.”

In a few more weeks on Easter Sunday we will renew our Baptism promises. On the day of our Baptism, we were “washed in the pool of Siloam” and received the light of Christ. Have we allowed it to burn brightly, and taken up our Christian vocation, by which we are sent into the world as apostles of Christ? Through Baptism, the clay of our fallen human nature was reworked by the hand of Christ and our soul was regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit coming from his mouth. Do we live as “children of light,” rejecting the “fruitless works of darkness” that are “shameful even to mention?” Like the blind man, we have been blessed with sight, with faith. Can we say with him, “Lord I see you. I believe, I adore, I will go”?

(1)  Other examples: When the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus at his baptism, John the Baptist “saw and testified that he is the Son of God” (1:34). When the two disciples want to learn about Jesus he says, “Come and see” (1:39). When John went to the tomb on Easter Sunday and found it empty, the Gospel says he “saw and believed” (20:8).

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Great Dialogue

March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent (A) (Jn 4:5-42)

In one brief conversation, Jesus brings the Samaritan woman from an attitude of skepticism and sarcasm (where she had nothing), to an attitude of faith (where she possessed salvation). Her religion went from a worship which was false, to authentic worship of God in Spirit and Truth. She came to the well thirsty, in the heat of day to draw water; she left without her water jar, more than satisfied.

What Jesus accomplished in one conversation, the Church seeks to accomplish across the centuries, because the Samaritan woman represents mankind who is lost in sin, and thirsty for God. And so in each age the Church begins a dialogue with the world, leading people to the living waters of the Gospel, which alone quench man’s deepest thirst.

There are four stages in this conversation, and in each stage the woman comes to know Jesus more clearly. When the dialogue begins, she sees only a Jewish man, with whom she has nothing in common (“you are a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink”). Her words reveal an attitude of doubt, and her question is full of sarcasm. But Jesus responds with an invitation to know God’s gift of living water, challenging her skepticism.

This is the same with the Church and the world. We have something to offer, but the world is skeptical and cynical. We are treated with sarcasm, but we must respond with a spiritual challenge. Today the world might have sophisticated water and plumbing systems that make it easier than ever to “draw water,” but is mankind any better off spiritually? Or are we seeking more than ever for meaning and purpose?

The pattern of the woman questioning, and Jesus challenging, continues throughout the great dialogue. From initial skepticism, the woman acquires respect for Jesus, who has shown respect for her by recognizing her as a spiritual person with spiritual need, and not merely as an impersonal stranger whose only purpose is to labor and draw water at a well. She now addresses him as “Sir” (“Sir, you do not even have a bucket, and the cistern is deep”). Her words now reveal an honest question, a real desire to seek spiritual answers. Jesus once again challenges her to find that water which will forever quench one’s thirst, pointing out how the water of the world always leaves one thirsty again.

In her dialogue with the world, once a mutual respect is established, the Church points out how nothing in the world can really satisfy the longing of the human heart, yet the heart will not rest until it has found the object of its deep desire. The world says to the Church, “you don’t really claim to have the ultimate answer, that would be arrogant.” But the Church boldly and authoritatively need to say yes: “Whoever drinks from the source of grace in the Church will never thirst.”

Now the woman is stirred inside. Her questions have changed from sarcasm and challenge to positive interest and petition: “Give me this water, Sir.” She not only respects Jesus, but recognizes in him a higher authority, a role which Jesus exercises by challenging her morally, with regard to her marriages. In this third stage of the dialogue, the woman has passed from an attitude of doubt to respect and trust, the recognition of God’s authority: “Sir, I can see you are a prophet.”

And so with the Church and the world. After the initial invitation and argument about how little the world can offer the soul, the Church issues the call to conversion. On a personal level the woman had five false husbands. But as a pagan Samaritan, her five husbands represent the five “Baals” or false gods worshipped by the Canaanites. The Church’s call to conversion is not simply a challenge to leave behind sinful personal relationships, but more deeply the call to leave behind the false gods of the world that are worshipped through promiscuity, consumerism, hedonism, and relativism.

In the fourth part of the dialogue the woman recognizes Jesus not just as a prophet, but as the Messiah—the one anointed by God, who will reveal the full truth about God. Her attitude has become one of faith, and her questioning is now a desire for true worship, which neither Jerusalem of the Jews nor Shechem of the Samaritans provide. True worship is found in Jesus himself: “I who speak to you am he.”

Likewise, the Church is also revealed in the world as the one filled with the Holy Spirit of truth. The Church is the fount of grace, and in her is found authentic worship in Spirit and Truth. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments provides us with the wellsprings – the living waters – of eternal life. And by her teaching authority the Church proclaims the full Truth about salvation.

To worship in Spirit and Truth is to worship neither in Jerusalem nor Shechem, but in the catholicity of the Church.

The Samaritan woman came to the well thirsty and left satisfied. Jesus came to the well tired, hungry, and thirsty, and left refreshed. In neither case was it the well-water that did the work. The woman experienced Grace: the waters of eternal life. Jesus experienced her faith, and he was satisfied: “Doing the will of Him who sent me and bringing His work to completion is my food.”

May the Lord lead us to deeper faith and authentic worship within his Church, and may this faith which reaches out to others bring him relief from his thirst.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Call of Abraham

March 12, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent (A) (Gn 12:1-4)

With the calling of Abraham (first reading), God begins a new chapter in the story of salvation. Up until then, God was dealing with the effects of Original Sin, and the spread of evil through the whole world, since the time of the Fall. But with Abraham, God begins the process by which He will save the world. God had just scattered the nations and confused their tongues at Babel, but now, through Abraham, God promises that all nations will be blessed. From Abraham, God will form a holy nation, from which the Savior will come, and on which all the nations will be grafted.

God begins by calling Abraham “back from the east,” back to the Holy Land. Abraham’s fathers are living in Ur of the Chaldeas, but they must go to the place where God will ultimately save the world, to the land where the Messiah will be born, and where he will undo the sin of Adam on the Cross at Mt Zion.

This immigration of Abraham to the Holy Land across the desert will later be echoed in the time of Moses, when the young nation of Israel must leave Egypt and cross the desert back to the Promised Land. It is echoed today in our holy season of Lent, when God calls the Church to return to Him with all our hearts, entering the desert through fasting and sacrifice, and leaving behind the sins which banish us from His presence.

Sin “banishes us from the face of God” (Gn 4:14-16), cuts us off from grace, and leaves us cursed to die. Because of sin we end up living in a “foreign land,” living according to the flesh and according to the world, in a condition of exile. Just like the Prodigal Son, we are far from our true Father, and far from our true dignity as His children.

Thus the calling of Abraham, and Moses, and the Prodigal Son, to get up and leave, and return to our true land, our true home, is the theme of Lent. Repenting in dust and ashes, we undertake the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, giving up the ways of the world which trap and enslave us in desires of the flesh.

This journey is demanding, with sacrifices and hardships. Lent is meant to be difficult, and uncomfortable. The goal is not to return to our former practices at Easter, once the 40 days are over, but to be in a completely different place by Easter, never to return to the former ways.

But there is a great grace given to those who set out wholeheartedly on this Exodus, are ready to seek the Lord by leaving behind the “world.” This is the grace of theophany, the grace of encountering God on the mountain. Abraham met and spoke with God. Moses also met and spoke with God in the desert, on the mountain. And for those who follow Christ, turning from sin and believing the Gospel, we too will meet God in the mountain of the Transfiguration.

The mountain is not for those who have not entered the desert or left the world of sin yet. The first step is repentance and conversion – the desert. It is not possible to ascend the mountain of God if we are still slaves under the dominion of the world. Only when we have broken with sin, and left behind “Ur of the Chaldeas,” or “Egypt,” will God invite us to fellowship with Himself on the mountain. Spiritual writers speak about the “Way of Purification” as a necessary precondition for the “Way of Union.”

In the life of Church, Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance dispose us for Confirmation and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We may not approach the Sacrament of Holy Communion if we are guilty of sin. We may not approach Holy Communion, if we did not fast and pray beforehand. We may not approach the Eucharist, if we did not go to Confession for any mortal sins, or experience the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass for any venial sins. We will not be able to truly celebrate Easter, if we have not celebrated Lent.

God personally called Abraham to leave behind his foreign land and discover his true home; Jesus personally invited Peter, James, and John to ascend the mountain and experience the “Father’s House” (where Peter wanted to set up tents and stay); and God is calling us today to a deeper communion with Himself in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

During this Holy Season of Lent, let us not only prepare our hearts for God by entering the desert and turning away from sin. Let us seek His Face by ascending the mountain and entering deeply into the Scriptural conversation of His love.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Three Parts of Original Sin

March 5, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent (A) (Gn 3; Rm 5; Mt 4:1-11)

The first reading recounts the story of the fall, when the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. The second reading explains what this “Original Sin” is, and how in Adam’s sin “all men have sinned.” And in the Gospel Jesus, taking up his mission as the son of Adam (“Son of Man”) revisits the original temptation of our human nature, confronting the Serpent who brought about the fall, in order to begin the Atonement and Redemption.

There were three temptations in the Original Sin, each of which Jesus experiences in the desert, each of which we also continue to battle through our forty day of Lent, by Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving. 1) Eve “saw that the tree “was good for food, so she ate” (Gn 3:6). She was tempted through her appetite. 2) The Serpent promised immortality: “you will not die” (Gn 3:4). 3) Finally, he told them they would be like God (Gn 3:5), i.e., they would be their own gods.

Thus Jesus experiences three temptations in the ruined garden, the wilderness, which reveal more fully what took place in the original paradise.

The FIRST temptation of our human nature, is to satisfy hunger by any means possible. Our flesh has many needs and desires, powerful forces that become destructive when they are not ordered and tempered by grace. As a consequence of the fall, man’s nature was stripped of its completing grace, leaving the appetites disordered and in disarray, tending to fulfill themselves without reason or balance. This intrinsic “tendency to sin” which is a consequence of the fall, is called “concupiscence.”

Thus we overeat, we drink too much, we pamper our body through laziness, we indulge in lust. As we examine this more closely – our addictive and compulsive behaviors which lead us into sin and self-destruction – we find that in every case what is really going on is the attempt to fulfill a spiritual need (the loss of grace) by satisfying the flesh. Our spirit is depressed, so we eat. Our soul is angry, so we drink. Our heart is lonely and empty of love, so we seek physical pleasure. Our mind is resentful, so we do drugs. We look to some kind of physical satisfaction, in order to solve a spiritual problem.

The devil promises short-term pleasures as the solution to life’s bigger sacrifices, something he first did with Adam, again with Jesus, and now with us: “turn these rocks into bread and eat.” Even though it is not truly nourishing and fulfilling, fill your belly with junk; take a short-cut to happiness, satisfy your need impulsively! Why hold back from that which is “pleasing to the eye” and “looks good to eat”? Who does not succumb to this temptation?

Jesus answers him, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus stays physically hungry. He knows that is going to be part of the human condition, and he won’t fall into the trap of the flesh. Avoiding the hunger pangs of physical needs and desires is an “escape.” He teaches instead the difficult path, which is to turn to God. As any 12-step process teaches, our needs and emptiness must be humbly confronted and accepted, not avoided or denied. It is a difficult task, but it is the honest way which leads to true life and well-being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. When appetites are “out of control” and strongly tempting us, this is a red flag that we have a spiritual problem not being dealt with. We would do better to be nourished spiritually, through the word of God, through faith and hope, as Jesus teaches. Man does not live on bread alone, but rather on the true “Bread that comes down from heaven, which if you eat, you will never hunger” (Jn 6:33-35).

In our holy season of Lent, it is through Fasting, “giving up” something our appetite “likes,” that we confront our weakness, train our will, and nourish the spirit. Growing spiritually means conquering the flesh (cf. Gal 5:16-17).

The SECOND temptation regards immortality, or self-preservation. Besides concupiscence, another consequence of the fall is death: “by the first man’s sin, death came into the world” (Rm 5:12). The devil tempts man through his ability to hurt and destroy us.

The devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple parapet and tells him to jump (or is he threatening to push him off?), mocking God’s promise to keep him safe from harm. Man, as a mortal, stands at every moment on the edge of the parapet, on the edge of the cliff, and the devil has great power and ability to push us over (cf. the story of Job). Every one of us is one doctor’s visit away from cancer or some other serious illness. Every one is one car accident away from serious injury or death. Our life is truly fragile, it hangs in a balance; we are here today, but we can be gone tomorrow!

As a result, we want protection, a guarantee of safety. We install burglar alarms on the house; we exercise and buy expensive foods, taking all sorts of vitamins and medicines in the hope that it will stave off illness. We will do anything possible to push that danger of death away from us. And we pray and turn to God for deliverance and protection, for example that beautiful Psalm 91 which the devil quotes in mockery: “God will send you his angel to deliver and protect you, lest you stump your foot on a stone” (Ps 91:11-14).

Implicit in the Serpent’s words to Adam and Eve (“you will not die if you commit this sin”) is a threat (“do this, or I will kill you”). Self-preservation is a great temptation. And “deliverance from evil” is fundamental theme of religion: why we pray, why we offer sacrifice to “the gods.” There is a reason the devil brings Jesus specifically to the temple: how many people seek God and start praying seriously precisely when they are losing their life, and everything is in disarray? But Jesus teaches that God is not manipulated: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We should not treat God as the one whose job it is to get us out of difficult messes, nor should we become angry with God when bad things happen, as if it’s His fault. It is the devil who corrupts religion in this way, and turns it into a form of superstition.

We do pray in the Lord’s prayer for God to “deliver us from evil,” but this means first of all the evil one. The greatest “evil” is not death, the greatest “good” is not self-preservation. “He who loves his life in this world will lose it, but he who hates his life in this world will preserve it for the next” (Jn 12:25).

During Lent, it is PRAYER that helps us develop a true relationship with God, built on love and holy fear of ever attempting to put God to the test. Like Job, we will remain faithful even in the midst of the devil’s efforts to cast doubts upon God’s goodness.

The THIRD temptation regards power and dominion. The devil offers Jesus all the nations, the whole world. Who of us does not like the “world at our fingertips?” Who of us does not want enough money so that we can have and do what we like? And who does not like to be worshipped and adored – appreciated – by others? The devil offers all power, beginning with the attitude that says we will make our own rules, and set our own terms, deciding for ourselves what is “wrong” and “right.” By bowing to Mammon as our god, we are bowing to him.

Jesus says, “The Lord alone shall you worship; Him alone shall you serve.” Though it was offered to him (Jn 6:15), Jesus rejected political power. He lived poor, and even though he had large crowds following him, he rebuffed them with teachings they did not want to hear (Jn 6:66). In the end he was rejected, mocked, hated, and even betrayed by one of his friends. God alone shall you serve!

It is Almsgiving and the spirituality of stewardship that teaches us we are not masters but servants of the Master, responsible to the needs of others who are entrusted to our care. Almsgiving frees us from ourselves, and turns us from selfish “takers” into generous “givers.”

In these forty days, let us go with Christ into the desert, leaving the old Adam and seeking the new. Let us not be deceived by false promises. Let our prayer be sincere, our fasting real, and our almsgiving generous.

Rev. Glen Mullan

God and Mammon

February 26, 2017

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 6:24-34)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to his followers about their anxiety for food and clothing. In today’s language we would say, ‘paying the bills.’ It is the issue of money and finances, something which dominates our time and consumes our lives. For Jesus, it is an issue that brings one to the heart of religion, which is to worship and trust God.

As with all the themes Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount, the question is whether we will remain in the normal worldly perspective, or whether we will be “blessed,” living our lives from a heavenly perspective. “You cannot serve God and Mammon,” says Jesus. ‘Mammon’ is the worldly god of money— money, treated in all respects, as the idol we serve, worship, love, seek, trust, adore, and depend upon to provide our needs.

On the dollar bill, we are daily confronted with this question Jesus poses in the Sermon on the Mount. Next to the ‘all-seeing eye’ of the divinity are the words, “In God we Trust.” Is this money, which takes care of all our worldly needs, in fact our god whom we love and serve?

The fact is, we do rely on money to take care of our human needs. We do view money as our ‘provider.’ We work many, many hours for money. We sacrifice many things in order to have money. We love and desire money. It is the answer to our problems. We go so far as to put ourselves in servitude to it, i.e., ‘in debt.’ We believe in money’s promises to make us happy.

More than that, we allow money to affect our relationships, because our loyalty to it is greater than to the people in our lives. Money comes between spouses in a marriage, it divides children at the time of inheritance.

We even allow money to determine our morality, and for its sake we are willing to lie, cheat, steal, sell ourselves, or sell others. People will do literally anything, including commit violence and murder, for money.

Mammon, then, is a god. A false god, but a powerful competitor nonetheless to the true God. Mammon is the god many people love and serve, when they say, “In God we Trust.” If we seek worldly happiness, our god will be Mammon.

Thus, Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that we must worship the true God, our Father in Heaven, and this requires a renunciation of Mammon. All allegiance and servitude to money must be rejected. All seeking after money must be renounced. All trust in money must be overcome. Instead, we must “seek first, and only, the Kingdom of God,” and all other worldly concerns must be dealt with from this perspective. Our trust must be in the Providence of God (“God Provides”), and our love must be only for God and people, never money and things.

Money must be removed from that aspect of our spiritual life that pertains to God, the area of religion: belief, trust, obedience, worship. The first way the Bible (Law of Moses) teaches this is the tithe. Instead of sacrificing our lives to and for Mammon, money and wealth must be sacrificed for God. By tithing, we give the first and best portion, 10% off the top, to God, thus consecrating all our money to His service, and not the other way around. By tithing, Mammon’s “head” is cut off and offered as a trophy to the true God.(1) Tithing, then, is a religious duty, a moral obligation. There is no way to truly renounce ‘Mammon’ and serve the true God unless we tithe.

But it is only the beginning, because as Jesus points out so often, the Pharisees also tithe, to the letter (Mt 23:23), yet are still far from the Kingdom of God, because their tithing is only external, and does not come from the heart. God, after all, does not need money, and already ‘owns’ the entire universe (Ps 50:10- 15). It is the heart that must be offered to God, and to be a true act of religion, one’s tithe must be an expression of one’s heart: it must be an act of love, trust, and obedience. It must be an act of faith.

In all the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his followers to freedom. Freedom from sin and all the allures of the world, freedom for love and service to God. This freedom is an ‘indifference’ to circumstances. Whether one is rich or poor by worldly standards matters little. The only important thing is whether one is “blessed” by God, full of grace in His sight.

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by promising this beatitude to his followers, and it includes “inheriting the earth.” Those who serve the true God will often be “poor” by the standards of the world – in fact they will typically seek voluntarily to be poor and humble – but they will be rich beyond measure spiritually. In order to be rich spiritually, they will seek to be poor and simple materially. Some lessons can be learned no other way.

Instead of serving and worshipping the false god Mammon, who promises freedom through wealth but delivers the slavery of greed and sin, Jesus teaches a different way of living and ‘having.’ Man is not to see himself as the owner and master of his possessions, but rather acknowledge that all comes from God and belongs to God (including his physical body, his life, his time, his abilities and talents, and yes also his money, property, and possessions).

God is the rightful Lord, “master,” and “owner” of all the goods we possess. They are entrusted to us as their stewards, but they belong to God, and are to be used on His behalf. God puts His trust in us, and entrusts to us many riches and blessings (cf. Parable of the Talents, Mt 25:14-30). We are to use them well and wisely, for His glory and our neighbor’s good. In the end, a thorough accounting of our stewardship will be made, in which God will look for a flourishing of His investment.

Thus when it comes to money, God will often test us. Whether we have much or little, is less important than what we do with what we have, how we use it. Are we dependable stewards and managers, or selfish profligates?

In all things related to Mammon, it is to be subjected to human needs and spent/invested/used for the benefit of man. Money must be the servant, never the master, a means and never the end. Mammon must never be “loved,” only used. People, on the other hand, – God and fellow man – must never be used or manipulated, only loved. That is true religion.

When we are facing financial difficulty, or become anxious with regard to money, it is good to take up the dollar and examine the symbols and verse inscribed on it: “In God we Trust.” May it be a sober reminder of the real spiritual danger before us: a false god, making false promises, asking us to worship and submit in fear, ready to enslave us. Let us remember the words of Jesus today: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things will be provided.”

(1) In a similar way, we offer to God the Sabbath day of every week, thus consecrating the rest of our time.

 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Eye for Eye

February 19, 2017

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 5:38-48)

Christians are different, and very distinctive in their morality. In the Old Testament religion of the Jews, God had already established a way of holiness that set His Chosen People apart from other nations for their wisdom and manner of life. But with the Christian teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, this uniqueness of God’s People becomes even more pronounced. We are to live with the holiness, and righteousness, of God Himself: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Jesus calls to mind the teaching of the Old Testament: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth’” (Mt 5:38). He is quoting part of the Law of Moses, given right after the Ten Commandments (Ex 21:24). This is one of many precepts governing Jewish society which would show how unique and different they were from other Gentile peoples. It enshrined in their legal system a principle of justice and fairness, which actually continues in all civilized societies to this day: namely, that the “punishment must fit the crime.”

All too often, in ancient societies (and still today in many pagan societies) “justice” was arbitrary and subject to the will of the king or other government official. It was particularly subject to bribery, or personal vengeance. It was often harsh beyond measure, with no concern for the “rights of the accused.” On the other hand, in the society established by God through the holy Law of Moses, the legal justice system was to be fair and impartial, following an objective standard determined by the crime committed. Thus, for instance, capital punishment was not to be meted out for a minor crime of theft or injury. On the other hand, capital punishment would be meted out for the serious crime of murder. (1) And this principle was to be applied equally, without regard to a person’s prestige or social standing (cf. Ex 23:1-9). Justice in this sense, is “blind.”

The Law of Moses affirms what we today call “human rights.” This standard of justice and fairness is unique, and set God’s Holy People apart from others. By their standard of justice, they are a holy nation: “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Dt 4:6-8).

 In no way does Christianity do away with the principles of the Law of Moses, including this famous rule: “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” But Jesus adds something new that brings the principle to a divine perfection for his followers: “I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well” (Mt 5:39-40).

What God was establishing as a principle of legal justice for the Israelite society in the Law of Moses, Jesus elevates to a precept of spiritual perfection for Christians. That is to say, our dealings with others must be completely and absolutely free from vengeance, and the desire for retaliation. There must be no hatred, and anger must be properly restrained.

Contrary to what some commentators imply, Jesus is not abrogating or doing away with the earlier precept. In no way does Christianity call for society to “go easy” on criminals or let people “get away” with crime. Remember that Jesus prefaced the entire discourse on moral law by emphasizing, “I have not come to abolish the law, or relax even the least letter; and woe to anyone who would try to do so!” (cf. Mt 5:17-19). “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is as valid now as ever, as a fundamental principle by which the legal-justice system must operate. (2)

Thus, when Jesus teaches that we must “turn the other cheek,” this does not mean he is saying we must go easy on evil-doers and criminals, or be weak, or let people run over us. Jesus is not telling us to be passive and non-confrontative, or that we should not fight back and defend ourselves when attacked. This is made clear by Jesus himself when he is being falsely accused by the Sanhedrin at the time of his arrest. One of the high priest’s soldiers unjustly struck Jesus in the face (Jn 18:22), and Jesus (who said to “turn the other cheek” in the Sermon on the Mount) did not turn the other cheek! Instead he turned to face the officer squarely and confront him: “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (Jn 18:23).

Jesus is teaching us to be free of the evil that someone would inflict on our soul by means of their unjust action. In normal human reactions, we use the valid principle of “eye for eye” to justify our retaliation against those who harm us: “you hurt me, I will hurt you.” It is this cycle of violence that Christianity opposes. It is this desire for vengeance that Christ forbids his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. No matter what evil someone else commits against us, we must not succumb to that evil ourselves, which happens so easily – like clockwork, in fact – when someone strikes us. We inevitably strike back, or desire to. It is that monster within us that Jesus would have us slay.

If we can do that – if we can overcome our own desire for vengeance and repayment – we will actually be in the correct spiritual place to confront and deal with the situation in a constructive and productive way. We will be able to stand in the strength of the truth as Jesus did at his trial.

The teaching of Jesus to “turn the other cheek” is in no way a teaching about weakness, complacency, or passivity in the face of injustice. Christians are not cowards. Instead, it is a powerful admonition not to be intimidated or afraid of evil. It is an exhortation to overcome fear, and a reminder that we possess the most important thing which is Beatitude, which cannot be taken or robbed from us by any criminal. We can only lose it by succumbing to evil ourselves, and this alone would be the worst thing that could ever happen to us.

“Turn the other cheek” in fact means having perfect Christ-like courage and strength, the righteousness of God in the presence of evil that enables us not to strike back in a knee-jerk way, but calmly confront and call out the bully as Christ did before the Sanhedrin.

There is something more important than a stolen jacket, or broken jawbone: it is the holiness of God in me which must not be compromised for any reason, least of all by the instigation of an evil-doer. Better to lose one’s shirt as well, be struck a second time, or have our money stolen, than compromise our soul by sinning through anger or hatred. Better to walk away and suffer human loss, if staying will cause us to sin and suffer eternal loss.

God is not unjust, and Jesus expects every society (beginning with the society of the family) to teach the principle of justice and fairness by imparting appropriate punishment for wrongdoing. But justice must be exercised by the competent authority, whether civil or familial, in a manner that is completely blind, impartial, and reasonable. For our part, as victims of injustice, we seek to rejoice in the fact that possibly we suffered for righteousness’ sake, and will be richly blessed by our God who can heal the wounds of sin as He glorifies His saints.

Blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who hunger for justice; blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… The Kingdom of heaven is theirs.

(1)  The Mosaic Law builds upon the earlier Covenant God established with Noah: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning… Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gn 9:5-6).

(2) “Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.” (Catechism, 2266).

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Moral Law

February 12, 2017

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 5:17-37)

The Pharisees practiced a perfect obedience to the Law of Moses, rigorously observing every commandment down to the smallest detail, whether this meant purifying your hands before eating, avoiding work on the Sabbath, respecting God’s holy Name, or fulfilling oaths. They were very committed to their religion, zealous in their desire to do right.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also emphasized that his followers must keep the law in all its fullness, down to the “smallest letter.” But then he says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20).

Jesus proceeds to explain how his followers will observe the law in a way even greater than the Pharisees. He wants them to be strict, but not in the Pharisaical way, which looks to above all to external conformity. In some things Christians are actually not as strict as the Jewish Pharisees (for instance with regard to dietary rules). In other more important ways, however, Christians are to be stricter.

For Jesus, the importance of the law is the way it must exist within, written on the heart. Even though the law will be revealed by external conformity of one’s actions to the law, holiness or righteousness is not found in that external observance of the law, but only in the love and purity of the heart which acts in a just way. In other words, our external actions, the way we keep or fail to the keep the various precepts, must flow from a heart that is holy, from a spirit that is right. As the Pharisees of Jesus’ day demonstrated again and again, it is entirely possible to be one thing on the outside, but something totally different inside. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and rot” (Mt 23:27).

In order to illustrate his teaching, Jesus uses three examples, based on the 5th, 6th, and 8th Commandments. In each case, Jesus focuses on the interior person. With regard to the fifth commandment – “You shall not kill” – Jesus says we must not even harbor anger. With regard to the sixth commandment – “You shall not commit adultery” – Jesus says we must not even harbor impure thoughts. And with regard to the eighth commandment – “You shall not swear falsely” – Jesus says nothing external should even be necessary to guarantee our simple and direct word: “Yes,” or “No.” In other words, we are always to be honest, true, and faithful.

What Jesus does with regard to Christian morality is redirect us from focusing on the “big” things (committing murder or adultery, lying under oath), and direct us to the “little” things (calling your brother a bad name, indulging in a lustful fantasy).

With regard to these “little” things, Jesus is severe. Merely calling your brother “Raqa” (i.e., “you idiot!”) merits going before the council of the Sanhedrin! And merely looking at another woman lustfully merits having your eye gouged out and your arm cut off! While employing his typical humor, Jesus is nevertheless making his point. The little things are the big things.

He also emphasizes this truth when he urges his followers to “settle with your opponent now” before coming to the judgement on the last day. Because on that day, there will be no escaping the just Judge, and any unsettled debts will require us to be handed over to prison until we have paid the last penny. This is an explicit teaching from Jesus on the existence of Purgatory. And what is important to stress here is that Jesus is referring to venial sins. One is able to leave the prison of Purgatory when the debts are paid. In hell, of course, there is no getting out. Thus Jesus makes clear, there is no escaping the demands of the moral law in its entirety. And what is still left undone at the end of this life, must be completed in the next, before the peace of heaven (beatitude) is possible.

Jesus gives us the opportunity to “settle with our opponent” while in this life, via his mercy in the sacrament of Penance – and this will be addressed later in the Sermon on the Mount – but it all presupposes this initial teaching on Justice and the requirements of the Divine Law. There can be no concept of “mercy” unless there is the concept of law and truth. Mercy does not excuse penance and responsibility, but presupposes it. Thus, for the sinner who acknowledges, confesses, and accepts responsibility for the consequences of his sin, there can be mercy and forgiveness. On the other hand, there can be no mercy in the case of someone who arrogantly ignores his guilt, or denigrates the law itself.

There is in our own day a debate over the divorced and remarried, and whether they can be admitted to Holy Communion under certain circumstances. Despite Jesus being very clear and explicit on this issue in the Sermon on the Mount – “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt 5:32) – there are some who say the Church needs to be “merciful” and allow those committing adultery to receive Holy Communion. This is not merciful. This is an attempt to ignore the moral law, which requires that our lives conform to the truth. When you say “Yes” (to the indissoluble bond of marriage), God presumes that is what you mean, and He acts to make two lives one flesh.(1) As a Christian we must accept the consequences and responsibility of that free moral act, and the truth of the new reality it brings about. When you say “Yes,” you must mean “yes.” Our words cannot make the color of our hair black or white (Mt 5:36); neither can our switching our “yes” to “no” by means of divorce decree all of a sudden make us unmarried in God’s sight.

It is despicable and corrupt – truly Pharasaical in the worst sense – that some bishops and even cardinals of the Church, are actively seeking to overturn the law of God expressed in the sixth commandment, in order to accommodate human sin, when our Lord Himself says that our holiness and moral integrity must be absolute, surpassing even that of scribes and Pharisees. But it is also scandalous that Catholics divorce in the first place, in such great numbers, and seek to be remarried on their terms, in violation of their sacred oaths and vows.

Christian morality is demanding indeed. It is an absolute standard, from which there is no escape, no loophole, no technicality by which we can circumvent its requirements. (2)

Christ’s teaching on the moral law is therefore premised on two important truths: we must have absolute respect for the holiness of the moral law and its demands, down to the smallest letter (“Do not think I have come to abolish the law… Whoever relaxes one of the least commandments and teaches others to do so will be least in the Kingdom…), and we must recognize that the “little” things are in fact “big” things (“You will not get out, until you have paid the last penny”)

(1) And what God has joined, man obviously does not have the power to separate (Mt 19:6).

(2) Jesus will conclude this section of the Sermon on the Mount dealing with morality with the exhortation: “Be therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Light of the World

February 5, 2017

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 5:13-16)

A saint is someone through whom the light of Christ shines before men, and others, seeing his good deeds, give glory to God. Mother Teresa was such a saint, who gave light to the world. As a Loretto sister teaching a girl’s school in Calcutta, she was moved with compassion for the situation around her, where the elderly and dying were left in the gutter, literally to be “taken out with the trash.” Dedicating herself to the corporal works of mercy, especially the holy work of “burying the dead” with dignity, she became world-famous. Others were attracted to the light that radiated from her, that could be seen in her person, in the joy of her community, in the love manifested to the poor. (1)

St. Teresa of Calcutta illustrates in dramatic fashion the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.” This is what is means to be a saint, to let Christ’s light shine in the darkness of the world. Jesus wants all his followers to be such saints, it is our calling.

The most important thing to understand about this teaching, is that even though Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” we are not in fact the light. Christ is the Light. “I am the Light of the World” (Jn 8:12). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness…” (Jn 1:4-5). “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light…” (Mt 4:16). “A light of revelation to the gentiles, and glory of your people Israel…” (Lk 2:32). Etc.

We must not make the mistake of Lucifer, whose name means “light.” He was the greatest of all God’s creatures, shining with a brilliance of glory that exceeded all other creatures in heaven. But he considered himself to be the light, and as a result his real truth had to be manifested: without God, he is prince of darkness.

No creature, no matter how great, is the light. But every creature is created for the light, to reflect the light. Mary speaks in the correct and humble way when she says, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46). Our soul is like a lens, a crystal, a jewel, through which the grace of God is meant to shine in splendor. The creature is not the light, but the creature is a conduit of the light.

A diamond, apart from the light, in the dark, is nothing more than a hard rock. What makes a diamond so precious and sought after as jewelry to enhance the beauty of the face, is the way it captures and reflects light. The light is the glory of a diamond, jewels exist to magnify the light.

Every one of God’s spiritual creatures is beautiful because of the way they reflect the Light which is God Himself. It is for this purpose they were created. Each one is a unique reflection of God’s glory. In the case of man, this glory of the soul is “hidden” in a body, but nevertheless it is God’s intention that His glory and grace, present in the soul, be manifest through the body: beginning with the face (the eyes and smile are a “window to the soul”) but above all in the “good works” performed through the body (Mt 5:16), known as the Corporal Works of Mercy.

Those who met Mother Teresa always commented how she radiated a divine beauty in her wrinkled face. But it was above all in the care she and her sisters manifested to the poor and the dying, that radiated the divine glory for all the world to see.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out for us our Christian identity. We are to be the “light of the world,” his light in the world. We must be true to our identity—we must “be” what God created us to be.

Baptism allows us to fulfill this Christian identity. It is the sacrament of light, of illumination. Prior to baptism, we are in darkness, like the devil. We lack God’s light (called sanctifying grace) in the soul. This is the condition of Original Sin. By means of baptism, God enters the soul, making of it a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy of baptism culminates with the Light of Christ, when the godparents are presented the holy flame from the Easter candle on behalf of the infant: “Receive the Light of Christ.” The priest then solemnly charges the parents and godparents to “keep this flame burning brightly” in the life of the child as he grows, not allowing sin or evil to compromise the new life of grace he has received by baptism. (2)

If we do not shine like Mother Teresa or the other great saints, it means aspects of our life are still in darkness, mired in the mud. We may yet be “diamonds in the rough,” needing cutting and polishing. Sins of the flesh are like layers of dirt on the soul which obscure the light from shining. Sins of the soul such as the seven deadly sins are like cracks or cataracts deep within the soul which also render it opaque. Thus even though we may be in a state of grace, God’s grace is still not able to fully shine because the soul is not yet pure and limpid.

The Scriptures tell us, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43), and “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dn 12:3). We are in need of ongoing purification and conversion, a task that must be completed before we enter heaven. Whatever is not fulfilled in this life, will be undertaken in Purgatory. The great saints of the Church, such as Mother Teresa, and John Paul II, became pure vessels of God’s grace already in this world, and it was literally visible in their person and in their works.

All are called to sainthood, to be fully the creature God intended when He created us. This is our fundamental mission, given at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Let us take up the identity given us through baptism, the mission given us in the Sermon on the Mount – not simply to do good and great things, but to let God’s great Goodness shine unimpeded in our soul.

(1)  On at least one occasion, this light was manifested miraculously, when a documentary producer (Malcolm Muggeridge) noticed he did not require the usual studio lighting. when filming inside the home for the dying: “In the processed film, the part taken inside [the home] was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused. I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light [John Henry] Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn – … This love is luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film … I am personally persuaded that Ken [MacMillan, the photographer] recorded the first authentic photographic miracle. It so delighted me that I fear that I talked and wrote about it to the point of tedium, and sometimes irritation.” ( Malcolm Muggeridge A Biography, p. 332)                                                                

(2) Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart. When the Lord comes, may he go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Beatitude

January 29, 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Mt 5:1-12)

The reference point for any discussion of Christian holiness is Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5-7). This is the first and most important of the five teaching sections in Matthew’s Gospel. In three short chapters, St. Matthew distills the essence of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be Christian. Jesus’ teaching is vivid, fresh, humorous, and distinctive. Jesus has an absolutely unique message about human life. We will be hearing the Sermon in the Mount in the next several Sunday Gospels.

Like a New Moses, Jesus goes up the mountain, and like Moses he brings God’s revelation to man. Without abolishing the earlier law taught by Moses, Jesus supersedes it and brings it to its full perfection in himself.

The Sermon can be divided into three parts. The first section (Mt 5) addresses morality, “right and wrong.” Here Jesus expounds some of the 10 Commandments. The second section (Mt 6:1-18) explains the central focus of Christian spirituality, which are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Finally (Mt 6:19- 7:28), the sermon sets forth various maxims defining the Christian way of life, which all center on a total trust in God’s providence.

Moses expounded the Law of God (the “Torah”) in a lengthy section of the Bible beginning in the book of Exodus and extending through Leviticus into the book of Numbers. It is then recalled and further expanded in the book of Deuteronomy (“Second Law”). “This Torah” articulated an entire social structure, legal framework, worship system, and way of life. And it all began with a prologue called the “Decalogue,” or “Ten Commandments” (Ex 20:1-17). Likewise, when St. Matthew expounds the central teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, it all begins with a prologue called the “Beatitudes,” which is our Gospel today.

The beatitudes list eight qualities that test and perfect the soul: poverty of spirit, sorrow, meekness, hunger for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peace, and persecution. These are “blessed,” and attain the good things of God: His Kingdom, comfort, the earth, satisfaction, mercy, and divine adoption.

In his great philosophical work on ethics, Aristotle begins by articulating the universal truth that “all men desire to be happy” (Nicomachean Ethics, 4). It is for this that they pursue knowledge and activity. His next sentence is, “but with regard to what happiness is men differ.” Christians differ greatly.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus answers the question of happiness in a way that no philosopher ever did. Jesus teaches that true happiness is not found in the pursuit of happiness! But neither is Jesus saying that happiness is found in being unhappy. Jesus doesn’t use the word “happiness” at all. It is strange to realize, but it is true: Jesus did not come to earth to teach men how to be “happy,” or show them the path to happiness! Instead, he spoke of “beatitude,” being blessed. None of the beatitudes of Jesus describes “happy” experiences—they are instead things that in this world are a burden.

Man’s highest fulfillment is to be “blessed” by God, not simply “happy.” Christian ethics is lived from a supernatural point of view. Its point of departure is nothing this world can offer, and its final goal is nothing in this world. Both are found in heaven, which is beyond this world. Christians therefore do not pursue “happiness” as the world or philosophers can ever define it. We pursue “Beatitude,” the state of being in God’s favor, in His grace, loved by Him, blessed by Him. Heaven is the “beatific” vision, a union with God and face-to-face vision of Him in a state of total blessedness.

From the outset of this sermon, Jesus explains that Christian life is paradoxical. It’s not that the things of this world are evil, but nothing in this world is sufficient. All the goods of this world (i.e., all natural happiness) have to be transcended by a new perspective. According to this beatific perspective, to be “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” is a greater ‘happiness’ than having riches and an easy life. And to be in a state of mourning or poverty of spirit (emptiness, longing, loneliness, loss) puts one ahead of those futilely trying to satisfy every hunger and medicate every pain. Paradoxically, suffering and sacrifice enlarge and open up the human spirit to the one thing that alone can fill it: God Himself. What for the non-believer leads to despair, for the Christian becomes an occasion of grace and blessing. To be filled with God, we have to be empty of other things.

The beatitudes are paradoxical, and they introduce the entire sermon of Jesus’ teachings. Everything about the mysterious “Kingdom of God” will be paradoxical to human thinking. Typical ways of acting and normal human values will be judged and overturned by Christ. A Christian lives in the world, but not from the ground up, according to human thinking (according to “flesh and blood”). He lives in the world from heaven down, according to the Spirit (cf. Jn 3:3-6; 6:60- 63).

The Beatitudes also reveal another characteristic of Jesus’ teaching. It always has reference to Jesus himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The “book” of Christianity is not so much something written down, it is Jesus Christ himself. What Matthew has written down from Jesus’ teachings, reveals Jesus! When Jesus gives the Beatitudes and charts out the path that leads to eternal life, he is essentially charting out himself, his own inner identity. The beatitudes are a self-description. As the Catechism states, “The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity” (1717).

Therefore, Christian holiness is not simply a set of precepts and maxims and philosophical principles written in a book, such as Aristotle’s great Nicomachean Ethics. Nor is it even the divine precepts of Mosaic Law that make for a wise and just society. Christian holiness is first and always a conformity and union with Christ. This is what is meant by the “Kingdom of God.” No one would ever think to say such a thing of other great philosophers and guides. Our “book” and “constitution” is a living person, who is at once fully human and divine. Jesus doesn’t just merely show us the way, he is the way. The great saints are not simply people who “kept the laws”; they are people in whom we can recognize the identity of Christ: poor in spirit, hungry for God, merciful, meek, pure of heart, persecuted.

Heaven is not human happiness. Heaven is the joy of God’s Beatitude. And the promise of heaven is already ours now through Christ. On the great day of judgment, after separating the sheep from the goats based on what people did or failed to do for the least of the brethren – i.e., for those who were poor, who mourned, who suffered injustice, who were persecuted – the Son of God will invite his sheep into Beatitude: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

Rev. Glen Mullan

A Land Overshadowed by Death

January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) (Is 8:23-9:3; Mt 4:12-17)

When Jesus the Messiah began his public ministry, he did something unexpected. Instead of centering his ministry in Jerusalem and Judea to the south, he established his headquarters in the small town of Capernaum in the region of Galilee, far to the north. This area was part of the old northern kingdom where the ten “lost tribes” of tribes of Israel once dwelt, long since scattered by the Assyrians during their conquest in 722 BC. Specifically, Jesus ministered in the ancient tribal regions of Zebulun and Napthali.

At the time Jesus came to this area it was a mix of pagan Gentile peoples, with small colonies of Jewish settlements. Jesus began his ministry there, in fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (Is 9:1-2): “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

This Gospel reading is very apropos today. As in the time of Jesus, we live in small parish colonies in the midst of a gentile society given over to pagan ways. At one time our land was more Christian in its values and laws, but that ancient Christian heritage has been banished and exiled. Now our land too has fallen into darkness and become overshadowed by death.

Today we remember a black day in our nation’s history: January 22nd, the day on which the crime of abortion was “legalized” in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court, in the decision “Roe vs. Wade.” On this day it became legal to put away innocent people in our society, for the sake of convenience and personal autonomy. Very simply, the legalization of abortion is the legalization of murder, homicide.

On this day we put blinders over our eyes, and deliberately chose to live in darkness instead of the light of Truth. Evil can only thrive when there is darkness. We do all sorts of mental gymnastics to try justify abortion: illogical arguments, outright lies, denials, and twisting of language. We focus on difficult, extreme, and exceptional medical situations, as if that has anything to do with what was actually legalized in 1973. We speak about freedom of “choice,” ignoring the fact that the choice involved is actually a “child,” another person. People talk about “reproductive freedom,” and “women’s health,” when in fact freedom is destroyed, health compromised, and motherhood injured. People refer to “clinics,” when in fact they are death camps, factories of human destruction surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, where “patients” enter by hiding under umbrellas.

In justifying this terrible decision, the supreme court had to invent a non- constitutional right to “privacy,” ignoring the fundamental right to “life,” enshrined and proclaimed as “inalienable” in the foundational documents of our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Decl. of Independence).

The U.S. Declaration of Independence declares that we as a nation exist under God’s laws, built upon the fundamental rights and dignities which our Creator establishes in our human existence, and it is our duty as a nation to respect and abide by those laws of God. In 1973 we rejected that, and became like the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, falling into darkness and the shadow of death.

This practice represents a denial of God, who is the Creator and author of life. It is the failure to respect the mystery of human life, which is an individual miracle of God each time it happens. It is also a failure to respect the responsibility of marriage and sexuality, and if we are honest we have to admit that the real reason we keep abortion legal in our nation is because we wish to indulge in fornication and not have to worry about the consequences, which is a child. Abortion is closely connected to, and flows from, the “contraceptive mentality.”

In his 1995 encyclical entitled Evangelium Vitae, the “Gospel of Life,” pope John Paul II clarified how respect for the sanctity of human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, belongs to the domain of God alone; not to man, not to society, not to legislators or supreme court judges, presidents, or politicians. Abortion is therefore not a political issue, it is of the essence of the faith. Invoking his infallible teaching authority, the pope solemnly proclaimed that the life of the unborn, from the moment of conception, is as sacred as any other time of the human life span, and is to be treated as such. In other words, being “pro-abortion” (i.e. “pro-choice”) is not only immoral, it is heretical. A Catholic cannot be pro- abortion without denying the Gospel of Christ. This is a doctrinal issue.

The Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is a Gospel of the dignity of life. Today the Church must continue the work of the Jesus, which is to bring light in the darkness. The Church must do what Jesus did.

When Jesus came into that region “overshadowed by death,” where “the people sit in darkness,” he began to preach saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The Church must therefore Preach the truth and issue the call to repentance. We do this by proclaiming the truth regarding human life, exposing the lies propagated in the media, educational, and political establishments, and confronting/rejecting pro-abortion political candidates. The unborn child is another person, fully human, entitled to the same legal protections as any man.

Within the Christian community, the Church attaches the penalty of excommunication to any Catholic who would procure an abortion, or assist with its procurement. Abortion is not just a mortal sin, it is the crime of murder. It destroys the family and society, and gravely injures all persons who cooperate in the crime. Excommunication is a solemn way to proclaim the holiness of God’s Commandments, and the Church’s obligation to call to repentance.

When Jesus went about the villages of Galilee, he thus exposed evil and sin by his teaching, banishing the demonic spirits who were the source of the darkness. This work continues in the Church, which possesses the authority of Christ. Pray for bishops and priests, that they might expose this evil, and confront the spiritual and human powers who would justify this crime through lies and distortions.

In addition to the task of preaching with authority, Jesus brought Healing to people who had suffered under the lies and tyranny of the demons. The Church does the same today. The Church is not “against women” or insensitive to the difficulties and pressures faced by individuals who commit these and other sins. Instead, it is in the Church and her sacraments, her retreat programs and outreach ministries, and especially through the men and women of her pro-life movement, that people injured by the culture of death have been able to find healing and hope, and above all reconciliation.

The sacrament of Penance, available only through the ministry of the Church, is a healing sacrament, restoring peace to relationships: with God, with the unborn soul, within the self. Only Christ provides a path of redemption out of guilt into new life. Only Christ offers this mercy greater than all sin.

The mystery of life in the womb is a particular object of the devil’s ire. He attacks the woman about to give birth, seeking to devour her unborn child (Rv 12:4). Mary is the woman who proclaims fully the Gospel of life, since God became true man in her womb at the moment of the Annunciation, nine months before the Nativity. And it is through her that her offspring will crush the serpent (Gn 3:15).

Let us invoke our Blessed Mother as we seek to fulfill the mission Christ gives us today: to bring light to those who dwell in darkness, to bring healing to those in a land overshadowed by the culture of death.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Sin Offering

January 15, 2017

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) (Jn 1:29-34)

When John the Baptist presented Jesus to others as the one they should seek instead of him, he did not explicitly call him Messiah. He did not say to the people, “Behold the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.” John did not say, “Behold, the King, who would reestablish the Kingdom of David.”

Nor did he use any of the other normal and ordinary ways to identify the Messiah, based on various popular prophesies in the Scripture foretelling what he would be like. “Behold, the liberator and savior of the nation… Behold, the miracle worker, the healer of the world’s ills… Behold, the teacher and lawgiver…”

Instead, John identified the Messiah using a more obscure prophecy from the book of Isaiah. John himself was the greatest of all prophets, filled with the Wisdom of God and Understanding of Scripture beyond the regular scribes and Pharisees. He knew that presenting Jesus as a political savior or miracle worker would confuse and mislead the people about how the Messiah would accomplish his mission. And so, in order to clarify the Messiah and his mission, he identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Is 53:7).

John the Baptist gave us this title for the Messiah, which is very prominent in the Mass. At the culmination of the Eucharist, when we come to meet the Lord in Holy Communion, the Church fulfills the role of John the Baptist by again presenting Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Several times we repeat it in the litany before Holy Communion:

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

And then the priest repeats again when he presents the Holy Gifts of God for Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ:

“Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sins of the world! Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

This title is important. This is the most important identification of the Messiah, describing who he is and why he came. But it requires some understanding of the Old Testament.

We are no longer very familiar with the worship of the Jews as described in the Old Testament. When we get to those parts of the Bible that describe the Law of Moses and all the minute details of the Temple priesthood, we usually skip over them. But if we are going to understand what John is referring to, we need to have some knowledge of the Temple worship and the priestly sacrifices.

There were two main parts to the Jewish worship, centered in the synagogue, and in the temple.(1) The synagogue was the local congregation, found in every town, village, and community. It was the place where the Scriptures were read and taught, and it was led by a local rabbi. In Christianity, the synagogue worship has become the first half of the Mass, the “Liturgy of the Word.”

The other (more) important part of Jewish worship was found in the temple. And whereas the Jews had thousands of synagogues throughout the world, there was only one temple, located in the Holy City Jerusalem.(2) Instead of rabbis, temple worship was conducted by ordained priests, who all came from the tribe of Levi. These lived in and around Jerusalem, and were divided into different classes (similar to our bishop-priest-deacon hierarchy), and took turns by lot to perform their priestly ministry.

At the heart of the temple complex, in a courtyard before the Holy of Holies, was the great bronze altar, about 30 x 30 feet in size (2 Chr 4:1), with a fire perpetually burning (Lv 6:13). Only the Levitical priests could approach the altar, with the sacrifices carefully prepared by the Levite-deacons.(3) When the (perfectly healthy and unblemished) animal was prepared for sacrifice – according to perfect Levitical standards of cleanliness – its blood was separated out from the flesh, the entrails were removed, and the flesh was cut into appropriate pieces. The blood (i.e., “life”) was then poured by the priest on the altar, while the flesh was offered/burned as a pleasing holocaust to God and raised up in His presence (Lv 1). Depending on the type of sacrifice, the participants and/or Levites could consume the flesh afterward.

There would be different kinds of sacrifice depending on the purpose, utilizing different animals. Sacrifices were offered as individual votives, or for the entire nation. There were daily sacrifices (morning, evening) as well as sacrifices for seasonal and high feast days.

In addition to the weekly synagogue service each Sabbath, Jews from all over the world would go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage each year, during a major festival, to participate in the priestly sacrifices and make personal offerings.(4)

One of the most important reasons for offering sacrifice was to make atonement for sin (cf Lv 4:20,31,35), whether personal or communal sin. This is the sin offering (Lv 4-6), and the animal is typically a lamb (Lv 4:32).

It is this sacrifice that John the Baptist is referring to when he calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” And unlike the sin offerings of the Old Testament which atone for the sins of a nation, Jesus will take away the sins of the whole world!

Jesus is true lamb, innocent, who pays the price of our sins. The Messiah came to die on the Cross. He was slaughtered on the cross, and his blood poured out, at the time of the evening lamb sacrifice in the temple (Nm 28:8).

Jewish worship is fulfilled in the Mass by the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The Mass combines both synagogue and temple worship.(5) In the Eucharist, the Church and her priests, following in the footsteps of John the Baptist, proclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

From the moment of the Consecration, there exists on the altar, not merely symbolically but really, the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb, the sacred Flesh and Blood “separated.” When the priest lifts the elements to God the Father in the Great Doxology (“Through him, with him, and in him…”), it is the very same offering of Christ being lifted on the Cross.

The Mass is the reality of the sacrifice of Christ, made present in an unbloody manner through sacramental signs. Christ is not of course sacrificed again each time we celebrate the Mass – his sacrifice takes/took place once for all time (Hb 10:12). But his sacrifice is made present (6 ) again every time we celebrate Mass, so that we might participate again in his offering by offering ourselves, and partake again of the fruits of his sacrifice through Holy Communion.

There are many variants of Christianity today, which present Christ in various ways, as healer, savior, teacher, etc. But Christ is found as “Lamb of God” only in the Eucharist, only in the ancient Catholic liturgy.

The Catholic Church remains firmly anchored in her OT roots, and for this reason remains the true Church. Most other Christian denominations retain only the “synagogue” portion of the liturgy, but this is not enough. It is only in the Catholic and Apostolic Church founded upon the Eucharist that the exact words of John the Baptist are repeated and literally fulfilled every time we say Mass:

“Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

(1)  A third important part is the Passover, celebrated neither in the synagogue nor the temple, but in the home.
(2)  Today there is no longer a temple. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Nor is there any longer a Levitical priesthood. Judaism today practices only a fragment of the full Old Testament religion.
(3)  Worshippers remained outside the sanctuary, a practice incorporated into Catholic churches by distinguishing the sanctuary from the nave using a communion rail; and more strikingly in the Eastern Rites which physically separate the altar by a wall called the iconostasis.
(4) We still instinctively and unwittingly preserve some aspects of Jewish Temple worship, and the communal “spirit” of the great Temple festivals, by having a BBQ pit on the church grounds, and holding grand BBQ for important parish festivals.
(5) Not to mention, the Passover as well.
(6) The true meaning of the “memorial” – anamnesis — of the Eucharist: “Do this in memory of me.” We don’t simply “remember” a past historical event, that past event becomes a present reality.
 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Herod the Great

January 8, 2017

Epiphany (Josephus, War of the Jews; Mt 2:1-12)

“In the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews?’ When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled” (Mt 2:1-3). Who was this man, encountered by the Magi in their search for the Christ? The first-century historian Josephus gives a detailed account of his life in his book, War of the Jews.

King Herod the Great lived from 73 B.C. to 4 B.C. (Jesus was thus not born in the year “zero,” but around 4 B.C., because Herod was still alive at his birth.) Herod is known as “the Great” because he advanced the Roman province of Judaea economically, and carried out multiple building projects which gave the region great prestige. (1)

The greatest of his many projects was the renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod leveled the top of Mt. Moriah using quarried stones, some weighing over 600 tons, to create an enormous plaza. That foundation still exists, with part of its western wall being a site of pilgrimage for Jews. It took 46 years to completely rebuild the Temple, a task that was finished after his death, when Jesus was an adult. The Gospels tell how the apostles marveled at the incredible structure (Mk 13:1-2; also Mt 24:1-2 & Lk 21:5-6). Yet, as Jesus prophesied, in another 40 years, the Romans would destroy it, not leaving one stone upon another.

Herod was established as king of Judaea by the Roman Senate in 37 B.C. It was an unusual choice, because he was not Jewish. He was an Idumaean, a descendant of Edom, one of Israel’s ancient enemies. Religious Jews never accepted his legitimacy, which is why Herod did everything necessary during his reign to hold onto power. In order to secure his throne and try gain favor with the Jewish religious leaders who preferred another relative, he banished his first wife Doris with their three year-old son Antipater III, and married his teenage niece Mariamne instead. With her he had two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.

Herod was paranoid and brutal. He became jealous of his new young wife, and eventually put her on trial for suspected adultery. Mariamne’s mother Alexandra, to save her own position, testified against her daughter, and Herod executed her. Alexandra the mother-in-law assumed she could establish herself as the new queen – a terrible miscalculation – for which Herod also executed her, without even a trial. The following year, he executed his brother-in-law Kostobar.

Because he had killed their mother Mariamne, Herod now became suspicious of his two sons with her, Alexander and Aristobulus. So he advanced his other son Antipater, whom he had originally banished, to be next in line for the throne. In 12 BC., Caeasar Augustus tried to reconcile Herod with his two sons, to no avail. In 7 B.C., Herod had Alexander and Aristobulus tried and executed for treason. In 5 B.C., he also brought his first son Antipater to trial for treason, and finally executed him just five days before his own death in 4 B.C.

Meanwhile, he had approved his son Philip from another marriage to be the next successor, but that was changed to his son Antipas from his fourth marriage. Just before he died, he changed his successor again to Archelaus, another son by his fourth wife. Matthew recounts how this Archelaus succeeded his father as king in Judaea (Mt 2:22). The Romans divided Herod’s rule into four regions. Philip would become Tetrarch of the region of Iturea, while Antipas would end up as the Tetrarch of the region of Galilee (cf. Lk 3:1). It is this “Herod Antipas,” son of Herod the Great, who would one day arrest and execute John the Baptist, for criticizing his marriage to Herodias, formerly the wife of his brother Philip!

Their father Herod the Great ended up going through ten wives altogether! His family tree is a tangled mess of polygamy and incest; his rule a sordid tale of paranoia, blood, and butchery. But it was finally coming to an end.

For many years Herod suffered a severe abdominal illness that got worse and worse, until it eventually caused his death. From the description given by Josephus, doctors think it was a chronic kidney disease combined with a gangrene that infected his pelvis and lower abdomen. He was in excruciating pain, and towards the end worms were eating away his rotting flesh.

Even this did not stop him from holding onto power at all costs. It was winter, and Herod lay dying in the magnificent palace-resort he built in the desert oasis of Jericho. Since he knew that everyone would celebrate his death, he called an assembly of all the leading men of the nation to join him in Jericho. He planned to have them killed, so that at his death the nation would in fact mourn, and entrusted this order to his sister Salome. She did not carry it out.

This was the man who met three foreign ambassadors at some point in that final year of his life in Jerusalem. Knowing how paranoid he was about his successor, it is not surprising that Herod was deeply “troubled” (Mt 2:3), and all Jerusalem with him, when these foreigners talked about some other child than his becoming the future king.

Herod asked the chief priests and scribes about this. He himself didn’t really know the Scriptures, but the people did. They told him that according to the prophets, the king of Israel was a Son of David, and he would be born, like David,in the town of Bethlehem.(2) Herod was hell-bent on being that Jewish Messiah, “the Great,” and creating a new dynasty. Thus he told the Magi to bring him details of the child: “Search for him diligently, and when you find him, tell me so that I may go and give him homage too” (Mt 2:8).

He spoke with the Magi “secretly” (Mt 2:7), because he knew what he had in mind to do. Though Josephus never mentions Herod’s massacre of the infant boys around Bethlehem shortly before his death , this action (Mt 2:16), fully accords with his ruthless paranoia, manifested in so many other acts of depraved violence and bloodshed throughout his career. (3)

Herod always suffered under the insecurity that he was not a true Jew, nor was he the legitimate king, despite rebuilding the Temple and many other “great” accomplishments. The faithful Jews never fully accepted him, and always considered him an imposter. In fact, when the Jews in Jerusalem got word that Herod was finally dying in Jericho, some zealous young men tore down Herod’s golden eagle from the top of the Temple (for which they were executed). They knew God was sending them a true King who would come from the house of David, and He would end this travesty set up by the Romans.

The first century historian Josephus never mentions the Magi or the massacre of the innocents, or the star which led the Magi to Judea. But he does recount how Herod died after a lunar eclipse—something that made news throughout the region, which everyone remembered. In the ancient world, people paid very close attention to the heavenly events surrounding a person’s life, especially someone important.

For the faithful—those Jews who studied the Scriptures, and those Magi who studied the heavens—there was an awareness that “Great” Herod’s demise meant the true King (Mt 2:2) was about to arise. Let us, then, fulfill in an honest way, what Herod promised deceitfully: Let us “Search for him diligently,” so that we too “may go and give him homage.”

(1)  One famous project is his magnificent palace and fortress, called the “Herodium” and still seen today, built on the top of a hill south of Jerusalem. Another famous fortress-palace is located at Masada by the Dead Sea, where Jewish rebels made their final stand against the Romans in 72 A.D. Herod built many palaces, fortresses, aqueducts, and architectural marvels throughout the region, many of which are still partially standing.

(2) Among these religious men in Jerusalem would undoubtedly have been the old man Simeon, who later had the privilege of meeting Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the Temple for dedication (Lk 2:25-26). The same Holy Spirit who guided the three Magi, had revealed to Simeon he would see the Messiah before he died. How beautiful it is to think that the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem may have given Simeon the confirmation he needed, that the Messiah had indeed arrived!                                                    

(3) Some so-called historians claim the massacre of the innocents, and the story of the Magi, is pure legend. Without any justification except their anti-Christian bias, they accept the things Josephus recounts about Herod in his late first-century historical document called the “War of the Jews,” but they refuse to accept the things Matthew recounts in his mid-first-century historical document on the life of Jesus Christ, even though both authors agree perfectly on Herod’s character.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Theotokos

January 1, 2017

Divine Maternity

Protestants raise an objection to the Catholic devotion to Mary. To their mind it is excessive, if not idolatrous. We exalt her too much, we build churches in her honor, we erect shrines and statues of her in every single church, and we at times almost seem to worship her!

In the face of these objections, Catholics recall the scriptural words of Mary herself, that she spoke in her Magnificat: “All generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:48-49). Any discussion about Jesus Christ, or belief in him, is utterly incomplete if the role and significance of Mary is not included.

The liturgical season of Christmas, which contemplates and celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation of the Second Person of Holy Trinity – God’s eternally begotten Son who became man and dwelt among us – must include a contemplation and celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, on the octave or “eighth day” of Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Divine Maternity, Mary Mother of God.

In order to reflect on what it means that God became man and took human flesh, we are led to the woman from whom God took His human flesh. After all, if the Word became “flesh” and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), what flesh? How?

The Apostolic preaching, and holy Scripture, proclaim that Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Hb 4:15). He was totally pure and holy. The Gospel also proclaims emphatically that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18, Lk 1:34-35). His flesh was entirely that of Mary, because he had no human father. Unlike any other human being, Jesus’ body is of the identical physical substance as his mother. In Mary, God has already prepared the physical material that the Eternal Word will unite to Himself in the Incarnation. The purity of God’s Incarnate flesh already exists in Mary.

It is inescapable: understanding the truth of the Incarnation leads to the realization that Mary is absolutely unique among all other human beings, and “blessed among women” is an understatement. Far from leading us away from Christ, or compromising the truth of who Jesus is, the Marian doctrines of the Church are necessary for fully understanding Christ. You don’t have salvation without the Incarnation. And you don’t have the Incarnation without Mary.

In the early 400s, a controversy arose in the Church over the common devotional practice of referring to Mary as the “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” (literally, “God-bearer”). The priest Nestorius said that addressing Mary as the “Mother of God” was going too far, because Mary could not be the mother of Christ’s divinity, only his humanity, he said. Nestorius caused a lot of confusion, which was resolved at a Church council held in the city Ephesus in the year 431.

The bishops of the Church, in union with the pope, affirmed at Ephesus that it was not only possible, but necessary to call Mary “Theotokos,” the “Mother of God.” Because when the Word took his human nature from her flesh, Jesus Christ did not become two distinct persons, one human and another divine. Mary was the mother of only one single person, named Jesus, who is both human and divine.

Jesus, even though he possesses a human nature and is fully human, is nonetheless not a human person. Jesus is a Divine Person, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Mary is the human mother of a child who is God! Therefore, Mary is most truly and accurately called the Theotokos. Maternity is connected with the name, or the personhood of the child, and not just the nature or humanity of the child. Mary’s child has the “name which is above every name” (Phi 2:9), he has the divine name, the name of God. The person to whom Mary is mother, is Jesus, Son of God, eternal Word of the Father. Mary is the “Mother of God.”

Therefore the bishops condemned Nestorius and his heretical teaching which refused to properly honor Mary as the Theotokos. Denying this title of Mary in effect denies the Incarnation, or changes it into something it was not.

All Marian doctrines flow from this first truth about Mary, that she was the Mother of God. Our Catholic devotional instinct therefore echoes that of Elizabeth when her cousin Mary first entered her home, pregnant in the new joy of the Incarnation: “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me. Blessed are you among women!” (Lk 1:42-43). To this day, Catholics cannot cease to be amazed, as were Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Mary herself, at the great thing God had done in the Incarnation.

After the Lord’s Prayer, no prayer is as important for Catholics as the “Hail Mary,” because it constantly focuses us on this incredible mystery of the Incarnation, which comes through Mary, and echoes the wonder of those who came into contact with that great event. Gabriel and Elizabeth’s exclamations (Lk 1:28,42-43) become the refrain which since the Council of Ephesus have been perpetually on the lips of Catholics: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and the hour of our death.

 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Guardian of the Covenant

December 18, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent (A) (Is 7:10-14; Mt 1:18-24)

The image before our eyes again and again during the upcoming Christmas season is the image of the family: Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus. “Family” is the human expression of what God is. God is a Trinity, a communion of three Persons made one by love. He made man to this image, and thus man exists as a family comprised of father-mother-child.

Christmas themes are family themes—following the Nativity we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. On this 4th Sunday of Advent, as we are brought to the moment when Christ is born, we reflect on the way God provided His eternal Son with his human family.

Much of the Church’s emphasis (seen for instance in our Christmas cards) is on the mother and child relationship. The mystery of Emmanuel, God-with-us, was accomplished in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. The heart of the Incarnation is the mystery of Mary’s motherhood, and that is where we reflect with greatest wonder. Nothing can compare to the mystery foretold by Isaiah: “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14)

I suppose God could have used only Mary to bring His Son into the world, since He didn’t need a man in any way to conceive the child Jesus. In our times we’re used to seeing many households without fathers, just the mother and child. Why not Mary also?

On a natural level, Joseph, or any other man for that matter, cannot participate or understand that unique experience which Mary, or any other woman has, of the way God works through her and in her to bring forth new life. But Joseph was also an essential part of the mystery, because God needed a human family, and a human family is incomplete without the man. Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew directs our attention to the human father God the Father chose for His eternal Son. We reflect not just on the role of Mary, but also the role of the father.

God needs the mother to carry and bring forth new life. But God needs the father to carry and bring forth the covenant in the life of the child. All life belongs to God, and is part of the original Covenant He has established with mankind in creation, of which Adam is the guardian. The new and eternal Covenant which God will make in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ requires a “covenant-keeper,” and this important fatherly and priestly role falls to the man Joseph.

As we look back in the Scriptures we see that God had been preparing for this new and eternal covenant for a long time. Following the original covenant of creation, He established several subsequent covenants—with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, and with King David. Each time, God forms a family: the family of Noah and his descendants (i.e., universal brotherhood of man); the family of Abraham and his descendants (Chosen People), the nation of Israel, the Jews.

And each time we notice two things. On the one hand there is the mystery of Emmanuel, God entering and dwelling among His people (through the Temple, the Law, the promises, the great deeds). And on the other hand we see that God chooses a custodian to “keep” the covenant for the people on his behalf (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David). The covenant is transmitted through these holy men and their sons. The sign of the covenant with Abraham is circumcision, which only the man can receive. This is why the Bible gives so much attention to the genealogy lists, and why they trace the men: it testifies to the handing on of the Covenant God has made with His people. Likewise, the priestly activity of the Temple is reserved to Aaron and his sons, the men of the tribe of Levi.

Jesus came to establish the new and eternal covenant between God and mankind. He wanted us truly to be one family with God. By baptism we are born into this holy Communion of Saints. We are truly brothers and sisters of Jesus, adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, and because of this fact we dare to call God “Our Father.” God does not save us as isolated individuals, but as a family, united by bonds of grace that are more profound than the natural blood ties we have in our human families.

It is a permanent and unbreakable covenant. Even our unfaithfulness to God does not destroy His faithfulness to us. It is a covenant of eternal life, sealed by the life-blood of Christ himself. In the Church the sacrament of matrimony is the image of this covenant between God and his people, and the Eucharist is its celebration, its memorial, and its consummation.

Mary was given the great privilege of being mother to this mystery of God coming among us, and so we call her “Mother of God.” But Joseph also has a great privilege, and that is to be father of the new covenant, father of the Church. If Mary exemplifies God’s fruitful love, Joseph exemplifies God’s headship, His Lordship.

This idea of God choosing the man to be the custodian of the covenant with His people, and making this an indispensable role, is an idea which is not comprehended by modern society. More and more, it would have us see men and women having identical roles, and denying that the indissoluble marriage covenant is the prerequisite for raising a family.

The special role of the man, then, is to care for the dwelling of God among us. To be its custodian and priest. Abraham, Moses, David, all the holy men of old did this, but nowhere do we see it more clearly than in Joseph. In Mary “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and she was entrusted to the care of Joseph. Jesus was born into the world through Mary, but he was born into the old covenants through Joseph. Mary needs a husband, above all because her child must be a child of the old covenants, which he will fulfill.

The special role of St. Joseph as the one entrusted with the covenant continues in the Church through the role of the father in each family, who is the spiritual head. St. Joseph is also the ideal for the Church’s spiritual fathers, her priests. In a special way, the priestly celibacy echoes Joseph’s fatherhood. St. Joseph was not a father on the natural level, but God made him a father to Jesus on a different level. By his love of Mary, his dedicated service, and his guidance, Jesus was able to grow from infancy to full stature in his own household. Similarly, through the service, guidance, and guardianship of the priesthood, Christ can Eucharistically grow to full stature in the parish household.

Joseph was an upright and just man, willing to do whatever God asked of him, no matter how great the personal sacrifice, even when he did not fully understand what it all meant. He was a true “son of David,” and this was all- important, because it meant he was a man faithful to the covenant God had made with his fathers. He was a man who knew what it meant to be a father, and he knew that fatherhood is bound up with the handing on of God’s covenant.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ on this last Sunday of Advent, let us pray that all fathers hear the angel’s message like St. Joseph, and seek to follow his example, even when this role involves great personal sacrifice. To every man who would be a father, God calls us to care for our families with our lives, and to bring Jesus, Emmanuel, from infancy to adulthood in our homes. As we welcome him in his infancy again this Christmas, it would be a good opportunity to renew our dedication to fulfill our God-given roles.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Patience in Trials

December 11, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent (A) (Mt 11:2-11, Is 35, James)

In the daily life of priestly ministry, there are many joyful experiences, because every day the priest is able to see first-hand what Jesus is doing in people’s lives. Whether it’s school, or youth group, or daily Mass, it is a joy to see the Kingdom of God being born in people’s lives. Blindness gives way to sight as children understand their faith more clearly, those deaf to God begin to listen to His word, the dead are raised to life as they turn away from sin.

There is much to celebrate this holiday season: so much cause for joy. Jesus is coming. He comes, and he brings with him “the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God” as the first reading (Is) says. Wherever Jesus is welcomed, “the desert and the parched land exult, the steppe rejoices and blooms with abundant flowers and joyful song.”

At the same time, the priest sees the harder reality behind the Kingdom of God. Almost on a daily basis he meets the people who experience what John the Baptist did in prison: the frustration and pain of suffering, of being isolated, of being imprisoned against your will. John longed to see the good things of Jesus’ ministry, and wanted nothing else than to be his devoted follower and disciple, but could not.

It is hard to imagine what he felt. He lived his whole life preparing to welcome his Lord, and then the moment Jesus finally came, he was dragged away to prison, where he could have no part in the public mission of the Messiah. The Gospels tell us John was the “best-man” (Jn 3:29) waiting with the bride, preparing the church for Jesus the bridegroom to come. But the moment the wedding began, he had to leave, and couldn’t be there for the celebration.

From prison, John asks Jesus a question: “Are you the one?” We sense in the question not only his deep suffering, but also his hope. It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, assure me you are the groom, and then I am content. Let me know that I have done what I needed to do, and then this imprisonment is not in vain.” Here is one of the great Scriptural examples of patience in suffering. Jesus says of him “I solemnly assure you, history has not known a man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer.”

The experience of John the Baptist in prison is very similar to that of so many people in hospitals and nursing homes, or those homebound by debilitation. In many ways, to be in this situation feels like being imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. It is an existence of isolation, depression, not to mention physical pain and hardship.

But we don’t have to be in a hospital to feel this way. This can be one’s experience in one’s own home, among the people we love the most. And at times like Christmas when we are meant to welcome the joy of God into our heart, sometimes the message of joy just serves to highlight the burden of suffering.

The message Jesus sends back to John is also the Church’s message to us this Advent season. The joy of the Kingdom is not one that pretends all suffering has ended. Instead, the message of Christ’s coming is especially for those who do feel imprisoned and burdened. Looking at John the Baptist, we see that there is no surer witness of the coming of Jesus than persevering in hope through the time of trial and suffering.

In the second reading St. James urges us, “Be patient, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord… Steady your hearts… As your models in suffering hardships and in patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Patience and perseverance in times of trial is a great proof of the power of God in our lives. Jesus cured the blind, the deaf, the crippled, and lepers. Doctors and scientists can often do that today. Even the devil can imitate some of these messianic signs and wonders of Jesus. But no specialist with his knowledge, not even the devil himself with all his power, can imitate or bring about the holy patience and peaceful perseverance which are needed in times of hardship. It is one virtue which can never be fake or superficial, it cannot be imitated. Suffering, when related to the mission of Jesus, brings forth genuine hope. It was John’s final and greatest prophetic act.

The same Holy Spirit that worked through Jesus to set fire to people’s hearts was also burning up John’s life like a sacrifice being consumed. Suffering did not separate the disciple from the master, the best-man from the groom, even though it felt like it. Instead, it became a deeper sharing for John in the mission of the Messiah.

During this Advent, let us pray for the kind of joy that includes patience, and the kind of hope that is not overcome by suffering. More than anywhere, it is in the heart that the parched land must exult, in prison that the steppe rejoices and blooms with abundant flowers of grace.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Blood and Fire

December 4, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent (A) (Is 11:1-10; Mt 3:1-12)

Isaiah gives a vision of peace and harmony in the Messianic age: “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” While using images from nature, he is referring to human society: “he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.” It is a biblical vision echoed again in the Responsorial Psalm (72:7): “Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”

With the coming of the Messiah, this vision becomes a reality. Where Christianity is truly lived and practiced, this reality comes about.

There have been many counterfeits of the peace and harmony promised by the Scriptures with the coming of the Messiah, many attempts in history to look like Christianity, or achieve the promise of the Messiah but without the Messiah:

— “Pax Romana” under Caesar Augustus during the time of Christ’s birth. Peace by force and overwhelming economic and political strength.

–Islam: peace and harmony achieved by violent submission and the sword.

— Communism and Socialism: promise of justice, prosperity, and equality where the wealthy and proletariat will lie down together like the lion and the lamb, but without religion and the “superstition” of faith. Achieved by tyranny.

— Even the United States echoes Isaiah by envisioning a land of justice and equality built on the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Looking closely, where this vision has ever been achieved to some degree (for instance in the United States), it was due to Christianity, the Messiah.

Isaiah said when the Messiah comes, “On that day, [he will be] set up as a signal for the nations, [which] the Gentiles shall seek out.” This is exactly what happened when the apostles of the Messiah went out into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit and the witness of a new life: Gentiles flocked to the Church.

America, and various nations of Western Civilization, have flourished in harmony, justice and equality more than other nations, because of their Christian foundations. This root of Jesse” has made them a lighthouse to other nations, which marvel and seek them out. How many peoples wish to immigrate to those lands that were formed by Christian principles and enjoy the benefits of justice and harmony? On the other hand, how many peoples wish to go live in pagan, Communist, or Islamic societies?

Christians have not always truly embraced and lived Christianity – there have been violent and unjust Christians. But where Christians have lived and inculcated their faith, Isaiah’s vision has prospered. Don’t judge Christianity by its betrayers, judge it by its saints.

When the Christian Baptism of Fire has been put into practice and lived by saints, this is what you always find: the wolves becoming like lambs, the poor and afflicted being treated justly, children living in safety. One small example out of countless thousands, is St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the North American Martyrs.

When Christianity arrived in New World, what was life like for peoples such as the Mohawk, Huron, or Iroquois? It was brutal, savage, violent. Children like Kateri, born into those societies, were lambs surrounded and devoured by wolves, who had to become wolves themselves. The holy Jesuit North American Martyrs suffered firsthand the brutality of these peoples in the way they died.

Kateri recognized something different about what they preached and lived. It was spiritual and ennobling. After escaping her violent culture, she lived in one of the safe cities which the Jesuits established in that region for Indian converts, a commmunity in which there was peace, harmony, stability, education, dignity, and prayer: a city in which God dwelt centrally, and ruled His people justly.

In our own area of Texas, it was a similar story. During the time of Comanche and Apache domination, life was brutal and dangerous. Near present- day Menard, Texas, there is a historical marker marking the site of a failed Franciscan mission to the Apaches, “Santa Cruz de San Sabá,” where the friars were killed (March 18, 1758) by warring Comanche Indians. (1)

If you visit San Antonio on the other hand, you can still see the five successful missions established by Franciscans for the local Indians, and refugee East-Texas tribes. Each mission was a small city with protective walls, cultivating agriculture and trades so that the local peoples could be self-sufficient and able to integrate with European colonists. In the missions, Indians received the means to live in peace. Above all, they were baptized into Christ and catechized.

As in the New World, so it is also the case among the peoples of Africa, and the Far East, and all parts. It was certainly the case throughout Europe when the Christians first began the struggle of Evangelization among the “barbarians.” It took centuries of blood, sweat, and tears – and divine Fire – to replace cultures of barbarism and cruelty with civilizations that slowly manifested the justice, wisdom, harmony, and mercy of God.

Outside Christianity, violence is always dominant, even in “civilized” pagan societies like Rome. It took four hundred years for Christianity to eradicate that favorite entertainment of gladiatorial combat, people killing each other for sport.

Isaiah’s vision does not become a reality in an external way. It cannot be imposed by any political program or economic enterprise, and certainly not by force. Ask Islam about that! This is what our nation – and other western nations – forget today. They want to have peace, harmony, and prosperity, but without Christ, and without Christianity. It doesn’t work.

Christianity brings the vision to reality not by externals, but by the real internal transformation of the heart, accomplished by Divine power and grace, a real “baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.” Only when the Holy Spirit dwells in a human heart and transforms it, can peace and harmony come about in the world.

Before the wolf can lie down with the lamb out there, the violence and hate must be overcome in here. “The Kingdom of God is within you.” That is why no counterfeit will ever be successful. It must be the “real deal.” People, in their lives, must be actually just, meek, and charitable, for the world to become a better place.

Thus John the Baptist emphasizes the need to “bear fruit.” Christian baptism and the outpouring of the seven-fold Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11) produces the twelve-fold Fruits of Messianic life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness,Gentleness, Self-Control, Modesty, Chastity. These are the things that make for paradise, which Kateri recognized in the Christian missionaries, but which were so utterly absent among her pagan relatives.

It must be the real thing. “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide.” The Messiah is not interested in anything that “looks like” Christianity, or appears good and nice. He wants only the truth. John the Baptist confronted the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees, because while they observed the laws externally and looked holy and righteous on the outside, inside they were full of injustice, corruption, and decay.

Chaff may look somewhat like the wheat, but it is useless and is good only to be burned. It is the fruitful harvest which the Lord seeks, true Christianity, that which is superficial or fake is rejected. “Even now the axe is being laid to the dead trees.”

During this Advent let us be confronted by the vision of Isaiah, and the obligation of our faith. Let us repent and renew our lives, so that the Coming of the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah, might be a reality first in our hearts, and then in our world.

(1) The charred, headless body of Father José de Santiesteban Aberín was found in the chapel, where he had remained at prayer. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uqs36.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Thief of Souls

November 27, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent (A) (Rm 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44)

We dedicate Catholic churches to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to other saints, and also to the Lord himself under various titles drawn from the Gospels. For instance, “Sacred Heart ,” “Holy Redeemer,” “Prince of Peace,” “Good Shepherd.” But one church I have never seen, is “Thief of Souls Catholic Church.”

There are many devotions to Christ, also related to his qualities, such as the Sacred Heart, and Divine Mercy devotions. We should also cultivate a strong devotion to the “Heavenly Burglar.” Without this devotion, we do not have a complete spiritual life, and our prayer will never be what it should be.

In the Gospel, Jesus describes himself in exactly this way, as a thief or burglar in the night, and he urges us to be awake and watching, for we do not know the hour of his coming. In other words, we must be “vigilant.” To “keep vigil” means to stay up at night keeping watch. One way the church honors this command of Jesus is by holding services, particularly on Sundays and feastdays, in the night (i.e., Saturday “Vigil Mass,” Easter Vigil, Christmas Midnight Mass).

Jesus says we must “stay awake” always, and be constantly vigilant. This is an important characteristic of Christian life and spirituality, and it is the emphasis of Advent: our prayer is always oriented to the coming of the Lord, imbued with hope, longing, and expectation. “Thy Kingdom Come!” St. Paul, likewise, echoes Jesus’ admonition in his letter to the Romans: “Brethren: You know the time; it is the hour to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.”

When Jesus, and St. Paul, tell us to be constantly awake and vigilant, never to fall asleep, it is not in a physical sense, which would be impossible, but in a spiritual sense. (Nevertheless, even on the physical level, an effective prayer life requires proper discipline with regard to sleep and proper focus in morning and night prayers so that we are vigilant both during the day and the night).

On the spiritual level, staying awake and preparing for the Lord means overcoming the sins of the flesh. St. Paul says, “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in drunkenness and lust… Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

The desires of the flesh pull us into the world, and if we live according to the flesh, we live in darkness and sin. We “fall asleep” spiritually. Jesus describes how easily this happens, when he refers to people in Noah’s day. Their life consisted in the pursuit of worldly things only: eating and drinking, getting married, but losing sight of the spiritual demands until it was too late, and the flood came. Noah and his family were saved in the ark, but they had to sacrifice many of the things their neighbors enjoyed, in order to get ready and be prepared.

This passage of St. Paul was very important in the life of St. Augustine. He too, for many years, lived according to the desires of the flesh. It’s not to say he had no religious foundation or background, or that he was not a good father to his child Adeodatus when he was living with his girlfriend outside of marriage. On a worldly level he was educated, responsible, by the world’s standards a “decent person.”

But as he wrote later in his Confessions, he was living in darkness, he was dead spiritually. Even though his mother tried to raise him in the Catholic faith, he was never baptized, and did not have the grace of Christ’s salvation. Eventually he ended up teaching in the city of Milan, and met the great bishop St. Ambrose. At first he was attracted to Ambrose because of his fame as an orator, but as he listened to the bishop’s sermons he came to appreciate the wisdom of the Scriptures and realized he needed to become Christian.

But he was not able, because he was too attached to his worldly life, living on his terms, in pursuit of his needs and wants. I.e., living according to the desires of the flesh. He knew, in himself, that in order to be a true Christian, it would require a radical refocus of his attention, and letting go of selfishness.

The woman he lived with, also realized this. She had a conversion before Augustine, and returned to her home in Carthage, where she entered a religious community of women. This was a great opportunity for Augustine to do likewise. Instead, he began living with another woman.

It greatly bothered him, and he was in turmoil. He would pray, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet…” Like the people in Noah’s day, (and our day), Augustine was living a superficial or false spiritual life. He would pray, he would regularly attend church at the cathedral of Milan, but it was always a “tomorrow” spirituality. I will be holy “tomorrow.” I will be Christian “tomorrow.” Not “today,” not “now.” Unfortunately, that tomorrow does not exist. Only the flood, the judgment, the day when it is too late because God is a Thief.

And so it happened one day as Augustine was in his back yard, suffering this turmoil and hesitation, that he heard a child’s voice outside the wall repeating, “take up and read, take up and read.” The book next to him was the letters of St. Paul, and he opened it to this passage from Romans: “You know the time; it is the hour to awake from sleep. Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in drunkenness and lust… Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Augustine says in that moment he felt flooded with grace, and his life was changed. Together with his son and some companions, he petitioned for baptism, after which they lived in a semi-monastic community.

In order to be focused entirely on the spiritual life, Augustine decided not to be married, and returned to his home in north Africa where he was subsequently ordained to the priesthood and became one of the Church’s greatest bishops, teachers, and spiritual guides.

Not everyone is called to the religious life like St. Augustine, but everyone is called to the same kind of radical conversion, where the world is truly renounced, and our lives are dedicated to a vigilant type of prayer. We are to live always in the light, spiritually awake, making no provision for the desires of the flesh.

This Advent, we are being given a “wake up” call. Like Augustine, we should examine our life and make our own “confession,” in the sacrament of Penance. And then we need to reform the way we pray, so that it is not just empty words, but a true realization of the presence of God.

The Lord’s Coming is mysterious. On the one hand, it is historical, when he was born among as at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. On the other hand it is future, when the Lord will come again in the Parousia at the consummation of the world. And finally it is today, as he comes among us in the Eucharist. In our prayer, we must constantly seek the Lord and look for that mysterious coming in our life.

On the outside, we may look no different from our worldly neighbors. But interiorly, in terms of what motivates us when we get up first thing in the morning, and what is in our hearts and minds last thing when we fall asleep at night, and what is with us constantly throughout the day, regardless of the activity or work we are engaged in, we are different interiorly. We are spiritually vigilant at all times. So, as Jesus says in the Gospel, two men might be doing the same work in the field, but one is ready for the Lord, and the other is oblivious. Two women might be doing their regular household chores, yet one of them is spiritual, and the other is not.

If you knew there was a good chance a burglar will break into your house tonight, what would you do to ensure that you are ready? You would become very vigilant, readying your defense and ensuring you will be awake. Nothing less than this is required for true prayer.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Roman Decree

November 20, 2016

Christ the King (C) (Lk 23:35-43)

In the Church of “Santa Croce” (Holy Cross) in Rome, there is a very important 2000 year-old document issued by the Roman government regarding Jesus. It is an official proclamation, issued by the Procurator for the Roman province of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, and it was written in the three languages of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

This document, written on wood, publicly proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth to be “the King of the Jews (Titulus Crucis – INRI).” On the day of its promulgation, the Roman government in the person of Pontius Pilate, vested Jesus in a royal purple cloak, crowned and sceptered him, and then enthroned him on a hilltop. The soldiers did him obeisance, crying out “all hail, king of the Jews” (Mk 15:18, Jn 19:3).

Some of the Jewish leaders were furious when they saw it, and they asked the Roman governor to change the document: “Make it say ‘this man claimed to be the King of the Jews.’” But Pilate told them, “what I have written I have written!” (Jn 19:21-22). And so it stands, and survives to this day, the official Roman proclamation of the Messianic Kingship of Jesus.

It was on one level, a joke, a mockery. His throne was a cross, his crown was woven of thorns, his scepter was a reed with which they struck him (Mt 27:28- 30), and his purple robe was a soldier’s cloak (Jn 19:5, Mk 15:17-19).

But his kingship was the legal basis for his crucifixion. Since he asserted kingship (Jn 18:37), he was guilty of the crime of treason, and this was punishable by death under Roman law. If Jesus were not a true king, then Pilate would violate his office and subject himself to possible prosecution—something a bureaucrat such as he would never do, even to please the local Sanhedrin.

Jesus studiously avoided any hint of kingship or political messiahship throughout his public ministry. Though Jesus constantly preached the Kingdom and worked to establish it, he never sought political office, never joined the revolutionary zealots, and in fact when people did try to make him a king (after he performed a great miracle (Jn 6:15), he ran to the hills!

But at the Crucifixion he permitted it. Jesus came to earth to establish the Kingdom of God, and cast out the usurper, the false Lord of the World, but he accomplished this on heavenly terms, not according to earthly power. The Kingdom of God is in the world, and exists among nations, but it is not of the world, and it does not consist in an earthly kingdom.

The “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31) – the devil – does not understand the kingship of Christ. He tells Jesus, “If you are the ‘King of the Jews,’ save yourself and come down from the Cross” (Lk 23:36). Earlier in the desert he had shown Jesus all the nations of the world and told him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours” (Lk 4:5-7).

And so, while the world and the devil mocked Jesus upon the Cross, stripped of human power, it nevertheless had officially and publicly proclaimed his kingship. Satan freely handed to Jesus at the crucifixion, what Jesus would not take in the desert. What the devil never saw coming was the Resurrection, and Ascension to the throne of God in heaven, where Jesus’ kingship was revealed in all its glory, when, as St. Paul says in the second reading, all things in heaven and earth, including all the heavenly and powers and dominions, were transferred into his kingdom, and subjected to his rule (Col 1:12-20).

The Feast proclaiming Christ the King was established for the universal Church by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925. Once again, it was widely mocked and derided. The power of the Catholic Church was crushed, the pope was under house arrest, and the secular powers were predicting the collapse and demise of the Catholic Church for good.

Almost all countries that were previously Catholic, with Catholic kings ruling them, were now overthrown by secular governments. The Protestant Reformation, followed by the French Revolution and Enlightenment, had decimated the Catholic Christendom of the Middle Ages.

In the early 20th century, things were going very badly for Christ’s Church. Atheistic Communism had launched the most destructive persecution in history, putting to death millions of Christians in Russia, Ukraine, and the Slavic countries—more people than even Hitler would kill during World War II. Beautiful churches were turned into barns or horse stables. In 1925, the most Catholic country in the world (Mexico), was experiencing a terrible revolution (Cristero persecution) in which Catholicism was outlawed, churches and schools were shut down, and priests were hunted down and put to death, bravely proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey.”

A similar revolution was brewing in Catholic Spain, which also fell into a terrible civil war where thousands of priests, religious, and laity would die as the Communists launched a bloody all-out assault on the Church.

Even Catholic Italy had experienced overthrow by secularists in 1870, resulting in the Pope losing all political influence and being confined as a prisoner to the small section of Rome called Vatican City.

Things were not good in 1925. The Church, which laid the foundations for these modern Christianized civilizations, built on the values of the Gospel and human dignity, now found herself rejected, abandoned, mocked, and crucified.

When the pope declared the celebration of Christ’s universal and victorious kingship over all the world rulers, the secular governments jeered. Jesus is not King the way we expect, or the way the world understands it, and this is also reflected in the Church. Only at the very end did Jesus allow himself to be publicly acknowledged as the King, and this in the face of persecution. Likewise, it is in the face of the world’s hatred, that the reality of God’s Kingdom is most effectively witnessed by the Church.

In our day, the devil has reasserted his dominion in the world and his power against the Church, particularly during the last century. Even though he freely – and legally – acknowledged Christ to be the King of the Jews, and therefore the world’s Messiah, he renigs on handing over his terrestrial kingdom to God. It must be won through spiritual battle, and cosmic strife. If you decide to accept Jesus as your King, there will be a severe price to pay.

Each day we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” That petition is a call to action, a petition for the grace to move forward with our mission to bring all nations into the Kingdom of Christ. Beginning with our lives, and then in our families and communities, and finally on the national and international levels, we are to be loyal subjects and active agents of the “truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace” which is the Kingdom of God.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Battle of the End Times

November 13, 2016

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Mal 3:19-20; Lk 21:5-19)

The January 15, 1892 issue of Watchtower magazine [the official publication of the Jehovah Witnesses, founded by Charles Russell] has this to say: “The battle of Armageddon is already in progress [since October 1874]. The final struggle will be comparatively short, terrible and decisive — resulting in general anarchy. The date of the close of that battle is definitely marked in Scripture [as October, 1914].”

In today’s Gospel Jesus warned about people such as Russell, and false religions such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As in Jesus’ day, people have natural curiosity and fear of the end of the world, which makes them vulnerable to being deceived by such people.

The reason for this fear is there are great forces which can and do bring death and destruction upon human life, often from one moment to the next. Examples are great natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, and tsunamis. Other calamities which can suddenly be visited upon large human populations are crop failures, famines, deadly plagues, and diseases. In our own day, people live in dread of viral outbreaks, or resistant bacteria. Finally, people fear genocidal wars, invasions, and political revolutions which bring about the end of their civilizations.

These forces can and are unleashed upon the world at will. Our lives are subject to “fates” either good or bad, and many people turn to religions in response. Many pagan religions, such as the Roman and Greek religions of Jesus’ day, are “fatalistic” and superstitious, seeking to deal with these forces which are treated as “gods” to be worshipped, feared, placated, and manipulated. The demons take advantage of this situation, further enslaving and dominating man by means of his fear and vulnerability.

Jesus, in his eschatological sermons on the last days, acknowledges this fear, and affirms that all these things are indeed signs, and he names them: wars, insurrections, rising and falling of kingdoms, earthquakes, famines, plagues, even comets, eclipses and other heavenly phenomena. But he greatly minimizes their importance. They are only signs, and not at all the most important ones: “These things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

The most important sign, and the most destructive force, is the spiritual one, not the forces of nature or the calamities of human tyranny. The greatest calamity, which more than anything ushers in the end of the world, is the destruction of faith.

Increased persecution and hatred of Christ’s followers is what will signal that the end is near. We are indeed in a battle: the great battle of Armageddon is already in progress (it is the only thing correct in Russell’s statement). But it did not start in 1874, and obviously did not end in 1914. The “end times” started on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, and the calamitous ending of the world as we know it – the old order – was accomplished with the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple 40 years later in 70 A.D., when “there was not left a stone upon another stone that was not thrown down.” Jesus explicitly connected the two events to each other before they happened: “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19, Mk 14:58).

The battle of the end times, which is under way, is the spiritual battle of faith. It is against the faith of the Church that the great dragon brings his minions, utilizing wherever possible the forces of nature, disease, death and destruction, the powers of corrupt empires and tyrants, and the ministrations of anti-christs, false religions, and heretics. (It’s all explained clearly yet opaquely in the Book of Revelation).

In the centuries that have passed since Christ, this battle to undermine faith has increased and intensified. With the overthrow of Christendom, the age the Enlightenment, and the ascendency of technology, man now denies God entirely, embraces atheism, and ridicules religion. In the century just past, more people died from wars and genocides than any previous age; and more Christians were martyred than all previous centuries combined. The Jewish holocaust, and more extensive communist suppression of Christianity were particularly apocalyptic.

In his sermon on the end of the world, Jesus mentioned there would be signs in the heavens. Exactly three years after Russell’s supposed date for the end of the world, on October 13, 1917, one such sign occurred: the sun began to twirl and dance in the sky, and hurl itself toward the earth, before calmly returning to its place. This was witnessed by 70,000 people – assembled for that occasion because three children foretold that a great sign would be given on that day. Unlike Russell and the false prophets who lead people away from God, there are also the true prophets who confirm Christ’s message and lead people back to the Gospel.

The apocalyptic sign of Fatima which appeared in the heavens: “a woman clothed with the sun” (Rv 12:1), was a call to faith and prayer, vigilance and perseverance, in the face of the great upheavals, wars, persecutions, and martyrdom of the Church in the 20th century. It was a call to give testimony to Christ in the face of atheism, which would engulf Russia and spread throughout the world. It was an affirmation and reminder of the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Today the battle continues, and anti-Christs constantly appear (2 Jn 7). Millions of Catholics continue to abandon their faith, which is subject to ridicule, hatred, intolerance, and opposition. As Jesus foretold, families see their own children or parents abandon and deny Christ. Even within the Church, true faith is often undermined, replaced by weak political correctness, scandal, and outright heresy.

Pope Paul VI claimed that the “smoke of Satan” has entered the Church… (homily of June 29, 1972). He also responded to the challenges of these times by an affirmation of faith. One of the most beautiful documents he (or any pope) ever issued, is the “Credo of the People of God” (1968), an expanded profession of faith based on the ancient Creed of the Church. The battle of the end times is the battle of faith, and Christians are called to give testimony. It begins with this Credo.

The Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead, and will speedily vindicate his followers. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Lk 18:8).

Read  “Credo of the People of God” (1968)

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Age to Come

November 6, 2016

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (2 Mc 7; Lk 20:27-38)

“The children of this age get married. Those who attain to the coming age of the resurrection of the dead do not marry and will not get married.” In heaven, and when the Lord returns at his second coming and people rise from the graves, there will no longer be the human institution of marriage. In the future age, you will no longer be married to your spouse!

I hear many of you thinking, “thanks be to God!” But I also see many protesting, “this cannot be, I will always belong to my spouse!” It is a revelation from Jesus that may shock us, but it puts into focus the true meaning of marriage, and the role it plays toward our future destiny with God in paradise.

There is much confusion about marriage. Society proclaims that marriage is anything you want it to be, literally any human relationship where (usually) two people decide to live together on their terms. It can be for a short time, it can be for life, it can be with someone of the opposite or same sex, it can be registered in the courthouse, or it can just be informal without any kind of public ceremony. There is not just a lot of confusion, there is total confusion.

This Gospel is not the first time Jesus spoke of marriage. When questioned about divorce, he declared, “In the beginning, God created them male and female. And for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one… What God has joined, man must not put asunder” (Mt 19:4-6).

Marriage is not subject to human whim. It is an institution determined by God when He made man male and female. It is thus built into our human nature, as the “language of the body.” Marriage follows the laws of nature.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus expands the meaning and purpose of marriage by referring it to the Resurrection of the Dead. Marriage lasts only “until death do us part,” as the vows themselves indicate. Marriage is a means to a greater end that is fulfilled beyond this world.

The first and most important reason there will no longer be marriage in the resurrection of the dead is that there will no longer be need for the procreation of children—the end of the world comes when the full number of souls has been created by God, or rather, “procreated” by God through the man and woman. The first purpose and dignity of marriage is having children: God created them male and female and blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:27-28).

If two Catholics want to marry, but one of them doesn’t want children, it would not be a valid sacrament, and the Church cannot marry them. This is also why using contraception or getting sterilized (vasectomy, tubal ligation) is seriously sinful. The contraceptive mentality which dominates modern society undermines the institution of marriage, and this more than anything has contributed to the confusion resulting today. Contraceptives redefine God’s purpose for marriage, reducing it to human goals in this world, forgetting the eternal goal of God for His children on the day of Resurrection. Artificially preventing children denies our nature, in fact works against nature, and allows us to tell God marriage and family will be on our terms instead of His.

When we understand the primary purpose and blessing of human nature – to cooperate with God in the supreme act of creating a new human being; that man has the privilege even higher than the angels, of being able to “pro-create” new life with God – then we can begin to see why marriage is supremely important in this life, but will not exist in the next life. In the next life, there is no more need for procreation!

But marriage is not simply about procreation, the way reproduction exists in other animals. Man is a “person”, and persons are created in love (in God’s image), and for love. In man, God elevates the biological function of reproduction to the personal dimension of love. We can say it the other way around as well: in man, God makes personal love so real and concrete, it is incarnated in the body and becomes “flesh” in the child. “That is why a man clings to his wife and the two become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). The expression of their loving union, their “oneness,” is a child. It is Trinitarian Love which is therefore built in to our nature: two persons becoming three by being one.

The proper, and only true context for sexual expression, is the committed love of marriage. In creating man this way, God inseparably joins the “unitive” and the “procreative” aspects of marriage. And what God has joined man must not separate! Human love, as lived out in marriage, reflects the love of God in the Holy Trinity: Union (of two) in Communion (of three).

What then happens on the day of Resurrection to the love which brought a man and woman together in this life? Jesus teaches that in the next life human love will be perfected within the love of God. One’s earthly marriage will be fulfilled in the heavenly marriage of Christ’s wedding banquet.

The Sacrament of marriage is based on human love, but what the couple does at the altar is hand over their human love (and lives) to God for a higher purpose. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, God does something similar with this human love of spouses, that He does in the Eucharist: He changes something ordinary and natural into something divine and supernatural. In the Eucharist, God changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matrimony, God changes human love to be an image or “sacred sign” of the love between Christ and the Church. It is a real change, and a real “thing” is brought into being by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is why a Catholic sacramental marriage is absolutely indissoluble; it cannot be undone, unmade. Once the couple has consented by their vows, God joins

their lives in this union. What God has joined, man (even the pope or a diocesan marriage tribunal) cannot unjoin. (1)

So, when two Catholics get married, not only are they handing over their bodies as male and female for God to use in bringing forth new life in the family, they are also handing over their human love for God to use in proclaiming the reality of Christ’s love for the Church. What a serious obligation it is to live their marriage in a Christ-like way! As we must not corrupt the procreative aspect through sins that undermine fertility, we must not corrupt the unitive aspect through sins against fidelity toward the spouse, especially the sins of adultery, divorce, and attempted remarriage. A Christian husband and wife don’t love each other just as humans: wives love their husbands the way the Church submits to Christ (Eph 5:21-24), and husbands love their wives the way Christ submitted and sacrificed himself for the Church (Eph 5:25-33).

Keeping in mind the heavenly destiny and purpose of earthly marriage (to be subsumed in the marriage between Christ the Church, God and the soul), Christian spouses on earth are motivated to continually purify their human love according to the love of Christ, seeking to love each other “in Christ,” as Christ loves.

Thus even in hardship, this faithful Christ-like love is possible. Even in times of difficulty – in fact especially in times of difficulty – there is opportunity to love as Christ loved: sacrificially, through the Cross. From the perspective of the final Resurrection of the Dead, we cannot then speak of any sacramental marriage as a “failed marriage.” There can indeed be marriages that experience the Cross and demand ultimate sacrifices, but these do not deny or nullify the value of that marriage. In the mystery of Cross they illustrate it. Even in situations of separation and divorce, the sacramental marriage is not ended: the Christian continues to live that marriage in a prophetic way, as a sign of what is to come. The earthly marriage will pass away one way or the other, but the heavenly one will not.

In the first reading (2 Maccabbees 7), a mother urges her seven sons to submit to cruel torture and death as martyrs, because they will receive their lives back in the resurrection of the dead. Sometimes, we will be required to sacrifice things in this life, up to and including our life itself, as a witness to the future resurrection, as a testimony that there is more to this life than this life, that this life has its fulfillment in the next.

If there is no Resurrection from the Dead then yes, make marriage whatever you want it to be, go with whatever gives you comfort, seek what you want, and decide how many children you can afford. But if, as Christians believe, there is a Resurrection, then let us realize that whatever is imperfect or seemingly “lost” right now, will be returned and restored one-hundred fold and more. Whatever difficulty or sacrifice or hardship is now required, will reap abundant reward on that Day. And whatever love was good and beautiful now, will truly shine in glory then.

The love you share with your spouse on earth is transformed by Christ even now into a higher spiritual love. In the next life, this spiritual reality will be perfectly seen, provided we were faithful. What marriage served on earth and proclaimed, will be fulfilled directly by Christ the Bridegroom, in relation to the glorified Church, his Bride. Just as in the next life we will no longer need the Sacrament of the Eucharist, because we will have face to face direct union with Christ, so we will no longer need the Sacrament of Matrimony, since the wedding banquet of the Lamb will be upon us, and that is the banquet our human marriages are looking forward to.

There is a final aspect of this teaching of Christ that helps us understand Christianity. Because our goal is not this world but the next, and because our baptismal marriage with God is more important than our human marriage – the Church on earth manifests the charism of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12). It is possible, even while we still live in this world, by a special grace and calling, to already anticipate and live the spiritual marriage of the next world.

When a priest or a religious sister is called to consecrated celibacy or virginity, it is not because they are turning away from marriage as something negative, but rather because they look beyond this world to the true purpose of marriage as a sign of God’s Kingdom: marriage already completed by Christ. The religious sister, and the bishop, thus wear blessed wedding rings to signify their consecration, just like married couples!

Paradoxically, the best way to prepare for a good strong marriage is to value consecrated celibacy and virginity – and to live that baptismal consecration of virginity chastely during youth. Likewise, the best way to prepare for priesthood or religious life is to have a strong appreciation of holy matrimony and the role of parents within the family. In either case, we are seeking to witness the sacrificial love of Christ, who while on earth, in order to show himself the Bridegroom, remained celibate!

Catholic marriages and families will be strong, when young people value the gift of virginity, and give serious consideration to the religious life. Marriages will be weakened and undermined, when chastity is replaced by promiscuity, indulgence, and the contraceptive mentality.

May the Lord God help us to understand the role of marriage as a holy sacrament, which helps to build the Kingdom of God on earth, and serves as sign and preparation for the eternal wedding banquet of heaven. May we face all life’s difficulties with the strong hope and confidence of the Resurrection of the just.

(1)  We must be very careful and wary of the practice – an abuse – of quickly declaring marriages invalid based on flimsy or fabricated evidence, simply to enable the divorced to remarry. The annulment process of American marriage tribunals is deeply flawed, declaring numerous valid marriages invalid. Those who manipulate the system (i.e., lie) to “get” an annulment so they might remarry, add an extra sin to their already grave sin of adultery. They will still have to answer before God for the reality of their original marriage. Let us have no doubt or illusion: it is not that difficult to give consent to God at the time of marriage. Just because a marriage later fails, does not mean consent was never given, or that the marriage is invalid. The human aspect can fail through subsequent sin; what God accomplished through those vows endures until death.

Rev. Glen Mullan

I Must Stay At Your House

October 30, 2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 19:1-10)

In the Gospel, Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus, and everyone is shocked, including Zacchaeus. While this “son of Abraham” went out that day to see Jesus, he did not expect Jesus to come back home with him.

Perhaps we “sons of the Church” are also somewhat like Zacchaeus. I preach often on the need to go to Mass faithfully every Sunday. And we do; this is a foundational moral duty and obligation, and without it we cannot be formed as Catholics. “Going to Church” corresponds to what Zacchaeus and the crowd did that day in going out to see Jesus. Whether it is out of curiosity, or a sense of duty, or genuine interest, we become part of that crowd of people that “goes to Church,” that goes to see Jesus.

Many Catholics who go to Mass like the anonymity of the crowd. They can go seek Jesus, hear him in the readings, receive his graces in the Eucharist, and go back home without anyone even noticing. When Jesus came to Jericho, he intended to pass on through. So often, this is our experience too, when we come to Mass. In one brief hour, Jesus passes by, we go back home, everything stays the same.

But on this day it changed. Zacchaeus, filled with short-comings (both physical and moral), “went out on a limb” so to speak, and it moved the heart of Jesus. Zacchaeus broke from the crowd, and was “unhidden” for once, even if it was only briefly. Jesus took advantage of the opening and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home.

Going to Church – going out to see Jesus at Mass – is the first important part of being Catholic. But it is not enough. Jesus must come back home with us. It is not enough to see the parish as our “church,” we must understand also that the home is the “domestic church.” Jesus doesn’t dwell only in the tabernacle. Through the Mass and reception of the sacrament he wishes to go home with us and dwell literally in our houses.

So we need to examine not only whether we are going to Mass and being faithful to our Sunday obligation. We also need to examine whether we live our faith at home: what it means to be a “Catholic home,” a Catholic household where Jesus dwells. We need to examine whether our house is a “domestic church.”

A Catholic home is one that has been blessed and consecrated. Jesus sent his disciples in his name to enter and bless people’s homes, announcing the Kingdom of God. From time to time, we need to have the priest over.

A Catholic home should be “hospitable,” a comfortable place to live, where people are welcome, and where there is always place for a guest at table.

A Catholic home should be recognizable via the décor, including the crucifix, patron saints, even a dedicated altar/shrine (as is done by Catholics who belong to the Schoenstatt movement).

A Catholic home should be a place where there is prayer, led by the head of the household.

A Catholic home should have a library or other resources that provide for religious education specifically, and wholesome education and entertainment generally. Immoral or offensive influences are guarded against, especially those that propagate via media, television, internet.

In a Catholic home, the laws and morality of God are respected and lived. How we treat each other, how we serve and carry out duties, and the values we espouse, are important even when children have grown up and return for visits.

And then there is the most important part…

I’m sure Zacchaeus had a lot of practical preparations he had to undertake to get his house ready for Jesus and his companions to visit. But above all, he knew that in order to welcome Christ into his home he had to straighten himself out.

Zacchaeus made a living and got very rich defrauding people. This was a contradiction for someone who was a “son of Abraham.”

To find the salvation which the Gospel speaks of, we have to look at our lives. To make our homes the “domestic church,” it is not enough just to straighten up the rooms and put some Catholic décor on the walls. We have to reform our lives.

Zacchaeus knew what it was he had to do. What will it take on our part? Being Catholic is more than seeing Jesus at Mass, we must be Catholic at home. For some it may mean convalidating an illicit marriage, or renouncing contraception. For some it may mean, like Zacchaeus, looking at the job situation or career or other influences that might be pulling one away from his true family obligations. For others it could be drink or another sin such as anger or harshness that needs to be dealt with.

And what about prayer? Like many Catholics, Zacchaeus probably never thought of himself as a particularly religious person, but the fact is that every head of the household is the spiritual leader for the domestic church, and has the obligation to lead the family in prayer and spiritual matters.

The Gospel recounts the joy experienced by Zacchaeus – and the Lord – when he finally had the courage to return to his faith. “Today salvation has come to this house.” So many homes lack the true joy which Christ wishes for our Catholic families. Sin is a reality, and in fact even after conversion the struggle with sin will continue—no family is ever perfect. But this is not the impediment to being a Catholic home: they were shocked that Jesus was received into the home “of a sinner.” Like Zacchaeus, everyone has shortcomings and limitations, but these should not be what keep us from Christ. As in the Gospel, they should be the means which bring us to Christ.

Let us not be afraid to take the extra step, like Zacchaeus did, of climbing the tree, stepping out of the crowd, opening ourselves to Jesus as he passes by. Of every household out there, yours is the one he wishes.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Penitential Rite

October 23, 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 18:9-14)

In early Church, the Eucharist was central to the life of the Church. Nothing was more important than the privilege of sharing in the Last Supper and receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood under the sacramental forms of bread and wine. From apostolic times, the “Mass” included the Penitential Rite as an integral part.

In 1st Corinthians 11:27-30, St. Paul said this about receiving Holy Communion: “Whoever 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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

We are to examine ourselves carefully, in order to have a proper disposition for receiving Holy Communion. In the Gospel, Jesus illustrates the same lesson in the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector: he shows us the proper way to examine ourselves, and “come to Church.” Above all, we must approach the Lord’s table with humility, an honest awareness of our need for God’s mercy.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist teaches us to imitate directly the attitude of the tax collector in parable in the Penitential Rite: we lower our eyes (by bowing our head). We confess our sinful thoughts, words and deeds, striking our breast in contrition. Above all, we repeat the publican’s prayer, “Lord Have Mercy.”

This Penitential Rite is so important and ancient, that when the Mass was changed into Latin, the Litany of Mercy stayed in the original Greek: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.”

The Penitential Rite includes all the elements necessary for forgiveness of sins: examination of conscience, confession of sin, contrition, and absolution (“May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”) Known as the “Minor Absolution,” it is a true pardon of our (venial) sins.

Thus, even though like the tax collector we approach the door of God’s house as sinners, our passageway through that Door into His presence is one of purification from sin. The “gateway” to the Eucharist is the forgiveness of sin. When we finally approach the altar at the time of Holy Communion to receive the Lord and enter into his nuptial banquet, it is the purified and immaculate (sinless) Bride that receives her Lord (Eph 5:27).

In the early Church, the minor absolution of the Penitential Rite was all that was needed for the pardon of sins. Christians knew they were sinners, but they confessed and were forgiven (Ja 5:16). It was unthinkable, however, that a Christian, once converted and baptized, would commit a “mortal” sin (Hb 10:26).

All sin offends God and harms the relationship with God. But not all sin is “deadly” (Jn 5:16-17) or mortal. Mortal sins destroy the sanctifying grace of baptism and separate us from God. They also separate us from the Church, and the ability to receive Holy Communion. A mortal sin is any serious disobedience to one of God’s laws (“10 Commandments”) that is done freely and knowingly.

Reconciliation after a mortal sin requires a different process. To be sure, Christians did also commit mortal sins – there were cases of adultery, apostasy, and other crimes. But in the early Church, the one who had violated his baptism could only approach the door of the church, and remain outside as penance, until the following Easter when the bishop would reconcile him (cf. 1 Cor 5:1-5). The Sacrament of Penance in the early Church was fairly rare, it was typically reserved to the bishop, and it was public. But it did exist – the apostles had received full authority from Christ to forgive even the greatest of sins (cf. Jn 20:22-23).

As the Church spread throughout the world, monasteries became the common place for Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation. Monastic priests became the typical confessors, delegated by the bishop to reconcile the sinner. Today, all priests have the “faculties” from their bishops to hear confessions and absolve even the most serious of sins. Only a few types of sins are still reserved to bishops or the pope for absolution (such as the sin of formal heresy and schism. In some places, the sin of abortion is still absolved by the bishop).

Thus, even though the typical or ordinary way Christians confess and receive forgiveness of sins is through the Penitential Rite, the separate sacrament of Penance is needed in the case of mortal sins. That said, it has also become the common practice and strong pastoral recommendation of the Church to utilize the Sacrament of Penance even for venial sins, as there are many other healing graces and spiritual benefits that come from the private way in which that sacrament is celebrated today.

Above all, both in the Penitential Rite and even more so in the Sacrament of Penance, these practices of the Church cultivate the humility and self-honesty that Christ seeks in his followers. The problem with the Pharisee was not that he was a sinner, but that he did not examine himself in order to recognize and confess his sin of pride and self-righteousness. By means of these two penitential activities, the Church helps us develop that humility that will allow us to worthily celebrate the Eucharist.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Role of Scripture

October 16, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (2 Tim 3:14-4:2)

“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it.” Catholic faith is something received, and handed on. “Tradition” means to “hand on.” None of us invents the faith, instead we learn it from those who received it before us. In the case of Timothy, it was from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice that he learned the faith (2 Tm 1:5). As a bishop of the Catholic Church, ordained by St. Paul (2 Tim 1:6), he must now guard that deposit of truth (2T m 1:14) and in turn hand it on to others.

This Deposit of Faith comes to us in two parts. One is the oral tradition of the apostles: everything they said, taught, and preached; as well as the liturgical rules they established for the celebration of sacraments such as the Eucharist, Baptism, and Anointing of the Sick.

The second part of the Faith is the written tradition of Sacred Scripture. St. Paul reminds Timothy that he received this faith from his grandmother and mother, because “from infancy you have known the Sacred Scriptures.”

It is both the written scriptures, and the oral tradition of the apostles, that is passed on to each generation. The Bible and Tradition. It is not enough to have the Bible alone, we also need the teachings and practices of the apostles, not all of which are recorded explicitly in the Bible.

Interestingly, when St. Paul speaks about the importance of Sacred Scripture in his letter to Timothy, he is referring to the Old Testament, not the New Testament. When St. Paul wrote this letter, the New Testament did not exist yet. This letter would later become part of the New Testament and added to the Bible, but at the time of the Apostles, the “Bible” was only the Old Testament.

The Bible is a vast collection of books and letters written at different times by different people, in different situations, and even in different languages. The Bible didn’t create itself, someone had to decide what should be included in this collection. And that was the bishops, popes, early Church fathers, various synods and councils in the first centuries studying and reviewing the evidence, and determining which books were authentically from the apostles, or approved by the apostles. It took almost four hundred years to establish definitively which books belonged in the Bible.

The Scriptures, whether Old or New Testament, cannot stand by themselves: they did not write themselves or collect themselves together, nor do they interpret themselves. They require the larger context of the Apostolic Tradition and Church authority to properly teach and explain them.

That said, Scripture plays a vital role for the believer: “it is capable of giving you wisdom for salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus.” And though he is referring at that time only to the Old Testament, his statement now applies also to the writings of the New Testament, which the Church declares equally important, if not more important, than the Old Testament.

We may wonder how it is that the Scriptures of the Old Testament can give us wisdom for salvation in Christ since they were written before Christ. We may be wondering why we even need the Old Testament anymore, since Jesus has now come, and we have the Gospels of the New Testament.

When the apostles first preached Jesus to people, they preached Jesus using the OT. It is one reason the early Church was so successful in making converts, especially among the Gentiles, because the OT contains many prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ. All the details of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were prophesied in a detailed way in advance. These scriptures therefore become a very convincing stepping-stone to faith in Christ.

Some of those prophecies are explicit, such as Isaiah (7:14): “The virgin shall conceive and bear a child, and his name shall be ‘Emanuel,’ ‘God-with-us.’” But most are indirect, or symbolic. (1)

Everything about Jesus Christ is already foretold and prefigured before he came, in the history of the OT. And stories of the Bible which may seem mysterious, have their deeper meanings unlocked with his coming.

Thus, St. Paul says the Scriptures “give us wisdom for salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Bible has this marvelous power because “All Scripture is inspired by God.” God wrote it. When you or I write a letter, we do it using an instrument, such as pen and paper, or a computer with printer. When God writes the Scripture, He also uses instruments: the human authors. And just as pens come in different colored ink, human authors can write in different languages and styles.

God speaks through the words of the human authors, whether Moses or King David or Isaiah. But He also speaks through historical events. When there is a great battle, or a famine, or some calamity, or the miraculous birth of a child – these all become instruments of what God is trying to say with regard to His plan for our salvation.

Some people get disturbed when they find certain stories in the Bible that might not be literal or journalistic, but rather seem to be symbolic or poetic, – for instance the way Creation is depicted taking place in seven days. Or they criticize the Bible because some stories seem to be in the genre of historical fiction, such as the book of Judith.

It is part of the richness and strength of the Bible that God used many different human authors from different places and times, various editings, different literary forms, and various individual styles. Yet through it all there is a consistency, unity, and cohesiveness that finds its fulfillment in person of Jesus born at Bethlehem in the land of Judah, during the reign of Herod and Augustus, and who was crucified in Jerusalem during Passover in the time of Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas. We profess in our Creed that all that happened with Christ – his Incarnation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, his crucifixion and death, his Resurrection – happened “in accordance with the Scriptures.”

We need to be familiar with the Scriptures, we must know them as fully as possible. But the Bible can be intimidating—it is a daunting challenge to actually read the whole collection from cover to cover. To help us with this task, and bring to fulfillment the words of today’s second reading, the Church makes use of the Lectionary, a special book that organizes readings from the Bible in a systematic way for use in the Liturgy. After the Second Vatican Council (1961-1964), the Lectionary was revised to include a more expansive and comprehensive selection of Scripture.

The Lectionary for Sunday Masses is organized in a three year cycle around the Gospels, which are read in their entirety. We are currently in Year “C” of the cycle, in which we hear primarily the Gospel of Luke during Ordinary Time. Each Gospel is accompanied by an Old Testament selection that directly relates to it; and a complementary second reading from one of the New Testament epistles.

In addition to the Sunday Mass Lectionary, there is a two-year weekday Lectionary, which vastly expands upon the Biblical selections heard by the faithful.

Catholics do know the Bible! At least, those who faithfully attend Mass and conscientiously pay attention to the readings. We may not know chapter and verse, but we know the content, the stories, the teachings, the lessons. Like Timothy, we learn the Scriptures from our infancy, and by the time we have grown old, we have actually heard the Gospels multiple, multiple times.

We are blessed to have available to us the Sacred Scriptures, “capable of giving wisdom for salvation in Christ,” “useful for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness.” Let us “remain faithful to what we have learned and believed,” so that we may hand it on to the next generation.

(1)  For instance, when Genesis depicts God creating the woman by putting the man to sleep and bringing her forth from his side, it prophesies how the Church, Christ’s Bride, will be formed from his side when he dies upon the Cross and the soldier pierces him. The Water and Blood flowing from his Sacred Heart are the saving graces of Baptism and Eucharist, from which the Church is constituted.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Virtue of Gratitude

October 9, 2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 17:11-19)

When Jesus healed the 10 lepers, only one turned back to give him thanks. This story illustrates gratitude. When someone does good to us, we owe that person thanks. Gratitude requires that we do three things on our part. First, recognize the favor received. Second, express our appreciation. Third, seek to repay the favor.

Some never recognize what others do for them. They feel the world “owes them” and they have no responsibility in turn. As a result they are inconsiderate and take advantage, easily finding excuses for cheating and stealing. The devil tempts people to be ungrateful by showing them how bad and unfair things are. To help such a person, God gives many signs of His goodness, and may perform a miracle of healing for them, so they may begin to have faith, and gratitude.

In the Gospel, ten were healed of leprosy, but only one of them did the second part of gratitude, which is express his appreciation. Only one was truly grateful, and made the effort to say “thank you.” It’s not enough to recognize what someone has done for us, gratitude requires that we acknowledge the gift. Saying “thank you” is a way of blessing the giver, and makes the giver stronger in his goodness. When someone tells us “thank you,” it encourages us to be even more generous and charitable. Heartfelt gratitude builds friendships, it builds communities, it increases each person’s charity.

And the third part of gratitude is very important: we must repay. This is a beautiful characteristic of this virtue: gratitude turns someone into a giver. Even though they received some gift or miracle, a grateful person doesn’t become a selfish “taker.” Gratitude means giving in return, finding ways to pay back.

The repayment can happen in many ways, and you don’t necessarily have to repay the person who helped you, you just need to repay goodness received in some way. If your neighbor helps you with something, you can repay the debt of gratitude by helping someone else. Gratitude allows the original person’s gift to keep giving, by turning the receiver into a giver of gifts!

Gratitude is a virtue that we must practice every day, with everyone we meet, and it begins at home, in marriage, and between parents and children. If you are always fighting and arguing with someone, gratitude and being appreciative can provide a new basis for change, an incentive for the other person to improve.

We must be grateful to the people around us, and we must have a special gratitude to our superiors for what they have done: parents, teachers, even our country.

But gratitude must be highest with regard to God who created us out of nothing, brought into being our immortal and spiritual soul, gave us life and breath, and who numbers our days. Gratitude to God is the basis of all other gratitude.

What if our life has its share of bad things? God saw everything before He created us — our whole life – and despite the bad things that would come our way, God still saw that our life was greater and more valuable than even the worst that could happen. It was good better for us to be, rather than not to be.

We don’t have to wait for a miracle like the healing of the lepers; our very existence is already a miracle. Life is a miracle. If God were to take away His hand for an instant, we would cease to exist! Do we recognize the gift of our life, and how infinitely valuable it is? Do we thank God for that gift, and find concrete ways to express that gratitude?

Christian spirituality is infused with gratitude, and this gratitude is expressed in our worship. In the Old Testament, when the foreigner Naaman discovered the true God in Israel through his miracle of healing, he brought two cart-loads of dirt back from Israel, so that he could worship the true God on holy ground. Likewise, the Samaritan who was healed by Jesus prostrated himself at his feet giving thanks.

More than the gift of our life and existence, God has also given us in Christ the gift of our Redemption, the restoration of eternal life after we had sinned. Not only should we give thanks for God who gives us life, we give thanks for God who gives us His life.

When we talk about “worshipping God,” what do we mean? In the most basic sense, to worship is to “give thanks.” That is why the official name for our Catholic worship is the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” “Eucharist” is the Greek word for “thanksgiving.”

To worship God is to show Him our thanks through a concrete gesture—a liturgical or ritual gesture of sacrifice. In the case of Christian worship, what we offer to God as a thanks in return for all he has done for us, is actually something very special. It is Christ! Jesus is our thanksgiving, our Eucharist. Jesus, by the gift of his sacrifice on the Cross, made himself into the payment for our sin and debt. At Mass, we make our thanks to God in and through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Psalm 115 asks, “How do I make return to the Lord for all He has done for me?” Then it gives the answer: “I will take up the chalice of salvation!” This is the Mass, the Eucharist.

This is why it is so important that when we worship, when we come to Mass, we have the right attitude of thanksgiving; that our worship is in fact an expression of gratitude.

The concrete human symbol of this gratitude is the offering. Granted, compared to what God has done it is a small and insignificant—only bread and wine. But Christ multiplies our offering into the gift infinitely pleasing to the Father: the offering of his own Body and Blood.

And together with the bread and wine, we make our tithe. That too is a small “thanks” in terms of the big picture of what God gives us, but it is still important, because it is a concrete human expression of our gratitude. When someone has done you a kindness, or when you want to show appreciation to someone, you do something to express that gratitude. You send a card, or buy a gift, or do something special. We need to think of our Sunday offering in these terms: it is the expression of one’s true and sincere gratitude to God. It is a small way to “repay” God’s kindness to us, and the miracles He has performed, above all the redemption, by supporting and spreading the work of the Church in our parish.

No one can tell you what you should give or how much. Each person needs to look into his heart and ask himself whether this Sunday offering is a fitting and concrete expression of gratitude to God, based on his income and his various financial obligations. Just like any ‘thank you,’ the true value of the gift is the spirit in which it is given, the generosity of heart, the rejoicing and humility that we see in the lepers Naaman, and the Samaritan. We too have suffered the spiritual leprosy of sin, and been healed. We too must give thanks.

Finally, we show our thanks to God in the good we do to others. The way God has loved us, we must love others. It is not only our “equals” that we must repay with thanks when they have done something good to us; and it is not only our superiors we must thank for all they have done. We must turn in a special way to “inferiors,” to those who may not have done anything good in particular for us, or who in may even have done evil. God says we must love even our enemies. And He says whatever we do on behalf of the least of our brothers, we do for Him.

Once again, it is gratitude that causes us to do this. We don’t help the poor expecting something in return. We don’t forgive our enemies so that they will appreciate us. We do it simply because we are seeking to make return to God, because we appreciate what God has done for us in Christ.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Obedience of Faith

October 2, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (2 Tim 1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10; CCC 144-149)

In the Gospel Jesus teaches the great power of faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In another Gospel he says that faith can move mountains (Mt 17:20). He also demonstrated to Peter, that if you have faith you can walk on water (Mt 14:29). Faith unlocks power to do things beyond human ability, because faith gives access to God who is all-powerful and who can do all things.

I challenge you to go into your back yard, and move your tree into your neighbor’s yard, by faith! In certain strands of Christianity, (1) “faith” is understood as something like “mind over matter” or the “power of positive thinking.” If I just pray hard enough, or believe hard enough, or trust hard enough, I will be healed, overcome my problems, and move mountains.

Faith can move mountains (and trees), but not that way. That is a pagan attitude which is the attempt to gain control and power over one’s existence. This is the opposite of Christian faith, because it attempts a desired outcome through the power of one’s own will.

Faith means reliance on God, not ourselves: acceptance of His will, not the assertion of our own will. The biggest challenge with faith is this surrender, learning how to trust. Like the apostles, we want to increase in faith so that we can do great things, and we ask Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” And yet in our efforts to increase faith, we all too often force or impose our will. It doesn’t work.

It is entirely possible to even use prayers and rituals in this false way, to try achieve a desired end. “If you say these prayers and do these things, this will happen.” This is called superstition, or what the ancients would call “magic.” It is the sin of putting God to the test.

Faith is not magic, it is not superstition, it is not manipulation of God, it is not getting what we want. Faith is seeking God’s will, the recognition and complete acceptance of our powerlessness, and the total reliance upon His goodness and power.

Faith does require a great amount of work and prayer on our part, but the work does not consist in trying to force reality to conform to our desires. The work involved is that of personal relationship: getting to know the true God, how He thinks, what He wants, how He works. God does not think as man does. We have to come to know God, as He is in Himself. This is why we must pray hard in order to increase our faith. The more we pray and ask for things, and observe how God responds, the more we learn what is His will, what are His true gifts, how He is both demanding and loving, harsh and generous, always good and supremely wise.

Thus, in the end, no matter what else we say about faith, we will have to speak about obedience. Faith in the end, is obedience. It is the acceptance of God’s will, and submission to God’s will.

After talking about faith, Jesus then speaks of the servant who does his master’s will. Is the servant to be commended or thanked for doing what he was commanded? No. We don’t owe God any favors. Obedience is our duty. Faith means we do what God wants with total trust, without hesitation or argument or objection, or resistance.

There is a beautiful prayer called the “Universal Prayer,” by Pope Clement XI. It is a prayer for faith, which starts, “Lord, I believe in you – increase my faith. I trust in you – strengthen my trust.” And there is a line in there which illustrates the obedience of faith: “I want to do what you ask of me – in the way you ask, for as long as you ask, because you ask it.” The person who can pray that prayer sincerely and mean it, is the one who will move mountains, and walk on water.

So faith is a trust or surrender, not the effort to assert our will. It is an obedience. But it is not simply a blind obedience, a blind trust. It is not “believe!” and then nothing more. Faith is always “believing in,” trusting something/someone.

On a basic human level we believe and trust all the time. We trust our parents and teachers and experts to explain things to us, who know better than we. We also believe and trust “in ourselves” to accomplish various tasks we need to get done, and push ourselves to reach difficult goals. This is all good and normal, and it is the ordinary natural faith that is part of human life.

But here in the Gospel we talking about faith on a higher level, supernatural faith: the trust and the knowledge that go beyond this world and achieve goals that are above human capacity. This is the faith that accomplishes God’s plan, and attains eternal life.

We believe in something. There is a real and true content to our faith, a knowledge and wisdom. Likewise there is a true trust and acceptance of an authority who is above us. Faith is not simply an emotional experience, it is intellectual: it is a quest for Truth.

For many, faith is just emotional. They seem religious and devout, often with great intensity. But when you ask them exactly what they believe, they are vague, and can’t say. Or they will use the word “god,” but without really being able to share who or what “god” is. This is also not a true faith yet.

We do want a strong emotion, zeal, and enthusiasm in our faith, but that is not the content of faith. Faith comes from an actual knowledge of the True God, who has revealed Himself to us, and reveals to us what it is we need to know and do for eternal life. Faith is expressed in a Creed – what we believe; a moral Code – how we live; and a liturgical Cult – how we pray and worship.

If someone says they have faith but do not believe anything specific, it is not faith but an emotional motivational experience. If they say they have faith but it does not affect and define their morality – how they live – it is not faith, they are practical atheists. If they say they have faith but there is no prayer or worship defining their life – worship meaning the ritual oblation of one’s life through priestly sacrifice – it is not true faith.

Faith, then, besides having a personal subjective component on our part: an acceptance, a surrender, an obedience of submission; also has an objective content above and outside us: the true and Living God, His divine will, and that which He reveals for our benefit. There is a “content” of faith. Faith is a belief or acceptance of Truth.

This truth comes to us through preaching. It is accepted as a gift in the sacraments, beginning with baptism. It is increased and deepened with Confirmation, and nourished in the Eucharist. In the second letter, St. Paul speaks of this common faith of the Church as a treasure entrusted or deposited with Timothy when he was ordained, by the “laying of hands.”

The faith we believe is not some individual’s opinion, but the common heritage and tradition of the whole Church, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, and handed on through Holy Orders. It is a treasure we receive as a gift and guard, and seek to live out, and understand so that we can announce it to others. All together, submit in obedience to this common faith we share, this gift which gives the truth, and brings all power to accomplish God’s will.

We are challenged by Jesus to increase our faith. Not by exerting our mind and will to move a tree by our own power, but to seek God in prayer, and listen for His voice, so that like the “useless” servant who only did what he was obligated, or like the Blessed Virgin Mary who said to the angel, “Be it done unto me according to your word,” we might hear and obey.

The tiny mustard seed is the seemingly small act of obedience and trust which the Lord commands us this week in the face of our difficulties and problems. Let us hear, and obey.

(1)  “Christian Science,” “faith healers,” etc.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Les Miserables

September 25, 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 16:19-31)

No one actually comes back from death, after having been to the netherworld. In today’s parable, a soul in hell proposes that it would make a huge difference for people on earth were this to take place: the rich man wants to warn his brothers of their impending judgment in the next life. He disagrees with Abraham, who says it is enough that they have the Scriptures and the Prophets. He wants someone to actually come back from death, to convince the skeptics.

Would it make a difference? This is the question before us in the parable.

There are many documented cases, in which people suddenly resuscitate after their heart stopped. They often give witness to an experience of “approaching the light,” and make a true conversion. Jesus on different occasions restored the dead to life, for instance when he raised the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:35-43). Likewise, St. Peter revived Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43).

But skeptics (those who deny the afterlife, and God) are still not convinced. They argue these are “near death” experiences, not actual death. The Church would tend to agree that these situations are not a “proof” of the afterlife, since it’s not clear when exactly the soul fully leaves body, which is the theological definition of death. In practice, the Church will still anoint a body that is warm.

Christians instead, proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus. But while this is all the proof anyone should ever need, yet it does not satisfy the skeptics either, though for different reasons than the other cases. In the Resurrection, Jesus did not actually return to this life. He began something new, the New Creation, a new order beyond this life. Though he was truly alive in his body (he ate a piece of fish, and his wounds were touched by Thomas), yet he was often not even recognized initially (Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener, the disciples walked with him several hours to Emmaus without recognizing him). Furthermore, in his resurrection he was not witnessed by the public at large, nor did he preach in public; he was only seen by his followers. Thus, the Church would somewhat agree, that the Resurrection of Jesus is a mystery whose primary purpose is not to satisfy the desire of the rich man in hell.

There remains one – and only one – other case that might indeed apply. In this parable alone, Jesus does something unique. The rich man, like all the characters in his parables, is indistinct and generic: “there was a certain man…” The beggar with leprosy, on the other hand, is very specific, a man named Lazarus (Lk 16:20).

Uniquely in this one parable, Jesus “drops a name.” The only reason you would do that is with the expectation your audience will recognize the name.

Christians recognize the name of Lazarus. Everyone who knew Jesus and came to hear the stories about him, heard the details of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, and how he befriended the family of Simon the Leper in Bethany (Mt 26:6-13, Mk 14:3-9). Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, occupies an extremely important place in the telling of the Gospel of Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, Lazarus is the seventh incontrovertible miracle that backs up Jesus’ divine identity (Jn 11-12). He is the sign which backs up Jesus’ claim to be the “Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25). St. John goes into great detail with regard to the miracle of Lazarus, showing how Jesus deliberately delayed coming to him in his final illness, until he was already dead, and buried in the grave four days, to the point that there would be a stench (Jn 11:39).

This man is dead. This is the one – and only – documented case in human history where someone did come back from death, who was fully experiencing the afterlife. And it is documented, it is incontrovertible, there can be no doubt or skepticism whatsoever with regard to the historical case of Lazarus. (1) He died of an illness. Many people went to his funeral. Many saw him come forth from the tomb four days later, all wrapped in his burial shroud. And many heard and spoke with him afterward, since he gave testimony openly and publicly (Jn 12:9).

Did it help the skeptics? Did Lazarus cause Jerusalem to repent of its sinfulness, accept the Messiah, and avert the impending calamity of destruction? Did the “rich man” of Jerusalem and his brothers in the priesthood and Sanhedrin heed the warning from this beggar, who was likely one of the Holy City’s lepers, unable to partake of the rich banquet in the temple?

Not only did they not heed him, his resurrection precipitated the formal decision to kill Jesus (Jn 11:45-53), and throw Lazarus in for good measure (Jn 12:10). Caiaphas and his entourage were already heading to hell because of their selfish lifestyle and neglect of the poor pilgrims who made them rich, and Lazarus being raised only made them murderers on top of their other sins.

And so here we are today. Many people deny the existence of heaven and hell, or any afterlife. They claim they would believe if they could meet someone who came back from death.

They are liars. We have met someone who came back from death, his name is Lazarus. But Jesus wants to point the unrepentant skeptic, the rich man, in a different direction. The most important thing about Lazarus is not that he came back from death, but that he was a poor beggar. In this aspect of his life, Lazarus better serves the parable, because in this aspect we can meet him any time we encounter someone who is truly in need.

If you want to believe in God, if you want to be assured that there is a judgment awaiting us after this life, that heaven and hell are real, have compassion upon those in need.

In the 1800s Victor Hugo wrote a famous novel, in which he deals with this theme. It has also been turned into an even more famous musical. Les Miserables – the name means “Unfortunate Ones” – is a modern version of the Parable of Lazarus. It is a novel about the desperate suffering of the poor, those who have to beg, and the coldness of the rich who are not disturbed by the fact they live in the gutter among the dogs. The main character is a Christ figure, whose actions exemplify redemption and resurrection—whose compassion conquers death.

Les Miserables is summed up in a line spoken by the main character toward the very end, when he is about to die, after having spent his life helping the unfortunate: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is based on a verse from Scripture: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20, cf. 4:7-8).

There is a cure for atheism, but it is not someone coming back from death to warn about hell. The cure is found by discovering the power of heaven in those whose life on earth is a hell. It is impossible to have the compassionate love of Christ and be an atheist. And everyone has access to this opportunity through the beggar at their doorstep.

Those who can see the suffering of others and act to help them, by sacrificing themselves personally, see heaven, they see the face of God. Those who turn against their fellow man, ignoring the beggar at their own house while indulging their riches, however religious they may be, are cut off from the face of God. They are the true a-theist, without God, and they begin on earth what will be finalized for eternity in hell.

(1)  Besides this parable which mentions Lazarus, Luke also recounts the famous story of Mary & Martha during a visit of Jesus (Lk 10:38-42). Luke has another story (7:36-50) where he speaks of Jesus visiting the house of Simon the Pharisee, during which a woman anoints his feet, probably referring to the same home in Bethany. This is confirmed by Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9), who describe Jesus visiting the house of a “Simon the Leper” in Bethany. John provides the greatest detail, speaking of Jesus visiting the home of Mary, Martha, Lazarus in Bethany just before his passion, where Mary anoints his feet (12:1-8). He also previously gives the details of the final illness & death of Lazarus (11:1-44 ), stressing Jesus’ close friendship with this poor man. The conflation of all these various accounts leads to the conclusion that Simon was the father of the three siblings, that he was a leper, and if the connection with today’s Gospel is correct, then his son Lazarus was a leper too. It would explain why he would be a beggar with open sores, and it would indicate why he died.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Dishonest Steward

September 18, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Am 8; 1Tm 2; Lk 16:1-13)

This is an unusual parable, in which Jesus praises a dishonest steward for misusing his master’s money to benefit himself. As with all his teachings, Jesus gives an example with a twist, to overturn our typical way of thinking, and understand better the Kingdom of God.

He begins with the concept of “stewardship.” A steward is an administrator, not the owner. He works on behalf of the master, supervising and utilizing riches that are not his, yet which are entrusted to his decisions. He is expected to make a return to the master, and in the end will have to give an account of his stewardship.

Jesus tells the story of a steward who did what so many do in that position: they treat the riches as their own, looking to the ways they can benefit and aggrandize themselves. This is the mismanagement and corruption we can see so readily, for instance, in government officials, who end up rich at taxpayer expense.

But the parable focuses on what the dishonest steward does when he faces an audit and realizes he will soon be fired: he sets up benefactors so he won’t end up digging ditches or living as a beggar. This too, he does at his owner’s expense: he forgives debts and cancels accounts for various important clients of his master.

The surprise of the parable is the way Jesus praises this selfish shrewdness of the corrupt steward. Jesus points out how worldly people – who of course live by a different morality than the children of God – are shrewd! They know how to get ahead in the world, they know how to make money, and stay out of jail, using any means possible. They know how to “grease palms.”

The point Jesus wants to make, and he does so in serious but humorous way, is this: if only we could be so selfishly cunning and shrewd when it comes to “doing what it takes” to get to heaven. Specifically, being shrewd in the way we use money so that it buys us influence and powerful friends who will welcome us into those “eternal habitations.”

Buy our way into heaven?? What does Jesus mean?

The fact is, in terms of our stewardship of the riches God has entrusted to us – all riches, including our money, possessions, time, and our life itself – we too have mismanaged, and employed these things for self-aggrandizement. We will have to give an accounting, and when we face that thorough “audit” of every one of our decisions and choices on judgement day, who of us will not deserve to be fired? The auditor, a very thorough and meticulous inspector worse than any IRS official, is the great “satanas,” accuser.

On that day, it will be very helpful to have some powerful intercessors, friends who “owe us” because of the good we did them while on earth. The poor, the humble, the saints who by the time we arrive at that judgment seat, are already glorified around God’s heavenly throne. Also, friends in the Church on earth.

These are the important “clients” of God the master. It behooves us, while we are on earth, to be shrewd and recognize who is important to God, and do whatever we can – even with money – to help them, so they are “in our debt,” so they will intercede with the Master when we have to face that embarrassing audit!

Jesus wants us to be shrewd when it comes to using money. Crafty. Selfish. But not to get ahead in a worldly way; rather to let money – tainted and unrighteous as it is – help us get into heaven.

Money can help us get to heaven when we use it to benefit the friends of God on earth. That’s what shrewd businessmen do in the world, we should do the same in the spiritual realm. For a worldly steward this means giving discounts; for the Christian steward it is called generosity and almsgiving.

Therefore, we don’t worship money as our end, and let it control us because we love it so much. We use it wisely for our spiritual benefit by being generous and giving. By investing it in people, using it on things that people actually need, and which ennoble them.

An important part of this shrewdness is tithing, which explicitly consecrates the first portion to higher ends. Failing to generously and fully support the church in doing God’s work is a serious “mismanagement,” a great failure of stewardship.

A very important duty of the Christian steward, especially one who has a larger budget, is building beautiful churches with the best materials we can provide, because it is God’s house, where prayer and worship are offered to God. In the context of last weekend’s readings, we are shrewd with money when we employ it to enhance the dignity of people. Providing adequate housing, quality food and clothing, top-notch liberal education, and beautiful churches for God’s children – these are things that ennoble, lift up, and are very pleasing to God. Money “squandered” on these things, even though it makes no sense to the worldly, is very shrewd in terms of preparing for our audit on judgement day.

St. Francis of Assisi famously gave example of this shrewd stewardship when he began to give away the excess inventory in his father’s textile business to the destitute, to the point that his father had to seek a legal injunction against him. Francis went on in his life to give away an incredible amount of material wealth, not to mention lives of Franciscans, to help and ennoble God’s people.

St. John of God (1) is another example. A man who never used money well and got it any way he could, after his conversion dedicated himself to the service of the sick, continuing to get money and supplies any way he could, now using that “skill” to help him and others get to heaven, including the rich of his community who funded his projects. Though he failed to repay the debts and loans he incurred, and was constantly hiding from bill collectors and creditors, he is a perfect example of a “dishonest” steward highly praised by the Lord, in fact canonized. He knew how to use money, and drastically “misuse” money, to make friends in high places, who would welcome him into eternal habitations.

Following the teaching of the Lord in this parable, we therefore practice a shrewd “stewardship” of our earthly goods. We are not the owner but the manager. Our money and our lives are God’s property, entrusted to us as a sacred responsibility. We are free to make whatever decisions we see fit, but let us remember the accounting we will have to provide the Master, who expects a return. By our careful yet generous use of money, let us ensure that we benefit others, thus making friends in heaven, and in this way please the master so as to receive His blessing and praise.

(1) 1495-1550. Founded the “Hospitaller” brothers, a religious institute dedicated to care of the poor sick and mentally ill. “I work here on borrowed money, a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ. And often my debts are so pressing that I dare not go out of the house for fear of being seized by my creditors. Whenever I see so many poor brothers and neighbours of mine suffering beyond their strength and overwhelmed with so many physical or mental ills which I cannot alleviate, then I become exceedingly sorrowful; but I trust in Christ, who knows my heart. And so I say, “Woe to the man who trusts in men rather than in Christ.””

Rev. Glen Mullan

Dignity Restored

September 11, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 15:1-10)

These three parables illustrate the mercy of God. Mercy is not simply the forgiveness of sin (this is its “negative” side). Positively, mercy is the restoration of dignity – something “lost” is “found,” expressed in each parable by the rejoicing and celebration at the end.

We were created by God with great beauty and grandeur, reflecting His own glory. We bear in our nature God’s image and likeness, His imprint; there is something divine about a human being. This is our dignity.

There are many ways this is recognized. First is the Intellect. Man can think consciously, and understand the universe in which he lives. Through his intelligence, he can know God, himself, and the world rationally.Like God, man Speaks. Animals make sounds, but humans communicate through words that reveal their hearts and share their personal selves.

A third way we reflect God’s image is through Free Will. All living things operate by instinct. Man, however, does not simply react to his environment; he chooses to follow his instincts, or decides to do something else. Moreover, man can give himself in his actions. Free will is the basis of love and sacrifice, which reflects God’s own being and identity.

There are many other ways we reflect God’s image. We have power and Dominion over all creation. We imitate God’s Creativity by our inventiveness, art, technology, and culture. We are clearly not just simply atoms and chemicals and clay; we have an invisible Spiritual soul that eludes science.

Being created in God’s image is our dignity. It makes us God’s children. God gave us this dignity in order to know and love Him. We are created for God, to be in union with Him, to be able to converse with Him, to have friendship.

Even though that dignity is in us, it becomes lost under many layers of forgetfulness and sin. The intellect is left in darkness, clouded by ignorance and error. Instead of communicating our true selves, we lie and deceive; glorious speech is reduced to vulgar profanity. By the abuse of freedom we give ourselves selfishly to the desires of the flesh, choosing lesser goods that are “beneath” us. Like the Prodigal Son, we squander our inheritance and end up unfulfilled, lower than pigs, lusting for “food” that does not satisfy. This is sin: the image of God in man becomes lost, corrupted, obscured, by layers and layers of evil, piling up for millennia since the time of Adam. We have lost communion with God, the life of paradise for which we were created, and have become slaves of foreign masters.

The first humans were so glorious and pure we would hardly recognize them. It would be like people living in a muddy swamp who meet someone clean for the first time. Though in a saint – like Mother Teresa who was canonized last week – we do glimpse something of our true nature and dignity.

This is the meaning of the parable of the lost coin. (1) Like the woman in the parable, our soul finds itself widowed of its true lord. Our soul should be joined to God in an eternal covenant, but when we are born our soul is cut off, lost, widowed.

Like the woman with her ten silver coins, we find several blessings in our life, as mentioned: intellect, free will, etc. Yet no matter what good we accomplish by means of these gifts, there is that one “coin” that is all-important but missing: the one showing God’s imprint. Without it, none of the other riches really matter. The coin we have lost and can’t seem to find, is our true dignity, the image of God in us. It is the beauty and sanctifying grace we lost through sin, which Christ restores to us.

When we find Jesus Christ, we see the perfect image of the Father – the perfect “coin” bearing the Father’s imprint. And in finding him we also find what is missing in ourselves. Jesus, the God-Man, is the perfect man, the pattern according to which we were first created, and what we should be. In him we rediscover (“find”) our lost dignity as children of God. Jesus restores us to the union with God that was lost, and provides the one thing that gives all the other good things their meaning: “sanctifying grace.” Jesus is Divine Mercy.

The house in which the woman searches represents our life. God’s dignity is inside us somewhere, but it is buried. We must find it inside. Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). This is what he means: deep within our own life, within our own soul, is God’s image. We must find it, clean it, restore it, let it shine forth. This is what our Lord Jesus accomplishes through baptism and the sacraments: the regeneration of our soul in its divine glory.

The parable tells us that to find the lost coin, the woman had to “light a lamp” and “sweep the house.” The lamp is God’s Word, the Gospel of Christ, which through our reason and intelligence leads us to God. Psalm 119 (v105) says, “Lord, your word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Scripture, and the Gospel, leads to repentance, faith, and baptism, the sacrament of illumination.

It is this light of baptismal faith which allows us to see our life in all truth. That truth is humbling, it can be harsh, because it exposes the flaws and blemishes. But this is what the woman does, and it is what we need to do: allow the light of the Gospel to fully illuminate our lives so that we can recognize the dirt, and find the lost coin.

When the woman “sweeps the house,” it means she engages in the hard work of repentance. Catholics know, we must go to confession regularly and repeatedly, peeling back the layers, exposing the soul more deeply to the healing light of God’s mercy. Again, the focus of mercy is not simply the sins which need to be forgiven – in the parables the Father pays little attention to the actual sins committed – the focus of mercy is the rediscovery and restoration of the lost dignity. Confession doesn’t simply forgive the punishment due for sins, it returns us to our true ‘self,’ the person God made us to be. It gives us back our innocence and purity, sanctifying grace.

In the end there is rejoicing. The woman brings all her friends together for a great celebration. When we find Christ, and recognize our dignity, and allow it to shine forth through the other virtues God has blessed us with, we experience joy and peace, communion with God, thanksgiving, peace. All the friends and neighbors represent the different aspects of our life: our work, our hobbies, the things we do, above all the people in our life. There is a true reconciliation that takes place: with God, others, the world, our self. Our life becomes purposeful and meaningful. Before, our life was dissipated, wasted; now it is living again.

Through Christ our dignity is restored, our life returns to its fundamental purpose, which is the praise and glory of God our maker. That is a beautiful life, a life full of strength and meaning. Life in Christ is a celebration, a thanksgiving, a Eucharist.

A life like that, lived by a son or daughter of God, is a life that heaven rejoices over, it is in fact the beginning of heaven. Every time another human being discovers his lost dignity by finding Christ and being converted to God, the angels of heaven rejoice. Let us take this parable and apply it to ourselves, so that we too may experience this joy. Let us find again the beautiful coin within us that bears the imprint of God, and allow its glory to shine through us.

(1)  Cf. St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity (12).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Philemon & Onesimus

September 4, 2016

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Wis; Ps 90; Phm; Lk 14:25-33)

The letter to Philemon is one of the shortest books in the Bible, only a few verses long. Yet it has changed the world! Onesimus was a runaway slave who ended up with St. Paul, but St. Paul must send him back to his former master, to whom he belongs. In this brief letter, St. Paul asks the owner, a friend named Philemon, to accept him back graciously.

It is a very interesting situation, because nowhere in the letter does St. Paul condemn slavery, or justify this man running away, which we may have expected. Slavery as an economic institution is not condemned. The fact that there are property owners, and a servant class working in every household, is accepted as a normal part of all ancient societies.

But the Bible, and Christianity in particular, has much to say about how individuals are treated, and Christianity led quickly to the abolition of slavery as a social institution once the Roman Empire became Christian. And when slavery reared its ugly head again during colonial times, Christianity, again, became the force that abolished this practice. Throughout history, Christianity has been the only force that opposes and eliminates the institution of slavery.

Even though St. Paul is sending back a runaway slave to his former master, his accompanying letter deals the death-blow to slavery. Because he tells Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as a piece of property, not simply as a slave. He reminds Philemon that Onesimus is more than a slave, he is his brother!

Christianity proclaims the universal brotherhood of man, and therefore the moral equality of persons, that nullifies any practice which views persons only in terms of productivity, or economics, reducing people to their economic value. Even though the economy sees workers as a commodity, or in terms of the value their labor provides, a Christian can never view workers simply as property to be disposed of; and when a society becomes Christian such a practice must end. Slavery means treating someone as property, not as a person with equal and inalienable rights.

St. Paul’s brief letter to Philemon reveals something startling that Christianity accomplished in the Roman Empire, something that had never been heard of before: a master and a slave, who belong to two entirely different socio- economic levels, come to church as complete equals.

“Out there” in the world of economics, it is a fact that you have differences: there are the rich and the poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’, the masters and the servants. But “in here” in the world of the Church, all are equal, all are “brethren” to each other. No one is better, no one is higher, no one is superior, money and economics do not matter. Only Christianity overcomes this social inequality, only the Catholic Church erases the barriers economics puts between people.

Something of this wisdom can be seen in the Gospel, where Jesus teaches the need to “hate” one’s loved ones, and one’s own life, and renounce possessions, in order to follow him. Jesus teaches us to view human relationships from the perspective of our final goal, which is the eternal life of heaven.

Because of sin and the concupiscence of our fallen condition, we tend to love the wrong things, or love in the wrong way. God must be loved first and above all else; all other things must be loved only “in God,” subordinated to Him and ordered by the theological virtue of charity. So often when we say we love, it is not love at all but selfishness. Moreover, some things must not be loved at all, such as possessions and wealth. They must be renounced!

Because of concupiscence we love material things, and use people as means to selfish ends. This is the origin of slavery and all forms of mistreatment of employees: using people to get rich, paying as low wages as possible, establishing work schedules that put the pursuit of wealth above the needs of family and true spiritual good, working on Sundays… This is also why we mistreat our “loved ones,” taking them for granted, taking advantage of their kindness and sacrifice, allowing them to serve us but not doing our part in return…

By saying we should “hate” our parents and spouses, Jesus is telling us to step back, detach from an unhealthy misuse of love, and see our loved ones more objectively, for who they in fact are. He is using a strong statement to open our eyes. In fact Jesus is calling us to the kind of freedom that will enable us to finally love truly, with proper respect and consideration of persons, free of self-interest and the terrible tendency to use persons for our own ends. Likewise, his teaching will cause us to stop loving money and possessions, to which we cling, and start learning how to use them for our needs, and our true end. Instead of using people and loving things, which is the wisdom of the world, we are to love persons and use things, which is the wisdom of God.

Religious make three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Poverty is the renunciation of things, as Jesus requires in today’s Gospel. It means possessions are not held that are unnecessary, and it means possessions are used only insofar as they lead to the final good which is God. It means freedom with regard to material things, and justice with regard to way they shared.

Chastity is the renunciation of exclusive relationships, and the selfishness which tends to be a part of our human relationships, as Jesus requires in today’s Gospel. It accomplishes the same thing with regard to people as poverty does with regard to material things. Through chastity, self-interest in relationships is surrendered – including the most pernicious “using of people” which is lust – and people are seen in the way St. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus, as “brethren.” Chastity is not freedom from people, it is the freedom to truly love all people in the Lord, through the love of Christ.

Finally, obedience is the renunciation of one’s self, one’s own life, one’s will. Obedience means God’s will and the common good supplant my selfish will that sees my good as the highest and most important.

The elimination of the institution of slavery in a society is one of the special and beautiful signs that the society has been blessed with Christianity. It is one of the good things that follow, when we embrace the teaching of the Gospel, and the wisdom of God.

It is only the beginning. Every aspect of our lives, including family life, will be transformed when we embrace the teachings of Jesus, and attain that freedom of renunciation, of which he speaks: freedom from greed and self interest, freedom for love.

Rev. Glen Mulla

Approach Mt. Zion

August 28, 2016

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Hb 12; Lk 14:7-14)

“You have drawn near to Mt. Zion and the city of the living God…” The letter to the Hebrews shows the difference between the Old and New Testaments. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert, to make a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai, they were afraid to come near His presence on the mountain, which was covered with a dark cloud, blazing fire, and trumpet blast. Moses went up into God’s presence alone. Later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem and God filled it with the presence of His glory, only the high priest, once a year, would enter the Holy of Holies.

But now as Christians, through Jesus Christ, we approach the heavenly worship of Mt Zion directly. With Christ our high priest, we enter heaven itself, and approach the throne of God the Father. All the baptized share in Christ’s priesthood, are members of his Body, and therefore enter into the intimacy of the Holy Trinity “through him, with him, and in him.”

This is not just referring to after death, when our souls come before God in the beatific vision of heaven. This takes place now, already, while we are on earth. At Mass, all Christians hear God’s voice directly, as He speaks to us through Christ in the Scriptures. We worship Him not from afar, but immediately, by our participation in the liturgy. All sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy” together with “myriads of angels in festal gathering.” At Mass we join with all the saints in heaven—“the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven… the spirits of just men made perfect.” At the celebration of the Eucharist, the barrier between heaven and earth which existed in the Old covenant, dissolve.

The Mass is not an earthly “worship service,” invented by men to mimick a staged performance or concert. The Mass is a transcendent event, given to us by Christ, in fulfillment of the Old Testament Temple worship which began at Mt. Sinai. It is a heavenly worship service, which is why the Mass is very different from other regular human events, and should feel entirely different from anything else. From the music to the architecture to our comportment, we need to have the awareness that we are approaching here something beyond this world: we are drawing near to Mount Zion, to God’s heavenly throne.

And so, we enter the Holy of Holies with reverence and humility.

I first felt the privilege of being able to “draw near to God’s presence” when I became an altar boy after my First Communion. Even though I was just as close to God worshipping from the nave, helping the priest at the altar in the sanctuary emphasized for me the privilege I had as a Christian. Being an altar server helped me pay more attention at Mass—not take for granted the ability to worship God through the Eucharist, to call God “Our Father,” and receive Jesus in Holy Communion. In the Old Testament only Moses and the high priests had that kind of privilege, and even then the high priest could only go into the sanctuary once a year. Here I was able to do it every week, and even daily.

Christ gives us a great privilege, he enables us to have a greater intimacy with God than even Moses or Elijah had. Sometimes Christians take this privilege for granted, forgetting that we are still sinners, and that it is a gift for which we must be grateful. Even though Christ allows us to approach the heavenly throne as children of God, we must still remember the respect we owe to God as His children, never take it for granted, and never presume it is something owed us.

In the Gospel Jesus reminds us of the need for humility when we come to the banquet. Just because we can come to Mass anytime—not as strangers who need to be welcomed—but as members of the family of God, that doesn’t mean we treat the Church like any other social gathering. This is not an auditorium or theater, and it’s not the place to be distracted with worldly socializing. In here, the focus is upon God our heavenly Father, upon the throne of God which is His altar, upon the Presence of God which is in the tabernacle, upon the sacrifice of the Lamb which is the Eucharist. We must be reverent.

If we go to any formal (earthly) banquet there are certain protocols to follow. You have to dress appropriately. You find your rightful place that has your namecard. You don’t get up and move around or talk while the main speaker has the stand. All these things show the importance of the event, and the privilege of being there.

Even the informal banquets – the meals which take place in our homes – have their protocols. At least they did in my house when I was growing up. Each child had his special place to sit (usually based on age). No one could eat until all were together and said grace. No one could get up and leave without permission. The tv had to be turned off. We had to eat and speak respectfully, participating in the conversation and sharing ourselves.

And so in the Gospel Jesus reminds us of the “protocol” necessary for joining his banquet. The most important thing is humility: to recognize the importance of the event by our gestures and attitudes.

First of all, everyone is equally important. The Mass is open to any believer. No matter what country or language the Mass is, every Catholic Church is our home. None of us has more of a right to be here than anyone else. Secondly, we defer to our host, Jesus, acknowledging him to be the center. That is why we don’t talk out loud in Church unless we are praising God. We also genuflect, dropping our knee to the floor, as an act of greeting and humility.

Jesus shows each of us our proper place. The Catholic Church is not one where anyone who wants to can go up front and lead for a while and make themselves the center of attention. Including the priest. Jesus specifically calls each of us to our task. I prefer the original option for celebrating the Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people, toward the altar. That way our focus at Mass is not the priest, but the Lord, and His altar.

When I was a child, it was a privilege to be called up from the pew to serve at the altar, directly assisting the priestly activity. Later as a youth, it was a privilege to be invited by the Lord to come up from the life of the laity, to the vocation of the priesthood, to share by my own life, in the priestly activity of Christ the head and shepherd, and stand “in persona Christi.”

This was never something I sought or expected: I never saw the priesthood as “my place” in the Church, it was a true invitation from the Lord to come up and occupy that seat at the Eucharistic banquet.

Each of us is called to work with Jesus in the Kingdom. Most of us are surprised when we are called to occupy a different seat, to become more involved or assume a greater participation. Most of us are going to be surprised when we really listen to what God is asking, and where He would like us to be in the Church. But we don’t find our calling by putting ourselves first. It begins with reverence and humility.

Jesus told the Pharisee he should give banquet for the poor and the crippled and the blind. In fact, this is what God has done: provided a sumptuous banquet of eternal life for blind, ignorant, stumbling sinners who could never in the least repay Him. We are the lowest place, yet God has invited us up to the intimacy of His own table, into communion with Himself. Our humility and reverence is the least we can do, in response to a God who is, surprisingly, humble to the point of reverence, toward us.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Who is Saved?

August 21, 2016

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 13:22-30)

Throughout his ministry, people asked Jesus the wrong questions. And in a firm way Jesus would correct them: Lord, why do you eat with sinners? Who is my neighbor? Good master, what must I do to be saved? Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law? Lord, can we sit at your right hand and left when you come into your kingdom? Lord, should I forgive my neighbour 7 times?

Each of these questions became an occasion for Jesus to teach a deeper truth about the Kingdom, and he would do so with a parable. He would not answer the question directly, because it was being asked wrongly.

In today’s Gospel there is another question: “Lord, are they few in number who are to be saved?” Jesus never answers the question, because it’s the wrong question to ask. It is not for us to worry about how many people are saved. If we’re asking that question, it means we are making judgements about people, which is not our place but God’s alone. Moreover, for some reason, whoever asks that question always assumes they are among the saved.

So Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he uses a parable to refocus us on the deep mystery of salvation, which is surprising: “Some who are last will be first and some who think they’re first will be last!” On the one hand, “few will be saved,” because for man it is impossible and the gate is narrow. On the other hand, Jesus implies that surprisingly many non-Jews, “from the east and west, north and south,” will take their place at the feast.

In the course of 2000 years, the Church has reflected upon and articulated the doctrine of Salvation. First of all, Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone. He is the only mediator between God and men. Anyone who is saved, is saved through faith in Christ. Period. Additionally, those who are united to Christ form his one single Body, the Church. So there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ, and there is no salvation outside his Church, the Catholic Church.

Yet, that doesn’t exclude hope of salvation for every person, even those whom we consider “outside” the Church. The word “Catholic” is key to the doctrine of salvation, because the covenant of salvation which Christ inaugurated through his death and resurrection is an eternal and universal covenant, which fulfills and supplants the old covenants, opening up the possibility of salvation for the whole world, for everyone.

The first meaning of the word “Catholic” is that it includes the Jews – the faithful of the Old Testament. (1) All the saints of the OT, who belonged to the earlier covenant of Moses and Abraham, belong to the Church, because they were part of the covenant that prefigured the Church. Even though Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and Daniel weren’t registered in any parish baptism register, we certainly honour them as saints in the Body of Christ. They believed in Christ, served him, and awaited him, even though they did it from a distance, through prophecy. The circumcision of Abraham and the Law of Moses do not actually save, but they prefigure and prepare those who embrace it for salvation, when the Christ comes. It was by his descent to Sheol after his death that Christ announced the Gospel to these faithful, and opened heaven to them (1P 3:19).

Thus we understand the mystery of salvation in terms of covenants. It is the new and eternal Covenant of Christ, sealed in his Blood at the Last Supper, which saves. But those who belonged to earlier covenants – namely, the covenants with Abraham and Moses – are included by virtue of faith and hope. Christ’s covenant doesn’t end the previous ones, it includes, perfects, and fulfills them.

Likewise, before Abraham and Moses there was the primordial covenant God made with Noah, who was the father of all the various nations that spread throughout the world – including those mentioned by Isaiah. This covenant includes, remotely, the promise of salvation. The ark is the first Old Testament image of the Church! Many people around the world, who are not baptised Christians, are nevertheless seeking to be faithful to the covenant God made with Noah, by honoring God as the author of life, and respecting their fellow man.

So, in some mysterious way, God is at work in every human heart, offering the possibility of salvation, planting the seeds of hope, even if no one has yet brought the fullness of truth and the fulfillment of hope, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church sees in every human being a brother, someone created in the image of God like ourselves, waiting and longing for salvation. God’s goodness, like the sun, shines on the whole human race. God’s promise of redemption, like the rainbow, is given to every people. God began the plan of salvation from the moment of the fall, from the time of the Flood.

Wherever we find truth or goodness, there is already the “seed of the Gospel.” Telling people about Jesus fills out the picture for them, and brings them from an older covenant into the new and eternal covenant. Preaching the Gospel and baptizing nations doesn’t start the work of salvation, it finishes it.

How urgent, then, is the mission to evangelize. And more urgent because the way is difficult, and the gate narrow. It is hard enough to enter even with the benefit of the Gospel. But how easy it is to fall into sin and error without it. Imagine how hard it would be to live uprightly, trying to find the full truth on one’s own, without the guidance and teaching of the Church. How much suffering and violence do people have to endure when they have to discover the 10 commandments the hard way!

How hard it would be to find the narrow pathway to salvation without the light of Jesus, the revelation of Scripture, the guidance of the Church, the example of the saints, the grace of the sacraments!

Yes, people can be saved even though they are not baptised Catholics, by virtue of earlier covenants, but it is not easy. We should not be judging which pagans are going to hell; some of them are doing better than us, despite having less. Instead, we should be running out to announce to them the Gospel we know, which they need to know.

The people we should be worried about going to heaven is ourselves. We have been given everything by God. The truth of the Gospel, plain as day, is announced day after day from this very pulpit. We have in the sacrament of the Eucharist the very reality of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is Heaven, right there, given to us each day as our bread. Yet we can end up being the ones who know Jesus the least, and appreciate him the least.

Just because we are baptised; just because our names are written in a parish register; just because we complete our sacraments and eat and drink with the Lord at Mass—does not mean we have our guaranteed place at the feast. The master of the house will say to those people: “I do not know you. Away from me, evildoers.”

Surely if we are united completely with God that should show in our lives. Jesus says “You must be light for the world.” “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” St. John says in his letter: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him… This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live just as he lived” (1 Jn 2:4-6).

So as for “how many” will be saved, the only thing we know for sure is that we are going to be surprised. We will be surprised who is in heaven, who is not, and most of all that we were let in.

(1)  This is the meaning of the 144,000 in Rv 7:4-8.

Rev. Glen Mullan

PC Culture

August 14, 2016

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Jer 38; Hb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53)

“Political Correctness” refers to a culture where language is artificially controlled by the powers (political, media, etc), in order to enforce an agenda of lies under the pretense of not offending people.

“Political Correctness” enforces its agenda via intimidation and falsely labeling the violator a “hater.” (This is what happened with Jeremiah in the first reading: “He demoralizes the city! He is not concerned for its welfare!”).

The effect of political correctness is to shut down free speech, religious liberty, and independent thinking. It cultivates an oppressive uniformity for the sake of a false sense of “peace.” Marxist and Communist societies are famous for this artificial political correctness imposed on its citizens. But it is just as big a problem for us.

Thus for instance, being pro-life is politically incorrect, and incurs the false labels of being “anti-choice,” anti-women’s rights, violent extremist, intolerant and judgmental, and many other things. Those who oppose the lie of abortion will never receive favorable treatment in the media, and will have difficulty ever succeeding as a politician. It is simply not permitted.

Today’s readings deal with the topic of “Political Correctness,” even if they don’t actually use that term. Instead, the Bible speaks about being a prophet. A prophet can be accurately defined as someone who is “politically incorrect.” In other words, he (1) confronts the false religion imposed by the lies of the evil one, and speaks the truth which comes from God. Sometimes he will do this positively, by highlighting the good and reasonable qualities of the Truth which comes from God, and sometimes he will need to do this negatively, by confronting and opposing the false narrative which is being enforced through the media.

When political correctness is deeply entrenched, and the complacency profound, the prophet must go to great lengths to expose the lies, and make a deliberately bold statement in order that people see and hear. Hosea married a prostitute in order to confront his society with their infidelity to God. John the Baptist lived a radical lifestyle in the desert, being labeled by some as a madman, in order to get people’s attention and prepare their lives for the Messiah.

The Bible, from beginning to end, shows examples of prophets, and how hard they worked to convey the word of God in the face of obstinate ignorance, and powerful false belief. “Thus says the Lord…” is their refrain. The Bible also shows what persecution and rejection the prophets suffered for their effort. Elijah was hunted down by Jezebel who wanted to kill him. Jonah did everything possible to avoid being the prophet in the first place! John the Baptist suffered what most prophets – and politically incorrect people – suffer: he got his head cut off for speaking out. It’s not politically correct to say divorce is a sin, especially when you are talking to the queen, who thinks she is above the law.

The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah, a great prophet! Called from his youth, he lived all his life experiencing opposition and extreme hatred for everything he said and did. He too was a reluctant prophet, but God promised him the necessary gifts for his vocation: “Whatever I command you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you. Behold, I have put my words in your mouth, to pluck up and break down, to overthrow and destroy. Do not be dismayed, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, a wall of bronze against them” (Jer 1:4-19).

Jeremiah lived at the time God visited the nation with calamity for its sins, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. The people were absolutely entrenched in a false sense of complacency carefully maintained by the leaders. Jeremiah desperately preached against this, seeking to awaken the people to their dangerous reality, boldly foretelling the destruction of the Temple and Holy City. This was very politically incorrect. And as we heard, Jeremiah was accused of demoralizing the people, of not being interested in their welfare, but rather causing their ruin. They threw him into a pit and left him for dead.

Jeremiah wasn’t preaching against the Temple or the City or the people, which he loved. Jeremiah had no desire to cause offence. It was Charity, and a clear recognition of Truth, that motivated him. You can’t abandon God in practice, and still expect Him to pour His blessings on your city, relying on the fact that you are God’s “Chosen People.” It’s a message we ought to pay attention to again in our own day.

The supreme prophet, “prophet of prophets,” is of course Jesus. We need to go back and read the four Gospels anew, and get to know Jesus again, as he really was. Because there is a very “politically correct” understanding of Jesus out there, oftentimes cultivated and maintained by people in the Church. A version of Jesus that says he was a nice guy, who accepted everybody and helped people to get along, and made people feel good about themselves. A pacifist, who is celebrated at the “Sign of Peace” with hugs and high fives. Yet listen to Jesus on this topic, in his own words: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. I have come to set the earth on fire!” Jesus brings not peace on earth, but opposition, upheaval, disagreement, confrontation, division. (2) And this, with that person you just hugged. Jesus is a “no-holds-barred” “burn- this-place-to-the-ground” prophet. No one was more “politically incorrect” than Jesus. No one cared less about maintaining the phony, “inoffensive” status quo, which is not peace at all but a lie.

Jesus, in charity, was never afraid to offend. He called out the corrupt king Herod who murdered John the Baptist as a “sly fox” (Lk 13:32). He accused the high priests and religious leaders of being frauds and phonies, publicly castigating them as “white-washed tombs” that look good on the outside but inside are filled with corruption, decay, and “dead men’s bones” (Mt 23:27). On his own initiative he presumed to overthrow the money-changers’ tables in the temple precinct, wielding a whip (Jn 2:15-16). He referred to his useless followers who produced no spiritual fruit as “worthless wretches” who would be taken out with the trash to eaten by worms for all eternity in the garbage pits of Gehenna (Mt 10:28, 23:33, 25:30, etc.). Jesus so antagonized and scandalized even his own followers by what he said, that they stopped following him (Jn 6:66). And rather than apologize or try smooth things over, he doubled down, asking the twelve if they would leave too (Jn 6:67). And remember what he said about Judas? It would have been better for that “son of perdition” never to have been born (Jn 6:70, 17:12, Mt 26:24). When teaching his followers about religion and whether to be inclusive about giving the Eucharist to non-believers, he would say things like, “don’t throw your pearls before swine, don’t give what is holy to the dogs” (Mt 7:6).

Is it any wonder then, that Jesus incurred the wrath of people? Is it any surprise that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem actually joined forces with their archenemy, the Roman authorities, and conspired with Pontius Pilate to stop him? Jesus caused Herod and Pilate to become friends! (Lk 23:12). They not only “taught him a lesson” by giving him a horrible Roman scourging, like Pilate suggested, but on top of that they subjected Jesus to the worst the Romans had in terms of torture: death by crucifixion.

All because he spoke out. He defied the establishment, stepped on toes, challenged their way of thinking and their lifestyle, spoke the Truth from God (Jn 18:37). The second reading from Hebrews urges us to think often on what happened to Jesus, in order to become true Christians ourselves: “Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. After all, you haven’t yet shed your blood” (cf. Hb 12:3).

Political correctness sounds innocuous at first. But it becomes a tyranny imposed by the evil one to enslave people under a dominion of lies. And he makes full use of the powers in a society to enforce his will. He will not tolerate opposition, or disagreement. He will do everything in his power to shut up and cut off the voice of God, the voice which speaks through Jesus his Servant, and which spoke through all the prophets of the old and new testaments.

Through Baptism and especially through Confirmation, we are anointed to be prophets of God, prophets of the Truth. We do not seek to offend, but we are obligated to speak the Truth, in charity, no matter the opposition it may cause, no regardless of the division it may cause. Like Jesus, and Jeremiah, and St. Paul, and all the great prophets, we have to say things at times that are uncomfortable, things that get us in trouble, things that divide and take away the false peace of the world. Even within our own households. We truly bring a sword and fire – Spirit and Word – which cut and divide, burn and purify.

The letter to the Hebrews encourages us in this Christian task of being politically incorrect, faithful to God, by reminding us of the saints and martyrs of old: “Brethren, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

(1) To be politically incorrect – and not artificial – I use “he” here in its generic, inclusive sense.  😉
(2) Later he would say, “Not as the world gives peace, do I give peace…” (Jn 14:27).
 

Rev. Glen Mullan

Jewish Weddings

August 7, 2016

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 12:32-48)

“When the cat is away, the mice begin to play.” Our true character is revealed when we are not being watched, when the person over us has gone away. This is the case at home with children, when the parents have to leave for a while; it happens in the classroom when the teacher has to step out; it happens at work when the boss is on vacation.

When the parents return, or the teacher, or the boss, they find that many people shunned their responsibilities, becoming lazy and irresponsible. Or the one left in charge let the authority go to his head, bossing the others around. Or the others wouldn’t listen to the person left in charge. Blessed are those, however, who somehow continued to do their work, trying to follow the rules left by the parents or teacher or boss, trying not to engage in the disrespect and disobedience, and suffering as a result.

Jesus sets forth a parable in the Gospel, not as it applies to the home, the school, or the workplace, but as it applies to Christian life in the Church. Jesus is the King, who through baptism has dominion over our lives. We are his servants, citizens in the Kingdom of God with duties and obligations to honor our King and serve our neighbor.

But the Church is in the situation where the King is “away,” and we have to fulfill all our duties without the benefit of his presence. He has not abandoned or neglected us – he left us divine food (Eucharist), instructions (Word of God), treasury of grace (Healing Sacraments), and individuals appointed to watch over and care for the little flock (Pope and Bishops). But he has to go; he is currently in heaven at the right hand of the Father, as he said at the Last Supper, “preparing a place for us, so that where he is, we also might (soon) be” (cf. Jn 14:2-3).

Why did Jesus leave us in this situation, and why is he taking so long to return? What does it mean for us to “gird our loins” and “light our lamps”? Jesus gives us the explanation when he says, “be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding.” We need to understand a Jewish wedding.

A Jewish wedding begins with “betrothal.” This is where the actual contract takes place. The groom visits the bride’s family, offers the dowry, and with the consent of the bride enters into the binding legal covenant. Then, the groom leaves and doesn’t return for a while, and the bride has to wait, with all the bridesmaids. In this time she veils herself and prepares for her new life.

Meanwhile, the groom has returned to his father’s house, where he prepares a place for his bride. She is going to become part of his father’s household, and so the groom prepares a room, a bridal chamber, where he will be able to consummate the marriage, sealing the covenant, and begin a new family of his own. The best man and the groom’s friends help him get ready.

How long will this take? No one knows; it will take as long as it takes, until the room is ready. “Only the father knows.” The father has to inspect the room his son is preparing and determine if it is adequate, worthy of his house, and of the beautiful bride. The canopy (“chuppah”) used at modern Jewish weddings is a reference to this wedding chamber.

Now the groom, eagerly and without delay goes with his friends to collect his bride. It doesn’t matter the hour. As the procession nears her home, the trumpet (“shofar”) is sounded and the bride, veiled, comes forth with her bridesmaids, lamps burning if it happens to be at night. The best man has the particular duty to accompany the bride and present her to the groom, as the procession makes its way to the bridal chamber, where the bride and groom enter in together, to lift the veil and consummate their love.

The best man waits to announce this new reality that has come into being with the marriage of man and wife, at which point the great wedding banquet can begin, a festival of shared joy that lasts for seven days.

Jesus has betrothed his bride to himself, making the covenant in his own blood. He is currently away because he is “preparing a room in his Father’s house.” He desires that where he is, his bride will soon be. “Only the Father knows” the day or the hour when all will be ready. It will likely be midnight, the second or third watch of the night. Moreover, he is the king, and that makes his bride a royal bride, and his wedding a matter of universal import.

It’s not just the groom who has preparations to undertake, the bride must also get ready. And so Jesus urges the Church in the Gospel, to “gird your loins” and “light your lamps.”

“Girding your loins” refers to the way the robe is collected and tied up so that the arms and legs are free for movement, for work. “Lighting your lamps” refers to staying up and watching at night, keeping “vigil.” This is a beautiful way Jesus refers to prayer. Prayer does not simply consist of asking things from God – Petitions – prayer consists above all in longing for God, looking for Him, seeking Him. Prayer means always being awake, attentive, mindful of God, never asleep, forgetful. The Church has always cultivated this sense of “vigilant” prayer, and regularly celebrates feastdays with nighttime “vigils.”

We know that in the Lord’s absence, the Church has suffered from the problems he describes, of laziness and bossiness. Many Catholics have lost their zeal and dedication. They become morally lax, and lukewarm in charity. Likewise, Christianity has suffered greatly from the failure of the stewards left in charge to fulfill their service with love and devotion. As history shows, not all have done their job well, which is to nourish the flock. Some misused their position, abusing and hurting those they should have been serving. Likewise, many of the flock have been disobedient and disrespectful, sometimes rejecting their authority. There are entire groups of Christians today, who reject and refuse to accept the authority of the pope and bishops, whom Jesus left in charge of the Church before his departure: the clergy, who like John the Baptist carry out the solemn role of the “best man.”

And so imagine the Lord’s disappointment if he returns on the final day, and finds his Bride the Church, not only unprepared, but in disarray. Imagine his sorrow to find that in many cases his people even forgot about him, forgot about the Kingdom, even started giving their love and affection to false suitors.

Maybe this is why the Father delays the second coming – not because the Son is not ready, but because the Bride on earth has failed to “gird the loins” and “light the lamps.” We have failed to fulfill our task of evangelization, and to wait for the Lord in prayer with love and affection and longing. We are not yet ready for that great wedding banquet. And so the Lord delays…

Be like servants who await their master’s return from a betrothal! Blessed are the faithful and prudent servants, whom the master on his arrival finds doing what they are supposed to. Who waited on him and served him in the poor, who respected and loved him in his ministers, who evangelized, who were diligent in following his every instruction. They will be put in charge, and they themselves will be waited on by the Lord, in the unimaginable banquet he is preparing.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Seek What is Above

July 31, 2016

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Eccl; Col 3:1-5; Lk 12:13-21)

What is your “philosophy of life”? Jesus mentions one: “Rest, eat, drink, be merry.” For many people, maybe most, that is what they work for: the day when they can kick back, have all the money they need, and enjoy life.

The book of Ecclesiastes mentions another attitude: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” This is the philosophy people take up when they give up on the first one. A lot of people, after working hard to “rest, eat, drink, be merry,” find they can never reach that goal. Too many things come up that keep pushing the goal further and further away.

The economy changes and they lose their job. Sickness. Separation or divorce. Many people have a “mid-life” crisis. They wake up one day and realize they still they haven’t achieved their goals. Life has disappointed them, and their optimism changes to pessimism. The philosophy of Ecclesiastes depicts this cynical view of life: “all is in vain.” You work hard, but despite your efforts, it amounts to nothing. The goal of “rest, eat, drink, be merry” turns out to be a “striving after wind” (Eccl 1:17). All you end up with for your labors are sorrow and disappointment.

Ecclesiastes is a very important book, because almost every human being experiences at some point that deep pessimism and cynicism about life: “Vanity of vanities, everything is in vain!” What is the point? Why keep trying? It is all for nothing, you may as well get what you can now because soon you will be dead.

People tend to be caught between these two philosophies of life. It’s either the fantasy of “rest, eat, drink, be happy” or when that fails, it’s the despair of “all things are vanity.” To illustrate this, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who keeps building bigger and bigger barns to store his riches, planning to “rest, eat, drink, be merry,” but ends up finding that “everything is vanity” because he dies before he can enjoy them.

Jesus teaches a different philosophy. He says our treasure must be “in heaven,” where it cannot be stolen or damaged (Mt 6:19-21). Jesus says if we seek our life in this world we will lose it, but if we lose our life in this world we will keep it safe for the next (Lk 9:24). Jesus went so far as to say we must give away our possessions, that they are a trap (Mt 19:21).

St. Paul articulates this other way of life in his letter to the Colossians: “Brethren, you are raised with Christ. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our philosophy centers on heaven, on what happens beyond this life.

The mistake with both of these other philosophies is that their horizn or perspective is limited to this world. What changes everything is the certainty that our destiny – our “finality” – is the next life. The horizon of our life is beyond this world, it is an eternal existence with God.

Few philosophers are able to appreciate what this means. It takes the special gift of Revelation, and the gift of faith that comes from Jesus, to really know about the Resurrection and life with God in heaven. Life after death is not easy to prove. A lot of people think they believe in the next life, but how they actually live shows that their horizon is in fact limited to the pursuit of happiness in this life. There can be no doubt when someone is living the Christian philosophy: when your eyes are truly raised “to what is above, not what is on earth.” Those who can live like that have something special and unique in their life, freedom. They are able to renounce possessions, take up a difficult cross, and let everything go with absolute peace, joy, and indifference.

Jesus’ calls us to this freedom, and detachment from things of the world. He does not want us to work so hard for tomorrow that we forget to enjoy the gift of today (Mt 6:34). Jesus says we can trust God to provide for our daily needs, just as He provides for the sparrows in the air and the lilies in the fields (Mt 6:25-33).

When we die, we take nothing from the world with us. We came into this world without anything, we will leave this world without even being able to take our physical body with us. Everything about this world points to our goal in the next world. This is the Christian philosophy.

But we do take with us the things of the soul, and it is possible to use the body and the things of the world to benefit the soul. The only way we can take something with us into the next life, is by “sending it ahead.” The things we will be able to keep in heaven are the things we give away on earth. What we invest now in others, and how we die now to ourselves, becomes a fruitfulness for God and a glory for our soul in heaven. On the other hand, whatever we cling to on earth, we will lose forever.

This was the error of the rich man in the Gospel. He had all that wealth, and he didn’t do anything with it. He tried to keep it for himself, and ended up wasting it—it didn’t help him at all. – or anyone else.

In our Christian philosophy of life, the only thing that matters in the end is what we will have in heaven. That means we need to use our riches and opportunities right now to increase our heavenly treasure.

We should not buy things we don’t need. We should not keep things we can’t use. And we should use all the things we have for the greater glory of God and our heavenly reward. There is a lot of money in our pockets which is spent on the wrong things and wasted.

It is amazing how much junk we all collect. Things which might seem important for some reason, but when we ask how it will really help us in terms of our heavenly goals, the answer is zero. We have plenty of unnecessary things in our lives that in the long run are useless.

It is also amazing how much trea0sure we actually have, that may be going to waste. Each of us has some blessing that we are probably not using like we should. Some people have extra money they could be put to good use, but it is just being hoarded.

But more than money, we have so much time that we squander on unimportant things, hiding or ignoring our capacity to be saints and “magnify the Lord” (Lk 1:46) in our life.

What is your philosophy of life? “Rest, eat and drink, be merry”? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity?” Or is it the Christian philosophy: “brothers, you were raised with Christ; seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”

Rev. Glen Mullan

Being the Ten

July 24, 2016

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Gn 18:20-32)

Two weeks ago in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus spoke of the man “going down” from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is an image of mankind’s fall: God’s holy city of Jerusalem represents the life of grace, whereas Jericho represents man’s earthly city and the life of sin.

Jerusalem is located high in the mountains. Jericho is located near the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth. Water flows into it from the Jordan River, but there is no outlet—it evaporates, leaving the lake full of salt and unable to sustain life. There were once two famous cities near Jericho and the shores of the Dead Sea, which embodied the fall of mankind, and these were Sodom and Gomorrah.

In the first reading, God speaks of the unspeakable sins of those cities, which “cry out to heaven for justice.” God has a dialogue with Abraham about whether He should destroy those cities, and Abraham intercedes with him, because his nephew Lot lives among them. God promises Abraham that even if there are only 10 righteous men living in those cities, He will be merciful, and will not destroy them.

But once Lot and his family leave Sodom, there are not even 10 of God’s people left, so at that point fire and brimstone rain down, making Sodom and Gomorrah living images of hell. Lot’s wife turned around to look back, and she was turned into one of the salt pillars that you still find along the Dead Sea today.

As long as there were ten men of God, He would spare the cities. Ten men represents a synagogue. God is telling us that as long as you have a “church,” a gathering of the faithful, even the bare minimum, that small sacred assembly can intercede for an evil society and God will have mercy upon it. But if the church disappears, there is nothing to hold back God’s justice.

The Old Testament says there are some sins that are so evil they literally “cry out to heaven” demanding Vengeance. One is murdering the innocent, as when Cain murdered his brother Abel in cold blood (Gn 4:10). Another is oppressing the poor with cruelty, as when Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites in Egypt. And the other sin that cries out to heaven is the unmentionable sin for which Sodom is infamous, men defiling the image of God through unnatural relations with each other.

All sin offends God, but some sins “cry out” for justice because they affront God more directly. God made man with a beautiful dignity: a human nature that is the image of God Himself. God’s plan for marriage and children is built into our human nature and expresses the image of God, who made man “male and female” in order to “be fruitful and multiply.” These sins in Sodom and Gomorrah insult the Creator because they directly and intentionally undermine this dignity.

Reading the account of this particular sin carefully (Genesis 19), you see that it is not simpy the case of individuals struggling in a personal way with the weakness of the flesh. Every human being has struggles with sinful tendencies – Abraham himself is an example of that – because Original Sin has wounded our human nature. Some people struggle with “same sex” feelings and tendencies that they didn’t necessarily cause, or have full control over. God is merciful to the struggling sinner, to the man or woman who recognizes a disorder in their lives, and is humble enough to turn to Him for help and healing as they struggle to live out the 10 Commandments.

But that is not what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah. In these cities people were openly embracing a sinful lifestyle. More than that, they were insisting that everyone accept it as normal. When they discovered that Lot’s family did not agree with them, and condemned that lifestyle on religious grounds, they began a campaign of persecution, reserving a special viciousness for God’s messengers. They sought to desecrate God by defiling the purity of these angelic young men.

This is what was so terribly evil about those sins. Not simply that sinners were struggling with sinful tendencies. But rather that citizens of the world had rejected God in favor of a sinful lifestyle, and were defiant against His moral law which says this activity is prohibited. As a result, God turned those cities into places of fire and brimstone, showing that this sinful lifestyle, openly embraced, amounts to a rejection of God which leads to hell.

The similarities between Sodom and Gomorrah and our society today are striking. Sexual perversion is promoted as normal. Those who say it is wrong are accused of hatred, and persecuted. You cannot produce a movie or television show unless it deliberately features this lifestyle as acceptable.

Many Catholic Cathedrals, from Toronto to New York, have been desecrated by activists who interrupt the Mass, thrown human waste in the church, and trample the Eucharist. Cardinal Arinze was openly mocked when he gave a commencement address at Georgetown University and spoke of the institution of marriage.

Just as happened with Lot’s family and God’s messengers, the Catholic Church and those who uphold its teachings, are attacked. They are labeled as “haters,” criticized for being “judgmental,” and accused of “imposing their views” on others.

To uphold a moral law is not to impose one’s personal views on someone else. Moral laws are not “personal opinions.” They are objective realities which God has written into human nature. Nature itself has the laws; we are not imposing anything when we learn and explain them. On the other hand, when the laws of nature are denied and everyone is pressured go along with it, or the supreme court decrees that the denial of marriage is marriage, that is when you have people trying to “impose their views on everyone else.” That is what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah, and that is what is happening in our society today. Evil works through lies.

God is merciful – He is infinitely merciful – but when mankind defiantly tells God that we make the moral laws instead of Him, and when we defile the dignity of His image that He has put in us, these are the sins that “cry out to heaven.”

As Catholics, we our like Abraham, and Lot’s family. We have to live in the midst of these fallen societies, yet remaining faithful to God. We don’t belong to them, we belong to God, and we are committed to the divine and natural Law.

Lot’s wife “looked back” and was turned into a pillar of salt. She had a hard time resisting that place. She had been corrupted by its values. It is easy for that to happen to us as well. We can easily be seduced and corrupted by the society around us, and even start defending these practices. We start out as Catholics, but we end up supporting the murder of innocents and the destruction of marriage. And when we are called to be counter-cultural, we prefer to go along.

If we can’t protect our children and our families from these influences, we must leave, and look for another place. Maybe this means taking our children out of public school and look for a Catholic school, or homeschool. Maybe we have to avoid television and the movie theater altogether. One way or the other, we will have to confront this challenge: what does it mean to be God’s “synagogue,” His Church? What exactly is our role living in the midst of these cities?

Regardless of the world, at least in our parish – at least in our homes – we will support each other in our pro-life and pro-family commitments. We will form our children according to the dignity of the image of God in them and not the false values of Sodom and Gomorrah. We will have our struggles, none of us is perfect, God’s way is demanding, and we will be tempted. But the world proclaims a bold-faced lie. Only God’s law will lead to peace and joy. And God is merciful to the sinner.

When we fall (because we all do), we do not deny or rationalize but humbly confess we have done wrong and turn back to God for forgiveness. We never try to tell God He is wrong. We are not defiant. God continues to have mercy upon our society, for the purpose of conversion, and that defines the Church’s mission in such a place: God gave His Son to save us, and the Church is the instrument of the world’s salvation.

Like Abraham, we therefore pray and intercede for our society. We support those who struggle with sin, especially those in the Church who are vulnerable to being misled. And we announce the Gospel, begining with the call to conversion. It doesn’t matter that we are a small minority, “ten.” Fidelity to God will cause them to bang on our doors demanding we stop. That is the Pentecostal moment of witness, when our words can confront the lie, infused with all the power of heaven. It is the same Holy Spirit of Fire, coming down from heaven, that is hope and salvation for some, fire and brimstone for others.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Semper Agens, Semper Quietus

July 17, 2016 16th

Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 10:38-42)

St. Augustine speaks of God as “Semper agens, semper quietus,” always acting, always at rest. Every leaf that moves in the breeze, and every planet that moves through space, requires God’s action to explain its motion. God did not create the universe and then let it run by its own power. At every moment God is present through His heavenly host to sustain each thing in being, and in motion. God is “semper agens,” always active. Yet God Himself is unchanged and unchanging, ever One and simple, needing nothing beyond Himself. He is “semper quietus,” always at rest. Scripture depicts this by describing the 6-day work of creation culminating in the Sabbath day of rest. Though God is “active” in calling creation into being, He also “rests” in the enjoyment of it.

What is true of God as Creator continues in the Incarnation. Jesus lives a very active life, sometimes so active that he has no time to eat or sleep. And yet, as the apostles discover about him, there is a deep interior silence in him. He is constantly seeking solitude, he is discovered having spent all night in prayer. In the Transfiguration Jesus reveals his interior life: he is in constant communion with the Father and Holy Spirit in the glory of the beatific vision. Though he is “at work” in the world, Jesus is always peacefully beholding the Father in restful beatific vision.

Finally, this paradox of “semper agens, semper quietus” is found in the Church. Though very active in the world, the heart of the Church is a silent, contemplative “resting” in God called adoration. History focuses on the external institutions and activities of the Church, but if you want to know her most important truth, go to a monastery, hermitage, or adoration chapel.

The Gospel of Martha and Mary illustrates the interplay of work and prayer, being active in service of God while remaining quiet at the feet of God.

Martha working in the kitchen is the image of activity (semper agens): the apostolic life of service. She provides for the physical needs and hospitality of the Lord, a task the Church continues in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus is the image of rest (semper quietus): the contemplative life of prayer. She focuses her entire attention and love on Jesus, listening and taking to heart every word which comes from his mouth.

This is the secret to the Church’s ability to evangelize and transform societies, while Marxism, Socialism, and other “programs” fail. The Church knows the secret of prayer. It is manifested especially in her religious communities, which organize a particular way of life based on the interplay of Mary and Martha. One of the oldest of these Church-approved ways of life is the “Rule of St. Benedict,” which organizes monastic life. The motto of the Benedictines is “Ora et labora,” “Prayer and Work.”

The reason the Benedictine Rule has been so successful is because it has balanced Prayer and Work in a practical and concrete way for monks. Prayer makes the work meaningful and enjoyable, and the Work frees one to be able to pray and study, resting in God and devoted to the higher things in life. In other words, it is a rule of life that allows Martha to do her necessary work of serving, and Mary to do the important work of listening to Jesus, but it brings together the two dimensions in such a way that Prayer is the foundation, and doesn’t conflict with the Work.

Jesus will not accept any excuse for letting work become more important than prayer. Work and prayer go together, but prayer is the foundation. All the successful religious communities, are successful because they have managed to avoid any conflict between Martha and Mary. Religious life brings both of these dimensions together in a unified way, with the priority on prayer and contemplation. Semper agens, semper quietus.

It is instructive to examine the world’s alternative. Instead of “Pray and Work,” the world’s motto is “Play and Work,” with a very shallow understanding both of play and work. For the world, you work in order to be able to play and have fun. But we don’t have to look far to see how that leads to a dissipated life, bound up in destructive hedonism and selfishness; a life that ends up without meaning or fulfillment.

The world thinks spiritual people don’t know how to enjoy themselves, and wonder why they are not engrossed in the entertainment of the world. It is like people in a smoke-filled, stifling nightclub criticizing a mountain-trained athlete for not wanting to join them, and not understanding why.

St. Benedict, and the Christian Gospel, never mentions “Play” as a third option. “Having fun” i.e., “play,” can never be a goal of church ministry or youth programs. The Gospel depicts two dimensions of our life, an of those, “one thing is necessary!”

For us, play emerges from prayer and work as its fruit. Prayer becomes relaxation, and Work becomes thanksgiving. True “Fun” is the enjoyment or delight that results from a balanced spiritual life, properly lived according to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. Christians therefore use a different word that more adequately illustrates the concept of “play”: “recreation,” i.e., “re-creation.”

God, semper agens et semper quietus, is by definition “playing,” that is, enjoying and rejoicing and taking delight in the work of His hands. I.e., celebrating the Sabbath! Ora et labora is its own reward, with its own delight. And the harder the work, the more intense the prayer, the greater the thanksgiving and rejoicing.

Those who work in order to play have no peace. They are impatient, they complain, they are resentful. They take out their frustrations on others, like Martha did with Mary. Even though Martha is purportedly trying to make everything perfect for her guest, she’s missing the most important reason for his coming in the first place: to provide us the hospitality our spirit needs.

After hearing and being challenged by the Gospel, we likely need to make changes in our life, just as Martha had to. It may be the radical change that many saints embraced, leaving the external world of possessions to embrace a religious vocation. Or it may mean shifting one’s priorities and motivations, which externally may not look that different, yet nevertheless is also as radical.

The job may not need to change, but it’s purpose does: not “my kingdom come,” but “Thy Kingdom come.” The household chores will still need to be taken care of, but no longer for simply pragmatic reasons. Rather, as an act of love to give Christ hospitality in the person of family members.

Christians do not work hard in order to have time for prayer and a strong relationship with God. Rather, they have a set time of prayer in order to prepare for and give thanks for the day’s work. Work flows from prayer, and not the other way around: it’s “ora et labora,” not “labora et ora.”

Christians do not fit Sunday Mass into the family’s plans for the weekend. Rather, they build their weekend schedule, and indeed the whole week, and indeed their entire calendar, around the Mass schedule. Mass is the “source and summit” of all activity.

Finally, Christian spirituality as presented in the Gospel of Martha and Mary avoids the pitfall of planning to start living more fully soon—as soon as I have graduated; as soon as I pay off my debts; as soon as I retire. We do not work in order to “play” sometime later. Enjoyment is already built in to a balanced spiritual life as its fruit in the present moment, now. So that even if one works hard, one is constantly re-created, at peace, strengthened, at rest, singing, enjoying. Semper agens, semper quietus.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Invisible Creation

 July 10, 2016

 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37)

The Creed is built on St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where he describes what God the Father created through Christ the Son: “In him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible” (Col 1:16).

When we think of creation, we usually limit ourselves to the part called the “Visible Creation.” This is the material universe, the subject of scientific investigation and understanding. But this universe, great as it is (as microscopes and telescopes reveal), is just a small part of the actual creation.

In the Creed we profess, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” The “Invisible Creation” is less familiar to us, and completely unknown to science. It is the spiritual world. We usually call it the world of angels, but even that is not an adequate description. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul names some parts of the invisible creation: “whether thrones or dominions, principalities or powers.”

When we speak of the “angels,” we are referring to one part of the invisible spiritual world. According to tradition, there are nine “choirs”, or orders, in the celestial hierarchy, beginning with the Guardian Spirits, which is what we typically mean by “the angels.” In addition to the Guardian Angels, there is another group, entirely different in essence as well as function, which are named “Archangels.”

Then there are the four choirs mentioned by St. Paul (Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers); another choir called the “Virtues,” which St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Ephesians (1:21); and finally there are the two highest choirs, called the Cherubim and Seraphim.

Each is completely different from the others. How large and varied is this world of the Invisible Creation? We have no idea. But is much greater than we could ever begin to imagine. In the Book of Revelation, St. John says he saw around the throne of God “innumerable angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rv 5:11). They are as numerous as the stars in the sky.

There is very little we can understand about this greater universe, because it is not accessible to the senses, or to scientific investigation. Many scientists simply deny the existence of “spirit” or “soul,” reducing reality to matter and energy only: biology, genetics, chance mutation, random selection, psychology and sociology. But there is another reason we know little about this world, and that is because it involves beings so much greater than us. It would be like ants trying to understand the complexity of the human world!

So different is the world of spirit from the world of matter, and so far above us is the brilliance and splendor of these creatures, that if a human ever met an Angel (as in an apparition or Old Testament theophany), he would think the angel was actually God! But then, if the same human were to meet an Archangel, he would immediately realize his mistake: there is no way an Angel could be God, because the glory, radiance, strength, and purity of an Archangel is so much higher. He would see that the Angel is a creature, but then he would make another mistake and think the Archangel was definitely God!

But if he were then to meet a Principality or Power, or Virtue, or Dominion, or Throne, he would realize how much greater God is than even an Archangel. In fact, these higher beings are so named for attributes that belong to God Himself, because they are so close to Him in their being and purpose. God is the one who is Almighty, who is the Power, who has total Dominion, who rules all of existence from His heavenly Throne.

And if that weren’t enough, there is no way we could even begin to imagine what a Cherubim or Seraphim might be like. The Cherubim reflect the glory of God’s all-seeing knowledge, and the Seraphim reflect the infinite fire of his love. For a human to try distinguish one of these beings from God, would be like trying to distinguish a fire burning on the sun, from the sun itself.

God does not want us to be so caught up in our little worldly lives, that we are oblivious to the bigger picture. He lets us know that we are part of something much, much bigger. Our visible creation is caught up in and governed by the activities of that invisible part. Scripture reveals many important truths about the Invisible creation necessary for our salvation.

One of the most important truths that Scripture reveals is that man occupies a unique place: he alone of all creatures, belongs to both worlds. He is a creature of the visible creation, an animal with a material body, whose flesh is directly related, genetically and biologically, to the clay which forms the bodies of other creatures such as primates and mammals. But he is also a creature of the invisible creation, because he has a rational and spiritual soul that has spiritual identity and dignity just like the angels. God made man in His own image by breathing into clay the breath of His own Spirit.

In the hierarchy of the visible creation man is the summit. First God made the earth, sea, and sky, inanimate matter which is the “dirt.” Then He made the lowest life forms: one-celled organisms such as algae, followed by plants. Higher than that are sensate and mobile creatures, the animals and birds. And above them all is man, who by his intelligence can not only respond to the environment through instinct, but can understand and act upon it in a rational and free way.

So man is the masterpiece of God’s visible world: the culmination of His work on the sixth day. But even though he is at the top of the visible universe, man is on the bottom rung of the invisible universe. Even the smartest and most brilliant human being is lower in being than the “lowliest” guardian angel.

St. Paul explains that Jesus (a human) is the “image of the invisible God.” One with the Father as His eternally begotten Son, he is the “firstborn of all creation; in him were created all the visible and invisible beings”: he is before them all, he is their pattern. By means of his Incarnation, Jesus makes the invisible God visible.

And by means of the Incarnation, St. Paul also says the visible material world is reconciled again to the invisible spiritual world of heaven: “through Him God reconciled all things, both those on earth and those in heaven, making peace through the blood of the cross.” Why would God need to reconcile the two worlds to Himself through Christ?

The Scriptures reveal something else about the Invisible Creation: a great battle. What is playing out on our human stage in this visible world, culminating with Christ, is part of a much larger spiritual battle taking place in the heavens. There is much we do not know, but this much has been revealed in scripture: one of those pure spirits rebelled against God and introduced division and corruption, which required the Incarnation of the Son of God to rectify. He was probably the highest Seraph and therefore most “like God” in his being – the one who probably thought of himself as the “firstborn” of all creation. He is named Lucifer, “light.” To all other creatures, he probably seemed to be God, or like God.

When speaking of this powerful rebellion, the Book of Revelation says: “the great dragon was thrown down from heaven [by St. Michael. He is] the ancient Serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven” (Rv 12:4,9).

He is thrown down by “Michael the Archangel,” whose name, (“Micha-el” = “Who is like God?”) directly confronts Lucifer’s blasphemy. These rebellious spirits are known as the fallen angels, demons. They would have included not just Angels, but Principalities and Powers as well, and all the different heavenly choirs (cf. Eph 6:12).

The Bible tells us the devils are thrown down from heaven to earth, and not simply cast into hell. Only at the end of time will they be shut up forever in that burning lake of fire below the earth known as hell (cf. Rv 20:7-15). In the meantime, they try to make our lives “hell on earth.”

Why would God punish them by sending them to us, where they can torment and cause so much human suffering and misery? A) we invited them by listening to the serpent, and B) it is punishment for Lucifer to be cast down from the height of heaven to the lowest part of the Visible Creation, to the dirt beneath man’s feet. God decrees his punishment in the Garden of Eden: “On your belly shall you crawl, and dust shall you eat” (Gn 3:14).

The “punishment fits the crime!” Lucifer’s pride made him hate the materiality of the physical world which God had made, and found so good (Gn 1).

When God decided to make man, a spiritual creature who was at the same time a material creature, this completely offended the sensibility of the glorious pure light, Lucifer. Lucifer was especially insulted, because instead of seeing him as superior, God loved and delighted in these lowly creatures of darkened clay the best of all: man was “very good” (Gn 1:31). And now He wanted all the heavenly host to serve the visible universe, and mankind. Lucifer would have none of this! Who could endure this insult to his god-like glory? And so he led a rebellion.

The devil and his minions therefore hate dust, they despise the physical body, and they especially hate the fact that new spiritual creatures – other human beings – can be created in lowly clay and come alive through a physical process. In short, what God loves most about man – that he is male and female and can bring forth new persons through the physical expression of love – is what the proud spirit of Lucifer cannot endure.

Because of his physicality, man can do what no other spiritual being can, not even the highest Seraphim. He can procreate. “In the divine image He created man, male and female He created them!” (Gn 1:27)

Therefore devils will show hatred and contempt for God by inflicting as much physical suffering upon humans as possible: disease, pain, death. Whereas God wants to honor and glorify this amazing humanity by the Incarnation, they want to denigrate the dignity of the body at every turn, and especially the sacred process by which new life is conceived and brought into the world. Above all, they want to destroy the mystery of life in the womb.

This is why family life, and the bearing of children, is the front lines of the cosmic battle between good and evil (Gn 3:16-18; Rv 12:4). This is why we need to have such great reverence for the institution of marriage as established by God, and such great “fear of the Lord” when it comes to the sacred responsibility of bringing forth new life. We must never negate or try reinvent or negate the mystery of human love between a man and woman, or subject the procreation of humans to artificial means such as test tubes, or interfere with the natural laws of childbirth through unnatural and artificial forms of contraception.

All the attacks against life, all the attacks on sexuality, all efforts to demean man’s bodily dignity through pornography—they are part of the ongoing battle by which the evil one tries to hurt and insult God through us. Above all, encouraging the destruction of life in the womb is a centerpiece of their cowardly strategy, since it aims for the heart of what God loves so much.

We must have no doubt, that in all these battles taking place: on the state level of politics and law, and on the personal level of families and individuals struggling against sin and temptations, we are fighting in the great battle between good and evil, between St. Michael and Lucifer. When we see people hurt and injured, particularly through physical illness, or the injuries that happen because of sin, we, knowing the fullness of revelation, recognize beyond the visible situation, an invisible spiritual hatred. Our duty is to come to that situation with the healing love of God, with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

In the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus speaks of the man who was injured by robbers and left to die bleeding and wounded by the side of the road. He was attacked by a “robber.” That man is Adam, he is you and me. Our nature has been mortally wounded by the evil one. Just as the Samaritan came down from Jerusalem and brought him to the Inn where he could find healing, Christ comes down from heaven, restores man to his dignity, and places him in the care of the Church for healing and protection until he comes again.

By himself going down that road of suffering where mankind fell from the grace of heaven, the Son of God has now “reconciled us to Himself through the blood of the Cross.” And amazingly, despite our lowly condition as creatures of clay, he has raises us up in dignity, even above the highest seraphim!

We conclude, then, by looking to the lowliest and humblest of all the human creatures, who is now honored in heaven as the Queen of Angels, Queen of Heaven, Queen of all the visible and invisible creation, Blessed Mary the Mother of God, through whom the Word became flesh! She is the Woman spoken of in Gn 3:15 and Rv 12, who carries out God’s justice by crushing the serpent’s head into the ground through her divine Son. In her, God has made holy once again our true dignity as humans. She is the creature most hated by Lucifer and feared by him. By the special grace of her Immaculate Conception, she is the one part of the physical creation that he never touched or corrupted (Gn 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you and the serpent…”).

In her, the reconciliation of heaven and earth is perfect and complete. By her exaltation and coronation, we see the fruits of Christ’s victory applied to our human nature, we see the destiny to which we are called, and therefore we turn to her for help and protection.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Lambs Among Wolves

July 3, 2016

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Lk 10:1-20)

We sometimes forget that we are a “Church Militant.” In the world, we are fighting an enemy who opposes the Kingdom of God. When Jesus looks out over the world he sees that an enemy holds power, and his soldiers will have a difficult task claiming it for the Kingdom of God. “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Today’s Gospel reading is about the first wave of soldiers trained by Jesus to go out into battle for the Kingdom of God.

The first attempt was a great success, and the disciples returned to Jesus rejoicing in their victory! Through the centuries, wave after wave of Christians have likewise gone into the world to claim it for Christ. At times advances were made, at times territory was lost. Today the Church is losing. Many people are falling away from the Church, deserting. Many countries that used to be completely Catholic now have 10% Mass attendance.

Even in our own parish and city we see that Catholics are not gaining ground. Instead of transforming our society and making a positive difference, so often Catholics give in to the world and compromise. We compromise with abortion, we compromise with divorce, we compromise with shopping on Sundays, we compromise with removing God and prayer from the public sphere.

The lord and ruler of this world (cf. Jn 12:31) continually makes war on the followers of Jesus (Rv 12:17) with his lies and promises of false peace. But he is filled with hatred and malice. We cannot appease him; instead, he must be defeated. Jesus says in the Gospel: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18, also Rv 12:9).

To fight this war we need to be trained and ready. Our weapons are not guns and swords, however, the battle is above all spiritual. St. Paul reminds us, “we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the world-rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

In the Gospel we see how Jesus assembles, organizes, and trains his followers for this battle. Jesus sends them out in pairs. We never fight alone. Jesus makes sure we have spiritual support and friendship.

Jesus also says to travel light. Too many possessions weigh us down, and we can’t fight well. Too much money makes us vulnerable to the enemy. The great saints, like St. Francis or Mother Teresa, always traveled as light as possible, freeing themselves from unnecessary things.

Jesus tells us where the front lines of the battle are: homes and neighborhoods. It is there the disciples are sent, and there they discover their power and authority to overcome evil. The greatest spiritual battles are not fought in Washington D.C., but in each of our homes. The greatest weapon of the Church is not an eloquent preacher, but a strong Catholic home.

There are many lessons for us in today’s Gospel. The world today is still like Jesus’ day: standing ready to be claimed for the Kingdom of God. The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. We have many potential laborers in the Church, but we are not organized and committed the way we should be. Right here in our own parish and city, “the harvest is great,” but we are losing ground.

Jesus sends priests to help organize and train the community spiritually. Priests share the power of the 72, to heal the sick and expel the demons. Priests can bless, forgive sins, teach and preach, and consecrate the Eucharist. This brings spiritual power to overcome evil. It brings the true peace of Christ to our lives.

But it is not just the priests who are sent to do God’s work in this parish. Priests are like the officers in the army. The laity are the true foot-soldiers. Jesus wants parishioners, especially married couples, to establish his Reign.

Besides Holy Orders, Matrimony is sacrament that “ordains” two followers of Christ and “sends” them out to do his work, equipping them with spiritual power and authority. Each family of our parish lives in a home, where they do the work of the Gospel in their own household. Our parish community is one big family household, but each Catholic home is a “domestic Church.”

Through marriage, husband and wife work together as partners to bring the peace of Christ into their home. They announce the Kingdom of God to their children, and use the authority God has given them to overcome the power of evil.

The front lines of the war are in the home. This is where Satan works the hardest to corrupt people. He seeks to divide husband and wife, overthrow the authority of parents, and destroy the lives of children by leading them into sin.

Parents have to fight to protect their families from the wolves. They have to protect their marriage as sacred. They need to be vigilant about the false values that can come into their home through television and internet, or if their children are associating with the wrong friends who do not promote Christian values. They have to be specially concerned about the corrupted worldview public schools want to impose.

A good soldier works hard and lives a disciplined life to be effective. The same is true for spiritual warfare. It takes discipline and training to be God’s soldiers, beginning with a strong life of prayer, regular confession, study of Scripture, and of course the Eucharist. We need to give up things we don’t need, which only slow us down spiritually.

We are at war, we must have no doubt. Not just as a nation, against the enemies of Islam and secularism, but as a Church, against an enemy who is very cunning and effective. Jesus knows how to defeat him, and gives us the training and spiritual weapons we need, if we will let him teach and train us.

Beginning in our homes, with how we live our marriages and how we raise our children, Christ carries out his mission to establish the Kingdom of God in the world, and destroy the dominion of darkness. He rejoices to work especially through humble servants, the simple foot-soldiers on the front lines

If we serve him faithfully, even though we may lose some things in the world, we will have power to tread upon the serpent and see him fall like lightning. But most of all, we will have the peace inside, to know that our names are written in heaven!

Rev. Glen Mullan

Freedom

June 26, 2016

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Ga 5:13-18; Lk 9:51-62)

“Freedom” can mean a lot of different things. We think of a person who gets out of jail—no more iron bars to limit his movement. We think of driving on the open highway—no traffic lights or stop signs to get in the way. We think of an eagle soaring above the earth, or the animals living in the wild: no fences, nothing to intrude on their lifestyle. We think of the Exodus, or Emancipation Day—no more slavery or human masters. Maybe when we hear the word freedom, we think of being unmarried—not tied to some person.

Freedom brings to our mind images of no limitation, no constraint, no obstacle. It means being able to go where you please, do what you want, and answer to nobody but yourself. Freedom means there are no rules except the ones you make for yourself. Freedom means being your own god.

The motto of hell, written over the gate as you enter, is the word “Freedom.” The demons, and souls who go to hell, want to be in hell. Hell is a place created when a free soul asserts his will above God’s will. “Better to be in hell and free, than to be in heaven as God’s slave.” It sounds strange, but those in hell feel like they are free, because no one told them what to do. They made their own decisions. They were their own boss. To them God is a tyrant, He is unfair.

The devil, and the rebellious souls with him in hell mock the righteous, considering them weak and cowardly, surrendering their will and making themselves slaves. When the devil tempted Adam and Eve, this is exactly what he promised, it wasn’t hard: “why obey God’s ridiculous rules, instead of doing what you want instead?” There is nothing wrong with the fruit of this tree compared to the others, it is good to eat, you are free to make your own choice!

Freedom is a very important concept. Freedom is something deep in our nature, in our soul and spirit. God made man in His own image; He created us with free will, just like He has.

The devil tells us to use that free will, and be free! But St. Paul also tells us to be free, in the second reading: “You were called to freedom, brethren… For freedom Christ set us free. So stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.” His version of freedom is very different from what the devil promises, however: “do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”

For St. Paul, freedom has to do with the spirit, not the flesh. If we tie our freedom to the desires of the flesh, we become slaves. If we can free ourselves from the desires of the flesh, by the power of the Spirit, then we are truly free.

The devil promises one version of freedom; he promises the easy way where everything is according to your will. But it is a lie.

The person who does whatever he desires thinks he is free, but actually he is allowing his passions to rule his life; he is a slave of the flesh. The person who “goes along with the flow” thinks he is free because there is no resistance or obstacle in his life (easy come, easy go), but actually he is a slave of the world and has to accept what it dictates as the normal life. The person who asserts his own will thinks he is free because in his mind he is his own god; but actually he has subjected himself to the tyranny of one who rules through power and lies.

In the end, you can’t reject your own Maker: no matter how much you assert your will against God, you still have to accept the fact that He is the source of your existence, so you always have to submit to the fact of your existence as a creature. The souls in hell, and their demon masters, hate this. This is what torments them. Even though they have rejected God, they still have to depend on Him. They can’t exist without Him. So He is still their master. He and He alone created every living thing.

Freedom does not mean rejecting God. Freedom means embracing the existence and life that God has given, and making the choices that God has allowed us to make for ourselves: choices about our life and future, who we will marry and what our vocation will be. God gives us freedom, but it is freedom with purpose. Our choices are much bigger than our desires (the desires of the flesh), and even the world (everything the world says we should do). Our freedom opens us to the level of God himself, to eternity: God gives us the ability to embrace Him and respond to Him in love, and be with Him forever in heaven. This is what our freedom is about, it is about the highest love possible, the love of God.

In the Gospel, Jesus paints a picture of this freedom, but at first it doesn’t look like freedom at all. In fact, we may wonder if the devil is right. Jesus says, if we want to follow him, we can forget about job and career and home. He says “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head…” He tells another man who wants to bury his father, “Let the dead bury their dead.” He won’t even let someone say goodbye to his parents first. The Gospel doesn’t paint a very good picture of freedom. It’s all about letting go and being without… This is the opposite of what the devil says; he says take everything and hold on to everything.

Jesus says, “whoever puts his hand to the plow and then looks back, is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” The devil says, “always keep your options open.”

What Jesus is saying seems very harsh, but if we listen carefully, he teaching us some important things. He is not against people having homes and jobs and possessions. But we mustn’t become so attached to our possessions that we can’t let them go when we have to, or move when we have to. Jesus is not against saying goodbye to parents and friends; but we mustn’t be so attached to this or that person, even including family members, that it keeps us from our heavenly vocation—the true purpose of our life.

When the devil talks about freedom, he really means “gratification.” People who gratify the flesh think they are free because they are choosing to do what they want. Instead, the flesh has become their master instead of the spirit. They are the unhappiest people in the world.

When Jesus and St. Paul talk about freedom, they are talking about conquering the flesh in the power of the Spirit. Only the Spiritual person, who has conquered the flesh, has discovered freedom. Only the person who has conquered the world by the power of God’s word has found freedom. Only the person who has conquered his own will through love and sacrifice has found perfect freedom.

The devil proposes being free for yourself. Jesus shows the way to be free for others. His way may seem hard at first, because of the sacrifices it demands, but in the end it leads to happiness. The devil’s way seems easy because there are no sacrifices. In the end it leads to unhappiness.

Let us take one example. Marriage is an important choice that we make through our freedom. But how many people have a happy and free marriage, what is the secret? Who is really free in their marriage? The person who follows false freedom, doing whatever he wants? Or the person who follows Jesus’ command and puts his hand to the plough and never looks back?

The man behind the plough knows he has a task, a commitment, and he focuses on that, and doesn’t let anything sway him. He doesn’t look to the left or the right, or back. No other options. The devil would say that is not freedom. But what kind of marriage would it be if you “kept your options open”? If you are looking at other people? If you can’t say goodbye to your parents but let the in- laws interfere? Which family is happier, the one where parents are stressed because of finances, or the one that can live and enjoy even with few possessions?

Who is better prepared for marriage? The young person who grows up being able to do whatever he wants, and “have” whoever he wants, without boundaries or rules? Or the young person whose parents are strict, who learns how to sacrifice, wait, and focus on commitments? For freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Armageddon

June 19, 2016

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) (Zec 12:10-13:1; Lk 9:18-24)

Zechariah is a prophet of the Old Testament who has a small book in the Bible. The book describes visions of events to come, visions of the end of the world, including visions of the Messiah who will accomplish the final age. A lot of his visions provide the background for St. John’s book of Revelation.

When St. John wrote about the crucifixion in his Gospel, he quoted the verse we hear in today’s reading from the prophet Zechariah: “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (Zc 12:10). St. John was an eyewitness at the foot of the cross, and he saw the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side when he was pierced with the lance (Jn 19:34-37). St. John recognized how the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the opening of his heart to pour forth blood and water, were the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.

In the book of Revelation St. John also wrote about “Armageddon.” This is the place where the powers of evil would assemble the armies of the world for battle on the great Day of the Lord (Rv 16:16). This day of “Armageddon” is also referred to in the reading we heard today from the prophet Zechariah: “On that day the mourning in Jerusalem shall be as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo” (Zc 12:11). In Hebrew, “Har Megiddo” means “Hill of Megiddo,” and it refers to a place in Israel where a devastating battle took place just before the exile. During this battle, the holy and beloved king Josiah was tragically killed (2K 23:29), and the great religious reform which he was undertaking came to an end. The powers of evil triumped, the nation was destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians, and never was there sorrow and mourning in Israel as on that day.

Zechariah prophesied that when the Messiah came, there would be another Armageddon: the nations of the world would weep and mourn as they “look on him whom they have pierced.” If you go back and read the book of Zechariah, especially chapters 12 & 13, you can see how he predicts the sufferings of the Messiah. He describes the great mourning that would take place in Jerusalem, and how the good shepherd would be cruelly struck down (Zc 13:7).

So there are really three Armageddons. The first one in the Old Testament when King Josiah was killed, the final one on the great day of the Lord when the forces of evil battle against God’s people to destroy them… But the most important “Armageddon” is the day that Jesus was crucified, the day our King was killed by the powers of evil, and his heart was pierced by a soldier’s lance.

For us, there is no way to imagine the kind of grief and sorrow experienced by the Apostles, Mary, and the holy women, when Jesus was crucified. That day was “Armageddon” for them.

In the Gospel, Jesus asks his apostles who he is: who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? And they respond: “You are the Messiah!” which means the “Anointed one of God,” the holy King who would restore the nation by God’s power. And they were correct.

But Jesus did something very strange, and we see it throughout the Gospels, and people often ask why he did that: Jesus “rebuked them,” and told them not to tell anyone he was the Messiah! Jesus kept telling his apostles, and people he healed, “Don’t tell anyone I’m the Messiah.” Even though he was.

Instead, Jesus starts to tell the apostles what it means to be the Messiah: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected, and killed” (Lk 9:22). God’s plan for victory does not unfold the way a human plan would unfold. In a human strategy, the armies of good and evil fight, evil is conquered, good wins, and everybody lives happily ever after. In God’s plan of salvation – in the story which the Bible tells – Armageddon happens instead. The armies of good and evil fight, evil wins, and there is sorrow and weeping.

The Bible wants us to be prepared for that, be prepared for Armageddon, when things don’t go right; be prepared to understand and accept that God doesn’t fight and conquer evil the way we think He should. God will bring victory, but not the way we think. And so when Armageddon happens, and our hopes are destroyed, that is when we need faith and the vision to see past the defeat to something even greater.

Jesus told the apostles, “the Messiah will suffer, be rejected, and killed.” But he also said, “and on the third day he will rise again.” They had no idea what he was talking about.

But actually, when we go back and read the Old Testament, and see how God worked through the prophets, and what happened after the first Armageddon, we see that is exactly what happened. After the great and terrible battle when the holy King Josiah was killed, and after the Babylonians came and destroyed the temple and burned Jerusalem to the ground and exiled all the Jews to Babylon, seventy years later God miraculously brought them back. A remnant of Jews returned from exile, rebuilt Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple, and restablished the Covennat of Moses in the Holy Land! After the death and destruction, there was a resurrection! Armageddon was not the end, it was not the final word. God had a surprise waiting.

And the same was true with Jesus. His death was not the end. In fact, it was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. When Jesus was killed, and the soldier pierced him with the sword just like Zechariah prophesied, St. John who was standing there as an eyewitness tells us that immediately blood and water flowed out of his side like a fountain (Jn 19:34). St. John remembered what Zechariah had prophesied: “they will look upon him whom they have pierced,” but he also remembered that other line from today’s first reading: “On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness” (Zc 13:1).

The blood and flowing from Jesus’ side is a fountain of grace and mercy. The waters of grace that came from his heart still flow today in the Sacrament of Baptism, and this is why we call it a “baptism font.” “Font” is another word for “fountain.” And also the blood the Eucharist. The water washes clean, which is what Baptism does, and the blood infuses new life, which is what the Eucharist does. Baptism and Eucharist create the Church, form the Church, and nourish the Church. Just as God formed Eve out of the side of Adam to be his bride, God formed the Church from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be his holy and immaculate Bride (cf. Gn 2:21-22, Eph 5:21-33).

Armageddon is not the end, it is the beginning of new life. Armageddon does not destroy good, it opens the floodgates of mercy. Armageddon unleashes the eternal life from God which death and evil cannot destroy.

And so this is why Jesus kept telling his followers not to call him the Messiah – they were thinking of a Messiah without Armageddon, a Messiah who was like a political ruler that conquers through weapons and power. Jesus is the Messiah, but his power is different, and his pathway to victory is the cross. His goal is not an earthly kingdom, but rather the fountain of life.

We too need to learn what the apostles learned. As we grow in our faith, and accept Jesus as the Messiah, we need to purify our understanding of what that means. We will have to realize that Armageddon will be a part of our lives, “weeping and mourning,” the experience of loss and what seems to be defeat.

This is why we have such a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. No matter what we are going through in our life, we can turn to Jesus’ heart and find there the grace we need. Sinners who feel overcome by their failures will find forgiveness. People who have been hurt will find healing. People who are going through trials will find hope. People who are lost and tired will find strength.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced for our offenses, have mercy on us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and grace, have mercy on us.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Burning Coal

May 29, 2016

Corpus Christi (C) (Isaiah 6:6-7)

During the Communist persecution, when Stalin sought to eradicate religion from his empire and suppress Christianity, many Catholics were exiled to Kazakhstan. In the rare times when a clandestine priest was available, he would celebrate Mass for these scattered communities, and leave behind a consecrated Host in the care of devout laypeople. For up to a year, small groups of Catholics would gather for prayer and adoration. One of these devout lay “Eucharistic Women” was Maria Schneider, mother of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who currently shepherds those small Catholic communities remaining in Kazakhstan.

In the midst of the desert, God provided his people with heavenly Manna. The miracle of the Eucharist is a food for exiles. It’s richness is in its poverty, its strength is in its weakness, its abundance is realized most fully in its scarcity. This is food that satisfies by making us more hungry. And thus, it is often more fruitful of sanctity and holiness in places such as Kazakhstan, than in other areas where it is abundantly available, yet easily ignored, denied, even desecrated.

Today’s feastday is an opportunity to reflect again on the value of this Bread from Heaven, Manna given to God’s people in their earthly exile as they seek the Promised Land.

Bishop Athanasius, even though he serves a tiny Catholic flock in a large un-Catholic country that few people can even locate on a world map, has had a large impact in the West. He has been vocal on many issues affecting the Church, and is one bishop who advocates returning to the ancient practice of receiving Holy Communion only in the mouth, while kneeling. In a recent book published by Newman House Press, “Dominus Est – It is the Lord!”, bishop Schneider lays out the rationale for this practice.

Following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when the Church called for certain reforms of the Liturgy, many theologians and clergy who had their own agendas began agitating for various practices not specified by the council. One of these was the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand, something which they began to implement illicitly in many places, without permission or authorization. The argument was made at the time that this practice more accurately corresponded to that of the early Church.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI addressed the question in “Memoriale Domine,” an “Instruction on the Manner of Distribution of Holy Communion.”

 https://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWMEMOR.HTM

In this very brief document, he noted how certain places had begun to implement the new practice in disobedience. And while acknowledging that the Eucharist was initially handled in the very early Church, a very rapid development also took place in the early Church as the liturgy became formalized. The practice of receiving the Host directly in the mouth quickly became the appropriate liturgical rite that best expressed the Church’s belief in the Real Presence, both in the east and the west.

Pope Paul VI insisted that the ancient custom thus practiced for almost 2000 years be retained, “especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist.” The reverence of receiving the holy Eucharist directly in the mouth “shows that it is not a sharing in ordinary bread and wine that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord.” Furthermore, he pointed out how the traditional practice “ensures, more effectively, that Holy Communion be distributed with the proper respect, decorum, and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species, in which “in a unique way, Christ, God and man, is present whole and entire, substantially and continually.”

In response to the agitation for a novel practice, Pope Paul VI explains that any change to the “most ancient and venerable tradition” should be carefully considered, since it “does not merely affect discipline. It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”

Thus, in prudent manner, Pope Paul VI consulted the worldwide bishops with regard to whether the Church should permit the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand. The overwhelming majority said no. Additionally, they were opposed even to “trying it out” in select communities.

As a result, Pope Paul VI, in his capacity as chief shepherd, in 1969 “emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.”

The end result, however, was ongoing agitation and manipulation, and disobedience. The novel practice was finally given approval in the United States by a narrow majority of American bishops only in 1977. Even now, receiving Holy Communion in the hand remains as the second option.

In advocating a return to the traditional practice, bishop Schneider highlights the disobedient and manipulative way in which this modern innovation was introduced. He also points out that it echoes the exact practice introduced by the Protestant Calvinist reformers, who changed the practice specifically to deny the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Finally, he gives an overview of the teachings of Church Fathers, and the liturgical traditions of both the western and eastern Rites of the Church, which universally insist on adoration – even prostration – before receiving Holy Communion, and the reception of this holy Food directly in the mouth, as a baby would receive nourishment. Again and again, the Fathers are quoted who make reference to the passage of the burning coal, which the Prophet Isaiah received in his mouth from the Heavenly Throne of God, by the hands of an Angel (Is 6:6-7; also the prophet Ezekiel, cf. Ez 3:1-3).

All this is not to say that the Sacred Host can never be touched or handled, including by the laity. The example of the Kazakhstan Catholics during Communist times is given to illustrate this. However, the exception is not the norm, and the exception illustrates the norm. And even when the Sacred Host must, due to circumstances, be handled, extreme care must be given to guarding even the smallest particle from falling and being lost. The hand or finger that has touched the Body of the Lord should be appropriately purified with clean water, which should then be consumed.

In the early Church, the Spirit of Reverence and Knowledge of the Eucharistic Lord quickly led to the liturgical tradition of kneeling (or prostrating), while receiving the Sacred Bread directly in the mouth. In the modern Church, it was a spirit of disobedience and denial that led to a new “protestant” practice, which has been one of the contributing factors toward an overall decline of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The short book by bishop Schneider, written in honor of those devout Catholics who longed for their Eucharistic Lord while in exile, and the courage of Bl. Pope Paul VI during times of sordid rebellion and disobedience during the 1960s, help us today appreciate more deeply the great gift of the Eucharist, heavenly food for exiles seeking God.

“Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar [of God]. And he touched my mouth, and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips” (Is 6:6-7)

“In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God, command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel… so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing” (Eucharistic Prayer I).

Rev. Glen Mullan

Shavuot

May 15, 2016

Pentecost (C) (Acts 2:1-11)

The Solemnity of Pentecost is the third most important feast in the Church’s liturgical calendar, after Easter and Christmas. As with the celebration of Easter, built upon the Jewish Passover, today’s celebration is built upon a Jewish liturgical feast, known as “Pentecost” (Greek) or “Weeks” (Hebrew: Shavuot). This festival occurs a “week of weeks” following Passover, or 50 days later. In the Jewish tradition, it commemorates the Covenant of Moses, the giving of the Law which took place at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Israelites left Egypt.

Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (i.e. Day of Atonement) were the three great festivals of the Old Testament, when Jews from all over the world would travel to Jerusalem if at all possible, remaining in the city at least a week for the celebrations. The first century historian Josephus records that the population of Jerusalem would swell to over a million during these times, and up to 300,000 livestock would be slaughtered as part of the sacrifices.

Throughout his public ministry (cf. Jn 2:13, 7:1-10), and in fact throughout his life (cf. Lk 2:41), Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the great feasts with his relatives and other Jews of Galilee. With this background we can therefore understand how Jesus’ death and resurrection took place in a very determined context, and how it was that his followers, both those from the Jerusalem area and those from Galilee, were all in Jerusalem for an extended period of time when he accomplished his mission (Holy Week and the eight days following the Resurrection). We understand also how following the initial resurrection appearances in Jerusalem, Jesus subsequently appeared to the apostles once they returned to Galilee (cf. Jn 21). And finally, we understand how again 40 days later he appeared for the final time to everyone back in Jerusalem, as his followers had once more travelled to the holy city for the great feast.

For ten days following the Ascension, this community of 120 disciples (Acts 1:13-15) gathered in the same upper room where the Last Supper had taken place, to celebrate Pentecost and await the completion of the new Covenant established by Jesus in his death and resurrection, and commemorated in the Eucharist. What those disciples experienced and did, has become the annual pattern of the Church for all time. It is permanently enshrined in the Liturgical Calendar.

Passover and Pentecost continue. But now they are Christianized, fulfilled. Jesus is the Passover Lamb of sacrifice, whose flesh is consumed and whose blood saves his people from death. Jesus is the Lawgiver who gives the new Covenant, not a law written on stone tablets, but rather a Law written directly on the heart through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds” (Hb 10:16, quoting Jer 31:33-34).

The Christian feast of Pentecost goes much further than the Covenant of Moses. It breaks open the Old Testament, which until then was limited to the people of Abraham, to the Jews and Israelites. Through Christ it is extended to the whole world.

God in His providential plan had already scattered Jews throughout the world by the time of Christ, and established the Roman empire – with its excellent highways – as the dominant world power. This greatly facilitated there being in Jerusalem for the great feasts, representatives of all nations and tongues. Thus when the Church was born, and the apostles stepped onto the public square for the first time with the announcement of the Gospel of Christ, they had a worldwide audience awaiting them.

The distinctive mark of the new Covenant was its universality. Today we celebrate the birth of Christ’s Church into the world, which is a Catholic Church, comprising all tongues. By the time of Pentecost, the first harvest of spring – the “firstfruits” – was taking place. Likewise by the time of Pentecost, the Apostles reap the first harvest of souls for the Church from all the nations of the world. Three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). For the first time since God scattered the human family at Babel, it is reunited as One at Pentecost. And unlike the law of the Old Covenant, which symbolized and imputed holiness in an exterior way, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit renews and makes the Church truly Holy, from the inside of each soul.

Pentecost reveals the new creation of the Holy Spirit, a glorious Bride born from the side of Christ and cleansed by water and fire: the Church which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

As we leave behind the great festivals of Spring by which we have received our new life, and enter the summer of ordinary time, may we follow in the footsteps of the apostles who, now enkindled by the Holy Spirit, carry the Gospel of Christ to the end of the world.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Council of Jerusalem

May 1, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter (C) (Acts 15)

The Church has had many councils and synods throughout her history to examine and settle doctrinal and pastoral questions. Some of these, like the recent synod on the family, are smaller and “advisory” in nature. Others, like the second Vatican Council (1962-65) are universal in scope and represent the full apostolic authority because they assemble the worldwide college of bishops. These are called Ecumenical Councils.

Jesus, even though he founded the Church and established within it the sacraments that give it its structure and source of life, did not establish all the rubrics and regulations that would govern the day to day operations of the Church. Jesus is not a micro-manager. Instead, he established the Church’s leadership by naming the twelve apostles, and endowed them with his own authority, to make those determinations. This he did through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, first upon the apostles on Easter Sunday (Jn 20:22), and then upon the whole Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

The apostles as a whole therefore possess the Lord’s authority to “bind and loose” (Mt 18:18), and among them Simon Peter, as head apostle, possesses it in a particular way (Mt 16:19), being the Lord’s personal Vicar on earth, the “Master of the Palace” of the Kingdom of God on earth (Mt 16:19, cf. Is 22:15-22).

Thus, as the Church progressed through history, and encountered various questions and situations, she had the gift and authority of Jesus’ own Holy Spirit, to make the necessary decisions, and establish appropriate (binding) regulations to govern the life of the Church.

Jesus was not the micro-manager. Instead, God had already provided the framework for Church life in the Old Testament. God did not go to such great pains with Moses and David and Solomon and the Prophets, establishing minute laws and structures in the Jewish nation, only to erase it all once the Christ came. Christianity does not reject the Old Law, it assimilates and supercedes it. It fulfills the Old Law, and builds in an organic way upon it.

        Thus, Jesus says both of the following things:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets… not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law…” (Mt 5:17-19).

          And:

“New wine is put into new wineskins” (Mt 9:17).

The Church will develop new “wineskins” for the new grace that comes in Christ, namely the graces of Baptism and other Sacraments. The previous Jewish forms and rituals, which were suited to the graces of the earlier covenants, were not suitable for expressing and imparting the new life of Christ. They do not contradict the new graces, but they are inadequate for conveying them. Even though they foreshadow certain aspects of the new dispensation, and illustrate certain truths about it, they cannot serve as its sacramental symbols.

In the early Church, as recounted by the Acts of the Apostles, this became an important, even a major pastoral and doctrinal issue, requiring the college of apostles to meet in formal assembly and issue judgment on the matter. Jews who became Christian continued in the practice of their Jewish religion. There was (and is) no contradiction between Christianity and true Judaism. Provided one understands its meaning and purpose correctly, there is no contradiction for a Christian to be circumcised under the covenant with Abraham, or to celebrate Passover under the covenant with Moses, or to continue observing the dietary and other rules from the Law of Moses.

On the other hand, as the Church soon discovered when many Gentiles began to be baptized, the Christian faith no longer requires the previous observances. Or does it? Should Gentiles be circumcised as well as baptized, in order to be true Christians? Should the Gentiles keep at least some of the Jewish dietary rules? On one side of the debate was James, leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and with him the Jewish Christians who wished to maintain Jewish practices as an integral part of their Christian faith, and on the other hand was Paul, who with a large number of Gentile converts did not see the need to require these things of them. In the middle was Peter, who would speak the decisive word.

There was much debate and disagreement, and it led to the first Church council, held at Jerusalem under the presidency of James. The result of the council is very interesting. On the on hand, it affirmed the position of St. Paul, in that Christians are not under obligation to become practicing Jews. There is no longer a requirement to be circumcised in order to pertain to the Covenant, since Baptism now includes and supersedes all that circumcision previously achieved.

On the other hand, the council did establish as regulations for Christians, certain practices and disciplines of the Law of Moses: 1) avoiding meat sacrificed to idols, 2) consuming blood or the meat of a strangled animal, and 3) “unlawful marriage” (Gk: porneias-which really means “fornication/unchastity”).

Avoiding meat sacrificed to idols was a big issue for St. Paul with the Corinthians (1 Cor 8), and the council essentially established as a universal regulation for the Church what St. Paul had counseled: even though Christians know the idols are not real gods, Christians would still be giving scandal by eating such food, and dishonoring the true God. Ultimately, that food contradicts the Eucharist, and therefore in honor of the Eucharist it should be avoided.

The second requirement of the council makes little sense to us “Gentile- Christians” today, but needs to be rediscovered. It illustrates exactly what James and the Jerusalem Christians may have feared with regard to the Gentiles. Even though the old laws are not required by the new dispensation, forgetting them or failing to understand what God was teaching through them, will impoverish the Christian faith. Even though the Christian “wineskins” supplant the Jewish ones, Christians still need the understanding of the Jewish wineskins in order to fully live the Christian faith. The Old Law is not abolished, it is fulfilled. We will be good Christians, to the degree that we appreciate and understand (and apply) the Old Testament, which provides the original framework for our Christian existence! And we forget this to our peril.

What is so important about avoiding blood and the meat of strangled animals? (Aside from the obvious health issues – Jewish regulations were millennia ahead of their time in terms of scientific wisdom, and avoiding foods that easily made you sick). Biblically speaking, the blood of an animal was its life (Lv 17:11). “Blood” and “Life” are completely interchangeable terms in the Scriptures! Blood may not be consumed, only offered to God. Blood must always be treated with utmost reverence, because it belongs only to God, the author of life. To consume blood, is to directly offend and violate God!

Likewise, the breath of an animal or human – literally, its “spirit” (Hb: ruah) – is also its Life. God created man by “breathing into his nostrils the breath/spirit of his life, and he became a living being” (Gn 2:7). Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross, he “gave forth his spirit” (Jn 19:30), i.e., he “breathed his last.” Therefore, an animal that was strangled had its life-spirit violated, and this is an offense against God who is the author of life.

Though we may not realize it at first, what the second regulation is affirming, is the “Pro-Life Gospel.” It is the understanding that life is sacred, and the dominion over life belongs entirely to God, and not man. Man is a servant of life, never its master. And in matters of life and death, man must always submit in reverence and deference to God. This principle of the sanctity of life undergirds and illuminates all the ancient dietary and hygienic precepts of the Law of Moses.

Finally, the council upholds the preoccupation of the Law of Moses with sexual purity (cf. Lv 18). Unlike pagan cultures, the Jews understand that sexual matters are also sacred – pertaining to God – because they are the manner in which humans participate with God in the mystery of life. It is an offense to directly violate life, it is also an offense to interfere or disrespect the manner God has established for transmitting life. Life is sacred, therefore sex is sacred. Life requires utmost reverence, therefore sex requires utmost reverence.

St. Paul, once again writing to the Gentile converts at Corinth, also explains this third teaching beautifully, when he deals with sexual immorality:

“The body is not meant for sexual immorality [Gk: porneia, same word as Acts 15:29], but for the Lord… Do you not know that your bodies are members of the Lord? Every other sin is outside the body, but the unchaste man sins against his own body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (cf. 1 Cor 6:13-20).

What about today? Due to different cultural situations and new scientific knowledge, the Church’s regulations have evolved somewhat.

Today, the Church still binds us various regulations, and unbinds us from others. We are required for instance, to undertake some form of penance such as abstinence from meat on Fridays; we are still required to strictly avoid the pervasive sexual immorality of the pagan world; and we are prohibited from eating the bread and wine of false “eucharists” offered in non-Catholic churches. On the other hand, we are loosed from the prohibition against cremation, and women are no longer required to veil their heads. And the Irish can eat their “pudding.” Though times have changed, man has not changed, nor God, nor religion. We are still bound to the same faith, the same reverence of God, the same respect for His moral law, and ultimately the same obligation to honor the sacred dignity of life.

The Council of Jerusalem is vital for us today, as it was in the time of Acts. It would behoove us, as Gentile-Christians, to go back and learn again what the Law of Moses was all about. Even though we are not bound by the regulations and precepts of Leviticus, we will certainly not be true Christians unless we understand and appreciate the spirit of those teachings. We may be permitted to eat pork, but we are not permitted to act like pigs with our bodies. We may be permitted to eat meat with blood, but we are not permitted to indulge in bloodthirsty hatred and violence. And we are certainly not permitted to compromise with a world that worships false gods, or corrupts true religion.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Glory

April 24, 2016

5th Sunday of Easter (C) (Jn 13:31-35)

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God [the Father] is glorified in him. If God [the Father] is glorified in [the Son of Man], God [the Father] will also glorify [the Son of Man] in Himself, and God [the Father] will glorify him [the Son of Man] at once.”

“Glory” is one of those words, like “Love” and “Grace,” which are used profusely in the Bible and speech, but are notoriously difficult to define. Glory is related to the concept of “honor,” which means respect for a thing’s dignity. Every person, and even things, have an innate quality deserving of respect, a goodness placed there by God which is worthy of honor. That dignity is the thing’s “glory.”

But Glory adds to honor the idea of “manifestation.” When someone is “glorified,” their appropriate dignity and respect is highlighted, revealed, exposed, in its goodness and worth. It “shines” for all to see.

Finally, there is in the concept of Glory the idea of achievement, or success. To be glorified means that the inner good or dignity is “achieved,” realized. Thus even though “Glory” is a noun, it is also more importantly a verb, or the result of action. To be glorified, or to “give glory” to someone, is to manifest the successful achievement of that being’s intended purpose.

We therefore “glorify” God. At all times and in all ways. God is always successfully achieving His great purpose, and the dignity and worth of that must be continually recognized and proclaimed, manifested.

Man, not so much. He is not glorified always and in everything he does. He finds his glory only when he successfully achieves his good, his end, which is to be in God. The glory of man is found in his union with God, by virtue not only of him being in God, but above all by God being “in him.” This is his dignity. Man’s glory is actually God. When man can live in such a way that God shines through him (i.e. when he successfully achieves this end for which he was created), man is glorified!

At the Last Supper Jesus speaks of his glorification. He is not simply speaking of his glory as the Divine Son of the Father, a glory which all the Persons of the Trinity share by virtue of being God; he is specifically speaking of the glory he achieves as man, in the Incarnation. By means of the Cross and what he accomplishes at the Last Supper, Jesus in his humanity perfectly achieves the end for which he became man, and manifests the Good or Love that is his dignity. His sacrifice is his glory. We therefore “glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Gal 6:14; Entrance Antiphon, Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper).

Jesus is glorified by laying down his life and paying the price of the world’s salvation, but in this the Father is also glorified. By undertaking this work, Jesus perfectly glorifies the Father: i.e., he manifests in a way higher than anything else before or since, and appropriately honors for the first time among men, the great Good and splendor which is in the Father.

And if the Son thus glorifies the Father, the Father in turn will appropriately glorify the Son, honoring and manifesting the great Good and splendor which are in him, in his love. This glorification of the Son takes place through the Resurrection and Ascension, and then through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which invigorates and enlivens the activity of the Church.

Ultimately, the Son is glorified by what will be accomplished by the Church, his Body! Throughout the Last Supper discourse Jesus speaks of this glorification that he and the Father accomplish, and how it is to be realized in the fruitfulness of the Church. In fact, glorification is the central theme of the Last Supper discourse. For instance, he will say to the apostles, “Whatever you ask in my name I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn 14:13). And then at the conclusion of this discourse he emphasizes, “Father, the glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (Jn 17:22); “I am glorified in them” (Jn 17:10).

At the Last Supper, Jesus reveals the path to glory. It is the Cross, it is the Eucharist. At the beginning he washed the apostle’s feet and told them, “As I have done, so you must do” (Jn 13:15). At the end, he died on the Cross to wash away sins, and told them again, to do as he has done: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

In the Eucharist we proclaim the glory of God, not only when we sing the “Gloria” at the beginning, but by the action of the Eucharistic prayer, where the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption continue. From the Eucharist, in which we glorify God by manifesting what Christ accomplished in his Sacrifice, we then manifest that glory in the world, by allowing God whom we have received in Baptism and Holy Communion, to shine through our words and actions.

Let us listen to those words about glorification which Jesus speaks at the Last Supper, and repeat them. Not simply by saying them, but by living them. Let us glorify God by allowing Him to manifest the glory of the Son of Man in us.

Rev. Glen Mullan

The Shepherd-Lamb

April 17, 2016

4th Sunday of Easter (C) (Rv 7:14-17; Jn 10:27-30)

Psalm 100 – “We are His people, the sheep of His flock.”

John 10 – “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice.”

Others religions do not speak like this. But this is the True religion, and it is this truth about God that sets it apart as the true religion: God reveals Himself as the shepherd. A shepherd is above the flock in power and authority, but a shepherd serves the flock with care and love. Above all, as the Gospel of John highlights about the good shepherd, he “knows” the flock, and the flock knows him: they recognize his voice.

There is a “personal” dimension to shepherding, which makes it such a central image used by God to convey Who He is. It’s not just that the shepherd knows and recognizes each sheep personally (so to speak), as an individual, but that the shepherd personally invests himself on behalf of each sheep, for its good and protection.

This is the characteristic teaching of Judeo-Christian religion. The God who is revealed in this religion, or rather who manifests himself by this religion – the True God – shows Himself to be such a Shepherd. All other religions search for God and seek to know Him, and perhaps encounter fragmentary aspects of the true God, but for the most part He remains unknown. It is not until one has heard the voice of the Shepherd, who with individual attentiveness and personal self investment guides His sheep to their eternal destiny, that one has known the true God.

In the religion of the Bible, this true God is known. He is the “God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.” Abraham knew Him. Jacob encountered Him. Moses spoke with Him. And through these prophets and patriarchs, God spoke to the people. Through Judeo-Christian religion, God speaks to every man. We hear His voice, we can know Him, we can follow Him.

And God has “spoken” most fully through His Son, who is quite literally, God’s “Word,” become flesh. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, who reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature” (Hb 1:1-3).

God is therefore neither distant nor abstract. He is not an impersonal force, nor is He the reducible to a philosophical pre-supposition. And He is certainly not absent or non-existent. God is real and present, the shepherd of His people, who

knows each one by name, and His sheep are able to hear His voice and follow him. There is a personal knowledge, and a personal bond, between them.

This truth is as old as the Old Testament. Christianity goes back to Moses, Isaac, Abraham – to the God who first spoke with these men. The revelation that is completed in Jesus, is already present in the Old Testament. It is the same true God, fully revealed in Jesus (“The Father and I are One”), who is already spoken about in writings such as Psalm 100 or Psalm 23.

But in Jesus this fundamental truth of the Old Testament goes a step further, to its final extreme. God the Shepherd becomes a sheep, and shepherds the flock in a way that a human shepherd could never do for ordinary sheep. He shepherds the flock as one of them, becoming the lamb sacrificed on their behalf, so that none of them has to be harmed or lost.

John in his vision of heaven sees this Good Shepherd triumphant in his glory, continuing his shepherding role from heaven: “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water” (Rv 7:16).

Not only is God a shepherd, He becomes a sheep that He may shepherd the flock perfectly. In order to guide the flock to the “verdant pastures,” God must lead them through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23). God must lead men to Himself, beyond this world. In order to do this, He must shepherd them through death. God does not simply send people to their deaths, cruelly, uncaringly. As the Good shepherd, He personally leads them through death by His own personal self-investment, His own sacrifice. The shepherd-lamb goes before them through death, so that the sheep might confidently follow.

Jesus the Good Shepherd says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn 10:28). With confidence let us hear his voice, and follow him.

Rev. Glen Mullan

Aden Martyrs

April 3, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter (C) (Book of Revelation)

When I entered the seminary and began to learn Catholicism more fully, there was a great deal of theological and scriptural study. But the writings that most moved me and deepened my faith were historical accounts of the martyrs— those saints whose blood became “the seed of Christians,” whose sacrifice united with Christ became the foundation and source of the Church’s growth.

Christians, beginning in the early Church, took great pains to write down and share the eye-witness accounts of martyrdoms, and then commemorate each year, at the tombs of the martyrs, their “birthday” into glory. This is the origin of the Church’s calendar of saints. One of these early accounts is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 7).

Other inspiring accounts of martyrdom in the early Church, for which there is substantial and accurate historical documentation, are:

St. Ignatius of Antioch (+107 A.D.)
St. Polycarp of Smyrna (+155 A.D.)
SS. Perpetua & Felicity & Companions (+203 A.D.) SS. Sixtus II & Lawrence & Companions (+258 A.D.)

Added now to this martyrology is the sacrifice of the Aden martyrs, who were born into glory on March 4, 2016, at the hands of ISIS terrorists. They include: Sister Anselm from India, who joined Mother Teresa’s sisters at age 40; Sister Judith from Kenya, who grew up in poverty and was once kicked out of her house because she refused to let witch doctors help them become rich; Sister Marguerite from Rwanda, and Sister Reginette from Rwanda.

These Missionaries of Charity ran a nursing home in the port city of Aden, Yemen, dedicated to the works of mercy. Together with some lay Christian volunteers, and their chaplain, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil of India, they were the only Christian presence in this Islamic city. Fr. Tom resided with the sisters, since his church had been burned down.

Twelve workers were killed in this attack, and Fr. Tom was kidnapped. A fifth sister, the local superior, Sister Sally, witnessed everything and miraculously survived to provide the account of the massacre.

At 8:30am, following morning Mass and breakfast, a group of ISIS terrorists entered the nursing facility, killing the guard and driver. Five young Ethiopian Christian men who tried to warn the sisters were rounded up, tied to trees, shot in the head, and then had their heads smashed. Four working women, including the cook, were then killed. Sisters Judith and Reginette were captured and tied, shot in the head, and then had their heads smashed. While Sister Sally tried to run back from to the convent to warn Fr Tom, Sisters Anselm and Marguerite were killed in the same way: tied, shot in head, followed by crushing their heads in the sand. Sister Sally was not able to reach Fr Tom, but he heard the screaming and quickly consumed the hosts in the tabernacle. A neighbor witnessed him being kidnapped and driven off in a car. The convent chapel was ransacked, and all religious objects smashed and destroyed: statue of Our Lady, Crucifix, altar, tabernacle, lectionary stand, prayer books, and Bibles. Sister Sally hid in the convent’s walk- in refrigerator, standing behind the door. ISIS knew there were five sisters and methodically searched for her. Three times they entered the refrigerator but did not see her. By 10:00am the terrorists left. Sister Sally checked on the residents, none of whom was hurt, and collected the bodies of the sisters who were killed.

By 10:30 police arrived, and forced Sister Sally to leave, taking her and the bodies to an international hospital.

These sisters were targeted specifically because they were Christian. The details of the martyrdoms were given by Sister Sally to Sister Rio and recorded by Sister Adriana, of the Missionaries of Charity.

This hand-written account   (http://www.newadvent.org/library/sister-rio.pdf)  was   distributed   to   their communities.

Following the attack, ISIS indicated that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil would be crucified on Good Friday (March 25, 2016). It is not yet definitively established whether this took place.

During the Easter season, the second reading is from the Book of Revelation. St. John writes these visions during the first great persecution of the Church by the Romans, a time of great “distress and endurance” (Rv 1:9). Today the persecution of Christianity continues, and the same demonic power that raged against the early Church through the Romans, manifests itself through Islam. Though the media and politicians scrupulously avoid this religious or spiritual aspect of Islamic terrorism, Christians who read the Book of Revelation recognize that the kind of violence ISIS perpetrates can only be understood in terms of the greater battle between good and evil. Pope Francis described the attack as an “act of senseless and diabolical violence.” Humanly it is senseless, or irrational. Spiritually, it is diabolical. It “makes sense” only when recognized as diabolical.

From a human perspective the smashing of the victims’ heads indicates only an irrational barbaric cruelty. However, from a spiritual or religious perspective, as Sister Adriana notes toward the end of the written account, “the crushing of the

head has some evil connection with ‘She will crush the head of the serpent.’ Some kind of mockery or evil meaning.”

Sister Adriana refers to the “Protoevangelium,” or first announcement of Christ’s Victory, as found in the Book of Genesis when God punishes the serpent:

The LORD God said to the ser