Sunday, May 31, 2009


1. The Church came to exist when Jesus Christ called the disciples and began to form them in the Good News of Salvation. But Pentecost is rightly considered the birthday of the Church. What was largely hidden from the eyes of the world now burst forth upon the scene, with rushing wind, tongues of flame, and powerful and effective preaching (Acts 2:1-11).
2. The word Pentecost comes from Greek, meaning 50 days. It was originally a word used by the Greek speaking Jews to indicate the end of the 50 days of harvest after the feast of Passover (see this in the Jewish Encyclopedia). Harvest would begin with the barley and end with the wheat, because wheat took longer to ripen. The feast would include a day of rest as well as the sacrifices of the first fruits of the harvest. It was believed that Moses deliberately arranged it to fall on Sunday, so that everyone would have two days of rest in a row (Saturday being their Sabbath). In some places it was customary to read the Book of Ruth, because the harvest figures into her story, but also because she became a convert to Judaism.
3. The Christian feast of Pentecost is the fulfillment of the ancient feast. Our Pentecost is celebrated always on a Sunday. It is 50 days after Easter, which is referred to during the Easter Vigil as our passover feast. Note in the Passover, the Lambs are sacrificed and their blood is sprinkled on the doorposts so that the sons of the Israelites would be saved from the angel of death. In the mystery of Jesus Christ, it is He the Son of God, the True Lamb, who is sacrificed so that all people may be saved from the power of death. In the Last Supper, we are invited to share mysteriously in this same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
4. In the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the first fruits of the harvest are brought before the Lord in thanksgiving. At the feast of Pentecost, the first fruits of the harvest of souls is brought before the Lord by the preaching of the apostles. Remember the many parables of Jesus which compared the evangelization of the world to the sowing of the seed of truth and the harvest of believers brought to faith and baptism ( for example: Matthew 9:37-38, Matthew 13:24-30).
5. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which the disciples received on Pentecost empowered them to fulfill the mission given to them by the Redeemer Jesus Christ. In spite of being with Jesus for about three years and receiving His teaching and observing His many signs, the disciples were still missing something. They were afraid. They were still thinking in a worldly manner. Yet all that changed with the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Those who had hidden themselves out of fear for what people might think or say or do became fearless in their proclamations regarding the Risen Christ. Those who had longed for a worldly kingdom and worldly power now yearned for a heavenly kingdom. Those who may have been regarded as ignorant were now able to demonstrate through scripture and argument that Jesus is indeed the Lord, the Son of God. Furthermore, many of those who previously might have shouted Crucify Him! now listened intently and received the gift of faith. These converts could be said to be in some sense the “first fruits” of those who would come into the Body of Christ which is the Church. In any event, the disciples and those who were added to the Lord that day received Courage, Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Right Judgement, Piety and Fear of the Lord- all the gifts of the Spirit.
6. The Church has also received one other gift through the Holy Spirit- that is the gift of indefectability. That is, the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church from falling away from Jesus. It is true that individual Christians, whether they be lay people or even deacons, priests, or bishops can sin or make mistakes. But Jesus promised that Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). And it is through the Holy Spirit that God keeps His promise to us.
7. Like the Disciples at Pentecost, we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are given to us so that we may accomplish our part in the mission to bring Jesus Christ to every creature. But there is one thing to consider. If after the Spirit descended on the disciples they would have remained in the upper room, if they had failed to make an appearance in the Temple precincts to begin preaching the truth out loud and without fear, where would we be now? Likewise, we cannot be afraid. We need to stand up for the truth. We need to share with others our faith in Jesus Christ the Risen Savior. Come Holy Spirit!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven

1. In His Ascension to Heaven, Jesus took His place at the right hand of the Father. It is important to remember that Jesus did not leave His human body behind, as if it were a machine or a mere container or even some form of prison. Rather, Jesus ascended in the totality of His humanity (together with His divinity), a totality which included His whole person, body and soul. That is what happened in the Ascension of our Lord, but what does it mean?
2. Saint Paul refers to Jesus as the new Adam- that is the new Man (human) (1 Corinthians 15:45). Whatever happens to Him is destined to happen to us (1 Corinthians 15:48). To be fully human, we must be like the New Man who is Jesus the Christ. In His resurrection, Jesus has conquered the power of death for every human being. We still die, but death will not have power over us. In the Ascension, we discover that the whole human person is the subject of redemption and salvation and glory, not merely the spirit or the mind. Just as all of Resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven, so will the full completeness of our resurrected selves go to heaven on the last day (if we are in union with Jesus the Christ). As wonderful and glorious as Jesus’ resurrection was, that was not all He came to accomplish. Human beings are not destined for this life and this existence alone. God has made us for much more.
3. Jesus told His disciples that there were many dwelling places in His Father’s house and that He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3). That is our true destiny- life in the house of the Father forever- without sorrow, without suffering, without want.
4. But there is a catch. In the Acts of the Apostles, as the disciples stood looking up into heaven after Jesus ascended, the angel of the Lord told them that Jesus indeed was going to return at a time of God’s choosing (See Acts 1:1-11). However, those who are His followers have a job to do. In the Gospel, Jesus told them Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). In Acts, He said you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We may be destined for eternal life in Heaven, but in the meantime we must obey the will of the Father and the instructions of the Son.
5. The mission of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature belongs to every Christian regardless of age, status, or position. In fact whether we like it or not, we are witnesses of Jesus Christ. We might be bad witnesses and tell lies about Him, or we might be good witnesses and tell the truth. But whatever we say, do, or think will not be without effect. The ultimate goal of this mission of course, is the salvation of the whole world. This task is serious business, too. Jesus said Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
6. It is serious for us, because the Lord wants us to have salvation, therefore we must believe and be baptized (not just be baptized). That does not mean that our belief must be fully formed. Certainly the apostles are ample proof of that. Jesus chose them and they had to grow in knowledge and wisdom. But we must believe.
7. The act of belief has two aspects. The first aspect is consent to hold the Good News of Salvation in our minds and hearts. To make this kind of assent, we must grow in knowledge. Because if the faith does not grow, it will wither. The Christian is obligated to learn more about the truths of our faith. Some people describe to me what they interpret to be a period of doubt in their lives. And it is not doubt- it is the desire to know and understand more. God is permitting it so that we will be motivated to learn.
8. Another aspect of faith is trust. This aspect is probably more important than gaining intellectual knowledge. Trust is an acknowledgment that we do not have all the answers, that we cannot save ourselves, that we are not in control, and yet, we will follow Jesus anyway. Faith as Trust is plunging into the dark cloud of unknowing, placing ourselves at the disposal of God for His Glory and our good. Trust is Mary saying be it done to me according to thy word (Luke 1:38) and Peter saying to whom shall we go Master, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
9. The Ascension also means hope for us. The angel told us that Jesus would come back again in glory. Jesus Himself works through the Church with through the sacraments and the teaching capacity of the bishops, as well as through miracles and signs. Jesus said He would not leave us orphans (John 14:18), and He has not. In truth, at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is more present to His Church than He was walking the earth.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good Shepherd

Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He identifies various qualities that a good shepherd has. Namely, that He cares for the sheep personally as if each one is important to Him. He does not have the attitude of someone shepherding as a job with no real concern for those being cared for. His commitment to the sheep is such that He will even lay down His own life to protect them.

Of course Jesus is not talking about real sheep, He is talking about shepherding us. Jesus does indeed care for each one of us. His concern is unlike a hired hand because He is the Creator- we belong to Him. When Jesus says that He will lay down His life for His sheep, He is not just speaking empty words. He has really done it.

With the knowledge of what the Lord has done for us, our confidence in God should be very high. Of course, some people may object to being compared to sheep. But it is an apt comparison. We are dependent upon our Lord for everything. We like to think that we are in charge, or that we have within ourselves the capacity to save the world by our own actions. Others may object to having anyone other than themselves as their shepherd. But Scripture says that those who trust in their material wealth and human power are seeking folly. They will have death as their shepherd (see Psalm 49:15).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It was just a little rainy, that's all.

Well the 2009 Sam's MS 150 from Frisco to Fort Worth was last weekend. It did not turn out as anybody had really planned. Between the fears concerning the Swine Flu (H1N1), and the weather, the planners and the participants had to be very flexible.

I was able to obtain sufficient priests to substitute for me over the weekend, so that I did not have to strive to get back in town to celebrate any of the Masses. My training went okay, and I was confident that I could finish the whole ride.

Anyway, the first wrench in the works was the H1N1 virus. Or I should say the fear of the virus. Out of concern for public safety, the finish line at Sundance Square in Fort Worth was cancelled. But it was decided that the second day would be a loop starting and ending at the Texas Motor Speedway.

I almost did not even go Saturday morning. Friday night, I drove to Frisco and checked out the parking and starting area. The weather that day was so cloudy and gloomy that it was hard to get excited about anything. The internet weather sites were predicting a 40% chance of rain on Saturday and a higher chance on Sunday. I was decided that I was not going to ride in the rain, if at all possible. Sunday was probably not going to happen for me. Still, I packed up my tent and sleeping bag and everything that I would need to spend the night. As of Friday, because of the rain earlier in the week, it was decided not to have camping at the Motor Speedway. This decision was very wise.

When I returned home on Friday night, the chance of rain for Saturday had increased to 50%. I was hoping that it would either just start to rain, or miraculously clear up, so I would not have to worry about it one way or another. At 4am Saturday morning, the chance of rain had been increased to 60%. I sat around for an hour trying to decide what to do. Finally, I concluded that I would ride until I could ride no more and left the house. It was easy getting to the parking area and leaving my bags on the bag truck. The sky was dark grey, but I had made up my mind. To be prepared, I brought a lightweight rain jacket, suitable for backpacking. It was a little too bulky for the rear pocket of my jersey, so I opted for the hydration pack. I put the jacket, the matching rain pants, and a vest in the pack. I don't generally prefer to ride on the road with a hydration pack, but I was not going to be caught in the rain suffering.

Because of my early morning waffling, I was near the tail end of the starters. If I was not in the last group starting, it was next to last. But as they say, it is not a race. It is also said that whenever there are two or more bicyclists, there is always a race. It may or may not have been wise, but I started to go almost as fast as I could. I was not sprinting, but trying to move up in the mass of people and find a group going my speed. Riding in a large group of cyclists is great in that you can go much faster with the same energy than you can riding alone.

I stopped briefly at the first rest stop and skipped the second one entirely. The group was already stretched out and I was trying to stay with people who were riding about my speed. For about the first 40 miles, that was about 18.5mph. At one point we were on a road that went along the south end of Lake Ray Roberts. The roadway was high up from the lakeshore, like a bridge. At that point, it began to mist a bit. Halfway across the bridge, the temperature suddenly dropped about 10 degrees it seemed. I was very grateful when we finished crossing and the trees provided somewhat of a wind break. (I say we, but in truth, by this time I was riding alone.) I still felt strong, and my legs were nice and warm, but the upper body began to be a little uncomfortable.

Lunch was in Sanger at mile 48. I put on my vest before I ate. We had turkey sandwiches which were very tasty. But I could not sit down. The wind was so bad that the seating area was too cold. I huddled with some like minded people on the leeward side of the concession stand where the food was being served. Along the way I met a parishioner who was a Ride Marshall. At lunch, his wife approached me to give me encouragement and to express hope that her husband would start coming to church more often.

After lunch, I put my raincoat on and opened up the pit zips. Riding with rainwear is a challenge. Most of the time, you sweat so much that you are just as wet as if the rain is on you. But at least its warm. My jacket is fairly breathable, and the pit zips helped. Still, I had to open and close the zippers to adjust the temperature the rest of the ride. I got hot and at a later stop took off the vest. That was a mistake, because it got soaked by the rain as it was in my hydration pack.

Around mile 60, my legs began to refuse to function like before. I was no longer able to keep the 87-95 cadence. My saddle began to feel uncomfortable also. Occasionally I would eat a package of energy gel, which helped my legs. Maybe I was lacking in salt, I do not know.

The last rest stop was at mile 71. My plan was to rest there about 15 minutes, then finish the ride, which had 15 miles left. I can always do 15 miles, so I knew I had it. But then at the rest stop there in Ponder, the authorities announced that due to severe weather, the rest of the ride was cancelled. We were to lay our bikes down on the grass and board vans to be transported to the Texas Motor Speedway. They would send a crew to bring our bikes. I was able to enter the third van. As soon as I got in an situated (uncomfortably) the skies opened up and the rain began to pour.

When we arrived at the TMS, the other passengers on the van begged the driver to let us out at the bike storage lot. It was raining very hard and there were these two little booths under which many people were crowded. I went there to put on the rain pants and assess my situation. The nearest bathrooms were at least a half mile away, so there was nothing to do but walk. Thank God for the rain suit!

Halfway across the parking lot, the water was already about 2 inches deep and too wide to jump. So I had to slosh through and get wet feet. The luggage crew had the bags underneath plastic sheeting. I reclaimed my bags and walked across a homemade boardwalk across the grass toward the dining tent. Most of the tent had 3 inches of water on the ground, but I found a "dry" spot. It was tempting just to stay in the portable toilet out of the rain, but I went back to the dining tent and proceeded to check the contents of my bags. For some reason, the clothes were still dry. I put another long sleeve shirt over what I had and changed jackets to another rain coat with more coverage.

My sister was coming to pick me up to take me back to Frisco. She was waiting at the gate next to the bike storage lot. As I walked back, there was much more water. The homemade boardwalk had floated away or sunk, so there was about 4 inches of water to wade through. The volunteer in charge of the bike lot had no idea when the bikes would be delivered, since not all the riders were accounted for as of yet.

It had mostly stopped raining, so there was a little less standing water to trudge through in the parking lot. I walked out and across the road and got into my sisters car. We waited about an hour for the trucks with the bikes to arrive. I was impressed that those who had reclaimed our bikes had wrapped each one up in heavy duty brown paper, so that the bikes would not get damaged. I helped unload and store the bikes until mine came off the second truck.

Later in the day, it was announced that the second day was cancelled. It was disappointing not to be able to finish the full distance, but it was a memorable ride. The volunteers were well organized, helpful and friendly. The rest stops were well stocked with goodies to eat and drink. My average speed for the 71 miles was 16.6mph. There is room for improvement, but I am fairly satisfied. I am glad that I rode.