Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Problem of Death

1. God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living (Wisdom 1:13).
2. The problem of evil, suffering and death imposes itself on each one of us eventually. For some people in the modern world, the reality of suffering is enough to convince them that God does not exist. They might say "if there was a God, He would certainly not let this thing happen"... whatever it is. Such a statement does not really disprove the existence of a Supreme Being. Maybe those who deny God’s existence see suffering as proof that the universe is irrational and meaningless. Of course, how then could one reason to that conclusion? But not to get sidetracked.... Maybe those who deny God are just treating Him like they would any other relative or acquaintance who they perceive is offensive- they simply ignore Him.
3. The biblical view of suffering and death however is that God did not create it. (The book of Wisdom (1:13-15; 2:23-24) reiterates the book of Genesis (first two chapters) in reminding us that creation is essentially good because it has being. God created all things and declared them good. Death, however, is the result of sin (the envy of the devil and the disobedience of Adam and Eve)- that is the failure to do God’s will. Saint Augustine would say that evil then was the lack of some aspect of goodness which God had created and intended. For example, illness is the lack of health. Hunger is the lack of nutrition. Sorrow is the lack of joy. Death is the lack of life. Since God made all human beings in His image and likeness, to have being, to exist, to live is God’s most basic intention for us. Only through failure to live in God’s image and likeness can death intrude.
4. The book of Wisdom continues by saying they who belong to his (the devil's) company experience death (Wisdom 2:24). This is not to say that since everyone is dying that we are all in the company of the devil. But rather It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it (Wisdom 1:16). Those who follow the devil will experience the second death of being permanently alienated from their true destiny which is union with God.
5. God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the death of the living. Rather, our Lord confronted suffering and death in His earthly life. He healed the sick and raised the dead back to life. On the one hand, these miracles were signs of who Jesus is- that is the all powerful God- and signs of the salvation He won for us- namely the ultimate freedom from these evils which His death and resurrection obtained for us. These signs are evidence to us that God does not rejoice in our destruction. Our Lord permits us to suffer because it is the result of free will. But at the same time, our Lord opposed death and still opposes it.
6. Our Lord has a healing will, but not everyone who saw Him or touched Him was healed. In Mark 5, The disciples noticed that many touched Jesus, but only one was healed of her illness. Likewise, many people in those days had one of their children die. But not all did Jesus bring back to this life. What was the difference? Did Jesus freely decide to heal that one and let another suffer and die? That is not how the Bible portrays His ministry. The difference is in those who turned to Him in need. The woman with the hemorrhage believed and trusted that Jesus had the power to heal her. Even though circumstances looked bad, the synagogue official trusted that Jesus could heal his daughter. Their trust was more powerful than their sorrow and suffering. And as a result of their faith, they received the healing which they ardently desired.
7. The lesson which Saint Mark is trying to teach is that we must believe and trust in Jesus, putting fear aside, if we want to experience His power in our lives. Others may ridicule us- no matter. Others may appear to be doing exactly what we are, but with no effect- we cannot let that stop us from trusting.
8. Of course, many of us may have prayed sincerely and trustingly for a healing which we have not obtained. Does that mean we just do not have enough faith? We might not, but the failure to receive the miracle is not an indication of our lack of faith. (We ought to remember that Abraham and Sarah had to wait 24 years for God’s promise of a son.) Jesus’ conquered death, but He did more. He changed its meaning. Our suffering makes us like Him (that is, suffering and death can make us more like Jesus Christ). By changing death, Jesus made death different not just for those who would believe in Him later, but even for all those who lived before His time. All have the offer of union with Christ the Lord. Only those who reject Jesus and His passion, death and resurrection truly experience death in all its horror and emptiness.
9. In the Sacrament of the Sick, many times people are healed of their illness. But much more often they are healed spiritually or morally. And this kind of healing is far more important than physical healing because it can last forever. But we have to trust, for God will not force His love upon us. Nor will Jesus make us live in the home of His Father if we do not want it. No, we must put ourselves into His hands. Do not be afraid; just have faith! (Mark 5:36).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi

1. We believe that the Bread and Wine offered on the altar, through the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, through the Words of Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the priest become the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We did not invent this teaching, rather it was handed on to us from the Apostles themselves, who not only were present at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted this sacrificial meal, but also came to recognize Jesus in what they called at the time “the Breaking of the Bread.”
2. Jesus Himself, on the night He was betrayed, took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying “Take it; this is my body (Mark 14:22). And taking the cup Jesus said This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many (Mark 14:24). If we believe that Jesus is God, we cannot doubt His words. And it is not as if the Lord had not prepared His people for this moment. In the covenant the Lord made with the people when He rescued them from Pharaoh in Egypt, the people had to eat the flesh of the lamb of sacrifice, or they would have no part in His people. In the peace sacrifice of bulls made by Moses, the people were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animal in order to participate in the sacrifice. In like manner, we the People of the New Covenant, must partake of the sacrifice by which the covenant was established. But it is not with blood of bulls or goats or sheep, but with the Blood of Jesus.
3. In His power as God, Jesus has made it possible for everyone to share in His sacrificial offering of Himself for the sake of redeeming us from our sins. And we need this sacrificial offering of Jesus’ Body and Blood. Jesus said Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life (John 6:53). The body needs material food and the intellect is fed by thinking or study. But the life of Christ living within us, can only be nourished by Jesus Christ Himself. Without Christ nourishing us, we cannot live and grow as Christians. And since Jesus Christ is concerned about saving the whole person, our food cannot be simply spiritual but bodily as well.
4. We might ask: how is it possible that Jesus can give us His body and blood to eat and drink? How is it possible for us to believe in this sacrament? Where’s the proof? Ultimately the Eucharist is a Mystery of God- a miraculous feeding- a mysterious meal and sacrifice. But there are ways for us to grasp the mystery. One such way is the theological term transubstantiation. Now a substance in this explanation means that which makes a thing what it is- its true being. An accident is a quality that is accidental to the being of a thing, like color or shape or taste or location. We say that in the Eucharist, the substance or true being of the bread and wine are transformed into the substance of Jesus Christ. But the accidental qualities remain. By using this concept, our hearts and minds can know in truth and believe that which our eyes cannot see.
5. And through believing with all our strength, eventually the eyes of our understanding will see the Truth and we too will come to know Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. And by eating His Body and drinking His Blood, we will gain life everlasting if only we keep His commands.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holy Trinity One God

1. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. About 20 years ago, someone loaned me a book containing letters which Mozart the musician wrote. It was interesting to me, because the letters were written in the same style as his music. They revealed the personality of the famous music Composer just like his music even though they were not poetic or musical in any way. In fact, they revealed Mozart in a new way which I was not used to experiencing. As Catholics we believe that God reveals Himself through His creation. Everything which we learn about the universe can tell us something about God, if we pay attention. For example, we can know that God exists through the use of our natural powers of intellect. A person generally does not have to be taught that God exists. The other day I heard that there are about 30 arguments for the existence of God (for example, things do not just pop into existence and there certainly seems to be some order to the universe). But there is only one argument for the non-existence of God (that is the problem of why evil exists).
2. Although the existence of God and certain aspects of the moral life are things which we can figure out on our own with our God given brains, other facets of our Christian faith must be revealed to us. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is an example. Another example is the Holy Trinity. We believe that there is one God, in Three Persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is revealed to us, we did not arrive at it using basic human intelligence.
3. The Holy Trinity is explicitly mentioned in the Bible in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus said Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). But how do we explain it? It is one thing to know that God is Trinity, and another matter to understand it. To be truthful, it is a mysterious fact. In the seminary we took a class for a whole semester studying the Trinity, and at the end, it was still mysterious. But there are various ways of explaining it. For example, Saint Augustine wrote that since God is love, one could say that God the Father is the Lover, and God the Son is the Beloved, and God the Holy Spirit is the Love which exists between them. After all, the Perfect Lover must have someone to love (otherwise it is just self-love, which is not perfect). And love must be reciprocal in order to truly exist (if love is not shared and returned, it is also imperfect). Perfect love between two persons becomes so powerful it is another person. Look at human love, imperfect as it is. When shared completely and returned completely, it can result in another human being.
4. Even if this explanation is unconvincing or lacks something, God is still a Trinity Persons in a Unity of Divinity. Pope John Paul II has said that in His essence, God is a community. And that communion which is interior to God is part of the image and likeness which we as humans were made to be. We are connected to others even though we may not feel like it. We are not islands or solitary beings. We are called to relate to others in the human race. In fact it is a command of Jesus Christ. He said Love one another as I have loved you... Live on in my love.
5. Although God is perfect for all ages upon ages, in His love He created us. Part of God’s plan is to make us His children- that is to unite each of us with Himself so profoundly that we begin to share His divine nature. It does not mean that we each will become the supreme being. It means that we are destined for life without end in the Home of our Father in heaven.
6. A professor told us that our homilies should include something that each listener should do. Maybe what we ought to do then is strive to live this week as if we were part of the Holy Trinity- to love others with the Love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Or maybe we can recall frequently that God the Father has chosen us to be His beloved children. That recollection may go a long way to strengthening us against envy or jealousy or an inordinate attachment to the things of the world. After all, we will be in the home of the Father for a lot longer than we will be here.