"He only who speaks from the heart, that is, he who feels and practices what he preaches, shall speak to the heart of others, and shall move them to the love of God." ~ St. Alphonsus Liguori
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Christianity, Catholicism, is not a list of do’s and don’ts. Truly that’s part of who we are, but Christianity is more than doing certain things and abstaining from other things; it is about God’s active desire to lead every person to the fullness of life that they yearn for. Everything that Christ taught and did – everything that the Church teaches and does – is directed towards that goal.
Christ is a leader entirely focused on His mission and not on Himself, and if we are to be faithful to Him – we must experience true success in this life. But true success is not what you might think. True success, rather, is following in the footsteps of the Master. One reason why it can be so hard for us to do that, to live according to Christ’s standard of true success is because, frankly, the world around us does not reward this kind of success. Our efforts to do the right thing, to serve those in need, to be merciful and forgiving, to control our tempers and passions … all of these efforts, which can be so costly, and painful to us here on earth as we develop our personality, our relationship with Christ, are worth it. They are worth it because, when we grow in those areas of imitating Christ, we in fact are building up the eternal kingdom. And the rewards of the kingdom, the rewards of true success, will never be lost.
So that makes this even more of an impossibility. Five little biscuits and two little fishes to feed 10 thousand people. Phillip nervously points out, sort of being the obvious character in this story, even a whole year’s worth of salary, 200 denarii, could not buy enough food for such a feast. Still, when the apostles handed over their paltry resources (this brave gift of this little boy) to Christ, five loaves and the two fish became more than enough to do the job. The same goes for all of… for each one of us, whatever we have, how meager it might be, when we give it over to God great things can happen. Not even ‘can happen,’ great things do happen.
For man things are not possible, but for God everything is possible.
And so this reality, which we contemplate from time to time, should give us in the midst of life – strength; in the midst of struggle – courage, because it is a reminder, just as the way that Christ is present to us when we read the Scriptures, when we celebrate the Eucharist – that He dwells day and night in our tabernacle – that Jesus Christ has not abandoned us and He never will. We are precious to Him. We are His redeemed, His friends, His fellow soldiers and the battle that each one of us fights in our lives through struggles, through difficulty, through addiction – even if these things may seem small in the eyes of the world, they are big in Christ’s eyes; because and only because we matter to Him.
‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ These past several weeks and the weeks to come, we’ve been talking about these apparent contradictions about terminology, these turns of phrases that are being used in the scriptures. This is another example of that and the thing is with this kind of insight into humanity and to our own existence. This kind of insight can only come through experience in life. It is hard for the young to say this, but, as we grow old, we begin to realize this truth and so even though it seems to be contradictory it should be a comfort for us. Because it means that our sufferings, our thorns – whatever they may be – are not signs that God is angry or displeased with us. God does not punish us that way. Rather they are signs that He is teaching us. Using the contingencies of life as He taught Paul, to teach us true wisdom. The wisdom of humility and trust in God.
[St. Ignatius of Loyola’s] advice – which is very timely – is also good, good reminder. He said that every true Christian should pray as if everything depended on God, but work as if everything depended upon himself. Now this may sound like a contradiction, and in fact we have to make one slight clarification, because we cannot imply, or infer in this that there is anything we can do that will merit salvation. We cannot buy our eternal happiness. But it is this coupling, rather, of dependence upon God and His Providence and using our intelligence – which is also a gift of God – that makes us human. To pray as if everything depended upon the Almighty One, but to work with the gifts that we have as if everything depended upon ourselves.
With the Holy Eucharist, though, this [nourishment] does not happen automatically. That it is a supernatural and a spiritual nourishment, and it will only nourish us if we allow it to. And there are many ways that we can make ourselves more aware of this spiritual nourishment that takes place. For some of us it is that discipline of silence – whether in the morning at home before we come to Mass. Or the discipline of silence coming early to Mass, or staying a little bit after Mass. But all of that preparation is also tied into the actual celebration. In order to participate fruitfully, actively in this sacrifice – not only do we need to prepare ourselves, not only do we need to engage the liturgy that we celebrate, but we also need to take that final step of being thankful – making thanksgiving to God for the gifts that He has given to us. That is, if you go back and look at the psalm (at least to my mind) the point of what David is saying. That, “I will take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. How can I repay His goodness to me?” In the traditional Mass, it’s the last prayer the priest says before he receives the Precious Blood. That element of thanksgiving to God for everything is there even in that most intimate moment of receiving His Body and Blood.
How grateful, dear friends, should we be to God? That we have the knowledge though Christ that has saved us from falling into either one of these extremes. We are human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, we are not a blight upon this planet and nor is the earth void of meaning. Rather, this physicality is part of God’s revelation and what does it say to us? That we, because we are created in His image, because we are redeemed by the Blood of the cross, that we are essentially good. It can be difficult for us as Catholics to believe that. We are good. That when our sins are forgiven, they are forgiven and they are forgotten and we are essentially good because we are the image of God on earth.
But how do we do that? How do we stay faithful that that identity, and grow in maturity of faith and purpose? One writer has suggested that every Christian needs to learn how to follow their ‘holy discontent’. What does that mean: holy discontent? We know, simply by turning on the news, that there are allot of things wrong in the world. But not all of the wrongs in the world touch our hearts in the same way. For each of us, one or another particular thing resonates more than the others. And that could be this ’holy discontent’, that which Paul says, “To each individual manifestation of the Spirit, it is given for some benefit,” for something that’s concrete. And maybe, God has given us this special sensitivity to some particular issue because He is calling us to shine as light in the world there. And if each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one dark corner of the earth … There are many things we could commit to, but the point is that if we commit to something we must do so with the light of Christ and the mind of Christ. And if we approach the world in that way imagine what the world could be like even twelve months from now?
What we do, as Catholics when we receive Communion, is the most intimate relationship that we can have with Jesus this side of heaven. When we eat His body and drink His blood, we become like that which we eat – we become more like Christ. And we are nourished in our souls to live courageously the message of the Gospel. So what you do today is a reminder to us.
… we also celebrate today the transferred feast of the Ascension. It seems to me that we don’t think enough about this mystery. It is one of the essential mysteries of our faith, but if you don’t recite the rosary regularly the idea of the Ascension hardly ever comes to mind. But it is a crucial part of Christ’s message and mission. It is the culminating moment – the finale, if you will – the moment in which His victory is enshrined in heaven forever. Jesus ascended into heaven as the living and true sacrifice, that which is made present here under the appearance of bread and wine. He presents to God our Father, our humanity – our very flesh – that living sacrifice, our eternal high priest, that continues to be our bridge of communion between God and humanity until the end of time.