First-Holy-Communion Homily

Raise your hand if you will receive your first Holy Communion at this Mass…  What did we just hear the Lord Jesus say?

The Father and I will come and make our dwelling in you. (John 14:23)

God coming and dwelling in us.  Dwelling in us, as our food for eternal life.

baptism-holy-card1It all begins with Holy Baptism.  The water of baptism cleanses us of original sin.  The Blessed Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–the divine Trinity, God, becomes the furnace of our souls, when we receive baptism.

Baptism begins something that only Holy Communion can sustain and complete.  Because the furnace in our souls needs fuel.

Jesus Himself received baptism–to begin His mission.  Then He proceeded to undertake a long and hard pilgrimage, traveling from town to town to teach and heal; walking to Jerusalem to fulfill the ancient religion; and ultimately giving His life for us.

The Lord Jesus kept a fast, at one point. But He didn’t fast His whole life.  We read in the gospels that He often ate.  Eating is a crucial part of living, after all.  And He ate not only to sustain His strength, but also to share HIs love.  He shared festive social dinners with His friends.  Every time, it meant not just bodily sustenance but also a foretaste of heavenly communion with God.  “I drink this cup with you now,” He said to the Apostles.  “Next time we will banquet together in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s no accident that our little ones receive their first Holy Communion right at the time of life when our minds become our own.  Right when we start to realize:  I can decide to pray myself.  I can say to God, and ask God, what I choose to say and ask.

Ecce Agnus DeiOur little ones receive Holy Commuion at the time of life when everything stops being just a haze of sensory stimuli and starts being an on-going engagement with the reality of God and His plan for me.  Jesus is becoming a real person, in the mind’s eye, for our little ones receiving Holy Communion for the first time today.

The real Person, born in Bethlehem of a beautiful, kind, prayerful mother named Mary.  Raised by her, and by her hard-working, gentle, strong husband, Joseph.  Jesus, Who studied, grew up, and did His mission in life.  A mission that involved the cross.

It’s no accident that our little ones receive Holy Communion for the first time right at the point in life when the love of Christ, crucified for me, becomes something upon which to meditate.  A lot of us have memories of how we started to think about Jesus, and what He did on the cross–when we were seven, eight, nine years old.  When we, each of us, realized: He loves me.  So let me love Him back.

“Do not be troubled or afraid,” He says.  “I give you My peace.” “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (John 14:27)

Christ doesn’t give us His peace as something that inevitably will get old and decay.  He doesn’t give us His peace for now–but we will soon get bored with it.

No.  Receiving Holy Communion means that we can have the peace of God Himself, as our food.  His peace is perfect happiness that never ends.  Like a beautiful afternoon, with no homework.  No rain, no fights, no problems of any kind.  Just pure fun.  I remember when I was seven or eight, I went over to a friend’s house.  His father served us a snack.  Toasted bagels, with butter melting in every little fluffy bite.  I had never had a bagel before.  It tasted like heaven on earth!

At every age–from seven or eight on up–we have responsibilities.  Which means we can suffer anxiety.  But Jesus has done everything so that we can have interior peace.  We can have within the peace that He had within–the peace He had, even when He stretched out His arms on the cross.

Now, of all the things Jesus did, what’s the biggest of them all?  He died…then He rose again!  When we receive Holy Communion, eternal life is our food.  The undying life of Christ dwells within us, and feeds our interior furnace.

Congratulations to you!  Now let’s pray hard through the rest of Mass…

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Prince E-Mail Exchange

Very interested in your thoughts, dear reader.  Maybe my kind and thoughtful correspondent has me dead to rights…

Dear Fr. Mark,
It was very distressing to hear you quoting Prince lyrics in your homily. As he was apparently a massive drug abuser, rumored bi-sexual and/or roue, and  infamous for sexually explicit lyrics I feel he is not appropriate as a Christian example.

With regard,
Peace be with you,

[name withheld]

 

Dear —-,

Thank you for your e-mail.  I appreciate your writing to me.

I don’t remember citing Prince as a Christian example, and I don’t think I quoted any sexually explicit lyrics.  (I don’t approve of those.)  I think he was a magnificent artist, and his music has given me great joy over many years.  I have no position on his personal morals, as they are none of my business.

I may very well have expressed myself poorly.  I am sorry to have distressed you.

Love, Fr. Mark

 

Father White,

Thank you for your response. I suppose we disagree on a ‘see no evil’ approach to words from the pulpit.

God bless you.

 

Complete Joy

…just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. (John 15:10)

Tuesday we meditated on how Christ’s obedience brings about our salvation and our freedom to be ourselves.

Let’s focus on this:  The intimacy of Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will.

lippi abraham knife strozzi chapel
Abraham

‘This command I have from my Father:  that I must lay down my life, and then take it up again.’ (see John 10:18)

The “command” that led Christ to the cross is both clear and mysterious.  On the one hand, it all happened simply because Jesus unswervingly adhered to the Law of Moses.  He walked the earth as a true Jew.  The intimacy that Abraham had with God, which is what established the Jewish faith–Jesus lived according to that kind of prayerfulness, Abraham’s kind of prayerfulness.

On the other hand, the interior promptings the Lord Jesus received transcend our understanding:  Jesus wound up on the cross because of His honest testimony to the ultimate divine mystery, namely that He is God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  The “command” that Christ obeyed by enduring His Passion and death, therefore, can only be grasped fully from the divine point-of-view, not from ours.

I think the upshot for us is this:  ‘spirituality,’ ‘intimacy with God,’ ‘inner peace’–all of these come from obedience–obedience to the Commandments, and to the interior promptings that we receive when we consistently obey the Ten Commandments.

In other words, real ‘spirituality’ does not generally involve esoteric emotional experiences.  (Maybe people much more spiritual than me have these emotions.)

True joy does not consist of shallow feelings.  It involves daily obedience.  Obedience to the commandments enables us to perceive the promptings of God.  And those promptings tend to get harder and harder, less and less pleasant, as the Lord gives us the freedom to do what He asks of us.

Religion vs. Self-Realization?

Jesus declared that He went to the cross because: the world must know that I do just as the Father has commanded me. (John 14:31)

The word “religion” gets used frequently enough.  But do we clearly understand what the word means?

elgrecochristcrossThese days, religion is often defined as, “a particular system of faith and worship,” as if all the world’s particular “religions” fit into a neat category.

Or the word “religion” is used to mean some interest or activity of mine, to which I give top priority—as if religion were something that I make.

But neither of these definitions captures the meaning of the word.  Religion means:  my response to God, my obligation to try to give to God what I owe Him.

I think the great divide in the world is not between men and women, or cat people and dog people, or Republicans and Democrats, or even between Christians and Muslims.  I think the great divide lies between these two fundamental guiding principles:  1) Life means obedience to the Creator, which offers peace and happiness.  Or: 2) Life means inventing myself, which offers real individuality.

What we say is this:  Jesus practiced, revealed, and is true religion.  And the true religion that is Jesus’ life means peace, happiness, and self-realization.

What distinguishes Jesus Christ as our Savior?  What makes Jesus—and not Mahatma Gandhi, or Michael Jordan, or King Louis XIV, or anyone else—our Savior?  Fundamentally, it is Christ’s obedience.  His obedience to the Father’s will.  God had revealed His will in the Law of the Old Covenant—but only in shadows.  Christ went to the cross fundamentally because:  it was the perfect fulfillment of the Father’s will.

Christ’s obedience redeemed us from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  We, the human race, taken as a whole, let ourselves get side-tracked by a particular delusion.  Namely that there could be more to life than simply being obedient children of the heavenly Father.  Because of this Fall, we face inevitable death.

Christ, in embracing death on behalf of all of us, justly condemned to death for under-estimating ourselves, has revealed what we really can be:  ourselves in full; our own fearless selves; ourselves eternal.  Our heavenly Father wills only that we would be glorious.  Religion—that is, sharing in Jesus’ obedience—means becoming our glorious selves.

Civilization of Love

Some of us read all the teachings of the popes, through the years. And some of us listen to a lot of Prince.

We all know of course that Pope St. John XXIII convoked a meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops fifty years ago…Vatican II. We know that Vatican II marked the beginning of “the New Evangelization.” The world of today needs the Gospel message, just like the ancient pagans that Paul and Barnabas visited needed it.

Vatican II stalls
Bishops at Vatican II

Those of us who read all the papal teachings know that one theme runs through everything since the end of World War II. One theme: How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world so cold? The popes’ theme is: Building a civilization of love.

A civilization: an organized, stable community of peoples, based on one fundamental fact: Every human being possesses the dignity of many, many sparrows. As the Lord put it: The Father’s eyes are on the sparrow. Not one falls to the ground without His notice. But you are worth more than many sparrows, child.

A civilization of love. “I give you a new commandment,” says the Lord. “Love one another. As I have loved you, laying down My life for you, spreading My arms out on the cross for you, shedding My life’s blood for you, offering My death in agony to the Father for you…saying I Would Die 4U, and then really doing it–in just that way,” says the Lord,” you must love one another.”

A civilization of this kind of love. This kind of trust. This kind of selfless attention to others. The popes have said for two generations–since the end of World War II, they’ve said: You say you want a leader. But you can’t make up your mind. I think you better close it. And let me guide you: The human race has one hope for a good future. Building a civilization of love.

Naïve? Politicians and pundits tend to misrepresent and misconstrue papal teachings to make them sound like what they want to hear, and then they dismiss the real meat of what the Church stands for as pie-in-the-sky naiveté. “Of course the pope stands for world peace, universal health care, and a moratorium on the death penalty. But that’s because he’s naïve.” “Of course the pope stands for the right to life of the unborn and an end to pornography and all sexual exploitation. But that’s just naïve.”

Family CircusIs it? Really? Is our Catholic vision of a civilization of love naïve? Let’s look at it like this. When the Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another, with a love like His, was that naïve?

I, for one, would say the opposite. I would say that all the teachings of Christ boil things down to pure practicality. We either love, trust, and give ourselves to each other as children of the same heavenly Father, or… we play video games all the time? Or binge-watch Zombie Apocalypse? You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude.

The teaching of Christ and the popes is the opposite of pie-in-the-sky, the opposite of naïve, because really we have no choice. The commandment of love casts our whole human destiny in stark relief: One the one hand, love and trust that leads to the cross, and to the hope of a better future. On the other hand, a lifeless abyss of selfish, lonely boredom. Love come quick. Love come in a hurry.

During the past two generations, while the popes have exhorted us to civilize ourselves with Christ-like love, they have repeatedly pointed out that it all starts with family life.

The original civilization of love: the family. Mom and dad loving each other like Christ loves, loving the children like Christ loves, the children loving each other, and mom and dad, like Christ loves. Practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, right at home. Patience, forgiveness, instruction, encouragement, a cool refreshing glass of water at an appropriate time, putting things away when asked, cleaning the room, never treating anyone like a slave.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has re-emphasized, with new urgency, the importance of family life in building a civilization of love. In his recent Exhortation to us, he cites the passage we have for our second reading at Holy Mass, St. John’s vision of heaven: “I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God.”

amoris-laetitia-coverNo offense to anyone with their various pastimes, but St. John did not write: “I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared like Lane Stadium.” St. John did not write, “coming down, like a shiny new Camaro,” or “a killing purse and boots for a night out with the girls.”

No. Heaven meets earth like: a bride meeting her husband. Like a bride and groom at the altar, consecrating themselves in a permanent little civilization of love. Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late. Fall in love, get married, have a baby, call him Nate.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, marriage involves the greatest form of friendship, after our friendship with God. Pope Francis says marriage “is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other… intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life.”

Let’s grow old together, building a civilization of love, starting right at home. There will be peace for those who love God a lot.

Prince CD-Burning HQ

Batman opener
(from the opening credits of Tim Burton’s Batman, 1989)

 

Burnt myself a CD.  To cope.  I may or may not listen to any other music during the rest of my life.  Just Prince, in between Shakespeare plays.

Better Prince Playlist

Seems like the internet should offer a place to share which songs you put on your Prince bereavement CD, if you want to.

Around the World in a Day is my favorite album.

Quindon Tarver did the best “When Doves Cry” cover (on the Leo DiCaprio Romeo + Juliet soundtrack).

When the first Batman movie opened on M St. in downtown Washington, everyone cheered for Prince.

You can be the president, I’d rather be…

Party Over?

prince 1999

It didn’t occur to me until yesterday that Prince was a mortal man.

I know that sounds funny, coming from a Christian believer.  And one who aspires even to Thomistic clarity.  We Christians don’t believe in any immortal God-men, other than Jesus.  And you don’t need the rigor of St. Thomas Aquinas’ mind to grasp that all men die, even the apparent demi-god behind Anotherloverholeinyohead.

But life is a dance.  Lord Jesus taught me that early on.  And He used Prince to teach me–and a lot of other people I love, too.  So I’m kind of a weepy mess today.

Especially when you throw in the fact that our gospel reading at daily Mass is the funeral gospel, that I have read and preached on in the company of more dead people in their caskets than I can count.

What did St. Paul say to the Pisidian Antiochians?  Not “I’m your Messiah and you’re the reason why.”  St. Paul said:  “But God raised the Messiah from the dead, and for many days He appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Those are now His witnesses before the people.”

It ain’t over.  The Lord is risen.  We are His witnesses.  Music is music because death doesn’t win.  Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending.  Two thousand zero zero party over oops out of time?  No.  The chords of I Wanna Be Your Lover will resound forever.  Let’s dance.

Anselm and Slavery + Prince

No slave is greater than his master, nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:16)

Saint Anselm
St. Anselm

St. Anselm died 907 years ago today.  In 1102, he presided over a church council in London, which condemned slavery.  “Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were sold like brute animals.”

St. Anselm tried to bring an end to one man enslaving another.  But that didn’t nullify what St. Paul had declared, namely that Christ’s death and resurrection made us slaves of God.  Christ showed us true human freedom:  uncompromising obedience to God.

Lord Jesus washed the feet.  Then He submitted to a cruel death.  In between, He told them:  I tell you now before it happens, so that when I die on the cross you will not just think:  An innocent man has been unjustly punished!  You will not simply think:  A righteous man has suffered with inspiring courage!

Yes, you will think these things.  But also you will know, when I die on the cross:  This is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  This is the Father reconciling the world to Himself, through the perfect obedience of His only-begotten Son.

Our Lord, our Master never drove an Audi.  He never had a hot wife.  He never “had it going on,” as the world judges such things.

We, His slaves, His messengers–what should we expect out of life?  Suffering now.  Eternal glory when everything is said and done.

__________

princeprince

requiescat in pace/punch a higher floor

https://frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/wait-a-minute-prince/

https://frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/prince-and-other-particularities/

Shepherd Communication

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

The Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them. (Revelation 7:17)*

St. John received a vision of heaven.  Christ sits on His throne, surrounded by countless saints and angels.  From there, our brother the Nazarene carpenter shepherds His entire flock.

Now, a shepherd usually has to wander the hills and dales with his sheep, keeping long, cold night watches, for fear of wolves.  An enthroned shepherd, sitting in the middle of unimaginable splendor, guiding a flock of countless multitudes—pretty amazing that this shepherd can do that.  But, indeed, He can.  As He said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Christ knows us.  He formed us in our mothers’ wombs, according to His design, the design He conceived before the foundation of the world.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  We could say that our pilgrim lives consist precisely in this: the adventure of coming to know ourselves, over time, as Jesus has known us for all eternity.

elgreco_holy-family“My sheep follow Me.”  You bet we follow Him.  He has blazed the trail to true, undying happiness; to peace that nothing can disturb; to the fulfillment of every human longing and the satisfaction of every human desire.

Yes, we must follow the path of humility, chastity, patient endurance, and self-sacrifice; we must follow our shepherd to Calvary.  But what did St. Paul say?  All the sufferings of this life count as nothing, compared to the glory that will be revealed.

So, yes:  We sheep willingly follow the divine shepherd.  When we hear His voice.

He insists that we do hear His voice, all the way from His heavenly throne.  Let’s meditate on how.  How do we sheep on earth hear the voice of our divine shepherd, Who has ascended to heaven?

Some specially chosen souls hear what we call “locutions,” direct speech from heaven, internally audible.  But getting into that is above my pay-grade.

Most of us do not receive locutions.  But each of us has a conscience.  I have within me the capacity to think clearly and make decisions based on the truth.  Often this involves me challenging myself, when some particular desire wants to drive me in a direction that my better judgment can see means trouble.

Christ our Shepherd gave us this capacity to take responsibility for our actions, precisely so that He could communicate with us through it.  When I think something through, in order to make a morally sound decision, the divine Shepherd speaks to me.

Now, we all have our consciences ‘built-in,’ so to speak.  But:  all the knowledge we need in order to use our consciences well—all that knowledge is not “built-in.”  We need to learn.  We need to learn from the Lord Himself, if we want to make good, moral use of our power to think.  How do we learn from Him?

goodshepherdAt Mass this Sunday, we read how the Lord made Sts. Paul and Barnabas “a light to the Gentiles, an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”  When the apostles went to Pisidia, what happened?  “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region…all who were destined for eternal life came to believe…the Gentiles glorified the word of the Lord.”

Now, no one can deny that, at times, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church looks like a pretty goofy band of semi-clueless knuckleheads.  But:  We have these things that we do…

We obey Christ’s command to celebrate Mass.  We read and listen to the Bible, according to an illuminating annual routine of feasts and seasons.  We perform other ceremonies that Christ Himself laid down.  We build houses of prayer and make it our Catholic business to pray like mad in them.

In spite of our fecklessness as individuals, therefore, we take part in the on-going life of an organism with divine qualities.  One of the divine qualities of Holy Church is this:  When we listen and participate in the Church’s on-going life, we learn what Christ our Shepherd has to teach.

Hopefully you know that our Holy Father Pope Francis recently has given us an Exhortation on the subject of marriage and family life.  He had gathered a large number of bishops in Rome for two month-long sessions the past two Octobers.  Now he has written to us with the fruits of those meetings.

Maybe this summer we can have a study session to go over the Exhortation.  It contains teachings that can and will challenge us all.  Right now, though, I’m running out of time for this particular sermon.

Let’s boil down the pope’s message to this, for now:  Everybody knows about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, right?

Well, Holy Father says that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph can and will help guide every family to real happiness.  The divine Shepherd lives, and Mary and Joseph sit by His side in heaven.  They share an undying family love.  Their love can fill our homes, too.

___________________________

*Discovered something interesting about various ways to translate Revelation 7:17.  Where our Lectionary has that the Lamb will “shepherd” them, the New American Bible has that the Lamb will “shelter” them.  Shelter would appear to be the far-more-common contemporary translation for σκηνώσει in this context.  Literally, the Greek verb means: “to spread a tabernacle over.” Vulgate has habitābit.  Mexican Lectionary has protegerá.

Not sure why our Lectionary stuck with what seems to be a traditional exegetical interpretation as a translation.  But it’s beautiful!

Hungry?

snickers hungry

God gives bread from heaven.  Jesus Christ, His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.

It’s not cannibalism, because He lives.  And we don’t transform the food from heaven into our substance, like we do with hamburgers and salads and stuff.  With the Food from heaven, the digestive process works in the other direction.  He assimilates us to Himself.  We become a part of the Body that we eat, when we receive Holy Communion.

Now, we Catholics love the world.  We love the people of the world.  We hope for a better future, even in this life–a better human future for the earth.  Not naively:  We don’t hide our eyes from the effects of original sin.  But we nonetheless believe in the fundamental goodness and beauty of man, the paragon of all animals, who God has made little less than the angels.

But I think we can qualify our admiration for mankind by saying:  We believe in the fundamental goodness of man, when he receives adequate nourishment.  We’ve all seen the Snickers ads.  When man begins to starve, he grows desperate.  Reason goes out the window.  Same thing can go for whole communities, when there’s no food.  We become a tragic, disfigured version of ourselves.  A whole nation can lose the ability to think straight.

Now, what about a starvation diet of the Bread from Heaven?  When our beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord absent themselves from the sacred assembly?  They wind up spiritually starved, for lack of divine nourishment.  Can we expect rational thought, calm restraint, and sanity, under such circumstances?  Hardly.

Praise the Lord, when it comes to the heavenly Bread, we don’t face scarcity in these parts.  Yes, we have a priest shortage in our diocese.  But every county has at least one Sunday Mass.  No one need starve.

Let’s make sure that we keep ourselves well fed, so that we can stay healthy and maintain our calm, rational composure.  Then, we will have the strength and clarity of mind to help our poor brothers and sisters who, for some strange reason, see fit to starve themselves, rather than make a good confession and come to the table to eat the Body of Christ.