Sunday, June 28, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Whoever Receives Me

Today's readings call us to accept Jesus, die to this world and represent Christ in the world with humility. 

The first reading tells us of Elisha visiting Shunem. He visited a woman of influence. At her home, he would often dine. She knew him to be a very holy and a man of God. Because of this, she had a room already prepared with a bed, table, chair and lamp. Out of gratitude, Elisha ask his servant Gehazi if something could be done for the woman. He wanted to repay her hospitality. The servant informed Elisha that she had no son and her husband was getting older. Elisha then promised that the next year she would be with a son.  This reading tells us the importance of being hospitable. Now, this does not mean we have to let just anyone home. We have to be prudent. Dangers are real and people do evil things. When God presents us with a stranger to care for, then we must welcome him or her. God will enlighten us in this regard. God will reward our hospitality.

This brings us to the Responsorial Psalm. We will sing God's goodness forever. God always keeps His promises. We all believe because we have experienced God. Many atheists love to make the claim that believers believer simply because a parent or older person raised us to believe. While there is some truth to this- we do learn things from those who teach us- the intention atheists have when making this statement is to discredit faith. God manifests to us in different ways. We each response accordingly. So in effect, no one teaches us to have faith in God, we grow in it as God gives us grace and we respond to it freely. This is why for generations, the faithful have proclaimed God's goodness and faithfulness. From the first chosen people the Jews, to the people now in the Catholic Church. Each generation has experienced God and His goodness. His kindness is established forever, especially in our hearts.  We are truly blessed and shout with joy. At Mass, we pray and sing "Glory to God!" We are linked to God. He is the Holy One of Israel and our King.

This brings us to the second reading. St. Paul tells us that when we are baptized, we are baptized in Christ Jesus and in His death. What does this mean?  Does not baptism give life?  Yes, it does. However, this life is the new life with Christ, spiritually speaking. Our bodies will still die but will rise again transformed. So in baptism, we die to the world and prepare for our physical deaths, but within Christ's body. At the end of time, we will rise again just like Christ rose from the dead. This new body will not die anymore. Death will die when this happens. This is because sin will be gone. Sin is what brings all the evils and troubles in the world. Baptism makes us dead to sin, dead to this world. This is why we cannot live like this world wants to us live.

Unfortunately, many believes get attached to this life and cannot divorce it from the faith. We must avoid this. We must be in the world, but of Christ. We must be dead to the world, but alive in Christ Jesus.  The things of this world should not influence us. We must be worthy of Christ Jesus. The Gospel for today reminds us of this.  Jesus tells us that we must love Him more that our own parents. This is a big statement. Recently, we celebrated mother's and father's day. We honor these two important people in our lives.  Without them, we would not be here physically. While they are not always perfect, we still appreciate our parents. They are sacred beings to us.

Similarly, when those who have children have them, they loved them immensely. This is why no parent wants his or her child to die before they do. It is literally a death of one's own body, in a sense since we all come from our parent's genetic makeup. It hurts a great deal to lose a child. Two years ago, I met the mother of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz who suffered the great loss of her son. He was brutally attacked at a bodega in the Bronx. His death brought the world to mourn him and angered everyone to bring about justice and change to protect our children. He was only 15 years old and was supposed to graduate this June 2020. Had he been alive, he probably would have had to have a virtual graduation and would have been applying to college or the police academy since he wanted to be an NYPD detective. His death hurt his mom and dad a great deal. I remember being at the funeral home and watching them break down and make all kinds of sounds of deep pain. It was hard to watch. The experience was haunting. So as one can imagine, the love between parents and children is a strong one. Despite this, Jesus says that whoever loves a son or daughter more than Him are not worthy of Him.

Is Jesus being selfish or an attention fanatic? Not at all. Remember, Jesus is God. God created us and gives us what we have. We owe everything to Him. It makes perfect sense that we are to love Him above all things and people. Furthermore, Jesus says that whoever does not take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him. This means accepting the suffering and trials we face in life. He continues stating that whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses it for His sake will find it. This means that whoever makes it big in life will lose it eventually. The ideas of success in this world are not of God. God is not about the prosperity Gospel. There exists no such thing. This is a man-made heresy. Now this does not mean it is bad to be successful in life. What this means is that we must not make life about being successful. There is much more to life. Our success must serve God and one another. Losing our life for Christ's sake means literally that. We lose our lives either via death as a martyr or socially. We are called to suffer and possibly die for the sake of Jesus.  This is why those Catholics who fear the Covid-19 Coronavirus are not paying attention to today's Gospel. They prefer to have Mass suspended and churches closed rather than facing suffering and death for Christ's sake.  We must be open to suffering and even death. It is our calling as Christians. However, that does not mean martyrdom is the only way to die for Christ. This happens socially as well, as stated.  It is no surprise that once you start professing faith in Jesus, you will make enemies. People will not like you. They will pick fights with you, mock you, be suspicious of you. You will lose friends and relatives you thought were close to you. This is another form of losing our life for Christ.

But do not fear. When this happens, it means you have died with Christ and you are dead to the world!  And if you died with Him, you will rise with Him!  This makes us a disciple of Christ. Christ then says that whoever receives you receives me. This means that we are quasi-representatives of Jesus in each person we encounter. That is why we must be careful how we comport ourselves in the world. We must behave as Christ would. Jesus then ends with the idea of receiving someone with hospitality for who they are, a disciple of Christ. This means doing little things. A simply glass of cold water is a big enough gesture to show to a believer. This is because Christ wants us to be simple. St. Francis of Assisi understood this well and is why he sought his order to be minors and not major figures. He was called the "poverello," or little poor man. We too must be like him and not expect great things. A simple cup of cold water is suffice. In turn, we must not reject Jesus nor put anyone or anything above Him. We must present ourselves as in this world but of Christ and accept the cross given to us; whatever it may be.  May Jesus Christ be praised!

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Do not Deny Him

Today's readings tell us about having faith and not rejecting Christ.

The first reading tells us of Jeremiah's anxieties and suspicions. The text itself is a foreshadowing of what Jesus would face from His own people, especially the Pharisees. Jeremiah hears the whispers of the doubters. They plan against him and set up ways to make him stumble and look foolish. Jesus faced the same. The Pharisees sought Him, not to hear His wisdom and seek the kingdom, but to set Him up and make Him stumble. This, of course is not possible, but remember, they did not know He was God.

Despite their many attempts, they failed miserably. However, they did take vengeance against Him as today's reading foreshadows. No one can make God stumble. No one can make God look foolish. It is just not possible. God knows all and sees all. He tests the just and probes the mind and heart. We must trust in Him always and entrust our cause, or our life to Him. This is why we praise God and seek Him, even when things seem out of control. God will answer.

Today's responsorial Psalm expounds on this. We ask the Lord to answer us. For His sake, we bear insult and shame. Part of being a Catholic is bearing trials even from within the Church. Being Catholic does not mean all will go well and everyone will get along with you in a parish. You will find some characters which are good and some which are shady; some who are truthful and others who are disingenuous. I myself have faced several, including from among the clergy and religious life. It sometimes makes us feel shameful. However, we must persevere. Even if we become outcast to our brothers, we must fight on because of the zeal for God's house consumes us. This is how one knows God's grace is working heavily in us. When despite all odds, we continue on without being phased. We must take the insults, from those within the Church and those without. I know I always get insulted by atheists and others who blaspheme God. We must offer it up with the sufferings of Christ crucified.  We must pray to God and God will answer. Even when we feel God is not answering, that in itself is an answer. God hears our prayers, especially those of the poor and suffering. He never abandons them. Though things may seem dark at times, God is always there. The second reading reminds us that sin entered the world through one man and because of this, we all must suffer and eventually die. Death came to us all, both physically and spiritually. Baptism removes the Original Sin that caused this, but the effects still remain. Though our spiritual life begins to live and we must nourish it with prayer and the sacraments, our bodies still break down and we still have to face the wrath of nature at times.

This year, we are all facing the alleged Covid 19 Coronavirus pandemic. Some have wondered why God did not remove it. Well we know the answer in today's reading. The sin of Adam and Eve tarnished the world. Things are not functioning as they should. Death is now a part of life. That being stated, we are all subject to disease, aging and viruses. God can overrule them, but this will not always happen unless the virus interferes with an immediate part of His plan that must take effect. So in His wisdom, God allows viruses and other things to play out for our salvation. We do not totally understand it now, but will eventually.  Nevertheless, despite this Original Sin bringing all of this hardship and death, Jesus came to bring life. Adam to Moses, David to John the Baptist all died. However, one died and defeated death by rising again. This is Jesus, the gracious gift to the world and to the universe. Jesus is God, the Son of God the Father and second person of the Blessed Trinity. Today's Gospel tells us not to deny Him or He will deny us. Nothing is a secret to God. God knows it all and all will be revealed. Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

This rings strongly today during this alleged pandemic. We cannot fear this virus or anything else even though it kills the body. Instead we must be worried about what kills the soul and body in Gehenna or Hell. God knows us all and knows what we are doing and what we will do.He knows all of our choices and possible combinations of them. Some atheists and philosophers claim this shows that free will does not exist. However the fact that God knows all the possible outcomes does not take away our ability from choosing either one of them freely. We must make our choices wisely so that they benefit our souls. This means acknowledging Jesus before others. We must never be ashamed of Jesus and the Gospel. We must never be ashamed of the Catholic faith. People will mock us, so be it. People will insult us, so be it. People may even physically attack us, so be it.  All is for the Lord and through Him as we united our suffering to Christ on the cross. We acknowledge Jesus before others best when we live the Gospel in complete holiness, not in hypocrisy or mechanically.  May Jesus Christ be praised! 

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi

Today is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why is so much attention given to the Body and Blood of Christ?  Well, basically because Our Lord suffered and died for us.  He gave His Body and shed his blood so all can have the doors of Salvation opened to them.

Moreover, Christ emphasized the importance of His Salvific work on the Cross by leaving us the Holy Eucharist.  During the Last Supper, Our Lord took bread and wine, blessed it and distributed among the Apostles saying that they were His Body and Blood.  He instructed them to do this in His memory.  (Luke 22:7-20)  In other words, this meal was not a one-time thing.  It had to continue.

Was Jesus Crazy?
Was Jesus joking around when He said that bread and wine were His Body and Blood?  The answer is no. We will see this in today's Gospel.  In John 6:22-69 Jesus gave a long talk about the "Bread of Life."  He goes on to say that the bread Moses gave wasn't the "True Bread." The people asked Him for this "Bread of Life" and He then makes the radical statement that HE is the "Bread of Life" and the "True Bread from Heaven."  The people began to murmur among themselves because they knew Jesus was the son of Joseph, and not to mention that His words were a bit strange and in today's  postmodern world would be interpreted as psychotic and delusional.

However, it gets "stranger," so to speak.  Jesus continues saying that one has to "eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life."  This is when the people really had enough.  Many walked out on Him thinking He was a lunatic or a delusional.  Jesus then turns to His disciples and asks them if they will leave as well.  Peter replies saying that they can't go anywhere else because Jesus had the words of eternal life.  Peter is always the first to speak up or to lead, this shows why the Pope is the first bishop among all bishops of the world.

Real or Symbol?
Moreover, something interesting happens here in regards to how serious Jesus was about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many of our separated brothers and sister in the Protestant faith believe the Holy Eucharist is a symbol and not literally Christ's Body Blood Soul and Divinity.  Let's think about this for a moment: When people started abandoning Jesus for saying that one has to eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus didn't run in front of them and say "hey, wait a minute, I was joking." Instead, Jesus let them go.  This shows that He was very serious about His flesh and blood being actual things or foods that someone has to consume.  In 1 Cor 10:16  St. Paul reminds the people that the bread and wine are the Lord's Body and Blood.  He never calls them a symbolic representation of them.

Why bread and wine?
In Genesis 14:18 we read about Melchizedek - priest of God and king of Salem- giving Abram bread and wine.  He then blesses Abram.  Jesus uses bread and wine to make the connection to the Old covenant and to show that He is the True Priest who offers the True Sacrifice - Himself.

Bread is a food that is delicious.  It has a lot of carbohydrates which in turn gives a lot of energy to the body when burned as calories.  It is a food that is easy to make, but does a lot to appease hunger and give nutrients.  Then there is wine.  It is used to party with and used as medicine as well as a disinfectant agent for wounds.

Jesus as Bread and Wine does exactly that to our souls.  He appeases the hunger for God and nourishes the soul.  He brings our souls to jubilation by uniting with it when one receives Holy Communion.  He heals the soul from the harm sin has caused.

One may ask:  at Mass, the Bread and Wine still look, taste, smell, feel like Bread and Wine, so how can it be the Body and Blood of Christ?  Well, God knows us well.  God designed the human body and mind.  He knows that human beings would cringe at the sight of eating raw meat and drinking blood.  How many times have we ourselves have gotten disgusted at looking at our own wounds?  It is not easy seeing blood and flesh in a traumatic form.

A few years ago, there was a big story about the "Zombie" in Miami which involved a man high on "bath salt" drugs who attacked a homeless man and literally ate his face.  People were disgusted at the news and the reality of how a human can even succumb to this evil cannibalistic act.  That being said, God would not give us tangible and biologically tactile flesh and blood to eat and drink in the sense we are used to.  Rather, He would use matter that we are all familiar with and that we enjoy: food and drink.

At consecration, the Bread and Wine do not turn into a piece of meat and human blood with DNA, platelets, red/white cells etc - unless a Eucharistic Miracle has taken place which sometimes does occur.  These are heavily documented.  The outside, or the accidents of the bread and wine remain the same, but what it is, or the essence changes.  Think of it this way:  We see leaves on trees.  During spring and summer, they are green.  However, during fall they begin to change colors.  They turn red, orange, yellow and brown.  Now let's think:  which one is the REAL leaf?  At one point it was green, then red, then orange, then yellow and then brown.  The leaf changed colors, so is it the same leaf when it was green?  The answer is yes.  The outside or accidents of the leaf changed, but the essence or what it is, remains the same.  The same with the Bread and Wine at Mass but in an opposite manner.  The outside remains the same (bread/wine) but the inside or what it is changes and becomes the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Similarly, we ourselves go through many changes.  Our bodies grow and change as we age; however, our temperament remains the same.

In today's first reading, we read of the mysterious food God gives the Hebrews after they embark on the Exodus to the Promised Land. This "Manna" from heaven gives them sustenance. God provides for His people, even in the desert. There is much speculation on what this substance was, but it was given to the Hebrews to help them on their journey. They ate of it and even stored it for later consumption. Today, many of us were afflicted with hunger, as the first reading says. The Covid-19 Coronvirus restricted Mass attendance nearly throughout the world. Many of us were left without our spiritual nutrition: The Eucharist. This was indeed a desert where we felt abandoned. However, God still provided. Now many of us are blessed to return to Mass in some form or another and can receive the true Bread from Heaven, Jesus Himself in the Holy Communion. This brings us all to shout out praise to God as the responsorial Psalm calls us to.  We praise the Lord as the New Jerusalem.

In today's responsorial Psalm we say, "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem." We glorify God who merits all glory. He has been our strength, even in times of despair, weakness and pestilence.  The Lord fills us with the best wheat. This wheat is Jesus, His own Son who died on a Cross for us. Jesus becomes bread and wine for us to give us life and salvation. He is truly present under the form of bread and wine consecrated by a priest at Holy Mass. This is not a parlor trick or some psychological placebo meant to give us a sense of spiritual satisfaction. This is something that is real.  We see this in the second reading.

Today's second reading reminds us that Jesus is truly present.  St. Paul asks the people of Corinth, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" Here St. Paul is reminding the people that the cup of wine and loaf of bread is truly Jesus Christ. We truly partake in the body and blood of Christ; His entire essence as God and man. Now when he says "we bless," he is not saying that we consecrate the bread and wine. Only the priest can do this. The "we bless" here means that we invoke or seek God to look favorably on us via His presence in the Holy Eucharist. The reading ends with St. Paul saying that "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."  This is where the word "Communion" comes into play. We are in union with Christ and one another as the Church. So when we received Holy Communion, we not only united with Jesus Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity, but also one another as the One Catholic Church. This is why those who are not Catholic cannot receive Holy Communion. Receiving Holy Communion is also an act of unity with the Catholic Church. So if one is in mortal sin, heresy, outside of the Church via another religion or simply do not believe; one is not in union with the Church so one should not receive. Similarly, a Catholic should never receive any parody of Communion from another Protestant Christian denonmination. Receiving Holy Communion is a profession of faith and a manifestation of unity with the Catholic Church; which means, unity with the Pope and adherance to the Church's teachings. 

Finally in the Gospel, we read how Jesus is serious when He says that the bread is His flesh and His blood is true drink. We touched on this already, but it does not hurt to look at it again. Jesus reminds us that He is the bread from heaven. The first reading links to this. Jesus is not the Manna God sent to the Hebrews. That was regular food for the body. In a sense, it was a preparation for the true bread from heaven, Jesus. This bread is literally Jesus Himself which is given tot he world for the life of the world. The people around Jesus could not understand Him. They argued among themselves showing disbelief. "How can this man give us His flesh to Eat?" This is what they asked each other. They were puzzled, probably disgusted thinking Jesus was promoting cannibalism. However, despite this commotion. Jesus doubles down stating, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat this flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." One can imagine the faces of the people as Jesus said this. Jesus was not kidding around. He was serious. In today's jargon, "dead serious." Jesus goes on to say, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." This is the very definition of "Communion," or com (with) unus (union: together in oneness). This Communion gives life because it is God Himself who comes to us.  This is the true bread from heaven that gives life.

Corpus Christi is a day to reflect on this and thank Our Lord for remaining with us in hidden form under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Many dioceses and parishes have processions on this day.  They process through the parish area with the Blessed Sacrament in a Monstrance or Ciborium.  This is an awesome event and I wish every parish and diocese did this.

I also urge you to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and spent time with Him.  Many parishes have Eucharistic adoration for a period of time, sometimes perpetually. As parieshes and chapels are starting to reopen after this alleged pandemic, take the time to visit the Lord and adore Him.

There is nothing like getting lost in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  Go visit our Lord, share your life, your activities, your stresses, your desires, etc.  He is there waiting for you. May Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist be praised forever!

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