Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Feast of Corpus Christi (A)

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

The business manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken calls up the Pope to ask for a favor.

The Pope says, “What can I do?”

The business manager says, “I would like to ask you to change the daily prayer from, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily Kentucky Fried Chicken’. If you do it, I’ll donate 10 million dollars to the Church.”

The Pope replies, “I am sorry. It is beyond my authority to change the Lord’s Prayer.”

“Listen your Holiness”, the business manager begs. “I really need your help to improve our sales. I’ll give you $50 million dollars if you change the words of the daily prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily Kentucky Fried Chicken’.

Yet, the Pope insists, “It is the Lord’s Prayer, and I can’t change the words.”

The business manager is not about to give up and makes his biggest offer. “Your Holiness. If you change the words of the daily prayer from, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily Kentucky Fried Chicken’ I will donate $100 million to the Church.”

The Pope replies: “I must confess that the Church could do a lot of good with that much money. It would help us support many charities. Okay, I give in.”

The next day, the Pope gathers all of his Cardinals to an emergency assembly. And he announces: “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that KFC is going to donate $100 million to the Church.”

The Cardinals rejoice at the news. Then one asks about the bad news.

The Pope says, “The bad news is that the bread from heaven is out of stock.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

As we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi we are reminded of the two meanings of the Body of Christ.

First of all, the Body of Christ refers to the Eucharist that we receive during Mass. More precisely, it is the body and blood of Christ being sacrificed and given for our salvation. The gospel reminds that Christ is the living bread from heaven, the one who satisfies the deepest yearnings of our hearts, and the one that sustains us on our earthly pilgrimage.

With little food, we become malnourished and weak; we can easily get sick or even die. It is more or less the same in our spiritual life. Without the food of the Eucharist, we cannot live and love truly. Deprive of the nourishment from the body and blood of Christ, we become vulnerable to temptations and helpless in the midst of trials and difficulties. The first reading teaches that people “live not on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Jesus is the supreme Word of God, and we love to receive him for nourishment and strength. By faithfully receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we hope to become more and more like him.

The feast of Corpus Christi gives us the opportunity to seriously consider Paul’s advice: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor 11:27-29). Interior preparation, therefore, is a must for receiving the Lord in communion. If we are conscious of a mortal or serious sin, we must go to confession first before thinking of receiving the body and blood of Christ.

The Body of Christ also refers to the People of God. In the second reading, St. Paul points this out: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”. In other words, St. Paul is saying that all who believe and follow Jesus are united with him, and together they form one body of Christ”.

If we are truly one body, we have to love each other, care for each other, and secure the well-being of one another. In the Body of Christ, the joy of one is the happiness of all; the problem of one is the predicament of all. St. Paul explains this idea quite extensively and clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-31).

In one occasion, St. Paul expressed his disappointment to the people of Corinth because of their divisiveness and individualism. He admonished them by saying: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!” (1 Cor 11:20-22). For St Paul, the Lord’s Supper is only meaningful when it is being celebrated by people who are united in love or who care for one another.

Therefore, it is not enough that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or the Mass. It is necessary that we, the celebrants or the active participants, are living in a genuinely Christian manner. Otherwise, the breaking of the bread that we perform remains an ordinary dinner, not the Lord’s Supper. We might have a beautiful liturgy in the Mass, but if we continue to disregard the needs of the poor, our Eucharistic celebrations will always be lacking in meaning and blessing.

A man, down on his luck, went inside a Church. Spotting the man’s dirty clothes a priest, worried about the Church’s image, went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, “I was praying and the Lord told me to come to this Church”.

The priest suggested that the man go pray some more and possibly he might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. The priest asked, “Did you get a different answer?”

The man replied, “Yes, Father, I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that Church and the Lord said, ‘Don’t worry about it son; I’ve been trying to get into that Church for years and haven’t made it yet.’”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (A)

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

When the world-famous Episcopal theologian was on the lecture circuit, giving talks on very obtuse theological issues, he ordinarily traveled in a chauffeur-driven car. One day, while on the road, the theologian’s chauffeur, a priest, said to him, “Bishop, I have heard you deliver that lecture on the Trinity dozens and dozens of times. I’ve even memorized it, and I bet I could deliver it myself.” The bishop replied, “You’re on. I’ll give you that opportunity. The people at the university where I am to lecture next have never met me. Before we get there, I’ll dress like a simple priest, and you can put on my bishop’s robes, and you will introduce me as your chauffeur and yourself as me.”

For a while, all went according to plan. The priest-chauffeur delivered the lecture flawlessly. But as the lecture concluded, a professor in the audience arose and asked an exceedingly complex theological question. “Did God the Father and God the Holy Spirit die with Jesus on the cross?” The quick-thinking chauffeur replied, “The solution to your question is so simple, I'm rather surprised you asked it. Indeed, to prove to you how simple it is, I am going to ask my chauffeur to step forward and answer your question.”

(The story is told by William J. Bausch in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers)

By faith we believe that God is one in three persons. There is only one God, but he exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is what we call the mystery of the Trinity. We cannot fully explain it, but we make it a dogma of faith. Why?

We believe in the Trinity because we believe in Jesus who, in the gospel, reveals the Triune God. Jesus claims that the Father and he are one (Jn 10:30). He tells the disciples that he and the Father would send the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26). Then, before his ascension into heaven, he commissioned the apostles to go to all corners of the world and make people his disciples. “Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . .” (Mt 28:19-20). Jesus did not say “In the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, as if there are three different gods. But, he said clearly “In the name . . .” because God essentially is a union of three persons.

Theologians would try to explain the mystery of the Trinity by using different analogies. For example, they would use the realities of the sun, its rays and heat. The sun is like God the Father; the sun sends out its rays, God the son. Then from both the sun and its rays, from the Father and the Son, comes the heat, the Holy Spirit. Some modern Filipino theologians would use the dynamics of a “three-in-one instant coffee” which is composed of coffee, milk and sugar. There are three basic realities but only one drink. In the same way, there are three persons but only one God. These are interesting and helpful images, and yet, they don’t really do justice to the most profound reality of the Triune God.

Because the Trinity is a mysterious reality, some people would think that it means little or nothing to our life? But wait! Were we not created in the image and likeness of the Triune God? If such is true, then the inner life of Trinity must have something to tell us about being human or about the way we live our life.

First of all, the Trinity tells us about the equal dignity of persons. Each Person of the Trinity is unique and different, but all three are of equal dignity. The Divine Persons live harmoniously because they have full respect of each other’s individuality and equality. This is one important thing that we need to emulate from the Trinity – to respect the dignity of every person and to treat all equally, irrespective of age, color, gender, belief, or financial status. Respect for the dignity of persons is crucial in every relationship. In fact, friendship between persons would thrive only if the parties involved are respectful of each others’ worth and dignity.

Moreover, the Trinity shows us that there can be unity amidst diversity. The divine persons are equal in dignity, but each of them possesses different characteristics. Yet, instead of causing tension, the uniqueness of every Divine Person enriches the beauty and productivity of the Trinitarian life. This is another basic lesson that we need to learn from the Trinity. We become beautiful and more fruitful if we allow or respect differences in our communities. The challenge is to inspire individuals to use their unique gifts and talents for the good of all.

The family, for example, is a community of persons who are called to reflect the inner life of the Trinity. The members of the family – parents and children – must respect the dignity of each one. Parents and elders must not consider themselves superior to their children or younger siblings. Love, not power, should rule in the family. Love gives, power dominates. Relationships are harm when one party dominates another or makes the other subservient to one’s wishes and desires.

Furthermore, members of a family must respect the uniqueness of each one. Husband and wife, for example, should not lose their individuality in marriage. Some would like us to believe that for marriage to last, husband and wife must have the same likes and dislikes. Nothing is further from the truth. Complementarity in marriage means that a husband or a wife must be a willing supplement or help to the other. Husband and wife do not have to like the same food, but each one is challenge to do everything so that the other can eat his or her favorite food. They do not have to share the same idea about something, but each one is called to listen and enlighten one another’s opinion.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feast of Pentecost (A)

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The feast of Pentecost is the birth anniversary of the Catholic Church. The Acts of the Apostles narrates how the founding of the Church came about (2:1-13). Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples who were at that time meeting secretly with locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were praying with Mary, the mother of Jesus in an upper room. The Holy Spirit appeared like tongues of fire which parted and came to rest upon each of them. All of a sudden, the disciples were enabled to speak in different languages and they began to preach courageously the Risen Christ to all kinds of people. From then on, the Holy Spirit has not ceased to move the Church or the community of disciples along the roads of the world preaching, in words and deeds, the love of God for humanity.

Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the breath of God that gives life. When God created man, He breathed on his nostrils and he became a living being (Gen 2:7). When God established the Church, He also sent His divine breath and the Christian community suddenly became alive.

The Holy Spirit is not only life-giver; He also is the source of strength and inspiration. Before the Risen Christ ascended into heaven, He warned the apostles not to leave Jerusalem before the coming of the promised Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). They would only start to bring the good news to all corners of the world after they receive the Holy Spirit who will provide them the force and motivation to do God’s work.

In today’s gospel, Jesus entrusted to the apostles the great mission of extending forgiveness to all people. Yet, before giving them the task, He breathed on them the Holy Spirit because without the Spirit, it would not be possible for the disciples to fulfill their mission.

As we celebrate Pentecost, we need to reflect on how deeply we appreciate the presence of the Spirit in our lives and in our Christian communities. It is rightly observed that the Holy Spirit is the most underused source of power in the Church. Indeed, there are not many of us who call the assistance of the Spirit of God. A pastor even jokingly said that most Christians worship God the Father, Christ the Son, and Scripture the holy book. There is more than a grain of truth in this joke.

When we are about to do something – an apostolate for the poor or a seminar for young people – where do we usually go for guidance? If we truly believe that the Holy Spirit is the life-giving force, then it would be wise to ask for the Spirit’s help before approaching anyone else. We have to pray: “Holy Spirit bless this missionary endeavor of ours and make it work for the good of all!”

Before starting a project or a business, where do we usually seek for help? If we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is the main animator, then we need to approach the Spirit first before we seek the assistance of lawyers, engineers, architects, or bank managers. We need to pray: “Holy Spirit, please allow this project to thrive!” Or, “Holy Spirit, come and let this business flourish!”

When we have problems and trials, where do we seek consolation? Some of us would resort to alcohol or drugs; while others would look for solace in material things or in sex. Pentecost reminds us that God has given us the Holy Spirit to be our helper, comforter and advocate. When we are suffering, we are supposed to ask the Spirit for strength. When we are confused, we are supposed to ask the Spirit for guidance. When we are down and troubled, we are supposed to ask the Spirit for encouragement and enlightenment.

Have you ever wondered why fire is used to symbolize the Holy Spirit? Frank Mihalic explains:

Fire can do many different kinds of things. Fire can make something strong; that is why we char a canoe and fire clay pots. Fire can make something soft. Put a piece of iron into the fire and it turns red and then you can bend it. Heat a piece of wood and you can bend it too. Fire gives us light – as a candle, or kerosene lamp or electric bulb. Fire takes away pain: if you have a sprained ankle or a swollen hand, put it close to the fire. Heat helps the pain to go away.

(From 1000 Stories You Can Use, vol. 2)

During Pentecost, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was present among the disciples in the cenacle and prayed. Today, let us entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession so that the Holy Spirit descends abundantly upon the Church, fills the hearts of the faithful and enkindles in them the fire of God’s love.