40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 25 Don’t Block Your Blessings!

 

Reason # 25 – Don’t block your Blessings!  There are just some things you can’t get unless you come to Church. Some folks say they can pray at home just fine. Maybe so, but that’s not all we do or get at Church. Obviously you can’t receive Holy Communion at home and Jesus warns that you need it: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and Drink his Blood, you do not have life in you.” (Jn 6:53). We’ve already discussed that earlier.

But it is also true that you cannot get the other blessings of the Mass at home alone. For example, at the beginning of Mass the priest prays a prayer of forgiveness of sin after we call to mind our sins. This forgives venial sins only but don’t tell me that isn’t a blessing. At several points in the Mass the Priest, speaking in the person of Christ says, “The Lord be with you.” Guess what that means?! It means the Lord is with us who are gathered. These sorts of greetings by the priest are not just empty words, they convey and bestow a reality. Standing at the Altar the priest, once again acting in the person of Christ says, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” Guess what happens? Jesus becomes sacramentally and perfectly present. When the Priest lifts up the sacred Host and Chalice, guess who you see? That’s right, it’s Jesus. Try that at home. At the end of the Mass, the priest says, “May almighty God bless you: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Guess what happens? God actually blesses you. Again, these are more than ritual words. They actually convey what they announce.

  There are many other blessings at Mass: there is fellowship. I know how much I count on my parishioners to bless me, encourage me and correct me. Many parishes (like mine) also  have great choirs. Many parishes (like mine) have great preaching 🙂 !  Good company, good teaching, great blessings and the greatest of all: Holy Communion.

Now don’t block your blessings. Come and go with me to my Father’s House. The following video is a bit grainy but you’ll enjoy this invitation anyway.

Bearing Christ to the World

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, and Mary’s “yes” to God’s invitation to bring his Son into the world. As it is also the mid-way point of Lent, it is a good time to ask ourselves if we have invited someone to Christ—that is have we extended Archbishop Wuerl’s invitation to a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker.

 

I chose to go the electronic route and sent the video to a good friend who lives in another state. I used the excuse of talking about work as a chance to say “I thought of you while working on this project.” It’s time for me to check back in with her to see if she has accepted the invitation.

 

Are you hesitating to invite someone because they are not able to receive Holy Communion? Though the reception of the Eucharist is the most complete experience of an encounter with Christ we can have, there are three other ways in which Christ is present in the Mass. Christ is present in the Word, in the priest and in the people who are gathered.

 

People of the Word

We encounter Jesus in the proclamation of the Word. It is in the Word that we learn the story of God’s love for his people. In the Gospel we hear the voice of our Lord fulfilling the mission of his Father through preaching, teaching and praying. The Word is a living word.

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord

In the community, we see the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters. We can’t be Catholic alone.  We call ourselves the body of Christ and so are called to be full and active members of a parish community. If the parish is our spiritual home, our fellow parishioners are our spiritual family. We believe that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each member of the body that are necessary for the building of the community. Each of us is a needed and necessary member of the parish community.

 

Priests as Spiritual Fathers

In the person of the priest we also encounter the living Christ. In the tradition of the prophets, our priests speak the word of God to God’s people. They put skin and bones to the presence of the invisible God as they extend the healing hand of God’s touch, as they speak the forgiving word of God’s mercy and as they call us together to worship.

 

We are extending an invitation to encounter the Lord who is always present in the Blessed Sacrament. Pope Benedict XVI writes “we reserve the Eucharist so that the church is never a lifeless space. The Lord is there watching–waiting–wanting–to make us Eucharist.

 

Who can you invite?

 

Mary – The Ark of the New Covenant

There is a teaching presented in the New Testament that Mary is the Ark of the (new) Covenant. Recall what the Ark of Covenant was in the Old Testament. It was a box of Acacia wood, covered  in gold. (See photo at right of a replica).  Inside it were placed: the two tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments. Also in it was the staff of Aaron, and a vile of the Manna. More importantly, in this box, this ark, dwelt the very Presence of God in Israel. God mysteriously dwelt within, much as is the case today in our understanding of the tabernacle in our Catholic Churches. Incredibly however the Ark was lost when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in 587 BC. It was never found again. Or was it? There is a scene in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation where it is rediscovered:

Rev 11:19ff Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Note that the Ark is seen. It has been found! John then seems to say nothing more of it. Or does he? He goes on to describe a beautiful woman who gives birth to a child who can be non other than Jesus. Thus the woman is Mary. A compelling case can be made that John has not shifted his attention away from the Ark of the Covenant but is in fact still describing it when he describes Mary. It makes sense that Mary would be described as the Ark of Covenant for she, like the Ark of old carries the very presence of God (Jesus) in her womb. She carries the presence of God in Israel every bit as much as did the ancient Ark. In fact she does so even more perfectly.

If this were the only place in the New Testament where Mary is described in this way, the whole interpretation might be dismissed as fanciful. Nevertheless Luke also describes Mary in this way (see next page) which helps give reinforcement to the idea that John here also intends for us to link Mary with the Ark of the Covenant.

St. Luke presents the tradition that Mary is the Ark of the Covenant by presenting a series of parallelisms. In other words he takes what was said of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and re-presents it but as applied to Mary. Observe the two texts in parallel columns below: (Note especially the bold texts)
 

 

 

(2 Sam 6:1-20) David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. {2} And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baalejudah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. {3} And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart {4} with the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. {5} And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. {6} And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. {7} And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. {8} And David was angry because the LORD had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Perezuzzah, to this day. {9} And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” {10} So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of Obededom the Gittite. {11} And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months; and the LORD blessed Obededom and all his household. {12} And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obededom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obededom to the city of David with rejoicing; {13} and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. {14} And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. {15} So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn…

 

 (Luke 1:39-47,56) In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, {40} and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. {41} And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit {42} and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! {43} And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? {44} For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. {45} And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” {46} And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, {47} and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.

 

 

 Note the following similarities between the Ancient Ark of the Covenant and Mary’s Visit:

  1. David Arose and went…Mary arose and went
  2. David went from Baal up to Judah…Mary went from Nazareth up to the Hill country of Judah
  3. David says How can the Ark of the Lord come to me…Elizabeth says Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?
  4. David Dances before the ark…John the Baptist leaps (dances) for Joy in the womb of his mother.
  5. The text in 2 Sam 6 describe the cries of the people which accompany the ark…Luke describes the cry of Elizabeth for Joy.

All these similarities paint of picture. Luke wants us to recall a story of the Ancient Ark of the Covenant now retold in the context of a visit of Mary, the Mother of God. What the Ark of the Covenant was in the Old Testament (that which carried the presence of God in Israel) Mary is now in the New Covenant. The teaching is inescapable. Luke and the Holy Spirit want us to understand that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark has been found an it is Mother Mary. Note too an important contrast. When David brought the Ark up to Jerusalem there was great fear mixed in with the joy. In the new story however as Mary carries Jesus in her womb, mercy is front and center and there is only joy.

Mary – The New Eve

annunciation

So here w on the feast of the Annunciation. Pay attention now, there are only 9 months till Christmas! Today we celebrate the beginning of the incarnation, that moment when, Mary having accepted God’s plan her, conceives Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Eve said no to God but Mary said yes.

Mother Mary is more than a Christmas ornament or a sentimental side bar in salvation. She is integral to God’s plan. She is the New Eve, the Woman prophesied in Gen 3:15 when God cursed Satan and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head while you strike at his heal.” Where Eve said no, Mary said yes. We got into trouble through a man (Adam), a woman (Eve) and a tree. But God beats Satan at his own game and rescues us by a Man (Jesus) a Woman (Mary) and the tree of the cross. No wonder Mary is at the foot of the Cross with Jesus, without her the picture would be incomplete. The Latin Fathers of the Church used a word play to illustrate all of this. Eve’s name is Latin is Eva. Well, what is Eva backwards? AVE! The first word Gabriel said to Mary: Ave gratia plena (Hail, full of grace). Mary, by God’s grace reverses Eve’s sinful choice.  She is the new Eve, but a different kind or Eve. Praise the Lord.

The following are not really videos, they are audio recordings with Scott Hahn if you wish to listen to more on this topic

Some Old Gospel Wisdom

 Every now and then some one will come past my door and request parish services of some sort. Maybe it’s to plan a wedding, a baptism or a funeral, maybe its for money! And then I look at them and I say, “Who are you?” since I don’t recognize them. “Oh well Father, you don’t know me but my Grandmother goes here, this is our family Church.”  “Oh, I see, but where do yougo to Church?” I usually ask. 😉 The response is usually something like, “Well you Know how it is Father, I don’t get to Church too often….But my mother goes here.”

Well, I got news for you, your Mama’s faith isn’t going to save you. You gotta have your own faith. You have to know Jesus for yourself. There are just some things you can’t borrow. Don’t get me wrong, you depended on your mother and ultimately the Church to announce the True Faith to you. But at some point you have to be able to claim the True Faith as your own. Your mother can’t go to Church for you and she can’t believe in your place.  

Remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins? (Matt 25:1-13)  They were waiting for the groom (in those days you waited for the groom, now days we wait for the bride) to show up for a wedding. Five were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps, but five were foolish and did not not. But the groom delayed his coming and so the foolish ones said to the wise, give us some of your oil. But the wise ones said to the foolish that they could not do this for there was not enough oil for all ten. You see there are just some things you can’t borrow and some things you can’t loan. You can’t loan your readiness to meet God to someone else. You may know what happened. The foolish bridesmaids went off to buy more oil and missed the groom’s arrival and they were not able to enter the wedding feast. In those days when a wedding feast began the doors were locked and no one could enter. Bottom line: You have got to know Jesus for yourself. You can’t borrow your mother’s relationship or readiness. You have to have your own. No one can go to Church for you. You can’t pay to have someone offer your prayers. You can’t borrow someone else’s holiness.

There is an Old Gospel hymn that says, “Yes I know Jesus for myself.” It’s not enough to quote the pastor, its not enough to say what your Mother said. You have to know him yourself. Do you know Him? I didn’t say, “Do you know abouthim.” This is more than intellectual knowing, this is the deep, biblical, experiential knowing. Do you know the Lord Jesus? Have you experienced that he has ministered to you in the Sacraments? Have you heard his voice resounding from the pulpit and in others you meet? Do you know him? Don’t be satisfied that your mother or grandmother knew him. You are called to know him for your very self.

Here are a couple of renditions of the old Gospel classic I mentioned. The first is from the St. James Mass Choir. But then, lo and behold, the second version is sung by a choir from a Polish Girls School! See the original and then enjoy a very different version as the song leaps the Atlantic Ocean and lands in Eastern Europe. What a wonderful world! Crossing oceans and cultures the message remains the same: Yes I know Jesus for myself.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 24 – Martyrs have died to give you the faith.

Reason# 24 – Martyrs have died to give us the faith.  Every Sunday at Mass we recite the Creed: I Believe in one God, the Father Almighty….  I often think of the blood of Martyrs as I pray the Creed. They died for the faith that I can so easily take for granted. Others, though not suffering death lost property and jobs, or were imprisoned and disowned. For many of us in modern day America the idea of suffering death or extreme punishment for the faith seems remote. At worse,  we are verbally scorned for our faith or laughed at; maybe a raised eyebrow or a smirk. We may suffer more in days ahead but for now, we have it easy compared to others. And consider this too, martyrdom is not something from the remote past. Many suffer intensely and are killed for the faith in many parts of the world even today. See how precious the faith was and is to them! They willingly suffered for it.

 So here is an important reason to come home. The faith that we celebrate each Sunday is so precious that multitudes of martyrs down through the ages were willing to suffer extreme punishment, torture and death for it. Rolling out of bed on Sunday mornings may seem an inconvenience, living the faith may have its demands, but these things do not compare to what Jesus and the martyrs experienced to hand on the faith to us. When I roll out of bed early on Sunday morning to unlock the Church I may grumble at having to end my sleep. But others suffered far worse for me so that I could celebrate Mass and know that Jesus is Lord. When someone told them to be silent and not speak of Jesus they spoke anyway and suffered on account of it. My faith has come at great price and I think of that each Sunday, especially as I so easily say the Creed, a creed written in the Blood of Jesus and the Martyrs of every age. Come home to the faith of Jesus and the Martyrs.

Be careful of the following video. It is graphic in its depictions of the suffering of the early Christians in the Colosseum. But if you are able to look upon it, it is a powerful and moving depiction of the horrors they faced as they were thrown to the lions while hard hearted on-lookers were “entertained” by their sufferings.  If this video is too much perhaps the second video will be more palatable.

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal

Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal– A few years ago I acted in a play. I spent many weeks learning my lines and many hours rehearsing sections of the play with the other actors. Then came the dress rehearsal when it all came together. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is for the actors to experience the final product. The dress rehearsal is as close to the actual play as possible. There is no goofing off, no retakes, this is as close to opening night as possible.

 

In a way, this is what the Mass is. Mass is like getting ready for heaven. But “How is this so?”  you might ask. Well, start with the biblical descriptions of heaven. There are many, but the most consistent image of heaven in the scriptures is that of a liturgy or Mass. In the Book of Revelation (cf 4,5,8, 21) for example the heavenly experience is described in terms that many Catholics should find very familiar. There are candles, incense, hymns of praise, elders (priests) in long white robes (albs), there is first a focus on a scroll (or book) in which are contained all the answers, then the focus shifts to the Lamb on a throne like altar. There are saints and angels all around and songs such as Holy, Holy, and Worthy is the Lamb being sung by the multitude. Does all this sound familiar? If you go to Mass it does! So, in an important way the Mass gets us ready for what we will do in heaven. I always have concerns when some one tells me they find Mass boring because heaven is like a Mass. Granted, not all our Masses are as well celebrated as they could be. But in the end we ought to find joy and peace in the Liturgy, the Mass, since by so doing we start to get used to heaven. Over the years I have started to like Mass more and more. And I am glad, because it means I am starting to like what heaven is, a glorious liturgy of prayer, praise, and communal celebration around the wonderful throne of God.

There is another way that the Mass is like a dress rehearsal. Heaven, you see, is not just some made up place of our design. It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Here too we need to learn our lines and get adjusted and the Mass helps us to do this. Over the years as you attend Mass you are`instructed in the Word of God and thus in the values of the Kingdom of God. At Mass we learn our lines and parts. We learn things such as forgiveness, mercy, love for the truth, chastity, generosity, love for the poor, love for life from conception to natural death, love for God more than for the things of the world, and so forth. All this helps us to get adjusted to the kingdom. And if you like these things you’ll like heaven, if you do not like them you will not want to enter heaven. Here too I have grown used to the Kingdom through my faithful attendance at Mass. Over the years I have come to understand more what the Kingdom of God is really about and I have learned to love these kingdom values. You see, if I don’t know my lines and don’t attend the dress rehearsal to get used to the play when it opens, I won’t be ready. The Mass gets us used to what heaven is really like and to its values; the REAL heaven, not some made up heaven that doesn’t really exist.

So, here’s a good reason to come home – the dress rehearsal. You gotta get used to the REAL  heaven. It takes time to embrace the kingdom of heaven when all we know is the world and its ways. Come! Join the dress rehearsal for heaven, learn its songs, its praise, its values come to learn of and know God. Then when the curtain of this life falls you’ll be ready for opening night: the great feast of heaven. But be careful, if the dress rehearsal is missed, there are often casting changes! You gotta be ready, you gotta come to the dress rehearsal to make the final cut and be ready for opening night.

Here is a video which descibes details of heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation and how they relate to our Mass