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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Corpus Christi: God Became Flesh in Order to Be Man's Eternal Food

On June 18, 2017, Catholics in the United States will celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday; but today, Thursday, June 15, we celebrate it here in Austria with Mass and Eucharistic Procession.

by Lawrence Fox 

It was Sunday morning in Centennial Colorado; late spring as I remember. It rained the night before and the air and soil were damp even though the sun was fully exposed. Nature was slurping the wet soil and bathing in sunlight. 

Sunday morning in the Fox household is one of hectic preparation so as to make Mass on time at St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church. Afterwards, we usually went to Sunday brunch, read or watched a movie. Sunday is a day of feasting.

While waiting for others to get ready, I glanced out the main large window in the front of the house. I noticed a flutter of movements in the branches and leaves of the white birch trees planted in our front yard. 

That morning the whiteness of the bark stood out vividly against the green leaves. I went outside to observe the commotion more closely. Swallows and wrens were frantically hopping from branch to branch in search of  nature’s generosity. It became apparent to me that the birch tree was functioning as a dynamic bird feeder. 

I moved several of the green leaves and there were -- to my chagrin -- tiny green aphids slowly digesting the underbelly of the tree’s tender leaves. Theirs was a short feast since  an army of lady bugs crawled up and down
thin branches onto the leaves where they ate the aphids. The small birds were aware of my presence but they were indifferent because they had mouths to feed. They were scooping up lady bugs, soaring away to their nests and bringing masticated groceries to their young.

I turned my focus to the ground and I saw how far the root system of the tree extended in all directions. I thought, “An integral part of nature is consumption.”

The tree was taking water from the soil, carbon dioxide from the air, and UV energy from the sun, converting it into cellulose and oxygen. The living tree was feeding upon the
non-living earth, and then offering its own life in return to little mobile sensing creatures, which were in return being consumed by other insects. These were being gobbled up by sensing birds able to move rapidly. 

The tree was not aware of these activities on any sensible level. The insects seemed oblivious of their own impending doom. The birds were aware of the insects and my presence. I was aware of the whole event both subjectively and objectively. 

I say subjectively since I was aware of my own emotions observing such consumption. And I was objectively aware that the various activities in the tree existed apart from me. With the help of my senses, I assembled images of what was taking place which were stored for later reflection. 

My momentary observation of the cosmos was interrupted by a voice in the house, “It is time to go!” 

The Roman Catholic Mass is ordered so that each person’s inner conversation moves from
Pope Francis offers Holy Mass 
external distractions towards the worship of God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- the Source of All Being.

The summit of Catholic worship, the celebration of the Mass, is a time of feasting on God’s Spoken and Incarnate Word. During the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Catholic communicant hears the priest say, “Body of Christ.” He responds “Amen,” meaning “I believe.” He receives the offered host. The communicant then hears “Blood of Christ,” and responds “Amen.” He drinks from
Lawrence Fox receives Communion
 in the Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy, i.e. Mass
the chalice. 

When I heard those words that day, I recognized something about the humility of God and His great passion for created man, whom He made male and female. 

Created nature both feeds and consumes itself. God the Creator feeds nature and He is consumed Himself by a small part of that created nature. Man feeds upon created nature for physical life and feeds upon the Source of All Being for the sake of eternal life. 

God became flesh in order to be man’s eternal food. Both the cosmos and the Eucharist are instituted by God. In both, the essence of each thing is real and not symbolic.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Living in the Image of God Means Living in Communion

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 11, 2017 
Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana

The story is told of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo -- a great philosopher and theologian.  He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity -- one God in three Persons and to  explain it logically. 
St Augustine and the little child 
One day he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this matter. Suddenly, he saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with his little cup, filled his cup with sea water,  and emptied it into the hole he had made in the sand. Back and forth he went to the sea, filled his cup and poured it into the hole. Augustine said to him, “Little child, what are you doing?” He replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.”

“How do you think,” Augustine asked him, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole?” He answered, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.

The human man cannot comprehend fully the inner relationship of the Three Divine Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each is fully and equally God, yet there is only One God. It is a great mystery.

If we expected today’s readings
 (Ex 34: 4 -6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18) to give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, we have found out that they simply do not. The doctrine of three Persons in one God, equal in divinity yet distinct in personality, is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. 

The very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Early Christians arrived at the doctrine when they applied their God-given reason to the revelation of Jesus Christ,  which they had received in faith. Jesus spoke about the Father who sent Him and about the Holy Spirit Whom He was going to send. He said that the Father had given Him all that He has and that He in turn gave to the Holy Spirit all that He received from the Father. In this we see the unity of purpose among the Three Persons in One God.

In the story of salvation, we usually attribute creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Though they are distinct as Persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever acts in isolation from the other two Persons of the Godhead.

Like Augustine, we may not be able to understand the how of the Trinity but I think it is very important to understand the why. 

Why did God reveal to us this mystery regarding the very nature of the Supreme Being? The importance of this doctrine lies in this: we are made in the image of God, therefore, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. Experts in religion tell us that people always try to be like the god they worship. People who worship a warrior god tend to be warmongering. People who worship a god of pleasure tend to be pleasure-seeking. People who worship a god of wrath tend to be vengeful. And people who worship a god of love tend to be loving. Like their god, so the worshippers. 
Therefore, we ask what does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity tell us about the kind of God we worship and what does this say about the kind of people we should be?

God does not exist in solitary individualism but in a community of love and sharing. God is not a loner. This means that a Christian in search of godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun every tendency to isolationism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world. We are unlike Buddhists  who seek holiness by permanent withdrawal to the mountains away from people and society.

True love requires communion. You remember the old saying “Two is company, three is a crowd.” The Trinity shows us that three is community, three is love at its best; three is not a crowd. Take as an example the human condition. When a man loves a

woman, their love is most often fruitful in children. Father, mother and child — love  perfected becomes a community, the family.

We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only in a communion of persons. Marriage or religious life, both satisfy this requirement to live like God.   

Then we discover that the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism which is acceptable in modern society leaves much to be desired. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt rather an I-and-God-and-neighbor principle. I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people. 
May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of self-centeredness in our lives and to live in love of God and of neighbor. Amen.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost! Reversing the Curse of Babel

Happy Birthday to You, Catholic Church! 

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Pentecost,  June 4, 2017
Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana

Today we reach the high point of our Easter celebration, the Feast of Pentecost. 
Today has a significant meaning in my life since it was on this Sunday that I celebrated my first Mass after I was ordained a priest on June 7, 2014. 

Pentecost -- meaning 50 days after the 
Passover — was the feast day in which the Jewish people celebrated the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. This is where the different tribes of Israel entered into covenant with God and with one another and so became the people of God. 

Being a people of God means relating to God and to one another in a way that God Himself has mapped out -- not in the way that we think is right. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a people, but in the end it leads to death.” 

The beginning of wisdom therefore, is when we realize that as humans we are limited and shortsighted, and so we ask God to show us how to be the people of God that He has created us to be.

Whenever human beings try to take the initiative in our dealings with God, what follows is disaster. An example is the story of the Tower of Babel (
Genesis 11:1-9) where human beings decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven. In this way they hoped to manipulate God. But while they built the tower, God came and confused their languages. There was no more understanding among them, and they could no longer work together. 

Tomorrow (Pentecost Sunday), we will read (Acts 2:1-11) of the disciples of Jesus speaking in other languages.  But Pentecost is not a repeat of Babel, Pentecost is a reversal of Babel.

At Babel, human beings decided to build a tower to God by their own effort; at Pentecost it is now God who decides to build a bridge to
humans by sending the Holy Spirit. Babel was a human initiative, a human effort, Pentecost is a divine initiative, a divine activity through the Holy Spirit.

Imagine this. Before Jesus ascends to heaven, He tells the disciples to spread the Good News from Jerusalem to all Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. But clearly the task is too much for them. 

How could these 12 uneducated fishermen from Galilee go out and address the learned world of Greek philosophers and Roman poets? Even their fellow Jews are hostile to them. So what do they do? They go wait and pray for God’s initiative. And as soon as God gives the sign of the Holy Spirit, they go out on the streets boldly and fearlessly proclaiming the Good News.

What God asks of us as believers always seems impossible. And it is impossible if we rely on our own will power alone. But if, like the disciples, commit ourselves to waiting daily on God in prayer, God will not be found wanting. At the opportune time God will send the flame of the Holy Spirit to invigorate us, and change us from lukewarm to zealous, fervent, enthusiastic believers.

Babel was a requiem of misunderstanding. Pentecost is a chorus of mutual understanding. The miracle of Pentecost is very different from the disaster of Babel. At Babel, the people came together with one 
language,understanding themselves.
After God’s intervention they dispersed no longer understanding each other. At Pentecost, on the other hand, people of different ethnic backgrounds (Persians, Asians, Romans, Egyptians, Libyans, Arabs) came together unable to communicate. But after the disciples spoke on Pentecost, they said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear them, each of us in our own language?” (Acts 2:7-8).

When Peter spoke, people from all different language groups would hear Peter speaking in their own languages. The miracle of Pentecost was a miracle of mutual understanding, a restoration of that precious gift that humanity lost at Babel. 

Does such a language exist that everyone could understand it? Yes!  The name of that language is Love. Love is the language of the children of God, the only language we shall speak in heaven.

Babel resulted in the disintegration of the human family into different races and nationalities. Pentecost, on the other hand, brings all peoples together and reunifies them under one universal family, the Church.  “Catholic” means “universal”. On Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the Church. Today is, therefore, an opportunity to
rededicate ourselves to be active and faithful members of this family of God we call Church.

Fulton J. Sheen once said that even though we are God’s chosen people, we often behave more like God’s frozen people.
God's Frozen People
God’s frozen people indeed: frozen in our prayer life, frozen in the way we relate with one another, frozen in the way we celebrate our faith. We don’t seem to be happy to be in God’s house; we are always in a hurry to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Today is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God’s love. 

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
For the Greater Glory of God