Monthly Archives: July 2012

Transformed By His Love – What Jesus Reveals in Scripture and the Eucharist

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“The Angel of Death and the First Passover” from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster (1897)

What Does the Jewish Passover Have To Do with Jesus?

In the Gospel of John, the Evangelist often refers to the miracles Jesus performs as signs because they point to something more significant, and some of the signs or important events happen near the time of Passover. The Passover was and is the Jewish celebration of their deliverance from their captivity in Egypt. After the Angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites that were marked with the blood of a lamb, he struck down the firstborn of Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. After this event, Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover, because he is the Lamb of God who shed his blood to save us from eternal death. That’s why the Feast of the Passover is so significant in the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at the wedding feast of Cana. We remember how he changed the water in six stone jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons, into wine. A Scripture commentary states, “The vast quantity recalls the prophecies of abundance in the last days.” This miracle or sign not only fulfills prophecy; it is Eucharistic because it points toward the wine that will be changed into the blood of Christ “…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

After this first miracle of Jesus, the Scripture says that he and his mother and disciples went down to Capernaum for only a few days. Then: “Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

What Does Jesus Show Us Through the Multiplication of Loaves & Fish?

Today’s Gospel also mentions that the Jewish feast of Passover is near—and the miracle, or sign that Jesus will perform, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, is also Eucharistic. It points to the bread that will be changed into the Body of Christ, which will feed the multitudes until the end of time. An interesting point in this Gospel is that Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” even though Jesus already knew what he was going to do. There is a message here for us: When we are confronted with challenges and trials and we ask the Lord for help, he may ask us what contribution we will make to resolve the difficulty. Perhaps it is our prayer and fasting, or it may be the use of the gifts that we have received from the Holy Spirit. We all have something that the Lord can use, and he wants us to be involved in the resolution.

Another interesting point: “Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.” This abundance of grass means it was springtime, which again is the time of Passover. About three weeks ago, our pilgrim group stayed on the Mt. of Beatitudes where we could over look the beautiful Sea of Galilee—and this very spot where Jesus performed this miracle. As you look down from the mount toward the Sea, you’ll find an area almost shaped like an amphitheater which could easily accommodate thousands of people. This is where Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish in order to feed thousands of his followers. This was a real miracle that showed Jesus’ power over matter and it happened in a real place that you can visit today.

This miracle of the multiplication is a prelude to Jesus’ discourse on the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, which he proclaims to the crowds seeking him out the next day. He admonishes them because they were interested primarily in the food he had provided. He then explains to them at great length that he is the Bread of Life which they must eat if they are to have eternal life. Four times he tells them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they are to live forever. Many of his followers found this teaching too difficult to accept and would no longer follow him.

The final Passover that Jesus celebrates is what we call the Last Supper. This event ties together the miracle of the wine and the miracle of the loaves. At the Last Supper, Jesus not only teaches his Apostles that they must be servants of one another by washing their feet; he also institutes the priesthood and the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Apostles who faithfully stayed with Jesus because they believed in him, will finally understand how Jesus will give them his blood to drink and his flesh to eat. They become his first priests and Jesus will change bread and wine into his own body and blood through their hands—and the hands of all the priests who will follow them.

Are We Properly Preparing for Holy Communion?

The Holy Eucharist a mystery of God’s love for us. At the Eucharist which we celebrate Sundays and at every Eucharist celebrated every day, everywhere in the world, Jesus Christ makes his Passion, Death and Resurrection present to us. When we come to worship our Triune God, we transcend time as we join the angels and saints offering praise and glory to Almighty God. We also have the opportunity to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ if we are properly prepared and disposed. This is not an empty ritual, as some may think. Jesus loves us so much that he gives us himself under the appearance of bread and wine!

But not all who receive Holy Communion receive the same benefit; it depends on how we have prepared. Have we fasted for one hour from everything except water and medicine? (The purpose of this small fast is to remind us that we are about to enter into a supernatural experience.) How long has it been since we have gone to confession? (We cannot receive the Lord in Communion if we have serious sin on our soul. Sin is an obstacle to the grace that Jesus wants us to receive.) Are we dressed as if we were going to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ?

Sunday Mass should be the high point of our week because we come together as a faith community to bear witness to our love for God and one another—and His love for us. Jesus wants us to receive a super-abundance of his grace, but he also wants us to be prepared to enter into intimacy with him so that we can be transformed by his love.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Eucharist and Social Justice – What’s the Connection?

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By Daniel Quintero, Summer 2012 Intern

How many of us can remember the first time we received the Eucharist fully understanding what we were receiving—Not seeing it as a matter of routine but for what it truly was, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? That moment for when we were lifted up in awe over what was occurring and how blessed we were to take part in it.

For me, this great moment came when I first knelt for communion. My legs were trembling, my heart was pounding; all I could do was move forward inch by inch in anticipation for what was to occur. Then as I approached the altar, I knelt humbly in front of the priest. When the priest raised the host, as he raised Jesus, never before had I needed to lift my head so high to see Him. There He was, the source and summit of our faith. It was at this point that I knew my faith had matured and love for it had grown.

THE EUCHARIST UNITES US

Regardless of the manner in which we receive the Eucharist, whether it be kneeling, standing, in a wheelchair, or on a deathbed—the focal point is that we are all receiving the same Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, we all united in this intimate connection with Our Lord. This understanding is what reminds us of our special status as One Church.

THE KEY TO SOCIAL JUSTICE

No matter how many times my family members are unable to eat together, or see each other everyday, when we go to Mass together, we are united as one by the Eucharist. So, too, for all of our Catholic brothers and sisters throughout the world. This is the key to social justice. The Eucharist is social (life affirming) and just (giving due to what is right and just.) It is the life of the Church, as Pope Benedict XVI expressed at the 49th Eucharistic Congress. As such, it unites us to foster and defend social justice. Not as a secondary option, but as key to our Eucharistic Identity. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this when he said,

“It is by receiving the Body of Christ that we receive the strength ‘of unity with God and with one another.’”

Many defend social justice without expressing its true goal: advancing men’s eternal destiny. From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

“With her social doctrine, the Church aims ‘at helping man on the path of salvation’. This is her primary and sole purpose.” (69).

The Eucharist, then, is the key to understanding our final vision for social justice. “It is the anticipation of the banquet in the eternal Kingdom” (Pope Benedict XVI, Eucharistic Congress) To strive for Heaven is to take part in the Eucharist. To take part in the Eucharist is to share in solidarity with all members of the mystical Body of Christ. This demands a call to action, a desire to defend life in every stage, to fight persecution in every region, and to love in every act.

Living Stones

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How many of us enjoy collecting things from special places we visit? Some collect souvenirs, postcards, photos, or rocks; reminders of experiences of a vacation, a retreat, or a pilgrimage.

Just a few days ago, Tom and I returned from leading a group of 39 pilgrims to the Holy Land. We saw many of the pilgrims picking up stones from the Sea of Galilee, olive leaves from the Garden of Gethsemani, and even water from the River Jordan. When visiting these holy sites, you want to grab something from these places that will help recall the site. One of our favorite places to collect stones is the Sea of Galilee; after all, these stones are from the waters in which our Lord and His Apostles spent much of their time. For the pilgrim, these stones are precious, perhaps moreso than any souvenir you can purchase in the Holy Land. Bringing these stones home with us are like bringing back a part of the Holy Land.

“Living Stones” – Palestinian Christians

What Are Living Stones?

The pilgrimages organized through our Ministry of Evangelization includes an important component to the experience of the Holy Land – encountering the “living stones” of the Holy Land. The “living stones” are the Christians of the Holy Land; they are Palestinian Arab Christians. Many of them are asked, “When did you convert from Islam?” They answer quite passionately by saying that they are the descendants of the early church. Yes—they were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:11) at the birth of the Church and have been present for 2,000 years. Some say humorously, “Our ancestors may have drank tea with the Apostles!”

They are called “living stones” because they keep the Church alive in the Holy Land. Many are parishioners at churches in Cana, in Nazareth, in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem! And many depend on tourism and pilgrimages for their income through hotel management, restaurants and shops. Their deep faith and hope, their warm hospitality, diverse gifts and command of languages make up who they are as the “living stones” of the Holy Land. The local Church leaders call them “bridge-builders” between Islam and Judaism, because they can be instrumental in creating dialogue and peace between these two cultures. They bring the message of peace, love, forgiveness and hope to a world filled with prejudices and misunderstandings.

Living Stones’ Message for You

Christians used to constitute 18% of the Holy Land’s population in 1948 and over 50% of Jerusalem’s population. Now, they are below 1.5%. Why such a low number? They are leaving due to the Israeli occupation and military check-points which prevent movement and lack of freedom in certain parts of the Holy Land such as the Palestinian Territories. When asked the question, “What would you like to tell American Christians?” They all answer, “Don’t forget us!” They ask for prayer and for future pilgrims to take time to visit with them.

Tom and I have many stones from the Holy Land, but the “living stones” make up an important part of our lives. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and many have become very dear friends. To learn more about the Church in the Holy Land; go to: http://www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org/HolyLand.php.

Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very land where the Savior was born! (John Paul II in his homily, Bethlehem, March 2000 during his Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land)

Gorilla Glue for Marriages – Practical Tips from Newlyweds

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Look, I’m not going to pretend we’ve got it all together; we’re newlyweds!

But we’ve found some things you may have forgotten in your marriage; things that have helped my husband and I through difficulties, frustration, and stress.

START YOUR DAY RIGHT

What’s the first thing you do when you see your spouse each day? Morning grunt or groan? That was my initial reaction. (Romantic, right?)

The minute my husband hears that I’m awake, he stops what he’s doing and comes to greet me with a hug or a kiss. I admit: first time this happened, I was shocked. Wasn’t I, the woman, supposed to be the thoughtful one? His consistent example has taught me the importance of starting our day right.

Consistency is important. It’s not really the affection that matters; it’s the fact that my spouse shows me I’m more important to him than coffee, the computer, or the TV – the first chance he gets. When he stresses me out later in the day, I remember (consciously or not) how much he cares about me. It’s a powerful practice and worth trying, if your schedule allows.

USE YOUR HOLY WATER

Do you use holy water in your home? You should – it’s powerful, and it’s free! We have so many treasures as Catholics, and the sacramentals are many (Rosary, holy water, and others). Most parishes have a special tank of holy water, with a spigot, so you can fill up your own holy water container.

Before either Dan or I leave our home, we use holy water to trace a cross on each other’s foreheads. This reminds us of our baptism; we belong to God, and our mission is to be Christ to others. One of the main goals of marriage is for husband and wife to support each other in reaching Heaven.

Our simple ritual brings us closer through a sign that’s both physical and spiritual. Each time we do this, I am reminded that my husband is my partner, and our hope is for Heaven. Try it!

CULTIVATE GRATEFULNESS FOR YOUR SPOUSE

Have you ever wondered whether your spouse notices your efforts? Life can be tough when you feel under-appreciated, especially as married persons. So, when we heard this idea from The Alexander House co-founder Greg Alexander, we adapted it.

Before we go to bed, Dan and I repeat our holy water ritual. Then, we both hold a crucifix and thank God for our spouse by telling Him why we’re grateful for him/her out loud. This can be very simple, like, “Lord, thank you for my husband. I appreciate all the things he does to keep our family on the right track.” Sometimes, we’re more specific: “Lord, thank you for my husband. I’m so grateful for his thoughtfulness in taking out the trash and balancing our budget today.”

After this prayer, we take turns kissing the crucifix, then we kiss each other. This ritual reminds us that we are gifts to each other, and that our love is strengthened when we love God first. Crucifixes are also strong symbols of sacrificial love – something married couples should embrace.

An aside: This ritual hold special significance to us, since at our wedding, we professed our vows holding this same crucifix. We also broke with wedding tradition and kissed the crucifix before kissing each other as husband and wife. We recommend it!

PRAY TOGETHER DAILY

Does that phrase scare you? I admit that praying together daily is not easy; sometimes we don’t do it as often as we want. For a couple of days, Dan and I didn’t pray together at all, and it affected us. We’d both noticed a difference in our relationship ever since we had stopped prayed together, and the change wasn’t good.

Prayer among spouses is probably one of Satan’s least favorite things. The root of “satan” means “one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as an adversary” (and we know what happens when spouses become opposed)! When you don’t pray together, you leave the vulnerable spots in your marriage undefended against attack and division. (Think of the age-old strategy: divide and conquer.) When spouses pray, they’re drawn together by God who is Love.

Need prayer ideas? Chris Stravitsch gives great advice. Dan and I both considered the vowed religious life (you know…Brother Dan and Sister Angela) before we met, so we’re comfortable using the Breviary to pray for a few minutes, in the morning, evening, and at night.

The Gorilla Glue for marriages is God. This lesson has become obvious to me after only 6 months of matrimony. While I have a big part to play in our marriage, God is the bond Who has made us “one flesh.” When Dan and I put God first – or when we approach God after failing to put Him first – Our Lord always reminds us that our marital bond is sacred and strong, because it was sealed by Him.

For more marriage tips, visit http://www.foryourmarriage.org

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate. (Christ, in Matthew 19:6)

The Perfect Prayer Partners

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“Way of Salvation” by Andrea Bonaiuti (1365-68, Cappella Spagnuolo, Florence)

Father Alex, a recent visitor at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, advised that prayer partners are a great way to stay accountable in our spiritual life. Great advice, I thought, but how am I going to find someone willing to prayer with me at 5:30am or can be as flexible as I am called to be given my ever-changing family’s schedule?

Turns out…it’s actually quite easy.

This week, I explored more deeply the Catholic Church’s teaching on the communion of saints thanks to a free self-study I am taking from the Catholic Home Study Service. I learned the Body of Christ, our Church, is divided in three:

  • The Church Triumphant is made up of saints who are united with God in Heaven.
  • Those of us still living on Earth are the Church Militant.
  • The Church Suffering is our brothers and sisters who have died in God’s grace but are still in need of purification. These holy souls in purgatory are assured of Heaven…just not yet.

In his general audience on August 4, 1999, Pope John Paul II stressed that the term “purgatory” does not indicate a place, but rather “a condition of existence” of “those who, after death, exist in a state of purification.” Since a saint is defined as someone who does God’s will in all things, it is reassuring to know that God’s mercy through purgatory is available for those of us who fall short of this definition.

During this state of purification, souls can pray for us, but no longer for themselves. In God’s mercy for their souls and ours, we are allowed to participate with our Blessed Mother, the saints, and angels in prayer for these holy souls to alleviate their suffering and hasten their journey to Heaven. (It’s important to note here that offering our sufferings up for the forgiveness of sins is believed to lessen our time in purgatory. So those of us who rolled our eyes every time Mom suggested we do just that should call them immediately and apologize!)

Detail from “An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory” by Lodovico Carracci (c. 1610, Pinacoteca Vaticana)

“Nothing is done alone,” writes Susan Tassone, author of Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. “The Church Militant reaches out to the Church Suffering and enjoins them with the Church Triumphant. We work as a team.” This team has become my prayer partners and they are available 24/7; so even with my crazy schedule I always have partners to pray with and to keep me accountable.

I have found that the perfect prayer for this partnership is the Rosary and in particular the Hail Mary. I begin my daily Rosary asking the heavenly hosts, my guardian angel, my favorite saints and the holy souls in purgatory to pray for me and for all of us on Earth to Jesus through our Blessed Mother.

Then, I envision them united in prayer,

“Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is With Thee, Blessed Art Thou Among Women and Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb Jesus.”

I recite the second part of the prayer for all of us and for the holy souls in purgatory,

“Holy Mary Mother of God Pray for Us Sinners Now and at the Hour of our Death.”

The fruit of this prayer partnership is that I am accountable in assisting these poor souls reach Heaven, and that helps me stay focused and free of distraction. I enjoy a growing connection to my family in Eternity and assurance due to the Church’s teaching that my prayers are effective. This connection is drawing me closer to Christ through my communion with His family in prayer.

Want to participate in our prayer partnership? Just start praying the Rosary daily wherever and whenever you can and you will be a part of this perfect prayer partnership.

(To learn more about the holy souls in purgatory, view this 30-minute video with Susan Tassone on EWTN Bookmark.)

As we enter heaven, we will seem them, so many of them coming toward us and thanking us. We will ask who they are and they will tell us, ‘A poor soul you prayed for in purgatory!  – Venerable Fulton J. Sheen