Making all things new

It felt like a bandage being ripped off while the wound was still raw. It had become part of my morning routine and, while I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the rock that gave my day a firm foundation. Things are changing again, and we all need to adjust with it. 

As a virtual or remote employee since I moved to Virginia about a year ago, the global shut down only changed what I did before and after work. At the beginning of stay at home order, the disruption to my morning routine definitely impacted me and I did struggle to get started in a timely manner. Then Bishop Barron started broadcasting daily Mass from his chapel with either himself or Fr. Grunow of Word on Fire ministries as the celebrant. While it was not live, it premiered at 8:15 every morning. Monday through Saturday (yes, even Saturday!), I would start my day with Mass at the time it premiered. For Sundays, I chose a live streaming Mass as that helped me, at least from a mental perspective, to feel as if I was there and praying the Mass. However, Pentecost Sunday became the last Mass from Bishop Barron’s chapel since California had lifted restrictions for worship services. My beloved daily Mass at home was thus discontinued. Alas, my routine has now changed again.

Part of my struggle with this change is that I prayed Bishop Barron’s Mass with my Dad the day he died. Not having that Mass to participate in anymore is a bit like losing him all over again. While I have been fortunate enough to attend Sunday Mass for the past two weeks in my parish church, the daily Mass in person has not resumed, nor is it offered at a time that I can attend, due to schedule conflicts with work meetings.

Yet I find a bit of divine wisdom in Bishop Barron’s decision not to continue broadcasting daily Mass after Pentecost. It reminds me of the words in Isaiah, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 44:18-19) And just as the church started with a small band of the Apostles and disciples, so too, we start again worshiping in smaller groups at Mass. And if we follow the Spirit’s prompting, we can bring the light and compassion of Jesus to those we do encounter.

“The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.”’ (Rev 21:5) Do we really want to go back to the way we were before?  When we open ourselves to God, He can make us new! 

Authoritative act in the Spirit

One of the definitions for the word confirm is: ”to remove doubt about by authoritative act or indisputable fact” (Merriam-Webster). I think that is the perfect definition for what the sacrament of Confirmation is all about. 

Pentecost and Confirmation are closely tied and have been that way from the beginning. In the Acts of the Apostles (8:14-18), Peter and John went to Samaria in order to lay hands and pray that the newly baptized would receive the Holy Spirit. Yet today, many people see Confirmation as a sort of graduation from religious education. We can never truly learn everything there is to know about the infinite God because we are finite human beings; however, that does not mean that we shouldn’t keep trying and learn as much as we are able. 

The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop, as they are seen as the successors of the Apostles, who were first to receive Confirmation directly by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Look at how the Holy Spirit affected the Apostles: they traveled far proclaiming the Good News and healing. They did what they saw Jesus do. It is through the prompting of the Holy Spirit they preached the indisputable fact that Jesus is the Christ — the Savior and Redeemer of the world.  

While we do receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, Confirmation is that authoritative act by the bishop that leaves an indelible mark indicating we are Christians. Every Confirmation is just like the visit to Samaria by Peter and John. The bishop, along with the whole Church, prays for the Holy Spirit to descend into the hearts and souls of those being confirmed. We pray that each will know and accept their calling to proclaim and heal in Jesus’ name during their journey of life. 

Pentecost Sunday is an opportunity for us to remember our own Confirmation and to reflect on how the Spirit has prompted us and how well we have listened. Rather than dwelling on any shortcomings, we learn from them and renew our vocation to spread the gospel by the grace the Holy Spirit gives us. There is no doubt that we are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, as we have been confirmed in the Holy Spirit; we just need to put into practice what we believe.

Called by name

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. After wrestling with an angel, Jacob’s name became Israel. Jesus renamed Simon Cephas, which is translated in Greek as Peter. The call of God is not just one of inclusion, but one that transforms our identity. 

God seeks a relationship with all of us and calls us by name. A name is any word or words we respond to. If someone calls out that word, we usually look to see who is addressing us. It can be confusing when we hear our name in a public space and look around, only to realize that we share that address with another. For those of us baptized as infants, our parents may have provided the designated name to the priest or deacon who is baptizing, however, that name usually sticks and becomes the name that God uses to address us in our relationship with Him.  In the Essential Rite of the Sacrament [of Baptism], along with the water, “he accompanies the act with the words, ‘[Name], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ The celebrant matches each pouring or immersion with the invocation of each of the Divine Persons.” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, emphasis added) We are addressed and welcomed as a child by each of the Divine Persons in our baptism. We are called at that moment to journey with God, to learn from Him, to love Him as family. We grow and change over that journey, but our name goes with us.

One of the most famous, and perhaps most dramatic conversions is that of Saul in the Acts of the Apostles. The account of this transition from Saul to Paul begins in Acts Chapter 9. However, he is still referred to as Saul throughout that chapter, as well as chapters 11 and 12. It is only in chapter 13, verse 9 that simply says, “Saul, also known as Paul…” Why the change in name? Why now? According to the footnotes in the New American Bible version I was using, “there is no reason to believe that this name was changed from Saul to Paul upon his conversion. The use of a double name, one Semitic (Saul), the other Greco-Roman (Paul) is well attested.” From chapter 13 onwards, Acts mostly refers to him as Paul. Yet even if it was not made at his baptism, Paul’s preaching was mostly to those of Gentile origin in the Greco-Roman areas of the empire. It makes sense that he would transition from his Semitic name to one in the culture where he spent the most time. It is also very logical that he used his Greco-Roman name in the letters he sent to the churches where he preached. Perhaps he also wanted to distance himself from the earlier Pharisee who persecuted the Christians?  Since we know him by his letters, we know and refer to him as Paul. We call him by the name that he used when spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Our identity in Christ is not by who our parents are, or a physical trait, but by our name. Our name marks our transition into the life of Christ and that of the Trinity. In the case of those that God calls into his service, there may be a change marked with a new name, or at the very least increased meaning attached to the name we already bear. God is calling out to you by name, can you hear Him? 

Joy in failure

Joy in failure seems like an oxymoron, yet as the early Church took shape, the evangelization efforts of the disciples met with mixed reactions.

In this time after Easter, the story unfolds as we read from the Acts of the Apostles daily at Mass. In Acts (4:13-21) we heard how Peter and John were reprimanded by the chief priests and elders for preaching and curing in Jesus’ name. About a week later, Acts (5:34-42) revealed the Apostles not only being ordered to stop teaching about Jesus, but flogged for their efforts. “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Most recently the reading from Acts (13:44-52) relates the dismissal of Paul and Barnabas from a territory: “they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Even when people rejected them, they still rejoiced.

Looking at it more than 2,000 years later, we can say that since they were converting some people, that gave them cause to be happy. Another insight could be that since Jesus was rejected by the elders & chief priests, the disciples were happy to suffer in the same way. The Jewish authorities weren’t as important to the disciples as was the love and relationship they had with Jesus. And with the confidence of the Holy Spirit, they were able to accept this rejection by the Jewish leadership. But could the cause of their joy be much simpler than that? Could it be that the delight they took in speaking of Jesus to others, doing this work they were called to do, gave them the ability to rejoice in all circumstances? Whether others believed or not, they were carrying out their responsibility by proclaiming this Good News. And rather than dwelling on the failure, they did what Jesus had taught them and turned their outlook towards other communities to share the gospel.

While some look at evangelizing as winning others over to Jesus, it’s not a numbers game. Some Catholics are too fearful to evangelize, not wanting to impose their beliefs on others. But if we share the love Jesus has for us with others, we introduce them to Jesus. We can talk about our relationship with Jesus as if He were the head of the family; after all, we are all members of the same family of God! Just because those we evangelize may not choose to immediately accept Jesus into their lives, it’s not necessarily a loss. The seeds we plant may one day bear fruit because lives change over time,

The Acts of the Apostles records many failures in the early Church. Yet each year as we read the activities of the first Christians, we realize their love and sharing of Jesus reaches across the millennia to our day. We, in turn, celebrate the joy they took in their successful “failures.”

Living in an unknown plan

I am a planner. I have booked my vacations for one or two years before I’m going. With our current circumstances, I can barely plan what I’m doing over the next week. Oddly enough, I feel like God has prepared me for this time.

I watched Mass with Fr. Mike Schmitz last Sunday, and his homily hit really close to home for me. He spoke of our need to know when: when can I go back to work, when can I go out to a restaurant with friends, when will I be able to receive the Eucharist, when will all this end? If we know the answer to these questions, then we will feel more secure about life. But the truth is life is not secure; it can change in an instant, no matter how much we plan. As Catholics, we should not be anxious over this insecurity, but rather be confident in God and courageous in our actions in an insecure world. As he was describing people who plan, it was like he knew me! It made me start thinking about how accepting, for the most part, I have been during this time.  

My first experience of not having control was on a retreat. The retreat director did not provide a schedule. I remember how distinctly uncomfortable I felt. I couldn’t plan for my free time and I didn’t have anything to reference for when and where to meet next. It was only a weekend retreat, and at the end of each session, the director would advise when and where to meet next. To my surprise, at the end of the retreat, I realized I actually enjoyed it, even though I was not privy to the schedule in advance!

My next two experiences were ones in which I relinquished control with full knowledge when I booked mystery vacations. I was to meet up with others to explore somewhere, planned and escorted by AAA. And I would love to do it again. While I had no idea of the particulars until we arrived at each activity, I knew the total amount of time that I would be away was five days. I found I enjoyed the locations because I could just be immersed in them, instead of being distracted by anticipating what was going to happen next. 

So far, I’m one of the lucky ones; I have been able to continue working. I have been a remote worker since moving to Virginia last year, so to some degree, not much has changed for me. I do want to explore my new state and visit the various areas and museums, and I can’t plan for that… yet. God knows I’m a planner, and in His wisdom, He prepared me for this time, with short introductions to living without knowing the plan. I can’t say this time has been as enjoyable as the retreat or the vacations, but I am thankful to God. The reality is that we can really only live in the moment. Learn from the past, hope in the future, but focus on today. Live today in thanks and praise to God, as that is His gift to each of us.

Journeying home

Easter day marked one year since I made settlement on my home in Virginia. In a way, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year, but then again, the effects of the current pandemic have illustrated how much has changed. Now that we have spent far too much time in our own homes, are we better able to define what home means?

From a dictionary perspective, the definition is: “a place of residence; domicile” or “a place of origin.” While that seems rather straight-forward, I would like to argue, that sometimes we live in houses and sometimes we live in homes. The difference being that a house is a place that we stay although we do not have an emotional connection or feel our most comfortable there. The latter would be a place where we can relax, enjoy, and be our truest selves. However, the difference is not as simple as liking or not liking the space. I do like my current residence now and consider it a home. Is it perfect? Nope. But as I tackle one project at a time, it will gently evolve into a place that is even more comfortable than it is today. To make a house a home, requires thought and action.

During our lifetime, we may have many places we can refer to as our home. Abraham followed God’s call and journeyed to a new land. The Israelites journeyed for 40 years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land. Even Jesus moved from His birthplace in Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Nazareth before becoming an itinerant preacher. In looking at the etymology for the word home, it may derive from Sanskrit of a compounded word for “dwell” and “calm, quiet, safety.” We too are on a life journey, not of a physical location, but of our eternal dwelling. When we encounter the Bible journeys during the Mass readings or in our private scripture reading, we can use the opportunity to draw parallels to our spiritual journey and see how we are faring. 

The Easter season celebrates that our lives do not end in death, but rather can be transformed.  We will either complete our preparation for heaven in purgatory, enter heaven, or if we choose not to have a relationship with God — end up in hell. Jesus does want us to choose a life with God. He wants us to dwell with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. And at the end of the world, we’ll get to experience it not just spiritually, but physically too, when our bodies are resurrected from the dead. Only then will we truly be home, in every sense and definition of the word. 

Peace be with you

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. We hear it in the gospel every year in the Easter season. “On the evening of that first day of the week, even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood before them.” (John 20:19, emphasis added) This year, however, the words seemed to dance in front of me, as I read along with the proclamation of the gospel. 

In this time of shelter in place, the reference to locked doors drew a parallel between the Apostles and today. In both circumstances, the confinement is used for safety: from the Jews for the Apostles and from the coronavirus for us. Modern living has changed  daily life so much, that when one can see a correlation between activities 2,000 years ago and today, we need to  sit up and take notice. The physical barrier was up, but Jesus was able to appear, bodily, in their midst. And His greeting was one of peace. 

After many weeks of being in the same four walls, small nuisances start to add up and tempers may be getting a bit frayed.. The talk of relaxing restrictions  may almost be more of a way to give us all something to look forward to rather than being realistic to implement in the near future. Our challenge is to be at peace by leaning on Jesus and then to bring that peace to others. We don’t need to go outside our four walls to find the peace of Jesus, He will bring it to us. We only need to receive it, to be open to His grace.

Faith is not just something we have during the hour of Mass and that’s it. It’s expressed every moment of every day, in our responses — in the ways we think, act, and in what we say. We may not be able to go out and help others, but we can help those that are in our own homes and within our circle of contacts. And we can bring the peace of Jesus to them. It can be as quick as a text message, as long as a chat on the phone or even a video call. 

There will be a time when the doors are thrown open and we can go out, just like when the Holy Spirit came and the Apostles went out to fearlessly evangelize. But now is the time for shelter and safety, for prayer and for peace. 

Resurrection witness

Happy Easter! We made it through a very different Easter Mass experience, live streaming into our homes. The message, however, remains just as vibrant as ever: He is RISEN!

The Gospels continue to remind us of those first witnesses. Over the next few weeks we will delve into the various appearances of the risen Jesus in numerous scenarios. In our unique circumstances, we have the opportunity to contemplate this core tenet of our faith. To aid us in this mental and spiritual activity, we only have to reach out to our Blessed Mother Mary. After all, not only was she close to Jesus, but she also pondered these things in her heart.

Mary was there for Jesus’ death on the cross. Of course, she wept for her Son being executed in such a humiliating way. But did she wonder why this was happening? Did she know there was more to come and that the world had not seen the last of Jesus? Perhaps. Scripture only tells us that Jesus commanded His apostle John to care for His mother and that she was present with the Apostles when they were praying after Jesus’ ascension when they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. But it is hard to imagine that Jesus would not have appeared to her. We have to be careful to remember that while the Gospels do provide historic details, they are not a record of every event.

I wonder what Mary’s reaction was when the Apostles told her of their encounter with the risen Jesus? Or when she heard about Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did she recognize the implications of all these amazing events?

Two thousand years later, many of us have heard of Jesus’ resurrection from the time we were children. It can be very difficult to imagine what our reactions would’ve been back then at something  so shocking and novel. Over the past months, we have been facing our own novel event, taking us out of our ordinary way of life. Let us take the time and ask Mary to help us see the resurrected Jesus as if it were the first time. Let us listen to the witness testimonies and practice being a witness with those in our circle of communication.

Jesus is truly risen! We may not be eyewitnesses, but we are His witnesses into today’s world. Like the Apostles, we join in prayer with Mary to help support us as we spread the Good News of His resurrection.

Missing the human touch

Lent is almost over and in a few days we will be celebrating Easter. However, with the lockdown still in place, it may seem like Lent will continue onwards.

While the Easter Vigil Mass celebration will still take place, there will be no public reception of the sacraments. That means no new members will be received into the Church. There will be a noticeable void of the outward or tactile components of the sacraments. Even when no one is being baptized at Easter, the Church takes the opportunity at this sacred time to remind and renew our baptismal promises, both in word and with the sprinkling of holy water. We will be able to renew our promises as we participate in the Mass streamed into our homes, but we will miss the holy water. I do feel sympathy for those who are waiting to be confirmed. While they can participate in the praying the Mass, there is no substitute for the oil and the imposition of hands confirming them into the Church.

Perhaps the most missed of all the sacraments is the Eucharist. It’s one thing to abstain on Sunday Mass, but between Holy Thursday and Easter, the ache for the Eucharist will be like physical hunger pains. From posts on the Catholic Twitter thread, many are feeling the absence keenly already. Many online Mass options include the prayer for a spiritual communion, yet that seems like a weak imitation of the real thing. 

We are composed of body and soul; we are spiritual beings living in a physical world. Jesus knew we needed a material way to understand communion with Him, and so He blessed us by turning bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. However, in this time, He is asking us to go deeper; to open our hearts to exclusively receive Him spiritually. How can we let our current situation deprive us of receiving Him, by focusing on the fact that we can’t do so physically? Do we really believe that Jesus will not shower his blessings and grace on us because His Body and Blood have not past our lips? Do we think that God, who created the universe out of nothing, and Jesus, who turned water into wine, healed the sick, and raised the dead, is incapable of communing with those who desire it? Will we mourn our loss instead of rejoicing in His resurrection? 

This year, I will miss the Eucharist and the human touch that makes the sacraments real on a physical level, but I will not let that stop me from glorifying God and praising Jesus during this most sacred time of the calendar year. And in a few months when we are allowed to gather again as a community in worship, the Eucharist will taste sweeter than ever before, and will be just as effective as our spiritual communion in desire.

Well done good servant

It’s been a tough week. For two years we knew this was coming, yet it still seems surreal. It’s not really discussed because it’s such an unpleasant topic, but death comes to all of us.

My 88-year-old Dad started to decline rapidly last week. While he could no longer stand up or walk and had trouble feeding himself, he still was a participating member of the family. Then he had trouble sitting up, his kidneys had started to fail and he started getting confused and agitated. I was blessed to visit him and tell that I loved him before he was bedridden, slipping in and out of consciousness. And then we waited for the end… and waited… and waited. It took almost four days before he finally breathed his last. I prayed to St. Joseph, the patron for a happy death. I prayed to Pope Saint John Paul II, who also suffered from Parkinsons’ just like my Dad. I also prayed to Fr. Hamilton, a fabulous priest that I miss. I prayed for them to help my Dad make the transition. Every morning and every evening and at times throughout the day, why was he lingering so long? It was like he was the Energizer Bunny, just going and going.

At one point during the vigil at his deathbed, I took a few steps back and just pondered the situation. As one in the physical realm, I see that he is physically lingering, his breathing gurgling yet in some way still strong. But we are not just in the physical world. We have a soul, what’s going on with his soul? Only God knows that, and God knows what He’s doing. Perhaps what appears to us as lingering is really the opportunity for the soul to prepare itself. Who am I to wish that Dad’s life be cut short because I feel uncomfortable watching and listening to him breathe? What mattered most was that he was well cared for, not in pain, and never alone.

Taking in Dad laying in the bed and space around it, I began to pray. How many times I have prayed the Hail Mary, yet now when I got to the end of the prayer, it was hard to say, “…now, and at the hour of our death.” Yet in that moment, I had a sense that he was surrounded by angels and saints and they were joyful and excited. Here I am with tears down my cheeks while they were happy. And why wouldn’t they be? They were getting ready to welcome him to his final home. 

Death may be an unpleasant topic because we are so fully immersed in a physical world. Would it be easier if we knew just what awaited us on the other side? Maybe. Perhaps in a physical realm, we would not be able to grasp just what the spiritual realm has to offer. Or just knowing would not be satisfactory to us and life in the physical realm would lose its meaning. 

I know Dad’s soul is in the hands of Jesus. I hope He has said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21).