Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Secrets of Christianity

Learning the secret of Scripture and sainthood

04/12/2021

John 3:1-8 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

One of the hardest things about studying Scripture or becoming a saint is that it is not simple or straight-forward; indeed, it is sometimes secretive. Why is that frustrating? Well, we Americans like things to be obvious and uncomplicated. The golden rule of journalism is the “KISS principle,” “keep it simple, stupid.” Newspapers and magazines are written for sixth grade-level comprehension. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? They are “bilingual.” What do you call someone who speaks only one language? They are “American.” We always want everything easy for us, and therefore the Bible often baffles us.

In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was a prevailing practice of the “disciplina arcani” or the “discipline of the secret.” That is, we did not talk about the most important mysteries of our faith in public or with non-Christians. Have you ever noticed how we dismiss the RCIA candidates after the homily on Sunday? The first half of the Mass was called the “Mass of the Catechumens,” and the catechumens had to leave before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the main mystery of our religion, Holy Communion. The assembly would exclaim: “Holy things for the holy!”

In other words, Holy Communion is for the saints who have struggled to grow closer to Christ. That is also the reason that underlies why non-Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion today. There is a “secretive quality” to Sacred Scripture that is also evident in the lives of the saints. Holy things are for the holy – those who struggle, sweat, study and sacrifice – and that is really hard for 21st century Americans, who want everyone to “keep it simple, stupid.”

In the gospel today, Nicodemus must have hailed from somewhere in the United States because he begs for Jesus to “keep it simple.” In Jn 3 Jesus is revealing the great secret of baptism and how it makes you a child of God by being born again by water and the Holy Spirit. What does Nicodemus reply? He asks: “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” If Nicodemus’ question sounds silly to me and you, that is a good thing. Why? Because you know one of the “disciplina arcani,” one of the great secrets of the Scriptures and the saints, namely, baptism.

But notice how hard it was for Nicodemus to grasp this secret, a man who was highly educated, a Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin, and even holy because he wanted to follow Jesus. Nicodemus would first have to sweat, struggle, study (even more) and sacrifice to be able to stay after the “Mass of the Catechumens” and eventually enjoy the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” In other words, Christianity does not comply with the KISS principle. Those who seek a faith that is simple and stupid will not understand the Scriptures or the lives of the saints.

My friends, what grade-level is your understanding of the faith? Is it at a second-grade level, or are you “smarter than a fifth grader” in Christianity? Now, there is a true sense in which our faith should be “childlike.” Jesus urged in Mark 10, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Nonetheless, be careful not to confuse “childlike” with “childish,” that is, being “childlike” is not an excuse for being lazy.

No one in the history of humanity has had the educational resources at their disposal as we Americans do today, and yet how easily we squander them. We have libraries full of books, even in our phones and laptops, but they remain unread and ignored. We can enjoy the erudition of world-class professors, theologians and Scripture scholars through on-line resources, but we would rather play video games or watch silly cat videos.

No country or culture has ever experienced this much unprecedented free time or leisure, and yet how do we spend our day off and our downtimes? We may laugh at the silly statement of Nicodemus, but at least he was willing to work to understand the faith asking questions and even feeling foolish. He wanted to sweat, struggle, study and sacrifice to know the Scriptures and be a saint.

Folks, the journalistic jargon of the KISS principle will take you far in a career in writing. I know, I have written three books, which I kept pretty simple. But it will not take you far in learning the Scriptures or in the lives of the saints. Keep the discipline of the secrets from those who are not Christian, but don’t keep the secret from yourself.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Chicken or Egg

Mutual dependence of Scripture and sacraments

04/10/2021

Mark 16:9-15 When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either. But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

You have probably heard about the classic conundrum of causality called “the chicken and the egg.” Sometimes people ask, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Have you ever wondered that? If the egg came first, who laid the egg; and if the chicken came first, where is the egg that chicken was hatched from? The poet William Wordsworth put the puzzle differently, in his poem, “My Heart Leaps up.” He wrote a line that has now become famous: “The child is father of the man.”

We are used to thinking that adults raise their children; and they do. But there is a very true sense in which children “parent” or “father” the next generation. That is, our childhood experiences, attitudes, traumas, and loves become the blueprint for the man or woman we grow into as a father or mother. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Which came first: the child or the man?

During the coronavirus pandemic, I had a lot of time to study the scriptures, and I discovered a similar conundrum of causality, namely, which came first, the scriptures or the sacraments? Or, put differently: which came first: the Bible or the Body of Christ, the Church? It is a question of causality: which produced or created the other?

If you ask many Protestants (although not all), they may answer the Bible came first, and from the subsequent apostolic preaching and teaching from the Scriptures, the sacraments or the Church was born. That is why our Protestant brothers and sisters constantly ask Catholics: “Where does it talk about the pope or Mary or purgatory in the Bible?” Why do they ask that? Because for them the Bible came first and any faith not found there explicitly and unequivocally is not holy but rather heresy.

But the Catholic view is both more complex and more comprehensive, and therefore, I believe, more correct. We believe the chicken and the egg were sort of "born together," like twins. We maintain like Wordsworth that the man fathers the child, but the child is father to the man as well; they are inseparable. In other words, there is a dynamic interdependence between the scriptures and the sacraments; they came to be at the same time, mutually giving birth to one another. I know that sounds weird.

Today’s gospel reading from Mark is a perfect case in point. Did you know there are actually two endings to the gospel of Mark? There is a “longer ending” which we heard as our gospel reading from Mark 16:9-15, as well as a “shorter ending” which ends at Mark 16:8. How can there be two different endings of the gospel? Well, here is one of the discoveries that blew my mind as I studied the Bible. Did you know there is not one original book of the Bible in existence? That means what we have are not originals but copies, in fact, we have copies of copies of copies. And in that process of copying – remember the printing press would not be invented until 1440 – the process was not perfect. Sometimes, the scribes added or changed the original texts.

So, this evening, go home and take out your Bible, brush the dust off the cover, and turn to Mark 16. (Some of you may have to buy a Bible on the way home.) When you finish Mark 16:8, you usually find a bracket beginning in verse 9, and the closing bracket at verse 20. Why are those 12 verses set off by brackets? Because some of the oldest manuscripts (copies) have those verses while some of the oldest manuscripts (copies) do not contain those 12 verses. Well, which is it: does the gospel of Mark end at verse 8 or does it conclude at verse 20? That will be one of the questions I hope to ask St. Mark when (and if) I get to heaven.

The answer to the question about the ending of Mark’s gospel goes back to the chicken and the egg dilemma. How so? Well, even though the scripture itself cannot decide the debate - there is not original text to settle the matter - the sacraments come to the rescue, especially the Mass. You see, the reason we have any books of the New Testament is because those 27 books were the ones read at the celebration of the earliest Eucharists.

It is because the early Christians read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when they celebrated the Mass that they decided to include them in the list of New Testament books in the year 393. In other words, the sacraments gave birth to the Bible. Therefore, because we read the longer ending of Mark at Mass, we believe that is the authentic ending of his gospel. The liturgy is the litmus test the Bible.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the child or the man, the scripture or the sacraments? Well, the Catholic answer is they came into being together, kind of like twins. And like all twins, they sometimes argue and fight, but don’t worry, it is always the good fight of faith.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Faces and Names

Seeing and serving Jesus in everyone we meet

04/07/2021

John 20:11-18 Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are  you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her.

Remembering people’s names is a very important skill for priests and preachers. Why? Well, it makes people feel loved and cared for, as well as making people feeling close to the minister and the minister close to them. But it can be hard to remember thousands of people’s names, like here at Immaculate Conception, where we have over 6,000 parishioners.

I had a friend in the seminary who went to great lengths to remember people’s names and he learned all kinds of elaborate name-association techniques that would trigger his recollection. His association techniques usually related to people’s facial features, like their eyes, nose, lips, etc. Now with everyone wearing masks in church, many of those facial features are hidden. You all look the same to me now! It’s like we say about people from another country: all those Indians look the same!

In the gospel today Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and she has trouble remembering Jesus’ name and identity, almost as if he were wearing a mask. Indeed, she mistook him for the gardener. Maybe Mary thought that all gardeners looked the same: “Eh, he’s just another gardener; they all look alike!” But after Jesus says her name, “Mary,” she remembers his name and calls him “Rabbouni,” which is another form of “Rabbi,” or teacher. Somehow Jesus’ resurrection has not only revealed his identity as the Son of God; it has also concealed his identity as simply a Jewish rabbi. In other words, Jesus has become both easier and harder to recognize. And I believe that is both deliberate and decisive: it teaches us something crucial about Christianity. What do I mean?

In Luke 24 two disciples are on the road to Emmaus and they do not recognize Jesus who walks and talks with them for nearly 7 miles. But then their eyes are opened in the “breaking of the bread” (Bible code-language for the Eucharist). At first, they thought he was just another visitor to Jerusalem; and all those foreigners look the same! In Acts 9 Saul the Pharisee encounters the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and asks, “Who are you, sir?” And Jesus replies, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Consequently, Saul was blind for 3 days, but when he opened his eyes he could see Jesus in all Christians. But before that encounter, Saul would have said, “Ah, that is just another Christian; they all look alike!” In other words, Jesus is present in each person, especially in every Christian.

And in Mt. 25, in the dramatic Final Judgment scene where Jesus separates all humanity into the sheep and the goats, into the blessed and the condemned, what causes you to end up in one category rather than the other? Jesus explains: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” That is, the saved will be those who see and serve Jesus in the poor. The resurrection, therefore, has revealed Jesus’ glory and identity, but it has also concealed his Presence in the Eucharist, in the Church (in individual Christians), and in the poor. Jesus will be more easy to see and recognize (because he will be everywhere), but also harder to spot and pick out because he will be incognito.

My friends, do you have a job or responsibility that requires you to remember a lot of people’s names? Not only pastors but also teachers who have lots of students’ names to remember and new students every year; but also leaders of church ministries with many members (like the I.C. Ladies Auxiliary), or even some families that have so many uncles and aunts, cousins and in-laws, like the Siebenmorgen’s, Seiter’s and Sanchez’s. It is certainly a good thing to do like my friend in the seminary and learn everyone’s names. It will help you to feel close to them and for them to feel close to you, and you will be a better leader.

Nonetheless, I am convinced there is a deeper identity in each person, namely, Jesus is in them. That is, even if we cannot remember someone’s name, be careful not to write them off or dismiss them by thoughts like “Ah, he’s just the gardener,” or “All those Indians look the same.” Each person is a unique and unrepeatable child of God, and even if you cannot remember their name, at least remember Jesus is in them. Even if you forget the name Maestri, or Martinez, or McNally, just remember the name “Jesus.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Resurrection Results

Seeing how the Resurrection changes everything

04/04/2021

John 20:1-9 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Which do you like to hear first, the good news or the bad news? I always want the bad news first and the good news last, like eating my salad first and the dessert last. But can you always tell the difference between the good news and the bad news, which is which? Just listen to this little joke. After dying in a car crash, three friends go to heaven for an orientation. They were all asked the same question: “When you are in the casket at your funeral, friends and family are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say about you?” The first man immediately responds, “I would like to hear them say that I was one of the greatest doctors of my time and a great man.” The second man says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband and a terrific teacher who made a huge difference in the children of tomorrow.” The third man thinks for a moment and answers: ‘I would like to hear them say… ‘Look! He’s moving!’”

Now, all joking aside, ask yourself: would hearing “Look! He’s moving!” while you are in the casket sound like good news or bad news? It sounds pretty good, right? After all, who doesn’t want to come back from the dead, especially at a funeral and prank your friends? But what eventually happens to everyone who comes back to life? They have to die again. It’s like that truism: the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Everyone eventually exits through the door of death.

Even every person whom Jesus raised from the dead had to die again. The widow of Nain’s son in Luke 7 died again; Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 died again; and even Lazarus in John 11 died again. When it comes to death, therefore, it is not easy to tell the good news from the bad news. I would suggest to you that the good news is not living a little longer on earth; the really good news is living a lot longer in heaven, indeed, living forever. But for those who have not found faith, it is hard to tell the difference between the good news and the bad news.

On that first Easter Sunday, Mary of Magdala goes to Jesus’ tomb and finds it empty. She runs to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple (John), “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” Mary didn’t say, “Look! He’s moving!” She said, “Look! He’s gone!” Now, did Mary think that was good news or bad news? Well, I am convinced Mary, Peter and John thought it was actually bad news. Why? Well, not only had Jesus died, but now his body had apparently been stolen. So, we read at the end of today’s gospel, “For they did not understand the Scripture, that he had to rise from the dead.” But after they see the risen Jesus they have what is called “resurrection faith,” which opens their eyes to tell the difference between the good news and the bad news. They realized there is no more bad news, not even death.

My friends, do you realize that we have had ten funerals in the past three months? I hope their families will not mind me mentioning their names out loud. On January 13, we had the funeral for Gene Borengasser, on Jan. 26 for Dr. Kent Magrini, on Feb. 5 for Van Philaly, on Feb. 20 for Tom Caldarera, on Feb. 23 for Katie Reith, on Mar. 11 for Mary Maestri, on Mar. 20 for Eva de la Cruz, on Mar. 24 for Larry Komp, on Mar. 26 for Rosella Boerner, and on Mar. 31 for Carolyn Schmidt. I am sure their family and friends having gone to visit their graves, just like Mary of Magdala went to visit Jesus’ tomb.

But is their passing entirely bad news? That is when we must look through the eyes of resurrection faith. In other words, we don’t want to say, “Look! He’s moving!” because we know that would only mean Tom or Katie, Eva or Larry, Kent or Carolyn would have to die again. Rather, resurrection faith tells us these beloved dead will now live forever in heaven. The resurrection means there is no more bad news, not even death.

My friends, may I draw out one more result of resurrection? Heck, this is the only time some of you come to church, so I have to give you all I got! I am convinced that the resurrection of Jesus changes all bad news into only good news. In Rm 5:20, St. Paul declares: “Where sin abounds, there grace abound all the more.” Paul could just as well have said, “Where bad news abounds, there good news abounds all the more.” Why? Resurrection faith assures us that the return on the investment (ROI) of Christianity is not limited to this world but also realized in the next.

It’s like that recruiting poster for the priesthood: “The priesthood doesn’t pay much, but the retirement plan is out of this world!” Our retirement plan is the resurrection. Therefore, the sacrifices we make as priests and deacons, the pains and problems you experience raising children, the hurts and humiliations you suffer as a spouse, the ways we provide for the poor, in a word, all the crosses we carry as Christians, will be rewarded in the resurrection. In other words, there is no bad news in this world that Jesus cannot turn into good news in the next.

The next time someone asks you, “Which would you like to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” What will you reply? If you have resurrection faith, you can say: “It doesn’t matter. Easter means there is no more bad news.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

 

Do You Bleed

Contemplating crucifixes and learning about Good Friday

04/02/2021

Isaiah 52:13—53:12 See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him -- so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man-- so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

Everyone knows the most distinctive symbol of Christianity is the cross. But do you know the difference between a “cross” and a “crucifix”? I would suggest to you that it is equivalent to the difference between Protestants and Catholics. How so? Well, a cross is a geometrical figure of two intersecting lines, perpendicular to each other, making the shape of a “plus sign.” A crucifix, by contrast, is a cross that has the body of Jesus on it, called a “corpus,” which is Latin for “body.” When you walk into most (not all) Protestant churches you will find a “cross” without the corpus. But you are probably in a Catholic church if you see a cross with the corpus, Jesus’ body in his final agony. Why is that?

Well, I believe our Protestant brothers and sisters want to emphasize that Jesus has risen and is no longer on the Cross. Hence, the cross without the corpus; Jesus’ body is glorified in heaven. Catholics, on the other hand, want to remember how much Jesus suffered and died to save us. “Crucifix” is an abbreviation of the word “crucifixion.” Now, I don’t want to overstate this point, because Protestants still sing about Jesus’ saving death, and Catholics regularly reflect on his resurrection; the cross and the crucifix are not mutually exclusive. Still, both theological traditions want to highlight different aspects of the one Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.

I believe we Catholics are fond of crucifixes more than mere crosses because they teach us why Good Friday is so “good.” Have you ever wondered why we call this day so “good,” the day we killed the King of kings? But I believe crucifixes teach that lesson in three ways. First, the crucifix shows us that Jesus’ love is not talk but action, and his specific action is suffering. We prove that we really love someone by doing something hard for them, not by doing something easy. Even God shows us he loves us by doing something extremely hard, namely, by suffering and dying on the cross.

A small child once asked Jesus, “How much do you love me?” And Jesus answered, “This much!” and he stretched out his arms wide and was nailed to the cross. We Catholics are like little children always asking that question: “Jesus how much do you love us?” And we find great comfort when hear his answer: “I love you this much!” That is why Catholics want to behold a crucifix with our Lord’s arms stretched out in love for the world. That is why Good Friday is called “good.”

Secondly, when we see how much Jesus’ suffered on the cross we see how human he became. Did you see the movie “Batman versus Superman”? Don’t worry, I saw it! One of the best lines was when Batman menacingly asked Superman: “Do you bleed?” What he was asking was “How human are you?” Nothing proves our humanity like when we bleed. Bleeding shows we are simple men, not Supermen. Therefore, when Jesus’ bled on the cross, he highlighted his humanity every bit as much as becoming a Baby in Bethlehem.

A crucifix underscores that Jesus was fully human at the Crucifixion as well as at the Incarnation; when his clothes became dazzling white on Mt. Tabor as well as when his clothes became crimson red on Mt. Calvary; when the crowds stood spell-bound during his Sermon on the Mount as well as when they listened to his “Seven Last Words,” our Lord’s last sermon while mounted on the pulpit of the Cross. To the question, “Do you bleed?” – are you really human? – every crucifix gives a resounding “Yes!” That is why Good Friday is called “good.”

And thirdly, the crucifix shows us a powerful way we can be a little more like Jesus. You know, it’s hard to be as smart and wise as Jesus; he knows more than Google. It is impossible to be as holy and sinless as Jesus; he perfect and impeccable. We will never come close to being as prayerful or spiritual as Jesus; he always beheld the Face of his Father. But in one area of life we can imitate our Lord, namely, in our suffering. One of my favorite Bible verses is Colossians 1:24, where St. Paul writes – which incidentally, he wrote from prison – “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the church.” In other words, my suffering makes me like my Savior.

On Good Friday Catholics are called to fast from food and to abstain from eating meat. Why? Simple: so our suffering makes us more like our Savior. Every crucifix tells us that every Christian can imitate Christ: when we lose our job, when our marriage fails, when our children abandon their faith, when we feel alone and misunderstood, when we fail to overcome our sins, when we suffer from cancer or chronic illnesses, we feel like Jesus did on the cross. Suffering may make us feel far from others, but it can also make us feel very close to Christ. That is why Good Friday is called “good.”

Catholics love crucifixes more than crosses because they teach us why Good Friday is called "good." But crosses are good too.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

 

Smell of Wine

Seeing the Eucharist as the food for every journey

04/01/2021

John 13:1-15 Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. So, during supper, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel nd tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Do you have a favorite food you like to take on a road-trip? Many of our parish families may have hit the road last week for Spring Break so their “food for the journey” is still fresh on their minds, or still lingering on their lips. Food and drink for the journey reminds me of that classic joke. A police officer pulled over a priest for speeding and immediately smelled alcohol on his breath. The next thing he noticed was an empty wine bottle lying on the passenger seat. The officer asked: “Have you been drinking, Father?” The priest answered, “Just water.” The officer insisted, “Then why do I smell wine?” The priest looked over at the bottle and shouted: “Good Lord! He’s done it again!” That’s an old one, but I still love it!

I’m sure the priest had just finished celebrating Mass and only the slight smell of wine was on his breath. It’s interesting that on the day of Pentecost when the apostles spoke in tongues, we read in Acts 2:13, “But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine’.” The apostles were indeed filled with new wine at Pentecost because the Holy Spirit had changed the wine into the Blood of Christ at Mass that morning. And then, strengthened by that Eucharistic Food, the same Spirit gave the apostles the power to speak many languages. The Wine had loosened their tongues! The apostles took the “new Wine” of the Mass on their great missionary journeys over the whole world, fearlessly preaching the Gospel.

Indeed, the new Bread and Wine of the Eucharist is the ideal food for the final journey after death, our personal Passover, when we “pass over” from this world to the next. The Church teaches that when we receive Holy Communion for the last time, it is called “Viaticum,” literally “for the road,” or “food for the journey.” Why? So we will have the strength to make it to our ultimate destination, our Father’s House. The Eucharistic Food gives us the confidence to set out on that final journey with joy. Why? Because Wine makes us smile.

Today we celebrate Holy Thursday, the night on which our Savior instituted the Eucharist to be our Food for every journey. Of course, he did not start cooking from scratch, but rather built on the Jewish feast of Passover. Before their momentous march across the desert, Moses fed the Israelites with the original food for the journey, namely, lamb and unleavened bread. The people were not leaving schools and books for Spring Break, but leaving slavery and bondage, and many students may feel those two are exactly the same.

Leaving slavery in Egypt for the freedom of the Promised Land prefigured leaving this valley of tears we call “earth” for the glory of the real Promised Land called “heaven.” Egypt was earth, the Promised Land was heaven. In other words, that evening of the Passover Moses fed the people with a sort of “spiritual viaticum,” spiritual food for the journey. Don’t forget, though, along with the unleavened bread the Israelites also drank wine that night, and the Egyptians might have mockingly said about them: “They are filled with new wine.” The wine made the Israelites smile as they departed Egypt.

The Eucharistic Bread and Wine are not only food for the final journey after death, but also food for all our earthly journeys. That is, the Eucharist strengthens us and helps us to live like Christ lived. That is the reason at the Last Supper Jesus also washed and dried his disciples’ feet, and then commanded: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” Of course, Jesus did not mean that literally but illustratively, that is, his action was an example of service to the extreme, even if it meant washing feet.

How will we ever be humble enough and holy enough to do that? How can we perform service to the extreme? Simple: we must consume Jesus’ own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. The Eucharist, therefore, not only makes us holy but humble; we not only feel our Lord’s sanctity but also his strength, and that is how we are able to love like our Lord. When we are filled with the new Wine of the Eucharist, we can set out on all our journeys with joy. The wine makes us smile.

I recently looked up the ten most popular foods to take on a road-trip. See if any of these match your personal list. They included: (1) beef jerky, (2) popcorn, (3) hard-boiled eggs, (4) protein bars, (5) string cheese, (6) carrots, (7) grapes, (8), hummus and celery, (9) Greek yogurt, and (10) pistachios. I was shocked that “viaticum” did not make the top ten list of road-trip foods! But Holy Communion should be at the top of every Catholic’s list of road-trip snacks. We should not leave home without it, whether we are trying to make our way on earth, or trying to make our way home to heaven. Sometimes, it’s good to get on the road with the slight smell of Wine on your breath.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

 

Let’s Talk Money

Making Christ our king rather than cash

03/31/2021

Matthew 26:14-25 One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“ When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”

Kevin O’Leary says frequently on Shark Tank, “Let’s talk money.” Let me begin with a question: is money the "root" of all evil, or rather does money "rescue" you from all evil? Well, if you ask Pink Floyd, they will say that money rescues you from all evil. In their wildly popular 1981 hit song, they sang: “Money, get away / You get a good job with more pay and you’re okay / Money, it’s a gas / Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash / New car, caviar, four-star daydream / Think I’ll buy me a football team.” So, we might say that one attitude toward making money is to say “Cash is king.”

On the other hand, St. Paul teaches Timothy, his young apprentice and future bishop, that money is the root of all evil. St. Paul wrote in 1 Tm 6:10, these familiar lines: “The love of money is the root of all evil, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” St. Paul warned Timothy (and us) that money does not “rescue” us from evil; loving it too much is the “root” of all evil. In other words, for St. Paul, “cash was not king” but rather “Christ is king.”

I am convinced this is the problem for Judas in the gospel of Matthew today. Judas Iscariot is the one who betrays Jesus and hands him over to the Jewish authorities to be killed. But before he did that, Judas said, “Let’s talk money.” We read in Mt. 26:14, “One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Isacariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you going to give me if I hand him over to you?’” Using terminology we might hear on Shark Tank, Judas was asking, “What is your valuation of Jesus? How much is he worth?” They paid him “30 pieces of silver,” which Leviticus tells us was the price of a slave. Clearly, for Judas, “cash is king.”

By contrast, we read about how Mary (not Jesus’ mother but Martha’s sister) deals with money and valuable things when Jesus visited her, Martha and Lazarus a few days earlier. In Jn 12, we read: “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil…and anointed the feet of Jesus…the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” And do you recall who objected to that supposed “waste” of costly perfume? You guessed it: Judas, who said it should have been spent on the poor. But John explains: “Judas said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal from the contributions.” So, on the other hand, we see Mary for whom “Christ is king” and therefore “cash cannot be king.” In other words, you must sacrifice either one or the other: either Christ or cash. You cannot serve two kings.

My friends, if there is one thing Catholic schools have taught me, it is how to make “Christ the king” rather than believe that “cash is king.” Let me give you three examples. First, my parents taught me that Christ is king because they came to America from India and saved their money only to spend it by sending their three children to Catholic schools. Catholic schools are not inexpensive and you must sacrifice cash in order to serve Christ when you send your children there.

Second, I tried to follow my parents’ example by running marathons and writing three books to raise money for students who could not afford to go to a Catholic school. I did not offer Jesus a jar of perfumed oil, but I did pour out my sweat and tears out of love for him. It takes money to write books. You sacrifice cash in order to serve Christ. Third, I pray our students who graduate from Trinity will be successful in life and even make lots of money. But then, I sincerely hope they will turn around and use that money to help the poor, and maybe even help poorer students to go to Catholic schools. You have to sacrifice cash in order to serve Christ.

The felicitous phrase, “Let’s talk money” can be used in both Shark Tank and in Catholic schools. In Shark Tank that talk about money tends to mean that “cash is king.” In Catholic schools we too talk about money, but only so we can see that Christ is king.

Praised be Jesus Christ!