11th S. 2021: Every Place God Is King

Today’s homily is for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 13, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here

Today we reflect for a moment on the Kingdom of God. What exactly is the Kingdom of God, anyway? Jesus taught us to pray for the coming of the kingdom when he taught what we call the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” St. Cyprian of Carthage said the kingdom of God is Christ Jesus himself, “whom we day by day desire to come,” and “because in Him we shall all reign.” The Catechism, in paragraphs 541, we read, “The Father’s will is ‘to raise up men and women to share in his own divine life.’ He does this by gathering men and women around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, ‘on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.’”

Jesus never tells his disciples what it is exactly, but he starts his public ministry by announcing, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in this good news.” (MK 1:14) He tells them it is at hand, and in parables what it is like, challenging them to reflect a little bit…don’t be afraid to reflect a little bit. Our Lord says it’s like a man who scatters some seed, then day after day it grows until the harvest. That’s pretty amazing, and anyone who has ever planted from seeds knows the joy of seeing that first delicate blade appear out of the dirt after putting a seed into the ground. 

And Jesus invites us to consider further that maybe the seed was a mustard seed, once planted, although one of the smallest seeds on the earth, it grows to become one of the largest plants, with branches so large that birds of the air find rest and shade. Joy, growth, rest and shade. When I was teaching religion at Sacred Heart we were studying the Kingdom of God and I asked my students what they thought it was. Many answers were given, and then, presented as the most obvious truth, a student said, “Mr. Valgos, the kingdom of God is every place that God is King.” That’s it. God bless the child that sees the truth so clearly. The Kingdom of God is every place that God is king. 

It is God’s Word, Jesus Christ, which is planted in the rich soil of our heart where it begins to grow. But not just in my heart, but in ours. And we are bound together by the Holy Spirit that creates the Church–those who have been called out of darkness into God’s glorious light. In my favorite Marvel movie, Thor Ragnarok, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins says of their city, Asgard, he says, “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people.” Asgard is wherever my people stand. The Kingdom of God is not a place, it’s a people, it is the Church, gathered together around the table of the Eucharist and looking forward to the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, when our Lord returns. 

And so how are we that kingdom, then? As the Gospel says, like that blade of green that rises up out of the dirt, we too rise up and bring life and joy everywhere we go. As we continue to participate in the sacraments of faith, remain united to each other, pray, fast, give alms, and work for justice, and as we gather for Eucharist to remember, and both look forward to and announce the judgement of the living and the dead, that seed that is in us individually, and communally, continues to grow. 

As Ezekiel said, this is God’s work. God plants us high on the mountain and causes us to grow. We put forth branches and bear fruit, and become the majestic cedar, beautiful and strong. Believe that God is at work in you, in us, making you beautiful and strong. Believe that as the kingdom grows in us we become sanctuaries of peace and rest for our friends at school or our coworkers who are going through a difficult time. Our faith puts forth these amazing branches where fearful and exhausted birds find peace and love…where they find God. The kingdom of God is not a place, but a people. It is a people who are filled with life and love, joy and peace. We make God present in a dark world. We bring the light and love of God, we cast out demons, fear and darkness, and bring healing and hope.

The Kingdom of God is everywhere that God is king. Make God king of your marriage and of your family. Allow God to be king of your friendships, and schools and workplaces. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Corpus Christi S. 2021: Soul Medicine

Today’s homily is for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, June 6, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

Today is The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi Sunday. Like last week where we reflected on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, and the week prior when we reflected on the Gift of the Spirit, at Pentecost, we continue our celebration of God’s generosity in gift-giving, with the gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the words of consecration, and the holy hands of the priest, ordinary bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of our Lord himself. This belief is central to what it means to be a Catholic Christian, and is a belief we share with our Orthodox brothers and sisters as well.

In John 6 Jesus said we must eat his flesh and drink his blood if we are to have life within us. At the Last Supper, the Gospel reading today, we heard from the words of Jesus Himself when he instituted it, and in 1 COR 11: 11:23 St. Paul taught the Church in Corinth what he had himself received from the Lord, namely, that on the night [Jesus] was betrayed he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” What a beautiful gift of his very self that we might by receiving it be transformed into his likeness by feeding on him weekly, and if possible, even daily. The Catechism teaches that, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (1324)

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, said that the Eucharist, “is not a prize for the perfect, but a generous medicine and food for the weak.” Of course the quote was not his own but that of Pope Saint Pius X, who in 1910 recalled the error of the Jansenist heretics, “who maintained that the Most Holy Eucharist was a prize, not medicine of human weakness.” (Decree Quam Singulari) Pure rubbish. Which among us here is perfect? Not me, that’s certain. Quite the contrary. We are here because we are not perfect, are aware of our poverty, our lack, and our need for a savior. And for those who humbly approach the throne of God’s mercy, mercy is given under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine. 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem boldly said, “[Jesus] Himself, therefore, having declared and said of the Bread, “This is My Body,” who will dare any longer to doubt? And when He Himself has affirmed and said, “This is My Blood,” who can ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood? Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.”

St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” And he warns that before receiving communion with the Lord, one must examine oneself. He says the one who eats and drinks unworthily, without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself! And what does worthiness consist of so that we might receive the Eucharist? Only this, that we are acutely aware of our unworthiness. Our Lord is nothing we can ever earn, is no prize, no reward for our good conduct. It is only a gift who, like a poor beggar, we receive with outstretched arms and a humble and contrite heart. It’s why before receiving communion we make the words of the centurion our own, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

We encourage those who are not ready or unable to receive Holy Communion, to approach the altar in the communion line, and then cross their arms over their chest to receive a blessing. As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion we should actually be in communion with the Lord and with our neighbor, both of whom we are called to love. Communicants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour before receiving the Lord, and generally speaking, a person who is conscious of grave sin must be reconciled to God and to the community through sacramental confession before receiving, so that he or she might not receive unworthily, bringing certain judgement.

Quite different from the Jansenist heretics, the Church preaches that even those who have any addiction or are crawling on the path of holiness must confess and receive the Eucharist. It is enough that we sincerely desire to change and return to God. It is necessary to get up and start again, on each humiliating relapse! Look around, we are the dregs, the broken, the misfits, the sinners who approached the Lord for healing 2,000 years ago and who approach him still. Who lifted a friend through the roof, who climbed a tree to see Jesus; who sit and beg our Lord for sight. Those who bind themselves together arm in arm, exhausted from battle against evil, with some wins, but mostly losses, who drag themselves to the Church, a sanctuary and hospital for souls, to receive the medicine of immortality, the food of eternal life–The body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ–against whom we have no claim, but who claims us as his own nonetheless, and feeds us with his own precious flesh and blood. 

Pope Pius X said, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven. There are others: innocence, but that is for little children; penance, but we are afraid of it; generous endurance for the trials of life, but when they come we weep and ask to be spared. The surest, easiest, shortest way is the Eucharist.” Rise, receive him humbly, thankfully, worthily.

Trinity S. 2021: Trinitarian Love

Today’s homily is for Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

Today is Trinity Sunday. The Sunday after Pentecost that celebrates the inner life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A few years back there was a book that circulated, largely in Protestant circles, called The Shack. It was creatively written and tried to help explain how God is three…but one. The value of the book for me was that the Mystery of the Holy Trinity was explained through relationship and experience. The Trinity has never been an easy thing to understand, of course. Christians gloss over it rather quickly as though it makes perfect sense. “Yes, we believe in one God–Yahweh, Jesus, and the Spirit. See, one God! Easy enough!” we say and on our way we go! 

But it really is quite complicated. So complicated, in fact, there were two great councils of the Church that would give us the precise language we need to explain our understanding of God. No sooner had the Edict of Tolerance been signed in 313 AD, did the Christian Community gather first in Nicaea in 325, and then again at the Council of Constantinople, in 381, to agree on the language Christians would use to explain the mystery of the inner life of God. We know it simply as “The Creed,” our statement of faith. We say variations of it at baptisms, at confirmation, before we pray the rosary, and we say it each Sunday right after the homily. It is the faith that we, and countless generations before us, believed. We’ve heard it so many times that we may have forgotten just what a shocking thing this must have been for those followers of Jesus in the first century.

A wonderful variety of attempts to find earthly examples to employ to better understand, each of them helpful, and yet still failing to grasp the mystery. The triangle–three sides, one triangle. The shamrock–three leave, one clover. H2O–one substance that manifests itself as either steam, water, ice. It’s this last one that I find most moving because it speaks of not just the thing, H2O, but rather the way that we experience it demands a new term to capture the experience. 

Jesus was Jewish, his disciples were Jews, as were others who followed him. They believed in God, their Father in Heaven. Moses told the Israelites, “The LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” (DT 4) But Jesus of Nazareth came along, and revealed the power of God, called God his father, and said the Father and He were one. And after the resurrection it became perfectly clear to the disciples that whatever made God God, God’s Goddedness, well that’s what Jesus had. There was no denying it. The Greek word they used at the council was homoousius (same in essence). You know, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” So God is one, the Father and Jesus are obviously of the same stuff, namely, God, but yet they are distinct in person. When the disciples experienced Jesus, they experienced the God they knew since their youth, right in their midst. 

And then no sooner had they wrapped their minds around God the father and son, did Pentecost arrive! We celebrated that last week. The Spirit descends into the hearts of those faithful that day, and everyday since. God is Father, Son, and Spirit! Whaaat?! But wait, that makes sense because Jesus said in MT 28, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And they believed it. And they did. And we are here because of it. Not because they totally understood it, but because they believed it and shared it. The disciples, “Worshiped but they doubted it.” 

The takeaway for us, however, is that images are important, and language is important, but all the words that have ever been said and all the images ever used have but one end, to invite us to wrap our mind around the experience of the heart. It’s not about words or pictures, it’s about love; it’s about relationship. It’s the reason for the Incarnation and then for Pentecost. God does not want to be far off, far and away. He came to earth to dwell among us. And his desire was not to be with but one generation sitting around the campfire, but instead entering into each person sharing the most intimate movements of God, igniting a fire within their heart for love of God. 

God is love. All of creation is God’s beloved–the object of his immeasurable love. And love desire’s intimacy; not desiring to be far off but very close. sharing the thoughts and desires of the heart. That’s what Trinity Sunday is all about. It’s about God holding nothing back, giving every part of Himself to his beloved. And the only response that is required is to love in return. Love God. In our heart, in our prayers, in our worship, in our life, in our families, and in our friendships, love Him. He’s right there in the very center of our being calling to us in the Spirit, through the Son, that we might be forever united to the Father. That’s Trinitarian love.