Monthly Archives: April 2013

First Holy Communion

In our parish children are receiving their First Holy Communion these Sundays of the Easter season. They will come into the church together, each one with her or his name printed on their clothes and we will greet each one of them by name at the altar. Their families and relatives will be here.

Later, we will call them to stand around the altar at the Eucharistic prayer and they will be the first to receive Communion. Afterwards, they’ll be joining their families to celebrate this important step in their life of faith.

We call them by name. In baptism, that’s the first thing we ask parents who bring their children to the baptized: “What’s his/her name?” and later we baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

God calls us by name. It’s my name and it stands for me. In baptism we are called by God, who takes us into his hands forever. We are baptized with water, with life, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. We know God’s name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Baptized as infants, we didn’t speak for ourselves; our parents spoke for us, and they were entrusted to bring us up in this belief: that we are God’s children, God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At first Holy Communion we speak for ourselves; no one holds us in their arms or speaks for us as they did in baptism. When we receive Jesus in the bread we say “Amen.” I believe he comes to me; I know who he is; He is my Lord and my God who loves me. He gave his life for me and he calls me to eternal life.

Our First Communion should be the beginning of many communions. Jesus wants us to know his name and to know us. That’s what the word “communion” means.

Sunday Readings: Fifth Week (C)

Acts 14, 24-27
Revelations 21,1-5
John 13,31-33,34-35

Jesus came to cast the fire of love on the earth. A few verses earlier in John’s gospel, which we read today, Jesus gives Judas “a morsel” of bread just before the disciple leaves the supper table and goes out into the night. Even as the disciple prepares to betray him Jesus offers him a sign of love. Before that he knelt before Peter and washed the feet of the disciple who would deny him three times. The rest, confused about the betrayal taking place, cannot grasp the love Jesus offers. They’re like children who do not understand. They’re like us. “I give you an new commandment,” Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love is the sign and the key.

The Risen Lord brings new life to all of creation as well as to humanity, according to the Book of Revelations. John sees “a new heaven and a new earth.” Creation is not restored to its original state, but transformed and perfected by God to be a new habitation for humanity. “God will dwell with them and they shall be his people.” A new Jerusalem adorned as a bride will be its city. No evil will be found in this new creation.

Revelations rejects the belief that God sees creation as evil and will destroy it in the future, a belief some Christians today unfortunately hold. In Christ God promises and will bring about a renewal of creation and our task is to work for its renewal. That means we don’t turn away from the world in which we live and simply pursue our own aims. We are called to work in this world for justice and good so that God’s kingdom will come.

In the Acts of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas say to the embattled churches of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch “We must undergo many trials if we are to enter the reign of God.” They install “elders” for the better organization of these churches, but the goal of the churches goes beyond good organization. Their goal is to work for the reign of God as they undergo many trials. Like seed, the church grows in this world, and we hardly recognize its growth.

The Good Shepherd

Sunday Reading: Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts 13, 14, 43-52
Revelation 7, 9,14-17
John 10-27-30

“The Father and I are one,” Jesus says in John’s gospel. The role given to God in the Old Testament –the Good Shepherd– is also his role. He guides humanity and the world to their destiny. He’s not the shepherd of one nation or small group. He’s not the leader of a small cult, a teacher among teachers. He is the Good Shepherd of all, who calls all to his flock and whose message is for all.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes a split in the church. As Paul and Barnabas preach in Antioch in Pisidia, Jewish Christians oppose the number of gentiles welcoming the gospel, and so limit the nature of the church. “We now turn to the gentiles,” Paul says. By this decision, the message of Jesus will be brought to the ends of the earth and the church takes on a more universal configuration. What configuration is our church taking today?

In the Book of Revelations John sees a “crowd that no one can number” standing before God’s throne, which is also the throne of the Lamb. “The Lamb will shepherd them” and “he will lead them to springs of life-giving waters, and God will wash away every tear from their eyes.” In Revelations, the Risen Christ reminds us to keep an eye, not only on the present, but on “what is to come.”

Reasoning to faith

I mentioned in my last blog how Elizabeth Seton came to believe in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. She offers a an example of how ordinary reasoning leads to faith. “She thought of the Filicchis’s devotion and asked how God created her ‘ and how a hundred other things I know nothing about? I am a mother, so the mother’s thought came also. How was my God a little babe in the first stage of his mortal existence in Mary?’”

Three simple things influenced her: the Filicchis’s belief in the Eucharist, the many mysteries she found in her own life and could not explain, and finally the mystery of the Incarnation itself. Humbly, Jesus became flesh in the womb of Mary. Could not the One who “emptied himself and took on the form of a slave” choose to be really present in bread and wine?

Commentators say that the long narrative in the 6th chapter of John’s gospel on the miracle of the loaves and fish is meant to meet questions that arose in his church in the last decade of the 1st century. The first disciples and eyewitnesses are gone. Some Christians, probably influenced by Gnostic pessimism, questioned the Incarnation of Christ. Would God become human and part of our created world? The authors of John’s gospel use the miracle of the loaves and fish and Jesus’ words that he is “the bread of life” to assert that he works through creation. He is the Word made flesh.

Elizabeth was raised an Episcopalian and belonged to Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan. From my reading it seems that her church at the end of the 18th century was emerging from the heavy influence of the Enlightenment, which stressed a rational approach to religion. Then, Henry Hobart,a new ministerarrived and began to preach a biblical message based on the words and ministry of Jesus; Elizabeth responded warmly to his message.

I like best her simple reasoning for belief in Jesus present in the Eucharist: “I am a mother, so the mother’s thought came also. How was my God a little babe in the first stage of his mortal existence in Mary?”

The Solemnity of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ

The church tries to present the mysteries of faith as concretely as possible, because we find the mysteries of God hard to understand and need all the help we can get. So,  the church celebrates the mysteries of Jesus throughout the year at times that may help us understand them.

Today is the Solemnity of the Incarnation of the Lord, when we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ life in the womb of Mary. The Angel Gabriel came to Nazareth and invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus, who would “save his people from their sins.”

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” Mary answered.

Usually it’s celebrated on March 25th,  9 months from Christmas, December 25th, the traditional date of Jesus’ birth. Some old church calendars saw this day also as the day on which Jesus was crucified. Because it fell in Easter week, we postpone the celebration to this week.

On this side of the world it’s spring and the natural world is coming to life. Its deepest life comes about through the presence, the birth, the life of Jesus Christ.  Hidden in the womb or dying on the cross, Jesus brings life and spring is earth’s reminder of new life in God.

“May we become more like Jesus Christ, whom we acknowledge as our redeemer,” we say in our prayer for this feast. He is hidden in us as he was in Mary; he grows and matures in us, as he did in her.

We can’t celebrate this feast without thinking of that great woman of faith who believed in the angel’s message. “And the angel left her,” the story of the Annunciation concludes. The angel spoke, then was gone. Even when there was no angel to speak to and few further signs, Mary continued to believe.

Her faith was great;  like her we keep in mind the angel’s words as if spoken to us:

Hail Mary, full of grace,

the Lord is with you.

Act of the Apostle

By the old temple gate
lay a poor crippled man,
forced to beg
for the daily needs of life.
He was lame from his birth
with no hope to be healed
until Peter and John came to pray.

Those two friends of the Lord
saw the man lying there
and were filled with compassion and love.
They had no money to share,
so Peter reached out his hand
and gave him the best that they had.

“I have no silver, no gold,
but I give you what I have –
in the Name of Jesus, stand up and walk!
Take this gift of new life
and proclaim to all the world
that the Name of the Lord has set you free!”

By the old temple gate
stands a man strong and free,
singing praise to the Name of the Lord!

Gloria Ziemienski
April 1997

The Resurrection according to Luke

Our gospel reading today is from Luke’s resurrection narrative.(Luke 24,13-35) Luke’s focus is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like Matthew, Luke begins with the women at the tomb, but he quickly directs us beyond the tomb to a road where two downcast disciples sunk in disappointment are abandoning their hopes for God’s kingdom. Jesus appears gradually to the two disciples. Slow to understand and to recognize Jesus, they see him finally in the breaking of the bread. Afterwards, they remember his words on the road and how their hearts burned within them.

Luke’s account of the Risen Jesus with the two disciples who have lost hope and are trying to find their way is a key to understanding the journey of the church that the evangelist writes for in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. The church will journey from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, Rome. But it’s not a triumphant journey the two disciples make, nor will the church’s journey be triumphant. Luke’s narrative is a wonderful corrective to a triumphalist view of the church and also corrects a perfectionist view of our personal journey of faith.