"Zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69:9)

Thoughts of a parish priest…


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Ascension, Pentecost and the Mission of the Church

As we prepare to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, and keeping in mind that we are about 10 days away from Pentecost, it is a great opportunity to reflect upon the mission that Christ gave to His Church.

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At the end of his recent trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis explained in a homily during Mass celebrated in the Upper Room that: “Here, Jesus shared the Last Supper with the Apostles; where, after his resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples. Here the Church was born, and was born to go forth.”

“The Church, in her going forth, preserves the memory of what took place here; the Spirit, the Paraclete, reminds her of every word and every action, and reveals their true meaning,” the pope continued.

Pope Francis touched upon two of the essential marks of the Church’s identity and mission while in the Upper Room: Service and the Eucharist!

He spoke of how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, offering an example of “welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another.”

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He recounted how Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist with his disciples, and continues to be present in the Eucharist throughout the centuries:
 “In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering God our lives, our joys, and our sorrows, offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.”

“How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent,” he remarked. 

”All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.”

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At the end of this Holy Season of Easter, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, which is recognized as the beginning of the Church which Christ established in order to be the “sacrament of communion”, the external sign of communion with God and with each other that brings about what it signifies.

The Church is meant to be a visible witness of communion with God and with each other and is also the means by which God has chosen to achieve that communion.

The Lord who gave us this great commission to carry out his mission also taught us by word and example that this mission of bringing the world into communion with God and with each other would not be easy. He told us there would be opposition.

To help us overcome the devil and all those who will try to interfere with our fidelity to Christ, Christ promised a great gift. As He was ascending to heaven, He told the disciples to return to the Upper Room and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which they received on Pentecost Sunday – the day the Church was born!

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The Holy Spirit has been given to the Church to help us accomplish the very mission for loving unity that Jesus entrusted to us. As we get ready to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples, we ask Him to come and fill our hearts and enkindle in us the fire of His love.

 

 

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St. Joseph, the man of virtue!

Someone recently asked me about why we hear so little about St. Joseph nowadays, especially about seeking his intercession. I couldn’t agree more. It seems that the only time we hear anything about praying to St. Joseph is when one is trying to sell a house by burying a statue of him in their yard.

There is so much that St. Joseph teaches us about how we are to respond to the will of God in our own lives. Joseph is the virtuous man who was chosen to be the most-chaste spouse of Mary and the earthly father of God’s only Son.

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In the biblical past the conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary we hear that Joseph, upon finding that Mary was pregnant, decided to leave her quietly, that is, until the angel of God comes to him in a dream and reveals God’s plan to him. Joseph abandoned the thought of leaving Mary to do what was right — trusting in God’s divine plan.

Pope Benedict explained that St. Joseph is “certain of doing the right thing.” In following the directives of God, the pope said, “Joseph joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants like the angels, prophets, martyrs and Apostles.”

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I think that St. Joseph could be portrayed as one of those “behind the scenes” sort of guys. He is one of those biblical figures that doesn’t get much praise or acknowledgement, but one who is essential and irreplaceable in God’s plan. His entire role in the Gospel is to protect and watch over God’s only Son and his mother, Mary.

A recent article I read pointed out three things that we can learn from St. Joseph. The first is the “treasure of silence.” How many words of St. Joseph, the man closest to Jesus, are there recorded in the Bible? Not a single one. But it is in his silence that God speaks to us. We hear in the psalms, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We are all busy and know how much noise there is in our lives. St. Joseph teaches us to be quiet and listen to God in the silence of our hearts.

The second point is that “actions speak louder than words.” When God wanted to communicate something to St. Joseph, he spoke to him in his dreams. Most of us would say that there is only so much credibility that one can place on dreams, but for St. Joseph, he was certain that it was God’s will. Sacred Scripture tells us that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). God wasn’t just asking him to be a better person, to pray more or to do random acts of kindness, but was asking for total trust. St. Joseph doesn’t question or ponder how to respond, he just does it. Here we see St. Joseph embracing what Jesus would teach many years later; “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).

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The final thing that St. Joseph teaches us is how to embrace “grace under pressure.” Just think about the stressful situations in which St. Joseph finds himself: his betrothed wife is found to be pregnant and he knows that he is not the father; as his wife is about to give birth they are called to travel a long distance to Bethlehem; early in Jesus’ life, they are told to flee to Egypt; and let’s not forget that he and Mary lost God’s only Son for three whole days when he was only 12 years old. In all of these situations, we see that Joseph, a simple carpenter, relied on God’s grace to handle difficulty and challenges with firm trust and faith in God.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained, “In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. The life of St. Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of his plan to gather together all mankind into one family.”

In 1889, Pope Leo XIII said, “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing watch over the holy family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” We look to St. Joseph, a simple and ordinary man, and from his saintly example we learn how to respond virtuously in faith to the many challenges that we face in our everyday lives.