The Great Equalizer: How the Sacraments Make Us All Equal [uCatholic]

The following is a preview of an article I wrote for uCatholic on June 14, 2018, and I wanted to share it on Laudare.

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Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African American priest in U.S. history.

I founded my BLACKCATHOLIC apostolate on Easter day 2018, and during the octave week that followed, I was discussing it with my priest. Since the main target for my outreach is towards the Black community our conversation switched to the question of how we as Catholics can reach out more effectively to Black people for the Church.

I remember suggesting that one of the ways we could improve our outreach is by becoming more acquainted with the problems and needs facing my community and propose that the Catholic Church provides the best solutions to these problems from both a material and spiritual standpoint as its advocate before God and man. Then we talked about the tragic epidemic of fatherlessness among Black families and how important having a dad around is, especially for young men.

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Short Commentary – His Birth, Our Cross: The Liturgical Calendar and One Last Belated Word on Christmas

If it is not too late to say one last word involving Christmas (for many of you it probably is), I ask you to please lend an ear one more time to something festive. Even if it is too late, still read on because, hey, we (most of our audience, presumably) are Catholic right? Besides – the Christmas season only really ended with the celebration of Epiphany in the revised post-Vatican II liturgical calendar which wasn’t Continue To Read More

The Easter in You: An Eastertide Reflection

The following was given as a talk at a church prayer group in Smyrna, TN.

+In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In December of last year, I wrote an article for Laudare Outreach Ministries that went up a few days after Christmas day. This article, titled very similar to this talk, was called “The Christmas in You: A Christmastide Reflection.” Three important points were made in this piece. 1) Christmas, which had occurred four days prior, was not over and done at 12:00 midnight on December 26 (though it is often treated that way by both the secular world and Christians). 2) The road to Christmas that is Advent prepares us for the great Gift we are to receive on the 25th. And 3) There are major Eucharistic implications upon the spiritual life that comes with Christmas – including the realization that Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in you with the reception of the Eucharist. I will be drawing heavily from “The Christmas in You” during this talk in order to set the tone and lead the way for how the Easter season fulfills the title of this present talk – how Easter becomes to be in you. If at the end you would like to read that article or this talk when it is posted up as an article, then I invite you to visit Laudare.org and head to our blog page for all my articles and the ones of our other writers.

Now, I invite you to think back to the end of last year 5 months ago. Think about the beginning of Advent and its culmination at the glorious moment of Christmas. It was a penitential time that later gave way to a season of rejoicing. Violet with a splash of rose (not pink!) were the predominant hues that greeted us for weeks at church followed by an outpouring of white. This time of the liturgical year had with it two major parts, Advent and Christmas, and they cannot be split up from one another. At the culmination at Christmas there was New Life with the Birth of Jesus. Compare that with the start of Lent 2 months ago leading to Easter. It was too a penitential time covered with violet with a hint of rose followed by white signaling the ushering in of newfound joy, and had two parts (Lent and Easter) that cannot be separated from one another; one necessarily begets the other. And it all culminated at Easter with the birth of New Life at the Resurrection of Jesus. I stress once more how you cannot separate these things – not Advent from Christmas or Lent from Easter, not the violet from the white, not the penance and suffering of the night from the joy that comes in the morning, and not the death that leads to Life. Moreover, the New Life of Christmas foreshadows the New Life of Easter birthed at the other time of the liturgical year and even prefigures the greater magnitude of it. The New Life of the Birth of Jesus foreshadows both the New Life of His Resurrection and our New Life gained through faith in Jesus. Furthermore, the New Life of the Resurrection foreshadows the New Life of the complete resurrection of all life at the culmination of existence itself when all redeemed life is reunited with God at the end of time.

Now it is Easter. Yes, it is still Easter, Eastertide to be exact. It still goes on. Jesus, though He rose from the dead by His resurrection, is not done with us. I hesitate to say “yet” at the end of that last sentence because though God has drawing us to Himself as the end of His great plan for man completed at the end of time, God, being the Supreme and Ever-Greatest Mystery, will always draw us closer and closer to Himself, and we will always be enraptured more and more by Him and His Love. We will always seek to know more of Him. Thus, God will never be “threw” with us. He will always give Himself to us. There will never be a “yet” at the end of that sentence. Furthermore, Easter didn’t just happen and end on the 16th of April and now it is over. Easter continues, and we are still in its midst, the midst of the “time above all to laud Him yet more gloriously.” We are presently living in the week of the 5th Sunday of Easter with two more Sundays of Easter glory to go until Pentecost, which will close out Easter liturgically but definitely not in our hearts because, as St. John Paul II once proclaimed, “we are an Easter people,” so let us continue with our hallelujahs!

To continue to set the tone I will talk more about the similarities of Advent/Christmas with the time we not only just experienced but are still in. I will quote heavily from “The Christmas in You” article.

At the center of both Advent and Lent was a Great Event – with Advent the Event was Christmas. Of course we remember how it came with great anticipation, but, quoting from my past article, “it too often appears that when Christmas day comes everything seems to be over the next day – even for us Christians. Our Lord, the King of the Universe, God Himself, has just made it to His crib, and we are already off to the next thing, celebrating another babe (Baby New Year).” I went on to say that “even the secular world can be found still “celebrating” Christmas, or at least the ‘holiday season,’ with its gleeful offerings of sales and 50 percent markdowns” after Christmas day has come and went. But the truth is that Christmas day [after the long time of Advent like Easter after Lent,] is only the beginning. Moreover, Christmas [and Easter] “stopping” all together after Jesus [has been] born [or has risen from the dead] is a serious problem amongst Christians.” After all there is still Christmastide from the Birth of Jesus to the Feast of His Baptism and Eastertide from His Resurrection to Pentecost, so there is still plenty to gaudete and laetare about during these times! And with Christmas there are deep Eucharistic meanings and implications of the spiritual life beginning with the very meaning of Christmas itself. I answered this in my past article:

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From “The Christmas in You.” Post-article additions in [ ].

     “And what is “Christmas?” To put it in a brief but substantive way, Christmas is the Word becoming flesh. [After Christmas day] Christmas is still going on but in what ways? Jesus is born, so we are in a state of rejoicing at the glorious fact that the Word has indeed become flesh among the children of men. However, Christmas is still happening in at least one other way that is distinct from celebrating Jesus’s Incarnation and Birth, which are events that already happened two millennia ago. If Christmas is the Word becoming flesh, where is this still taken place today for us to celebrate it? To ask the time-honored question, where’s the beef? Where’s the flesh?” [I went on to say] “on the altar and in our bodies.” [So during Christmas time what did this mean? It meant] “Every time we receive the Eucharist we have the chance to make a manger in our souls for Jesus to dwell, be born, and bring life to our souls. We have the chance to become little “Marys” (“Marios” for the fellas) and hold the incarnate Word within us. Furthermore, because we are Catholics and believe the things we do about the Eucharist, what I am saying is not just cliché-sounding pious talk. In a real sense this can actually happen by taking in Jesus’s very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. By the use of Jesus’s words during the consecration the bread and wine become the very same flesh of the Incarnation and dwells amongst us in the earthen vessels of our bodies. Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in us. But, just like 2000 years ago, He comes secretly and in silence, this time behind the appearances of bread and wine.”

[Practically in our spiritual lives it meant one thing:] “The Babe Christ is born upon the altar in the hands of the priest, and waits for us to come to Him as magi bearing the gifts of our souls, for the Lord pines not for gold and myrrh but for our very shoddy and sinful selves. We are a broken good. A second-hand toy of the devil, we were discarded after first use. Yet, God still wants us. Through Jesus, God salvages us from the trash-heap of a fallen world, repairs, restores, and grants to us a new purpose – to be His very joy, presents to the Father by hand of the Son wrapped by the Holy Spirit. Though, God bought us on a Black Friday, we did not come cheap. The price of His only Son was a hefty debt to pay; yet, He spared no expense. He had to have us out of His great love. But in order for us to be His possession we must first have Him as our only possession. We must freely give ourselves away.” [He brings us to the hands of the Father through the Eucharist, and once there] “God doesn’t stop there. He still pursues us. He comes for us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar. He seeks not only to have us, but also to be in us, and once there He begins to work from the inside in order to pull us closer to Himself.”

[To end my pulling from my past article, I went on to say that] “It is the will of the Father that Jesus gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist, and by His exposition to us He teaches us how to become holy – through submitting ourselves to the will of God out of love for the salvation of souls. The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours.”

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     Listen to that last part again. “The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours”. Christmas must send Jesus on the way to Calvary, to Good Friday. So Christmas must send us on our way to ours as well – to our suffering passions during Lent, to our deaths on Good Friday, and, finally to, if we are faithful to God, our resurrection Easter morning. Now do you see the inseparable connection of Advent and Christmas to Lent and Easter? If Christmas has this meaning and these implications, just imagine how much Easter is an even more glories time. And this became the inspiration for this talk, “The Easter in You.”

Now, lets think back to the start of Lent. What was your goal or goals? Was it to pray more? Was it to volunteer more? Was it to eat less or give up sweets completely? Whatever it was, these goals and others should have worked to achieve the best and most important goal – the same goal Jesus had during His “40 days of Lent” leading up to before He got to rise again – to die. The life we had is gone to us; we are dead. Rather the New Life that lives in us is the Life of Christ (remember that baptism you had). Thus, the goal of death must ultimately be our Lenten goal because as members of the Body of Christ, His Catholic Church, we were baptized into His Life, which was “given up as a ransom for many.” If Christ lives then we must live in Him. If Christ dies then we must die with Him. And if Christ rises from the dead, so must we – from the dead of sins, from the dead of fear, and from the dead of living lukewarm for the Gospel. Moreover, even in the observance of days, you see how much we Christian people are to be different from the world. The world did not observe Lent, and it never will. Come mid-Lent, maybe even earlier, the stores already had Easter stuff for purchase. The world and all those who belong to it want the very life that they have to die in order to attain like Christ did. But the world does not want to die. Do we? If yes, then how do we begin to die? Take a lesson from Lent’s corresponding time of Advent. Advent is a time for preparation, and, though it is also easy to forget, it is also a penitential time for the Church. Since it is both we must prepare for the great gift of Christmas by penance – chiefly a penance of waiting. By our Advent waiting, introspection, and humility we emptied ourselves out in anticipation of the great Gift we were about to receive, the only present we ever really need. We took this lesson with us to Lent, and we began to empty ourselves again, but this time we gave up everything. Our very lives were not even left off the list. By our Lenten penances and mortifications we experienced passions leading up to our death at Good Friday with Jesus and our lying in the tomb Holy Saturday with the Body of Christ. Since it is Christ who lives in us, we truly died to the world, sin, and the flesh. By our Easter celebrations (which continue to now) and the renewal of our baptisms we have truly been brought back to life – reborn and refreshed to do the work of Christ. When Christ suffered we suffered. When Christ died we died. When Christ rose we rose.

So, finally, we are here. We are living Easter itself. Given all of what I covered connecting Advent to Easter, what does it all mean practically for the day-to-day spiritual life of Catholics? For this we, like during Christmastide, look again to the altar and what enters our bodies as a result of what happens here on the altar. When the words of institution are spoken and bread and wine are consecrated into Jesus, the Flesh born on the altar is the same Flesh born at Christmas, the same Flesh that died at Calvary, and the same Flesh that rose from the dead. If “Christmas” means, most fundamentally, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among men, then “Easter” must mean the Word becoming flesh and lifting men up to dwell with God.

If all this is true, we have no other choice but to live the Risen Flesh that we ingest. The Risen Christ appears in the hand of the priest, and then He visits us like He did the 500 witnesses when we come up to receive communion. He then endows us the Holy Spirit when we receive the Eucharist and then sends us out to preach, teach, and reach with the Good News of Easter – every Mass – every time. We participate so much in the Life of Christ that we too can offer up good sacrifices to the Father – our days, our struggles, our pains, and up to and including our lives because it is Christ who lives in us and not ourselves. The Father sees His Son when He peers at us, and when the Perfect Sacrifice is re-presented on the altar and Christ’s Life and Death are made actually present we die too because we are grafted on to Him as His limbs, but when He rises above the priest’s head then we rise up like the shinning dawn in the east.

We receive the Risen Christ when we receive Him in the Eucharist. So, thus, we have Easter in us. We must not die but live and live more abundantly. Let us not swallow up Christ into a bottomless pit of a soul, but rather let Him rest in a living one rising up to meet God.

+In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+JMJ

God is Dead: For the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of Our Lives

It was a sunny Good Friday in Tennessee (Laudare HQ), but at 3’oclock yesterday the world lost its Light. The one Hope that mankind had in one Man was stuffed out. And this Light that had been among men once shined a brilliant glow, but leading to that fateful hour it began to fade as it flickered towards its doom. Then, when the hour came, the world descended into a darkness not seen since before the creation of the universe, for the Son of God Himself, the Word which gave rise to all things, was murdered though He had done no wrong. In the brutal Passion and Death of Jesus was the encapsulation of every thing wrong in life. The Cross of His execution and the thorns crowned around His head were every thing unfair in this world. The spit and slanders which Our Lord had grown accustomed to were the cruelty of Continue To Read More

Deliver Me Jesus: A Commentary on the Litany of Humility for Lent

As Lent continues to move along, the words that kicked off the season for penitent Catholics everywhere are still ringing in my ears – “You are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”

When cruciform ashes were placed atop our foreheads we were informed about what we really are. God took the dust of the earth and formed man with His hands. Grace built upon nature. But, for all the complex configurations that make up our bodies, we are dust. And, for all the high titles and puffed up reputations we like to manage for ourselves, we, again, are but dust. If you take together all of the specks of dust that we collectively are we would not even come close to the number of the grains of sand on the beaches of the earth. Continue To Read More

Seek First The Kingdom of God: Entering Lent with the Right Mindset

Ash Wednesday has come and gone, and five days later we are headlong into Lent 2017. This is a time were souls are tested. Catholics and other Christians gird their spirits and seek to restrain the passions of the heart, which is the seat of all sins, for Christ taught us that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out (Matthew 15:11). With this simple but profound truth in mind, we bound ourselves to sacrifice for forty days the goods of this world. Though most probably look at this annual tradition with some amount of dread, other more pious souls sense a season of holy opportunity. Continue To Read More

The Christmas in You: A Christmastide Reflection

Christmas 2016 came some days ago, and, as with every Christmas day before this year’s, it came with great anticipation both from Christians and even the secular world as well. Of course, at the center of every great expectation is a great object or event that is worth every second of the wait (or at least is expected to be). The Great Event at the center of our Advent waiting was Christmas. And what is “Christmas?” To put it in a brief but substantive way, Christmas is the Word becoming flesh.

Bethlehem Christmas service

However, even with the great anticipation that always builds with the coming of Christmas, it too often appears that when Christmas day comes everything seems to be over the next day – even for us Christians. Our Lord, the King of the Universe, God Himself, has just made it to His crib, and we are already off to the next thing, celebrating another babe (Baby New Year). Oh, how I have been guilty of this as well. Even the secular world can be found still “celebrating” Christmas, or at least the “holiday season,” with its gleeful offerings of sales and 50 percent markdowns. Now, of course there is nothing inherently sinful in taking advantage of the sweet post-Christmas deals, but we have to be mindful of how the world and the devil can prod at the flesh to make us lose sight of the Great Event that has just occurred on Christmas day. Most of us receive a lot during this season and should be thankful, but the hubbub of all the extra sales does well to incite the greed, gluttony, and attachment to the things of this world already present in a fallen human nature.

But the truth is that Christmas day is only the beginning. Moreover, Christmas “stopping” all together after Jesus is born is a serious problem among Christians that needs to be fixed, but that’s another article for another day. For the Catholic, the Christmas season has just begun according to the liturgical calendar. “Christmastide” leads us all the way from the day our Lord was born to the Feast of His Baptism. As a side note, the pre-Vatican II calendar had Christmas time going all the way till the Feast of Jesus’s Presentation in the Temple (Candlemas) on February 2! The “12 Days of Christmas” song (leading to Epiphany) was no joke!

So, Christmas is still going on but in what ways? Jesus is born, so we are in a state of rejoicing at the glorious fact that the Word has indeed become flesh among the children of men. However, Christmas is still happening in at least one other way that is distinct from celebrating Jesus’s Incarnation and Birth, which are events that already happened two millennia ago. If Christmas is the Word becoming flesh, where is this still taken place today for us to celebrate it? To ask the time-honored question, where’s the beef? Where’s the flesh?

The only place it can be – at the Mass.

So, if Christmas is happening at Mass, where is the Nativity that comes with it?

On the altar and in our bodies.

Every time we receive the Eucharist we have the chance to make a manger in our souls for Jesus to dwell, be born, and bring life to our souls. We have the chance to become little “Marys” (“Marios” for the fellas) and hold the incarnate Word within us. Furthermore, because we are Catholics and believe the things we do about the Eucharist, what I am saying is not just cliché-sounding pious talk. In a real sense this can actually happen by taking in Jesus’s very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. By the use of Jesus’s words during the consecration the bread and wine become the very same flesh of the Incarnation and dwells amongst us in the earthen vessels of our bodies. Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in us. But, just like 2000 years ago, He comes secretly and in silence, this time behind the appearances of bread and wine. The Babe Christ is born upon the altar in the hands of the priest, and waits for us to come to Him as magi bearing the gifts of our souls, for the Lord pines not for gold and myrrh but for our very shoddy and sinful selves. We are a broken good. A second-hand toy of the devil, we were discarded after first use. Yet, God still wants us. Through Jesus, God salvages us from the trash-heap of a fallen world, repairs, restores, and grants to us a new purpose – to be His very joy, presents to the Father by hand of the Son wrapped by the Holy Spirit. Though, God bought us on a Black Friday, we did not come cheap. The price of His only Son was a hefty debt to pay; yet, He spared no expense. He had to have us out of His great love. But in order for us to be His possession we must first have Him as our only possession. We must freely give ourselves away.

Once in the hand of our Father, God doesn’t stop there. He still pursues us. He comes for us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar. He seeks not only to have us, but also to be in us, and once there He begins to work from the inside in order to pull us closer to Himself. The reception of the Eucharist works to accomplish everything the very first Christmas sought to do. Check the Catechism.

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God . . . (CCC 457).

The Eucharist purifies us from venial sins and strengthens us against losing our newfound friendship with God.

“The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love . . . ” (CCC 458).

God is love (1 John 4:8), and so any sacrament that is Himself, as the Eucharist is, will therefore be a sacrament of love. When we frequently commune with the Body and Blood of the Lord we come to know both Him and His love better and better. We then begin to love as He loves, totally and without reserve, for He gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist.

“The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness . . .” (CCC 459).

It is the will of the Father that Jesus gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist, and by His exposition to us He teaches us how to become holy – through submitting ourselves to the will of God out of love for the salvation of souls. The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours.

Finally, “The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” (CCC 460).

To partake in the Eucharist is to partake in the divinity of Christ as he gradually forms us to become what we eat. The Catechism goes on:

“For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

     Again, the very mission and intent of the Incarnation is reenacted when we receive Him just as Calvary itself is reenacted upon the altar. You have only to say “yes” and give your fiat by the “amen” right before you take Holy Communion. Don’t let your souls become a crowded inn with no room for Jesus.

Let him come home to you.

 

+JMJ+