Lose the Anchor: 13th S. 2020

the riverToday’s reflection is for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I remember hearing about a fiery preacher who gave a sermon on all those things that pollute our life and cause us to sin. He said to the congregation, “If beer is causing you to sin, take that beer and dump it right into the river!” He continued, “And if it’s whiskey or wine, take it down to the river and dump it!” “If you’re addicted to drugs or pornography,” he went on, “then take it down and dump it right in the river!” After finishing up his sermon, the music minister said, “For our closing hymn, open up to page 138, and join me in singing Shall We Gather at the River?”

Funny joke, I think, but that preacher was right on track. In college, when I first really started following Jesus, I had an incredible transformation and chose to follow Him with my whole heart. I had a lot of baggage that I needed to be rid of, some unhealthy addictions, some friends that were not helpful to live a life of holiness, and some really bad habits that did not give glory and honor to God. With the pastor of our Church group we went through all my possessions and started clearing it out. We didn’t dump it in the river, of course, but we did get rid of it, and that’s an important first step in our growth in holiness.

I think every person who wants to become a Christian must seriously look at his life and ask the question, “Does this thing, action, relationship, or habit, help me grow in holiness, give glory to God, and advance His kingdom?” If it does not, we must be rid of it. It is an anchor that is pulling us down to hell. I believe this is what Jesus is telling his apostles in today’s Gospel when he gives them the quite shocking news that they must love him more than their own family.

I think it’s interesting that he’s not actually talking to those who are on the fence about following Him. He’s talking to those that are already his apostles, who, like us, have already made a commitment to follow him. Even still he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I don’t think there’s anything closer to one’s heart than immediate family; father, mother, and children, which is probably why Jesus chose them as an example for his apostles. If we want to follow him, he comes first, period. Before everything else, even those closest to us and whom we love.

The Catechism teaches, “the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus,” and that, “becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God’s family, to live in conformity with His way of life.” (2232-33) We choose to make him our closest family, and we choose to live in a way that glorifies God in all we say and do.

I believe that choosing to follow Christ is not a “one and done” sort of thing. Like eating healthfully, exercising, and prayer, we must recommit ourselves often (very often) to following him. We must time and time again dump our sin and vice “in the river.” As St. Paul tells the Romans, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” So, to the degree that we are still not dead to sin, we, to that same degree, are not able to live in the newness of life that has been won for us in Christ.

My wife and I have made a commitment to minimalism. We work very hard to not have more than we need. It’s crazy how fast things accumulate, isn’t it? We always have a box dedicated to Goodwill that we fill and then give away. I think each of us needs a “vice” box. A box that we continue to fill up, again and again, as we clear out the garbage from our life. Maybe it’s profanity, or alcohol, or other unhealthy habits. Maybe it’s too much time on social media and not enough time in prayer. Whatever our anchor, throw it in the River, put it in the box—just be rid of it, time and time again, if necessary.

After all, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and we are called to announce the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Follow him. You will surely not lose your reward…but we’ve got to get rid of the anchor of sin. Deacon St. Ephraem the Syrian asked, “What leper, when he has been healed, turns again and desires to have his leprosy back? You have put off your transgressions in baptism—forsake them!” Let’s start today.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Don’t Forget: Corpus Christi 2020

Feed On JesusToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, June 14, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

All of today’s readings are written to and for a forgetful people…and so we are. Moses tells the people to “remember” what God has done on their behalf; how God has provided for them. Even more forcefully, he says, “Do not forget the Lord your God.” We have a tendency, especially when going through difficulties, to forget all that God has done for us and all the ways that God has blessed us. Today’s feast is an important reminder, that not only has God not abandoned us, his Church, but that he has given us the gift of his Body and Blood to sustain us throughout our desert journey here on earth.

I am often asked why it is so important to attend Mass. And while my answer differs from time to time and from person to person, the bottom line is that it’s only important if encountering Jesus is important, receiving God in the Eucharist is important, and if being forgiven of sins is important. I think those things are important, and I think that every Catholic Christian should think so as well–especially because we are so darn forgetful!

When we encounter Jesus at the Mass, it helps us remember who we are as God’s people. We dress and act our best, we meet with other people of love and good will, hear the Words of Scripture, and the deacon’s or priest’s homily that helps us hear and unpack how God wants to speak to us each day. Sometimes we forget to pray God’s word, and to listen to God. At Mass we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice and receive the body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, our venial sins are forgiven, and we are once again made perfect in Him before being sent back out into a world of darkness to be light and life. That’s a big deal because sometimes we forget that Jesus is the source of who we are and the goal of our Christian life. We forget that we are constantly in need of healing, and we forget that we are now His hands and feet in the world. At Mass we encounter Christ and are transformed, and then go out to transform the world.

Catholic belief, as taught at the Second Vatican Council, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in four ways: (1) in the person of the minister of the Eucharist, the presiding priest, through whom Jesus offers himself (2) in the word of God, the Scriptures being proclaimed and preached (3) in the people gathered to celebrate by praying and singing (4) and especially in the Eucharistic species, the bread and wine that are consecrated as Jesus’ body and blood. (Sacrosanctum Concilium #7) So, in all these ways we encounter our Savior, andz we should prepare ourselves to do so. However, the pinnacle of the encounter with Christ occurs when receiving the Eucharist.

The Catechism says it this way, “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (C.C.C. 1374)

The early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and boldly shared this amazing gift of God with others. As early as 110 A.D., Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Letter to the Romans 7:3) I think that the Eucharist, that changing of ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, is an amazing gift of God, second only to the Incarnation. Christians should be pounding down the Church door to receive this gift freely given each day, and at least each week…but we forget.

We’re not the only ones, however. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi to Pope Urban IV to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist. He wanted to emphasize the joy of the Eucharist being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, lest people forget. The Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, and the suggestion of Aquinas, inspired the pope to establish the feast of Corpus Christi for the whole Roman Catholic Church, in the year 1264. To read more about Eucharistic Miracles, click here…or here.

The truth is we forget. Moses reminded the Israelites in the desert, Jesus reminds his disciples, and the Church reminds us still today. It’s quite true that we encounter Jesus in various ways both through Sacramentals and through the seven ordinary Sacraments as well, but lest we forget, at each Mass, in multiple parishes around the world everyday, Jesus makes good on his promise never to abandon us and to be with us until the end of the age. We can both encounter, consume, and become what we eat through this amazing gift of God…because sometimes we forget. Mass is important–get there just as soon and as often as you can.

Read today’s Gospel slowly and carefully, and be as those who heard and stayed, and not as those who could not believe and walked away (John 6:66). “Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world….Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.'” John 6:51-58

Justin Martyr

“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Irenaeus

“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).

For more quotes from the saints on the Real Presence, click here.

To watch other reflections on YouTube, click  here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

You Won’t Even Believe It!: Trinity Sunday 2020

Thor and Loke

Today’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity June 7, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. It was offered as a reflection after the 6pm vigil Mass at O.L.A., in Turlock.

Just last week we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and the truth of the Spirit’s coming to make his home in the hearts of all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and enter into the waters of Baptism. Now I just said the Spirit enters into the hearts of ALL who call on Jesus. Shortly after the descent of the Spirit, in a thoroughly Jewish-Christian community, the question arises, how great is God’s love? How open are God’s arms? How many does God love? The Christian answer is “You won’t even believe it!”

Today we celebrate The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or sometimes referred to simply as, Trinity Sunday. The revelation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost revealed the fullness of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Jews knew God as just one, the Father. Jesus’ disciples who already knew God as the Father, realized God also as the Son, and at Pentecost (head explosion here), God as Spirit.

The early Christians were amazingly courageous, and entirely open to what God was trying to teach them. In just three years they went from worshiping Yahweh, to Yahweh and Jesus, to Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—the Trinity. And no sooner had God expanded their mind with how diverse was the inner life of God, did God challenge them also with how diverse would His People also be. No longer only Jew, but also Gentile. As St. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (GAL 3:28)

Pope Francis puts it this way in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age.” (no. 118)

You heard it from St. Paul, you heard it from Pope Francis, and now you heard it from me, we do not as Christians, made in the likeness and image of our all-inclusive God, enjoy the right to be ex-clusive! Our God said about his own self, “but wait, there’s more!” And again about the Church and who could belong, “but wait, there’s more!” And he demands of us, his Church to say, about who has dignity, about who has worth, who has value, whose life matters, “but wait, there’s more!” Even George Floyd. Even those officers. Even those protestors. Even those politicians.

The media is covered with it, the bishops are talking about it, our bishop issued a statement, and even the Turlock Unified School District sent out a memo about it, all to say, “We do not stand for racism here!” And let me be very clear, racism is only the tip of the iceberg! In the heart of a Catholic Christian there is no room for racism, sexism, or classism. We do not care what color your skin, your country of origin, your height, your gender, your sex, or even whether or not you are a criminal! That’s right, the love of God and His Church reaches even into the prisons all across this country and others. We love. Period. That’s it. We do not judge. We do not slander. We do not discriminate. We do not hate. Here, in this Church, we love.

Moses said of the Israelites, “This is indeed a stiff-necked people.” How true that remains even today. My sons and I, like many of you maybe, are fond of watching the Marvel movies. Thor Ragnarok is one of our favorites. There’s a scene where Thor returns home unannounced, and his mischievous brother Loki, is upset by the guard failing to inform him of Thor’s return. He admonished the guard saying, “You had only one job. Just the one!” Of course, he failed miserably at the only job he was given. And often-times, sadly, so do we. Jesus says to us, “You had only one commandment! Just the one!” St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to, “mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” What timely advice…written 2,000 years ago, and our regular Sunday readings today. Thank you, God. This advice could not be more timely.

My brothers and sisters, listen to this, as though your first time hearing it, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but may have eternal life.” Our God loves everyone to death…death on a cross. We who are created in his image, born again through his Spirit, and believe in Him cannot settle for anything less inclusive than everyone. He gave us just one commandment, just the one. Love, that’s it. Father, have mercy on us.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos