Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul

Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul – 14

Acts 12:1-11; 2Tim.4:6-8, 17-18; Matt.16:13-19

One year (Pope) St. John Paul II, was visiting a parish in Rome as part of his duties as Bishop of that city.  After celebrating Mass with the parishioners he met with the youth of the parish in a time of dialogue and exchange. The young people had the opportunity to ask the Pope questions many of us would love to ask – about his growing up in Poland: Did he have a girlfriend? What football team he supported? And so on. One young man asked him: ‘Who is your best friend?’ Are we surprised that his answer was ‘Jesus Christ’?

We celebrate today the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul. We rejoice and praise God for having given these two apostles the light and strength they needed to announce the Gospel throughout their life-time, and to witness Christ at their death through the shedding of their blood. Both were executed at Rome around the year 67 A.D. that is 35 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

According to an ancient tradition, Peter was crucified while Paul was beheaded. According to Roman law, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die on a cross, no matter how great his crime might have been; that shameful sort of death was reserved to non-citizens, to slaves and to criminals. That explains why the two apostles were sentenced to two different types of death: Paul, being a roman citizen, was beheaded; Peter being an outsider was crucified.

You may wonder why the two apostles are honored together in a single feast. Actually, Paul is remembered on another day too, that is on Jan’25th the feast of his conversion. The church honored Peter and Paul together from the earliest times. A proof of this is that the two are represented side by side in paintings which come to us from those ancient times.

Peter and Paul, in their lifetime they did not work so closely together. Humanly speaking, the two were very different: Peter was an illiterate man, while Paul had gone through what we would call today a university education. Paul was far more intelligent than Peter. Peter allowed himself to be carried away by feelings; he was a very impetuous man; Paul reasoned things out very carefully.

Yet, both had one thing in common: a deep love for Christ which urged them to carry out faithfully the task Jesus had entrusted to them. This love which guided them in life united them also in death; early Christians liked to call them “the two pillars of the Church”, “two lanterns” burning for Christ, showing the way to heaven to all Christians.

The mission of Saint Peter was twofold. First of all, he was chosen by Jesus to lead the Catholic Church in the early stage of its foundation after the Lord had departed from earth. To Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom of God. Saint Peter was the first Pope, he having been personally chosen by Our Lord Jesus.

Secondly, Saint Peter was chosen to lead most of the Jewish people into the new Covenant of grace, especially those who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. Saint Paul, not originally a member of the twelve apostles that were chosen by Jesus, came into the picture a little later. When St Peter was instituting the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Saint Paul was persecuting the early Church Christians.

Faithful to Yahweh the true God, Paul had not perceived that in Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the Blood of His Cross. [Col. 1:19-20, 2:9] The conversion of Paul, known then as Saul, came when he was approaching Damascus. A light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground off his horse and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [Acts 9:3-4]

While St. Peter had been chosen to bring most of the Jewish people into the Body of Christ as stated before, St. Paul was chosen as God’s instrument to bring the Name of the Lord before the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel. [Acts 9:15] As Biblical history teaches us, St. Paul played a major role in the early days of the Church in bringing a great number of the gentiles into the Catholic Church.

In a manner of speaking, St. Paul can be viewed as the spiritual father of all of us who would be considered as Gentiles, we not being members of the Jewish nation. If there are members of the Church here today who are of Jewish ancestry, St. Peter would be considered their spiritual father.

There is a traditional story about Peter’s death in Rome during the persecution of Nero. When he heard about Nero’s plan to burn the city and blame the Christians Peter knew that as the church leader in the city he would be arrested and put to death. So, urged by his friends he did the sensible thing and got ready to leave town at night along the Appian Way. As the night wore on the sky was illuminated by the flames rising from the city.

Then Peter saw someone coming in the opposite direction, heading back towards the city, someone who even at night seemed familiar. “Where are you going, Lord?” (“Quo vadis, Domine?”), asked the bewildered Peter. “To Rome,” was the reply, “to be crucified again, in your place.” Peter turned around and returned to Rome.

The Catholic Church teaches that by giving Peter the “keys” along with the promise that all his decisions would be ratified in heaven, Christ gave him the power of freedom from error when he was officially teaching the universal Church. In other words, Peter received primacy in the Church and the gift of infallibility in his official teaching on matters of faith and morals.

The first Vatican Council defined this dogma and the second Vatican Council reconfirmed it. As the Church was to continue long after Peter had died, it was rightly understood from the beginning that those privileges given to him which were necessary for the successful mission of the Church, were given to his lawful successors –  the Popes.

We need to accept Jesus as our Lord and personal Savior: Jesus is not merely the founder of a new religion, or a revolutionary Jewish reformer, or one of the great teachers. For Christians, he is the Son of God and our personal Savior. This means that we have to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Savior and the Redeemer. He is our beloved friend, closer to us than our dear ones, and a living experience, who walks with us, loves us, forgives us, helps us and transforms our lives and outlook.

We have to give all areas of our lives to him. He must have a say in our daily lives, and we must radiate all around us his sacrificial agápe love, unconditional forgiveness, overflowing mercy and committed service. The joy, the love, the peace that we find in Jesus should be reflected in the way we live our lives.

We need to grow in the faith and loyalty of Peter and acquire the missionary zeal of St. Paul. Just as the Lord called Saint Peter and Saint Paul in different ways, we are also called in many different ways to follow the Lord throughout our lives. Let us not ignore the call of the Lord.  Let us listen to his call and answer generously. Like Saint Paul, let us fight the good fight, racing towards the finish line, while persevering in our faith. Amen.


Corpus Christi – 14

Corpus Christi – 14

Deu.8:2-3, 14b-16a, 1Cor.10:16-17, Jn.6:51-58

A tough old cowboy told his grandson that the secret to long life was sprinkling a little gunpowder on his oatmeal every morning. The grandson did this religiously and, sure enough, lived to the ripe old age of 93. When he died he left behind 10 children, 28 grandchildren, 35 great grandchildren and a 15 inch foot hole in the wall of the crematorium.

There’s even a better secret to a long life than putting gunpowder on your breakfast cereal: it is Jesus’ teaching about eternal life in today’s gospel. The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food on Holy Thursday and Jesus’ mother Mary as our mother on Good Friday are the two last precious gifts given to us by Jesus. Corpus Christi is the celebration of the abiding presence of a loving God as Emmanuel – God with us – in order to give collective thanks to our Lord living with us in the Eucharist.

The feast gives us an occasion to learn more about the importance and value of the “Real Presence” so that we may appreciate the Sacrament better and receive maximum benefit from it. We believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist because Jesus promised it after miraculously feeding the 5000. Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during his Last Supper. Jesus commanded his disciples to repeat it in his memory. “Nothing is impossible for God.”

We explain the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist by: “transubstantiation” which means that the substance of the consecrated bread and wine is changed to the substance of the risen Jesus’ glorified Body and Blood by the action of the Holy Spirit, and its accidents (like color, shape, taste etc.), remain the same.

The feast of Corpus Christi is one of those special celebrations, like the feast of the Trinity that follow the Easter Season and Pentecost in the liturgical calendar.  The feast of Corpus Christi, (literally, the body of Christ), is referred to these days by the more lengthy title, “the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”

This feast traces its origin to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas who requested Pope Urban VI in 1264 to inaugurate the celebration. The Pope agreed and St. Thomas wrote the lengthy sequence from today’s mass.  That prayer exquisitely expresses the glory of the sacramental presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine which becomes spiritual nourishment for persons of faith as they live out their commitment to Christ in today’s world.

I read a story about a cannibal on his long plane ride. When the airhostess gave him the menu for the meal, it took him a long time to decide. Finally, he called the airhostess and said: “Miss, can I have the passengers’ list instead.”

Imagine that you went to your doctor for a routine physical check up. The doctor saw some things she was concerned about and sent you to get some tests. The tests came back with very bad news. The doctor told you that the tests showed that you have only about six months to live and the tests were highly reliable and accurate. But the doctor said she has discovered a special medicine that would cure the problem. She promised you if you took this medicine, a medicine with no troubling side effects, you would in all likelihood enjoy good health for another 20 or 30 years.

You have known the doctor for years, you know she is knowledgeable and you’ve always trusted her. How much time would you spend dealing with all the doubts that flood your mind? Would you be foolish to trust or not to trust? What you decide to do may all come down to that: trust.

Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, if we want to live forever, we must eat his body and drink his blood. Would we be foolish to trust what he tells us or not to trust it? The Jews who first heard him asked: “How can that be?” A reasonable question! We still ask it. But the answer is beyond the reason; it is answered only by faith.

Jesus said it and he said it in the clearest possible terms. When his hearers questioned him, he repeated what he had said and said it more emphatically: “Amen, amen, I say to you (whenever he prefixes a statement with ‘Amen, amen’ he’s saying this is really serious). Then he said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”

If you look up today’s gospel passage in our Bibles, you will see that after Jesus insisted we must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, many of his followers started walking away, saying to themselves that he was out of his mind. What is important here is what Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t say, “Wait, don’t take me literally.” He didn’t say, “you misunderstand me – I don’t mean you really have to eat my body and drink my blood.” Jesus just let them go: he knew they understood him perfectly.

The apostles, however, stayed with him even though they didn’t understand what he was saying any more than anyone else. When Jesus asked them, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It is quite marvelous how Jesus devised a way to feed us with his own flesh and blood. He has given us the Eucharist, which is his real presence.

The Eucharist is truly his body and blood. Yet it remains a mystery for us and we are still asking, “How can this be?” It all comes down to faith in the one who tells us, “This is my body. This is my blood.” I think this is the biggest challenge to our faith in the Church today. It is also the biggest comfort to those who believe.

Once we are truly convinced that the Eucharist is Jesus’ body and blood, and then it is much easier for us to see how it is the source of eternal life for us. Jesus gave us a simple image to help us see how, through the Eucharist, he brings us eternal life. He told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” By our union with him which endures and is nourished through the Eucharist, his divine life flows into us.

In the first reading, Moses told God’s people to “remember and not forget” what God had done for them – the miraculous provision of food in the manna given to them. Today’s feast inspires us not to forget what Jesus does and continues to do for us through the Eucharist.

Let us appreciate the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, by receiving him with true repentance for our sins, due preparation and reverence. Let us be Christ-bearers and conveyers: By receiving Holy Communion, we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, through love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service.

Let us offer our lives on the altar along with Jesus’ sacrifice, asking pardon for our sins, expressing gratitude for the blessings we have received and presenting our needs and petitions on the altar.

And so we cannot live without food. Jesus says the same with the Eucharist in this gospel: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you,” (v. 53). Catholics who skips Holy Communion is showing that he/she does not believe in these words of the Lord. Amen.















Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday Year – A – 14

Ex.34:4-6, 8-9; 2Cor.13:11-13; Jn.3:16-18


The little girl was sitting in her grandfather’s lap as he read her a story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. By and by she was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke, “Granddaddy, did God make you?”

“Yes, sweetheart” he answered, “God made me a long time ago.” “Oh she said,” then “Granddaddy, did God make me too?” “Yes, indeed honey” he assured her. “God made you just a little while ago.” “Oh” she said. Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “God’s getting better at it now, isn’t he?”  Happy Father’s day.

There are three paths to knowledge that we frequently walk… thinking using concepts, thinking using pictures or images, and thinking using our experiences. They are all routes to truth even though experience seems to be the favored route these days. This is curious to me because learning through experience gives us some of life’s harshest lessons. We learn the hard way along that route. The other routes are not so harsh.

With the Sign of the Cross, we trace the Trinity on ourselves. We bring God into our minds first. Then we bring the Trinity down to our hearts. And, with our hearts filled with compassion, we move the Trinity across our bodies to our shoulders and arms to better bear the burdens of our family and friends.

The Trinity feast goes back to 12th century England and St Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Historians say the great Thomas celebrated a Liturgy in honor of the Trinity in his cathedral. So was born the observance. In the 14th century, the feast came to be observed by the universal Church.

The belief in the Trinity goes back to the New Testament. There it is mentioned about forty times. Even if so wishing, we would not be able to lock the Trinity in a closet. The Trinity will not go away. We open each Liturgy invoking the Trinity. We close it by calling upon those same Persons.

Throughout the Christian world today, infants, who were quick enough to avoid abortion, will be received into our community through Baptism in the name of the Trinity. Into the arms of the mysterious Trinity, we will be sent by the officiating priest at our already scheduled funerals. But the most wondrous thing in the world is the mysterious. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.

A popular idiom says that “Two is company, three is a crowd”. This may be true of romantic pairings, but the gospel gives another view. In the life of Jesus Christ, a threesome symbolizes completeness and perfect symmetry, and the number three re-appears at key moments of the story of our Lord, for his life itself constantly reflected the Holy Trinity.

There were three at the nativity scene in Bethlehem, Jesus, Mary and Joseph; and their first visitors were the three wise men from the East. Later, when praying in the desert before beginning his public life, Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. And so many of his parables reflect the adage that “a good story should have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

He was a storyteller par excellence and in his stories, sets of three characters figure prominently. The Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons; the Good Samaritan contrasts the behavior of three passers-by, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. The sower sowed his seed in three different types of ground, each yielding its own level of harvest.

The end of Christ’s life, like its beginning, again has the three motifs. During his Passion, Peter denied him thrice. On the road to Calvary, he fell three times. The crucifixion scene has three figures, Christ between two thieves. Before his resurrection, he spent three days in the tomb.

God is love, as beautifully stated in John’s first epistle. And in God there are Three Persons, the loving Trinity, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, who together represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and The Holy Spirit is their love for each other.

We are mysteriously, wonderfully made in the image of a triune God: the Father, who created us, his Son who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us. Our lives should reflect the unquenchable love of that Holy Trinity. We should be always creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and dispose our talents in the service of others like the Holy Spirit.

You have probably seen reproductions of the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity. The three persons are seated around a table in an attitude of deep harmony and peace; the very lines of the icon create a circle within which the unity of the persons, the manner of their presence to one another, is visible.

The same circle even subtly suggests a cup or chalice, and at the focal point of the icon there is a cup between them on the table. It is a wonderful use of symbol and suggestion. The Trinity hints at the Eucharist. It is as if the divine persons were saying: be one with one another as we are one (Jn.17:21). The fourth side of the table is a free space, inviting you into the life of the Trinity.  The reverse perspective of the furniture conveys a feeling that you are already within.

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, the feast of the Holy Spirit.  It was the end of the Eastertide Liturgy. Today, having (as it were) collected all three Divine Persons, we celebrate the Trinity.  We are taking a look at our God. Or we can say we are admiring the full scope of the Christian revelation. It is vast: it is as vast as three religions. You can’t miss God. No matter which way you point (up to the Father, out and around you to Jesus, and in to the Spirit) you get caught up in the vast web.

Christianity is able to feel with all the religions of the world, because it has something of them in itself. Of course Christians have often ignored or despised them in the course of its history, but that is not the teaching or the spirit of Christianity. We are to discern the spirits, to see which come from God. The spirit of our Faith is as wide as the world – wider than the world.

We are being invited and drawn into the inner life of the Trinity, to sit at that empty place at God’s table. Jesus is the way; the Spirit is the inner urge to move that way. “No one can come to the Father unless the Father draws him” (Jn.6:44).

Commenting on this in the fifth century, St Augustine wrote: “He did not say lead, but draw.  This ‘violence’ is done to the heart, not to the body….Believe and you come; love and you are drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence. It is gentle, it is sweet, it is the sweetness that draws you. Is not a sheep drawn when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger?

Yet I imagine that it is not driven bodily on, but bound by desire. In this way too you come to Christ: do not imagine long journeying; in the very place where you believe, there you come.  For to him who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing.” The Trinity is living in us and we are living in the Trinity.

St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer was: “Most Holy Trinity, Who lives in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.”  Let the Son lead us to the Father through the Spirit, to live with the Triune God forever and ever. Amen.


Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday Year – A – 14

Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

A priest was once asked by a doctor why he preached the existence of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. The doctor again asked: “Do you ever see the Holy Spirit? Do you ever hear the Holy Spirit?” The priest answered, “No”. The doctor continued: “Do you ever taste the Holy Spirit? Do you ever smell the Holy Spirit?

To all of these questions, the doctors received a ‘No” answer. But when the doctor asked: “Do you ever feel the Holy Spirit?” The priest replied: “Yes, indeed.” “Well,” said the doctor, “There are four of the five senses against you, Father. So I doubt that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then it was the turn of the priest to ask. “You are a doctor of medicine,” “It is your business to treat pains.

Did you ever see, hear, taste or smell a pain?” asked the priest. “No,” answered the doctor. “Do you feel the pain,” followed the priest. “Yes, I did,” said the doctor. “There are four senses against you. Yet you know and I know that there is pain. By the same proof, I know that the Holy Spirit exists,” continued the priest.

For each one of us who are here we do believe that the Holy Spirit exists because we feel His presence in us. Even if we do not see, hear, taste or smell the Holy Spirit, we do believe His existence. It is because “for those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible,”

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Pentecost. Pentecost is the day where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since today is the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit to apostles and to us too, let us talk about the Holy Spirit in order to have a better understanding of this Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

First, the Holy Spirit is Holy; of course, He is God like the Father and the Son. The Third Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity sent to the world by the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit now guides the church and continues the works and teachings of Jesus without changing them. He is the Sanctifier of the church. Second, the Holy Spirit comes to us first at the moment of our baptism, more fully at our confirmation.

He infuses in us together with sanctifying grace and the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. He gave to us His seven gifts of: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Also, this Holy Spirit gave to us the twelve fruits of these seven gifts, namely: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, meekness, fidelity, modesty, continence and chastity (Gal 5:16-25).

Without the Holy Spirit, nobody can believe or hope and nobody can repent of his/her sins. Third, the Holy Spirit is Love made Person. We know that all love comes from God. We also need to know the role of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives. The role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life:

As an indwelling God, He makes us His Living Temples (ICor.3:16). As a strengthening God, He strengthens us in our fight against temptations and in our mission of bearing witness to Christ by transparent Christian lives. As a sanctifying God, He makes us holy through the sacraments:

He makes us children of God and heirs of heaven through Baptism. He makes us temples of God, warriors and defenders of faith, through Confirmation. He enables us to be reconciled to God by pardoning our sins through Reconciliation. He gives us spiritual nourishment via the Holy Eucharist by converting bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood through Epiclesis.

As a teaching and guiding God, He clarifies and constantly reminds us of Christ’s teachings. As a listening and talking God, He listens to our prayers and enables us to pray, and He speaks to us mainly through the Bible. As a giver of gifts, He gives us His gifts, fruits and charisms.

Anyone who has ever looked into a grave will know how logical it is to see it as a dead end the extinction of all hope, the end of the story. But our faith is deeper than logic and it looks into the empty tomb of Christ with joy, seeing it as the beginning of hope, not the end of hope. It is the beginning not the end of the story. Because of the empty tomb there are no dead ends for a Christian.

The disciples had locked themselves in “for fear of the Jews.” They had gathered themselves into a kind of tomb. Perhaps they thought that their future would be just this: to recall and cherish their memories of Jesus within this little circle. But suddenly Jesus appeared among them. He went down into their tomb, as the story says he descended into Hades to release the dead from their past and to bring them out into the light of the Resurrection.

He would not let these disciples enter an early Hades. He empowered them with the Spirit. Now Jesus breathed the Spirit into these disciples as God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so, making them a new people. In the power of the Spirit they left their narrow dungeon and preached the good news of Jesus to “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia …” (Acts 2:9-11); in other words they preached to the whole world.

What is the life message for us today? We need to permit the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives: May be by constantly remembering His holy presence and behaving well, or may be by praying for His daily anointing so that we may fight against our temptations and control our evil tendencies, evil habits and addictions.

May be by asking His daily assistance to pray, listening to God through meditative Bible reading and talking to Him or may be by asking the help of the Holy Spirit to do good for others and to be reconciled to God and others every day. As Saint Paul exhorts us, “Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25).