EASTER AND THE EUCHARIST

At the heart of our faith as Christians is the great event of Jesus bodily resurrection. Jesus by his passion, death and resurrection has overcome all sin and death. He has been raised up in glory and reigns at the right hand of the Father in eternity.

As Christians we do not celebrate the Resurrection as an historical event such as Independence Day or a victory day in a battle. Rather we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead as an event of faith and we do so in the context of the Eucharist. We gather as the assembly of God’s people for Easter Mass.

Easter Sunday is the great feast day of the Church and every Sunday throughout the year is a little Easter. The gloriously reigning Christ, our living Lord, becomes present on our altars as the bread and wine of the Eucharist. It must not be thought of as a static presence as if Jesus is present in some passive way waiting to be received and worshipped. It is a dynamic presence because the Lord who is present in the Mass is the Jesus who died once for all in history but lives now as our Eternal High Priest whose offering of Himself to God on our behalf will never end.

Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is no more real than all His other presences in the sacraments, in His body the Church, in the proclaimed word of God, in the poor, in our brothers and sisters, and in his priestly ministers. However it is a real, substantial, sacramental presence of excellence in which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. It is a dynamic presence in which Christ as The Priest of the Mass offers Himself to the Father on our behalf and for our salvation. The Eucharistic bread is the sacramental glorified body of the Risen Christ. The Eucharistic wine is the blood of the new and eternal covenant between God and ourselves in which our sins are forgiven and we are given the promise of eternal life.

How then do we worship God in the Eucharist? We do so by offering ourselves, our lives, our whole hearts, to God through Jesus, with Jesus and in Him. We do not do this as individuals gathered together but as part of the community of the Church. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the Church at worship and we are part and parcel of the Church. As members of the Church we are in communion with Christ and with one another.

How can such a marvelous happening truly take place? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Mass Jesus lifts us up to God His Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is truly Easter. With Christ we are raised up in glory.

Our fullest participation in the Eucharist comes in the reception of holy communion. By receiving the body of Christ we become the body of Christ. By receiving the cup of salvation we are washed clean by the blood of Christ.

When Jesus appeared to the apostles and disciples after He had risen He commissioned them to testify to their faith in the Risen Lord and to preach the gospel to all nations. That is why in the Easter Liturgy we renew our baptismal promises. For it was in our baptism that we first entered into the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; that we became members of the Church. On Easter Sunday our Baptismal Faith in the Risen Christ as the Hope for the world is refreshed and strengthened. We go forth from Easter Mass as a baptized Easter people alive in our faith for God in Christ Jesus our Risen Lord. We are sent forth to renew the face of the earth, to transform the world in Christ. We testify to the presence of the Risen Lord by the virtuous lives we lead and by the good we do. All by the power of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia! The Lord indeed lives!

Bishop Stephen Blaire>

Dietrich Bonhoeffer executed by the Nazis 74 years ago today

74 years ago today, at the age of 39, the great German, Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed by the Nazis.  His writings, especially “The Cost of Discipleship” have greatly influenced the role of Christianity in the world.  One of my favorite quotes: “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh…we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ.”  The lack of moral restraint in our words and actions – evidenced by saying whatever one wants to say or doing whatever one wants to do – is ultimately self destructive, harmful to the common good and keeps us from God.

DEATH IS ALWAYS CLOSE TO US

Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019

Everyday we face the reality of death. Look at the tragedy of the Ethiopian airliner going down. Look at the terrible effects of the cyclones in Africa. Look at all the friends and family members who have died in recent years. We may ask ourselves why so many people die prematurely or unexpectedly? There are, of course, any number of human explanations. It can be related to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. It could be from accidental causes, many triggered by human error or carelessness. It could be from genetic reasons. It could be from what we call natural causes. We leave the pursuit of answers to human study and investigation – to the great research being done by so many dedicated scientists.

The Scriptures do not speak to this question except for those who say that we are punished for our sins. But Jesus answered that accusation in today’s gospel by asking if those who died in a tragedy or were murdered sinned more than the people who escaped. The answer, of course, was clearly ‘no.’ Death is a reality that can occur whether we are good or sinful. The point in the gospel for all of us is that death itself is always so close. Any of us can die at any time. The further point is that when sudden death does come there is no time to repent. This is a very sobering thought.

It is during Lent that the Church gives us some peace of mind by asking us to think about life and death. The Church reminds us that it is a time for repentance – right here and now. Repentance does not only mean turning away from sin but more especially turning back to God and accepting God in our lives. On Ash Wednesday we were exhorted: “Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.”

To help us understand this gospel message even better, Luke gives us Jesus’ parable about the fig tree. It is actually a very comforting parable. After three years of not producing fruit the planter wants to tear it down but the gardener (a symbol for Jesus) asks that it be left alone for another year so that he can cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it. How patient Jesus the gardener is with us and how generous with his grace. The Church reminds us from the first reading in Exodus of God being present to Moses in the burning bush. “I know well what (my people) are suffering….Tell them ‘I am Who Am’ “ and that I Am with them. This is a God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy and kindness.

Micah’s prayer to God from yesterday’s Mass is a beautiful one for us: “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt….You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.”

But there does come a day of accounting. The tree will be cut down if there is no fruit. We all indeed will die. Each of us will stand before God and bring our whole lives with us. I do not know about you but I want to stand before God having been forgiven my sins and having embraced the kingdom of God on earth.

May this Lent be fruitful for all of us. May it be a time of grace. Let us turn away from sin, accept God’s loving mercy and forgiveness and embrace the presence of God in our lives. Let us believe in Jesus Christ and live as He has taught us. I know we will all do this imperfectly but we must not be afraid because God is with us.

In a way it all is very simple: Have confidence in God’s mercy. Follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Live a good life. All by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Bishop Stephen Blaire

WORDS OF ANGER CAN LEAD TO MURDER

Second Sunday of Lent      2019

Jesus appears to us today transfigured in glory upon the mountain.  It is a great prayer experience for Peter, James and John, in which they encounter Jesus as the prophet of God, a prophet in the tradition of Moses and Elijah.  A voice comes from the cloud which says:  ‘This is my chosen Son, listen to him.”  This is the heart of the message of God for all of us in the Church: to listen to Jesus Christ.  He is the Word of God.
Let us go now to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:21-23):  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother “Raqa (a term of abuse meaning something like an imbecile), will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says “you fool” will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
Anger and words of anger, especially when they are hateful, full of venom and derogatory, are the first steps toward murder.  That is why Jesus is so strong on restraining anger and letting our hearts give birth to mercy, kindness and forgiveness.
Around the world there is rising anger against Islam, Jews and immigrants.  (I will pass over today the various forms of anti-catholicism and save them for a future sermon.) I want to speak today about what some refer to as a rising white power movement.  It is a fanatical and radical form of anti-religion based on alienation and resentment.  It expresses itself violently and is illustrated by the killings in the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the synagogue in Philadelphia and the Black Church in Charleston.  Social scientists tell us they are fueled by resentment against outsiders whom people fear as attacking their perceived identity and the reason for their economic inequality.  Scapegoating is at the heart of their racism.  They often act alone or in an isolated fashion but they are interconnected through the internet as was the perpetrator of the horrific violence in New Zealand. And, of course, that have fairly easy access to high powered weapons.  
I suspect that we all feel very helpless as we experience another horrific human tragedy.  Our prayers go out to the victims and their families and their communities.  This has been a very difficult week with the loss of life in the Ethiopian Air crash, killings in Christchurch, and the local news of murders and crime in our neighborhoods. We pray for all those who are hurting so badly.
Let me come to the point of this homily by returning to Jesus’ words because they are a beginning point for us.  Words matter.  Words that are mean, hateful, inflammatory, derogatory, and blasphemous, especially when they are heard over and over again, can trigger horrible actions which can be destructive and even lead to murder.  The Church and all the institutions of society must work together to find a way forward through and beyond movements of hatred and alienation. Why do we tolerate incivility?  Do we accept as normal name calling and derogatory remarks? It will not be easy to restore respect toward others in this age of rage, but the gospel demands it.  Whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.  As Catholics let us remember and act upon the great truth of our faith that the Church – that is all of us – is to be an instrument for unity and peace in the world.

HOPE FAITH PRAYER

First Sunday of Lent   March 10, 2019

Recently I was visiting a very wonderful woman at the UC Davis Cancer Center.  While she was preparing to receive a chemotherapy infusion one of the paraprofessional oncologists came in to give her a particular medicine.  My friend introduced me as a Catholic bishop and the paraprofessional began talking about her 20 year career in working with cancer patients.  She said that they no longer use the big C word but have replaced it with three other words: “hope” because there is hope in every situation;  “faith” because of its importance in the healing process; and “prayer,” so important for the patient’s spiritual wellbeing.  

I would like to suggest that as we begin the Season of Lent, forty days of prayer, self denial and mercy, we cross out the big S word for sin.  Lent is a time for conversion, for turning back to God.  For those who are going to be received into the Church on the Vigil of Easter it is a time of immediate preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  They especially focus on the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  For us who are baptized it is a time of conversion anew, a time to prepare to renew our baptismal promises in the celebration of Easter.  I would like to offer three words to replace the word “sin:”  ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘prayer.’
HOPE – because Lent is a time to put our trust and confidence in God.  During Lent we deny ourselves  of legitimate pleasures to help ourselves understand that all worldly pleasures are fleeting and that our only lasting joy will be eternal life with God.  The virtue of hope proclaims that our lives have great significance and meaning and that they are to be lived well for God.  Too often we allow ourselves to be distracted by pursuit of money, possessions, power, and selfish interests.    None of these will bring us true happiness.  Only God can satisfy the human heart.  Our hope is in God.  
FAITH -The Faith we are talking about in LENT is not some kind of credence in a set of doctrinal beliefs but a living faith that is lived out in love and mercy.  What we deny ourselves in Lent gives place to acts of kindness and generosity.  Lent is a time for mercy and compassion, especially for the poor.  Our faith is a living faith.
PRAYER – To pray is to lift up our minds and hearts to God.  A good way to pray during Lent is to read devoutly the gospel passage of the day and allow Jesus to speak to us in the passage.  You can talk with God; ruminate over what Jesus has said; or just be with the Lord. 
May this Lent be a fruitful and holy time for you.  May you be filled with the hope of eternal life.  May your faith in God be fully alive in love and mercy toward others.  May you lift up your minds and hearts to the Lord in prayer.
Bishop Stephen Blaire

BEFORE GOD THERE CAN BE NO LIES

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Let’s take a quick look at our world this morning and state clearly what we know from the Book of Genesis and from our own lived experience:  As human beings we are able to do evil, to do what is wrong.  We all have character defects.  We can be blind to the truth and fall into the pit. We can have a blind eye to all kinds of evil around us.  We can see a small splinter in the eye of another and miss the huge beam in our own.  It is with this understanding of the human condition that Jesus speaks to us in today’s gospel passage.  And, of course, what Jesus says, in these few verses must be understood in the context of the whole gospel of Luke.  Jesus is our teacher and we are the disciples who want to be like our teacher.
We begin by looking to Jesus as our light. The light of Christ in our hearts enables us to be truthful before God about ourselves.  Standing before God there can be no lies, only truth. Lies flourish in darkness.  Evil hides from the light of day. The darkness of deceptive relationships usually proceeds from greed, a hunger for power or an unwillingness to face ourselves. We are afraid to stand under the light.  This we know can happen in the Church, in public life, in business,in families and deep within ourselves. Jesus despised hypocrisy because it is so dishonest. God is truth and Jesus is the light of God, a light that shines in the darkness we often find ourselves in today.
Secondly, Jesus is the good tree that bears good fruit.  He has brought blessings to the poor, to the sinner, to the outcasts of society.  We want to be like our teacher by caring for the poor, by being generous in love, by forgiving one another and by working for peace and reconciliation in the world.  The Scriptures are very clear in the teaching of Jesus that we write our own rules for judgment.  We will be judged as we have treated and judged others.
At this point it might be easy to conclude how important it is to build character – referring to those essential  moral qualities we should have as individuals. While indeed that is true, it is not the full picture. It is not exactly how Jesus approached  how we are to live and what we are to do as disciples.  While indeed goodness comes from the heart as well as evil deeds, for Jesus, the essence of who we are  and what we do is based on our relationships, our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.  ‘Love God with all your heart and soul.’  ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’  A lie is a disconnect with the God of Truth.   The lie diminishes ourselves as human beings but also harms others.  Failure to do good not only says something about one’s lack of character but isolates one from God and from others and hurts others. The essence of discipleship is love.  ‘What you have done for the least of my brothers and sisters you have done for me.’ ‘Blessed are the merciful.’  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ 
Today’s gospel passage concludes with these words of Jesus: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.”  Jesus has given us the ethics of the kingdom of God – a light for the path of relationships – the way of love.  As God has loved us, let us love one another.  We give praise to God by the good that we do.
Bishop Stephen Blaire

THE BLESSED AND THE WOES FROM THE WORDS OF JESUS

Homily   6th Sunday in Ordinary Time   February 17, 2019

We all are generally familiar with Jesus’ “ Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s Gospel.  What we have just heard proclaimed today is Luke’s version and is referred to as the “Sermon on the Plain.”  From one perspective, the  two versions are quite different.  In Matthew “the blessed” refer to those who embrace the spirituality of the Kingdom of God.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In Luke it is actually the poor and suffering themselves who are blessed.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”  From another perspective. They are very similar for they describe those who follow Christ in the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are the poor and blessed are those who are poor in spirit.  Both are fully dependent upon God.  Both describe the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.  In the eyes of God the poor are blessed; those who hunger are blessed; those who weep are blessed; and those who are ridiculed or denounced for their belief in Jesus are blessed.  To follow Christ is to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to comfort those in distress and to stand with those who are insulted because of their faith.
But what about the “woes” to the rich, to the well fed, to those who are happy and carefree, and to those of whom people speak well?  I would like to draw upon one of the greatest of American preachers, Father Walter Burghardt, who died this past year in his 90’s.  He preached on turning our “woes” into ‘blessings.”  “Blessed,” he said, are the rich who “can do so much for the poor.”  They do not claim to own what they hold in trust as stewards of God.  “Blessed,” he said, are the “well fed” who “can touch empty stomachs with compassion.”  They are “uncomfortable as long as one sister or brother cries in vain for bread or justice or love.”  “Blessed,” he said ‘are those who laugh now because they can bring the joy of Christ to others.”  They ‘do not take themselves too seriously” and “human living doesn’t revolve around” them.  I would add lastly that those of whom people speak well are blessed when they speak well and respectfully of others.
Christ now reigns in the glory of heaven and carries out his mission in the world through His Church on earth.  We are the hands and feet of Christ who bring blessing to the poor, blessing to the hungry, blessing to the sorrowful and blessing to those who are excluded and insulted.
Bishop Stephen Blaire