Sunday, June 20, 2010

What It Means to Call Jesus ‘the Christ’

"Who do you say that I am?"

(Twelfth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 20, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 9: 18-24.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twelfth Sunday 2010]

What was Jesus’ last name?

Ask your average man on the street that question, and he’ll probably respond, “Oh that’s easy, his last name was ‘Christ!’”

I’m sure there are many professed Christians who would answer in the very same way.

And, of course, they would all be wrong!

Jesus didn’t have a last name! In ancient Israel, you were known to others and to the world by your relationship to your father. That’s how you were distinguished from other individuals with the same name.

John, the apostle, for example, was known as ‘the son of Zebedee’—so was his brother, James; Simon Peter was known as ‘the son of John’; Judas was known as ‘the son of Simon Iscariot’—and on and on the list goes.

Jesus was known to the people of his time as ‘Yeshua, bar Yosef” (excuse my Aramaic—it’s a little rusty): in English that’s “Jesus, son of Joseph.”

The bottom line is this: If someone asks you the question, “What was Jesus’ last name?” they’re asking you a trick question, to which you should immediately respond, “Jesus didn’t have a last name! He was not the natural child of Mary Christ and the foster child of Joseph Christ!”

So where did that name Christ come from?

Well, very simply the word ‘Christ’ became part of Jesus’ name because of who he was and what he accomplished in God’s plan for our salvation. Here’s how the Catechism explains it, in paragraph 436: “The word ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means ‘anointed.’ It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that ‘Christ’ signifies.”

Jesus was ‘anointed’ by the Spirit to reconcile the world to God the Father by his death and resurrection. Sad to say, during our Lord’s 3-year earthly ministry, Simon Peter understood only half of this truth. As we heard in today’s gospel, when Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ of God”—in other words, “You are the Anointed One—the Christos—the Messiah”. However, Peter didn’t realize that Jesus would be a suffering Messiah. That understanding would come only after our Lord’s resurrection.

Now all of this means something very practical for us and for our lives today. If Jesus is the Anointed One—the Christos—the Messiah (and he is!), that means his words carry divine authority! He speaks to us in the name of his heavenly Father, who has absolute and complete authority over our lives!

We call God “Lord” for a reason, do we not?—because he is to be the Lord of all we say and do.

Now, unfortunately, this can be a really big problem for us—and IS a really big problem for us!—because with our fallen human nature we tend to resist authority—especially God’s!

C.S. Lewis said it very well in his book, “The Problem of Pain” (and this is great analogy for Father’s Day). No offense to any of the grandfathers here present, but Lewis said that most of us really want to worship and follow a God who acts more like a grandfather than a father. It’s a very interesting insight. A good father, as we all know, has got to be a disciplinarian at times—the proverbial ‘bad guy’ who says, “Do it now!,” “Stop that immediately!,” and “Don’t do that anymore!” A grandparent, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more lenient, a bit more “open-minded” about things. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I loved to go to see my grandparents. They’d let me stay up late and do almost anything I wanted to do—stuff I could never have gotten away with at home!

Here’s how Lewis said it in his book. He wrote, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”

Yeah, I like that! Don’t you?

Of course, when I’m really honest with myself, I will admit that I need something more than a “senile benevolence” in my life.

I need a “benevolent authority”—a benevolent authority who loves me even more than I love myself; a benevolent authority who knows me and who knows what’s best for me; a benevolent authority who will keep me from hurting myself and others; a benevolent authority who will bless me in countless ways if I’m faithful to him, and who will be there to correct me if I’m not.

When I say that I believe in Jesus Christ, I am actually saying, “I recognize Jesus as the benevolent authority—indeed, the ultimate authority—of my life. He is the Anointed One of the Father, and when he speaks to me through his written word or through his Church, I listen, and I try to obey.”

That’s what I mean when I profess my belief in Jesus as “the Christ.” That’s what real Christians have meant for 2,000 years.

I ask you this morning: Is that what you mean? Is that what you really mean?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Nourishment From ‘The Two Tables’

Fr. Ray at 'the first table'

(Corpus Christi 2010 (C): This homily was given on June 5, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; Luke 9:11b-17.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2010]

Where are these two tables?

From the first table comes instruction; from the second the power to live the instruction.

From the first table hearts are consoled; from the second hearts are healed.

From the first table mysteries are explained; from the second mysteries are experienced.

From the first table sins are revealed; from the second sins are forgiven.

From the first table the Light shines on our lives; from the second the Light enters us, body and soul.

So—where are these two tables?

The answer is right in front of you—literally right in front of you!

The first “table” mentioned in that reflection is otherwise known as the pulpit: the place from which the word of God is preached. In fact, one of the documents of Vatican II—the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, in paragraph 51—uses the expression “the table of God’s word” when speaking of the proclamation of the Scriptures that takes place at holy Mass.

(So I can’t take credit for being original with the idea. The reflection I just shared with you on “the two tables” is original, but the idea of the pulpit as a kind of table comes from the official teaching of the Church, not from yours truly!)

The second “table,” of course, is otherwise known as the altar—the altar of sacrifice—where the Holy Eucharist is consecrated; where Jesus Christ becomes present to us and for us, body, blood, soul and divinity.

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, which we heard in today’s gospel, foreshadowed the nourishment that Jesus would give us from this second table. (That’s why it’s read on Corpus Christi Sunday.)

And so, if someone asked you to give them a simple and clear definition of the Mass, you could say to them that the Mass is “the place where God’s people are nourished from two tables”—and you would be correct.

This, incidentally, is one reason why it is so spiritually harmful to be chronically late for Mass. For proper spiritual nourishment, we need the “food” that comes to us from BOTH of these tables! When you are consistently late for Mass, missing part or all of the Liturgy of the Word, you are depriving yourself of the spiritual nourishment that comes to you from the first table. You are weakening (or at least you are failing to strengthen) your personal faith. Remember, in Romans 10 St. Paul says that faith comes through “hearing,” and what is heard is the word of Christ.

Some Catholics have the idea that the Bible is for Protestants, and the Eucharist is for Catholics, so the first part of the Mass (the Liturgy of the Word) really isn’t all that important.

That is so wrong! For Catholics it’s not either the Bible OR the sacraments; for real Catholics who know and accept the truths of their faith it’s the Bible AND the sacraments!

That’s why entering into BOTH parts of the Mass is so crucial!

The same point, therefore, is to be made about those who leave Mass early—right after Communion. Because they don’t take the time to try to “commune” with Jesus in prayer after they receive his body and blood, they deprive themselves of nourishment from the second table!

Which brings me back to the reflection I shared at the beginning of my homily. I started off by saying, “From the first table comes instruction; from the second the power to live the instruction.” If we’re only being nourished from one of these tables during holy Mass, either we will not know the truth as we should (because we will miss out on the instruction God is giving us that day through his word), or we will know the truth in our mind but lack the power to live it—the power that comes from a worthy and fruitful reception of Holy Communion (or the power that comes from a “spiritual communion” for those who for one reason or another cannot physically receive).

The second point of the reflection was rendered as follows: “From the first table hearts are consoled; from the second hearts are healed.”

If you say “yes” in your heart to the word of God that is proclaimed from the pulpit at Mass, you will experience consolation. And that’s true even if the message that’s given is a tough one—because it will lead to repentance, and sincere repentance brings consolation and peace.

The Eucharist, on the other hand, not only brings us a message of consolation, it actually brings us the grace of consolation—since Jesus, the consoler, is present there sacramentally. And that consolation brings healing into our hearts. It can also bring healing, at times, into our bodies.

The third point I made was this one: “From the first table mysteries are explained; from the second mysteries are experienced.”

“Divine mysteries” are the sacred truths of our faith. They’re called “mysteries” because they relate to God, whom we can understand partially but not completely.

The fourth point: “From the first table sins are revealed; from the second sins are forgiven.”

Have you ever been “convicted” of a sin when you heard a particular homily or a particular passage of Scripture during Mass?

If you haven’t, then you haven’t been listening! I get convicted all the time—which is great, if I have the good sense to repent afterward!

And that repentance can actually bring me forgiveness during Mass itself—if I also sincerely repent of my sin after I receive Holy Communion.

Many Catholics are not aware of the fact that the Eucharist has the potential to bring us forgiveness for our sins, if we have the right disposition in our heart when we receive.

That’s great news, isn’t it?

Of course, that’s only for our venial sins! Any mortal sins that we have need to be brought to the confessional.

Finally, I said in my meditation: “From the first table the Light shines on our lives; from the second the Light enters us, body and soul.”

This reminds us that as Catholics we don’t have to go through life confused about who we are, and what life is all about, and where we’re going, and what God expects of us while we’re here on earth. We can know all of those things if we listen to—and internalize—the message of God’s revealed word. And we can have the power to live this way—to live in the Light of God’s truth—if we worthily receive the eternal Light (Jesus) in the Holy Eucharist on a regular basis, and are open to the graces of the sacrament.

All that having been said, let me conclude this morning by sharing with you my personal prayer for this Mass. My personal prayer is that all of us will be “Two Table Catholics,” who are fully-nourished and fully-equipped to know the faith, and live the faith, and spread the faith—especially to the spiritually malnourished people that all of us encounter each and every day.