22 May 2011
ADORATION SOCIETY CONVENTION
Fr. Randolph Calvo 2011
“‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:51b) In the name
Sisters of the Adoration Society, Bp. Gnat, Fr. Sen. Krusienski, Rev. Fathers, parishioners and guests, it is good, it is very good, that we have come together this morning for the celebration of the Mass. I say this because we are supposedly only a few hours away from the Rapture. I imagine that you’ve heard of it by now. It’s been on the news, sports radio was talking about it yesterday, paid advertisements in national magazines and on billboards have appeared across the country, late-night comedians are having a field day with the topic, even the Doonsebury comic strip has been playing with it all week long. Teenagers at my parish knew about this before I did because it is all over the Twitter-sphere or whatever they call their constant communications. All of this commotion springs from some group of fundamentalists who have sold all that they own and are traveling all over the country warning people that today is the day of the Rapture. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars because some guy has discovered some supposedly hidden code buried in the biblical text that says May 21st at 6PM is when God will pass His Last Judgment upon the world.
I hope we’re all home by that time because if any of us are part of the chosen few who will ascend bodily up into the heavens this evening, well, that could be a bit hazardous for the others on the road if we’re still driving. But I say all of this tongue-in-cheek because I have no doubt whatsoever that we will all be able to go to our local churches tomorrow morning and attend Mass once again. I don’t only believe that these prophets of doom have got the date wrong; I believe that the whole idea that the Bible holds some encrypted message is just plain ludicrous. The Bible is about revelation, about making God known to the world. The idea that something as important as the last day of creation is hidden between the lines is absolutely opposed to the holy purpose of the Word of God, which is to proclaim His truths, not hide them.
One of the passages that these soon to be surprised end-time prophets used in order to decipher today’s date is from the Epistle to the Hebrews. It says that we die once and then face the judgment. Christ also died once, but for the forgiveness of sins. Then it goes on to say that He “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (9:28) Do you hear any reference to a date in there? Do you think that this means God wants us know that the Rapture is only a few hours away? If it’s there, it’s hidden in darkness. Now I want you to think about your candles and what they symbolize. Candles in church represent the light of Christ. We bless candles on the Feast of the Presentation when we remember Simeon’s words about the Christ Child that He will be “a light for revelation.” (Lk 2:32) Jesus’ life, His example here on earth, His love, His forgiveness, His compassion, this shines a light of revelation in our world. It makes the nature and will of God clearer to us. Your candle is a far more profound testimony to the truth of God’s revelation than all of the up-roar about the end-time that just makes religion just look superstitious and silly.
Your candle alerts all in the congregation behind you that Christ is present on our altars. The words from this morning’s Gospel may be the actual eucharistic formula for the churches that the Gospel of John was written for: “‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” And not only are the words different from those that we are familiar with from our Mass, so is their location in time and place. All of the eucharistic references in today’s Gospel are not locked away in the Upper Room with only Jesus and the 12 apostles. Rather, these words were spoken to the crowds of people on the day after the 5,000 were fed by the miracle of the loaves. And they are said by our Lord during the heart of His ministry, not on the day before He dies on the cross.
This is extremely important because Jesus goes on to say, “‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life – and I will raise them up on the last day.’” (Jn 6:54) That’s why it’s good that we’re here because today is that last day, supposedly. But without getting sidetracked by that silly magic, what is Jesus saying here? He’s in the middle of His ministry. His death is not imminent. We’re at least a full year away from the cross; it’s at least the previous Passover. So we have to realize that when He says “eat my flesh and drink my blood” Jesus can’t be referring to His physical body. That wouldn’t be sacrament, that would be grotesque. It would be a mangling of Jesus’ words no different than these end-time prophets and all their talk about today being the last day. And this idea of the heavenly Jesus, not the physical Jesus, as being the basis of His real presence at our altars has been our eucharistic theology ever since Bp. Hodur signed the Declaration of Utrecht, the eucharistic theology that Bp. Hodur emblazoned in the Sanctuary of his church in Scranton when he had installed a stained-glass window of Jesus the heavenly High Priest, and it’s all based on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and on some of the very same words that are being used to supposedly decode that the world ends today.
But instead of fearing the end-time, your candles alert us to the spiritual irrelevance of time. In the name of the glorified Christ of heaven, the words of consecration are recited. The celebrant stands not in the place of Jesus of Nazareth the man who lived and died once, but of the heavenly High Priest who is not defined by the physical, but by the spiritual and the eternal. We can stand as the “other Christ” because our believing souls represent the Spirit of Christ, and because of this, the separation of time disappears. Christ is present. This is part of the wondrous, timeless, spiritual revelation that the light of your candles reminds us of. On this day when so much of religious conversation will be about the circus of hidden end-time predictions, let us pray that our Adoration Societies continue to bring the light of Christ’s timeless presence into our churches. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
5/22/11 FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
Fr. Randy Calvo 2011
“‘Where I am going – you know the way.’” (John 14:4) In the name …
Well, we’re still here. The Rapture didn’t take place yesterday at 6PM Eastern or Pacific Time, and there’s a valuable lesson in the fact that this was such a public mistake. The idea that the Bible holds some hidden, cryptic code has been debunked in a very unforgettable way. It’s not only a matter that they got the date wrong. That entire system is misguided. Hopefully, however, people will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. They won’t disregard the Bible; they’ll just disregard the idea that it’s magic. They’ll begin to see in the Bible the inspired struggles and attempts of generations of religious thinkers to comprehend the timeless revelation of God. There is mysticism and mystery in the Bible to be sure, but there is also wisdom. The mystery comes from God, the wisdom from God and from us. The Bible remains the most printed book in the history of the world because it has something to say to every generation. The words on the page don’t change generation to generation, but how we understand them does. It is our increasing wisdom that continues to reveal God’s eternal wisdom. That’s the mystery of God’s living Word. The Bible remains relevant for each generation that is willing to read it with an open and receptive mind, and with wisdom and inspiration.
You know we’re embarrassed now 150 years after the start of the Civil War that preachers once used the Bible to justify the institution of slavery in America. But slavery is condoned by both the Old and New Testaments. And those actual words haven’t changed one bit, but we have. We’ve learned to read them differently. This is why we speak about the Bible as a sacrament heard and preached. It’s not only the words; it’s our reception of the words. This is why we refer to the Bible as the living Word of God. My daughter Kristin is reading Euripides’ Medea in school. That play is older than the New Testament, and it’s still being read today. I remember first reading that book and being shocked by the violence of that mother against her children. But if that story can survive reinterpretation and be true to its past and still be meaningful today, why in the world would we think that the Bible can’t. God’s Word is eternal, which means that it doesn’t belong to the past any more than in belongs to our present. It is very possible that the way we’re embarrassed by Civil War preachers for their handling of slavery in the Bible will happen to us 150 years from now. We will not be the same people when my great-grandchildren are old, and we should be humble enough to realize that our religion won’t be either.
This idea of change is written right into the story of our faith. Today’s Lesson speaks about the first weeks and months after the resurrection, the season we’re in right now. The first group of Jesus’ followers was a rather motley crew. If you remember from the Gospels, they speak of prostitutes, tax collectors, social outcasts and all those common folk from the hinterlands of Galilee. Today we hear that Hellenists in large numbers had joined the church. These would be Jewish people who had become acclimated with the larger world around them. They had taken on some of the non-religious customs and practices of the Greeks and the Romans. They probably read Medea too. We can assume that they would be more affluent and educated than Jesus’ first followers, and more likely to be a merchant or tradesmen of some sort. And then into this already combustible mix, we read that “a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” These aren’t guys in a black shirt and white collar. These are priests from the Jerusalem Temple.
The only way that the church survived, never mind thrived, is because she accepted change. The deacons we hear about today are not the same as the deacons of today. They’re very much like the apostles. We only hear stories about two of them, Stephen and Philip, but both of their stories are about proclamation and spreading the faith. That’s the same definition as apostle. Read Acts and see for yourselves. And the reason that the deacons were appointed was so that they could minister and proclaim the gospel to the church that was foreign to Jesus’ first followers. If the church had remained exactly like the followers of the historical Jesus remembered, then it would have become a branch of the Jewish faith or it would have exploded and disintegrated from all the tension. But the church that changed and allowed for the Hellenists to enter, and allowed them to have their own leaders and evangelists, the church that would soon take the next step and allow in the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers, and let them have their own leaders too, people like St. Paul, this is the church that brings us into the fold. If change had not been an essential part of the church from the beginning, we would not be a part of the church now.
A dead rock can stay the same for eons. To have life, however, means to change. The Bible is the living Word of God. Church is the living presence of God. Change is what keeps them relevant in our world, keeps them alive. The trick is keeping change and continuity together. And this is where Jesus’ words to us today become so important. He’s telling His followers about the time to come when He will no longer be in their physical presence, but He tells them, “[Y]ou know the way.” He’s telling them to trust in their conscience as put there when we are made in the image and likeness of God, to trust in the faith being shared with them, to trust in the wisdom and understanding that the Holy Spirit shares with every single believer. Thomas and Philip protest that this isn’t enough, but the church has always held-up conscience as our highest moral authority. It was conscience, for example, that convinced us slavery was wrong. Not the church. Not the Bible. Conscience is the first whisper of God before it becomes the accepted and obvious message of the church. It is the continuity between the past and change. “You know the way,” says Jesus. That we may trust and listen to conscience so that our faith may remain alive and change as necessary, that we may be unimpressed by the claims of magic like yesterday’s circus so that we can better appreciate the wisdom of God, for these things we pray so that the Bible, the church and our faith may always be meaningful and alive. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo