Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 3, 2018
Corpus Christi
(Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)
Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread and simple chalice of wine?
St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the Sacrament of the Eucharist:
"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord's death till He come."
And so, today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ. In a book by Dr. Tom Curran: "The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That Will Change Your Life," it talks about, "Why do I have to go to Mass?" Using understandable language and appropriate comparisons, Dr. Curran describes four "presences" of Jesus: in the community, the Word, the priest and the Eucharist. Each presence of Jesus is vital, however, today, of course, we will focus on that fourth presence: Jesus in the Eucharist.
To illustrate how Jesus' presence in the Eucharist differs from the first three, let me tell you about a story of a conversation between two priests. The first priest was arguing that - since Vatican II - we now have to emphasize the presence of Jesus in the community. "Jesus," he said, "is not only present in the Eucharist, but in every person." The second priest said, "Yes, we have to reverence each person, but can I ask a couple of questions?"
The first priest nodded and the second priest asked, "Would you worship the Eucharist?" The first said, "Yes, of course."
The second priest then asked, "Would you worship me?"
Now, as we know, Jesus is present in the priest - but I hope no one is foolish enough to worship me. There is a great deal of difference between giving reverence and worshipping. And Jesus is truly present in community, but should not genuflect to each other either. We do, however, worship Jesus in the Eucharist and when we approach a tabernacle, we do bend the knee in genuflection.
There is a difference between Jesus' presence in other human beings and His presence in the Eucharist. In the Mass - the Holy Spirit, working through the Angel of the Mass, transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread and wine become Jesus. For that reason we worship the Blessed Sacrament.
From earliest times Christians have recognized Jesus' real, substantial presence in the Eucharist. There is a true story of a twelve-year-old boy named Tarcisius, he was an altar server. Being a time of persecution, they could not celebrate Mass openly as we do, so they went underground – in the Catacombs of Rome. After Mass, they chose Tarcisius to take Communion to someone who could not attend. The priest placed the consecrated Host in a special container, which Tarcisius held under his robe, near his heart. On the way some boys were playing ball. Needing an extra player, they called Tarcisius to join them. When he said he could not, they asked him what he was holding. The priest had told Tarcisius that could not show the "Sacred Mysteries" to unbelievers. The boys gathered around him and began to taunt him. As he held the Host tightly, the boys became furious, hitting and kicking Tarcisius. Eventually a man came who shouted and chased the boys away. Tarcisius was beaten so badly the man had to pick him up. He died on the way and was buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus.
Like Tarcisius, many Christians have given their lives for the Eucharist – not just in the early centuries, but in modern times. In Nazi concentration camps, priests celebrated secret Masses so they and other prisoners could receive Communion. A priest in a Vietnamese prison celebrated Mass by holding a tiny particle of bread and single drop of wine in the palm of his hand.
If the Eucharist meant so much to these Christians, what about us?
In my time here at St. Francis, I have tried to emphasize worship. Yes, I want to teach and to uplift, but above all, I want to exalt God. Our very gathering is an act of worship. We should, of course, be friendly and courteous, but we should always keep in mind that we are here for a sacred purpose: to worship our Maker, our Savior, the One who gives us his very self under the form of bread and wine.
St. Augustine said, "No one eats this flesh unless he first adores it." I encourage you to worship Jesus when I lift up the bread after repeating Jesus' words, "This is my body."
So, to return to our original question: Why do I have to go to Mass? The answer is simple: To worship and to receive Jesus - as Lord and Savior. Remember your purpose in this life is not to earn a million dollars or to make a name for yourself. Although, these things may make us feel great, they will ultimately vanish like smoke. Your purpose and mine is this - to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in heaven. That means worship. For Catholics, here on earth the object of our worship is the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself.
The Eucharist is essential to Catholic belief and fundamental to Catholic life. Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord gives us an opportunity to focus our attention on this basic mystery of our faith, the Eucharist, and to explore the meaning of the Eucharist in our worship and in our daily living. What is the Eucharist? The Eucharist is both a Sacrament and a Sacrifice. The Eucharist is a Sacrament, an outward sign in and through which we meet Jesus who shares His life of grace with us.
In this Sacrament of Eucharist, we do meet Jesus Himself who comes to us under signs of bread and wine to nourish and strengthen us for our journey through life. We see with human eyes what looks like bread and wine. We see with eyes of faith, not bread and wine, but the Risen Living Lord Jesus. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The Eucharist is the highest expression of prayer and the summit of worship. The Third Commandment reminds us to worship the Lord on His Day. Because Christ’s Resurrection and the Coming of the Holy Spirit took place on Sunday, the early Christians made the first day of the week "the Lord’s Day," also known as the Christian Sabbath. As Catholics, we fulfill the Third Commandment by coming together to worship. Through the celebration of the Eucharist. There is no other form of contact with God so intimate and as deep as the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, especially at the moment of Communion, the Risen Lord as a Person and each of us as a person become one. Two persons become one in Communion, truly, an interpersonal union. We pray in many ways and in many places and we should. These various kinds of prayer do join us to the Lord and foster a union with Him. But no form of prayer gives the intimacy and the union that the Eucharist gives.
Imagine, the Lord Himself, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, comes to dwell within us! That is why we worship the Lord through the Eucharist. That is why regardless of how good or bad the music may be, how wonderfully or poorly the priest preaches, how close or distant we feel to the priest, what the motives are of those around us, we should come to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday and Holy Day. No one and no-thing should be an obstacle to our coming to be one with the Lord and, through that oneness, to find the strength we need to live life, with faith, hope and love. Because the Real Presence of Jesus continues, we believe that He is present in a special way in the tabernacle in our churches. We ought to visit the Blessed Sacrament often.
In giving us the Eucharist, Jesus said: "Take; this is my body." "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." Jesus not only said those words, He lived them by a life of self-giving and by giving His life on the Cross. You and I are to do the same.
I know that some find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I can understand your doubts. We don’t see any change in the bread or wine. There is no difference in the taste; the bread still tastes like bread and the wine still tastes like wine – sometimes horrible wine at that. It is going against logic to say that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus despite no change in appearance. With our intellect we can understand that God must be keeping the universe together, that God is the origin of everything, but reason will only take us so far. Then we need to add faith to our reason and intellect. As Paul says, in the Christian life we go by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). We need to be humble and open to God performing a miracle every time in this church, the miracle of the Eucharist. Can you be humble enough to add faith to your intellect and reason, to admit that intellect by itself does not provide all the answers, and that God can perform miracles every day making it possible for bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus while keeping the same appearance? Can you add faith to your intellect? When you submit to God you will not lose anything, you will gain everything. Add faith to your reasoning and receive the love of God for you! The Eucharist is the gift of God’s love for you.
To help us believe, from time to time, God has allowed visible miracles of the Eucharist to occur, Eucharistic Miracles as we call them. These are miracles that occurred during Mass when the bread changed into the form of flesh during the consecration and the wine changed into the form of blood during the consecration. Many such Eucharistic Miracles have occurred in various parts of the world and throughout the two millennia of Christian history and have been authenticated by the Church. And, as I tend to do each year, I want to give you a couple of stories on some real Eucharistic Miracles to help your faith and intellect to connect.
In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast, Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto.
Although that is the Eucharistic miracle that led to the institution of this feast, a more famous Eucharistic miracle is the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, also in Italy, which took place many centuries earlier, in the year 700. A monk who feared he was losing his vocation was celebrating Mass, and during the consecration the host turned into flesh and the wine turned into blood. Despite the fact that the miracle took place almost 1300 years ago, you may still see the flesh in a monstrance which is exposed every day and the blood in a glass chalice. The blood has congealed and is now in five clots in the glass chalice. In 1971 and 1981 a hospital laboratory tested the flesh and blood and discovered that the flesh is myocardium, which is heart muscular tissue, so we could say it is the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, and the blood is of the blood group AB. In 1978 NASA scientists tested the blood on the Turin Shroud and interestingly also discovered that it is of the blood group AB. (The Sudarium, Face Cloth of Christ, in John 20:6 is also of the blood group AB.) Despite the fact that human flesh and blood should not have remained preserved for 1300 years the hospital lab tests found no trace of any preservatives. One final interesting point about the five blood clots in the chalice is that when you weigh one of them, it is the same weight as all five together, two of them together weigh the same as all five. In fact no matter what way you combine the blood clots individually or in a group to weigh them, they always weigh the same.  One might say, this shows that the full Jesus is present in a particle of the Eucharist no matter how small.
Let us pray.
That today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the great gift which Jesus has bestowed on us, the spiritual nourishment that is His Body and Blood. We pray that in uniting His Body and Blood with ours in the Eucharist we are strengthened in our faith and love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.    
For the priests of our Church, that they may continue to offer the gifts of the people faithfully, like Melchizedech of old. We pray to the Lord.
For all who share in the celebration of the Eucharist, that they may appreciate more deeply the real presence of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those oppressed by starvation in soul or body, for those who live in want; that Jesus the Bread of Life will be their sustenance, and that we will bring the mercy of Christ to all those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For the community gathered by God at this Mass, that in our lives we may always hunger for Christ, the living bread from heaven. We pray to the Lord.
For the faithful departed, that through the eucharistic sacrifice they may come to eternal life with Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the gift of the Eucharist blesses us with the presence for which every human heart longs.  Through the grace of the Eucharist, let us become more perfectly the body of Christ. Most generous Father, you provide for all our needs with the sublime gift of your Son in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Receive our prayers through him, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 13, 2018
Ascension Sunday
(Acts 1:1-11; Mark 16:15-20)
Love it or hate it, we live by our calendars.

There was a time when many of us carried them in our pockets, briefcases or purses. Paper calendars showed us when we had to be where.

Then came the digital revolution, and some of us traded in our leather-bound planners for PDAs, personal digital assistants. We learned a new way of writing the alphabet so that we could quickly add new appointments to our Palm Pilots using the stylus.
Then Steve Jobs and the people at Apple combined our PDAs, phones and MP3 players into smartphones. While we might have left our planners or PDAs at home on a Sunday morning, today most of us have our calendars with us even in worship. I never quite got over using the stylus of my former Palm Pilots, however, so I have owned a Samsung Note of one variation or another just so I can still have the stylus that I got so used to in the 90’s and after.

Digital calendars can do things our paper calendars never could. They remind us of things we need to do based on our time and / or location. Like remembering when Joe’s interview was this week so I could stop what I was doing and send up a text message to the Holy Spirit. Siri/Cortana/Alexa/Google/Bixby, remind me when it is time to leave for my doctor's appointment." Then, based on your location and the traffic, your phone can tell you when it is time to leave. Isn’t it wonderful? It’s like having our moms with us all over again!

Once we put an appointment into our phones, we never have to look at it again. We can simply wait for that little buzz to interrupt us, sometimes during worship, to remind us of what we need to attend to later in the day.

Digital, paper or in our heads, our calendars tend to drive large portions of our lives. We are a time frenzied humanity.

In our Monday-through-Friday lives, many are required to be connected to their company's calendars through Outlook or some other calendar / planning app. Supervisors and colleagues can put things on our calendars, and expect us to be in the appropriate place at the appointed time. No time to slack off at work any longer.

Truth is, we rely on our calendars to organize our lives. From the boardroom to the classroom, it is hard to get by without some idea of what will be happening -- and when.

So imagine how the very first followers of Jesus must have felt about his answer when they asked about what was next. This is the nature of the conversation in Acts 1 -- today's reading. Basically, Jesus is having a final debriefing before leaving on a trip -- a vertical and heavenly one. And, of course, they have questions.

"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" the disciples asked. The question makes sense. They had been on an emotional roller coaster with Jesus in recent days.

For three years, they followed him. They heard him talk frequently about a special time to come. He started his ministry telling them that the kingdom of God - the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

They listened as he told stories about banquets, mustard seeds and treasure buried in a field that he said were ways of describing this new reality to come.

They were with him when he entered Jerusalem several weeks earlier. They saw the crowd waving palm branches and shouting their praises. By riding a donkey into the city, Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy that announced God's rule and reign. It was a huge statement. Surely, they thought, this must be the time.

At the Last Supper, he seemed to confirm it. "I will not drink the fruit of the vine again until I drink it with you in my Father's kingdom." Next stop, the kingdom of God, they must have thought.

Instead of a coronation, however, there was a crucifixion. It appeared to be over. Their hopes were dashed. The dream of the restoration of the kingdom seemed to vanish. What now?

Then, as quickly as it was over, it was back on. Jesus is alive. Hope is not lost. Certainly, the kingdom must be coming now!?!

After 40 days of being with a post-resurrection Jesus during which he continued to teach them about God's kingdom, he calls a special meeting. Expectations must have been high. What was he going to do? What was he going to say?

It had to be time for him to announce how the kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven, just as he taught them to pray.

The question must have hung in the air that day, like questions saturate the space among and between us in some of our interactions.

~ When the company calls an all-staff meeting during a down economy, everyone wants to know, "Are there going to be layoffs?"

~ When the person you are dating says, "We need to talk," you want to know, "Are we breaking up?"

~ When a teenage child enters a room, head down, and says, "Mom? Dad?"  heart rates accelerate. We want to know, "Is something wrong?"

For the crowd that day, the tension is almost unbearable. "Now? We want to get this on our calendars, so if not now, when?"

They want to pencil in the kingdom day. They want to know which week they need to clear for this world-altering event. They want to know the deadline so they can be sure to be ready.

To these questions, Jesus gives a bewildering answer. "That's none of your concern."

He actually says it more politely, but that's the gist of it. "Let me worry about the timing," he seems to say. "You just get to work on what you are supposed to do."

Then he's gone like Superman … up, up and away!

The disciples and the rest of the followers are left bewildered, staring into the sky.

The disciples have a scheduling problem, and for them, and for those of us who live by our calendars, Jesus' attitude is frustrating.
It's hard to leave things in the hand of God; Hard to let go and let God take care of details; Hard to trust in divine providence to be faithful to promises made.
How are we to respond to this? It's not for me to know the "times and seasons"? Really?! How am I supposed to function with so little information? As the British would say, “I must have a sssheshual!”
The problem is that the kingdom of God doesn't fit into our calendars – or sssheshuals. Jesus doesn't give us a list of tasks we can put in our phones.

Instead, he calls his followers to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The timing concerning any ultimate physical expression of the reign of God on earth, he says, is for him to worry about and, in any event, he himself doesn't know! He had already told his disciples (maybe they forgot) that "about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:26).

Our concern is to live into the mission of the Church and the call of God today. It is not about getting ready for some later date. Our role is to be the people of God every day, and do what God wants us to do right now.

We aren't cramming for a final exam. We aren't trying to meet a deadline before the Supervisor in the Sky calls us in for our performance review. This is a here-and-now, everyday issue.

Jesus calls his followers, both those on the hill that day and those in our pews today, to live for him at home, work and school, in our traveling, while running errands and wherever else life takes us.

This includes our calendars and our schedules – and even sssheshuals. It's time to take our calendars and bless them, sprinkle them with holy water, say a prayer over them, but do something to sanctify our time and put it wholly in the service of God and for God's work.

This means, of course, penciling in time for worship, prayer, Bible study, performing random acts of charity, being faithful to your relationship responsibilities and being flexible enough to respond when God interrupts you, messes with your calendar and lifts you, like Philip in a whirlwind, to minister in some wholly unexpected way.

Thing is, when you sign up to follow Jesus, you're going to have a ton of scheduling problems. Get used to it. Get over it. It is part of the thrill and challenge that we call ... discipleship!
Let us pray.
We pray for the wisdom, the faith and the love of God to be witnesses in today’s unbelieving world to His Holy Word. We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for those in our church who have followed the invitation of Jesus to proclaim the good news to the world, that they may be true witnesses to His Truth, by word and example. We pray to the Lord.            
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
That in moments of doubt we may always remember that Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age. We pray to the Lord.
That as members of the Body of Christ we be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, being the presence of Christ in the world. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have looked on Jesus with faith, in this life, may now enjoy the glorious inheritance among the saints. We pray to the Lord.
That the Ascension may increase our awareness of the dignity of every human life, created to share life forever in the heights of heaven. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are in need of hope be inspired by the Ascension of our Lord and trust firmly that God offers them eternal happiness and the means to obtain it. We pray to the Lord.
That all mothers may experience the profound joy and gratitude of being vessels of life and of faith for their children. We pray to the Lord.
God of glory, as we commemorate this day when your Son Jesus was exalted in great triumph, hear our petitions and send us your Spirit of truth. Thanks to the Ascension of your Son, our human nature is now at home with you in heaven. And Father God, by no small significance, we also commemorate this day to all mothers; in your divine will, you made Our Lady Mary pure from the moment of conception so as she might be a model of all mothers. May her inspiration live on in all mothers this day. Fill us all with you spirit this day. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 29, 2018

April 29, 2018
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Acts 9:26 – 31; John 15:1 – 8)
Change is difficult. We all are resistant to change at times. Our branches need some pruning now and again.

It's a challenge in families, in businesses, in churches, in communities and in entire countries. Certainly, it was a challenge for those following Jesus and maybe it was for the eunuch in today’s Epistle reading also.

In fact, the only person who really likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. That's a welcome change.

Throughout history, people have been afraid of innovation. The list includes:

German writer Johann Georg Heinzmann, who warned people in 1795 about reading. He said that consuming words leads to a "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria and melancholy." Be careful about reading! Kind of an odd concern for a writer to have.
Then, in 1803, preacher Jedidiah Morse said, "Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit which is now stalking to and fro through the earth seeking whom he may destroy." Safe to say that he wasn't open to new forms of praise music in his Sunday services.

In 1906, composer John Philip Sousa lamented that phonographs were causing "deterioration in American music."

In 1926, the Knights of Columbus warned that the telephone would "break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends."

About the same time, a dean at Princeton observed that cars were becoming a threat to America's young people. "The general effect of the automobile," wrote Howard McClenahan, "was to make the present generation look lightly at the moral code." He worried that youths with cars would begin to drive all over the place on Sundays ... everywhere but church.

And finally, in year 2008, The Atlantic magazine asked the question, "Is Google making us stupid?"

The jury is still out on that one.

Resistance to change is a constant in human life, even around innovations that have proved to be beneficial: Reading, telegraphs, phonographs, telephones, cars and the Internet. Yes, there are problems associated with each, but, on the whole, they've been a huge help to people around the world.

In the eighth chapter of Acts, an angel of the Lord challenges a Christian named Philip to innovate. “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.” The angel is ordering Philip to leave the city of Jerusalem, and to go in a new direction off the beaten path.

As he begins his journey, Philip meets "an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,". This man has two strikes against him from a religious point of view: First, he is a foreigner, and admittance to the assembly of the Lord is generally reserved for the Israelite community. Second, he is a eunuch, and the Torah is explicit: "No one [who is an eunuch] shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:1 The actual text is a bit graphic for polite company, so I will let you read the actual words at your leisure, should you so desire).

But the Ethiopian eunuch believes in the God of Israel, and he has just made a long and difficult journey to worship in Jerusalem. He is now on his way home, and is reading Isaiah.

Why Isaiah? Maybe because Isaiah gives him some hope as a foreigner and a eunuch. In chapter 56, the prophet gives encouragement to "the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths" and "the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.”

At this point, the Holy Spirit gives Philip another innovative order. "Go and join up with that chariot," says the Spirit, even though the man is an Ethiopian and a eunuch. This is a change from what Philip has been doing in Jerusalem and in Samaria. But, whatever. Doesn't seem to bother Philip that God would take him from Jerusalem where he's having huge revival meetings, performing many miracles, bringing many to Christ, and send him out to a desert to talk to one man, a foreigner at that! No more Pentecostal services; there’s work to be done!

The Bible says, "He got up and set out".

Notice that the Angel of the Lord basically says, "Get up and go,” and Philip "got up and went." Simple. God says "Get up," we get up. God says "Go," we go.

Philip immediately runs up to the chariot and hears the man reading the prophet Isaiah. "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.”

Fortunately, Philip does not share the concern of Johann Georg Heinzmann, who saw reading as the cause of "nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria and melancholy."

He is not even worried about running alongside a chariot, a vehicle which might have earned the condemnation of the car-hating Princeton dean.

No, Philip is willing to innovate.

"Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch.

"How can I, unless someone instructs me?" the eunuch replies. And he invites Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Philip moves in a new direction by joining the Ethiopian eunuch and helping him to understand Scripture. That's what we are called to do - to take steps and help someone to understand. Call it the Ethiopian Innovation.

So what happens when we sit beside and guide? Sometimes we have to give straight answers to tough questions. The Ethiopian eunuch asks, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?”

Philip doesn't answer, "I think you need to undertake a careful examination of present-day studies in biblical history in order to assess their diverse orientations and different methodologies, while, at the same time, not neglecting the risk that the exclusive use of one methodology runs face to face with a comprehensive understanding of the biblical testimony and of the gift of God given in Christ."

No, Philip simply says that the prophet is talking about Jesus. He tells him that Jesus died on the cross like a sheep led to slaughter, to demonstrate just how far he will go to show his love for us. This sacrifice brings us forgiveness of sin and the restoration of a right relationship with God, whether we are American, Ethiopian, man, woman or eunuch. And then, to prove that death is not the end, God raised Jesus from the dead and raises us as well.

That's the Jesus story, as simple as can be. It's what the Ethiopian eunuch needed to hear, and what the outsiders of our society need to hear as well. It's a story we can tell if we are willing to sit beside and to guide.

Don't fall victim to the fears of preacher Jedidiah Morse, who said, "Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit." Maybe we should skip reading any bible verses online – it might be insidious.

There's nothing evil about the Ethiopian Innovation, because it brings people to Christ. That's often the result of giving a straight answer and telling people about Jesus. As Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch are going along the road, they come to some water, and the eunuch says, "What is to prevent my being baptized?"

Philip cannot think of a single thing to prevent it, so he joins the eunuch in the water and baptizes him. Then the Spirit of the Lord snatches Philip away, and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. The Ethiopian eunuch who had struggled as an outsider is now an insider - an insider in the community of Jesus Christ – and probably a shocked one at that, given Philip was “snatched” away.
When we "sit beside and guide," we give straight answers to tough questions. Change will sometimes come due to the answers to the tough questions. We mustn’t be afraid to be innovative and help others on their road to understanding Christ. Any innovation that helps someone to better understand or become closer to Christ, is always a good thing.
Let us pray.
For people throughout the world who are victims of religious extremism or who fear those who believe or practice differently. We pray to the Lord.
For pastors and teachers, catechist and theologians, mystics and prayer leaders, who are dedicated to enhancing our relationship to Christ, that they be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Lord.
For hearts and minds to be open to knowing Christ in this community; and for all among us who need the healing of this relationship, especially the sick, the dying and all who suffer. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church may continue to make Jesus known to the world through words of hope and works of love. We pray to the Lord.

That world leaders may cooperate with one another in an effort to seek peace and prosperity for all. We pray to the Lord.
That our love may express itself in concrete actions of visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, and protecting all life. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, Your Son taught us to ask for what we need.  Fill us with confidence in those moments when we too are called like Philip to proclaim Your Truth.  May Christ’s words always remain in us. We thank you, Father most holy, for the wonders of your generous care. Show again Your love for us as we call upon You.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018
First Sunday after Easter
(Low Sunday)
(Acts 4:32 – 35; John 20:19-31)
“Hey Dad, what if I jumped out of the car while it was moving? What would happen?”

“Hey Mom, what if I stuck my tongue in the socket?”

“What if I only drank root beer floats for meals?”

Sometimes we might think kids sometimes ask the most off the wall questions. But are they really that off the wall?

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? But that’s not a kid’s question, it’s an astronomy book.

University of Maine science professor Neil Comins stumbled onto a teaching device from considering, or perhaps enduring, his son’s numerous “what-if” questions. He was convinced that science educators were stuck in a rut: always looking at their world from the same tired perspectives. He began to ask how “what-if” questions could become the catalyst for scientific discovery in his classroom. The result was Solon, and a number of other speculative what-if worlds.

Solon is a planet exactly like Earth but without the moon. Solon would have smaller ocean tides since the moon accounts for most high and low tides. No more tide pools of starfish and sea anemone for curious children to gaze into on coastal vacations.

The moon also affects the speed at which Earth rotates, so Solon would be a planet of 8-hour days instead of 24-hour days. That means we would all be three times as old and sleep one-third as many hours each night. The upside is that a workday would be from One to Four instead of Nine to Five.

Solon would be a world of regular 100 mph winds and horrifically more destructive tornadoes and hurricanes. We could forget about living or playing in any outdoor environments and we’d be reduced to pre-historic cave-dwelling for survival.

But truth be told according to Comins’ moonless model, Solon would not be a planet that could support any complex life forms. So overall, the moon seems to be working well for us and perhaps God was onto something when he spoke its existence into the Genesis void.

But beyond scientific education, “what- if” speculation is also the driving force of pop-culture curiosity. What if Jesus actually fathered a child? (Da Vinci Code) What if aliens invade Earth (E.T., Alien, War of the Worlds).
Consider the “what ifs” that make up our escapist adult thought patterns. What if I married the wrong person? What if I never went back to that horrible job? What if I never became a parent to these children? What if I hit the lottery?

In fact, one of the only places that “what if” isn’t a normal part of processing and engagement is the church: “What if God didn’t exist?” We shouldn’t ask that question here!

We’ve not always handled our outside inquisitors, our faith-teetering skeptics and our wearied doubters with gracious elegance and honest engagement.

So what if Jesus stayed in the ground after Easter?

That wasn’t just a “what if” for the disciples. That was their soul-shattered reality. Jesus was indeed God in the flesh raised from the dead, but for the first three days after the tomb they had no way of knowing. They found themselves suddenly living in a moonless Earth, of sorts.

We have to stop and put ourselves into their experience. These were confused faith-misfits who appeared to be totally wrong about the King of the new kingdom. Their rabbi was dead, and now they feared what could happen to them. They gave up careers and family to follow Him. Imagine all the haunting “what-if” questions they thought of, based on what they had seen and heard for the last three years.

To summarize their world in one word, it would be “doubt.” So how does God engage his skeptics or those whose faith is lacking?

Jesus meets with them behind closed doors. But in that room, what did the 10 disciples experience? Their world-ending fear was turned back into the joy they had hoped in. Their secluded gathering is turned into a powerful commissioning. Their despair was turned into the tangible presence of the eternal Lord and the empowering Holy Spirit.

In short, they had a religious experience.

But only 10 of them had that experience. One of the 12 may have never believed in the Christ and killed himself. Another of the 12, Thomas, was still an outsider to the Christ the 10 had experienced. He was still locked in the tomb of doubts. He was dwelling in his pre-historic cave.

What was the experience of Thomas? Was he so distraught that he just needed to be alone? Was he bitter and hardened because all he had learned of Jesus seemed a lie? Was he confused because he had to redefine all the supernatural as merely psychological phenomena? The text doesn’t tell us, but this is what our Thomases today tell us.

Their prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling. They don’t know how to relate to an invisible God. Life is hard so God hardly seems loving. They are beset with disbelief as they watch hypocritical church leaders ensconced in scandal. Pain is a problem, dinosaurs have evolved, and the supernatural is unnatural.

So when the 10 report on what they had just experienced, Thomas felt skepticism and doubt — Thomas had not had the same religious experiences that the other 10 did. Their experience seemed foreign. Well-intentioned but not well evidenced.

Thomas is tactile and needed tangible proof, and he’s merely expressing sentiments that countless pilgrims after him will echo. Jesus appeared to Paul, why doesn’t he appear to me? God spoke audibly to Moses, so why don’t I get a burning bush? God gave Gideon a wet fleece, so why won’t he tell me his will for my life?

We read that when Jesus did return to visit the disciples it was a week later. What was that week like for Thomas? Again, we can only conjecture, but maybe he was feeling the same things many who doubt in our churches feel — alienation from friends, not just alienation from what they believed. Those in doubt need community, but tend to avoid it. It’s like people who get laid off and no longer easily pal around at happy hour with those still gainfully employed by the company. It’s like alcoholics who, rightly, cut distance from the old party crowd. After all, their community holds dearly to things they are questioning and wrestling with.

As Jesus returns to engage his last doubting disciple, he appears as dramatically as he did when he met with the 10. He offers the same ironic words “Peace be with you” to Thomas who is miles away from peace at that point. And further understanding what Thomas needs, while Thomas stands there thinking this is some kind of cruel joke, He provides tactile evidence of himself as living and risen.

As we encounter those who doubt, we remember that God knows their needs more than we do. Maybe He is testing and strengthening them through their exploration. Maybe they need to lay down their idol god or their ideal god in favor of the Real God. In any case, God knows best what they need and God is working their doubt, like all things, for their good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, there is no better way to partner with people in their doubt than to pray that in His kindness God would address their deepest needs and make known the ways He is shaping them through their questioning.

But go back and notice what Jesus doesn’t do in the face of one doubting him. Punish. Ignore. Shame. Patronize. Marginalize. He doesn’t do any of that and never will.

Unfortunately, we Christians often eat our own when it comes to doubts. When people question God, we act more like Job’s friends than Jesus’ friends. We tend to toss our apologetics or trite “let go and let God” fideisms at people. We celebrate those who are “put together” and don’t question God instead of those who are honestly engaging him. We accidentally create sterile operating rooms of faith where questions are disease that must be avoided like contamination.

But God reaches out to those of questioning faith.

Remember the storm story in Matthew’s gospel? (8:23-27). A storm comes up quickly on the lake, and the little boat in which the disciples and Jesus are sailing suddenly is swamped by a mini-tsunami. Jesus is sleeping; the disciples are not. So they awaken Jesus, and Jesus says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

You wish Jesus hadn’t said that. That he could’ve been more gracious, that he didn’t have to be tough as well as tender. No one likes to get rousted out of a nice nap. Maybe he got up on the wrong side of the boat or something.

But he said it. However, notice what Jesus didn’t say.

He didn’t say, “Hey, you people of little faith, come back to me sometime when your faith is strong, when you really believe, and then I might try to help you out.” Then, Jesus grabs his pillow and pounds it into a good sleeping shape, and goes back to his nap.

He didn’t say that.

Instead, after reminding them that they had room to grow in their faith journey, he immediately came to their rescue. He “rebuked the winds.”

Jesus rebukes the winds, we don’t. We can’t make having faith a good work. Thomas doesn’t “achieve” a coming to faith. Faith is something the risen Christ brings to Thomas.

Jesus gave Thomas the help he needed even when he was in a “what-if?” mode. Even though Thomas was wondering “What if Jesus is still in the tomb?” Jesus still was willing to meet him in the vortex where faith and doubt intersect.

Today many stand in the legacy of Thomas, who in the words of fellow doubter Philip Yancey, are reaching for the Invisible God: “How do you sustain a relationship with God, a being so different from any other, imperceptible by the five senses?”

But as was the case with Thomas, when the Way, the Truth and the Life engages the doubter, Christian reality prevails. “My Lord and my God” he cried.

Can we embrace, dignify, and journey with those inside and outside of the church who have doubts of the risen Christ? If so we will strengthen the blessed that Jesus spoke of: “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Let us pray.
That all persons who are plagued with doubt or weak faith, that they will seek out the Lord God and ask that He show Himself to them in a way that will erase their doubt in the same way as it did with St. Thomas. We pray to the Lord.
That, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, also known as Low Sunday, the Church will rededicate herself to living and proclaiming Christ’s mercy in all things and all lives. We pray to the Lord.
That leaders of governments will work to ensure that all people can live in full and unrestricted freedom. We pray to the Lord.
That the life of every human person, from conception to natural death, will be enshrined and protected in our laws. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to face the trials and difficulties of life with the confidence and certainty that come from the Resurrection. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples of the world, and especially our government leaders, will work toward more peace and an end to violence and bloodshed. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the Resurrection of Your Son gives us a new birth to a living hope. In our times of doubt, confusion, or ignorance, may we seek to be filled with the truth and the light of the Risen Christ; never being afraid to approach You in prayer and to invoke Your name during these types of difficult times. We ask that this Easter season be filled with joy and in that joy that each and every one will come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior and experience His nondiscriminatory mercy. We ask all these things Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday
(Colossians 3:1-11; John 20:1- 9)
Today’s Gospel reading speaks of Mary Magdalene arriving alone at the tomb of Jesus, yet the other Gospels speak of additional women arriving at the scene. Mary Magdalene appears in all four, the others seem to appear in the other three in some form. Is it safe to say that a few actually showed up, or is John’s Gospel an April Fools’ joke? No, merely a writer’s perspective. Two were actual Apostles, and two were writing what they learned second hand from Peter and Paul.
Today is April Fools' Day. It is also Easter Sunday. This unusual conjunction of dates cannot go without comment.

It is unusual. Since 1700, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times! The last time Christians celebrated Easter April 1 was in 1956 -- more than 60 years ago when the world was so unlike the world and culture we inhabit today.

Although Easter falls on April Fools' Day again in 2029 and 2040, it will then not be observed April 1 for another 68 years -- 2108. And then another wait of 62 years ... 2170. I don’t think I will be around to see it in another 68 years, but who knows; it is April Fools day.

Some call it a holiday, although there is nowhere in the world the day is observed officially. You don't get to stay home and hide in the basement for a day, or take a picnic in the park. But in the western world, some version of April Fools' Day exists and merriment ensues.

Typically, a prank is played on a hapless soul who's forgotten about the perils of April 1. When the prank is completed and the “fool” humiliated, the perpetrator then yells "April fool!" As an example, there's the caramelized onion prank. Dip apple-sized onions in caramel, poke a stick in them, and serve them to office workers (or a boss!) who think they're biting into an apple.

Or, cut an outline of a large bug, something that might be an inch or two long, and affix it to the inside of your spouse's lampshade. When the lamp is turned on, the silhouette of the bug appears suddenly, freaking out your victim.

The BBC once broadcast a short documentary in a current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC was later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day. April fools!

Today is Easter. This is one of the highest and most holy days of the Christian calendar. As holy days go, it doesn't get holier than this. And since it is April 1, we have to ask: "Who, after all, is the April fool?"

A whole slew of candidates come to mind. I suppose the women who went to the tomb and found it empty on this day two millennia ago might fear an April Fools’ joke on them, had the day been designated as it is now. They run to the tomb, wondering who will move the stone away, and arrive to find it already moved.
Jesus was truly dead, and the tomb and stone are reminders of such. He didn’t merely pass out on the cross to play an April Fools’ joke on us all three days later. Or did he?

What about Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator? Was this an April Fools’ joke on him? He was the one who cowered in the face of certain religious potentates who said that failing to deal harshly with a treasonous villain like Jesus would not be viewed favorably by Rome. He is the one who washed his hands of the whole affair. He permitted the execution, and not only permitted it, but allowed it to happen in the name of the emperor.

Then, it's Easter and Jesus is risen! Sorry, Pilate! April fools!

Maybe the Apostles are the April fools. There's no doubt that many of the Apostles felt foolish as the crucifixion approached. They had given up their jobs for this Jesus. They had left their homes and families to follow this man on his peripatetic journeys up and down Palestine. Yes, they had been witness to some phenomenal events, stuff they could not then, and could not now explain. They had pinned their hopes and their futures to a man they believed would liberate them. And now he was being led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

So the disciples went home. They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him. And now it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! Guess it is April fools on them also!

How about Annas, the high priest, and his toady son-in-law, Caiaphas – was it April Fools on them? Annas is a dark, malevolent figure in this Holy Week drama, something akin to Grand Moff Tarkin or Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. He has had enough. He has corrupted witnesses, falsified evidence, placed a mole inside of Jesus' inner circle, tracked the movements of this radical insurgent and bided his time. But now, with Passover approaching, he must make sure Jesus is dead and buried and quickly! He pulls the strings. He plays Pontius Pilate like a West Virginia fiddler. He gets what he wants.

But now, Annas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess it is April fools for you also!

Maybe the April fools are the soldiers guarding the tomb. You have to feel for these fellows. They're simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex. They've got guard duty in a cemetery. They must've been caught drinking grog and playing dice, or maybe they inadvertently allowed a prisoner to escape their custody. So now, as humiliating punishment, they've been sent to the tombs to guard dead people! Haha! They are good, decent chaps. Ordinary, common, following orders. Guarding a dead person. Bet the teasing was brutal in the pub last night!

And now, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess you didn’t see or hear the young men dressed in white come to free your dead prisoner, so it is April Fools for you also!

Or, the April fool is Peter, the commercial fisherman. Oh, Peter started out enthusiastically, no doubt. He defended his rabbi right and left. He was the one who identified Jesus as the "Christ, the Son of the living God." He swore never to abandon his Lord. He even drew a sword against a cohort of Roman security forces, and nearly decapitated one of them, but his swing was errant and deprived the solider of only his ear, not his head.

But then, Peter loses faith faster than a rock sinks in water. When Jesus at last is captured and led away, he denies he ever knew the man. And the person who said he would never leave Jesus, leaves. What a fool!

And now, Peter, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

Is Thomas the April fool, the one with a Ph.D. from Jerusalem Institute of Technology? Oh, Thomas thought he was so smart. He prided himself on his knowledge of the visible world. He delighted in understanding how things worked. He was a curious fellow, believing there's a natural explanation for everything. When Jesus talked about going "to prepare a place" for them, it was this scholarly fellow Thomas who asked, "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (John 14:5). When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, ever the academic and scientist, who demanded to see the evidence. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

And now, Thomas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! So, April fools on you too!

However, we must be honest, the greatest of fools are all of us. Certainly, much of the world believes we're crackers, completely foolish souls who need Jesus and religion as some sort of emotional crutch. It's likely that a fair percentage of the general population, who -- although identifying themselves as religious -- think that we committed followers of Jesus take things too seriously. We who love Jesus, who follow his teachings, who obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools. The April fools.

But maybe there's another sense in which we're the Easter fools. We're fools when we claim to believe, but behave as though we don't. We affirm a belief in the resurrection of Christ. We declare that "He is risen!" But we live as though Jesus were still in the tomb, cold and decaying. We affirm our belief with our lips but do not confess Jesus as Lord with our lives.

So why bother? We are indeed fools. And now, friends, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

However, the biggest April fool is not Pontius Pilate, not the disciples, not Annas the high priest, not Peter, not Thomas and not you or any of us. Why? The greatest April fool is Jesus Christ himself. He is the Fool of Easter. He is the Trickster as it were. He is the one who called the devil's bluff in the greatest jest of all time.

Even during his ministry, he acted in foolish ways, according to most contemporary observers. He eschewed a comfortable lifestyle. For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor, the needy and he even spoke to a woman at the well who had more husbands than Elizabeth Taylor. There was not a CEO among his inner circle. He shunted aside angel investors, and instead told them to give away their wealth and follow him. He knew that there is power in being a somebody, but there is truth in being a nobody. He opted for the truth because he knew that power emerges from truth. He chose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of aggressiveness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of influence. He stuck his fingers in the eyes of religious authorities and often seemed to deliberately bait those who had the power to kill him.

And then they did. But death could not hold him. The grave could not contain him.

On Easter Fools' Day, "God made foolish the wisdom of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus was God's Fool, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," whereby God reconciled the world to himself (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

Today, Jesus is alive! -- he who "for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It was Jesus who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

Pretty foolish, it would seem. But this is not the end of the story.

"Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
Death had no hold on the author of life. The tombstone could not seal God’s Son. Like the women finding the empty tomb, we are amazed and yet we should not be. After all, Jesus on more than one occasion predicted this would happen, and yet the Apostles were still astonished.

On this Easter Fools' Sunday, maybe this is what we have an opportunity to do: As fools for Christ, as God's fools, we might consider in humble reverence reaffirming our allegiance to the one who pulled off the greatest jest in history. Maybe we might reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord. We need to expect that God will do exactly as he said he would. That’s Easter.

Quite simple, actually.

Just a quiet reaffirmation that goes like this: "Lord Jesus, many people might not think it's the smartest thing in the world to follow you. In fact, they may think I'm crazy, and that you yourself were something of a lunatic. But I have just enough foolish faith to believe that you pulled it off, that you conquered death and brought life and light to the darkened world. So I recommit my life to you -- to be your fool, as it were, to live for you, and to seek support in that company of fools we call the church. Amen."
Let us pray.
That the Church may manifest in concrete ways the truth of Christ’s triumph over death. We pray to the Lord.
That oppression, prejudice, slavery, hatred, and injustice of every sort may be put to death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That Christ risen from the dead will bless our country and free us from fear and falsehood. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to be faithful in living our Catholic faith, especially through fidelity to Sunday Mass and the sacraments. We pray to the Lord.
That the event of Easter will deeply change our lives, renewing our families and blessing us with the new beginning we need. We pray to the Lord.
As always, we pray for those members of our parish who are ill, and our family members and friends who are ill, that the Lord will bless them with peace and heal their infirmities. We pray to the Lord.
That violence as a means to the end, will be eradicated from human nature. We pray to the Lord.
Eternal God, through Your awesome life-giving power, You gave Your Son the victory over sin and death. In our celebration this Easter season, may Your Holy Spirit be with us so that we can better appreciate the wonder what You have done for us. You have given us new life in baptism; may our hearts except all the faith, hope and love You long to give Your children. Deepen our bonds with one another and with You as we sing in joyful praise and thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday
(Philippians 2:6-1; Mark 14:1—15:47)
Palm Sunday. An interesting name the Church has given to this passage of Jesus’ life. As soon as the Church obtained her freedom in the fourth century, the faithful in Jerusalem re-enacted the solemn entry of Christ into their city on the Sunday before Easter, holding a procession in which they carried branches and sang the “Hosanna” (Matthew 21, 1-11).
In the early Latin Church, people attending Mass on this Sunday would hold aloft twigs of olives, which were not, however, blessed in those days – a custom/rite that came a couple centuries later. The faithful would continue to hold the palms during the reading of the Passion. In this way, they would recall that many of the same people who greeted Christ with shouts of joy on Palm Sunday would later call for his death on Good Friday-a powerful reminder of our own weakness and the sinfulness that causes us to reject Christ.
The Palm Sunday procession, and the blessing of palms, seems to have originated in the Frankish Kingdom. The earliest mention of these ceremonies is found in the Sacramentary of the Abbey of Bobbio in northern Italy (sometime at the beginning of the eighth century). The rite was soon accepted in Rome and incorporated into the liturgy. A Mass was celebrated in some church outside the walls of Rome, and there the palms were blessed. The prayers used today are of Roman origin and has spread to the many Catholic branches in the centuries since.

Palm Sunday is meant to be one of the most joyful days of the Christian year. It's a day that involves a king and a colt, plus crowds and cloaks. However, as we know, it has a tendency to be “clouded” by that which takes place on Good Friday.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem as a king. He's riding on a colt. And crowds are laying their cloaks on the ground before him as he rides. They cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9). The people are tired of corrupt King Herod. They want Jesus to be their ruler. Little did they know, that he was not to be the political king they may have been praying for or understanding from the Scriptures.

However, all of this story we know well, and it's easy for us to grasp the meaning of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt while crowds praise him and roll out the red carpet by spreading their cloaks on the road.

The crowds go wild, and so do we. We wave our palm branches. We want Jesus to be our king and to rule our world with love and justice. Everyone is shouting, jumping and jostling to get a better view. The king, the son of David, is coming!

But the Palm Sunday story is not just about a king and a colt, or a crowd and their cloaks. It's also about kenosis. It's a Greek word to describe (in Christian theology) the renunciation of the divine nature, at least in part, by Christ in the Incarnation. It comes to us in Paul's letter to the Philippians, and it's much harder to understand than the meaning of the words king, colt, crowd and cloak.

Kenosis, although a difficult and captivating word of the Christian faith, it is very important to the Christian faith.

Kenosis means "emptiness," but has deeper significance in that it communicates the self-emptying that Christ voluntarily offered on the cross.

Kenosis raises a number of important questions for us as we enter Holy Week. What was accomplished by kenosis? How did this self-emptying result in fullness? And how can we empty ourselves so that God will fill us?

For starters, what was accomplished by kenosis? Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.
The Kenosis theory states that Jesus gave up some of His divine attributes while He was a man here on earth. These attributes were omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Christ did this voluntarily so that He could function as a man in order to fulfill the work of redemption. Take Mark 13:32 for example. In it, Jesus said, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." If Jesus knew all things, as is implied in his divine nature, then why did he not know the day or hour of his own return. The answer is that Jesus cooperated with the limitations of humanity and voluntarily did not exercise his attribute of omniscience. He still was divine but was moving and living completely as a man.

Instead, Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.” This is where we run into kenosis in the original Greek, where its meaning is "emptied out." Christ Jesus "emptied himself," taking the form of a slave so that he looked for all the world like an ordinary, very common, nondescript, perhaps even marginalized human being!

What is accomplished by this? Our reading tells us that God "highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Palm Sunday would be easy to understand if it contained only the familiar: kings, colts, crowds and cloaks. In this version of the story, King Jesus would ride into town and confront King Herod, and the one with the biggest crowd would win. But kenosis turns our expectations upside down. Precisely because Jesus emptied, humbled, lowered and abased himself, God exalted him and made him the king of all creation.

The accomplishment of kenosis is fullness, glory and power. This is the opposite of what you would expect from one’s God-- emptiness, embarrassment and powerlessness.

Next, exactly how does this self-emptying result in fullness? For Jesus, kenosis leads to glory and power because it's based on humility and obedience. We turn to the Good News interpretation of the Bible to see it in a slightly different manner, and it says: “The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:  He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness.  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.  And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He had the nature of God, but chose to accept the form of a servant. That's humility. That is the example he wants to see us emulate.
This is one of those paradox’s of Christianity – Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and thus he is God, but he lives within his divinity and humanity. Both fully divine and fully human. Just as he relinquishes some of his divine nature while on earth, he also relinquishes the sinful nature of humanity. All meant as an example for us to follow.

It's a counterintuitive attitude. In Lewis Carroll's famous book, Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through the mirror in the living room to find a world on the opposite side where everything is backwards: Alice wants to go forward, but every time she moves, she ends up back where she started. She tries to go left and ends up right. Up is down and fast is slow.

Similarly, Christianity is a kind of looking glass world where everything works on principles opposite to those of the world around us. To be blessed, be a blessing to others.

+ To receive love, give love.

+ To be honored, first be humble.

+ To truly live, die to yourself.

+ To gain the unseen, let go of the seen.

+ To receive, first give.

+ To save your life, lose it.

+ To lead, be a servant.

+ To be first, be last.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains that the way up is down. Down is up, up is down. The way to be great is to go lower. The way up is down. The logical flow of Philippians has been building up to this great truth."

An example might be a modern hero like Captain "Sully" Sullenberger who was at the throttle of Flight 1549 when he had to land his jetliner in the Hudson River, saving more than 150 passengers in the process. In the aftermath of that experience, Captain Sully exemplified humility as few could. According to one account, "In an interview after the crash, he was modest about his acts of courage, attributing his poise to his training over the years. 'One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years,' he said, 'I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.'" The event became known as "The Miracle on the Hudson," and was made into a 2016 movie starring Tom Hanks.

Or, you might point to heroes of the past, such as astronaut Neil Armstrong, a political leader like Nelson Mandela, equal rights preacher Martin Luther King Jr., a religious leader like Gandhi or a humanitarian figure like Mother Teresa and many others. Surely there are athletic heroes too that might come to mind, or some heroes in our own community.

Glory and recognition came to all of these people, although none of them sought it, nor did they think it important. But the glory came in a counterintuitive way.

The self-emptying of Jesus was based on both humility and obedience. Paul tells us that "he was in the form of God, [but] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Instead of remaining in the safety and security of his divine existence, Jesus entered human life as a fetus, a baby, a child and eventually a man. "If you want to get the hang of it," suggests C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, "think of how you would like to become a slug or a crab."

But Jesus said "Yes" to emptying himself and entering human life, and he did this out of obedience to God. Paul tells us that "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.” Because of this choice, God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, making him Lord of heaven and earth.

For Jesus, kenosis led to kingship. Because he emptied himself by being humble and obedient, God filled him with glory and power.

Finally, how can we empty ourselves so that God will fill us? Most of us are not going to be asked to follow Jesus to the point of death on a cross. But we are certainly challenged to show humility and obedience as we walk the path of Christ in the world.

We might try to develop a welcoming attitude toward others. Martin Hengel was a great New Testament historian who taught at the University of Tübingen in Germany. In that country, professors are highly esteemed and put on a pedestal. But Pastor John Dickson remembers how Professor Hengel would have his students come to his home on Friday evenings for meals and discussions. "He wasn't influential just because he was a brilliant scholar," says Dickson. "It was the fact that he let people come very close, that he shared his life with them -- that humility is what made his influence lasting."

We can show the same kind of humility, whether we are influencing students, coaching a team or leading a group of workers. People are grateful when we take them seriously and welcome them into our lives.

We might try to be the servant of others. Our practice of kenosis also includes obedience to Jesus Christ, who said to his followers, "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant" (Matthew 20:26). He wants us to empty ourselves, as he did, and act as slaves to each other, just as he "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

We might try to be generous with material things.

We might try thinking the best of others, forgiving them when they don't know what they're doing.

We might try praying for our "enemies," and those who "persecute" us.

We might try being a peacemaker.

We might try denying ourselves and carrying a cross for a while.

You want to know how to experience a self-emptying? An emptying of self? That's how! Think about it – some of those things are hard to do.

The good news is that this emptying does not lead to embarrassment and powerlessness. Instead, it leads to great fullness. Jesus says that "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

Palm Sunday has always been a predictable story of kings, colts, crowds and cloaks. But the addition of the Greek word kenosis turns our expectations upside down. This self-emptying of Jesus, grounded in humility and obedience, is the unexpected key to his heavenly fullness.

And our fullness as well.
Let us pray.
That the suffering and death of Jesus Christ will strengthen the Church in holiness and give her new growth. We pray to the Lord.
That civil authorities will use their power to protect the poor, oppose injustice, preserve freedom, and promote lasting peace. We pray to the Lord.
That Christians everywhere will live this Holy Week with special reverence, self-giving, and devotion. We pray to the Lord.
That God will shelter all persecuted Christians and make their witness effective for the redemption of all. We pray to the Lord.
That our Lenten discipline will continue to transfigure the way we live so as to bring forth even deeper conformity to Christ, and to follow His example of kenosis. We pray to the Lord.
That all the peoples of the world will begin to see each other as brothers and sisters, not as people of different race, religion, or class. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick this week, that even in their infirmity, they may find the peace of Christ during this most Holy Week. We pray to the Lord.
Merciful Father, by the holy cross of Christ, Your Son has redeemed the world. Help us to take up His cross and to be united to Jesus in His passion, to be united in Jesus in our emptying of ourselves so that You may fill us. May we be united with our Lady Mary who saw firsthand her Son, our Lord, empty Himself that we might have life everlasting. We ask all these things, Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18, 2018
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
(Formerly known as: Passion Sunday)
(Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)
Some famous people have made famous exits. Elvis left the building. Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on Earth and quit baseball. Jesus had more than one exit. He died, rose again and then ascended to heaven.

What is the best exit and/or exit line of all time?

To draw on recent history (and by recent, I mean the last 50 to 75 years), you'd have might mention Richard M. Nixon's exit address. On November 7, 1962, Richard M. Nixon conceded defeat to the successful candidate for the California governorship, Pat Brown. Addressing a crowd of reporters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Nixon gave vent to the bitterness of that campaign. He castigated the media, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." (Seems US Presidents and media have animosity going back further than the current administration I’d say!)

Although Nixon -- and much of America -- thought it was his last exit line, it was not. In a remarkable comeback, Nixon returned to politics and in 1968 was elected president.

On August 8, 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, then-President Nixon resigned from that office. The final words of his speech on that occasion were: "To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead." Unlike Nixon's 1962 exit line, that one stuck, and it was certainly more positive than his previous exit lines.

Or, think of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's retirement from public life with his observation to Congress that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." That one seems to have been remembered a bit more.

Then there's baseball player Lou Gehrig's farewell speech. On July 4, 1939, Gehrig stood in front of the podium, speaking to the Yankee faithful, proclaiming despite his recent health issues that he considered himself to be "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." That was the last day Gehrig would ever wear a baseball uniform again as what is known today as Lou Gehrig's disease claimed his life two years later.

Finally, let's mention Randy Pausch, professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. Pausch did not know he had pancreatic cancer until September 2006 and less than two years later he was passed on.
About a year before he died, he delivered an upbeat lecture called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. It became a popular YouTube video, and later a best-selling book, The Last Lecture. Among the many lines that emerged from this lecture is Pausch's comment that if he only had three words of advice, "I'd say, 'Tell the truth.' If I had three more words, I'd add 'All the time.'"

His last lecture was an amazing exit and an equally inspiring exit "line" or lines. It is a touching nook that I highly recommend. I have the book here with me today in case anyone might want to glance at it.

In the religious category, one source says that three leaders are tied for the best exit of all time: Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha. You have to give them credit for the religions they founded, especially since more than 4 billion people combined now count themselves as followers.

It's hard to argue that Jesus' exit wasn't the most dramatic. And you might say that he had more than one. Jesus made a habit of leaving during his short ministry of three years. He makes an astonishing appearance at the Jordan River where his cousin John is baptizing people. After John baptizes Jesus, he disappears for 40 days into the wilderness.

He often made a quick exit from crowds to get away on a retreat.

He left the Last Supper to go to Gethsemane to pray.

And then the big exit. He died. On a cross. A few sympathizers got his body and put it in a tomb. He was dead and entombed. A final exit?

Noooooo, he reappears and spends some time with his disciples and then exits again. See Acts 1. Into the clouds. Poof. Gone. And the Bible says he now sits at the right hand of the Father.

As for exit lines, Jesus had a few of those, too. Of course, you might refer to the so-named "seven last words" of Christ on the cross, though they were more light seven last statements, but let’s not quibble.

You might refer to his post-resurrection exit line recorded as the last words of Matthew's gospel, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

So Jesus not only had a fabulous exit or exits, he had a few good lines, too.

One of these lines, spoken only days before his death, is in today's text. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

Soon after Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover festival, some Greeks approach the disciple Philip and say to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip relays their words to Andrew, and then the two of them take the request to Jesus. He tells them -- in so many words -- that he will die soon, and then he compares himself to a seed. "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

These Greeks have grown up with Aesop's fables, so they know the power of a simple story to teach a moral lesson. But in case they do not get his point, Jesus goes on to say, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

In other words, although death is very close for Jesus, he tells the disciples that his own literal death is a metaphor for understanding how his followers must live every day: they must live by dying. When they do, like a seed in the ground, they will grow and bear fruit.

You can certainly understand the confusion of the Greeks. They know that the dead tend to stay dead. But Jesus is telling them that fruitfulness comes from going into the ground, and a loss of life leads to eternal life. And then he drops this exit line: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” When he is lifted up on the cross, he will not repel people. Instead, he will draw people. Fruitfulness and eternal life. Both are connected to the power of the cross, a cross that Jesus elsewhere says we must embrace as an instrument of our own metaphorical death. And when we do, we will bear fruit and live.

So the cross, in a sense, is not an exit but an entrance -- an entrance to a new level or plane of living.

For some, however, the cross is both metaphorical and literal.

For an example, we need only turn to events that happened 50 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On the night before his death, he gave a speech in which he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life -- longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land."

This was King's "mountaintop" speech, and it contained some powerful truths about his life and about the Civil Rights movement. He was right to say that "longevity has its place," and it would have been marvelous if he had been able to live out his life and die peacefully. But at the same time, he delivered a vision of the Promised Land that continues to inspire people today.

We are still on the path to that Promised Land, as we work for racial reconciliation and try to fight racism wherever we see it, in ourselves and in our communities. King's death did not kill his efforts for justice, but instead it gave life to a movement that is bigger now than it has ever been.

"I've seen the Promised Land," said King. "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land." He was right. He went into the earth like a grain of wheat, and his efforts have borne much fruit, even though hatred seems to still be very much alive, ever so unfortunately.

And how about eternal life? Jesus says that "those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those who love life are those who are attached to the things of this world, and who want to become rich and famous and powerful. Jesus knows that you cannot take material goods and worldly achievements into the grave, so in the end these kinds of lives are lost. As the country song says, "I ain't never seen a hearse with a luggage rack."

Here's another example: This time it's an example of a metaphorical death, not a literal one. In this death, a baseball player "dies" to the temptation to put the god of money and financial reward ahead of his core values.

A couple of years ago, baseball player Adam LaRoche walked away from a $13 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. He did this because he wanted his son to spend a lot of time with him and the team, and the team's management did not agree. He announced his retirement on Twitter, thanking God for the game of baseball and ending with the hashtag “Family First.”

Fellow players responded by commending LaRoche for "standing up for his beliefs." One said, "Nothing like father and son in the clubhouse. It's a family game."

LaRoche is a Christian who once asked himself the question: "What do you want written on your tombstone? Do you want 'Adam LaRoche: Gold Glove, batting average, hit so many homers, and has a million dollars in his bank account,' or do you want 'Adam LaRoche: Man of God, integrity, raised a great family, loving.' Let's be honest: I don't know anybody who wants their [job] stats."

LaRoche is living -- by dying. He "puts to death" his natural desire for fame and money. What he gets is richly rewarding: fruitfulness and a life of meaning and significance.

You might say that it was easy for him to do this because perhaps he already had earned millions and stashed it away. Maybe. But how much money you have doesn't deliver you from the demon of greed and avarice. Sadly, some of us have had to learn that in hard ways.

Fruitfulness and eternal life are both found in the cross, the daily cross we bear. The Greeks who came to see Jesus were probably mystified by his exit line: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” They saw the cross as a scandalous death and a humiliating defeat. As the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).

We Christians proclaim Christ crucified because we know that the cross is the clearest sign of just how far Jesus will go to show us the love of God. Jesus died so that we could receive forgiveness and new life. He gave himself for us to demonstrate the value of a life of self-denial. Such a life is powerfully attractive, and people continue to be drawn by the power of the cross.
I want to end this with a true story.
“One day a Nazi called on a Jewish man, who along with his wife had become Christians. The man asks the Nazi, ‘How many Jews have you killed this week?’ The Nazi answered, ‘Oh about 25,000.’ The man continued and asked, ‘In this particular village, how many did you kill?’ The Nazi answered, ‘Oh, I killed everyone in that town.’ The man asked another question, ‘do you ever ask God for forgiveness?’ And the Nazi responds, ‘God doesn’t exist! There is any such thing as forgiveness!’The man continues and says, ‘Alright, my wife is upstairs asleep. She has not heard this conversation. And I’m going to ask her to come down.’ When the wife appeared before them, the husband said to his wife, ‘Levena, this is the man who killed your father, your mother, your three brothers, and your two sisters.’ The wife looked at the Nazi for a moment, and then threw her arms around him, kissed him, and said, ‘As God forgives you, I forgive you!’”

Let's follow where the Cross leads us, toward fruitful service and eternal life. Let us each find our cross and deny some natural desire in our lives and live for what we can take with us when we too make our exit. Let us follow Christ by offering forgiveness not only to those who may have hurts, by especially to ourselves. Let us walk with our cross with open abandonment and patience, because when we exit, we too will have an exit line. We know not when the Lord will take us, but we must always be ready. And with that, let me leave one last thing for you to ponder.
A man approaches the gates of heaven and asks to be allowed to enter. “Tell me one good thing you did in your life,” asks St. Peter. “Well,” says the man, “I saw a group of punks harassing an elderly lady, so I ran up and kicked their leader in the shins.” St. Peter’s impressed. “When did this happen?” “About 40 seconds ago.”
Let us pray.
That those in civil governance will dedicate themselves to justice, peace, authentic freedom, and the generous defense of the poor. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will grow in holiness so that we will always love one another with perfect charity. We pray to the Lord.
That God will cleanse the world of all errors, banish disease, comfort those who mourn, grant safety to travelers, love for those who differ from us, health to the sick, and salvation to the dying. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be ambassadors of Christ in the world. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week as we follow Lent toward Holy Week that begins this coming Sunday known as Palm Sunday, to live in greater faithfulness and love for Christ our Lord. We pray to the Lord.
We especially pray for those of our parish and their personal needs that they may be granted assistance and hope. And for those in our parish who are suffering from illness that they may be granted healing. We pray to the Lord.
We continue to pray for an end to violence and that within this country that allows the bearing of arms, that those who do bear these arms may not use them against fellow human beings. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, forgive our evildoing and remember our sin no more. Let us always be prepared for our inevitable exit of this world, by being Your faithful children throughout our lives. Help us to prepare our hearts for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Your Son. Help us to find greater peace and tranquility with a humble heart, as we continue the final weeks of Lent in preparation for the great solemnity of Christ’s resurrection. We ask all this, Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 4, 2018
The Third Sunday in Lent
(1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25)
Today, we hear of Jesus’ chasing out the money changers vendors from the Temple. I want to twist this a little and place out reading as an inspiration for our inner temples. By encountering Christ, we too can chase out the troublesome areas out of ourselves and become more fully aware of Christ this Lent. I want to talk about five ways to encounter Christ. With hearts full of devotion, humility and love, these encounters, which are part of the teachings of the Church and supported by sacred Scripture, connect us logically as well as emotionally. As we continue our journey through Lent, sometimes it helps us to find new ways to encounter Christ during this time of preparation.
If you were brought up as an evangelical Christian you would constantly be made aware of the need to develop a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I think being a Catholic we too can come to be aware of the true potential of such an idea. It may not be a common theme, but it certainly is subtly taught in ongoing ways.
In the evangelical world, the “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” sometimes seems as transient as a butterfly. It is difficult to catch and keep alive. Usually, the personal encounter with Christ is expected to begin when a person “got saved” or “accepted Jesus into his heart as his personal Lord and Savior.”
While such personal experiences are valuable, they can be difficult to pin down. This is because the personal experience encouraged by evangelicals is subjective and very often highly emotional. A typical way that an evangelical might “get saved” is to hear the Gospel preached at church or at a “revival” or at a “crusade.” Having heard the Gospel and felt the need to accept Christ, the person walks down the aisle and prays with another Christian — repenting of sins and praying to “accept Jesus Christ.” They are then considered saved and a Christian. For Catholics, it is a bit more intellectual, mystical and involved.
The problem is that many of these events are highly managed. The preachers have a formula for inducing feelings of guilt and shame. More psychological than intellectual. These feelings are often combined with warnings about hell and the promise of heaven. Before the preaching, there is emotional hymn singing that helps the person suspend doubts and get into a “group mentality.” If you think my sermons are long, the sermons of evangelicals tend to be very long and meant to be very persuasive, and they are followed with more music designed to tug at a person’s emotions. It is very likely, therefore, that emotionally vulnerable people will indeed feel sorry for their sins and go forward to tearfully accept Jesus.
They are told that they are now “saved,” bound for heaven, and nothing they can do could ever destroy the decision they have made. But, is this sufficient for them to enter eternal life when they die?
No doubt such decisions are helpful and are often a good first step toward a Christian commitment. I have known many people who point to such experiences as the true moment of their conversions to Christ. Therefore, I would not want to discount such religious experiences. They are very real and meaningful, and surely the Holy Spirit is present at such moments.
However, it is necessary to be honestly critical. The emotional conversion experience might be genuine, but, then again, it might simply be an artificially manufactured emotional moment induced by a well-meaning preacher in the lives of emotionally vulnerable listeners. It might be a genuine conversion experience, or it might be no more than a momentary emotional rush. Catholics who are not properly formed may also have a religious experience that is just as transient.
This is why the Catholic Church teaches that there are five objective means through which we can have an encounter with Christ.
Various catechisms teach in some fashion that Christ Jesus, who died and who was raised from the dead and who is at the right hand of God, is the one who intercedes for us and is present in many ways to His Church; in His word; in His Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name”; in the poor, the sick and the imprisoned; in the person of the minister or priest; and in the Sacraments, of which He is the author, and in the sacrifice of the Mass. But, we believe that He is most especially present in the Holy Eucharist.
The Catholic encounter with Christ is, therefore, not a vague, personal, emotional experience. It is a concrete, real and objective experience. The experience is objective because it is rooted in the historical events of the Gospel and the sacred history of the Church and her Saints. It is an experience that can be guaranteed no matter what our emotions might tell us. Regardless of our emotional state before or after receiving the Blessed Eucharist, Christ is truly present in the Miracle of the changed host.
As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, we encounter Christ in the sacred Scriptures. Reading the Scripture lessons of the day before we go to Mass, studying the Bible and reading the Bible on our own will bring us face-to-face with Jesus. Before we read the lessons, we should ask the Holy Spirit to enable this encounter. Study what Lectio Divina means and develop a practice of this form Biblical reading and prayer.
We encounter Christ in the assembly of the faithful. “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus says, “there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). The Church is not only where we meet our Catholic friends and family. It is where we meet Christ the Lord.
The Church as the Body of Christ and the Body of Believers is a historical and current reality. It is not something we made up or something we wish existed. Whether we feel emotional about it or not, Christ is present there to meet us. The fact that the Church is often frail, wounded and flawed in her humanity is one of the marks of her authenticity. Someone once said, “If the Church was completely perfect all the time, wouldn’t you be suspicious that it was not real?” Not to mention, as I frequently say, if we were perfect, there would be no need for a church and on the opposing side, if the Church were perfect, none of us would be allowed in it because of our imperfection. Many who have stopped attending churches as a whole have forgotten this. We should not blame the church for an individual’s failings, because it is in the very church we criticize that Christ is truly present!
The third way we encounter Christ is in the person of the poor, the imprisoned, the sick and dying (Matthew 25). Whenever we are involved in working with the poor, visiting people in hospice care or in the hospital, or being involved in prison work and other charitable endeavors, we have a direct encounter with Christ. Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Vincent de Paul affirm these truths. When we work with the needy, we have a chance to see Jesus in them, and this encounter with Christ is real, powerful and concrete. St. Mother Teresa might ask, “Do you want to encounter Christ? Work with the poor.”
The fourth way we encounter Christ is in the person of the priest. This is not simply that we see Jesus when the priest is celebrating Mass. We also meet Christ in a profound way as we get to know and love our priests. Jesus is hidden there not only in their gifts of love, mercy and administration of the Sacraments. Jesus is also hidden there in their human frailties and weakness. If we have eyes to see, then we will love and treasure our priests, because even in their humanity they are revealing Jesus to us.
We become emotionally angry when our priests don’t quite live up to the standard or pedestal that some put them on. No priest is a perfect Christ, because they too, like you, are human and imperfect. They represent Christ; they are not Christ. Though the Holy Spirit does work through these individuals, they do make mistakes, they do sin and sometimes they commit grave crimes. Fortunately, those who commit grave crimes, however, are very few, but so many will lose their faith over that one priest or bishop that somehow failed them. Studies show that those priests amount to a single digit percentage of the whole, however. Those few have made it hard for the rest of us, just as bad politicians ruin it for those who truly serve their constituents. Priests need our prayers to be faithful and remain fast in their own struggles.
Finally, we encounter Christ in the Sacraments of the Church. The seven Sacraments are not mere religious rituals. They are the objective, physical and historical means through which Jesus comes to meet us. They are physical signs of invisible grace. No emotional tugs, merely actual physicality’s of Christ’s presence in His Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and it is through these Sacramental signs that our covenant with Christ is solemnly sealed.
These five ways are real encounters with Christ, which do not depend on the fickleness of our emotions. Nevertheless, when we approach these five examples with hearts full of devotion, humility and love, these encounters will also be deeply emotional. As we read the Scriptures, pray with Christ’s Church, minister to those in need, learn to love our priests and treasure the Sacraments, with our hearts open to the mysteries of God’s love, we encounter in a real, powerful and personal way Jesus Christ the Lord.
So, even though we may not have revivals or crusades, we have physical reminders or spiritual powers that Christ bestowed on His Apostles that has been carried down through the ages and used to physically give grace without emotional feelings being induced. There is so much more than coming forward to be prayed over and waiting for the Holy Spirit to push you over. Here, we experience Christ ministering through His ministers in very real physical ways.
We do indeed have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but in different, subtle and physical ways through rituals long introduced by God Himself to the Israelites many millennia ago and handed down through the ages to now. God wanted us to worship Him in ritual and liturgy, made obvious by His command to the High Priest’s in ancient Judacia. Jesus respected and participated in these rituals that were handed down, and commanded the Apostles to do the same, and so here we are.
Being a Catholic is more than just a religion; we are encouraged to make it a way of life and in so doing, we have a personal relationship with Christ as well. It is more than Mass on Sundays. We should take use of the many mini rituals, prayers and practices that come to Catholics. Lectio Divina, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, Novenas, daily structured prayer, little statues and icons in our homes, holy cards/prayer cards, and so much more than what other churches have or teach. When we do all this, we have a relationship with Christ; we have a way of life.
Let us pray.
That we may obey the Ten Commandments as God’s gift pointing us toward a life truly free and fulfilling. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to terrorism and religious persecution, and that God’s peace will reign through the world. We pray to the Lord.
That our political leaders will stop the constant disagreements and to start to truly work for the safety of the people. That these same politicians will not side with a particular industry simply because they supply various financial assistance and finally, once and for all, commit to legislation that will make it harder for weapons such as combat guns and accessories from being allowed into the hands of those who commit heinous crimes such as we have been seeing ever increasingly, especially this year. We pray to the Lord.
That those suffering from mental illness, anger misplacement, inappropriate social behavior or other causes that create an environment for violence, will seek and/or be taken to the help they need to better manage their emotions without resorting to violence and that they will be lifted up through the power of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to renew and deepen our efforts at genuine Lenten observance and deepen our desire for an encounter with Our Lord Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You have proved Your love for us through Christ who died for us. Let us always remain faithful to that love. Help us all to work together in love for our fellow human beings. Merciful God, You invite us to repentance so that we can find the happiness we are seeking. Help us to trust more deeply in the Good News of salvation so that we can turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. This Lent, as we pray more devoutly and listen to Your Word more attentively, may we encounter You in ways we have discerned today and thus may our hearts be transformed by the saving love of the Cross. We ask all these things, as we ask all things, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA