Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gospel For Today

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

Jesus said to his disciples: "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you."  - Jn 16:12-15

Our faith is full of mystery.  There are many things we are asked to believe by faith, which our own reasoning could never reveal to us.  One example is the Eucharist.  In the sixth chapter of John's gospel Jesus tells the gathered crowd over and over again in the most emphatic way, "Truly, truly, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no life in you."  What are we to make of this radical statement?  Most of the crowd left.  Peter and the other apostles remained.  Even though they did not understand what Jesus meant by this teaching, they had faith.  They trusted Jesus.  "Lord, to whom would we go?" Peter tells Christ.  "You have the words to eternal life."

We are like Peter today.  We are asked to have faith.  A scientist in a lab could examine the Eucharist under a microscope all day long and find nothing there but bread and wine.  Our reason alone would never lead us to believe that there is anything special about it.  But Jesus said, "This is my body," and "this is the chalice of my blood."  And so we believe -- not because we perceive with our senses that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our God, but because we trust in the one who tells us, "This is my body."

Jesus Himself is a similar mystery.  Those in Galilee who saw him, worked with him, lived down the road from him, would not have seen anything with their eyes that would have led them to believe he was anything other than an ordinary man.  Our best doctors today could give Jesus a thorough physical and find nothing in their examinations except for a human being.  Yet we believe he is God incarnate, the maker of the universe, eternal and omnipotent.  This is not a fact subject to the scientific method that we can prove or disprove.  It is a matter of faith.

Today is a special day set aside in the calendar of the Church to honor the Holy Trinity.  In truth, we celebrate the Trinity at each Mass, and whenever we pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  How often do we recite those words?  At baptisms, when we cross ourselves, when we pray the Glory Be, whenever we gather as Christians we do so in the name of the Trinity.

The Church teaches, because Christ revealed it, that God exists as a Trinity of Persons united in a single being.  The Father is God, Jesus the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  And there is one God.  This is not a contradiction.  We are not saying that there are three Gods and one God at the same time.  We are not asked to believe anything contrary to reason.  What is one in God is one thing (essence, or being), and what is three in God is another (person).  This is not self-contradictory and so is not against reason, but it is above reason.  The wisest of our philosophers could ponder the nature of God for a lifetime and come to understand many things about the maker of the universe, but not this.  Nothing in our human experience would lead us to deduce the Trinity.

We don't know how this could be.  In our experience individual persons each have their own unique existence, and so we simply do not understand the concept of three persons sharing one existence.  But, like the Eucharist, it is neither required nor expected that we understand.  It is enough that we trust. 

We have been given a special gift.  We have been given a privileged glimpse into the inner life of God.  Jesus has pulled back the curtain of heaven just a little bit and allowed us to have a peek.  What we see inside is mind blowingly fantastic.  It is nothing we could have expected.  It is a mystery, one in which we are called to participate more and more as we grow in sanctity.

God exists as a community of Persons.  This means God's life is relationship; God's life is love.  This God is the author of our lives and we are made in His image.  Mediate today upon the beautiful mystery of the Holy Trinity and ask God to help you to see the opportunities for trinitarian love in your own life.

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Gospel For Today

PENTECOST SUNDAY

The name "Pentecost" means "fifty days," and is the designation of the great feast celebrated by the Jewish people fifty days after the Passover.  However, the name has taken on greater meaning to Christians because of what happened on a particular Pentecost some two thousand years ago.  Pentecost is celebrated as the "birthday of the Church" because it was at the time of Pentecost, seven weeks after Jesus' Resurrection, that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.  From today's first reading (Acts 2:1-11).

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven
staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

This ability to speak in tongues is but one gift of the Holy Spirit, but it is one often misunderstood.  Today we think of "speaking in tongues" as something that occurs in Pentecostal churches where one member will begin speaking something that sounds like gibberish to most listeners, but another, blessed with the gift of interpretation, will "translate."  That's not really what we see going on in today's reading.

I was visiting a parish in another state one year for Pentecost and they had the first and second reading divided into two parts, each read by a different reader (for a total of four), and each in a different language.  One was in English, one Spanish, one Korean, and the fourth was in a different Asian language I could not identify.  

They were doing this as a kind of gimmick for Pentecost Sunday.  But I couldn't help think it sounded more like the Tower of Babel than Pentecost.  The story of the Tower of Babel is told in Genesis chapter 11.  The people of the earth all spoke one language at the time, and worked together to build an impressive tower that was said to reach nearly to the heavens.  God decided that was too much and so He confused their languages and scattered the peoples across the earth.

This confusion of languages is the opposite of Pentecost.  In Acts we read of people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt, Asia, Libya, Rome and elsewhere, all who speak different languages, but all of whom could miraculously understand the speech spoken by the Galileans proclaiming Jesus.  It was about an opening of communication, not a confusion of languages.

The message they preached was one of salvation and reconciliation.  It was a message of liberation from sin.  They preached of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead.  It was -- and is -- a message that has power to grant eternal life but only if it is understood and received by the hearer.  And so God granted the gift of understanding to those who heard this first gospel preached that day.

The importance of communicating the Gospel message has not diminished in 2000 years.  But the ability of people to hear it seems to have diminished.  I don't believe it is because people have any less desire to find forgiveness and reconciliation.  I believe there is simply too much static drowning out the message.  Between television, movies, the radio, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour news, constant updates and postings and the like, there is simply so much noise it is a struggle to figure out what is important and what is simply fluff.

But all of those sources of distraction are also potential means of communication.  We are blessed with so many tools for preaching the Gospel that the Apostles did not have.  Can you imagine what Peter, Paul or John would have done with the Internet?  If they had the ability to post a message and have it read by millions?  What would they have written?  What would the world look like if the Apostles had a Twitter account?

We will never know because they did not have access to modern means of communication.  But you do.  "Apostles" means "witness" and you are today's witnesses to the power of God's love and mercy and the forgiveness that can be found in Jesus Christ and through His Church.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift to be able to communicate that message to the masses.  That same gift was given by the Holy Spirit to all those who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation.  That means you and I have the same ability, and the same responsibility, to proclaim Christ to the world.

Let us pray today for the wisdom and courage to do so in the many occasions God grants for evangelization in our lives.

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gospel For Today

SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

In the Diocese of Charlotte, as in many Dioceses in the United States, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated this Sunday.  Whenever this great feast comes around on the calendar, I remember a particular Ascension Sunday Mass I participated in while travelling in Georgia one year.

First, let us briefly remember what the Ascension is all about.  The first reading today is from the first chapter of Acts and is St. Luke's account of what happened "the day [Jesus] was taken up."

[A]s they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.  While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.  They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

We celebrate today the fact that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven to be united with the Father.  It is the capstone of all the events recorded testifying to Christ's bodily resurrection -- the empty tomb, St. Thomas touching His wounds, Jesus eating a breakfast of fish with His disciples, breathing on Peter, and so on.  All of these things testify to the real physicality of the Resurrection.  

Yet Christ's body was not quite the same as it was before the Resurrection.  It was still a physical body, but also more than that.  He could appear in the middle of a locked room.  He could somehow hide his appearance or identity until He wished to be recognized.  And, of course, His was a body that had conquered death.  It was a Risen Body that did not belong in this Fallen World.  And so He went ahead of us to prepare a New Creation, a new heaven and new earth, a home fitting for perfection where we will one day - God willing - join Him.

Which brings me back to one Ascension celebration in Georgia.  I was away from home and attended Mass at a small parish I had never been to before.  The pastor gave a good homily telling us why it is important that we believe Christ rose bodily from death and ascended bodily into heaven; that in His passion, death and resurrection He redeemed the whole man, body and soul, and so our bodies and our souls will be saved.  

I don't recall any specific words from the homily.  However, I do recall what we sang during Communion.  You see, words set to music have a way of sticking with you.  That is why what we sing at Mass is so important.  Often the words we hear in the homily or even the scripture readings may start to fade by lunch time, but the words of a hymn will stay with us for weeks, sometimes longer. Words set to music are powerful things.  

On that particular Ascension Sunday, as we received the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, the choir had us singing the refrain, "Jesus has no body now but you."  The lyrics of the song were taken from a quote by St. Teresa of Avila.  St. Teresa was making the point that the Church is the body of Christ.  We - all of the baptized - make up His body and we should be the hands and feet, the eyes and the ears of Christ in the world.  This is all quite true and valid.  It is a good point to meditate upon and put into action in our lives.

However, one must question the wisdom of singing "Jesus has no body" as we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  Sung at that particular time in the liturgy, removed from the context of St. Teresa's writings, does that refrain support or undermine belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist?

And is this an appropriate song to sing at a Mass celebrating the bodily Ascension of Christ?  The pastor preached a very good homily about the Ascension being a real physical event and the astounding fact that Jesus's human body resides in heaven united with the Trinitarian God.  But how many will have forgotten the words of the homily before they pull out of the church parking lot?  Meanwhile they are still humming the refrain, "Jesus has no body..."

The words we say, pray and sing at Mass are vitally important to our faith.  They make a difference.  This is why the Church instructs us that we cannot simply sing anything we want at the Mass.  Just like the lectors cannot read anything they want, but must read the assigned scriptures; and the priest cannot consecrate the Eucharist using any words he wants, but must use the words of consecration, the cantor and choir ought to sing the music assigned to the Mass and not words of their own choosing.  

The Church tells us (in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) that at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion, we should sing the proper antiphon for that Mass (usually taken from scripture) from the Roman Missal, Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual (all official liturgical texts of the Church).  It is not an absolute requirement.  The Church also gives permission to sing a liturgical chant from another collection of antiphons and psalms approved by the bishops.  But the ideal is clear - we should sing the words (and prayers) of the Mass.  

For the Solemnity of the Ascension, year C, the antiphon (refrain) which is prescribed to be sung at Communion in the Roman Missal is, "Christ, offering a single sacrifice for sins, is seated for ever at God's right hand, alleluia" (cf. Heb 10:12).  Or, from the Roman Gradual, which is the official music book for the Roman Rite, it is, "Sing to the Lord, who has ascended the highest heavens, towards the East, alleluia" (cf. Ps 67:33, 34).

If we sing these words, rather than words of our own making - or even words of a great saint used in the wrong context - we can be assured that we will be supporting, not undermining truths of the faith which the liturgy is attempting to communicate.  We can know with certainty that we are singing the liturgy itself, participating faithfully in the Mass by singing or listening to the words the Church desires us to pray with on this day.

Christ is ascended bodily into heaven.  He is seated at God's right hand forever.  Let us sing to Him songs of praise, alleluia!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Our prayers are with you as you complete your exams this week.  A reminder that there will be no CCM dinner tonight.

This is the last weekly update email until August.  I will continue to send out Sunday Gospel reflections over the summer.

ATTENTION GRADUATES!
St. Mary's is offering a Baccalaureate Mass this Saturday, May 11, at 1:00pm for our graduates and their families.  There will be a light reception to follow.  If you are graduating and would like to be recognized at this Mass, please email me at ccm@wcucatholic.org.  Anyone who would like to pray with and celebrate our graduates is welcome to attend this Mass.  

This Mass is at St. Mary's, not at the Catholic Student Center.  If you need to send directions to the church to your families, the address is 22 Bartlett St, Sylva, NC 28779.

MASS OVER THE SUMMER
Masses are not offered on campus during the summer months.  Last Sunday was our final Mass on campus this semester.  Our next Mass on campus will be Sunday, August 17.  For those in Cullowhee over the summer, please take advantage of St. Mary's Mass times; 9:00am and 11:00am on Sunday morning, or 8:00pm Saturday night (in Spanish).  If anyone needs a ride to St. Mary's, please let me know or use our Facebook Group to arrange carpools.

SUMMER SCHEDULE
We do not have a weekly schedule of activities during the summer.  If any students around during the summer would like to meet and get together for prayer, faith sharing, fellowship, etc., I encourage this.  Again, I suggest using our Facebook Group to plan those details.  

I am around all summer and reachable via email, phone or text for anyone who needs me.

GOING TO CHARLOTTE ?
I know many of our students are from Charlotte or surrounding areas.  If you are going to be near Charlotte over the summer, consider taking advantage of a summer Bible study being offered for college age students.  
Summer College Bible Study: World on Campus
-Focuses on what it means to truly love others as Christ does through scriptural reflection and discussions on relevant topics today
-Where: Catholic Campus Ministry House @ 9408 Sandburg Avenue ( only 1 block from St. Thomas Aquinas Church & 1 block from UNCC campus) 
-Who: Rising College Freshmen- Graduating
-For more information contact: Mary Weiner (mcweiner@email.unc.edu), Kathy Fitzgerald (kfitzge8@uncc.edu), Sr. Eileen Spanier (ccmuncc@gmail.com)

Have a great summer, and God Bless!  I look forward to seeing you back in the 'Whee in the fall!
Pax Christi,
Matt
--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gospel For Today

REMINDER:  This Sunday evening (7:30pm) will be our last Mass offered on campus before our summer break.  

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (C)

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."  -- Jn 14:23

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells us something about the life of the Holy Trinity.  He speaks of the word that he preaches and tells us, "the word you hear is not mine, but that of the Father who sent me."  What He tells us here is that there is no distinction between His word, His will, and that of the Father's.  The two are one in their thoughts and words.  

In the same passage Jesus speaks of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, often referred to as the Advocate.  Jesus says, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."  

Let's unpack this sentence a bit.  Jesus has already told us that He speaks with the voice of the Father.  And now He is telling us that the Holy Spirit will teach us the words that Christ spoke to us.  In other words, there is no distinction to be made between the words of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  

The Holy Trinity is a mystery.  We will never truly understand this aspect of God.  I read on a bumper sticker once, "If God were simple enough that we could understand Him, we'd be so simple that we couldn't."  That is true.  God is the Creator, we are His creations.  He is infinite, we are finite.  Even the holiest saints, even the highest angels, can never fully understand God.  

But just because God is a mystery does not mean we cannot know some things about Him which He has chosen to reveal to us.  One of the aspects of God's inner life that has been revealed in Christ is that He is a Trinity of persons.  We believe, because God has revealed it, that God is three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who share the same being, the same existence.  This is hard for us to comprehend because in our experience persons each have an independent existence.  But with God it is not so.  God exists as a community of Persons.  This means that God holds within Himself attributes that we can only experience with others -- communion, relationship, love.  

Because the three Persons of the Trinity share in the same existence, they are alike in all things except in their relationship with one another.  Another way of saying this is that the Son possesses everything in common with the Father except to be Father.  The Father is father of the Son and the Son is son to the Father.  Their relationship to one another is the only thing that distinguishes them.  Likewise with the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  His unique relationship proceeding from both the Father and Son in their love for one another is what distinguishes Him from the other two.  (In this passage Jesus speaks of the Spirit being sent by the Father.  Elsewhere, such as Jn 15:26, Jesus speaks of sending the Spirit Himself.)

It is important for us to understand the great unity among the three distinct Persons of the Godhead.  Though we often speak of the Persons of the Trinity as if they had different roles or jobs -- the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, the Spirit is the Sanctifier -- these "job descriptions" are overly limiting.  The truth is that the Son and the Spirit both had a role in creation, as well.  "[T]he spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters" (Gn 1:2).  "Let us make man in our image" (Gn 1:26).  Likewise the Father and the Spirit are participants in our redemption.  And the Father and the Son together with the Holy Spirit continue to sanctify us to this day.

For no Person of the Holy Trinity ever acts independently of the other two.  The three Persons are so fully united in love that theologians speak of them dwelling within each other, continually pouring themselves into the other two in this eternal, perpetual cycle of love.  This never-ending giving of one Person in love to the others is the inner life of God. 

Now, if you have followed me this far, you may be thinking, "This is interesting and all, but what impact does it have on me in my life today?"  If you are a Christian seeking to live a life in the grace of God, this has everything to do with you.  We speak of being in a state of grace, and of falling from grace when we commit a mortal sin.  What does it mean to have God's grace?  What is grace?

Grace comes from gratia, and it means a free gift.  Grace is God's gift to us -- and what does God have to give us?  God possesses nothing but Himself.  And that is just what He gives us --   Himself, His very life.

So when we are in a state of grace, we have God's life within us.  And God has shown us what this life is; a life of mutual and eternal love between the Father, Son and Spirit.  No Person of the Trinity is ever separate from the other two.  This means when you receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, you receive also the Father and the Son.  When you receive the Son in Communion, you also receive the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Creator of the Universe wants to come live within you.  The Trinity of Love, and all that that means, can exist inside of you.   

If you meditate upon that fact for a while it may overwhelm you.  When you fully understand that this is what God wants to give us, you cannot want anything else.  

If you keep the word of Christ, which is the same as the word of the Father, which is the same as the word of the Holy Spirit still being proclaimed by the Church today, then the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell in you.  They will make their home within you.  And you will know peace.

God bless!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723