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From Ascension to Corpus Christi

{ Tags: , \ Apr24 }

After Ascension Sunday, Ordinary Time opens up with three solemnities, all connected to Easter. Below is a diagram of how I would present the relationships among all these feasts. The rest of the article is a reflection on the significance of each of the feasts.

 

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John 20:19-23 was also the selection for Dominica in albis except that the verses selected highlight the giving of the Holy Spirit.  There are two "givings" in the Gospel of John, preparing for a third one, that of Pentecost as narrated by Luke.  The first is when Jesus died on the cross.  He "handed over" the Spirit then, the Spirit whom He had said would convict the world of its sins, the foretaste of God’s vindication.  On the cross the whole of creation is renewed.  Here, Jesus breathes on the disciples, just as God did on creation, re-creating them and associating them with His work* of reconciliation.  The giving of the Holy Spirit behind closed doors is a private affair.  The public event is narrated by Luke.

As the Resurrected Christ takes his place as Lord at the right side of God, so there is a corresponding action on the world.  The Holy Spirit descends with power, like wind and fire, on the Church.  This is the formal beginning of the Church as the extension of Christ on earth, His Body through which He encounters the men and women of every generation.  Luke’s narration stresses the unifying aspect of the event:  humanity which was divided at Babel now are brought together by the clear sound of apostolic proclamation about the "mighty acts of God" (Acts 2:11).

 

Wind, fire and voice  (what is translated as "sound" also means "voice").  The strong winds that came before the fire remind us of the winds that breathed over the bones in Ezekiel’s vision of Israel coming to life.  The fire that descended on the disciples has been announced by Jesus when he talked about casting fire on the earth.  This fire was felt by the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the day of the Resurrection; it was a fire that they felt burning in their hearts as they listened to the Risen Christ explain the Scriptures to them.  This heavenly fire descending on the disciples like "tongues" presage the manner by which their own tongues will bring all nations to listen to the gospel they proclaim.

 

In the selection from 1 Corinthians 12, we are reminded that the Spirit is a gift given not for personal gain but as a power for the ministry of the Church.

 

 4. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts
              but the same Spirit;

 5. there are different forms of service
              but the same Lord;

 6. there are different workings            
              but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

 7. To each individual
the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

 8. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit;

 9. to another faith by the same Spirit;
to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit;

 10. to another mighty deeds;
 to another prophecy;
to another discernment of spirits;
to another varieties of tongues;
to another interpretation of tongues.

 11. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he (= the Spirit) wishes.

The Spirit that Jesus gave to the first disciples continues its work today among us, manifesting its presence through the gifts that we have received in baptism. All those gifts turn the Church into a garden — very much like the garden of Eden — and all of us the flowers and the trees in that garden.  The gifts that Paul enumerate are for the building up of the Church.  Isaiah also mentions some gifts — what we Catholics call the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" — as the gifts that make us like Christ: fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge (scientia),  fortitude, counsel, understanding and wisdom (Isaiah 11:2-3).  Becoming like Christ in baptism, we are enabled to live as He did, showing forth in deed and words, the God whom we call "Father."  By the gifts that Paul enumerates in 1 Corinthians 12, we are empowered to live as priests, prophets and kings, building up God’s reign wherever we are, bringing to the world the peace that only Christ can give.  The fruit that we bear should be those that come from true obedience to the Father.  All are expected to bear fruit since it is — as the Lord Himself tells us — the will of the Father.  The Spirit enables us to bear fruit, "fruit that will last".  Which fruits are these?  Paul enumerates us some of these fruits in Galatians 4; we know these as the "fruits of the Spirit."  These are the fruits that God will require of us at the end of time when he comes.

*Note that God during creation associated Adam to his work as Lord of creation.

 

Trinity Sunday

 

"God is love" writes John.  That love is not mere "benevolence", the intention to do good for another.  It is not just "in the mind" but goes out.  God’s "nature" is an action that not only does good for another, but also empties oneself for the sake of another.  That is what "agape" means.  It is not "eros" — attraction; nor is it "philia" — benevolence with an emotional  content.  It is self-sacrificing, self-giving love.

In the account from Exodus (Ex. 3;4-9), we find this love being set into motion for the sake of Israel enslaved in Egypt.  God has heard the cry of the Israelites and so he paved the way for the birth and the education of Moses, one who lived like an Egyptian but also one who lived as a stranger in a foreign land.  In that part of the story just narrated  God reveals Himself to Moses as the God of the fathers — He who is bound to a covenant with the ancestors of Israel.  His concern for the covenant makes Him reach out for Israel.

In the Gospel reading, we are told that this love was from the beginning, that it was the motive for the sending of Jesus Christ.  John 3:16 is a favorite among those who call themselves "Born-Again Christians."  But they miss the point of that verse when they deny the significance of Jesus’ self-giving on the cross.  Because just before that, Jesus says "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must also be lifted up that all who believe in Him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)."  That "lifting up" is Jesus going back to the Father.  We know how he went back: he suffered, died, was buried and then rose again on the third day.  That "lifting up" meant that he must first lay down his life for His sheep on the cross.  And it was on the cross of Good Friday that we have a peek at what God’s being love meant:  there He was, Father, giving up His Son; the Son hanging on the cross in obedience to the Father; and the Spirit being handed over by the Son as his last breath.

God is love, and therefore, He is Trinity:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit — the Lover, the Beloved and the Love that unites both.  Paul writes to us that this God not only manifests Himself as Trinity in the history of salvation;  He is also Trinity in the way He makes Himself known to us.  He is the Lord (Jesus)  into whose death we have been baptized so that we can live with Him; He is the Spirit that has been poured into our hearts, empowering us to call God "Father".  God who is self-sacrificing, self-giving love has invaded our world, raised us up to the dignity of His children and made us a part of His life.  That is why Paul, by imparting to us a blessing, also implicitly commands us — the Church — to be reflections of the Trinity in this world:

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God and

the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you  (2 Cor. 13:14)

 

The "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is that which makes Him as the Son pleasing to the Father.  "Grace" is the quality that draws attention to oneself.  It is "beauty" that is not external.  That "beauty" has been given to us by an act of filial obedience.  Mary is called "full of grace" precisely because of that same obedience.  And Paul calls the Church "graced" precisely because of what the Lord has lavished on her by His death and resurrection.

"Fellowship" is the way we translated the word "koinonia" — a commitment to unity (comm – unio).  It is the "fellowship" of the first Jerusalem community:  they were together in prayer, united in the breaking of the bread, and they held all things in common such that there was no one needy among them.  The "fruits of the Spirit" that Paul describes in Galatians 4 — love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, etc.  — led towards this communion.  It is a "fellowship" that is borne of the Spirit and leads to "peace" — walang kakulangan, at-home-ness.

"Love of God", finally, can also mean "the love that is God be with you all".  It is the fulfillment of the covenant — "you will be my people, and I will be your God".  This blessing, which Paul puts at the center brings together both "grace" and "fellowship" and is all that we hope for:  "God-with-us" is the goal of our long journey back to the Father’s house.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

 I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

 I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God].

 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away."  (Revelation 21:1-4)

 

All will be beautiful since there will no longer be sin; we can finally be at home with ourselves and with one another; and we will no longer have to sorrow, for all things will be renewed.

 

But Paul expresses it as a blessing.  For us, it is also a commitment to be like the Trinity in the kind of love that we show with one another, a love that looks to the beauty we have received from the Lord, and a love that brings about peace because it is unselfish.  Grace, fellowship and self-giving, self-emptying love.  This too should characterize what we are as we continue to live our daily lives.

 

 

Corpus Christi

 

 The Manna From Heaven.  The first and the second readings for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi recall each other.  In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded that their hunger in the desert was meant to empty them of their former dependence on the food of the Egyptians.  Instead of the food they have gotten used to, they were fed from the supply of God.  Manna from the heavens, sufficiently abundant for their survival, was given them so that they’d realize that it is God who gives them life.  The experience was meant to be educational:  Israel had to learn obedience and trust in Him who will bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.

I am the Bread of Life.  Jesus reminds Israel that the manna they received was not from Moses, but from the Father.  In the gospel of John, Jesus deconstructs the "theology" of the Jews who have begun to confuse the exterior manifestations with the interior "things" of God.  The Temple, the Feasts, the Sabbath, the Law are exterior manifestations of what God wants for Israel.  These are all reminders of His mercy and the kind of righteousness — a righteousness based not on intolerance but in the constant forgiveness they have received from God.  These — mercy and justice — are what He would like to see in His people.  But the Jews have put the Temple, the Feasts, Sabbath, the Law even Moses as their priorities– above even that of justice — when it is the will of God that they should seek.  Jesus then destroys these institutions.  One of these is the "manna theology" of the Jews that Jesus unmasks:  the Manna is the One who comes from Heaven.  In John 4, Jesus had shown a Samaritan woman that the water of life comes from Him.  Now, He is saying that even the Bread from Heaven is He Himself.

 

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

 54. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.

 55. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

 56. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

 57. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.

 58. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:53-58)

 

In this section of Jesus’ speech on the Bread of Life, the emphasis is on eating and life.  There are phrases here that point to other events relating to the Resurrection and the subsequent mission of the disciples.  "I will raise him up on the last day" echoes Jesus’ declaration that He is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11).  In John 11, that declaration of Jesus means that the future event that Mary looks forward to — the Resurrection of the Just — is proleptically fulfilled in the one who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Jesus.  Again, in the phrase "remains in me and I in him" echoes the speech of Jesus in John 15 about the vine and the branches in which he describes the kind of life Jesus has with His disciples.  The disciple who abides in the words of Jesus and lives in His love is like the branch that draws its life from the vine.  With the statement in verse 56, we are shown how the disciple draws life from Jesus;  by eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

 

The One Body of Christ.  St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us how this is done.  By repeating a formula that he himself has received from the ones before him, he is proclaiming what the first Christians themselves have been living.  The bread that is broken and the cup that is shared transform us into the one Body of Christ.  This is our life; this is our eucharist.  It is Christ thanking the Father in us, remembering all the goodness that He has made available for us in the Passover of the Lamb of God.  This is an upward action — thanksgiving — that has a downward movement:  the descent of the Holy Spirit that turns bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and transforms us, mortal men and women, into the Body of Christ.  When we receive His Body and Blood, we are transformed into His Flesh and Blood, so that we in turn may become a source of life for others.  We too, must be broken, our lives poured out for others. 

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