Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul: Leaving Behind Bounds That Tie us Down

This weekend the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It is always a Solemnity, but this year it happens to fall on a Sunday and it has obvious precedence over a Sunday in Ordinary Time. Because of the importance of the Solemnity, the Lectionary offers a set of readings for the Mass of anticipation (Saturday) as a vigil and for the Mass on Sunday as the day of the Feast.

For the attentive reader of the Gospels and Acts, Peter and Paul, Simon and Saul, struggled for a long time before understanding the implications of what Jesus had lived and taught. Like it happened during Easter, the first reading on Sunday from Acts gives us a lot to understand and reflect, if we are able to capture the deep meaning of the text–Peter’s liberation from a jail. The original intended reader, a first century Jew, would not have missed the abundant references to the night of Passover, when the people of Israel were guided out of the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land: It happens at night, an angel guides Peter and his companions, it is about a liberation…

Not much different from the life-long wandering of these two great saints we celebrate today. Peter needed a “conversion within the conversion,” and this escape from jail is an analogy of the time he finally experiences it in the form of a personal liberation. After this event, Peter is freed from whatever kept him tied down to the old Simon. The same thing happens to Saul, who after becoming Paul upon encountering the voice of Jesus on the road to Damascus, also has to struggle mightily to really understand and live out what Jesus was asking him to become. It took them—great Saints, pillars of the Church—a whole life.

The gospel of the Vigil Mass—in which the Risen Jesus asks three times to Simon (notice the use of Simon, his old name) if he loves him. Jesus asks three times, one for each of the times Peter denied him before the Passion—is a good example of Peter’s struggle, and an explanation about why, at the end of the gospel, Jesus tells him again, as in the first time, “Follow me.” In Sunday’s gospel, the disciples’ answers to the question, “Who do people say that I am,” also show that Peter was not the only one struggling—Jesus was not who the disciples thought he was.

There is simple lesson on this feast for us: we believe, but we struggle. We fail, make mistakes, we sin. Jesus is not who he should be in our lives. But, like Peter and Paul, we should live trying to respond to the call to holiness. There is the hope that we will accomplish it, the way they did. Like them, we have to untie ourselves from the bounds that keep us from being authentically free—to become the new men and women we are called to be. Some of these bounds are obvious—attachment to material things, selfishness, fears of all kinds. Some are less obvious but they also tie us down very hard. We, like these two great Saints, also need an experience of liberation, of being freed of everything that keeps us from living freely.

When we overcome the fear that keeps us from that personal liberation, we may experience what Paul did, when he wrote what we hear in the 2nd reading of the Sunday Mass: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”

Blog Pic, Saints Peter and Paul


Called to be Real Presence to Others

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, a feast traditionally known as Corpus Christi. It is again a celebration of one of our most precious dogmas, that we Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine consecrated in the Eucharist. This feast is connected, and not only chronologically, with the recent feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost: all three feasts remind us of the Mission Jesus gives us, promising us his constant presence as we continue on earth what he started.

The real presence of Christ is one more way in which Jesus continues to fulfill today the parting promise he made to his disciples after giving them the Great Commission: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  In the gospel for this feast (John 6:51-58,) Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

I am writing this post in Barcelona, the city where I was born. I can see from out the window the parish where I was baptized and received my First Communion. It is also the place where some 11 years ago I came to celebrate my first Mass (one of several!) It was the feast of Corpus Christi, and during the homily I reflected about those who had “remained” with me all through the years, through thick and thin, as we say. The celebration of the real presence of Christ, I believe I said, should bring us to become real presence to others—this “remaining” that Jesus promised to those who believe in him, then and now. It was so very clear to me that day, as so many of those who had “remained” by me were physically present that day.

As we have reflected so many times before, the celebration of a dogma is not just an act of mere liturgical contemplation of a faith belief. The celebration of a belief always comes with a responsibility, a “call” for us, a mission. Strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast calls us to the mission of being real presence to others; it calls us to “remain,” be there, for others—through thick and thin, in good and in bad times, in times of joy and in times of despair.


Living according to the Trinitarian Image of God

One week after the great celebration of Pentecost, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. That God is Trinitarian is one of our most precious dogmas, at the same time that I wonder how relevant it really is for our faith life. The challenge in the homily this Sunday is to bring this dogma to life.

We can begin to tackle this challenge by saying that our image of God shapes the way we live faith. Many of us have been raised on negative images of God, as a merciless judge, a moral enforcer ready to punish us for our transgressions. If that’s my image of God, I do not want to start thinking about what kind of faith life follows it.

In contrast with these (and other) negative images of God, different images of God surface in the readings today. In the first reading, Moses dialogues with a “personal” God, who describes himself as “merciful and gracious…slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” The rich faith life of Paul is a consequence of his own image of God, when he writes about the grace, the love, and the fellowship of God. The community who wrote John’s gospel reflects about a God who loved us so much that He sent his Son so we can be saved—a God who sent his Son not to condemn but to save the world. One of the tasks today will be to compare our own images of God, with the images that surface in today’s reading.

To say that God is Trinitarian is also the result of a reflection about this particular image of God, a community of three active persons. What are some of the implications of living according to this Trinitarian image of God?

The Trinity teaches us that God is community: As we have said before, faith is personal, not private. God himself is a community of persons, so following this image of community we also realize that our faith is to be lived in Community.

The Trinity teaches us that God is three Persons: thus, we say that God is relational. Our faith will be lived also in the arena of human relationships.

The Trinity teaches us that God is profoundly involved with us: the Human experience: the Trinity is the way in which God gets involved with humanity: from the beginning, in Creation (the Father); in His irruption in human history (the Son); as a power of renewal and inspiration at the present time (the Holy Spirit.)

Finally, a reflection about living our faith according to the Trinity can be found in how we pray—as the way we pray is also a result of our image of God, and one of the ways in which we live our faith. In my Community, we say we pray a Trinitarian prayer. A prayer in silence to the Father; the prayer of the community, the Eucharist, in the Son; a prayer in reflective action, in the Holy Spirit.

May we live our faith in the image of our Trinitarian God.

 Blog Pic Trinity

In a Constant State of Pentecost

The feast of Pentecost brings Easter to an end. If last week we celebrated the Ascension—Jesus leaves physically so the disciples have to continue his mission—this weekend we celebrate Pentecost, the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit over that first community of disciples.

As one more example to show that the New Testament is not history but theology, the Pentecost event is narrated in two very different ways, as we see today in John’s Gospel and in Acts. In the gospel, John shows a community who began to experience the Resurrection locked down in fear. Jesus appears in the midst of that community, breathes the Holy Spirit and gives the disciples a mission. In Acts, the community may not be ready either, but the Holy Spirit comes as a force of nature, like a “noise like a strong wind” to which the disciples cannot offer any resistance. Once filled with the Spirit, the disciples are understood in all the languages of the world.

As we have reflected in previous posts, the first community of disciples struggled initially to understand the identity and the mission of Jesus Christ. They struggled to understand the meaning of the Resurrection. They needed a Pentecost, and so do we.

Pentecost is not just a historic celebration. We do not celebrate a historic event that happened once two thousand years ago and has no consequences for us today. In other words, the feast of Pentecost is not an anniversary. We celebrate that, beginning on “that first day of the week,” the Church has always been in a permanent state of Pentecost. We may resist it, there always will be an attempt to encapsulate the experience of Faith in the frame of rules and dogmas, but the Spirit will always break through.

During Easter we have reflected about how to become a Community of the Resurrection. A Community of the Resurrection will be a community of the Holy Spirit. What are the signs of a community of the Spirit?

  • A community of the Spirit is one who not only believes, but also acts: Jesus gave the community a mission, not simply a belief to contemplate and defend. A community of the Holy Spirit acts upon its belief.
  • A community of the Spirit is one that stays united, but it is not a unity obtained through uniformity, but in diversity: it is when they were together in one place that the Spirit came down upon them. The reading from First Corinthians this weekend is precisely about being all united in a diversity of gifts.
  • A community of the Spirit is one that speaks a language that can be understood, a language which speaks to and about the human experience, not an abstract discourse about dogma—like the disciples who after the First Pentecost were able to be understood by people from all places, as the first sign of the Spirit.
  • A community of the Spirit also will be a community that lives faith with passion—we associate the Holy Spirit with fire, and the priest wears red vestments on feasts of the Holy Spirit in Church. This is perhaps one of the most difficult calls to Catholics today. We also have said in Church today that the way we pray is the way we live out our faith once Mass is over…

Becoming a Community of the Resurrection, becoming a community of the Spirit, is not an easy task. We pray to the Holy Spirit that we will continue being a community in a constant state of Pentecost.

Blog pic Pentecost