John the Baptist is one of the most important figures in Christianity, and provides a window into the tradition of the Jewish priesthood and the historical context of the day. John chose the river Jordan to baptize, a conscious move to display the forgiveness of sins against the backdrop of the Jewish history of Exodus and liberation. Yet while he was baptizing in the desert, likely an exercise in protest of the corruption in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was heralding the coming of Christ, one who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Our Gospel for today features one of Jesus’ most beloved parables: that of the mustard seed. How does God tend to work? What does the building up of the Kingdom typically look like? From the very small to the very great—and usually by a slow, gradual process. God, it seems, tends to operate under the radar, on the edges of things, quietly, clandestinely.
In all the literature of the world, I don’t know of a richer account of who we are, what we’re called to be, and what goes wrong with us than the first chapters of Genesis—especially the third chapter, from which our first reading comes. And we see in our Gospel for today that what happens to us in the immediate wake of original sin—alienation, shame, self-centeredness, scapegoating—helps us immensely to understand Jesus and his work.
To truly understand what Jesus did at the climax of his life—and what the Catholic Church does at every Mass—we must understand the importance of blood sacrifice to Judaism in Jesus’ time. Everything that Moses did at Mt. Sinai, and all that was done for a thousand years in the temple, was summed up by Christ’s ultimate blood sacrifice on the Cross, offered for the reconciliation of God and humanity. And this ultimate lifeblood of God, sprinkled by Christ the high priest once for all, is what the Mass re-presents and makes sacramentally present to us.
It's often joked that Trinity Sunday is "the preacher's nightmare." But while the Trinity can be viewed as the most arcane and inaccessible Christian doctrine, it's also the most ordinary and obvious. Every Catholic invokes the Trinity whenever he crosses himself in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, every single baptized person has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we've been sealed by the Trinity, brought within its dynamic, and sent out on mission.
I’m delighted that on this Pentecost Sunday, I can reflect on one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It is taken from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this passage, Paul gives those who belong to Christ their marching orders by laying out the works of the flesh—those attitudes and actions that stand against the way of love—and the works of the Spirit.
As the Easter season draws to a close, we hear from one of the most magnificent passages in the Gospel of John—namely, the high-priestly prayer of Jesus the night of the Last Supper. It is by far the longest discourse by Jesus anywhere in the New Testament, and it contains the seeds of Christian spirituality in its entirety.
Today's Gospel presents the distinction between a generic spirituality, which emphasizes our decision for God, and authentic Christian faith, which is the recognition that God has chosen us in Christ. It is God's choice—his election of us in Christ as not only his followers but his friends—that matters most.
I would like to focus my attention this week on the magnificent first reading, taken from the pivotal ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. I say pivotal because this is the chapter in which the conversion of Saul is recounted. Hans Urs von Balthasar refers to Paul as one of the great archetypes in the life of the Church, and so we can benefit from a close study of the spiritual lessons from his life and his manner of discipleship.
Our first reading for today proposes a very serious challenge to the inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism that is taken for granted in our culture today. The chief of the Apostles says, “He is the stone rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Stay with how uncomfortable this is—because in a way, that’s the point.