June 21, 2014

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, (Corpus Christi) 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

I wonder how long I will be remembered after I die. I wonder, too, what I will be remembered for. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

What would you like to be remembered for? What do you think you will actually be remembered for? You might have to write your memoirs to ensure that the answer to both questions is the same.

What will guarantee that remembrance? Photos? Mementos? The day will surely come when someone will look at those pictures and say, “They should have written the names on the back.” And the mementos will end up in a box and someone for whom they no longer have meaning will one day discard them.

A monument would be nice!

The Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial was sculpted by Daniel Chester French. It’s a “memorial” precisely because it guarantees that Lincoln’s memory will live on; but where is Daniel Chester French’s memorial? Actually, his memorial is... that same statue of Lincoln! It’s his greatest achievement, for which he will be forever remembered.

There are different ways, of course, to make your mark. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, for example, will certainly never be forgotten.

Neither will Florence Nightingale or Rosa Parks, but for totally different reasons.

In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses’ first word is “Remember,” which he repeats a few verses later with the negative phrase, “Do not forget.” The saving acts of God on behalf of his people were not to be taken lightly. The Passover and many other festivals were meant precisely to keep the memory of them alive.

Jesus did not want to be forgotten. So he “left us a memorial,” as we heard in the opening prayer of today’s Mass. The memorial Jesus left us is unique, because it doesn’t point only to the past. It’s much more than a reminder. In it we believe that he is actually present among us. We believe that he gives himself to us, truly, as food and drink. As St. Paul reminds us, “The cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ.”

“Do this in memory of me.” These are the words that conclude the Consecration of the Bread and Wine, taken from St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s accounts of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. They are a command, but they can also be taken as a plea, a solemn request, that we never forget him. On the eve of his death, he gave us something to remember him by. He wanted to be remembered for his gift of self.

The memorial is the Sacrament. The memory, however, resides in the whole Church, which passes on the story and the teaching of Jesus from generation to generation. Every time we share in the memorial, our memory is refreshed.

In the Eucharist, however, the concept of “memorial” is turned upside down. Listen again to Jesus’ words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Instead of just keeping someone’s memory alive, this memorial actually gives life—and eternal life, at that—to those who engage in the act of remembering.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem with the recurring refrain:

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.

From a Catholic perspective, that prayer is answered perfectly in the Eucharist!

June 15, 2014

Homily for Trinity Sunday, 2014, Year A


Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

(Click here for today’s readings)

There is a stained-glass window in Blessed Trinity Church in Orlando, Florida, designed by James Piercey. It represents the Trinity, but is not easy to make out the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With a little effort one can find the head of a dove near the center, and a hand above and behind it. They represent respectively the Spirit and the Father. It’s much harder to find the Son, a man’s face. Eventually you find the eyes, and the nose, mustache, and lips. But when you see the dove, you lose the face; when you see the face, you lose the hand, and none of them is completely delineated. All three are lost when you focus on colorful rays, which represent the one divine essence of all three Persons and fill the whole image.

This image may not suit everyone’s taste, but I find it fascinating. I use it to illustrate the fact that although we attribute certain qualities and works to each of the divine Persons, as in the Creed, the overlap is such that clear distinctions are really beyond us.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 259) we read: “Everyone who glorifies the Father does so through the Son in the Holy Spirit; everyone who follows Christ does so because the Father draws him and the Spirit moves him.” In other words, the whole Trinity is involved, all the time.

In the Scriptures, too, we find this blending. For example, today’s second reading has the familiar text from which we get one of the greetings used at Mass: “The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” But there are several passages in the New Testament that speak of grace coming also from the Father, and in one place the Spirit is called the “Spirit of grace.”

Similarly, in many places we read that “God (the Father) raised Jesus from the dead,” while many others say that Jesus rose from the dead, i.e. by his own power. The Spirit is associated with resurrection also in Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Here is a very different illustration. The following phrases all have something in common:

            Honor, Pity Half-Sister,
            A Tiny Fresh Polo Shirt,
            Sporty Shiloh Fire Ant.

Can you see it? Answer: All three have the same letters, and all three are anagrams of “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” When they are spelled out correctly, we see them, but whether we see them or not, there they are.

O.k., but what’s the point? We might think anything so obscure can’t really matter to us at a personal level, something like nuclear physics and splitting atoms and the Higgs Boson. That would be true if the important thing is to understand it. But that is not the case here.

The first reading isn’t even remotely academic when it describes the Lord as “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” And the Gospel reminds us that “God so loved the world.” That changes everything.

What we are invited to do is to enter into the mystery of the Trinity—to wonder at it, to admire it, to revel in it, sink into it, contemplate its wonder and beauty, and cry out, “O my God!

June 8, 2014

Homily for Pentecost, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Has it ever struck you as strange that the disciples were gathered “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,” i.e., on a Christian feast,? There couldn’t have been any Christian feasts yet, so soon after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The explanation is simple. The feast we celebrate today already existed long before the time of Jesus. It was not unlike our Thanksgiving, a harvest celebration, celebrated fifty days (seven weeks) after Passover. In the Old Testament it is called the Feast of Weeks.

Be that as it may, for us Pentecost means only one thing: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord.

The Spirit’s first appearance in the Bible is in the second verse of the the first book: “The earth was formless and void... and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit’s last appearance in the Bible is in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” The Bible ends four verses later. In between those two, there are dozens and dozens more. So we can safely say that the Spirit is really important.

In today’s first reading the Spirit is manifested in tongues—in two senses of the word: tongues of fire, referring to a tongue-like shape, and “tongues,” meaning languages. The Apostles apparently learned new languages instantaneously, without boring grammar drills and vocabulary lists. (This is not to be confused with the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. But that’s another homily.)

Believe it or not, that original gift of languages still exists today, but in a less spectacular form. Where? In the Church, which proclaims the Gospel in every language!

So… what else does the Holy Spirit do exactly, besides giving language? Well, let’s see. In the Creed we read that he “has spoken through the prophets,” that, in other words, he took possession of them, much as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “enabling” them to proclaim God’s word.

In the Creed the Spirit is also called “Giver of life,” the One who stirs everything to life. We see this in a broad sense in the sacraments. At Mass, just before the Consecration, the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon them, so that they will become the Body and Blood of Christ. The same “imposition of hands” and calling down the Spirit occurs at Ordination and at Confirmation. In the Anointing of the Sick, the gesture stands on its own, wordlessly invoking the Spirit to descend with gifts of hope, patience, courage, acceptance.

Today’s Gospel associates the Spirit with the Sacrament of reconciliation. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

The second reading goes beyond the Sacraments to many manifestations of the Spirit, described as different… different… different. It appears that there is nothing the Spirit can’t do, while remaining unpredictable. As we read elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel: “The wind (exactly the same word as Spirit) blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

So many “different” gifts are attributed to the Spirit, that we might be tempted to ask, “What does God really want?” Words or silence? Action or contemplation? Does he want one thing today and something else tomorrow, one thing here and something else in another place? And especially, who does he give the gifts to?

Well, to you, of course! Whether you realize it or not, you have a gift of the Spirit, and probably more than one. You and I can bear the “fruits of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” because the Spirit penetrates the very fiber of our being. The Spirit is the great enabler!

We don’t get to pick and choose the gifts we want, but we can discover over time what gifts we have received. After that we do get to choose if, when and how we will use them in the Church and the world or, as St. Paul writes, “for some benefit.”

The gifts of the Spirit are given in proportion to our willingness to receive them, which invites the question: Do I really want them?

And they are given in proportion to our desire to deserve them, which invites a second question: Am I really ready to live in the Spirit?

The answer is by no means automatic.